When I imagined my life as a parent, I never imagined the magnitude of the responsibility or the depth of the joy. I never imagined the weightiness of the love or the all-encompassing nature of the role. I never imagined the depth of the uncertainty or the ability of the task to overwhelm and confuse. I imagined my existing life rolling along and taking with it these new lives with each turn and season. Another few years, another little human. Another few years and yet another person to incorporate into our lives. Four more years and two more people to call our own. Continuing on with the status quo but acquiring these new people to love and walk with through life. New people who would somehow just grow up perfectly, tidily, in an organized fashion and with little need for worry. I imagined the impossible but, for some reason, I imagined it nonetheless.
I didn’t think ahead. I couldn’t see the road that lay before me and perhaps, even if I had, I wouldn’t have been able to tackle it any differently.
You see, my expectations, for my kids, at some point in time, have been expectations of tidiness. Of fitting in and ticking the boxes. Of not making waves or not making noise.
How impossible it felt when I first realized that those were not the kids God gave me but, more than that, how impossible and confusing it felt when the depth of love & expectation of greatness that I had for them came crashing against a wall of unrealistic expectations that they encountered out in the world or even sometimes, within our own home. A wall that seemed to (and still sometimes seems to) stand between them and success. A wall that, at the very least, seems to stand between them and a beautiful, regular experience of having all those around them see, treasure and value their individual giftings.
The realization that God has given me eyes to see my kids for who they truly are but that not everyone will be able to view them in that light and some will be relegated to only seeing the struggles that exist in the shadows of who they truly are. The understanding that, even I, will struggle to balance my love for them with my desire to accommodate and assimilate. The acceptance that I will spend the coming years advocating and explaining and trying to pull back the curtain of confusion, of noise, of distraction & perceived laziness so that those around them can see the true core of who our kids are in Christ.
But, as I have navigated the past 6 years with these amazing humans who have been rolled into my life, I have realized, more clearly, that God made no mistake in giving me these ‘outside of the box kids.’ Perhaps it has been the ever-increasing amount of responsibility that has weighed on our shoulders as our kids get older and face new challenges in school and social realms. Perhaps it has been the multiple earthquakes of transition that have shaken our lives since our first move to PNG in 2016. Perhaps it has been the insight that comes from moving to an entirely new place – or a place that feels entirely new every time you come back because of the overwhelming amount of turn over – and seeing myself and my family through the eyes of others. Whatever the reason, these past few years have brought some new clarity to the unique, loving and well thought out plan of the Father who loves me and my family so dearly.
You see, in many ways, the unspoken expectations I have had for my kids are my expectations for myself as well.
Accomplish everything and accomplish it perfectly.
Tick the boxes.
Don’t make waves.
Don’t make noise.
Be seen for your accomplishments, not your shortcomings and failures.
But the older I get, the more I realize that’s not me. I am not wired for quiet or for stillness. I am wired for multi-tasking. I am a perfectionist who struggles with procrastination. I am a dreamer who sometimes doesn’t allot enough time for the execution of my dreams and, more often than not, feels as though I’ve come up short on accomplishing what I set out to do, even though my accomplishments exist and are visible. I am an achiever who questions her abilities and is almost always worried about failing. I get distracted and discouraged and often fall prey to such a strong case of tunnel vision that I unwittingly drown out all reason and rational thinking and I am aware of each one of these idiosyncrasies more and more with each passing year, but especially as I observe their variations in my own children.
As I have become more aware of my own struggles and insecurities, I have found myself exploring the question of whether or not these expectations of tidiness are reasonable. Whether or not these expectations are Christ-like and God-honoring. Whether or not these expectations of myself and of my kids are in line with how God sees me.
I have asked myself, what does He expect from us? And the answer has been encouraging. He expects us to show up – with all of our flaws and imperfections and, more than that, He extended the invite to us while we were still in that condition – flaws and all. His expectation does not hinge upon our performance but upon His finished work on the cross. When He sees us, He sees Jesus. He sees the spotless lamb. Our righteousness. He sees perfection even when all we see is imperfection. He sees like the God of the Universe – someone who has chosen to love us without condition but who does not desire to leave us in the same condition in which we were found. A gentle, yet persuasive Saviour – He pulls us up and pulls us along. He walks with us and alongside us. He is inviting. He is affirming. He is deeply defending, even though we deserve it not. In many ways, He looks at us like a child looks at a parent. Only, instead of just forgetting our shortcomings, He is aware of them all but loves us still and expects great things for our lives.
You see, despite my discomfort with disorder, God has been teaching me something through unmet expectations. Tied to my own shortcomings and struggles, my view of ‘perfect’ is flawed. Informed by anxiety, grief and guilt, any chance my expectations had of being pure, perfect and plausible vanished with the fall of man and have been destined for unreliability ever since. Yet despite my inability to create reasonable expectations and live up to them, I am not chosen for my worthiness but invited through my willingness. His expectations are ultimate and He is not surprised by any of our unique compositions, character or conduct. He was there ‘in the beginning’ and He chose us. He chose my kids. He chose me. He is calm in our chaos. Confusion in our clarity. Purpose in our powerlessness. We need not abandon all expectations but, rather, adjust them. Reorient them. Redirect them to the One who is not disappointed with us but welcomes us with open arms. We need to let go of our need for perfect and instead run deeper into the unending depths of who He is so that we can truly know who He has designed us to be. What a gift. What an invitation. What an adventure.
The past 10 months have been, for me, a time of reflection and a time of hope. I have stepped out from under the crippling weight of anxiety partnered with it’s bed fellows of shame, guilt and condemnation, and I have been able to see myself and my kids more clearly. They are not too loud, too opinionated, too much and neither am I. Those are the words of one who condemns and not the One who justifies. Who forgives. Who glorifies. Who shines through our brokenness to illuminate the source of the light we are shining.
They are perfectly made. Wonderfully designed. Beautifully thought of and loved into being. Together, we are reflections of God’s design and invited to run towards Him to find our true identity.
Knowing Him is knowing ourselves.
Loving Him is being loved.
Seeking Him is being found.
Following Him is being full and complete.
Our expectations of hope cannot hinge upon ourselves but can safely find a home with the God of the Universe. He will always know what He’s doing and He will always invite us into His adventure.
So, how then will I choose to parent? How, then, will I choose to love? How, then, will I choose to see myself and the circumstances of my life? What will I expect?
I will expect Jesus – not that we will be perfect, as He was perfect, but that we will be perfect in righteousness because it has been placed on us like the calming weight of a reassuring, inviting and encouraging presence. I will expect His truth to guide. His words to comfort. His presence to protect. I will expect to be challenged – drawn closer to Him through situations that are beyond my control and beyond my comprehension. I will expect to be strengthened – given everything I need to face the unknowns that lie ahead of me. And I will expect to be surprised – by what He does in my life and the lives of my kids.
When my children say that I’m the perfect mom even when I’m not, I will take that as a reminder of His love and mercy, which He offers me for my shame. When others miss the beauty in the complexity of who my children are, I will be reminded that He sees them completely and has a plan for their lives and when my expectations go unmet, I will be reminded that His ways are not my ways, but they are higher. Better. Perfect.
So, in this new season, I am erasing expectations and embracing Emmanuel. God with us – blessing us with the weightiness of His love and His offer to take the burdens we unnecessarily carry as our own. We do not have to live in the past, worry about the present or predict the future. He took on the magnitude of responsibility for our lives and the lives of our kids so that we could live in peaceful surrender, unafraid of imperfection and rooted in an unshakeable identity. His opinion is what matters and, to Him, we are beloved.
“While the impostor draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, the true self claims identity in its belovedness. We encounter God in the ordinariness of life: not in the search for spiritual highs and extraordinary, mystical experiences but in our simple presence in life.”
― Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging
“God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.”
― Brennan Manning, All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir
“The point is that we can never take God by surprise. We can never anticipate him. He always makes the first move. He is always there ‘in the beginning’.”
― John Stott, Basic Christianity
“Insistence on security is incompatible with the way of the cross. What daring adventures the incarnation and the atonement were! What a breach of convention and decorum that Almighty God should renounce his privileges in order to take human flesh and bear human sin! Jesus had no security except in his Father. So to follow Jesus is always to accept at least a measure of uncertainty, danger and rejection for his sake.”
― John R.W. Stott, The Cross of Christ
“Jesus Christ, we believe, is the fulfilment of every truly human aspiration. To find him is to find ourselves.”
― John R.W. Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challege of Preaching Today
“With the goodness of God to desire our highest welfare, the wisdom of God to plan it, and the power of God to achieve it, what do we lack?”
― A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
“For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Jesus Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change. When Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened,” He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words are a touching testimony to the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love.” ― Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out