It’s a good thing I slowed down to 35 mph last week because we encountered some major bumps in our familial road. In fact, let’s call it a washed-out road, a closure through which we narrowly avoided barreling. If we’d hit this road-turbulence at 75, I’m almost certain the wheels would have flown straight off the axles. Suffice it to say, all three kiddos needed extra time, attention, care, and patience. And they seemed to demand all of it without checking my schedule or energy level or giving anything in return.
Since I’d been providentially preparing for detours, I was able to slam the brakes in time and keep us on the pavement.
But, I almost canceled Christmas. Yep, you read that right. I’d felt like selfishness, disobedience, whining, and lack of concern for others—yes, this is selfishness but it’s worth listing twice—had hit an all-time high. I’d felt like our family was doomed for destruction if I didn’t do something major. And with the Most Wonderful Time of the Year on the horizon, I’d felt a huge gap between how I wanted our family to act and feel toward each other and how we actually were.
Is it ever a mind-bogglingly frustrating experience to want so badly to be one thing and yet stand eyeball-to-bloodshot-eyeball with the fact that your present moment is everything but. Hair. On. Fire. Shame blazing. You get the picture.
It was this past Friday morning—with one kid about to miss the bus and the other two as off track for their deadline 20 minutes later—that we nearly missed the signs and ran into the road-closure. “I’m talking to Santa,” I yelled at pretty much the top of my lungs. “And we’re not doing gifts. We’re giving instead. Because we need to practice that giving is better than receiving. And that’s what Christmas is about.”
While a great message on its own, the audience did not especially appreciate the way it was delivered and was not collectively receptive, to put it mildly. Tears, stomping, and furrowed brows followed.
Although we were on peaceful terms by the time each kid left, we still needed to work to restore our relationship and Christmas Spirit. That’s how we parted for the day last Friday. No hugs, no “Bless you and be a blessing,” just some limp goodbyes and then silence, mixed with exhaustion, in the house. I’d wanted to quit the day right there, before anything else could happen, hide my shame and failure, and crawl into bed to start new tomorrow.
Why am I writing to you about the culmination our terrible week? For one, I want to let you know that all of us—even the people who, for their professions, seek inspired and inspiring answers to successful learning and family relationships—struggle with who we want to be and how that plays out on a moment-to-moment basis.
We are going to make mistakes and experience suffering and events outside of our control. We might not be able to control how we feel (frustration, anger, disappointment, and hopelessness are all natural human emotions), but we can choose how we react or how we ultimately act in response to those feelings. We can choose what lasting message about the experience will play in our hearts and minds.
I didn’t need to lose my mind and yell, but afterward, I did need to keep the Christmas Spirit in mind and restore what was lost in my first message. After all, hadn’t I picked out the values of compassion, gratitude and joy as my guides? I could turn this around, and they could too.
When we allow unpleasantry or suffering to guide our learning, we can find the good as much as we possibly can; openness and resilience become our way of healing. Even when our hearts are weary, wrecked, and ragged, there is hope. It’s a gift we’ve been given, and we can give it to others.
What was our gift of hope on Friday? Hope came to us in the form of a child. I believe I’ve heard that somewhere before…
This particular version came in the form of an 18-month-old girl who lives in Thailand and shares my oldest son’s birthday. We’ve sponsored a child through Compassion. You’ll hear more about this little one, I’m sure, as we receive more information and begin our correspondence. All three kiddos are very excited—two want her to come live with us—and we are all experiencing much-needed healing and recentering. In fact, as I type away, the kids are drawing pictures for her. This sweet little girl is helping our family live out the gift of hope as we provide it..
I learned about this sponsorship opportunity through Liz Ditty, who is the author of God’s Many Voices and was a speaker at my Mom’s Connect group last Friday morning. After the morning scene with the kiddos, I had wanted to bury my head in the blankets. Instead, I got myself to the gathering, looking for a way to heal from my hurt, shame, guilt, and frustration. And in a super neat and mysterious way, the sponsorship opportunity appeared as a gift of hope that met me exactly where I was.
What was my part in the happy ending? By receiving the gift, putting it to use, flexing it like a muscle, and holding it mind as the bigger picture, I’ve added a layer of resilience to keep my heart warm in seasons of cold.
And isn’t this what we want our kids to walk away with? To carry with them, to extend to others? Hope. Resilience. That we can fall and get back up. That we can try again. That we can forgive and be forgiven. That we can use hardship for good…even thrive in hard times. That we can heal instead of hardening our hearts. That we can look for hope and find it even in our weariness. That we will be met where we are.
Slow down with me? Let’s walk. Enjoy the lights and the scenery a bit. And light a candle for hope.