Monday, February 23, 2015

Operating Instructions

In 1993, Anne Lamott published the journal of her first year of motherhood and called it, Operating Instructions: A Journal of my Son's First Year. In her barbed, humorous, heart-moving, impassioned way, Anne describes her journey into single motherhood. Overwhelming motherhood. Desperate motherhood. More than ten years ago, I devoured the book, laughing and groaning and nodding my head in agreement with so much of what she expressed.

I pulled it off the shelf again tonight and flipped through it, hoping that I somehow missed the section about parenting those "little ones" when they are driving, when they are away in college, when they are adults, and when they are struggling.

I hoped that there was an appendix related to dealing with children who want to be treated like adults, except when it comes to money and emotions and academics and athletics and friendships and love and faith and family and food and the future and the past and the present. Other than that - they've got it covered.

Today I had lunch with a new friend, an instant sister-friend. Sensing her spirit of deep discernment, I asked her a couple of questions about parenting, and then basked in her words of wisdom. Although her children are younger than mine, her soul is much wiser and stronger and more experienced.

She taught me about how to listen when they are speaking, how to ask them questions, and how to answer theirs. She taught me about how to pray more effectively for our children, about stepping out of the way and letting God work in and through their lives, even when it looks like they are going through a tough time. (Your will be done, Lord. Yours alone.)

She reminded me that the struggles we face, whether they are related to parenting or work, faith or fidelity, whether they are our struggles or our children's struggles, these difficult moments don't last forever. A wise uncle of mine turned a familiar phrase upside down during my daughter's illness back in 2008. He said, "This trial has not come to stay. It has come to pass." My daughter's trial did pass. It felt like it would never end, but it did.

Paul said it well at the end of 2 Corinthians chapter 4 - Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

When we are in the midst of them, our troubles do not feel light or momentary. On the contrary, they feel - they are - weighty and burdensome. I am grateful that I haven't lost heart, that I haven't given up. And that is my prayer for my children - to never give up, to never lose heart. I pray that they will know that this too, whatever this is, will pass.

My friend challenged me to ask God questions when I am facing challenges and when my children are facing theirs - "What are you saying to me in this, Lord? What am I supposed to learn through this?" On my kanswer journey, I returned to that query many, many, many times - "What am I meant to learn from this, God?"

I remember pleading with God to take the kanswer away, to keep me from having to go through the chemo and surgery - that whatever I needed to learn, I was willing to learn another way, any other way. Couldn't there be another way to learn about faith and strength and courage and pain and suffering and illness and healing and love and friendship? Eventually, I laid down my resistance and my armor and most of my anger, and I acknowledged that there was no way out but through. Whatever I needed to learn, I wanted to learn it well so that I won't have to take the course ever again. Ever.

Similarly, I have to lay down my anger and my resistance and my armor and allow my children to fight their own battles, to pray their own prayers, and to figure out what they need to learn from the deep waters they are currently treading.
I have to allow them to find their way through the dark valleys and the deep shadows.
The times of fear and loneliness, of doubt and despair, of difficulties and disappointments.
My children are wise and foolish, thoughtful and impulsive, contented and complaint-ridden. Aren't we all?
My children are determined and hesitant, strong and weak, faith-filled and doubtful. Aren't we all?
My children can and will find their way into the light, into the joy, into the strength that are theirs to receive and to claim. On their own terms. In their own time. According to the will and plan of the God who loves them most of all.

As much as I would like to keep them from suffering,
as much as I want to do their laundry and clean their rooms,
as much as I long to have them back at the homeschooling table under my watchful gaze,
as much as I would like to write their papers for them,
take their Spanish tests,
answer all the questions on every test,
intercede with their professors and coaches,
I cannot. I will not.

My friend said, "You cannot cheat a person out of their life experience."
Ouch. I cannot and I will not cheat my children out of the challenges and demands of college.
They spent most of their lives here at home with me.
They never had to deal with bullies in the classroom or on the playground.
They never had excessive amounts of homework or twenty-page papers to write or entire novels to read overnight.
There were never science fair projects that we had to do for them.
Some would argue, some have argued that we cheated them out of important school-related experiences.
If those people are correct, then it's time for that cheating to stop - my babies are no longer babies. They are grown people making their way into and through their own lives.
I will never abandon them. I will always love them and listen to them and laugh with them and cry with them. But I do need to release them into the care of keeping of the God who lent them to me for these past few years.

My friend said, "Our life experiences are what God uses" to make us who we are.
Do I wish I didn't have to go through kanswer? Absolutely.
Do I wish my daughter had never gotten sick? Absolutely.
Do I wish my father hadn't died of kanswer back in 2001? Absolutely.
Do I wish my childhood church hadn't split open back when I was 12 years old? Absolutely.
But if those things hadn't happened, I would not be the woman, the mother, the wife, the teacher, the writer, the person I am today. Absolutely.

If I hadn't gone through kanswer, there are people I would never have met, people I wouldn't be able to encourage and walk with right now.
If my daughter hadn't gotten sick, there are a lot of lives that we wouldn't have been able to touch, a lot of friends we wouldn't have made, and a faith community we would never have discovered.
If my father hadn't died, I wouldn't be able to sympathize with those who have lost dear ones.
If my childhood church hadn't imploded, I wouldn't appreciate the amazing group of people I get to worship with these days, nor would I understand the importance of healthy conflict resolution.

I wish there were operating instructions - not only for the first year of life, not only for raising teenagers, but for every stage of life. I am grateful for the strong, wise, transparent, loving, patient, hilarious, prayerful women (and men) that I have been blessed to know, that have spoken into my life, and have provided some operating instructions all their own to guide me on this, my life's journey.

Today I am especially grateful to and for you, Tish.
Girl, you rocked my world today.
All the way to the core of who I am.
I thank God for you.

PS. My children are both dealing with the usual social, academic, athletic, and emotional challenges of being college students. I am at home spending too much time thinking about them, worrying about them - and today my friend, my wise, caring, prophetic friend steered me back towards a posture and position of faith and trust that I had lost sight of.

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