I have heard often that parenting is not for the faint of heart. Neither is being a human, really. Life is hard, our world is scary, and yet everyday we face a flood of choices that take us out deeper into it…ready or not.
Summoning strength for oneself to go into this world, is one thing. Corralling the courage to leave your child in a building with other people (not you) when headlines and notifications feed you horror stories of children gone missing or of being hurt in some way, takes a leap of faith I was unprepared for this week. But ready or not, the time has come for our family to face a reality that our little girl is growing up.
It’s just preschool, and yet. I’m on the two knees, praying to the Jesus that has ways higher than mine to give this mama hope. Peace. Going bold, I’m asking for joy too. Why not? Because one look at my daughter’s bright baby teeth gleaming proud of getting to go to school and I’m liquid. My mind trips over all the terrible things that could happen and my only hope is thinly placed in the invisible yet indestructible hands of Jesus. This shift of focus is my only help, the only way I can find a solid leg to stand so on I can pivot, turn and physically walk out the door.
You may call me over-dramatic. Take a number! I own that about myself and take my personality into consideration on weeks like this one. But also, we bring unique experiences into our stories, and I have a few that make this kind of transition a little sensitive. For one, we didn’t know we if we’d ever have a child…and almost didn’t get to raise this sweet one. All the more reason, we have relished every day of her 4.5 years as a gift. There are no babies left at home to nurture when she is in school. Choosing to parent has not been a choice we have been able to exercise very easily, so maybe we are savoring these joys a little more than some parents. But too, there are the others stories at play; traumas that remind you how fragile life is, and sometimes they carry with them lies like “God cannot be trusted to be good”. In our vulnerable moments of release, when our heart walks on the outside of our body, all the stories and all the fears rise up bringing with them shadows casting doubt over the nature of God as good.
Like this one story…
I was only in the 4th grade. If you looked at our school from a plane, you’d see a long spine with ribs stretching out from both sides of a round belly. A covered hallway extended down from a PE field to the bus line, while classrooms dotted along several ribs that jetted out from both sides of the front office and cafeteria center. I was returning from the bathroom along one of those ribs one day when I noticed a tiny little fella crying over a yard grate. He had dropped his retainer somehow, a Kindergartner also on his way back to his classroom. He was afraid of telling his parents, it cost a lot of money. He was so little. I remember noticing later after school ended how his little frame was swallowed up with his backpack. I hated seeing him cry, his whole body shook. I rubbed his back, he reminded me of my little brother. I told him it would be ok and I’d get someone to help us. I found a janitor amazingly enough, he rescued the gross clear glossy mouth accessory and put it in a baggy for him. Life seemed all better. Good triumphed, the day was saved and I got to be a part of it. Then the next day I learned that he had been hit by a truck getting off that school bus. Justin was killed, and I felt like I was a part of it. I had no grid for his loss, I didn’t know how to process his death. So I wrote a poem. Then another. I kept writing words to find a way to understand loss and tragedy and sorrow. Even all these years later I find this pattern emerging. I saw Justin again this week, carrying that giant backpack on his little frame walking into my daughter’s new school; well, a child like him, of course. Soon after dropping my daughter off I felt the surge of fear rise up, all the “what ifs” flooding in doubting God’s goodness, and so I began work on this blog post. Maybe, in some way, you could say I’m still writing to find a place to put the grief we carry in this life? I think for me, I need to write words until the words of Jesus find me and carry me back into the Light.
In a world where senseless tragedies take place on school grounds, how can we release our grip on the most precious ones in our story? How do we create safe places without creating chokeholds? How do we meet up with Jesus so He can carry us back to the Light with Him?
I’m finding that what, or Who, I’m gripping onto while I try to trust God makes all the difference. If it’s the hand and heart of my child, or that spouse, or dream, or that thing that brings me joy…I may never let go. But if I’m clinging to a predictably good God who is nothing but good…then there is always, always, light for me, with me, even when things go dark.
God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)
I don’t say this lightly. I say this shaking, aware of the tests I have already come through knowing there are more ahead. I say this because God says it, and I’m banking my soul’s well-being on His faithfulness to His own character as good. So far, as in all of human history, He has done everything He said He would, so I believe He will finish this Story out strong.
And I don’t have answers for why Justin died. I know how, I know when, but why is a question that remains unanswered. I don’t know why I experienced some of the pain in my own story either, and trust me I have definitely spent a lot of time trying to figure out reasons. Ultimately, we may not get answers for this question. What I do see though is God with me in the loss and struggle, bringing Himself to me…bringing good and light and love to my wounds. Even in Justin’s short life, I see God drawing a little 4th grade girl, teachers and hundreds of students to the life-altering topics of God, life, death and eternal hope.
Thoughts that may help move us forward…
What 41 years of life with Jesus has taught me is that He is good regardless of the bad we perceive in our story, and He brings His whole good self into our stories setting off a redemptive work we may never fully understand in this life. He set off a redemptive work in my life when I was a pre-teen, and I can look now and see a trail of goodness along the tear-stained path of my life. I see Jesus at work redeeming a curse on this Earth; a curse that touched my life. It was the same curse that touched Justin’s life, your life, and the hard truth is that it will touch our babies too. But you know what friends?
The cross of Jesus tells us it’s all going to be OK.
It won’t be easy, it may feel terribly hard at times, but we can do hard things together. Parenting is not about helping our children avoid pain, it’s about teaching them how to feel pain and move through it with Jesus in community so they become whom He destined them to be in this life! When I look at my story, I see things I know my mama would have stopped me from experiencing. There are many things I know she would have wanted to spare me from, but I realize now how I may not be who I am or would not be prepared for the work I’m created to do, had I not had those experiences. What hope for a mama’s heart knowing God can redeem pain for something powerfully beautiful in our childrens’ stories!
Yes, let’s protect our children from harm, but not from their stories. Let’s create spaces for our children to thrive with faith in God’s goodness, and resist putting them in chokeholds with our fear. Let’s pray for God to do His redemptive work in their pain, let’s feel our own pain with Jesus, let’s model a hopeful way for our children where we are honest and dependent and trusting in God’s goodness in our bad days. And when we freak out, let’s hold each other and then gently remind each other of the redeeming God with us — Jesus at work among us reversing the curse.
Would you like to know more about this redemptive work of God? I write about it and tell more of my story in my book, have you heard about it yet? It’s called All The Wild Pearls and you can get it here today. It’s the story of loss, ruin, wreck, trauma – redeemed. If the worst thing that could happen is still within the reach of a redeeming God, then Goodness is present with us, there is yet light in our darkness, and hope for our hurt.
Harnessing hope in God’s goodness is the only way we can release what, and who, we love to God’s will.”
The things I have experienced, the broken and the beautiful, have all been touched by the curse, but they have also been touched by the cross. The redeeming One has been in every room with me, He has seen every tear and wrong, and He has forgiven every terrible way I have coped with pain against His will for me. If He can use all these pieces of my story and bring glory for Himself and joy for me out of them, then He will be faithful to my daughter.
And friend, He will be faithful to yours.