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.
We stretched out on the soft carpet speckled with the gritty texture of sand tracked in by our feet and blow up toys. The little guy and I seized some reprieve from the sun, water and salty air in the quiet cool of our 17th floor room overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Halifax River.
Josiah (barely 5 at the time) crouched next to me drawing on one of those white, logo-stamped notepads that the resort provides along with a cheap, matching pen. On the front page of the pad, my oldest had already drawn a fish and a heart. Next to her fish, Josiah drew his own fish. He hadn’t mastered the correct hold yet, so his clenched fist wrestled with the pen.
After drawing his fish, he looked at it and said, “Mommy, does my fish look…weird?” I smiled and said, “It looks like a fish.” He gave me a doubtful look. I continued, “…and the more you draw, the easier it will get.” He took another glance down at big sister’s fish and exclaimed, “I’m no good at drawing fish!”
He looks at her fish and thinks, I wish I could do it like that. It’s hard for him to grasp that she’s been practicing her shapes and letters for 4 years longer than him simply because she’s older. I pointed out, “Well, you are very good at circles.” He admitted with a frown, “Yeah.” How often we do this as grown-ups.
Truly, no role has carried a greater temptation to compare or a greater fear of judgment than that of my motherhood. I wonder how many times I’ve hindered my own unique progress by thinking I should be where someone else is on their own one-of-a-kind journey. How would we bloom if we stopped comparing ourselves to the progress of others? All to often, we see a snapshot of someone else’s growth or “success,” but have no concept of the hidden history, the failures, or how much practice it took them to get there.
Sisters, let’s gather around the Father. We are all in different stages of our journey. We’ve come from so many different places and have a diversity of experiences, stories, opinions and causes. You are welcome here. There’s room for your loud laughter or your reserved smile. There’s a place for your quiet meditations and impassioned prayers.
Because we art to the Father.
Let’s own the uniqueness of our story in the truth that no one else can live this one life for us. Your victory is my victory and does not invalidate my own bumpy progress. Let’s cheer each other on. We are a mosaic of grace and THAT is beautiful.
You know the kind of day. Let’s knock out some projects and decimate the to-do list that’s been mocking us for, well, too long. I crossed off several tasks, but the dreaded job could no longer wait. My kids had been looking for clean clothes. Meanwhile four overflowing baskets of clean laundry were scattered around my room, not to mention the entire additional basket of unsorted, unmatched socks. They had been collecting there for weeks. (It turns out that its less than ideal to have empty sock drawers in the brunt of winter.)
Throughout the next hour of fiercely folding and putting away laundry, I ran up and down the stairs 5 times tending to the “urgent” needs of my 8 and 5 year old – namely settling disputes and admiring the newest jump rope trick or nature find. I was ready to be done, but still had the sock monster to tame when my 8 year old daughter called up with a whining tone, “Mom!” Sauntering to the top of the stairs feeling slightly annoyed, I resolved to breathe and stay calm.
“I was playing outside and accidentally hit my nose with the hard part of the jump rope! It hurts!”
I resorted to a controlled, instructive tone. “Give it a few minutes and you’ll be good.”
“Just rub it.”
“Then it will hurt more…”
My great ideas didn’t seem to be working.
“Put some ice on it.”
“Then I’ll get more cold.”
“What would you like for me to do?”
As she let out a reserved sigh, searching my countenance for safety, I now noticed a longing look in her eyes.
My choice was suddenly clear. Another deep breath.
“Do you want me to come give you a hug and a kiss?”
Recognizing the sincerity in my voice and eyes, she nodded her head “yes.” I came down, embraced her and kissed her nose. In my embrace, tension left her body and connection was affirmed. She sighed with relief and was back to her games moments later.
In the midst of her growing maturity, sometimes I feel like she doesn’t need me as much. But if I listen closely, I see that she still needs my hugs, my kisses, my reassurance, cuddle time, and talk time. It may look different, but she has needs that won’t be met except by the mysterious nurturing that God put in me to give to her. It’s a learning curve for sure, but I’m learning that its worth my effort to recognize these cues and trust the Holy Spirit to show me how to best meet them. It’s so easy to get busy with “life” and miss these cues, especially as they grow and perhaps those cues look different than when they were younger.
The longer I’m a parent, the more I realize that its really not the grand things our kids are looking for. Often its the very small things that – with some intentionality and grace – we can start to take small steps that will cultivate deep connections with our kids that we’ll reap the rewards of for years to come.
I’d love to hear about your family. How can you tell when your kids are needing your attention? What are your favorite ways to connect?
Humid Houston air and car exhaust hugged the surrounding traffic, which was largely oblivious to the storm raging inside my red 2-door Geo. The beach ball of emotion that I had submerged in the waters of my keep-it-together and smile life could no longer be held down and erupted in an untimely, driver-side display.
“I’m done! I quit! I mean it! I give up! It’s OVER!”
My angry yell and violent screams wrung out from a deep place in my gut that I never knew existed. This uncharacteristic behavior exploded out of one most would describe as a steady and even-tempered person. But I was only getting started. I kept going. My voice struggled to get the notes out. Hot tears trailed my wincing face. I did not care that anyone at those stop lights might have a front row seat to my vulnerable moment through the untinted windows of my car. I vomited rage and hurt with every bit of gut wrenching strength I had in me. I don’t even know what I meant by it. I just knew I meant it.
After the last hoarse shouts pushed passed my trembling lips, I stopped. My eyes and face burned as my heart thumped loudly in my chest. I felt shocked by my heated display toward God, although I was not prepared to take back a single word.
In the tension of that car, two words from a still, small voice broke the silence of my empty heart.
I was shocked. In my confusion, I yelled back, “Thank you?! What do you mean?! Thank you?!” A few more words from my broken heart and a few more tears from my blood-shot eyes was all I had left.
In a gentle voice, he said, “Now I can take over.”
His graceful words undid me. I wept with all I had. Completely undaunted by my raw emotion, His kindness rushed in. That’s the day I realized that my stormy emotions could not shake God from his steadiness. James 1:17 says that God does not change like shifting shadows.
Romans 2:4 explains that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. Repentance is not merely a turning from apparent sin. At its root, repentance means to change our mind or think differently. God’s pursuit of me in that moment shifted my idea of what His sacrifice had provided. I knew now more than ever that what we shared was not this fragile little thing that could be crushed by my frailty. God knows we are prone to waver, so He made this covenant with Himself and then invited us into that unshakable covenant (Hebrews 6:13-20). It’s based upon His unchanging nature.
Jesus did not only taste death for us. He tasted of every emotion we will ever feel. He never sinned, but he was fully clothed in humble existence of humanity. He became a sympathetic High Priest so that we could come boldly through his blood and find mercy and grace in our time of need. Our God is not only undaunted by our shortcoming and emotions. Sisters, He beckons us to come.
You don’t have to know what it will look like. You don’t need your ducks in a row. It’s okay if its messy. Come and experience the Father. His blood has made a way for the exchange you need.
Can you relate? I’d love to hear from you.
Scriptures referenced in this article:
You’re pouring your heart out every day.
I’d love to pour back into yours with a heart-crafted monthly letter full of encouragement and updates you won’t find anywhere else.
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