Saturday, January 30, 2010

When Life Hurts- Part 1

Imagine a terrorist snatching your child off the street, right under your nose. The vicious monster holds her by the neck, a knife to her throat, and mocks you as he races away into the night shouting, "You can't stop me."

If that sounds overly-dramatic, then you haven't lived through the nightmare of a wayward child.
There are no words that can accurately portray the absolute agony parents endure when the child they've nurtured from infancy sets out to destroy herself. It is similar to the death of that child, except this death keeps happening over again. There is no closure, no time to dwell on happy memories, no instant empathy from everyone you know. Instead you fear that everyone is wondering what you did wrong. You wish you knew.

And for parents who've raised their children in a Christ-centered home, the sense of betrayal is overwhelming. What about the verse that says, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it?" We did everything right. How could this have turned out so wrong?

I'm not referring to the inevitable teenage attitudes or a mistake that is later rectified. This is more than a "phase." This is a headlong race toward evil, extending over a long period of time by the child you've treasured since infancy, taught the Scriptures, and instilled with a sense of right and wrong.
  • One of the first emotions to hit is denial, similar to what happens with a death. This is impossible! This can't happen in our family. There's no reason for it. Surely we misunderstood. Surely it's just a phase... .
  • Then comes a grief so great you don't think you can take it. You lie there, night after night, when sleep won't come, trying not to imagine where they are. Who's harming her right now? What's he doing to himself? Please, God, don't let the mistakes be irreparable.
  • Then you discover that anger is preferable to the overwhelming hurt, so rage becomes your ally. It fuels your day. Red-hot anger lets you breathe as you go through the motions of life, all the while screaming inside at the child who dared to savage you like this.

  • With the rage comes the dawning knowledge that the child you've loved to distraction all this time doesn't love you back. Hurt simmers just beneath the surface, but your heart can't take the enormity of that much betrayal. So anger stays and now you truly believe you could kill her with your bare hands should she dare show up. There's temporary liberation in fury, but the reckoning will come later.
  • Then the sense of loss echoes through your heart and house. You hear a song, pass their room, laugh at a joke, and it hits you between the eyes. Your stomach twists and all joy is sucked out of the moment.

    But you're not allowed the dignity to grieve openly, as the parent of a deceased child is given. You carry on, pretending there is life inside your body, assuring everyone you are holding up all right. How can you explain the grief to someone who hasn't been there? You can't share the details that are so heinous you never imagined them spoken in the same sentence with your child's name. Shame battles with grief until you don't know what you're supposed to feel.

    No, she's not dead, I don't think. I don't know. She's out there, somewhere, but the chasm between our hearts is so great it may never be bridged. My baby is gone forever.
    What I've discovered since we began our personal nightmare years ago is the alarming number of families going through the same thing. Although each case is different, the pain is identical. And no one is talking about it. Every parent when faced with the unthinkable feels alone: "What did we do wrong? Why would he do this to us? I'm so ashamed..."

    In the next post, I will list some steps you may find helpful if you or someone you love is dealing with this family crisis. If nothing else, I hope this series provides a hand to hold as you live through your personal nightmare.

Feel free to leave a comment or email me privately at
You're not alone. 
I understand.

I've been there.

When Life Hurts- Part 2


Sometimes, it's obvious. Sometimes an outsider can take one look at your family situation and see why your teen or young adult is out of control.
Sometimes it was a lack of parenting skills, over-permissiveness, a family breakup, lack of leadership, or any number of reasons an otherwise great child suddenly goes nuts. Don't be too proud to ask those you trust if they see something amiss in your family structure that you don't see. Chances are your child caught on long ago and that could be the problem.

However, cases abound when parenting was practically nil and the child turns out wonderfully. And then sometimes you do everything right, and the child rebels in such a vicious way she may as well have been raised by cannibals.

So it's not all about the parenting. Sometimes it's just in them.

If you can look at your own parenting and see glaring mistakes, it's not too late to correct them. For example, if you've allowed your underage child to disrespect you, threaten physical violence, or bring illegal substances into your home, then you have some work to do. You did drop the ball back there, but it's not too late. You are still in charge. Some friends of ours called the police on their teenage son when the boy threatened to harm his father and I applaud their courage.

Have a sit-down. Confess your parenting mistakes to your child and explain that now things are going to be different. Be specific and do NOT back down. This is a power struggle and you must win. Your sanity and their lives could depend on it. Do whatever you have to do to prevent them from taking over. The only thing worse than losing your child is losing your entire family.

One mom wrote to me, frantic about her fifteen-year-old daughter who was out of control, using drugs, sneaking out at night. But when I suggested the extreme measures I think are required, the mother balked. "Oh, she wouldn't like that," she said, and I then realized what the problem was.

Based on the cases I've observed over the last few years, most wayward behavior starts with a profound sense of ungratefulness on the part of the child. An ungrateful spirit leads to darker emotions that an immature adolescent is unable to process correctly. Anger and resentment quickly follow, usually directed at themselves but manifested as hatred toward the ones who love them most--including God. 

In the child's mind, neither you, God, nor the world around them is living up to their expectations and they demand that life treat them the way they believe they deserve to be treated. This attitude, left unchecked, leads to greater unhappiness for everyone involved. As a society, we've come to expect teenagers to be sullen, ungrateful creatures, but it is my observation that a grateful child is a happy child. And happy kids do not fall away from everything they've been taught is right.

Regaining control of your home is as painful for the parents as it is for the child, and not many have the strength to do it. Nobody wants to run a prison, but sometimes that's your only option. If you are willing to do whatever it takes, then read on.

What made our problem worse was that our child's destructive behavior was a complete secret. We should have focused more on her extreme ungratefulness toward us, toward God, and everyone else who had contributed to her life.
Instead, we sighed, shrugged, talked, and prayed she'd grow out of it. She didn't. Her ungratefulness quickly led to self-hatred and a loathing of anyone who loved her. Nothing was good enough for her: her face, her shape, her clothes, her family, her life. How can you love parents and a God who would bequeath you such inferior qualities? How can you respect yourself when nothing about you is good enough--for you?

We had NO idea what was going on when she was underage, so we didn't have the luxury of doing what I'm going to suggest you do. She carried on a completely separate lifestyle outside our home-- one we knew nothing about. All the while she carried on a monologue with us that we thought reflected her true values and opinions. This went on for years, right under our noses and WE KNEW NOTHING about it.

If that seems hard to believe, I assure you we are not naive or stupid. But we believed we had instilled in this child all the tools she needed for success, and she was very clever to assure us that she was the young woman we believed we had raised. The extent of her lies and manipulation was staggering, but we only learned of it after the fact.

What I tell people now, in hindsight, is HAD WE KNOWN, this is what we would have done. I am not a psychologist, a pastor, or a mental health expert. But I've lived it and maybe my experience can help someone else. I've borrowed some of it from Dr. Phil, who agreed with me (!), and if only we'd known earlier, we would have stopped at nothing to thwart her greased path toward destruction.

1. First, if your child is not yet driving age, DO NOT let him get his driver's license. I cannot emphasize this enough. Parents, they will tell you ANYTHING you want to hear to gain this freedom, but the day you allow a troubled, disrespectful child to get a license to drive a car, you will lose all control.

If they are already driving age and you own or finance the car in any form, the car goes. That car is their ticket out of your value zone. Assume that the moment they drive out of sight, they are going where you do not want them to be. Sell the car or hide the keys indefinitely. I know it's more work for you, but we're talking about your child's life and future.

In tomorrow's post, I'll suggest more extreme measures that may save you further heartache. You can get through this and you'll be wiser and stronger for it. (If it doesn't kill you first!)

Feel free to comment or email me at Your response thus far has been exciting and humbling and I appreciate your willingness to share your stories with me. Together, we can do this.

When Life Hurts- Part 3

If you're still reading, good for you! I haven't scared you off. If you're just tuning in, click on Monday's post to catch up with our discussion of dealing with the wayward child.

Honestly, if I'd heard this radical suggestion when our nightmare first began, I would have balked, too. You want to rationalize it away. Every fiber of your parenting heart wants to find a softer way out of this. Can't you just reason with them? Won't a good heart-to-heart crack that crusty shell they've built around themselves?

If that still works, then you aren't to this stage yet, and great for you! Go have that heart-to-heart. Have a thousand of them, but don't be fooled by surface compliance. Extreme parenting comes when all other forms of communication and discipline have failed miserably. When you catch them in the same error over and over again (lying, drinking, sneaking out) assume that the problem is WAAAY bigger than you know. Assume that this is the worst child on the planet and deal with them accordingly.

A loving parent's biggest mistake is giving the wayward child too much credit. We know what we've put into that little heart and we expect to get it back. We cannot get our minds around the enormity of our own child's evil intent and want to excuse it, forgive it, justify it, explain it away, and accept their explanations far too easily. They will only get worse if you don't stop it now.

The last post listed the first step in preventing your rebellious child from becoming an all-out menace: NO driver's license. 

2. The second extreme step is to cut off ALL privileges: cell phone, TV, movies, anything at home or school that is not necessary for life and education. That cell phone is their private connection to a world you would never approve. Your standards dictate necessity, not theirs. A horrified teen will swear to you she HAS to have that cell phone "for work." We were fools to buy that one and should have thrown the phone in the toilet. We all managed without cell phones in the Dark Ages, and they can too. If you bought it or are paying for it, out it goes. 

If he is paying for the whole thing himself, demand complete access to all texts and calls and limit his access to it (i.e. after 10 PM, the phone goes with you.) Our modern concept of a teen's "right to privacy" is laughable. I don't know what gullible adult signed on to that theory, but if you are responsible for that child, he has no rights that supersede your right to train and protect him.

3. This one will cause you some angst, but it is crucial. There is NO socializing away from you or a designated family member. Any friends are ones YOU know well, at YOUR house, while YOU'RE there. Period. They sit with you at church, go with you to the store, you pick them up and drop them off wherever it is essential they go (school, work) and then you call to check on them with an adult in charge. If they've lied to you before, then do NOT assume they are telling the truth about anything. It is a GIANT pain to do this, I know. But we should have done a lot more of it. If we had, we would have found out what was really going on a lot sooner, maybe before she spiraled too deep.

4. Their entitled world should come to a crashing halt. Everything in their room not necessary for sleep and adequate clothing approved by you should be removed. (Dr. Phil's idea, and it's good.) At around age 15, some kids have everything in the world and think you owe them more. An ungrateful spirit has a lot to do with their downward spiral. Your ungrateful teen is about to discover how much they owe you. If you have an attic, a storage shed, a room you can rent or borrow for a few months (yes, months) everything should go there. The bedroom window is nailed shut and there are NO cool gadgets to entertain them in there. Any "fun" is done with the whole family.

Scant privileges can be earned back by consistent good behavior, but be VERY sparing. Don't be in such a rush to congratulate them for behaving like a civilized human being. One kind word to his sister does not earn his cell phone back. Every privilege you return too early is one step back down the slippery slope, so remember that.

5. Require a strict standard of behavior at home. Any disrespect, foul language, anything not acceptable by any other member of the family receives immediate consequences. No warnings. Send them to that boring room by themselves for awhile or assign an especially disgusting chore. Think up household work that involved physical labor. Exhaustion is a great deterrent to getting into trouble.

What I've observed is that as the child spirals further and further away, we allow more and more outlandish behavior until we have the tail wagging the dog. We're trying so hard to make them like us again.

Forget it. They'll hate you for awhile no matter what you do. Sometimes parenting requires that you become a prison warden. Do not let the prisoners take over!

6. Find a trusted adult counselor to meet regularly with your child, whether Junior likes it or not. When they are in full-scale rebellion, they don't like anything, so don't try to please them. This a counselor of your choosing and they go when you say to go. Sometimes giving them a safe place to vent helps them work through issues that don't have to be life-altering.

I wish we had paid more attention to the signs that our daughter was in trouble and gotten her to a counselor early on. But a word of caution: I would only choose a counselor who knows you and your family very well. Defiant kids are more skilled at lying and manipulating than you can imagine and a skillful con artist can paint a picture of woe that you would scarcely recognize.

Sound insane? It is. But it beats the sleepless nights ahead when you've had to kick him out. When you've changed the locks on your door so his drug dealer can't track him to your house. When your home is invaded with mysterious phone calls and letters from the D.A. threatening lawsuits. Now that's insane.

Your home becomes a prison and it is NOT fun, but this is about your child's life. I cannot stress this enough. Kids are dying on the streets, killing themselves and allowing others to kill them piece by piece. The streets today are not the same streets we grew up on and much of the damage they can do to themselves cannot be undone.

But what if you do all this and it doesn't work.

It might not. As one friend constantly told me while we were dealing with our own nightmare, "You can't change the heart. Only God can."

But you will know that no matter what happens later, you did everything you could have done and the regrets won't beat at you so harshly.

Next post, I'll address the responses a parent can take in dealing with a rebellious heart and what you have to do to protect yours

When Life Hurts - Part 4

If you've been following this series of posts about dealing with a wayward child, I hope something here has helped you or inspired you to help someone else you know who is going through this.

Today, I want to talk about something that perhaps not all parents face, but if I did, surely others do too.

My husband and I are committed to honoring the Lord Jesus Christ in our personal lives as well as in our family. We have a calm, Christ-centered home where our other three children grew into vibrant, Godly young men and women who make us very proud and thankful.

But when our eldest daughter turned her back on everything we'd raised her to believe, the guilt I felt was overpowering. She was homeschooled, raised in a great church with good friends, happy home, everything she needed. Yet, with her eyes wide open, she set her course in the exact opposite direction. Had I failed God?

It took years, but God's truth finally began to penetrate my panicked fog. The first thing I had to accept was:

1) I am not the Holy Spirit. No matter how profound or deep my words or message, I cannot change a heart. My words had no power to change her unless she wanted to change and she clearly did not. God does not hold me accountable for doing His work.

2) Second, I cannot be Jesus for her. During the time of my deepest grief, when I learned a devastating fact about her slide into evil, I was so overwhelmed with remorse I tried to pray for her forgiveness. If I could have, I would have taken that sin upon myself and paid for it, but I couldn't. I'm a flawed sacrifice. Only Jesus can pay that price and I cannot bear her sin on the cross for her. Only Jesus can do that and only she can repent of it. To this day, I still bear the scar of knowing what she has done. It's a wound upon my conscience because she is my daughter. But only she can bear the guilt of it and find forgiveness in Christ's sacrifice for it.

3) I had to set her free. This was a long process and not done right away. If your wayward child is still underage, you don't have the option of kicking them out. Even though our daughter was 19 when it all came crashing down, in my heart she was still my little girl. It took long weeks and months after she left to pry my mother-fingers off her life. She had been completely dependent upon us until that day, living at home while we paid for everything because she never seemed to have any money, despite having 2-3 jobs (Another clue, but it's too late now).

In order to sleep at night, you have to let go. Make it an official act with your spouse of releasing them into God's hands. We prayed that God would do whatever necessary to save her soul, with no holds barred. We knew what we were asking. I don't pretend that it was easy, or that we didn't have to do it several times a day, but there is a release to your spirit when you can let go and move on.

Peace comes back to your house. One friend who was going through something similar with her son remarked, "I had forgotten what our home was supposed to be like until he left. It's back. We all like each other again."

Your family closes ranks, like a scab closing a wound. The wound is still there and it still hurts, but you can breathe again. The intense pain that clutched at you every waking moment and followed you to bed at night is gone. You remember how to laugh and enjoy the rest of your family, realizing how much you neglected them when it was always about the errant child.

Once you let go, it won't ever be the same. You stop thinking of them as your child. The photos in the family album are bittersweet memories, but unrelated to the shrieking creature who taunts you from afar. There is a separation that must happen in order to move on. You cannot live in a perpetual state of shocked horror. The child you thought you raised does not exist and parting with that beloved idea is tantamount to mourning a death.

I'm not far enough in my journey to know if the wound ever heals completely. If it does, I'll let you know. But there's another, very crucial step to surviving a wayward child that I'll talk about it next post. Be sure to come back tomorrow.

When Life Hurts - Part 5

How could you kick your child out?

You may be asking me that through your computer screen. If you had asked me when my children were small whether I would ever kick one out and lock the door, I would have told you very sincerely, "NO." Theoretically, I could imagine parents having to do that. But those were other parents. Other children. Not mine. We were doing it right. There would never be a need to do that. 

I thought.

Ironically, around age 16, my daughter began to ask me out of the blue what she would have to do to get kicked out. At the time, I thought it was curiosity. Maybe she'd heard of acquaintances being "kicked out," maybe thought it sounded cool. "I bet if I got pregnant, you'd kick me out so fast..." she declared.

I assured her there was no single action she could take that would make us throw her out when she needed us. If her heart was willing to listen and take the help we offered, then there was no way we'd throw our daughter out. The only way I could ever imagine such a thing was if a child was so out of control that they were harming the rest of us with behavior they would not control. If they refused help, refused to return to sanity. But I couldn't imagine such a day in our lives and shuddered at the very idea.

She merely rolled her eyes and walked off.

Those conversations haunted me a few years later, but nothing changed about what I told her. There can be no single action more painful to a loving parent than telling your child they can no longer call your house home. They do not have the option of showing up uninvited, and if they do, you will call the police.

It was a cold, rainy October night. The neon dazzle from the city lights were colorful blurs through the windshield as we drove into the parking lot of our daughter's new place of business. We'd driven thirty miles to repossess her car and put an end to the family structure we'd known for nineteen years.

I waited in the car while my husband went inside to find her. I watched through the window as they took a seat at a booth. Tears blended with the rain streaming down the windows as my heart was squeezed by a giant hand. The precious face I'd loved since they first laid her in my arms was set and hard, as her father told her she was no longer welcome at home. She was on her own, in the world she'd created for herself. She looked so small, so vulnerable. Everything inside me wanted to cancel this nightmare, but it was out of my hands. We had not created it. We could not stop it. We could not save her from herself. Admitting that to yourself is nearly impossible.

I drove home alone, through the dark rain, while my husband followed in the car we had bought for her to use. I alternated between crying, praying aloud, and listening to praise music. What had we done? Oh God, what had we done? Would my heart ever recover? Would hers? Would I ever have my daughter back?

There is a ripping of your flesh when you come to this crossroads. It's the most unnatural act in the world---a mother rejecting her child. I equate it with undergoing open-heart surgery without benefit of anesthesia. And it's a slow surgery, agonizing and unrelenting. I cannot overstate the enormous emotional agony.

Christmases without her. Birthdays spent wondering where she was. But backing down was not an option. Evil would have won and she would be only further entrenched in her darkness--with her family's support.

So why on earth would anyone do it? Isn't there any other way?

I stand by what I told my curious daughter years before we did it. When they push you to the place where you have no peace, you're no longer in control of your home and that's wrong. God holds you responsible for what you allow in your home.
  • If your young adult child refuses to abide by the rules of the house that everyone else lives by, openly disrespects and disobeys clear instruction, flaunts his aberrant behavior in your face and dares you to do anything about it, you have no choice.
  • If repeated attempts to reason, plead, punish, counsel this child fail to alter the hardening heart...
  • If you have younger children in the household who will be negatively influenced by this child...
  • If the peace and harmony you used to have is gone because of this one child...
  • If trust is completely gone because of repeated thefts, lies, manipulations and you begin to fear for your home, your property, your belongings, even your identity through stolen personal information...
Then you have done enough. They no longer have the right to call your house home.

A home is a privilege and loving parents are a gift. If they are determined to destroy all you've worked to build, then they have given up their rights as your child and you owe them nothing more. They have earned the right to exist in the world they've created for themselves.

It is the hardest thing you will ever do, but it is also the first step to regaining some of what they have stolen from you. It is a crucial step in protecting any other children--or your spouse--from further abuse and influence.

They will hate you for it, of course. But they already hate you no matter what you do. No matter how loving, how forgiving, how patient you try to be, a defiant young adult sees what they want to see and you cannot change it by anything you do.

You must face the fact that you cannot save this child. And that fact flies in the face of every mothering instinct you have. Mothers will leap over tall buildings and slay dragons without batting an eye to save their children. And to willingly toss your child to the world unprepared makes you feel as though you are throwing your baby into the lion's den.

But as my husband wisely stated, "She's in God's hands and He can protect her wherever she is. I couldn't protect her when she was right here in my house. She was no safer here than she is out there."

We prayed with every breath for her healing and her brokenness, but we left her safety with God. We were ready for whatever He had to do to bring her to repentance.

There were days we prayed she would be arrested. At least in jail she would be off the street and relatively safe. Maybe that would shake her to her senses.

Kicking out your offspring is the last resort, but there are times when you are left with no alternatives. When the prodigal son demanded his independence, the father let him go. Sometimes that's what it takes to let them come to the end of themselves. You have to be willing to do it before they destroy the rest of you. You have to let them fall if that's what they're determined to do.

Sometimes love hurts really bad.

When Life Hurts - Part 6

I'm going to veer into a side area today, because I think this plays a larger role in some out-of-control behavior than we like to believe. It did in ours.

When teen rebellion goes beyond headstrong willfulness, when a young adult's defiance has teeth to it, when the natural eagerness to become one's own person has a dangerous edge and you look into their eyes and see only darkness, I believe there is a real possibility that a Satanic element is involved. And you are no match for the enemy that is raging against you.

Let me hasten to assure you that neither my husband nor I see "a demon behind every sneeze." We do not credit Satan directly for what sinful man is capable of on his own. However, we know that since the Garden of Eden, there is more than one power at work in our world and I believe Satan has his claws in many of these out-of-control children. To look in their eyes is to look upon evil in human form.

When dabbling in sin has ceased to be a curiosity and has become a lifestyle choice, I believe it is entirely possible that Satan has drawn the net and captured your child. I had never seriously considered this aspect as we battled daily for the heart of our daughter. We just explained her continual discontent, disrespect, arrogance, and chaotic way of being in this world as her "quirks."

However, every encounter with her began to leave us shattered, shaking beyond what the actual encounter should have provoked. It wasn't until we cut her off completely, said "That's enough," and kicked her out, that the reality of what we'd been dealing with hit me full force. There were dark spirits in our home and we were no longer in control.

Upon the counsel of our pastor, we as a family conducted a "cleansing" of our home that very night. He wisely instructed us to protect our other children at all costs. "Demons are never satisfied with only one," he warned. "They will go after your other children. Protect the sanctity of your home and do not let her have any contact with your children."

Unknown to us at the time, our eldest child had invited the very demons of Hell to be guests in our home, thinking she could control them. Through risque magazines, photo reminders of immoral acts, constant immersion in worldly media and thought, alcohol and drugs hidden in her room, she had brought with her unwanted guests.

We and our children walked through every room of our house, praying and speaking aloud to the demons who no longer had a right to be there. We denounced the ungodly words and actions that she had brought into each of those rooms and we reclaimed the happy home we had once owned.

Our younger daughter had battled fear of her sister and her sister's room, but after that evening, the fear was gone. We cleansed, repainted, aired out every dark corner and took back ground the enemy had claimed. We also allowed our prodigal NO contact with our younger children in any form. Any contact with our family was to come through her father's cell phone.

This was tough at first, as the younger kids had no idea the depth of her depravity and didn't understand why we had taken such drastic measures. We shared with them only enough to let them know we weren't being "mean," but told them they'd have to trust us that we were doing what was best for all of them. It wasn't in their best interest to hear details of a lifestyle we'd only seen on the evening news.

If you can look into the eyes of your child and see the enemy, I urge you not to disregard what your spirit senses. When I looked at my daughter, hatred glared back at me with a depth that shook me to the core.

Once our daughter's physical presence had been banned from our home, I could clearly identify the spirits that controlled her. To my surprise, our pastor's wife asked me their names. I hadn't thought about it until that moment, but realized I clearly knew their names: Arrogance, Addiction, Self-righteousness, Rebellion, Pride. They perched on her shoulders like little black monkeys, their claws deeply embedded into her head, and she didn't know it. I could see them in my mind as clearly as though I had a photograph and the whole thing horrified me. I'd never experienced anything like it and the thought that it involved my precious baby brought a shock so acute it didn't seem real.

From that time on, my husband and I began to pray against those spirits by name, asking God to bind them in Jesus' name from controlling her. Even when we had no idea where she was or what she was doing, we knew that a spiritual battle raged for her life and soul.

Of course not all teen angst is demon-inspired or controlled, but what we experienced was not average teen angst and all regular methods had failed us. Based solely on our own experience, I would counsel you as parents to prayerfully consider whether demon-influence could be at the root of your child's behavior. 
If you are dealing with constant:
  • Chaotic thinking and activity
  • No straight answers to any questions, no matter how routine
  • Lies and manipulation that go beyond just "getting out of trouble."
  • Opaque eyes. Even gazing into their eyes, it is as if no one is home.
  • Flippancy. No serious discussions that involve truth.
  • Extreme dissatisfaction with every aspect of life, restless, jumpy.
  • Extreme disgust toward Godly people, gravitating to the worst of society
  • Skillful lying. Can look you right in the eye and lie to your detriment without a shred of remorse.
  • You feel spiritual anxiety when you are in their presence.
  • Impatience with any spiritual discussions, ready to move on.
  • Obsessive behavior with relationships, substances, people.
  • Pretend remorse when caught, but nothing that touches the heart.
  • Extreme ungratefulness and disrespect toward parents and other authorities. 

Of course many of the above can also be caused by drug abuse or mental illness. Both, I believe, were present in our daughter's case. However, many mental illnesses are the result of consistent wrong choices that bring further depression and a deadening of conscience. As one Christian psychologist told me, "She has most likely created her own mental illness and it is unlikely she can escape it on her own."

If you believe you are in over your head, I urge you to seek counsel from a Godly authority on the subject. You are no match for Satan's wiles, especially when you don't know who you're fighting. Don't be too proud to ask for help and do not stop until you find it. 

I compiled a list of counseling centers, rehab facilities and other assistance so I would be ready when the time came. And God began to work, bringing her around so that we could get her help through these places we had already located. Thankfully, we weren't caught unprepared.

Don't be a reactor in this season of life. Become proactive so that you are ready for whatever is about to hit you next. Continued denial and naivete will only bring you more harm. You didn't ask for this world you've been plunged into, but to survive it and protect your family, you have to stay one step ahead of your prodigal.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the most important step to me thus far. And maybe one of the most difficult personal challenges I've faced, but I hope it gives you encouragement that if I could do it, so can you.

Tell me what you're facing right now. Are you through to the other side as I am, or are you in the thick of the battle? Remember, the battle is the Lord's. We war not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and rulers of the darkness. God is more powerful, but you have to remain a faithful soldier. I hope this is helping.

When Life Hurts- Part 7

What does it mean to let go of your child? Am I supposed to do that? As a parent, aren't I supposed to always hang on? Always believe for the best?

Our eldest daughter's headlong race to destruction fit nowhere in the plan my husband and I had when we began to have children. Our goal was to raise Godly young men and women of character, people who would make a difference for good in this world. This detour was not what we'd signed on for.

As I agonized over her choices, praying for her restoration, I apologized to the Lord for whatever I'd done to facilitate this. "I only wanted my children to bring honor to You," I cried. "I had these children to bring you glory, not shame."

And the still, small whisper answered, "I will receive glory from this, but remember, my ways are not your ways. I will turn this darkness into light, because you want me to. But you may not like it."

Instantly, a vision of a white casket filled my mind. It sat on rollers in the front of quiet church filled with somber strangers, many of whom had contributed to the fact that my daughter now lay inside that closed box. I stood before them, at the podium, making eye contact with the crowd she had chosen over us. Over God.

"Even then?" the whisper asked. "Even if that is the way I will receive glory from this?"

I couldn't breathe. My heart ripped apart inside my chest and every fiber of my being ached as the question awaited an answer. Was this what it meant to let go? Was it worth it? 
"Yes, Lord. Even then. If that's what it takes, even then."

I arose from my knees, feeling as though I weighed a thousand pounds. Was I sure? Even then? Did I know what I'd just agreed to?

Letting go means peeling your fingers off the future. Often we let go the way a child lets go of a helium balloon--with a string tied to it. It rises enough to give the impression that it's free, but the child knows he still holds the string.

Letting go means giving up all expectations to God. All of it. My prayers until that time had focused on one thing--my daughter's restoration and eventual reconciliation with her family. How could God want anything else?

But God is God. He doesn't need me giving him instruction. We are here for His glory--not the other way around. If I truly gave birth to my children for the purpose of bringing him praise and glory, then I would have to accept his way of doing it. Otherwise, it was a Cain's offering--giving to God what I wanted to give, not what He required.

I lived with that vision for many months as our daughter cycled in and out of our lives, in and out of rehab, of relationships, of lies and more lies. It followed me to bed at night, but not as a nightmare. It was a benediction. I had let go of my own dreams for my daughter's future and had accepted God's ability to pull dreams from ashes. His dreams, not mine.

But I knew it would be okay. My heart could take it, because whatever her future held would not be a tragic mistake. I would know that whatever happened next, God was in control. And He would receive all the glory and honor I longed to bring him--much better than any plan I could have envisioned.

Letting go is not giving up. It is freeing God to be God in your child's life--whatever path that may take. Our rabid clinging to our own plans and hopes only brings us sorrow too great to bear. God wants to give us peace in the midst of the storm. He can't do that while we're still clinging to the tattered remnants of our sinking boat.

Have you let go? It's a process, not a one-time thing. Until we let them go into God's hands, He's not free to be God to them. And He's much better at being God than we are.

When Life Hurts - Part 8

You've reread the story of the Prodigal son so many times you can almost quote it. You're clinging to the hope that someday, your wayward child will "come to himself in the pigpen" and it will all be over. You lie in bed and weep as you imagine the day your child shows up on your doorstep, broken and repentant, begging forgiveness and ready to embrace the life you know God has for her.
But what if it doesn't happen like that?
What if the half-hearted attempts to "clean up his act" do nothing more than straighten up the outside, but you see no humility, no true heart change, no real repentance? What if that arrogant face still sneers at you, still blames you and everyone else for the horrible life decisions he alone has made? What then? 
What do you do with your sack full of rage, your broken dreams, your wounded family? Is this all you're going to get? What about the beautiful dream of complete reconciliation? 
Forgiveness doesn't come all at once. No matter how much we may want it to or how hard we may try, forgiveness isn't necessarily a one-time thing. You may have to work at it for years before God completely takes the bitter sting away. Don't feel bad about yourself if this is the case, as long as you are working at it. Just don't quit too soon. You will miss out on the peace of God.
In our case, I prayed daily for the strength to forgive. I would think I'd done it, only to learn something else--a lower level to which our daughter had sunk that I hadn't known about. And it would all come rushing back.
We had known nothing about the extent of the evil activities in which our daughter had been engaged until it all came to a head and we kicked her out. Over the next few months, the revelations came one at a time, each one more shocking until I thought I couldn't take any more.
I would find things, hear something from a former friend who thought I already knew, see a photo, find a journal under her mattress. And each time, the shock would send me reeling for days. When I thought I knew where the bottom was, there was always a deeper hole.
The anger was eating me alive. It's easier to forgive someone when they "get it." When you see real agonized repentance. When someone says, "I'll do anything to make this right," as the Prodigal said to his father. Forgiveness is so much easier when you've been vindicated by the one who harmed you.
But forgiveness is not dependent on the offender's attitude. The truth that kept coming back to me was that Jesus forgave the men who were nailing him to the cross--while they were doing it! They weren't the least bit sorry. He even excused them to his Father by saying, "They know not what they do."
And our children "know not what they do" to us, to their families, or to themselves. They may not "get it" for years, but God gets it. God knows how badly you've been hurt and he wants the hurting to stop.
You have to let go of the hurt and anger.
This has been one of the most difficult steps I've taken, but God has miraculously lifted this burden of rage from my heart and I have forgiven my daughter, even of the things I still don't know about and don't want to know. Much of what she did was directly harmful to us, and that stung more than the things she did to herself. But if Jesus could forgive the men who crucified him while they were in the act, who am I to withhold forgiveness, even though my child may still be hurting me?
God's gift of forgiveness is his gift to YOU. By forgiving, you remove the barrier that looms between your broken heart and the One who can best comfort it. You can now run freely, without guilt, to his side and find the rest and peace that your child has stolen from you. And you can also look forward to the good that God will bring from your suffering, because he is now free to bless you and use you without having to try to work around your enormous load of pain.
Don't confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. It's nice if they work together, but that's not always possible. Forgiveness does not condone further sin, nor does it restore trust, respect, and friendship. Great sin has great consequences, apart from forgiveness. A child who is still caught in the tangle of rebellion will often try to use your offer of forgiveness to further manipulate you. We allowed this to happen early on, thinking we were showing mercy when all we were doing was enabling.
Forgiveness is what takes place in your heart, but you can still require a faithless child to earn back your trust through a very slow process. The difference is that you are no longer controlled by your hurt and they lose the power to control you by their actions.
 None of this is the slightest bit easy. I had already experienced painful events: my parents' deaths three years apart and my younger child's crippling accident. But none of that compared to the excruciating pain of losing a child through an act of her own will. 
But God is bigger than our hurts and if we work with him, he can turn even something senselessly painful into something good. Our daughter has cycled in and out of our lives for the last 15 years, still embroiled in self-harming nonsense. Through forgiveness, we can continue to extend love and welcome to her, although she chooses to avoid us most of the time. 
Our other children have learned much from watching their sister's poor choices. Having seen the effects of evil up close, want nothing to do with it. They have each developed into wise and God-honoring young men and women. One more way God can use bad things for good.

If you've been helped or encouraged by these posts, then He's already turning the darkness into light. And it's not over yet. "All things work together for good to those who are called according to His purpose." If you are one of His, He wants your pain, your ruined family, your shattered dreams about the life you thought you would have. He can twist your molten life into a work of art and no wayward child has the power to stop that.

My final post will hopefully let you see further down the road to some of the ways God is using this for good in my life. May it give you hope for your situation as well.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

When Life Starts to Make Sense--Epilogue

It's been over a decade since I finished the series on the wayward child. If you read the whole thing, you know the personal pain and seemingly senseless suffering our family endured due to one child's rebellion. It continues...

There is an oft-repeated phrase in the Bible that I have learned to relish: "But God..."

Things look bleak, tragedy has struck, enemies surround, and life frankly makes no sense. It's been that way since history began. And it will continue until history ends. We try to make sense of it ourselves and fail. At the point where we throw up our hands and quit, God steps in.

Fifteen years ago, I would never have believed there would come a day when I would honestly thank God for allowing our family catastrophe. Accept it? Maybe. Endure it with patience? Possibly. But thank him? Impossible.

But God...

God used that season in my life to bring me to the end of myself so that he could finally do something with me. I didn't realize how much work needed to be done in my own life and he used this heartache to do it.

Due to all that God taught me through this and other painful life events, He has equipped me to become a counselor. For the past ten years, I have had the privilege of serving him as a certified lay counselor and seen hundreds of lives changed for His glory. I am reminded often of the words of Joseph in Genesis 50:20, "What you intended for evil, God intended for good to save the lives of many people."

I use what I learned about rage, bitterness, and forgiveness almost every week. God brings people to me who need to learn the lessons he taught me and it is my delight to help guide them to wholeness. I am now beginning to understand what God spoke to me years ago, that He would receive glory from this, but not in the way I thought.

So I am thankful for it. Thankful for the past pain, because it whittled away the junk from my life that hindered me from coming into a deeper relationship with God. Thankful for the continued hurt, because it keeps me humble and ever mindful of the pain my clients are experiencing. And I am thankful for the future testimony my daughter will have when she finally comes to the end of herself. 

She has given us a granddaughter, Bella, whom we adore. Bella has built a bridge in our family, and helped to heal our hearts.

So when life hurts, hang on to the most powerful phrase in the Bible: But God...