On a perfect sunny day last month, our eldest son walked across the stage and accepted his high school diploma. Of course, this is the best possible ending to his previous twelve years of education but it still left me with a gaping hole in my heart.
I have yet to cry, but sometimes I feel like I can't quite get a breath.
When you unleash a man like Caleb into the world, you're bound to get asked what you did right.
I wish I knew. To me, Caleb is a beautiful picture of redemption and grace and the sovereignty of God.
This isn't false humility. We did do some things right. For starters, we weren't drug dealers and we stayed out of jail. This is a very low bar, but you have to start somewhere. (Frankly, even that may have nothing to do with us. I'm too lazy to do the research, but I know I've read about people who've overcome great domestic difficulty to become outstanding citizens.)
I'm not saying parenting is a crap shoot (although it has that feel on many days), but I am saying there are no guarantees. I just know I want my son to be better than me. And in a great kindness, God has given me that gift. This selfish, broken, insecure mother happened to be entrusted with an exemplary child.
I was not too far into this whole parenting thing when I began to recognize my own neurosis in my children. Parts of me I thought I'd conquered or hidden or simply hadn't discovered yet began appearing in my children in the most distressing ways. Very early on my kids could tell you that at an intersection "red means stop. Yellow means slow. Green means go, go go!!!" People pleasing, creative responses to incriminating questions (a.k.a. lying), a deep need to be perceived as 'good', etc. all reflected my personal demons.
The reality of how my own imperfection, sin and unhealthiness affected my offspring was sometimes more than I could bear. But it was also motivation to keep moving toward Christlikeness. To submit myself to more pain and healing and feedback and scrutiny so I could model authenticity in the journey.
I made so many mistakes. Big ones and little ones. I have so many regrets. I wish I'd held Caleb more as an infant, but I was so committed to "doing it right" and the prevailing wisdom of the day was to help them gain a sense of self-reliance. I wish I would have sent more encouraging notes in his lunch box. But I rarely even made his lunch. I wish I'd have been more nurturing in painful situations, but mercy often escaped me when it was most required. And prayer? So anemic during the early years. And the middle years. I did try to make up for it in the last couple of years, but I'm not sure it really works that way.
And yet, like the pain of childbirth, these faux pas seem quickly forgotten by my son. I do expect some of this to come back during future counseling sessions (if only for the redemption my parents need for enduring my seasons of therapy), but for the time being, my mistakes seem to have been covered by a grace I don't deserve.
As a former Calvinette (if you don't know, don't ask...you probably wouldn't believe it anyway), I had to get in a reference to the theology of Sovereignty. I'm not going to provide a definition (feel free to Google it...there's plenty out there), but I will describe how it has played out in my parenting. Essentially it boils down to this: God is in control. He decides who he will use in what way. While all of our efforts and excuses as parents are noticed by God, he is not limited by our wisdom, idiocy, triumphs or failures. My acts of faith are counted as righteousness for me and my effort matters for eternity but it is not a formula for positive outcomes this side of Heaven. Bottom line--I am not in control.
And now for my next illusion...
People (at least 3 of them, anyway) have told me I should write a book about parenting. That's funny to me. The reality is God used motherhood to expose so much of my crap and I spent most of my energy digging out of depression, selfishness and fear. I read three books on parenting and about two hundred on personal growth and spiritual transformation. I don't think that's a great formula worth repeating, it just happened to be the unique journey God had for me. So, please, don't try this at home.
What I would invite you to do is celebrate with me the gift God has given to Richard and I in Caleb. How God has redeemed our personal and parenting inadequacies, given grace beyond measure and has blessed Caleb with a heart that seeks after Him, a desire to know Christ more intimately and live out the Gospel more fully. I have no illusions...this is not our accomplishment, but in God's design, we are recipients of a most wonderful gift in our son.
But let's be honest...I don't deserve this kid!
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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