As I watched my granddaughter pour the five pound bag of sugar into the canister, I felt the laughter begin to bubble up. It was a school project. She had to carry the sugar baby with her everywhere that she went for one week.
At the beginning of the week she had been so excited about the prospect of having a sugar baby. She printed out a birth certificate for it and baby announcements. A friend and she went to great lengths to decorate the bag of sugar to look like a pretty little baby girl. The project was designed to drive home the huge responsibility of parenting. Evidently, it had worked!
Friday, she got home from school, went directly into the kitchen, tore open the sugar baby and deposited it unceremoniously into the canister, her parenting responsibilities fulfilled.
The school project is a great idea, moving too fast into the adult world isn't. It can start a cycle of mistakes that build up speed like a runaway skateboard. I know first hand how unprepared a teenager can be for parenting.
I fell headlong into the adult world of parenting. One month after my seventeenth birthday, I gave birth to my daughter. I was totally unprepared and unrealistic. I expected a tiny baby to fulfill my deep emotional needs. She of course couldn't do that. My husband, also, a self-centered, unprepared parent and spouse, didn't meet my needs nor did I meet his. And neither of us sufficiently met the needs of our daughter or the two sons that followed. I can truthfully say that our life was a mess and our children were square in the middle of it. I tried to clean up the mess but I didn't know how to do that.
In the early days of my journey into the adult world, I looked for an escape hatch. I went to parties where I could drink, dance and laugh. They provided a temporary escape from reality, but I always landed back where I started, usually with less money and more dissatisfaction. The partying life was no more than a thinly disguised longing for childhood, but I was unable to reenter that world. I tried going to work, which also provided no escape. In fact, working added to an already heavy burden.
Many nights I could be found lying on my couch asking God to rescue me. How this translated was, "Please, save me from my circumstances." When He didn't do that, I concluded that if there is a God, He doesn't care about me.
My life became as futile as a super ball bouncing between the floor and ceiling. I alternated between trying as hard as I could to create a good life for my family, when I was on the up cycle; to turning again to parties or sleep when I was on the down cycle. I carried guilt with me everywhere, all the time. Unlike the sugar baby that can be occasionally passed off to a friend, guilt hung around my neck like an anvil.
I carried my failures like a laden backpack. One weight, in particular, was heavier than all the rest it was the weight of Jesus' death. I knew from my early church days that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. Instead of being appreciative of this fact, it made me angry. I didn't ask him to, I reasoned and there is nothing that I can do about the fact that he did! To me, this was a burden too heavy to carry. He felt like someone who looked down on me. I didn't like being around Christians either. They, also, seemed to be looking down on me, condemning.
But somewhere deep inside, I wanted to believe in a God who loved me. As a child, I had believed. One of my earliest memories is of touching Grandpa's bible; I remember thinking this has to be the most special book in the whole world. I didn't know it, but I was longing for a relationship with God even back then. I longed to be a good person. I didn't want to be rejected by God. I needed to be a good parent. One thing that I felt a good parent did was to take their kids to church but I didn't want to go to church. I had enough guilt. I was very conflicted.
I started sending my kids to church on a church bus. Surely, that would be considered a good thing even to church people. When the church had children's musical programs, I wanted to go for the kids, but most of the time, I felt like an outsider. I saw judgment in the eyes of the church people. I never felt dressed enough. I didn't fit in. After a while the kids didn't want to go anymore and that was okay with me.
Then something unexpected happened. My friend, Kathy, asked if I wanted to go to church with her. Kathy wasn’t a churchgoer. She was my drinking buddy and my only really close friend. She had been invited by a mutual friend of ours. We went because it would be good for the kids.
Somehow, I ended up sitting on one side of the church, alone. Kathy sat on the opposite side with the girl who had invited her. The preacher spoke that day about his life before becoming a Christian. It mirrored mine. I remember thinking, "He’s no better than I am."
Then he said something that had never occurred to me before. He said, "If you will only ask Jesus to forgive you and come into your life, He will change your life."
I had never done that. It probably seems like a common sense everybody-should-know-to-do-that kind of a thing, but for me, it was a "Eureka" moment! I sat quietly in my pew but I knew what I needed to do. I asked Jesus to forgive me and he did or at least I felt like he did. Later at home, I began having doubts about whether or not Jesus could really forgive me. My life was still a mess nothing had changed had it? I knelt in my living room that night and asked Jesus to forgive me again. This time, I became enveloped in a love and warmth that I had never experienced before. It felt like the God of the universe took me into His arms and held me, and poured all of the love that He had waited to give me. Nothing had changed in my life and yet, everything had suddenly changed.
The days that followed for all practical purposes continued on just like my life before meeting Jesus. One difference that occurred immediately is that I had an unquenchable desire to read the Bible. I read through the entire New Testament in a matter of weeks. With each page, the picture became clearer. Slowly without me even noticing, my life began to change and I began to change for the better.
I would like to be able to tell you that the rest of my journey has been smooth sailing but that wouldn’t be true. God had a lot of work to do in my life. Some of it was quite painful and at times still is, but there is a difference. I no longer carry the weight of my sin. I carry everything to the cross and Jesus lifts it off of me and places it on himself. How can I help but love a Savior who does that?
For everything there is a season. There is a season for enjoying the freedom and fun of youth and there is a season for discovering the joy of parenting. But whatever the season, Jesus is the right choice to help us through. He helped me and He will help you too, if you will let Him.
Darlene is a writer who travels with her husband, Mark across rural United States as he builds power plants.