When Life is Big and You Can’t Control It
Struggling hard to find words here out of Africa. I can’t even put into words how I desperately am struggling to find words. But on Katie Davis’ bed in Uganda, Kisses from Katie with her 13 beautiful daughters? Was lying her current read — Angie Smith’s latest book, Mended. And I sat on Katie’s bed and thumbed those pages gratefully and felt like a whole bunch of Jesus’ sisters were encouraging each other together to live sold-out for Christ. The Body of Christ is a beautiful thing… Angie Smith nurtured One Thousand Gifts before it was a book, led the DaySpring book club videos the book, and is one of my sister speakers at Women of Faith — I love Angie Smith like no other… And her words today on the front porch? Are grace to my struggling heart:
The text message didn’t sound urgent, so I responded in a joking tone.
One of my kids had done something she shouldn’t have, but it seemed all was well now so I kept running errands and told our sitter I would deal with it when I got home.
I went to a few stores looking for summer clothes for my 10 year old twin girls, who have recently decided that fashion hovers somewhere between food and air on the priority list.
Last summer I would run into Target and grab whatever was on sale, knowing it was going to unravel in a few weeks of hard play but not being too concerned because that’s what it was for. It didn’t matter if it had a monkey with a weird quotation or a glitter-infused rainbow. That’s all gone down the tubes now. Add the additional challenge of finding an outfit that looks age-appropriate (please don’t get me started. DO NOT GET ME STARTED.) and I’ve walked into a land mine.
I tried a few more places and then headed home, where my sitter filled me in a little more on what had happened. I
t turns out it wasn’t a small thing.
It was a scary, awful, heart-stretching, sweat-inducing, potentially fatal decision that left me with some difficult questions to answer.
The short version is this. I have four living daughters.
Two take after their father when it comes to adventure, and the other two (the twins) take after me (translation: a crazy night for us is watching Food Network and hand-stitching something).
Evidently one of my kids had decided to “help a friend” whose necklace had ended up on our roof. How, you ask? Good. I did too. Apparently it was the result of playing a game in the front yard called, “Let’s try and throw something on the roof.”
Naturally, we help our friends, right? Even when that means having a group of neighbors in your room while you unscrew a screen and climb out your second-story dormer window, shimmying down the slope and retrieving the necklace.
I’ll go ahead and tell you it wasn’t the kid I would have guessed. In fact, she wouldn’t have been in the top three. She’s my first-born, and even though it was only by 2 minutes, she is every bit the stereotype.
I sent the sitter home and called her in the house. I told her to go to her room and sit on her bed until I was ready to talk about what had happened.
That took an hour.
I prayed, I cried, I begged God for wisdom and I called my husband. I don’t remember the specifics but I’m fairly certain I hinted at an angle that put him and his genetic pool in the hot seat.
And then I walked up the staircase, knowing that every footstep was echoing in her room.
She sat up in her bed, hidden under her quilt. I lifted it off of her, revealing her red-streaked face and glassy eyes. She didn’t look at me.
“I don’t even know exactly what to say,” I started “I’m so scared and disappointed you would make a decision like that. You could have killed yourself.”
She made momentary eye contact and the tears spilled over.
I was physically shaking, trying to find the words to convey whatever would steer her away from danger but not necessarily require intensive therapy later in life. It’s a fine line, I tell you.
“First I want you to tell me exactly what happened, and why you did what you did.” I listened as she went through it in detail.
There was no peer pressure exerted by her friends, and no reason to feel like she had been pushed into doing it. She told me she wanted to rescue the necklace, and also that she “had seen people sit on their roofs in movies and look at the stars and it always seemed like it was such a beautiful view from there.”
As she described it to me, I stared at the roof a few feet away, fighting tears and swallowing words.
The weight of what could have happened settled on me, speeding my breath and bringing back memories I run from every day.
My face was hot, and she knew what I was thinking.
“I’m sorry, mommy. I’m so sorry. I’ll never do it again.”
But what about the next thing? What if she swerves her bike and a car is coming? What if she is playing and goes underwater and never comes back up?
And underneath it all, the thoughts that haunt me.
I’ve already buried a daughter. Never again, Lord. Please. Never again…
I struggle with fear. I always have. And I have faced one of the most terrible things a parent can ever go through. But I don’t want those to be the deciding factors in how I mother my children.
It’s why I took an hour. Because I needed time to sort out what was mine and what was hers.
I needed to remember my promises about discontinuing the cycle of fear that has soaked through our family for generations. I needed to be still and remember He was on the throne. That He was in the cemetery and on the roof.
That none of it is outside of Him, too much for Him, or out of His control.
Many times a day I ask Him a version of the same question I sorted through in that hour. How do I show Your love, Your justice, Your grace, and Your purpose instead of mine alone? Because I’m all tangled up in it all, and I can’t see the big picture.
I don’t want to punish her because I’m scared. Her or anyone else, for that matter.
I don’t want to frighten her into obedience or bribe her into rule-following.
I don’t want to take what was given to me and repackage it. I want to love having her more than I fear losing her.
I want to mother her as a woman who knows the One who really Fathers her.
I had moved to the rocking chair by the window, and she came and sat in my lap with her head buried in my neck. I don’t know which tears were mine and which were hers, and I rocked her as her long legs dangled and her feet dragged across the floor.
After several minutes of sniffling and swaying, I asked her if she understood why I was so angry. She nodded.
“Because you love me that much.” I nodded in return, too overcome with emotion to form words.
Finally I whispered to her, and I felt her body settle.
“For the rest of your life, there are going to be windows, Ellie. Some are going to lead to places you shouldn’t be, and some are going to lead to a more beautiful view. I can’t open them for you and I can’t tell you which ones you are supposed to open. But He can, and He will. Your job is to know Him well enough to hear Him, and to be constant in obeying Him.”
I didn’t say it that clearly in the moment, I’m sure. But I talked about grace and forgiveness and the protecting hand of the Lord on His children. I assured her that I was one of those children too, always trying to hear His voice and obey it but many times failing as well.
I know what it’s like to say you’re trying to help someone even though you’re well aware it was really a halfway-decent excuse to satisfy something in yourself.
I know what it’s like to rebel. I didn’t become a Christian until I was 24. There’s no telling how many roofs He kept me from slipping off of.
But I also know that when I finally climbed back in, I understood mercy in a different way. Sure, He could have punished me ruthlessly, frightened me until I locked it shut, or convinced me that I wasn’t worth the effort.
He showed me something else, and it’s what keeps me steady when life shakes:
His love for me.
His unmerited, unbreakable, underestimated, under-appreciated, unfathomable love.
And with that comes the reminder of His sovereignty and His justice as a holy God. There are consequences to our sin.
In Ellie’s case, that meant we took away some of her freedom in several areas because we felt she had abused what she had been given.
We spent a good amount of time explaining what her punishment would look like and the reasons behind it.
She never argued or even flinched. In fact, she agreed wholeheartedly that she deserved it and apologized instead of disagreeing.
We aren’t perfect parents, obviously. Which I’m guessing you pieced together based on the fact that this is a story about our kid CLIMBING ON THE ROOF AND ALL.
Despite that fact, I can tell you that her motivation for obedience is based on our love for her and her trust in the way we establish boundaries. They aren’t stakes in the ground to shame her or obstacles she should learn to manipulate; they are a labor of our love for her, sketched with hands that tremble with responsibility.
Needless to say, I don’t think she’ll pull a stunt like this again anytime soon.
A few days later I went back to the clothing store and came home with some fantastic selections for her, laying them out on the bed while she stared at me like my head was on fire. Let’s just say it’s going to be a not-so-hipster, possibly “talking feline” related, semi-bedazzled and flowery summer.
And I’ll be honest with you.
I secretly think she loves the view.