Her face was pretty, and so young that I wondered at the age of the man beside her. A couple, new to the area, attending our church for the first time. When I introduced myself after the service, I saw that her face and her eyes did not match. Expressionless eyes, numb, windows to a soul that was absolutely shattered. She fumbled for a silver key chain frame that was attached to her purse. “This is my baby boy. He is gone.” The “older” man was her husband, his visage and bearing bore the ravages of the loss of his son and the burden of worrying for his wife.
As time went by I learned the story, and realized that both of them were still in their 20's. That she, a happy and hopeful girl, had been changed into a broken woman. A year and a half of uncertainty, a year and a half of mother-love and determination to sustain her medically fragile child, ended in crushing grief. That his demeanor was from the shell-shock he was trying to function through.
Grief, anxiety, depression, these loads rode heavy on this couple. Still reeling from their grief, came the pain of secondary infertility. Then pregnancy loss. Outwardly I hugged and comforted them; inside I screamed, “Lord, how much can someone bear? "
Fast forward and there are two other beautiful children now. He grows younger as the years go by, humor and wit in his eyes, a grin on his face, a spring in his step that befits a young man. And yet, a depth, a wisdom that comes only from having spent so very long in such a very dark place. She can laugh again; there is life again in her, adoration in her eyes as she holds her treasures close.
Still, there are days when the waves of anxiety come. I may get a text or a call. I tell her I love her and to hold her breath, to come up for air on the other side, this wave will pass.
There is no “fix” for this. No miracle that will turn her back to that young woman who assumed that life and family was neatly laid out, full of dreams, confident in the future. That girl died when her child did.
But I have been privileged to see over the past 7 years this broken woman turn into something else, something deeper, richer. A woman who can see pain, whose heart can break with others. I have seen her grief go full circle, and where I have held her in her brokenness, she has, in turn, held me in mine. She has a capacity for compassion that can only be born of being crushed.
She has not been “delivered” from the grief, from the emotional trauma; but has allowed (and is still learning to allow) that trauma to be the very place from which her redemption comes.
“God, I've given you this over and over.”
“God, why haven't you delivered me yet?”
“God what am I missing? Am I supposed to be learning something?”
“God, did I do something wrong? This still isn't fixed.”
What if the answer isn't ever going to be what we want or wish for, or even what we have been taught to expect?
What if the miracle is not rescue, but it is redemption?
We so enjoy a good rescue story. We thrill to a testimony where God changed a person and then returned all that was lost. We term that situation, “success.” We seek that, strive for it, and when it doesn't happen, wonder why God did not move. But striving for this version of healing tends to make us focus backwards, trying to get back to where we were, who we were, instead of forward to where we are going.
My friend lives with anxiety and depression. She suffered a significant loss that changed her.
A false understanding of redemption could lead us to believe that without a “full” reversal - no more anxiety or depression- that this woman is not a success story, that she has not been restored.
We are shaped, sometimes irreversibly , by what happens to us, but that does not make us unusable. Redemption is not reversal, but it is restoration.
You might say, “but my pain was self-inflicted, my damage is from sin, from bad choices.” To that I say that the redemption is there for you too. Scarred, misshapen, it does not matter. Forgiveness and restoration does not always reverse consequences or negate the law of reaping what is sown. Reaping and sowing is a universal principle, both natural and spiritual, but redemption is far more powerful. Redemption is the idea that all of this can be used for good.
There are amazing stories and testimonies that can happen, and sometimes do. They should be honored, but they should not be elevated as the expectation. Because not every baby is healed, not every straying spouse comes home, not every bankrupt family finds a check in the mailbox, not every addict is instantly delivered. We rejoice in those stories, absolutely. But I suggest that the healing of a shattered mother is also a miracle; that the divorcee who remains faithful to God though their world has been rocked is also cause for praising the Lord; that the family who continues on, day after day, in the midst of financial crisis is also worthy of noting; that the addict who gets up, and gets up, and gets up, is reason for celebration.
God may, sometimes, write our story as a reversal, but he always, always writes it as restoration and redemption. Let us live and prosper where we are, instead of feeling like we have not yet arrived. Embrace the redemption that God has for you, focus not on the scars that remain, but the healing that they represent.
Josie got to choose a reward for sleeping in her own bed. She chose fairy wings, wand, and tiara set from the $1Tree, one for Joy and one for herself.
I took her to pick the items out and she was so excited. She had told Joy that she was getting her a surprise but not what it was. When we got home, she proudly presented Joy her fairy gear and they played for quite a while.
That evening, Josie wanted to play again, but Joy was doing something else. Josie was angry about this and then when Joy also did some other minor offense (sitting where she had been sitting for the previous 20+ minutes...) Josie yelled and shouted, and finally, hit her. Hard. With the plastic fairy wand. Screams and cries abounded from both parties. I comforted the wounded and confronted the attacker. The immediate consequence of course was that the wand went to time out and Josie went to time in.
In an effort to get away from me, Josie pleaded “potty” and I let her go. I stood outside and listened to her wail and rail against me, life, and the universe in general. When she was finished and came out, I opened my arms, thinking that perhaps she was ready to hug and talk. Instead she had a “look” and rushed past me to hide.
I went into the bathroom and saw that she had unrolled and put into the toilet, an entire roll of TP. I went to her and told her that she was allowed to be angry, but not allowed to hit and not allowed to be destructive. I asked her who she thought was going to clean that out? “Not me” she said. Wrong answer. I told her it would indeed be her. That she was going to put on gloves and get it out.
“I don't have gloves”, she protested...my reply, “Guess what? I do!”
So she followed me as I went to the guest room closet and got the plastic gloves. I pulled out two for her and then pulled out two more. “You are going to help me?” her voice was both surprised and hopeful. “Of course I'm going to help you. I love you. You are my kid.”
We went back into the bathroom, I put the giant glove on her tiny hand and had her pull out a token amount of the toilet paper. I of course finished the job and we got the toilet to where it could safely flush.
As we washed up and went out, she was much quieter, but not completely over it all. You could almost see the anger stir back up in her. “Well, I'm NOT going to say sorry!”
“I don't want you to say 'sorry', why would I want you to lie?”
Then she started to cry- an angry cry. “If I say I'm sorry, then I'll be lying and then I'll be in MORE trouble! My wand is going to be in time out forever!! And anyway (crying in earnest now) I'm HUNGRY!”
Oops, my bad... I realized that with the way the evening had gone, everyone off in different directions, she had not had a good dinner. I stood up and told her that I would help her get some food, found some leftovers and quickly heated them up. When she sat down to eat, I sat with her.
She again protested that she still wasn't sorry, almost trying to convince herself at this point.
I told her she would be sorry later, that when we hurt people we love, we are always sorry later.
She again began to list all the ways that Joy had offended her: she wouldn't play, she sat where Josie wanted to be, and now it was Joy's fault that she had lost her fairy wand.
I listened and simply told her again that we don't hurt people. We use words, we can say, “I'm upset that you don't want to play with me!” She assured me, “ Oh, I did. I yelled at her and told her I was MAD... and she still didn't play!” (hmm... you think?)
Again, she went through her entire list of reasons why she had hit her sister and I simply kept saying, “We don't hit people. We don't hurt people.”
“Well I'm not sorry!!” half-hearted crying between bites.
“You will be later, and then you can tell her you are sorry and you love her.”
“But I HATE saying sorry!”
Ahh... now to the heart of the matter.
Oh yes my dear, don't we all? So much easier to convince ourselves that the other person deserved it and we were not wrong.
Then the negotiations. “I won't say sorry...I will just see if she wants to be friends again.”
I reminded her that when she feels hurt, she is pretty insistent on an apology...We have all been recipients of her own demands to, ”Say you're sorry!!”
“What if she doesn't forgive me?”
“Joy loves you SO much, she does everything for you, she will forgive you.”
“But what if she doesn't?”
“She will. Remember when you forgave me?” I reminded her of a recent time when I had apologized to her for something. “She really, really, loves you. We want to forgive people we love. I bet she is waiting right now to forgive you. Why don't you go say, 'I'm sorry, I should not have hit you. Will you be friends? Do you want to share some cake?”
Tears again... but different tears. “Oh, I can't think about eating cake with her after what I did!”
One more assurance that she would be forgiven and the cake gladly shared.
“Will you come with me?”
“I didn't help you hit her, I'm not going to apologize for you.”
“Just walk up there with me. You will stay outside the door.”
So of course I did.
I walked upstairs with her and in she went. She did shut the door so I do not know what she said.
A moment later the door burst open, “She forgives me!”
Door shut again.
Open again with an excited, “She wants to be friends again!!”
Open again, “and she want to have cake with me, and she let me hug her!”
Eyes still wet with tears but shining brightly with the joy of being forgiven and accepted by her loved one.
I headed back downstairs and she came with me to get the cake ready. “Joy will be here in a minute”, she told me.
Joy joined a minute later and they sat close together, shared their cake, and then began to play.
Joy spied her fairy gear on the couch and said, “let's play fairies!”
“Ok!” exclaimed Josie... and then her face and voice fell. “but I can't, ...I don't have a wand.”
And then, grace upon grace. ”That's ok, you can use mine. You will be queen fairy and I'm a baby fairy that hasn't earned her wand yet.”
This whole exchange took well over 30 minutes. Some would say that Josie should have been spanked or punished harshly and be done with it. Some would say that she should have been hit with the same stick she hit with. I disagree of course, but am not going to argue that point right now.
I did hit her... hit her with grace, with mercy. The changes that occurred in her spirit when she realized that I was going to help her fix the mess she made in her rebellion...these were the beginning of repentance. She absolutely knows that wasting toilet paper is not ok. She absolutely knows that clogging the toilet is Bad. She did this on purpose.
But well beyond my grace of a parent seeing a teachable moment and grabbing it, was the grace of the sister she had struck: open arms with love, with forgiveness, with, “here, take my wand.”
There will be future offenses, many of them. Josie has all the self-control of a typical four year old, which is to say, very little. But the lessons learned tonight are invaluable, foundational. Grace has a way of softening hearts that mere punishment can never even approach. She had it reinforced that mommy is here to help her when she makes poor decisions, and more than that, she experienced the utter peace and relief of being forgiven, being loved, and of being welcomed back into relationship.
-Comfort the child who was hurt first.
-Put the object in time out as a consequence and to get it out of the situation. This is not about an object, it is about attitude.
-Validate/ help her name and recognize her feelings; “you were angry because Joy didn't want to play.” Josie had chosen as part of her own reward to give a gift to Joy, and then Joy didn't want to play. Doesn't matter that she had played with her for a long time earlier in the day and it was 10 hours later, Josie felt rejected.
-Don't force an apology, no use making a kid lie about it.
-When she was ready, I helped her by modeling an apology she could use.
-This did not come into play on this occasion, but I also don't force forgiveness or words of forgiveness.
-She had to “own” her mess in the toilet and correct it, but was not punished separately for it. Of course we talked about it, “You were angry with me, so you chose to do something that you know upsets me.”
She did apologize for that later. Even more importantly, several days after the incident, she came up t me and said, “You love me even when I do bad things. You get mad, but you are still happy that I'm your little girl.” She had obviously been chewing on that for a while.
-I realized that part of this was my fault, she was legitimately hangry and it was late at night. She was kind of set up for failure/over-reaction.
- I did not give her wand back just because she had reached true repentance. Consequence is consequence, the wand remained in time out until the next day, just as I had originally said.
- I did not prevent Joy from sharing her own wand and require that Josie remain wand-less The wand was Joy's to give and the lesson there... oh I would never want to stifle that lesson!