I had a question on my mind that would certainly prompt unrest in my 11-year-old son.
I looked around to check the nearby tables for anyone that might appear to make him uncomfortable. I knew that even if there had been other patrons, they would have had zero interest in our conversation—but in Isaac’s mind, everyone would be staring and judging.
Despite his belief to the contrary, my desire was not to make him uncomfortable. My intent today was to calmly include him in an impending decision regarding his education. Unfortunately, my intentions rarely matter when his heart begins to fear.
So I handed him a piece of tinfoil, (to rescue his placemat from a fatal sentence of anxious fingers). I marveled at the creature he crafted from the tinfoil and stuffed the ache in my heart. He is so creative—and capable. If he could curb his self-loathing and channel his creativity, this child could design the world’s first magnetic automobile exactly as his wildest dreams could conceive, but I have learned not to discuss the “could be’s” with Isaac. It only seems to serve as a plumb line for his personal failures.
I prayed, and then I began. “Isaac,” I said calmly, which only alerts his panic radar. Our typical conversation style ranks with that of drill sergeant and cadet. Isaac knows: calm means ambush. “In a couple of days,” I continue, “school will start again, and I would like to ask you a question.” The tinfoil creature began rolling in his fingers. I pressed on. “What would make school easier for you?”
He seemed taken aback by the nature of the question. My apparent concern for his opinion couched in an offering of control seemed unusual to him. I could see his mind was at a critical point: Do I trust and engage, or do I steer this conversation according to my rules? I waited and prayed fervently. Finally I saw the child in his eyes choke and die under the oppression of fear. In his most pre-teen voice and corresponding attitude he replied, “Is this going to turn into another conversation about my adoption?”
My heart sank—glug, glug, glug—and became submerged in anger and frustration. Another opportunity for intimacy and healthy relationship drowned by anxiety and distrust. My emotions raged within me and I screamed at God. Why did You give me this child? I don’t know what I am doing! I am so, so—
As we sat there, Isaac’s aluminum figure began to molt, leaving tiny pieces of foil all over the floor beneath him. Aware of the enemy’s agenda to destroy my day with post-yelling guilt, I quietly paid the bill and silently drove us home.
Seething, I slammed the garage door and stomped into the bathroom. As the only female in the house, I spend a lot of time sitting in the shower with the curtain drawn and no water running (well, nothing from the plumbing—my own water-works could overflow the tub).
After 10 years of parenting an adopted child and feeling like a complete failure, I sometimes find it difficult to pull up my proverbial bootstraps. Nothing works with this child, I complained. No matter how much time, energy, money, and stress we invest in this kid, at the end of the day, his distorted retelling of his adoption story prevails. Words like “rejected, unwanted, abandoned, and refused” plague his self-concept. In our minds (my husband’s and mine), his story—which is our story as well—revolves around words like “rescued, provided for, miracle, and sovereignty.” Why can’t he see? I cry, reaching through the shower curtain for some toilet paper. Why won’t he let go of the misery and choose peace?
Wiping my eyes and using my bath towel for my nose instead of my hair, I exit the shower. Making a mental note to launder the towels before the next morning, I hover over my sink splashing cool water onto my eyes. My tantrum prevails again—without any wisdom gained. Staring at my puffy eyes, I suddenly become aware of a little turquoise sticky note clinging to the right side of the mirror. I read it anew for the 10,000th time:
All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace (Isaiah 54:13).
I recite it over and over as I stare at my reflection. Back to the shower. This time, on my knees.
Oh Lord, I cry, forgive me for taking control. I cannot change the heart of my son. Only You can do that work. If he is ever to have peace he will only find it in You. Please, Father, parent me so I can parent him.
After disposing of another half roll of toilet paper, I move to my bedroom. Now I am thinking Isaiah is a pretty smart dude, and I may want to explore his wisdom further, since we are on a roll here (no pun intended). Thumbing through the pages of the prophet, I stop at an underlined passage—another I have read 10,000 times. Now open to the discernment and direction of the Spirit, I read, pleading for wisdom.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth … so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:10–11 ESV).
The words tumble in my mind as I consider how they apply to my parenting. In the stillness of my broken heart, I begin to hear the Lord faithfully answering its plea.
The truth of who he is, Jami, and the hope of ever finding peace is in the words I have written. My words will not return void. Speak My truth to Isaac, and I alone will teach your son peace.
On my kitchen table there are thirteen “I Am” cards. On the front of each card are words like “I am a conqueror” or “I am a child of God” or “I am loved.” On the reverse of each card is a corresponding Scripture. Every day I am tempted to make a special point of reading those cards out loud—essentially drilling these words into the minds of my boys. But God reminds me as I brush my teeth each morning that “all my sons will be taught by the Lord.” I do not need to drill, I just need to sow.
So each morning I rotate the cards and watch Isaac devour them in unsuspecting curiosity.
What is interesting about this exercise is that in trusting God’s Word to completely and effectively instruct my children, I feel myself being released of the burden to parent them perfectly. If Isaac will ever overcome his anxiety and rewrite his adoption story to employ words like “favored, chosen, and redeemed,” it will not be because of any wisdom I have imparted. It will come through the truth of God’s perfect Word, which promises to never return void. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Question to consider: Jami uses “I Am” cards. What methods have you found effective to help you put into practice “trusting God’s word to completely and effectively instruct my children”?
About the author
Jami Staples is the Director of Women’s Training for Crescent Project. Together with countless volunteers Ms. Staples designs national training conferences for Christian women to learn how to move past their anxieties and share the Word of God with Muslim women world wide.View all articles by: Jami L. Staples
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