Friday, May 17, 2013
A Letter to My Pre-Teen and Teen Children: Written To Clarify My Own Thoughts, But Documented So That One Day You Might Understand Me Better
Note: This letter was written 13 years ago, very early in my foster parent journey and shortly after we added four young teens to our family (ages 11-14). I didn't think about it much then, but because each girl professed to be a Christian when she came to live with us, it didn't feel like we were forcing our religion down their throats. They were searching for answers. Today, my strong views might be viewed with more skepticism or criticism.
As I re-read it - having fostered and and adopted another 30 or so kids, I realize I have mellowed somewhat, but my views have been fairly consistent. I still parent according to the needs of each child, and I expose them to the world when I think that they are ready, but because what I thought was based in Truth, not much has changed.
October 7, 2000
As I sit here, away from the challenges of everyday life, I find myself thinking of my role as the mother of our family. Perhaps this letter is more for me than you – but I hope that you will keep it in a special place and read it from time to time. I want it to be a reminder of my hopes and dreams for your life. Also, I know that some of this won’t mean much to you now. But I want to say it over and over again so that one day it will make sense.
Let me begin with our roles, which may not be clear at this stage. As I have told you before, I consider you my daughters and I treat you that way. To me, that means that even though I don’t know whether you will be a part of our family for six (6) months or 60 years – my intent is to give you the same love, opportunities and guidance that I give the children that I know are mine forever. Likewise, I expect the same of you that I do of them – that you do the best that you can.
That places me in the role of mom. I know that I could never replace the relationship with your mom, nor would I want to do so. That is a unique and special relationship what deserves to be protected, which is what I will try to do.
But, in our rather unique family, I am the mom and our relationship is that of mother and daughter. And that is what I have been thinking about. Why am I doing this job? What are my goals as a mom for nine (9) children?
In general, my goal is to provide a safe, comforting, loving, nurturing home where you can learn, make mistakes and eventually make your own decisions about your life and the directions it will take. To create that environment, I must protect you from others who may hurt you. Sometimes I even have to protect you from yourself.
That may be difficult for you to understand because at some level, each of you feels capable of taking care of yourself. That is normal and a good sign that you are like most other teen-agers in our society. The good news is that if I am able to protect you from the opportunity to make poor decisions for a few more years, you will discover for yourself how much more mature and wise you will be once it is time for you to be independent and make your own decisions. (In other words, you will realize that you don’t have all the answers!)
I told you a few weeks ago that some of the issues I am dealing with are new to me and that ya’ll need to understand that I am not perfect and not every decision that I make will be the “right” one. God didn’t make me a perfect mother, but I do believe that He is the one that made me your mother for this period in your life.
God tells us that He knew you before He formed you in your mother’s womb and he set you apart. Jeremiah 1:5. And For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD , plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
God knows everything that has or will ever happen to you and He has you exactly where he wants you right now. Your job is to stay within God’s will and His protection. When you disobey or ignore God, things do not go well for you – because you are living the life you want, not the one that God had planned for you.
I have no idea why God planned for us to connect at this point in our lives – but I believe that He has a purpose. Our job is to follow His lead. He doesn’t tell me exactly what to do everyday, but He does give me guidance – when I’m willing to listen.
For example, I know that I [along with my husband] am responsible for “training and teaching” you in the way you should go so that “when you are old you will not depart from it.”
I also know that God has a plan for your protection, which depends, in part, on your obedience to the rules and boundaries that dad and I set for you. Basically, that means that we love you and that we use the wisdom God has given us to parent you. If you follow the rules and stay within the boundaries, you will be protected from what can harm you. If you choose to disobey, then there is no protection and you are likely to get hurt.
Now, we understand that you will test those boundaries and push their limits and that is part of growing up. But, if you choose to ignore the limits, you are choosing to take risks that are not okay with God.
So, what does all this stuff mean to us? I look at it this way:
You are teen-agers and you have already experienced more in life than some will face over a lifetime. You have been exposed to much that is horrible and terrible in this world and you have not seen enough good. My choices for you are designed for the purpose of showing you what else is out there.
So, when I say “no” to Halloween parties because we are in the midst of spiritual battles, I’m not trying to hide it from you. I’m trying to teach you what it took be 35 years to learn … sometimes and sometimes all the time, it is dangerous. Moreover, if you fill your mind with the bad stuff it will continually come back to haunt you. Satan loves the bad stuff and he wants to use it against you whenever he can.
I know that you have seen every movie possible. I understand that prior to living with us you had no restrictions whatsoever on what you watched or participated in. But this is a new opportunity and new expectations.
That means that when I allow you to watch the hacksaw murderer chase the young girl through the woods and kill her – I allow that visual image into your head. Then, when you are alone one night, Satan can use that image to terrify you when there is no rational reason for you to be fearful. That may sound crazy to you, but you must trust that I speak from experience.
There is a verse I have heard all my life and it never mean much to me until this summer. It says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me – put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippeans 4:8.
Ironically, when I opened a friend’s bible to copy that verse, the following words were handwritten in the front: “Change you thoughts and you will change the world.”
What I realized this summer, just weeks before your joined our family, is that it does matter who your friends are, what you watch on television, what books you read, what you see in movies, and how you think, because these experiences become a part of you. If you fill yourself with the bad stuff – the bad stuff is what you get. If you fill your mind and heart with good stuff – you get more of the good stuff.
The idea made me think of our Build-A-Bear experience the first night some of you joined our family. If you built a bear and filled it with soft cotton or fluffy feathers you would have snuggly, comforting bear that you could sleep with, cuddle and lay your head upon. But if you fill your bear with rocks and thorns and sticks, it may still look like a cute, cuddly bear – but you wouldn’t get much joy or pleasure from it, nor would it be capable of giving it – even if you wanted it too.
That means that I may say “no” to a book that you want to read, a television show, a place you want to go or something else, even when you can’t see what is wrong with what you want. And the fact is, I may be wrong. But for now, while I’m trying to protect you, I can take the risk of being wrong because I know that a missed opportunity will not hurt you, but saying “yes” could hurt you. I want to fill you with soft cotton and cuddly feathers, not rocks, sticks, and thorns.
The same applies to dating and relationships. Some of you have already experienced more in your sexual relationships than God intended, but that was your past and God forgives those who ask Him. Some of you have been abused and that has distorted the way you view the sexual relationship God had planned for you. But these are simply facts, nothing more or less, unless you make them that way. Once forgiven by God, sin no longer exists and will not be held against you.
But what you do now that you know that God intended for you to remain pure for your husband does matter to God and to your future husband. Of course, you could fall into sin again and still be forgiven, but there are usually natural consequences related to your sin that God does not necessarily prevent; for example, pregnancy, disease, loneliness, and feelings of unworthiness. These natural consequences will affect the course of your life.
All of this is really the adult way of saying that I don’t want to keep you from relationships with boys so that I can control your life. I do so because I know that you, like most teens, are not ready for the responsibility and emotional commitment to a boy that is not going to be your husband. I know that you must find a way to get your own needs met without a serious boy/girl relationship (I don’t just mean the act of sex.) I believe that friendships are the only form of relationship that you need right now. Anything else is really a poor substitute for what you really need – which is a relationship with God.
Okay, so I admit that it all sound a little preachy – but I’m trying to explain to you why I do what I do in the hopes that you can see how it relates to my hopes and dreams for your future and my responsibility to teach and train you.
Which brings me to another thought, you asked me if someone could be in the middle of really bad stuff without much (Christian) guidance or direction and still turn out okay. The answer is “Absolutely.” But success is the exception, not the rule. This is because when we act alone we tend to follow our own human desires rather than God’s plan … not to mention that we are battling Satan without asking for God’s help. That means that it is much more difficult and highly unusual, but certainly not impossible. Moreover, your success is attributable directly to God.
The reality is that going through the experience may be a blessing that ultimately leads to a stronger, Godlier person. Remember, God always takes the bad and can turn it to good. A verse keeps going through my head:
Consider it pure joy my friends whenever you face trials of any kind, for the testing of your faith develops perseverance and perseverance must finish its work so that you will be complete and full, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
So to answer the question, I believe that if you were still with your parents and you relied on God’s help you could still become a strong Godly woman.
However, something just occurred to me: God didn’t keep you with your parents. He placed you with our family – so he must have had a different plan for your life. You will still face trials of many kinds in our family – but they will be different that the trials you would have faced had you continued to live with your parents or another foster family.
I don’t know what that really means for you or to you, but just realizing that God could have left you where you were, but he chose to put you with us might mean that you need to be seeking out God’s plan for your life in the situation that you are in right now – as a member of the Lee family.
Perhaps your stay with us will be short, or maybe it will be forever. However, we can’t dwell on the length of our time together – only on what we do with the time that we are given.
I can’t take away what you have already experienced in your relationships, sexuality, failures, and abuse. However, I can provide an environment where you can grow and mature and learns from those experiences. I can do that by setting boundaries, listening to your wants and needs, teaching and guiding you, watching you, checking up on you (even when you don’t want me too) and by following God’s lead.
Ultimately, when you are ready, I want you to choose a path for your life and decide your own beliefs and values. But, until you are ready, I’m asking that you trust me and dad to guide you – knowing that we may make mistakes and poor choices, but that we are trying to follow God’s lead and we are acting out of love and commitment to you – knowing that only certain paths will lead to happiness and contentment and all of them involve God.
So, this is my letter. As I said in the beginning, I wrote it to you – for me – in part to figure out why I feel so passionate about my responsibility to you kids.
Although I may be ornery and cranky at times (okay, a lot of the time), I want you to know that I consider each of you a Gift from God that I must treasure and protect.
I Love You,
P.S. Although dad is not likely to write you a letter like this, we talk about our children every day. We discuss what’s best for each of you; what we do wrong; how we can best help and more. This letter is about my role as mother; however, I can’t (and don’t) do any of my jobs without my husband. He is a key element in this family.