As the sun slides behind the front range mountains of our Colorado town, my family of five slides into our seats for a late dinner at home. Over tasty Change Your Life Chicken, Ethan asks me to retell a story from his when-he-was-little years.
I set my fork down, run my paper napkin across my mouth before placing it next to my dinner plate.
“Let’s see,” I say, tapping my chin and looking at my twin sons. “Oh yes, I remember when you were both three-years-old and attended Mother’s Day Out.”
I glance right at Ethan.
“I would pick you up and cringe when the teacher beamed her laser eyes at me and said, ‘Mrs. Strong, we need to have a talk about Ethan’s behavior today.’”
I tell them how I would walk over to their teacher like a dog with its tail between its legs.
“She would then relay to me all the ways your orneriness showed up. For example, during story time you preferred rolling around on the ground with your friends and making up your own tale to sitting crisscross applesauce listening to hers.”
We all laugh because knowing Ethan, this isn’t hard to believe.
I swallow a drink of water then look at my other son.
“And do you remember that time, James, when I gave you a stern talkin’ to for not doing something you were supposed to do? That time when you, tired of being ‘bossed’ by your mama, bolted out the front door and sprinted like a jackrabbit down the street?”
We all cackle at this image.
“Yes,” I say as I pick up my fork, waving it in his direction. “When I finally caught up with you halfway down the street, I particularly enjoyed dragging you — barefoot and belligerent — all the way home. And then, then, I thought I’d die a hundred deaths when I realized your visiting grandparents saw the whole embarrassing event from our front porch.”
We break into fits of laughter once again. It’s a sign of redemption that as horrifying as those events were at the time, laughter shows up in the long run.
Those younger years of parenting littles were a hodgepodge of wearisome and wonderful, smooth and rocky. But with those two boys graduating high school in a month, I have a wider-angle view of their lives thus far. I can look back and see how so many of the challenges — the pull-my-hair-out moments — were ruts in the road that needed time and taming. They were materials necessary for paving their futures.
We still have rough times, of course, but it’s interesting to see how the trying parts of their personalities during the little years served a purpose beyond keeping me humble before Jesus and the neighborhood. I didn’t realize it at the time, but God used them to unfold peeks into my kids’ futures.
The kid that had a hard time listening patiently in Mother’s Day Out is putting that active, creative mind toward an arts degree. The kid with an iron will that would make Mother Theresa cuss and cry is on track to become an officer — a leader — in the United States Air Force.
So, I just want to encourage your dear heart, mamas in the trenches of parenting young children, those struggling to shape that wild will of iron or that unbox-able spirit. I believe God asks us to unfold our kids more than mold them, and in the process He asks us parents to unfold as well. We unfold our hands (and our own iron wills) to exchange our big ideas for His. Just as importantly, we unfold new layers of joy because we know that God will bring those embarrassing, horrifying encounters full circle to redemption.
Last Sunday at church, my pastor said something I haven’t been able to get out of my head: “If we’re decreasing in joy, then we’re finding honor in the wrong things.” It seems that the older we get, the less joyful we become. So I asked myself, Kristen, what are you honoring these days?
I think of this as I leave space for the bittersweet components of having two — two! — kids graduating high school while not giving up my joy in this celebratory event. I will honor God’s good work in them, careful not to take too much credit for their accomplishments or too much blame for their shortcomings. I will honor God’s good plans for them, knowing His ways are smarter than mine.
How we laughed and sang for joy. And the other nations said, “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.” Yes, glorious things! What wonder! What joy!
(Psalm 126:2-3 TLB)
Just hold on, mama, and see what amazing things the Lord will do through your children. May we hold onto joy even as we acknowledge the hard in this season. The hard stuff just might offer encouraging peeks into our kids’ futures today. And tomorrow, well, it may very well make us laugh.