[Our sweet Alaina turned 13 on Saturday. Although it took me a few days to finish writing (such is the life of a mother), the words, I hope, are still worth sharing. For those of you who don’t have time to sit down and read, I have added an audio transcript of this letter which you can listen to here or download.) Perhaps while washing dishes or running on the treadmill, a mama’s heart-words to her children will inspire you to create your own.]
Their words stung. I feared the look on my face would prompt questions. My mind raced and my heart pumped furiously. On the spot, I made decisions for the future of our family.
It wouldn’t be the last time those words would be heard; there would be dozens of similar conversations, all resulting in the same fortitude.
With my sweet little blondies in hand, the pile of them all still preschool age, I squeezed a bit tighter as the words spewed:
“Enjoy them while they are little, because once they are teenagers….well…just wait.”
Well, my loves, I am going to tell you something:
I am not afraid of the teenage years.
Let me say it again so you can hear it loud and clear:
I am not afraid of the teenage years.
And that’s a good thing, because they start today.
Beginning this afternoon (12:47pm EST to be exact), and stretching over the next seventeen years (at least), I will be the mother of a teenager. And not only am I not afraid, I AM EXCITED.
Today our sweet Alaina will blow out a baker’s dozen on her cake. We will celebrate the moment that occurred thirteen years ago. After writhing in pain in a hospital in Bangalore, India, I heard the most precious words I had ever prayed for:
It’s a girl!
And thus began my journey into motherhood, one that three miscarriages and many months of tears and questioning God’s goodness wouldn’t allow me to forge into half-heartedly.
From day one, I have loved being a mother. It’s not that I love all aspects of it, the tedious and mundane—the diapers, the nursing, the bottles, the mess, the noise, the sibling squabbles, the interruptions—but motherhood courses through my heart and mind and I love it.
You can imagine what those “just wait until they are teenagers” words did to me. You can guess, because you are my children and you know me. While many mothers would brace themselves and prepare for what they were told was inevitable, the words I heard only worked to fortify my soul. They made me choose—each and every time I heard them—to enjoy you while you were young while I waited in hopeful excitement for the years ahead. I vowed, if even only to myself, to fight for you—for your hearts and for our relationship. I determined that capturing and keeping your hearts would be priority over virtually all else.
I saw problems with the mindset advised to me:
- I didn’t want to have the years of your sweet and silly and say-all-the-funny-things childhood to be shadowed by a looming fear of what “those years” would bring. How could my heart be fully attentive to the now if I was silently dreading what was to come?
- The assumption that my children would become less like Christ as they matured instead of more like Christ was contrary to what I understood in Scripture about the sanctification process. The world operates with expectation on entropy (things move from order to disorder.) Like all things in the Kingdom culture, sanctification operates in the opposite fashion: those who have been saved in faith move from chaos (our sinful state) to heavenly order (sanctification.)
- I understood the dangers of self-fulling prophecies. This might not be a term you all have heard, kids, so here is definition for you: A self–fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior. In short, something becomes true because you believe it to be true. It’s a real thing. If there is a very real correlation between what we believe will happen and what actually happens, wouldn’t it make more sense for us to believe that you will be pretty awesome teenagers? That we will still love each other, laugh together, and serve one another?
My mind was made up and my course was set: I would not be afraid of the teenage years and I would instead live with joyful expectation that the incredible toddlers who were bringing joy to our family would grow and mature into young adults who would continue to bring joy as God’s plan for their personalities and purpose became increasingly clear.
It’s day one, I get that. One day—out of seventeen years—doesn’t mean anything. But I’m still not scared.
I remember being a teen. It was hard—harder than almost anything else I have ever done. I know the emotions, I know the struggle. I know the desires and the dreams and broken hearts. I remember the insecurity. I remember the awkwardness. I remember the deep questions of the heart. And because I remember, I know some of what you all will face as you make the transition from childhood to adulthood. Growing isn’t always easy or fun.
We’ll have bumps along the way, of that I am sure. We’ll struggle. We will disagree. We will feel frustrated at times. You’ll question our motives and we will question yours. How else could eight sinners all live under the same roof?
But I’m still in this. I am still your mom. I am still here to love you, protect you, and teach you to fly. The imperative wing clipping will might feel hindering (or even debilitating) at times. You might even resolve to take a test flight out of the nest, assured of your readiness. You’ll jump. You’ll flail. You’ll fall.
And this is what I hope and pray—with God’s grace and patience with me fueling the desire—I will do when you fall.
Bruised and beaten, I’ll come to you. I’ll brush you off, scoop you up, and bring you a hot cup of coffee and allow you to—without fear of further insult or injury—recount your crash landing. And then I’ll say two of the most powerful words a human can offer to another: “Me too.” With humility and vulnerability, I’ll make you laugh and cry with stories of my own ungraceful landings. If you think the “paint the sweater so my mom didn’t know I stole it, stained it, and bleached it” story was bad, you’ll be comforted in learning my list of failures, faults and fluttering attempts grows exponentially from there.
And there is one more thing I promise to do, and it is so very important. Important, but difficult, and I may need reminders. But this I promise: I will ask for forgiveness when my sinfulness has influenced your own. I am just like you: a sinner saved by grace in faith alone. The only difference between us is that I am an older (and hopefully wiser) sinner with much more experience falling and striving to rise strong with only grace and forgiveness as my strength. I will fail you. I will hurt you. I will, at times, be self-absorbed and uninterested. It won’t be my intention, but my sinful nature assures me it will happen. In those times, I pray that grace and forgiveness has been modeled for you enough to know how to extend them yourselves. I’ll need them.
I’m hear to listen. I’m here to care. I will empathize when I can and sympathize when I cannot. Your hurts and struggles and questions of the heart are real and they are the weightiest experiences you have encountered thus far. I will not belittle them. I will not brush them aside. I will not lay them alongside an adult’s struggle and conclude their insignificance.
[More on this in a letter to come, though you’ve heard it all before. It bears repeating. In fact, it needs to be written and then proclaimed to every adult who will ever interact with a child or young adult.]
Even with the struggles and frustrations to come, I still choose your heart. I still choose our relationship. I still choose to meet you where you are and to ask you to help me understand what what you see on “your side of the book.” And I will ask you to allow me to share what I see on “my side of the book”. And together, we’ll grow. We’ll learn to be more loving, more forgiving, more patient, and more grateful that God chose us to be family.
And so kids, on this first day of parenting a teenager, no fear resides in my heart. Only excitement. Your unique personalities are each starting to rise above the horizon. I see glimpses of the men and women you will become and I wonder and pray about the path God is blazing before you. As much as I adore the little kid years, the foreshadowing of your adult lives thrills my heart and soul. Even now, as we joke and talk and enjoy the mundane tasks of life together, I know the the next seventeen years will be a testament of God’s grace and growth in your lives. How could my anticipation be anything but elation?
Thirteen years ago today my dear Alaina made me a mother. And today, as we watch the clock turn to 11:17pm in Bangalore, she will make me the mother of a teenager. I was told to “just wait until they are teenagers.” As the adage asserts, “Good things come to those who wait.” Well, I’ve waited and this is what I see: a beautiful young woman with an inner spirit that inspires. I see her serve her family, be attentive to and diligent in her studies, think and inspire others about modesty, laugh at her dad’s corny jokes, beg her little siblings for hugs and kisses, take initiative to help when she sees it is needed, goof off with her brothers, love and encourage her friends, and express gratitude to her parents. Good things indeed.
And the rest of you who are tailing closely behind are equally incredible. I can’t wait to see how these next years continue to build on the foundation of our family and each of your individual measures of faith. God has begun a great work in you (in us!) and He will carry it on to completion. Of that I am sure.