(This is a post from the archives.)
The woman across from me at Pizza Hut pounded the table for emphasis as she stated, “I firmly believe that if you raise your kids properly and follow all the right rules, they will turn out the way they should. I mean, look at my three kids. They all turned out great!”
And I thought to myself, “Smug, much?"
Although this conversation took place fifteen years ago, I have never forgotten that woman's words; I have never forgotten her conviction that her children were wonderful simply because she was wonderful.
But you know what? Kids aren’t formed by formulas, they can't be quantified by simplistic, cookie cutter thinking. Kids are humans. Humans have free will. Humans have hearts that can choose to make right choices and hearts that can choose to make wrong choices.
Sure, a kid has a much better chance of turning out well if he or she is raised in a loving, stable home as opposed to being homeless on the streets of some big city. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in forty-nine years of being alive, thirty years of being a minister’s wife, and twenty-three years of being a mother, it’s that heartache happens.
Heartache happens in the healthiest of homes and in the happiest of homes.
Heartache happened in the home I grew up in. Although it was a home where many things were done right, a home where there was love, prayer, laughter, and affirmation, heartache still happened.
And the longer I live, the more stories I hear of strong, wonderful families who are visited by heartache.
Last Thanksgiving, Steve called up a pastor friend of ours whom we haven’t seen in a few years. Don and Sherri are about the finest human beings you will ever meet and are a couple who who we admire greatly. If you were to see a picture of their six gorgeous children, you would the smiles and demeanors of children who are well raised and well-loved.
But on Thanksgiving when Steve asked Don what their plans were for the day Don said, “Well, Sherri and I are going to the rehab center to visit Noah.”
Noah, their handsome, gifted son, the same age as Sarah, is fighting a drug habit. And yet another happy home is visited by heartache.
Recently we got a call from another pastor who is a long time friend of Steve’s. His young adult son (with a 13-year history of drug and alcohol abuse) had just gotten into some serious trouble with the law. His mom and dad whom we love dearly, are absolutely heart-broken. They had seen so much improvement in their son and they were daring to hope that things were turning around for him. But now their talented, greatly loved, raised-in-a-preacher’s-home-prodigal sits in a jail cell, facing all sorts of trouble.
Just a few weeks ago, Steve and I spent all day in Family Court with one of our parishoners who is doing her best to get sole custody of her granddaughter who was born into hellacious circumstances. I sat and listened for eight hours to all the ways that a family can go wrong and it made me enormously sad.
It made me sad because family is such a good idea. Family is such a God idea. Family is meant to be a reflection of heaven on earth and so many times, it’s just the opposite.
Sometimes I look at my own two kids with a mixture of gratitude and bewilderment. At least thus far, they have turned out well. Nathan is a college graduate, recently married, active in his church and a solid, Christian young man.
Sarah, at 16, has yet to exhibit any signs of rebellion. She has a heart for God and for people and is a joy to call our child.
Am I ever tempted to feel smug? To feel like, “Well, we did everything right in our parenting and that's the reason our kids are so wonderful?”
Nope. I am not tempted. I’m not tempted to feel smug because I can sit down right now and make a list as long as the Mississippi of the ways that I failed as a mom. And I also know that the people I just wrote about have been absolutely fabulous parents and their kids still made incredibly painful, wrong choices.
So smugness is not really an option for any of us.
All of us struggle at some level with the issue of family heartache. Steve and I have counseled so many people over the years and have heard stories of pain and dysfunction that are the next thing to unbelievable, the next thing to unbearable.
But in every single one of those sessions, I have felt only compassion and sadness; never smugness, never the temptation to pound the desk and say, “Well, if you’d done everything right, if you'd been a better parent, you wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Because there is no perfect family. And there is no perfect parent. The only perfect parent who ever existed was God and even His kids blew it big time.
I don’t have an easy answer for you as to why heartache happens in good homes. But for some reason, I just feel compelled to write about this today, to let you know that you aren’t alone, that you aren’t a failure as a parent. You are never a failure when you have planted seeds of love in a child's heart.
Many times though, we wish God would just hurry up and fix things already. We pray and wait and cry and nothing seems to happen. Well, maybe it's not happening today, and maybe it's not happening next week. However, we must keep in mind that things like second chances, hopeless situations turned around and impossible surprises sometimes take a little time.
I really wish I had some simple, spiffy answers to give you. I wish that I could share with you 9 Easy Steps That Are Guaranteed To Make Everything Turn Out Okay.
But I can't.
What I can offer you though, is a compassionate heart, a heart that has been created by seeing more pain in my life than I will ever be able to blog about, the kind of pain you probably wouldn't immediately associate with someone like me. Although I wish I hadn't been through the pain I've experienced, I'm grateful for the fruits of that pain; the fruits of compassion, empathy and a deeper understanding of those who suffer.
I know that other people who read here have also been through tough times and as a result, they have much compassion and wisdom to share. So regardless of what you're facing today in your life, or in your family, if you are feeling tired, beaten down, and disheartened, just hold on and know that you're among friends.
And never forget that it's okay when you reach the point where you can do nothing but pray and cry. Because as I told my pastor's wife friend whose son is in jail, “Mothers don’t cry tears; mothers cry love.”
So go ahead and cry love. And know that as you cry, you're not alone.