Tuesday, March 24, 2015

waves of mercy

It has been a challenging month, to say the least. 

Parenting comes in waves.  One moment, you're paddling out, feeling confident with the sun on your face and back.  Then, you crest the top of a massive swell, and feeling strong and proud in your "I've got this" attitude, you ride it...until it crashes on top of you reminding you that you are still at the mercy of the elements of life.  You don't make the waves, but you certainly have to navigate them. 

Navigating these past 4 weeks has been a series of attempts and fails, until last Tuesday. 

There is really no way to sugar-coat the fact that my son has been habitually stealing.  He has been taking things that don't belong to him:  Small toy cars from play time, coins off of friend's desks at school, even his friend Rylee's headphones that she needs during the lessons in the classroom--somehow those ended up in his backpack, according to his testimonial to Sister Sharon.  "Look what I have in here!" Isaac said to his teachers a couple of weeks ago.  "How did THESE get in MY bag?" he said with an exaggerated expression.  "Hmmm, how DID those get there?" Sister Sharon responded with equal overemphasis. 

There is an element of compulsiveness that I believe contributes to this behavior with Isaac, and some of that can be contributed to his inability to stop and think before reacting.  Still, I don't believe this is an excuse for behavior that I know he can work through.  When driving home from school after the 3rd report of his pilfering from desks, I was so disheartened that I pulled the van over in a bank parking lot and snapped.  "Isaac.  Please tell me why you are taking things that aren't yours?  I seriously need to know how to help you, and I am confused and hurt."  He looked at me, blank faced and matter-of-factly said, "Because I see it and I want it."  I sighed and looked away.  As a parent, I was completely clueless.  Was I not doing something?  Was I doing too much?  Not enough?  The thoughts raced around in my head, and Isaac interrupted my pity party with "Holy MOLEY! Mom, did you see that Corvette that went by!?"  How could we deal with the compulsive decision making without having a foamy wave of disconnect crash on us every opportunity? I was trying to force a teachable moment, and it just wasn't happening. 

I would drop Isaac off at school every morning, asking him the usual questions:  "Are we going to make good choices today?"  "Yep!" would be the enthusiastic response from the back seat.  "Are we going to ask before we take things that aren't ours?" "Yep!"  More yeps and smiles and thumbs up.  Then, when the end of the day came, Isaac would be escorted to the van in the carpool line and my heart would drop as I saw his head hang down and his feet drag.  "Mom, you're not going to be happy with me AT ALL today."  I again would brace myself for impact.  Another crashing wave on my psyche--another notch in my parenting fail belt. 

Dan and I rallied to impress on Isaac the severity of his actions.  We pulled out the big guns: long talks (making Isaac sit still is punishment enough), grounding from the I-Pad and the TV, even a spanking from Daddy on the 3rd offense.  There is nothing more heartbreaking as a parent than having to spank, because I believe it allows you to suffer with your child, and to remind them that we feel the pain too.  (And yes, we DO believe in spanking--just not in every situation or for every child at every age and NEVER in anger.)

Then, just two days after that episode, thinking we had made a point, I was sitting in the carpool line.  It was one of the first mildly spring-like Tuesdays and I was basking in the warmth with the sunroof open, sunglasses on.  I saw Isaac's reading group teacher, Mr. Ratkovsky, helping some other students to their vehicles.  I have had the privilege of knowing Nathan since Isaac was interviewed at JB the summer before Kindergarten.  He is a wonderful teacher, and Isaac looks up to him and has learned a tremendous amount from having him as a reading teacher for two years.  I smiled and said, "Hey!  How are you doing?"  He paused and I said, "Everything ok?"  He walked closer to my open driver's side window and lowered his voice.  "Well, Isaac took my cell phone today from the table in reading groups.  I found it only after I had tried calling it and heard it vibrating in his desk.  So...yeah..."  I had no words, except, "I am so sorry."   Enter the tidal wave. 

I had reached rock-bottom of emotions.  I had been through them all.  And I was all out of conversation starters as Isaac tried to tell me about his day, tried to tell me that he was sorry.  I was numb to how to listen and how to feel like anything I did to help mattered. 

That day, Ethan had Writer's Club after school, so Isaac and I went to Target for our weekly homework date:  I would get a coffee and he would get a cake pop from Starbucks.  Not only did Isaac look forward to the routine, but I also looked forward to just he and I time. 

Isaac didn't chat in his normal non-stop way to fill the heavy silence as I walked slowly, feeling crushed.  We got inside and into the line for our usual treats.  Neither of us spoke.  I had taken Isaac's choices and made them my own.  I had allowed his rule-breaking, to in essence, break down the trust I had in him and the trust his friends and teachers were losing in his behavior.  How could I show him I loved him despite the choices that had made me so sad and so desperate to understand him?


The word popped into my head and heart just as the barista behind the counter asked "What can I get you?" 

I felt like responding "A venti mercy please."  But, that was what I was supposed to give, and not get just then. 

I ordered quickly, trying to smile.  As the girl went to make my drink, I felt a different type of wave wash over me.  It wasn't drowning me or suffocating me--it was freeing and weightless.  I took a deep breath and kneeled down, right there in the line at the Starbucks counter. 

Isaac looked at me, surprised.  "Isaac, you know what I'm going to do?"  He shook his head slowly, eyes wide and round.  "I am going to show you mercy.  Do you know what that means?"  Again, he shook his head, his blue eyes never leaving my own.  "It means I am going to give you a cake pop, even though you have broken the rules and broken mommy and daddy's hearts.  I am going to forgive you and start fresh and clean, and you are going to stop taking things that aren't yours because it's hurting those who love you."  It was as if time stopped, and it was just he and I, face to face in that Target store.  I didn't say another word.  I just whispered a prayer in my heart, thanking God for the strength to show the same kind of mercy to my son that Christ has shown me every day of my life--in spite of my pride and selfishness. 

The next day at school, I went in to talk with Isaac's teachers about his stealing and about his behavior and grades.  "Isaac is doing wonderfully in his academics" his teachers praised.  We laughed about some of his comments, and we were encouraged by his desire to please and help.  Then, when the topic of the stealing came up, I mentioned how we had tried all forms of correction, and it wasn't until mercy came into the picture that I had sensed some form of understanding on Isaac's part.  His teachers were quiet for a minute and then, Sister Sharon smiled, "You know," she said, "that's exactly what he told me this morning.  He said, 'My mom showed me mercy and I don't want to take things anymore.'" 

Mercy is sweet, like that cake pop Isaac ate silently across from me at the table in Starbucks.  It isn't easy to give, and is a result of cultivating a relationship with Jesus that responds to His love for us.  It doesn't come out of a selfish desire to get something, but it comes from a desire to put ourselves in someone else's shoes, seeing with their eyes, and feeling with their heart.  I know that won't be the last time we deal with mistakes or selfish behavior with Isaac, but I am so thankful I was allowed to see that waves of mercy are just as great, and if not greater, than those waves of life that seem to crush our desire to grow. 

Paddling out to the next swell...

Psalm 103: 8-11 (amplified)

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy {and} loving-kindness.  He will not always chide {or} be contending, neither will He keep His anger forever {or} hold a grudge.  He has not dealt with us according to our iniquities.  For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great are His mercy {and} loving-kindness toward those who reverently {and} worshipfully fear Him. 

Riding the waves...summer vacation, 2011