I like the story of the young seminary student who just graduated from Seminary. The very next week he got married and accepted a call from a small Church. The next week he and his new bride moved to the Church’s parsonage and he began setting up his first office. As he worked in the office, he consulted the calendar and realized his first sermon in his first pastorate would occur on Mother’s Day. As he recalled those wonderful classes he had taken on parenting, he grew excited and began preparing his sermon. Sunday morning he stood in the pulpit and announced the title of his sermon being “Five Simple Steps to Raising the perfect child!”
Five years later as Mother’s Day drew near, he recalled that first sermon and how powerful and spot-on it had been. He pulled the file and as he read the old sermon and considered his household now with three small children, he concluded that the sermon, while really good, did need some work. On Mother’s Day, he stood before his congregation and announced the title of his sermon as “Three steps to raising a pretty good kid.”
Ten years later as Mother’s Day drew near, he recalled that second sermon and how powerful and spot-on it had been. He pulled the file and as he read the old sermon and considered his household now had three teenagers, he concluded that the sermon, while really good, did need some work. On Mother’s Day, he stood before his congregation and announced the title of his sermon as “Helpful hints from a fellow struggler.”
Of course, the point of the cute story is that there is a significant difference between the abstract and concrete. It is one thing to be filled with youthful inspiration and confidence as one reads and learns about rearing kids and envisioning how things will be (abstract), but it is a totally different matter when you now have a 35-pound little dictator stomping her little foot and throwing a fit because she insists on a banana, in spite of you having said “No.” When the reality of your will and her will collide . . . and the realization that not everything in that parenting book was exactly right (concrete) you must begin to make some adjustments in your thinking. Thus, the struggle of: here is this child who I adore and want her to learn how to properly behave, to have manners and social skills, and grow into a well-adjusted person . . . but you don’t want to damage her spirit in any way.
Recently, a group of our family spent a few days in a rented beach house together. One of the families there was my niece, Ashlee, and her husband, Shawn, and their four teenagers. As we left and headed home Sandy (a long time public school teacher–secondary) and Chris (a former youth minister) had a conversation about those teenagers and marveled at how well-behaved, mannerly, respectful, and gladly willing to pitch in to help with whatever task needed to be done. They both agreed they had never seen a group of teenage siblings more well-adjusted. As I listened, I readily agreed with their assessment. The reality of their discussion has caused me to think about the challenges of family . . . my work involves providing affordable housing for low-income families – oftentimes dysfunctional families, and I sit on the Board of Directors of a great children’s home – where a group of kids came to live when their family falls apart.
I grew up in a household of eight kids and mom and dad. As such, we saw some challenging times, and the truth be told if not for my precious little Mother, we might well have landed in such a place.
Perhaps the most taxing of all are the years in a family is when there is a crisis situation . . . sweet little babies who cooed and gurgled grew up into challenging, independent-thinking adolescents. Then, the protective, sheltered environment of the home is broken by the school, new friends, alien philosophies, financial strains, illness, accidents, hard questions, constant decisions, and busy schedules. There is pretty much always pressure mounting . . . especially when there are daring young drivers emerging . . . and others leaving for college.
Shawn and Ashlee have done a very good job in parenting and building a family. I think they are pretty much a model. That is certainly not to imply that they have not had some issues and struggles of their own . . . this is a second marriage for each of them . . . and their life together was something of a new beginning for each of them. They each brought kids into the marriage (five total) and have lovingly and skillfully built a secure, loving family. They are accomplishing this feat by building it all upon the truths of Scripture and God’s design for the family.
They are each living testimonies of the old truth, “As you survey the landscape of your life you simply cannot change the past . . . it is what it is! But by the grace and mercy of God, you can change it going forward!” That is just what they have done.
My hat is off to you, I salute you!