I have raised four wonderful boys, now men. I had no idea what I was doing. They chose me. Noticing their attachment to me I heard God’s direction to say yes. I jumped in. And John married all of us. We were a group package on that wedding day.
When it came to raising these boys, the one thing John and I knew together was we had to make their world bigger for them to understand that this Christian life was possible for them.
That they could overcome the low standards where they came from.
That they belonged in this bigger world.
To teach them to not be afraid of frogs and to not be fascinated with guns.
To teach them that what the Bible said about them was actually true—for them too.
Our idea to make their world bigger was to bring them on mystery trips, to places they never dreamed of going before. We always trusted God (had to!) with our budgeting to make these trips happen because we knew this was one of the best tools we had.
On a side note, the “new mom” in me absolutely cherished every picture we took on these mystery trips. I saw innocence and joy in their faces. Back in our real world I saw survival on their faces.
I wrote about this for a youth ministry article about this 20 years ago:
When we do widen their reality, when we are camping or they are making a meal in my kitchen or whatever, true talking happens. Conversation just comes up that addresses their pain. And that’s where we can begin to teach healing, forgiveness, and spiritual responses to life. We have been allowed into their reality to help expand it. They are trusting me to help them expand it with their thoughts and questions.
As we widen their reality we are also providing spiritual markers or memories that they can gauge their own life with. These are memories that teens can use when they are trying to figure out life. They can pull out strong memories of pure fun, peace of mind, of being understood and are all tied into God. No matter how much pain they are in, teens will never be able to ignore their memories and those memories will shape their faith and life.
I still believe this is a part of youth ministry. This is something I still practice as a youth minister. I still believe in how we raised our boys.
Except now as their lives have grown into man responsibilities, I’m saddened at how they don’t remember these memories the same way. I remember every single one—and how their faces looked. Some they barely remember and too often remember them differently.
Rather than risking feeling disappointed, they’re choosing to live disappointed.
Shame has been said to be a story stealer. I know it has. It makes me sad.
For them it is their coping. To remember these too-good-to-be true memories reminds them of what could have been. Reminds them of joy (which even back then they felt they didn’t deserve). Makes them feel disloyal to those they left behind. Reminds them they could have had a different future. It is easier to not remember these memories and live in their smaller world.
One advice I give often over on Brave Dating is “You can choose to let your defenses and your excuses keep you locked up in a small world or you can bravely be a part of the world—because the rejection of one date doesn’t define you.”
What excuses are you making to keep yourself locked up in your small world?
What stories are you minimizing?
What opportunities are you passing by on?
How is shame stealing your story?
When did your small world become okay for you?
Why did your small world become okay?
My sons still have great lives. They have overcome so much!!! They have already beaten the odds. Two of them know this. Two of them don’t. Two of them wrestle with shame like it is flowing through their veins and they will never be free of it. Like they can live in their already-better life but never really live in it because the shame in their veins always reminds them they don’t belong here. But they do. They do belong in this better life.
There is this throwaway line from this great fiction book, The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell:
“Life has taught this boy to string nets beneath his hopes.”
It’s hard to live a brave life when you keep stringing nets. When you don’t remember the stories you got to live in. When you keep your world small.
What stories are you forgetting about your life? Sincerely ask God to reveal the memories of these stories to you. Bravely pray that.
What stories have you changed in your life to keep your world small? If you are brave enough to ask yourself these questions you will discover that you have contorted some stories to fit the sad storyline your life is now.
Where is the voice of shame right now? In your veins? In the nets you are stringing?
Have you been proactively healing from the voice of shame that has directed your life so far? I hope so. That is the brave thing to do. Remembering your good stories correctly is a celebration of that.
For my boys, I have photo albums of those faces to prove that the stories happened to them. And to prove their joy.