OK, where to start. Those of you who blog/journal and maybe have a tendency to procrastinate like yours truly, do you ever find that you put off writing about the things you most need or want to write about, simply because of the time and effort, real or perceived, that are involved? It's easier to just throw out a tidbit here or there but not get down to what's really going on.
So. This is one of those times. I am making myself sit down and get this on paper (let's not be technical), because I think that once I do, it may stop rubbing at me like the little canker sore on the end of my tongue is doing right now.
There are a few major things going on under the surface of my mostly ordinary-looking life right now. A lot went on during our Thanksgiving travel, mostly in the context of family interactions, caring for my parents, learning to communicate well among the siblings, etc., and there's no way I can catch up on all that here. At the same time, it was a season of spiritual refreshment for me, partly from the conference we attended over the weekend, partly from seeing and fellowshipping with some friends, mostly older, I hadn't seen in a while, and partly from some unexpected divine intervention and care we received during the travel home (I may post more on that later). I guess I tend to be sort of down on myself about my "spiritual condition," comparing myself unfavorably to others although I know in my head that that is not God's heart. I even accept, at times, the subconscious lie that somehow the Lord does not love me quite as much as others, who are more faithful, more victorious, more blah blah blah. I actually had a very honest discussion with Him about this a couple weeks ago. :-) But because of the care we received through a few people and thus indirectly from Him, I realized as I crawled into bed last night that I really had gotten the reminder I needed of His full and free and unstinted love for me, for us.
So anyway. Before we left for the trip I had an experience with a friend (?) of mine that was just, well, difficult. It was good, I think, but also painful, but also releasing from a stress I have been under for months regarding our relationship. I'm going to try to be as concise as possible here. We became friends a year ago, after discovering that we were neighbors, both Christians, and both homeschooling moms of children who were of similar ages and got along quite well (although she has four and they're all girls, but hey, close enough). For the first 3-4 months I really sensed that she was pursuing a friendship with me -- not aggressively in any way, but taking some initiative. We had some very good fellowship together and our kids had a great time playing. Besides, you can't beat proximity, and I had been praying for a friend who was close by and was sort of "in my life situation." Then I started sensing a change, as if she were sort of backing off -- I won't go into details or supporting evidence here, and part of it was just my intuition. I sometimes thought I was crazy, since when I did see her she was always very sweet. Because I have no interest in chasing someone down or making repeated invitations or offers of help if they don't seem that interested, I backed off as well. We remained friendly, but inwardly I struggled with feelings of not knowing where I stood with her, not knowing why I felt such mixed signals, etc. I probably would have just dropped any effort to get together or have some kind of friendship if my kids, especially Eliza who really needed friends (she is sometimes a third wheel with Ian and Oscar), had not asked frequently about playing with them. How to you explain to your kids that you're getting a vibe from someone, despite her amiability, that there's some sort of line in the sand?
So we finally talked. And it was hard. It had been a friendly phone chat about this and that, including their taking Eliza with them to their AWANA club, and then at the end I just asked her something that led to a protracted discussion that went from the very general "I backed off because I felt God was calling me to do certain things with my time and that meant less time for other things [e.g. hanging out together]" to the somewhat more personal "I felt like I didn't want to take the place of God in your life [i.e. by trying to meet your needs]" to the very personal, which I can't even recap here but the gist of which is that she basically believes that I am too lax as parent, as evidenced by the fact that I give my children choices (guilty as charged!) and by a couple incidents when I did not publicly reprove my 7-year-old son for teasing his younger sister or for voicing selfish feelings (example: "Eliza got new shoes and I'm jealous"), and that therefore my children, or more specifically my son, is not a good influence on her children.
Handful of fellow mothers who read this, have you ever been here? Are any of you, too, imperfect parents of imperfect children? Do your kids take you down a peg or two in public? Do they sometimes miss the memo about Not Reflecting Badly on Mom Lest Her Stocks Plummet? Or are yours already released from self and on their way to glory?
Needless to say, my feelings then and since have ranged considerably, from humility to hurt to anger to understanding to whatever you call the feeling you have when you're thinking, "this is totally ridiculous." As I said to her then, she may be right, and I may be off in my parenting, and I will pray about it (I did.) And of course, it absolutely makes sense to have some degree of discernment about our kids' companionships, sure. I wouldn't, for instance, feel good about my kids spending time with kids who swore or sassed their parents. On the other hand, when I'm having those, shall we say, other moments, my thoughts run along these lines: 1) I choose not to raise my children in a box, and I decided long ago that if I only allowed them to play with perfectly mannered, pious children who never needled their siblings, never hit, whined, etc., eventually we'd be a very lonely family indeed (oh, and my kids couldn't play with each other, either, by those standards). I believe that I'm responsible for some discernment (see above) but also that God is a God of grace, and His grace is bigger than my ability to control everything that my children see and hear. Ultimately, even if I do everything "right" and they never watch TV or play with guns or have secular friends or see billboards on the highway or whatever, there's a huge X factor here, two actually, and they are God's mercy and my children's free will. 2) Yes, I do give my children choices -- in the small things, that is, because I believe in giving them lots of practice in making choices and experiencing either the satisfaction of making a rewarding or neutral choice, or the pain/disappointment of making a poor choice -- while they are under my roof and it is safe. I do not see that as compromising our parental authority. They may not choose to hit each other, draw on the walls, talk disrespectfully to us, play with matches, run naked through the streets, play computer games all day, etc. They may, however, choose whether to ride their bike or scooter to the park, whether to do math or history first, whether to go outside without a jacket in borderline weather, etc. 3) Children with ADHD have, as a hallmark of their characteristics, tremendous difficulty with impulse control. Expecting a child with ADHD to think about what they're about to say or do and how it's going to be received is like expecting a nearsighted child to read a chalkboard or a dyslexic child to pick up a book and read. Can it be done? Yes, I think so, but it's a very SLOWLY learned skill and requires tons of patience and coaching (which I tend to do more privately than publicly). I understand that it would be very difficult to perceive that if one had no personal experience -- i have often said that I needed a boy, and a boy like Ian, to "break me in" and save me from being the kind of judgmental parent I would have been had I produced only [mild-mannered] girls (not saying that SHE is, just saying that I know I would be, and that there's no substitute for experience). Fortunately, I am blessed to be around other moms who enjoy my kids, take them with a grain of salt, and are honest about their own struggles with their imperfect children, and I hope I can be that way to others as well.
Now that some time has gone by, I would say that the sting has gone out of our conversation (which we did end on a positive or at least cordial note, I would say). I actually feel some relief, as if I can move on now. I no longer feel any need or desire to seek out spending time together, because I realize what a stress that would evoke for everyone involved. She doesn't want to worry about what her girls will be exposed to, and I don't want to be on eggshells about my child supplying consistent evidence that he is not yet transformed to a selfless being. We will probably never see eye to eye on certain parenting issues, but we did agree to pray for one another, and maybe that's all God had in mind in bringing us together in the first place. Perhaps the most positive thing that's come out of the whole experience for me is just seeing that I will never be as sweet, pious, and exemplary a Christian and a mother as she is, and I may never have nursing home ministry with my children or do most of the things that she does, and I respect her portion, admire her deeply as a person, and by His grace, love her as a sister in Christ. At the same time, this experience has reminded me, poignantly, that God's goal is not for me to be a perfect Christian, and that for me to have that goal would actually have the potential to cause grief and strife with others who do not meet my standards. He wants a group of people, vitally related and connected to each other without judgment or regard for each other's shortcomings, who express HIM together. We don't replace Him in each other's lives -- we ARE Him in each other's lives! I have been the "victim" of so much love and kindness throughout my life that is so undeserved that it points me back to Him. When someone gives my kids a ride somewhere when I can't return the favor, and does it with grace, that's Jesus, "God manifested in the flesh" to me. When someone gives my kids and me a ride home from the airport, jumpstarts my van, and cleans out my nastified turtle tank before leaving with a promise to pray for my exam-taking husband, as one of our church elders just did three days ago, that is Jesus to me. I could go on and on, but that's the gist of it. My personal relationship with God is very real and dear to me, but I am SO glad that it's not JUST "me and Him." I'm glad He flows through us to each other. And I'm glad we don't have to meet a standard to deserve it.
So Caroline is crying, quiet time is over, and I have to go. If you're still with me and haven't been blown away by the extreme length or "Jesus references";-) of this post, then bear with me for one last thing. I can't quote it exactly, but I was reading Jan Karon's newest delight, Home to Holly Springs, and in it she quotes someone, maybe G.K. Chesterton who said something like, "From every cut branch, new life sprouts (springs?)". (Wish I had the book with me to quote it right.) I think my experience with my neighbor was like a cut branch to me. It hurt. It forced me to reexamine myself and to let go of something I was holding onto that was weighing me down. But I feel like there is the beginnings, maybe even just the hope, of a sprout there -- something unexpected, something I can't even grasp yet.
In the meantime this branch is holding tight to the Trunk.