With the month of July come three opportunities to thank God once more for my family…we celebrate the birthdays of Lauren, Michelle, and Charlotte. They always hate it when I say I was really fertile in October, so I’ll say it again just to get under their skin. That’s what families do…we get under each other’s skin.
As we raise our children, we have the opportunity to rewrite history…we can do the things we want to do differently with our children as compared to the way we were raised by our own parents. Some of us have a really long list of how we want to do things differently. My list is pretty short. But either way, we can revise, revisit, and relearn how to be a good mom or dad. Re-parenting gives us a way to release the past and the future all in one fell swoop.
When I look at the life my parents gave me, and what I have tried to do differently as a parent and grandparent, I think the first and foremost revision falls squarely in the spiritual realm. When we were little, my mother took us to Sunday school and church. We were each baptized at some point in one denomination or another. We weren’t “Lutherans” or “Baptists”…we were Protestants, and this had to do with the fact that we attended military chapels for the most part.
I don’t remember ever seeing my father in church except at our weddings. He had faith, I know that for sure. But he had no desire to practice his faith within the walls of a church. He would tell you there was no mistaking the fact that we each need God, and he found that out firsthand in a foxhole. He had a general mistrust for organized religion, and I don’t know where that came from. His mother was very religious, as well as very spiritual. She lived with us on and off during my childhood, and I have a clear picture of her sitting in her bed in my room, reading her Bible. I also have a clear picture of her with boobs down to her knees that she hoisted into her bra each morning, but that’s another conversation. She knew her Bible so well, and it showed in the kind of life she led. She was gentle in nature; I never saw her angry or upset. Her kindness was a part of my father, and it is now a part of my brothers and me. There were things my parents did that she disagreed with, such as their cocktail hour, but she never interfered. She would occasionally ask for a little medicinal brandy, but she stayed out of the fray when it came to vocalizing her opinions. I wish I were more like her in that regard.
My mother was raised a little differently. She shared memories of her early childhood that included her father’s disappearance, her mother’s remarriage, and difficult teen years. She would not say that faith mattered to her but she showed us, by taking us to church regularly in our early years. She would say that by the time we reached adolescence, she was tired of fighting to get us to go to church, so she quit taking us. I think it was lonely for her to take us to church by herself. And that was that. Over the years, no amount of convincing could get her to go back. By the grace of God, each of us kids found our way back nevertheless. When we’d visit our parents in our adult years, or they’d visit us, they would not entertain the idea of going to church. It just wasn’t going to happen.
Door-to-door Christians were not welcome. I can remember my mother hotly cutting off anyone who rang the doorbell to share his or her beliefs with her. That was never going to cut it with her. My parents were not hostile towards Christians; they just did not want anyone to impose their beliefs on them. They were generous to the needy in their own way; they did this anonymously and did not seek or want public or private recognition. My father would say, “God doesn’t owe me anything.” When I told him that was the beauty of the gift; all He asks is for us to receive, he thought it just sounded too good to be true. Neither my mother or father wanted proselytizing; once they figured out where a conversation was going, they would nip it in the bud. To win their hearts in terms of trusting God, you had to show them by your example what it meant to believe in Jesus. Telling them never worked.
I run into this same issue with my own children. When faced with a problem, they do not want me to use the “what would Jesus do” approach. They don’t trust it at all. It’s not a matter of not trusting God; it’s a matter of not trusting what people do with the word of God. We can all point to one event as a turning point in our spiritual walk as a family, and we have each had to deal with that wound both corporately and individually over the years.
When Bo died, the pastor of the little community church we were attending as a family came to our house to discuss the service. I was separated from Bo at the time, but even when we were married, he didn’t go to church with us, so if I had a conversation with a pastor as a parent, it was just me; we weren’t a unified team. The pastor asked how we wanted to remember Bo, and we talked about his life and the hope that our family needed for healing.
The service was a hot mess. Our good friend, Pete Marion, spoke eloquently and lovingly about Bo, and it meant a great deal to all of us. My brother, Todd, spoke quietly and succinctly about God’s love for Bo and for us. Then the pastor spoke, and it went downhill from there. He made it clear that we didn’t really know what the future would be for Bo. Did he believe in God? Maybe, maybe not. Was he saved? Maybe, maybe not. Did he go to heaven? Maybe, maybe not. Did he do well as a father, husband, son, brother, friend? Maybe, maybe not. In a few short minutes, he managed to offend just about everyone. It was all we could do to get through it.
A week later, I went to my pastor and asked, “Was that the message God laid on your heart for our family?”
He said, “Yes, pretty much.”
I don’t think so. I know he missed the mark. And that’s what we do as Christians. We miss the mark a lot. Without consistent, quiet, and mature study and reflection on God’s word, we miss the message that God has for us and we miss the message that God gives us to share with others.
My children deserved to be surrounded by the hope, the grace, and the love of Christ that day, but a careless pastor neglected his responsibility to that little congregation of 5. He exercised judgment, not compassion. His eye seemed to be on all the visitors instead of the five young people sitting on the front pew, waiting for him to say something that would help them make sense of all this. People asked me later if he was trying to drum up church members. It was a confusing time for all of us. I could not speak for why he said the things he said. I had to accept that as wrong as the message seemed to be in my way of thinking, God had permitted it nonetheless. Without the love of our family and friends, that day would have drowned us in grief. It was going to be a hard enough road; why would anyone want to make it harder?
As a parent, how I wish I could reparent my children during this time of our lives. Instead of finding a new church home for us, I hid out. I made excuses on Sunday mornings. I got busy with other activities and tested the water occasionally at church events like vacation Bible school or TV evangelism, but I let my children down as their mother and spiritual leader of our home.
I know I can cut myself a certain amount of slack; I was just trying to make it through each day, putting one foot in front of the other to take care of our five children.
And yet. And yet. I had a responsibility to these five youngsters; they were looking at all of the adults in their lives to figure out how to live. They saw my parents as pillars of safety and security; they knew that no matter how much they hurt, no matter how much their mother was hurting, their grandparents were squarely in their corner. This spoke volumes to them about the love of God and His provision for us as a family.
For us, as a Christian community, I think this is where the rubber meets the road. Where are we for those who are hurting in our midst? Are we present? Can we be trusted? Are we real? How do we love?
I have tried to show my children a good and right and real example of what it means to have faith and to follow Christ in my words, actions, deeds. I am still working on it. I will spend the rest of my life trying to show them that Jesus matters. When they parent their own children, they will have to right the wrongs; adjust their parenting styles and decisions to reflect a higher version of what God wants and desires for their own families. I don’t want them to be confused about the blueprint, or where it comes from. I want to be stunned by what God does in their lives. He has stunned me already, in so many ways. I want my children, their spouses, and my grandchildren to know Him intimately, as their rock and their shield. He has been that for me.
My brothers and I, each of us believers, honor our parents by our example in living lives that demonstrate what it means to believe in Jesus. When we said goodbye to them on this earth, we had faith that God had taken them home, unto Himself, with the mustard seed of faith firmly planted in their hearts. I have great respect for what my mother and father believed and came to understand about God through the course of their lives. In their suffering they did not cry out or complain; they accepted and understood the grace that God had given them each day of their lives. They had great courage, and I draw from that every day. My brothers and I, each of us believers, try to show our children and grandchildren by our example what it means to believe in Jesus, so that when our children and grandchildren say goodbye to us on this earth, they will have faith that God has taken us home, unto Himself, hopefully with a harvest of hearts changed by the reflection of God that they’ve experienced in us, in our daily walk.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass—he blooms like a flower of the field; when the wind passes over it, it vanishes, and its place is no longer known.
But from eternity to eternity the Lord’s faithful love is toward those who fear Him, and his righteousness toward the grandchildren of those who keep His covenant, who remember to observe His instructions.
The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
And His kingdom rules over all.
Praise the Lord,
All his angels of great strength,
Who do his word, obedient to his command. Ps 103: 13-21
p.s. Another July birthday! Happy birthday to my brother Stacy, who was born on my dad's birthday, July 3rd.
p.s. Another July birthday! Happy birthday to my brother Stacy, who was born on my dad's birthday, July 3rd.