(of a play, speech, etc) not having been practiced in advance
I might also add off-the-cuff, in no particular order, results may vary. For the next six(ish) weeks I'll share here once a week -- off the top of my head -- a few practices we may have learned in our twenty-one years of parenting four children.
Chapter 1: Your Kids Were Supposed to Have Perfect Parents.
Your Kids Are Not Fragile. You Are Not Fragile.
Your Worst Case Scenarios Make Room for Sturdy Grace and Steady Love.
Complex? Yes. Unpredictable? Always. Exhausting, frustrating, harder than you ever imagined? Of course.
Marketing campaigns, political campaigns -- also, sadly -- religious campaigns make their living off our willingness to believe we are fragile. We believe it for good reason, so many ways for humans to hurt each other, so many diseases, so much senseless tragedy, poverty, crime. So many talk shows.
I believed I was fragile (still do lots of days) because I was sexually abused when I was a little girl. I believed I was fragile because I watched my mom suffer from depression even though she read her Bible and prayed for hours every single morning of my life. I believed I was fragile because I grew up in a pastor's house, internalizing every mean and nasty word church-people flung in my father's direction.
I'll bet you've got a pretty good list going, too?
Since I was convinced (with good and not-so-good reasons) of my eggshell qualities, I determined a set of boundaries that were unacceptable for my family. The list in my head was titled "Anything But That". As in, I can handle.
But then the list was shot to hell. My husband hurt me in ways I didn't think I'd survive. I wounded him in ways I didn't think I was capable. My four imperfect kids kept blindsiding us with their own sin skill-sets. Friends betrayed our trust, the kind of friends we'd planned to keep for life. Financial strain almost ruined us. Natural disasters struck out of no where. We lost jobs, needed handouts, battled depression. All things my list (and my faulty beliefs) signaled almost-certain crack up.
Except, somehow, every crack made more space for grace. And we're far from out of the woods, but we've grown sturdier -- not frailer -- from the broken things.
"Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in thee do we trust, nor find thee to fail;
thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend."
- O Worship the King, fifth stanza, Robert Grant
If your responses look anything like mine, this "how to keep my family safe because we are so fragile" list might feel familiar:
Most of all, when I believe we are fragile, I am not free to fully give and receive love.
For better or for worse, no one has taught me more truth on this subject
than my husband, Brian.
He taught me when we gave birth to four children in six years and I thought I'd earned the right to stay in bed all day. He taught me when he broke my trust and instead of running or defending himself he chose humility. He told his secrets to me and trusted counsellors, worked a long time to rebuild trust, gave me space and time to forgive. He taught me when I had no margin of grace left for him, when forgiveness felt like it would crush me, when I placed his sins at the tip-top of my "Anything but that" list (while dressing up my own in super-spiritual clothes).
And then, he looked me in the eyes when I was hurting him most and protected me.
When I wriggle and writhe under the weight of my "Anything but that" list, he sits still, breathes in and out, weighs the balance of right and wrong with steady wisdom. I make up spiritual concoctions to save our family, he tells jokes. I hold my hands over my eyes and ears when our kids walk the tightrope between wisdom and folly. He prays for them and then mixes me a drink.
Thank God, my kids take after him. I watch them all and try to learn.
Like the time Brian and Kendra signed up to take an Insanity Workout class together. They knew they were out of shape. They knew the entire class was made up of elite high school athletes training in the off-season. They went anyway.
Kendra's worst case scenario was puking in the middle of class. I tended to agree with her. During the middle of a few twenty-minute long ab crunch sessions, when Kendra made a beeline for the bathroom, Brian kept on working out, saving her place on the mat when she returned. She cried during class regularly. He hugged her and slapped her on the back. They kept going to class - together.
When Natalie suffered daily abuse from more than one bully at school, Brian hugged her, squared her shoulders and walked her through daily decisions. He talked with the school administration. He gave Natalie permission to fight back. When the legal authorities visited with Natalie on the front porch, getting her full story, he kindly -- and firmly -- held my wringing hands in the kitchen. Out of ear shot. While Natalie learned lessons in some of the worst the male gender has to offer, Brian offered her the best.
Without words he's taught each of the women in our home, that men and women together reflect the fullness of the imago dei. That it's okay for us to be feminine and unafraid. Tender but not fragile.
"I, with my eyes wide open, closed my eyes for years to the secret that I was looking to my children to give me more than either they had it in their power to give or could have given without somehow crippling themselves in the process. I thought that what I was afraid of more than anything else was that something awful would happen to them, but the secret I began to glimpse was that I was really less afraid for the children than I was afraid for myself. " (Frederick Buechener, Telling Secrets)
Nothing breaks the rumors of our impending demise more powerfully than practicing regular confession with each other. Keeping secrets exhausts our everyday ability to live with each other in healthy community. Fear and shame keep us in a constant state of red-alert vigilance that dulls our senses to the beauty in the ordinary, everyday sorts of adventure in our lives.
Repeating an important disclaimer:
Relax. You've got time, it's going to take time.
I know, I know - old ladies have stopped you in the store five trillion times to warn you that the time flies by faster than you can imagine and that you need to make the most of every single moment with your cherubs. And that's sort of true.
Most true, though, is that Jesus is a redeemer of time. He moves outside of time and space, He returns time and stretches it out in just the right ways so He can save you and your kids. When you read any practical suggestions I have to offer please take your time, consider, pray, laugh, relax.
Put another way, maybe the very, very best advice I have to offer parents is this:
Reject hyper-vigilance, embrace spacious grace.
With that in mind, some of the best truths I've learned about the practice of confession I wrote as part of my ongoing Sacred Practice series:
1. Confession, part 1: What we can learn about the family activity of confession from the Jewish tradition of Passover preparations.
2. Confession, part 2: Three quotes, two stories and one cautionary tale I discovered in my learning about confession in community.
3. It is love that motivates good confession, not our guilty consciences (aka, This is Not the Jerry Springer Show): The act of confession in the sense of "getting something off our chest" might make us feel better but when it is not done out of love, with thoughtful care and in the context of relationship it has the potential to damage rather than heal. For example, the practice of confession must work hand in hand with the practice of forgiveness I shared last week as well as a whole assortment of other healthy spiritual habits.
4. Spend time with ragamuffins, those who've lived out the truth that mercy triumphs over judgement: If your family only spends time with people who seem cleaned-up and sparkly, no grit and no edge, you'll have a harder time believing all the way to your gut that God's forgiveness and grace trumps His wrath and judgement. Pursue community -- in your real life and your reading life -- with the sorts of people that have lived out one or two of your worst case scenarios and lived to (happily) say things like the Samaritan woman yelling in the streets: "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did!"
5. I'm thinking this piece of furniture might have helped some of our late-night family confessionals. Of course, there's still time.
Next time on Parenting Unrehearsed:
- It does take a village.
- The day my daughter ran away
- Practice Tribe-building
P.S., If you'd like to receive This Sacramental Life in your inbox, enter your email address here
*Thank you to the lovely Lindsey from Lindsey Davern Photography for capturing the hilarious -- and unrehearsed -- family photo I'm using for this series.*