the wonderful wake-up call of my disappointing children.

I have a vision of me coming to an early death. somewhere, somehow, something kills me unexpectedly and micah comes to our family blog. (needless to say, I might not be an optimist) In this vision, micah comes to ye old family blog looking to experience the inner voice and the love of his mother and he will read these words.

insert lol here.

oh, micah. maybe we will both laugh about this story someday. and if I’m not around to laugh with you, just know i love you big. really, really broken, but big. and I’m laughing.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

it was micah’s birthday in november. he was turning ten and we wanted to give him a gift that would mark the passage from little boy to pre-adolescent of double digits. it’s been our plan all along – when our kids turn ten, we will give them an experience or gift they can look back on as a mile marker, a real shift from baby boy to big kid. we love this boy so very, very much and have always been quite enamored with him. for one, he’s smarter than us, more organized than us, and probably already knows what we should have for dinner tonight. He has always had such a kind heart, a tender spirit and an incredibly sharp, type A, wit. . And today, before I’ve even wiped the sleep out of my eyes, he will probably be wondering what I have planned for the rest of our day. He won student of the month last week at his school. For self-control, nonetheless. I’m thirty two years old and still feel like this character trait is my white rabbit. He is being recognized by his teachers and peers for mastering it at age ten. He is the one teachers cry about at parent-teacher conferences because “it’s just such an honor to know your son.” He’s the one, we jokingly say, will take care of our retirement. He notices when I “look pretty in that new shirt!” and he comes up to give a hug and say “love you” just because.

in other words, micah is really, really easy to love.

and this past couple of years, he’s been completely obsessed with Harry Potter.
like, read book after book (before seeing the movies) and was harry potter two years in a row for Halloween.
this year, tyler finally joined in as ron and zion, as hedgwig the owl. (yes my heart is STILL exploding, duh)

it’s a big deal.
so, when we found ourselves days before his birthday with a crap ton of airline miles about to expire, and realized we could cash those in for four free plane tickets, we decided that for his birthday we would surprise him with a trip to Orlando Florida to stay at his favorite hotel chain and go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
or as the boys have referred to it, “Harry Potter Land.”
we would take the brothers, but leave the baby at home, because zion takes a good majority of our time and attention and we knew micah deserved a little uninterrupted time to celebrate him.

to give you some context, we had just come off of the busiest travel season we have ever had in our professional lives, and one of the busiest in our personal lives as well.
In the five months leading up to his birthday, we had boarded 22 different airplanes, had 43 hospital and therapy appointments with Zion, hosted 5 different houseguests, sent 1068 emails, and the number of days spent on the road were exceeding the number of days at home.

we had sucked at being parents.
we had sucked at begin present.
and damn it, we were going to spoil our boy to make up for it.

we did our research, booked the tickets with every single airline mile we earned that year, reserved the hotel room at the lovely Embassy Suites and then, finally made his “letter.”
In the books, each child invited to Hogwarts gets a letter from the owl post. it has the hogwarts seal on it and invites them to come to the school.
So I made one.
in photoshop with photoshopped photos of owls and a quill and old-timey writing saying something very official sounding from Dumbledore. and then, in desperation, I dripped wax from a candle onto the envelope and used a nickel to make an official “seal.”

yeah. I’m amazing. (insert slow clap here)

all the while thinking, “oh my gosh, he is going to love this soooooooooooooooooo much!”

I wrote my BFF, telling her the grand plan . .
he would be promised a small party, and we would have dinner with his grandmothers and auntie&uncle and then we would give him the envelope before his friends came over for cake.
she wrote back
“NO. WAY. He is going to freak! Please please please get it on video! And tell him I said happy birthday!”

oh, don’t worry, devon.
I will.
and it’s going to be e p i c.

I think the general law of good storytelling says that at this point, I should insert the life-filled, wonderful, Disney-commercial-ish video so your eyes can well up with tears as you see the thankfulness and joy that two little boys can have. There’s happy music in the background and everyone gives a big hug at the end. But I can’t show you that video because it doesn’t exist. In fact, I haven’t had the heart to watch the video I did make those three and a half months ago because it still just tastes that bitter going down. So I will give you the cliff notes version.

he opened his presents from the grandmothers . . lots of toys he asked for.
he opened his present from tyler . . a lego set he wanted.
then we told him the letter was in the mail.
he went to the mailbox, brought it back, and our angelic little boy instantly transformed into a detached, emotionless, spoiled little brat.
he opened up the letter, read it aloud (because, remember, I had to get an awesome video to impress you all . . .ahem, I mean to remember this magical moment) and then set it down and asked,
“ok. so is that it?”
“is what it?”
“is that all, or do I get more presents?”
um. . .buddy, you get to go to Florida on a plane with mom and dad and tyler TOMORROW and we get to spend three days at the Wizarding world of harry potter!”
“well, do I get to buy something there?”
“wow. oh my gosh. . . ”
at this point, my world is crashing down, my heart rate is rising and the various family members around the table began to chime in, letting him know how lucky he is, that he’s always wanted to go, that kids his age would kill for this chance, etc.
he shrugged his shoulders.
I started crying.
the ugly cry.
I couldn’t help it. I had built this thing, this gift, this experience, this kid up in my mind to be perfect and I was being disappointed.
I asked him to come talk to me privately. He started crying because he was afraid he was in trouble.

um. you think?
we did just give you the most extravagant gift we’ve ever given anyone in our family and you’re being a little shit.
(didn’t say it. just thought it.)

I told him how sad I was, but that we didn’t have to go if he didn’t truly want to.
“no, I want to, I just didn’t know what to think because I’m not ready for a trip tomorrow and I wanted to get more presents.”
type A.
and wired differently than me.
and spoiled.
so not wired completely differently than me.

I tried to explain the concept of this trip itself being a present, that it was going to be awesome, that the pictures of this place look so so cool.
he eventually gave me a hug and, with a frog in his throat and a genuine tone in his voice, said, “I’m sorry, I am excited. It’s a really nice present.”
We had given him the greatest gift he could imagine at this age, and he wasn’t even thankful.

I went upstairs to pull my emotional mess of a self together. and I realized something.

“It’s so difficult to love him right now.”

and in the back of my mind, out of freaking nowhere, I heard the still, small voice of God speak to me.
“you are exactly the same as him but I love you without restraint, without expectation, without wavering. you are going to have to forgive him, and you are going to have to go to Florida tomorrow and show him how much you love him.”

I hardened to the idea. but he didn’t deserve it! he wasn’t even thankful! he was the opposite of thankful! and he wasn’t being the micah that I know and love.

But he was proving that all of us, from the thirty-three year old to the ten year old, are not lovable. Maybe we can cover up our ugliness a bit better than a ten year old, but let’s be honest..the inside of my heart doesn’t look like an instagram post. Yes, we are all beautiful and remarkable and made in the image of our Creator. But without God himself stepping into our world to rescue us from ourselves, we are all intensely selfish, spoiled, detached ten year olds being handed our dream trip and shrugging our shoulders, wanting another lego set instead.

Here’s the moral of this story for me:
There was and is one perfect son. His name was Jesus. Micah can’t be Jesus. He can just be Micah. And the is great, because Jesus was a perfect ten year old in Micah’s place, never unthankful, selfish or hurtful.
There was and is one perfect parent. His name is I Am, God, Father, Creator of the universe. And he was perfect in my place, never angry, disappointed, resentful, or calling me a little shit in his mind. In fact, he knew just how far I would push him away that he killed the son for my rebellion. He who knew no sin became sin so that we – you, me, and micah might become the righteousness of God.
mind. blowing.

So I forgave my ten year old. God showed me the treason of my own heart, and as it always does, the gospel opened my heart to love my son. my imperfect, selfish, and also beautiful, God-made ten year old. and we celebrated and had cake and then we went to florida and because God is kind and has a wonderful sense of humor, it was one of the most dear times he and I have ever had around each other before. because I wasn’t holding the babies hand, micah would reach out and grab my hand and hold it all day long, as we went around the park from ride to ride. we swam in the pool at the hotel. we ate junk food. we watched movies at night. and I was able to see him in a whole new light, in the most real light – that my baby boy/oldest son is a sinner just like me, in need of the same Jesus to impart a perfect record for him, just like me. and we all got to talk about that together on that trip.

Oh God, thank you thank you thank you for the wonderful wake-up call of my disappointing children, and for never being the type of parent that I was on November 15, 2013.

show hide 7 comments

Rea Oh, wow! You have so eloquently expressed something I’ve been struggling with. Thank you. I love them so much yet I expect them to be perfect, more emotionally mature than myself at all times. Forgiveness … Sometimes I forget that I have probably modeled those behaviors to them to learn … Being a parent is a humbling job, a calling…August 15, 2014 – 7:08 am

Heather Cole Can I just say thank you for writing this. Wow. Thank you. We had the same exact thing happen to us with Olivia…the exact same thing and I felt like I failed as a parent. I so needed to read this today. To remind me that it’s okay that our kids aren’t perfect..because as you said…there is only one perfect person in this world. 🙂 Many blessings.April 15, 2014 – 2:59 pm

Patricia E Beautiful words. I feel drawn to your blog because usually most of what you say resonates deep within me.April 14, 2014 – 3:12 am

Josh Ulmer Before I even got down to our description of what God was pointing out to you I could but help think that this is how we are so often to what God gives us. So grateful for your posts and sharing your Faith!!April 7, 2014 – 4:22 pm

Shane Thank you so much for being so transparent and warm and insightful — I appreciate it so much.March 13, 2014 – 11:08 pm

Alisha Wow, wow, wow. Thanks so much for sharing this!!!! =)March 13, 2014 – 7:50 pm

Megan Gielow Ash, I freaking love this story. Thanks for putting in my place and REMINDING me to be grateful. God has given us so much, and it’s easy to look for what is “missing” or “greener” on the other side. We have all we need and so much more. I admire the beautiful relationship you have with your kids. I hope I can be 1/2 as good as y’all are when that day comes for us 🙂March 13, 2014 – 6:25 pm

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