I wrote my memoir Spiritual Misfit over a period of two years when my kids were quite young. It was a time in which my spiritual life and my faith grew exponentially, and much of what I learned God taught me through my children and through the hard lessons of parenting. Today I’m sharing one of the more humorous stories from the book (although it wasn’t all that funny in real-time), about how an incident with my son Noah (who was about five at the time) taught me about surrender and trust. This excerpt is from Chapter 10: Surrendering the Fear:
It was the kind of day in early spring that made you hold your breath in anticipation, a day just warm enough to entice with the barely plausible thought of ice cream. The kids and I sat outside Dairy Queen under the crab apple tree, contentedly licking our soft-serve cones as fragile blossoms dropped like snowflakes onto the asphalt. The air was rich with the scent of recent rain and new green, the concrete bench still so cool it seeped a wintry chill through the seat of my jeans.
Noah had finished his cone in record time and was leaping from one bench to another, while Rowan dripped rivulets of chocolate down his arm and into the crease of his elbow. I had just turned toward him with a paper napkin when Rowan burst out laughing and pointed, rainbow sprinkles falling like confetti from his fingers.
When I looked up, I saw Noah standing atop a bench with his jeans and Bob the Builder briefs wrenched down to his knees. He was waggling his penis in the direction of a mini-van parked at the drive-through, one arm arched above his head like a rodeo porn star. The husband in the driver’s seat was clueless, busy balancing a carton of Blizzards, but his wife was aghast, slack-jawed as she stared at my son.
“Noah! What are you doing?” I screeched. “Pull up your pants right now before a cop drives by and arrests you for indecent exposure!” [I admit, not my very best parental response ever] He froze for a split-second, eyes wide, before yanking his pants up.
We didn’t rehash the incident on the way home. I figured my dramatic reaction had been sufficient to convince Noah that public penis-waggling was inappropriate. A month later, though, as I hunched over the keyboard in our basement office one night, Noah appeared, standing behind me in his dinosaur pjs.
“Am I going to jail?” he blurted, his eyes filling with tears. “Am I going to jail because of Dairy Queen?”
“What in the world are you talking about?” I asked, faintly irritated that it was after nine o’clock and he was still awake and conversing with me. Turned out, of course, he was referring to, as he put it, “When I was nudie at Dairy Queen.” He had mulled over the incident and my rash words each night for a full 28 days before finally gathering the courage to voice his fears.
I explained to Noah that I had overstated the punishment — overreaction, Brad once wryly noted, is my modus operandi. I assured him that the police would not arrest a five-year-old for pulling his pants down at Dairy Queen, and then I apologized, more than once, and hugged him tight.
After he had gone back to bed, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about the incident. I felt horrible and irresponsible for terrifying him. What kind of mother was I, anyway? Wasn’t I supposed to protect my child from the evils of the world, to nurture his fragile psyche rather than single-handedly destroy it? Shivering in the chilly basement that night, I felt overwhelmed, inadequate and vastly unqualified in my role as a parent.
In that moment I realized that Noah’s fragility mirrored my own. His fear and powerlessness illustrated to me how incredibly ill-equipped we are to face on our own whatever the big, mean, scary world tosses our way. And just as Noah turned to me in a moment of desperate hopelessness and fear, I knew that I could and would have to turn to God in the same way. Noah had tried to conquer his fear himself, lying in bed each night sifting through his terror. But in the end he couldn’t do it; he had to unburden himself in the face of what to him was an insurmountable problem. Likewise, in a strange twist of events that night in the basement, I learned that I needed to do the same. When the world threatened to crush me with hopelessness and fear, I needed to turn to God and put my trust in him.
Sitting in the dark, cold basement that night, I turned the whole ugly mess — all my fears, all my insecurities in parenting — over to God. I realized then that God loves me in spite of my blurting and blundering, in spite of my overreactions and foot-in-the-mouth moments. I realized that God forgives even my worse parenting decisions, and, if I let him, can ease even my worst fears.
Yet I also knew, even in the midst of that unburdening, that surrender and trust wouldn’t ever be easy for me. My very nature battles it. I understood that I would have to repeat this process of surrender and trust again and again, possibly throughout my entire lifetime.
But I also understood that I had a choice. The choice to trust was all mine.