It was almost inaudible between her sobs, a tender voice with her deepest fear.
She sounded tormented.
And why? Because she was a sweet mama with a challenging situation, a problem that complicated her children’s lives. And like every mother would be in that situation, she was worried some difficulties in her life might be harming her children. Not inconveniencing them. Not disadvantaging them. Harming them.
I watched her weep and my heart broke, for her and with her because the pain was visceral and couldn’t help but spill into the room so we all felt it.
There was a familiar angst to her tone, but it took me a few minutes before I placed it, the story in my own life with similar concerns, albeit different circumstances.
“Can I tell you a story?” I asked. And when she agreed, I told her mine.
I told her of the substantial gap between our firstborn and second-born. I told her of the infertility, of our agonizing loss.
I told her how depression and anxiety became a haze through which I lived, gradually blanketing my life, heavier and heavier, until I was nothing more than a wreck.
I told her of how it was hard to even shower some days, how I’d sit on the couch and hide in my head while I tried to manage my pain.
I told her of Gabe, his need for connection and my inability to meet him in that as fully as he needed.
I told her of his struggles–his anger, his anxieties, our conflicts and resulting chaos.
And I told her of my tears, of my shame, of how I felt like I broke my son–broke his heart, broke his behavior, broke his future.
She knew me. Our hearts met in that moment over the same deep fears.
But the reason I wanted to tell her the story…my hope.
I told her about a verse that has comforted me, a verse I claimed many times when I was at my darkest and most disconnected (and therefore most guilty) moments.
I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.. (Joel 2:25)
This, I thought, was the hope God wanted me to offer to her–these words and this verse. But as I spoke, I realized there was more, a completion to a story I hadn’t even realized had happened. The story told itself to me at the same time I told it to her.
You see, the night before, after being out of town for a few nights, I’d called home to talk to Gabe. We hadn’t connected since I’d left and I didn’t want to let too many days pass.
I had several bits of homework to do that evening, but calls with Gabe are typically brief forays into the preteen mind, and by that, I mean I usually ask questions and he usually gives one word answers and then rushes to hang up. No worries, I thought. I’ll have plenty of time to get to my homework.
That night, however, was different. He sat on the phone with me for 15 minutes, eager to tell me about the random details of his ordinary day. This was epic. Innately private and more interested in how things work rather than how people relate, I expected to talk to him for about 3 minutes before he ran out of things to say. But, no. He shared. With me. The one who has wept fearful tears that my struggles had inadvertently harmed my sweet boy.
Redemption. It had happened. And I hadn’t even realized it!
Lest you think my parenting life is perfect, it’s not. I was hollered at over dinner and one of my kids refused to eat and we’re going to have to have a group talk tomorrow about kindness and managing our own frustrations without taking them out on our siblings. <ahem> We’re getting ready to enter the teen years with Gabe, and I for sure don’t expect these next years to get easier. But there has been a sweet restoration in the underlying fabric of our relationship that I didn’t even quite recognize until I started to tell my story a few weeks ago. And for that, I am so very thankful.
If you’re in the midst of a difficult parenting phase, I hope this encourages your heart. In fact, in the last weeks since I recognized it, I’ve come back to it several times myself when things were crazy and chaotic and confrontational at my house. Sometimes distress can be such a dark, lonely hole that seems never-ending, but this story reminded me that little by little, intentional persistence can lead to progress.
It’s the first of November, a month full of gratitude, and today I’m starting off the month feeling incredibly grateful that God restores the years the locusts ate…for me and for you, too.