Tag Archives: parenting

Mamas and Boys

Four mamas, nine boys between us.  The oldest is fifteen, the smallest fiercely five, and we’ve been through it.  From infertility to a whole lot of surprising fertility, from spectrums and conditions to hand-wringing and tears.  We’ve seen the inside of a lot of hospitals and churches and counselors’ offices and McDonalds, laughed and snorted and cried and blushed and spent a lot of time with the mouth hanging open and the did-you-really-just-do-that shrieking at a high pitch.

Being a mama of boys (or girls, for that matter, though our particular batch of girls is awfully well-mannered and easy…  Girls are not any more or less wonderful or necessarily simpler to raise, but this post is not about them.  That’ll keep for another day.)  But back to my point — being a mama of boys is not for the faint-hearted.  You realize after a while that these little creatures are making plans, and they are not your plans.  They are diving into danger with gusto and not much forethought, and pretty soon all the mamas are running full-tilt behind them, hollering out cautions and suggestions aplenty.  We are raising little men, and they are rocketing into the future faster than we can rein them in.

These are the men who will shape the world.

You realize when you’ve been around the ring a time or two that after a while the decisions to be made come down to your boy and God.You realize after a while that the decisions to be made come down to your boy and God..jpg  None of the steam you can produce from both ears, none of the dreams you’ve dreamed can alter the story written for him; your boy is on a journey you haven’t scripted, making choices you would undo and letting the chips fall.  Think of the long history of the world, the Jacobs and Esaus and Moseses, the Roosevelts and the Edisons and the MLKs.  Think of all the mamas, running behind, waving a handkerchief vainly to keep them from boarding that train.  Wouldn’t you have cleaned up their stories a bit?  Wouldn’t you have wiped away the ugly parts?  But then they’d never have become who they were, and our collective story wouldn’t be what it is.

If I were Mary, and I could somehow save my boy from his long, troubled road, I would, I would.  But the nail that sank into his story turned out to be the fulcrum that levered the whole broken world out of the mess we were in.  That ugly nail was grace.

So how do we pray these boys into men?  What do we do when they’re rushing headlong into disaster?

Well, I guess there are a lot of squawks that sneak out before we get the hand over the mouth, a lot of lurching stomachs when we peek through the fingers.  God give us the grace to hide our face in His shoulder and let Him do all the watching and worrying.

I find myself praying for grace a lot these days; praying for the grace to let go, the grace to be patient, the love to expect all things, believe all things, endure all things.  I pray for faith in the Author and His perfectly beautiful story, and I remember all of the great men who started life as impetuous, not-always-wise boys.  I pray for grace to put down what I’m doing and listen, really listen, whenever I can; for the first thing I say in the morning and the last thing I say at night to be sweet, and not overfull of finger-wagging.

I pray for my friends’ boys, the ones with impossible hurdles ahead, and I remember that with God all things are possible.

Four mamas, nine boys.  Boys who will break bones and forget homework and visit tattoo parlors and leap off of tall things, scale mountains, raft rivers, join rock bands, and kiss girls.  Nine men who will be overcomers—courageous, visionary, strong, kind, humble, and mostly?  Very, very loved.  Four women who will learn (sometimes the hard way) to trust in our good, good Father, and share His delight in the escapades of silly, impulsive, fearless, wise-cracking little boys.

That prayer is weak sauce.

Maybe you’ve prayed it, too —  Dear God, please don’t let my kid become an illiterate hobo.  Please don’t let me kill that woman, not today.  Please let most of the regulars show up this week.  Please don’t let us elect Hitler.

Maybe it started out as a joke — she’d lose her head if it wasn’t attached — and turned into a plea — Dear God, just let her be gainfully employed someday.  Or maybe — well, I’ve successfully ruined everything — Dear God, please don’t let me ruin everything!  After a while it’s not a joke anymore.  After a while it’s a settling.

I found myself last week praying one of those prayers for my children.  A tired prayer, a low expectations prayer.  And as I was muttering the words, I suddenly heard them.  Is this the best God would do for His children?  Can He, would He, not do more?

The problem with weak little prayers is that they are a barometer of the faith speaking them.  Puny prayers pour out of weak faith.  Sad little prayers betray resignation and disbelief, or perhaps a whittled-down God.  Years ago I copied a Eugene Peterson quote into the front of my Bible:

“‘Fears the Lord.’  Reverence might be a better word.  Awe.  The Bible isn’t interested in whether we believe in God or not.  It assumes that everyone more or less does.  What it is interested in is the response we have to Him:  Will we let God be as he is, majestic and holy, vast and wondrous, or will we always be trying to whittle him down to the size of our small minds…?”

Little prayers whittle.  They shrink down our view of God, bit by bit.  We fail to see God as Redeemer — one who redeems, one who transforms, one who picks up the rubble and with it builds a temple.  Asking God to just please not let the worst happen is like asking Michelangelo to please cover up the crude, unfinished block of marble with a nice drape and hide it in the corner.Calacatta-Quarry-Header

It’s not that Jesus taught us to pray entitled prayers, you-owe-me-God prayers.  It’s not “God is a piñata and prayer is the stick,” as one pastor memorably put it.  He’s the one, after all, who gave us “Our Father, who is in heaven, holy be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Humble.  Simple.  Daily bread, not lavish feasts.  Your kingdom come, not my own.

But Jesus’ simple prayer is nevertheless huge.  Imagine if you prayed that way for your strong-willed child, your broken marriage, your floundering career, or your insignificant little church.01dx5075-edit

“My good, good Father, who reigns over everything, who controls every last detail, even your name should amaze me.  Oh, Lord, may your crazy, beautiful, upside-down kingdom come.  May all you set out to do triumph over all that your enemy tries to screw up.  May all that you had in mind when you made me and put me here at this exact moment come to pass — I want what You want for my life, and I believe that Your imagination is bigger and better than mine.  Lord God, You know what I need better than I know it myself — do that.  And help me to be completely, deeply, joyfully satisfied in You.  Give me the power to forgive, to believe the best, to hope all things, to love the way You always, unfailingly love me.”

We named our firstborn Joshua, with a confident prayer that he would be strong and courageous like his namesake.  Now two of our kids are teenagers, and I’m the one with knees knocking.  Now I ask God to make me brave, to give me strong and courageous prayers.  That prayer I prayed last week?  That was weak sauce.  The God of the universe is chiseling a masterpiece.  Get out the camera, folks, it’s going to be amazing.prisoner-atlas

Stacking the odds.

“Best part?” he asks every night at supper. And the kids shout out, especially the happy ones,

“Playing with Legos and building a Star Wars/Lord of the Rings/Velociraptor!”

“Eating doughnuts for breakfast!”

“Being here with you, Dad.” That one makes a regular appearance, equal parts delightful and deliberate.

But some days the kids are grouchy, ungrateful, little fists holding their grudges tight. And some days you wake up to gray skies and the dread in the stomach, and the hours stretch in front of you scary. There isn’t liable to be a best part those days.

So what happens if you stack your odds? Make a moment that will make the list, on purpose. Gonna be a crummy day? Let’s have pancakes for breakfast. Pancakes are good. Or I’m not going to get it all done anyway, so let’s take 30 minutes to head to the park. That’s worth a smile. Light a candle, play an 80s song, eat chocolate, wear the funny socks, send a card… And what if you don’t save the best for last, but grab the best first?

I am learning, day after homeschooling day, that being stingy with rewards — the nice thing will come after I get the desired results — is usually frustrating. I am rewarding something that’s not really good enough, or withholding a reward that someone self-righteously feels they deserve, holding the stick and carrot high all the day, wheedling. Why not give big first — this is grace — reap the smiles, sail into the hard things with a breeze at your back and the sun on your face?

I learned this first as a writer from Annie Dillard. In The Writing Life, she says: “One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

So wise. The manna hoarded for the next morning turned to rot. The laugh withheld turns to sighs. Might as well start your day happy, and who knows? Maybe that will change the whole day.

Tell it like it is.

Writing
Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

They say pastors need soft hearts and thick skin. Don’t we all?

So you write a book, you put it out there, ay yay yay! Here come the critics. And you can stick your fingers in your ears and sing it out, “I can’t hear you…” or you can take a deep breath, listen attentively, and grow a little, as a writer, and more importantly, as a person. It is hard to be critiqued, to let someone take aim at you and brace for impact. Hard, too, to not let that thick skin turn into a hard heart in self-defense.

But it’s also hard to offer critique. How can you tell your best friend they are a little… well, wrong? How can you tell your son that his sorrow is turning into self-pity? How do you tell a writer that chapter one needs an overhaul.  Most of the time, we just don’t. But faithful are the wounds of a friend.

Today, I had to return a review on authonomy. The fellow gave me a nice review and then badgered me for my opinion. Honesty is the best policy, but I was careful to balance out my needs-improvement comments with some great-job. Sigh. He was not a happy camper, and promptly rescinded all of the nice things he’d said about me. Now I am afraid to speak my mind (never easy for spineless me anyway).

But here’s the thing — praise is meaningless if it’s false, and the habit of ear-tickling brings the whole sorry stew to a new level of stink. If that’s not bad enough, it only delays the inevitable public humiliation when the much-applauded work (writing or whatever) receives its comeuppance from on high. (The day will come!)
This is hard in parenting, too. Tell your kid too often that he’s perfect and he will begin to believe it. Chances are he’s not. But it is so much easier to woo with over-vaulted compliments than hold a high standard.

At the end of the day, whose advice do you value most? Whose critiques have shaped you?