by Kay Etheredge
There is a dad I’ve never met who drove from a suburb early every morning for months to drive his son to work. He also drove back in the afternoons and picked him up. His son, grown, and with no car or license, was in the program at BBM. It was such a beautiful act of love and service and sacrifice. I know he wanted to help his son succeed, but as a parent, I also suspect that he treasured those 15-20 minutes in the car with his son twice a day. His son came through the program, attended our church, and showed so much promise. Then he messed up, lost the job, and left the mission. Our hearts were broken, but when I heard, I immediately prayed for his parents. I prayed for his dad. As parents, especially if our children are older, we have all experienced what my husband and I call the “kick in the gut” moments. It is when one of our children, old enough to know better, does something that doubles us over…takes our breath away. We are unable to stand, nor do we want to, and in that immediate flash of pain, we begin to entertain doubts about our own parenting. Where did we go wrong? What could we have done differently? And I know, because I know a lot of this young man’s story, that this kick in the gut is not his parents’ first rodeo.
I heard recently about parents, in ministry, whose adult child has given them the “gut kick”. It was public and painful. The parents said, “We sent them to Christian school, we had family devotions, we raised them in the church”. The doubts they are experiencing are palpable, like entering the ocean during a red flag day and finding the current so strong that survival seems unlikely.
A close friend in another state told us the story of the death of his grandmother as a young boy. His grandfather allowed another woman to move into his home rather quickly, and our friend and his parents became estranged from his grandfather. Our friend excelled in athletics and went on to play high school baseball. He thought often about how he would love his grandfather to see him play, but he knew that wouldn’t happen. As an adult, he went to visit his grandfather. When he entered the house, he told us that all over the walls were the newspaper clippings about every single baseball game he had played, and how moved he was that his grandfather followed him through the newspaper. Through this visit, our friend and his grandfather reconciled, and when his grandfather died later, their relationship was restored.
Parenting is hard. Life is hard. There are people I know who present the picture of perfection in their families. Their yard is perfectly landscaped. Their homes are in perfect order. Their children are perfectly behaved. Recently my husband and I were doing yardwork together. I got mildly annoyed because he wasn’t interested in cleaning out some weeds from a bed with me. “We can’t just let them take over the yard”, I said. I began to go at them with a hoe myself. As I hoed, I thought of the perfectly landscaped yard of someone else and I began to hoe harder. It was then that the Holy Spirit breathed wisdom into my spirit. “If everything is perfect, why do they need the Lord”? We cleared out a lot of weeds that day and put out hosta plants the next. We worked together, stood back at the end of a very hot day, and felt a sense of satisfaction. There are still weeds, and we do our best to keep them out, but if you come to our home, nothing you find here will be perfect. Including us.
Our children have made mistakes. Some will have consequences that last longer than others. We have cried together late at night and reached for each other in our brokenness. But we have also, hopefully, shown the same grace that has been shown to us. We get angry with our children, but we try to always keep reaching for them. We are learning to give advice only when asked, otherwise, it is criticism. We are given opportunities to serve and love their spouses, as well as our grandchildren.
Sunday, Mother’s Day, we had a rare opportunity to be in church with two of our children, and to spend the day with all three. The occasion was the dedication of our youngest grandchild, David. After our son returned to his seat, our daughter in law left to go to a brunch in another room of the church with their oldest daughter. Our son handed David to me. I sang in his ear as we sang along with the worship team. Our youngest daughter sat between her dad and me, while her husband preached at their church in Georgia. I looked across at our family on the pew. I looked across the large auditorium at other imperfect sinners. I looked up at the beautiful stained glass behind the choir loft. It was Jesus, surrounded by sheep, but holding one small lamb in his arms. And David drooled sweet drool on my white shirt.
The beauty of a family, and of the family of God, and of the BBM family, is seeing and knowing the imperfections and loving anyway. It is extending grace when people disappoint because we know that we have and will disappoint as well. It is hugging an adult child and saying ,“I love you”, even when you don’t agree with what they are doing. It is hacking away at weeds, even when you know they’ll grow back, and accepting imperfections as a grace. It is praying daily for our children, that they will know to lean hard into Jesus when their gut kick moments happen. It is praying for other hurting parents, even if we haven’t met. And for their children. And thanking God for the blessing of ministry. There will come a day when all will be perfect, but I can promise it isn’t in this life. And it is taking imperfect Mother’s Day photos where we look heavy and eyes are closed and we still have drool, damp on the shoulder of the white shirt we ironed early that morning, a sacred and sweet treasure. And so is the beautiful, imperfection of this thing called life.