“If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
– Mother Teresa
“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior,
are the children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”
Psalm 127:4, 5a
To the warriors that double as parents,
I’m writing this to you.
I want you to know that you are seen.
I want you to know that you are loved.
I want you to know that you are celebrated.
In the midst of a world crowded with violence, injustice, and suffering, I am daily in awe of the immensity your courage. I am unable to fully comprehend the bravery it requires to raise your babies to find peace in the chaos, especially on the days it’s hard to even find it for yourself.
Yet, I am a product of it.
My life is a tribute to yours.
I’m writing to encourage you – to tell you now what your babies don’t yet have the words to express – what they may not even recognize.
I am currently twenty-three and am the second oldest of six girls. I have been living largely on my own for nearly three years now, in a village several hours southeast from the cozy hobby farm I grew up on in Northern New York. I’m constantly complimented by peers and adults alike on things such as my integrity, my work ethic, and my confidence. But regardless of what the compliment is, the undertone of all of them is the same: an acknowledgement – albeit a small one – of the years my parents spent directly investing and pouring into me. I am their living, breathing, opinionated legacy.
Your kids may not yet recognize what a gift you are. In fact, they probably don’t, because so much of what they know as normal is established based on what you’ve built. And thus, everyday, I reap a harvest of blessings from choices that were sown and carefully cultivated years ago by my parents – choices I had nothing to do with. Growing up, stability was my normal. Having two parents that genuinely loved each other and continued to choose each other regardless of circumstances is what I grew up knowing as status quo. Do you realize what a miracle that is? My parents are world builders and shapers.
It wasn’t until I was in at least eighth grade that I started to notice that when my school hosted an event, not everyone’s dad and mom was in the audience alongside mine. So apparently not everyone’s parents made it a priority to attend all of their events? I was legitimately confused. I was nothing short of awesome – I thought – or perhaps my parents’ enthusiastic involvement had inadvertently led me to believe – so it only made sense to me that my parents would want to come to any event I was a part of. Suddenly, their attendance to my events appeared to have nothing to do with my inherent awesomeness, and everything to do with their priorities. (Because, as we all secretly discover as we grow up, listening to two hours of forth and fifth graders bust out varied renditions of three blind mice is actually not that enjoyable. Who’d have thought?)
I don’t want you to read this letter and become discouraged, thinking that it’s impossible to reach the precedent set by my parents. Because in that case, you’re missing the point entirely. My parents were not perfect – no one is. There were instances where they acted rashly or disciplined without proper context. However, the Bible says, “love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8.) Thus, all of moments in which my parents acted less than perfectly were ultimately drowned out by the roar of love.
And, in spite of all of their imperfections, I have never – ever – for a second of my entire existence, doubted whether or not I was loved. When I was small, love looked a lot like my parents going to all of my events, doing my laundry for me, or picking me up after school. Now love looks more like a phone call or a package.
So, if you receive nothing else from this letter, please receive this: if your children know that they are first and foremost loved – beyond reason and merit – it will protect them better than any academic lecture they will ever hear, and will give them a tangible picture of how God loves them in a way nothing else can.
My parents love me more than they love themselves. Their prayer for me is that I will outdo them in every capacity – not to live vicariously through me, but because they love me and want me to succeed, even if it doesn’t look conventional. My mom even once confessed to me that she regularly prays that all of her children will go farther in faith than she ever did, equipped by standing on her spiritual shoulders. Friends, that’s a good mom. I’ve already started praying the same over my future children.
“Your greatest contribution to the Kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise.”
– Andy Stanley
My parents are the first people who introduced me to Jesus – as well as the first people I saw live out their faith. This perhaps says more of them than anything I’ve written previously. I’ve heard many stories of people who are disenfranchised with church and Christianity because while their parents went to church on Sunday, it didn’t affect their day to day life, and they were wounded by their parents’ hypocrisy. Witnessing my parents’ individual and corporate faith had the opposite effect. My parents demonstrated daily that a relationship with Jesus is something to be desired, and that following Him is much more about action than head knowledge.
My parents recognized that raising a family is a ministry, and they invested in it accordingly. Most of the blessings I’ve reaped from their choices are grounded in their faith. My rolodex of childhood memories is filled with snapshots of my parents in the Word: my father at the kitchen table before he left for work, my mother at her favorite corner on the couch, a corner affectionately nicknamed her perch. Every night, I was tucked in under my comforter and a blanket of my mother’s prayer.
My parents were also not afraid of different denominations, because to them, furthering the gospel was central. This often contrasted them against the other church going parents I knew. My upbringing was very ecumenical. While I have traditionally Mennonite roots, I was involved in AWANA at a Baptist church, I attended my first youth group at a Pentecostal church, and I helped with VBS at a Presbyterian church.
It was easy to receive the sort of my faith my parents demonstrated because my parents never asked us to walk a path that was untouched by the imprint of their footprints. My parents understood what James meant when he penned the divisive words: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18.) As aforementioned, I grew up on a hobby farm, and I was one of six girls – both things which lend themselves to lots of chores. So at an early age, I was expected to make my contribution around the house, but I was never expected to work alone. My parents worked alongside me (and perhaps, sometimes, in spite of me.) This fostered a genuine respect between my parents and I that continues to this day.
Though I don’t yet have children of my own, I’ve spent enough time with children and young parents to know that parenting is not easy. In Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton describes a day in the life of a mother this way:
How was my day? It was a lifetime. It was the best of times and the worst of times. I was both lonely and never alone. I was simultaneously bored out of my skull and completely overwhelmed. I was saturated with touch — desperate to get the baby off me and the second I put her down I yearned to smell her sweet skin again. This day required more than I’m physically and emotionally capable of, while requiring nothing from my brain. I had thoughts today, ideas, real things to say and no one to hear them.
I felt manic all day, alternating between love and fury. At least once an hour I looked at their faces and thought I might not survive the tenderness of my love for them. The next moment I was furious. I felt like a dormant volcano, steady on the outside but ready to explode and spew hot lava at any moment. And then I noticed that Amma’s face doesn’t fit into her onesie anymore, and I started to panic at the reminder that this will be over soon, that it’s fleeting — that this hardest part of my life is supposed to be the best time of my life. That this brutal time is also the most beautiful time. Am I enjoying it enough? Am I missing the best time of my life? Am I too tired to be properly in love? That fear and shame felt like adding a heavy, itchy layer on top of all of the hard.
But I’m not complaining so please don’t try to fix it. I wouldn’t have my day or my life any other way. I’m just saying – it’s a hell of a hard thing to explain – an entire day with lots of babies. It’s far too much and not even close to enough.
Parenting – raising tiny humans – is hard. But I beg you – I entreat you – to keep doing the hard thing. Don’t get so bogged down with the mire of dirty laundry and stickiness and mayhem that defines your daily experience that you lose sight of the worthiness of your task.
I am the product of two people who didn’t.
Even as I conclude this letter, everything I’ve said about my parents still seems like a trite introduction. I’ve barely scratched the surface. The English language has failed me in paying proper attribution to the twin pillars I call mom and dad. It is both far too much and not even close enough.
Please know that you’re not alone in this hard thing, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. All of us are just muddling through as best as we can. There are no perfect lives, just as there are no perfect people. There is only the imperfection that is still worth embracing. Find your clan and do life with them. My parents did, and modeled that for me. Community is a vital thing. I cannot overstate this enough. It is the life blood of any successful undertaking – or in this case, upbringing.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.”
– Frederick Douglass
And so I encourage you to keep fighting the good fight. Because while you might not feel like you’re changing the world, you may be raising the children that will. All revolutionaries started as children.
As my parents always said, it starts at home.
Much love and prayer,