Half way up the stairs, I wondered if maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. My toddler straddled one hip. A laundry basket was hoisted on the other. Those were long, weary days. It was my own choice to trade a corporate job with applause to spare for the glories of full-time motherhood, but I felt like I was sinking.
There was a time the family culture I dreamed of seemed as though it would always be a dream. I found myself as a mom increasingly idealizing what I dreamed of for my family. My husband and I spent hours talking about what was important to us. What did we want our kids to leave home with? What did we want the atmosphere of our home to be like?
I dreamed of my intentionally cultivated home when it seemed like only a fairy tale. I was drowning in diapers and laundry; yet, I felt stirred and alive when I read authors like Sally Clarkson and Edith Schaeffer. I had always appreciated truth, but now I was starting to see that truth is most alive when accompanied by goodness and beauty.
I have a confession. I used to be afraid of the dark. I’m not talking about as a 6-year-old. As a young teenager, I was petrified, but I was usually too ashamed to admit it.
Around the age of 18, I’d outgrown a lot of that, but when alone at home, I’d unexpectedly be filled with terror that someone with ill intent was in our house. I could quote all the scriptures. “God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” “Perfect love casts out fear.”
My fears didn’t want to budge.
You know the feeling. Name your place. Name your memory. When the ordinary, the mundane, the hustle is overtaken by a shiver of the bittersweet. When you remember that your story has not been without adversaries, without valleys or without pain.
A twinge of pain eclipses an unsuspecting moment and I find myself for that second swimming in the history of my life that I never would have chosen if given the choice.
My eyes burn, and I hope the kids don’t notice my glazed disposition as the storms I’ve weathered swirl by to say hello. The hidden mountains of my heart have made their mark on me, and though I walk with a limp, I wouldn’t change a thing.
What does it mean to live with purpose? At times, I swear its thumping in my chest, that sense that some how my little life matters. That anything is possible. Other times, from where I sit staring at a pillow fort, a pile of dishes and a to do list that Santa would balk at (okay, slight exaggeration there), purpose seems just a tad beyond my grasp. But what if eternity is laced through my messy bun, baggy sweater day to day?
Ecclesiastes 3:11 speaks to the idea that God has set eternity in the heart of every man. This is huge. We were created in the image of God for fellowship with God and partnership with His purposes. It starts as a God-given thirst on the inside of every human being that truly only God can fill. But then something amazing happens when we taste of His goodness.
When I first titled this article “When your attempt to connect with your child falls flat,” my husband joked, “That never happens!” We laughed, because to put it mildly, our attempts to bond with our children don’t always go as planned. Sometimes we go all out trying to do something special only to get a pouty or unimpressed response, or worse, an offensive attitude of entitlement, instead of gratitude. It can be incredibly frustrating, and can leave even the most enthusiastic parents feeling discouraged and a bit puzzled.
Marriage is said to be a three-stranded cord, a covenant between us, our spouse and God. The funny thing is God is the only strand that’s sure to remain the same. When we said those wedding vows, we promised to love each other well, even as we constantly change and grow. That’s why maintaining an attitude and practice of discovery is essential for a thriving marriage. Today, I’d like to offer just a bit of what my husband and I have learned over these past 12 years of imperfect, but thriving marriage. Here are five practices that have helped us stay in discovery mode with each other as we navigate marriage from season to season.
I often stare up at the maple trees outside my kitchen window and wonder how many years they’ve been surviving the storms and ice and, of course, how much sap I could collect if I ever get around to tapping them. My eyes get lost in the fiery banners that grace those branches this time of year. All the while, it’s the unassuming roots beneath that have chiseled through soil and rock, connecting the tree to the very nutrients and water it needs to live and thrive.
Our families are not much different. We want something beautiful for our families, maybe something better than what we grew up with. For all our ideals, we don’t actually know until we wake up a wife or a mom what we’ll actually be like in those shoes. We may find ourselves fumbling for advice, hoping and praying we crack the code on thriving family life. Books, resources and hacks galore – not to mention the advice of friends – offer answers to our many questions. All the while, the most transformative answers lie beneath our feet, rooted in the reality and character of Christ. Without this anchor, discouragement quickly hampers our good-intentioned efforts and the big picture gets lost in the shuffle.
Connection. We crave it, don’t we? Not a half-hazard we share the same last name connection. I’m talking about flourishing in relationship and thriving in family. I love this quote by Brené Brown in her book Daring Greatly.
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Back in the Garden of Eden, relationship was second only to breathing when Adam and Eve came onto the scene. We are wired for deep, joyful, life-giving connection by our Creator. Although sinned marred the human experience, the power of Christ’s accomplished work has provided us with all we need to cultivate a thriving home from the inside out.
Consider Part 1 in the Connection Series as us grabbing hold of what can be an abstract idea and pulling it down a little closer to home. If we can envision a target of what we’re after in our core relationships, then we can navigate this messy journey with far more clarity and wisdom.
4 Connection Myths + A Big “Why”
Myth #1: Trust is a prerequisite of connection.
Here’s the thing. God’s love can empower us to forgive and invest in relationship, even if trust has been broken. Forgiveness frees up our hearts to love and heal, even if trust still needs to be earned. (This is totally different than subjecting oneself to abuse or deceit. If you are in an abusive situation, please seek professional help.) If you are in a place where trust has been injured, don’t despair. Read on and ask the Lord to give you the strategy and courage for that particular family member.
Myth #2: Connection means we need to agree on stuff.
The shrill scream jerked me from my sleep.
Not again, I thought. Groggy and disoriented, adrenaline took over. I leapt from the bed and jolted across the hall to my son and daughter’s room, my husband close behind. In the soft glow of the night light, my son writhed with fear, his eyes wide and glazed over as though he was still partially asleep. I leaned over and hugged his stiff body calling, “Josiah! Josiah! It’s okay. We’re here. You’re safe.”
His scream shifted to a cry as his eyes filled to the brim with hot tears. My heart ached as I watched those baby blues give way, as tears started to drip on his flushed, sweaty cheek. Another scream pierced the air. I muttered prayers and whispered peace as I stroked his arm and tried to calm him, but nothing seemed to work.
After the kind of seconds that feel like hours, he croaked, “Get them off! Get the tears off!” We frantically grabbed tissue and a soft towel to help him dry the tears. We couldn’t keep up with the tears that were still pouring out. The toddler-sized race car bed creaked under our weight as we piled all our frail efforts together to try to get his “feet back on the ground.” He wailed in pain. Tears aren’t supposed to hurt, I thought. What’s going on?
After a while in this timeless space, his tears slowed and the dampness on his face started to dry. His small frame started to relax. His eyes finally started to focus. “We’re here, sweetheart. It’s okay. Peace, in Jesus name.” He was exhausted, but I couldn’t let him go just yet. I tried to restrain my voice as I sobbed in the stillness and rocked him back to sleep.
I have tasted more deeply of life, of color, of texture and beauty than I ever knew possible in the lives of my three kids. All three are full in their personhood and immense in the joy they bring to our lives. Josiah, my middle child, was 3 ½ years old. He’s always been a sweetheart. As he grew, he came alive with energy, adventure, and volume in all its forms. I can’t tell you exactly when it started. Three-year olds are not easy, but in the fall of 2015, my husband and I became increasingly bewildered by our interactions with him.
To us, it didn’t seem like it had any rhyme or reason. Josiah would complain about his clothes, socks and shoes incessantly. Transition of any kind – whether switching activities or entering a store – was a huge undertaking. His pickiness about food had always been an uphill battle, but even this intensified as we struggled to make sure he was getting enough calories.
My youngest, Trinity, was an infant at the time and we could not successfully teach him how to safely interact with her. He never expressed anything but deep affection for her, but he would push on her, lay on her, or pull on her in strange ways. No amount of training or correction yielded a difference and he seemed oblivious every single time it was addressed. We could not leave the kids alone for even a minute.
Josiah yelled much of the time and seemed to have no volume control, yet every day noises bothered him to the point of screaming in pain. I’ll never forget the time someone left a noisemaker humming upstairs from the night before. He heard it, grabbed his ears and started sobbing that it was too loud. Scenarios like this made me wonder.
As the fall went on, his reactions grew more extreme and harder for him to recover from. I lost my patience daily and in my desperation yelled – even screamed – at him countless times. The things I said were not born of hate, but I could see the hurt and fear in his eyes. My tearful apologies became the norm. I would understand later that my reactions worsened his symptoms. I was trying to understand how to help him, but none of this made sense.
When Josiah would cry, he would completely forget what he was crying about, because he would start screaming as though hot acid was dripping down his tender face. He trembled from the pain of his tears. Sometimes all I could do is just cry with him while trying to soak up his tears with bits of toilet paper. “This doesn’t make sense! He’s falling apart and I don’t know how to help him! God, help!”
By the end of January, Josiah and our family were in turmoil. His behavior reached an intensity that I could have never imagined. I knew my son. This gift of God. His name means “Jehovah heals” and his middle name means “warrior.” I believe that he is meant to be free, thriving inside and out. Slowly, we started to understand that our son was climbing a mountain we couldn’t see. We agreed that there was more to it than behavior and believed God for both an answer and complete healing.
Waiting for answers, bad dreams stole away Josiah’s peace at night. Mornings began with tears and meltdowns. Josiah constantly craved to be held or carried. With a 4-month-old nursing baby and a homeschooling 7-year-old, frustration escaped my lips at times, even as I tried to satisfy his needs. He was either constantly hungry or refused to eat. Just when we thought we had a grasp of the list of foods he would willingly eat, he’d refuse one of them.
Wind on his skin made him cry. Seemingly insignificant textures, seams and tags were painful. He’d scream until we cut them out. Leaving the house took 20 minutes just to put on a coat, socks and shoes and keep them on. We could not survive a church service without holding him tight and letting him watch Netflix on a device. When an unknown child approached him, he screamed out in fear that they would unexpectedly touch him.
He impulsively ran through the house and would ram into furniture. Poor balance caused him to fall and bust his lip open almost weekly. If one drip fell on his thigh during his bathroom routine, which often was the case, it felt like burning acid just like the tears on his face. Washing hands was a nightmare. It was all I could do to make it through the day. At bedtime, he couldn’t calm down. We read our Bible story and prayed over him, but he begged to stay awake for fear of his dreams. Then his bed had to be a certain way with no wrinkles in the sheets or covers. It was so annoying at times, but once we got him settled, he would breathe a deep sigh of relief, smile and say, “You’re the best. I love you.” His body would give in, and this kind of day would start again.
Come February, even though my husband and I had become increasingly compassionate and long-suffering, I lost my cool several times during that frigid week. I felt that I was failing.
Next Sunday, an answer came.
I arrived to church early and worship practice was still going on the in main sanctuary. Josiah ran to me grabbing his ears in pain from the music. An observant mom approached me. It was a bold move on her part, but one that proved to be providential in discerning that Josiah was having sensory processing challenges. With compassion in her eyes, this dear woman leaned in and said, “You are not a bad mom. You didn’t know.”
The revelation of what he was dealing with was like a strike to my gut, but those gracious words were like balm to my soul.
As we drove home from church that day, I sobbed as I read to my husband the common symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Almost everything Josiah had been experiencing was described. Within a few weeks, he was seen by a professional and was formally diagnosed.
We do not always understand how the challenges of life come to us. Perhaps you are also facing a mountain you feel like you can’t climb. It’s in this space before the rest of the story unfolds that we find that God is here. When the prophet Isaiah foretold the coming Messiah, he called Him Immanuel, which means “God with us.”
The reality of that truth changes everything.
If God is with us, we can forgive ourselves for all the times we’ve faltered and failed. If God is here, we don’t have to know all the answers to know that we are being held by arms that will never let us go. In His presence, we can ungird our heavy souls and lay our hearts bare before a fully engaged, fully feeling Abba Father. Our brokenness is an invitation to divine exchange with God. He hears us when we call and collects every single tear. Best of all, He’ll never send us away empty handed.
Courage for us at first meant studying Josiah’s neurological dysfunction, and most importantly him, as we held onto the promises of God. I knew Josiah was great, and awesome, and smart, and gentle. But as I watched him, I was humbled to see a champion emerging. When he would fall apart, we would run to him first and foremost to connect and to love. As we learned and God moved, we got better at learning how to empower him and each other. I’ve seen my daughter minister grace when her own tender heart was hurting. My husband has lifted me up after long days in the trenches and has modeled the tender mercies of Christ. I have become freer from the opinions of people, learning to set my gaze on Christ alone and trust Him for the grace I need for the very next moment.
We are on a journey and it’s a sometimes-ugly process. Out of painful times, our family has gotten better at seeing the overcomer in each other. There’s more joy mingled in the tears than there used to be. We fall down. We get up. When feelings swirl, I’ve found that the Word of God is an anchor to my soul.
Maybe you’re facing something hard right now. Maybe you’ve run out of prayers, tears or even hope. It’s okay. You’re not alone. God can meet you right there in that honest place. He’s not daunted by our unravelling. He’s the answer for our aching hearts and the fulfillment of our deepest thirst. I pray that no matter what you are facing, that you will experience Christ as Immanuel, God with us. I pray that your heart would find exchange in the limitless depths of God’s love for you no matter what you or your family are facing.
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