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Surviving the Fallout of Other People's Choices
By Cynthia Ruchti
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Cynthia Ruchti
All rights reserved.
Call to Arms
"THE LIGHT'S PERFECT IN THAT ROOM."
Don rubbed his wife's back. "I know."
"It's why we bought this house."
Don's sigh matched hers. "Or so we thought."
Lila pulled away from his touch, tender as it was. "I'm not trying to be selfish. Of course, we'll do whatever we have to. But I think I need a minute or two to mourn."
That's what Don loved about her. He could trust her to do the right thing, even if it meant sacrificing her dream of twenty-five years—a place and a time to pick up her paintbrushes again.
He was the one with tears in his eyes when they opened the door to her studio, the room that had so recently been cleared of clutter after their last child left the nest.
"We'll have to rip down my work counter," she said, "in order to fit bunk beds along that wall."
He nodded and made notes on a scrap of paper.
"And change the French doors onto the patio to a more secure window. I wouldn't feel comfortable with the grandkids having such easy access to outside, or others having access to them."
Don read between her lines. Their daughter's probationary provisions allowed no contact between her and the children, but when had Meagan ever followed the rules? He made a note: safety windows and a security system. "That'll cost us."
Lila tilted her head to look at him. "It surprises you that Meagan's choices are costing us more than they already have?"
Don's "no" bounced off the untouched canvas on the untouched easel in the untouched corner of the fulfillment of his wife's dreams. They stood engrossed in the quiet that would soon end, a quiet they'd waited a long time to enjoy at this stage of life. A quiet they might not have for—he calculated the distance from the youngest grandchild to high school graduation—another sixteen years.
"Do you think she'll sign the papers?" Lila ran her hand along the shelf that held her color-coded baskets of art supplies.
"In a heartbeat."
"How could a mother surrender her children?" The last word caught in Lila's throat and came out half-formed. "That's not how we raised her, Don."
He addressed his scrap of paper again. "We'll need to call Jefferson Elementary and get the kids registered. And that means one of us will have to drive them every day."
"We'll need car seats for all of them."
Don looked up. "We'll need a bigger car, if we can afford it."
Lila pushed herself into his embrace. "First things first, love. You need a bigger piece of paper."
They stood that way, holding on to each other, as the perfect light disappeared behind the clouds.
"There's a positive side," Don whispered into her hair.
"We'll know they're safe. They'll know they're protected and provided for. They'll know someone loves them like they should be loved."
Lila put her hand over Don's heart. "They'll see what a real man is like."
"They'll eat well." Don rubbed his ample stomach.
Lila's smile broadened as if determined to lighten the moment. "Until we run out of grocery money."
"Do food pantries make allowances for people like us?"
"I guess we'll find out."
Groceries and car seats and bunk beds were minor list items compared to what Lila and Don would face in court battles and energy drains and shoulder-hunching concern for the motherless children.
The incidence of grandparents raising their grandchildren has risen profoundly, if what we see in our local community is reflective of what's happening in the nation. Parents in prison. Parents in rehab. Parents on parole.
Sounds like a preview of next season's reality shows, doesn't it?
Not all parents qualify to chaperone the class field trip. They can't pass the criminal background check or sex offender screening. What a world. What a world.
Many grandparents are left to pick up the pieces when the parent-child relationship is shattered by lousy choices, addictions, ugly circumstances, negligence, or—let's face it—stupidity.
The grandparents who handle it well embrace the children and the responsibility with grace. They adjust their schedules and modify their retirement plans—eliminating or postponing their dreams and inserting the needs of the children. They restructure their concept of "someday when ..." They take a deep breath and plunge wholeheartedly into the commitment to raise another batch of children, though the responsibility belongs to someone else.
The cost can be astronomical. The payoff, remarkable.
Investing in the lives of children, investing in their emotional and spiritual health, their safety, their security is always worth it.
But between investment and reward lies a long stretch of expenditure and exhaustion for those tasked with the responsibility of caring for someone else's child.
"I don't want you to think it was all heartache," Lila told me recently. "We loved having our grandchildren around. We loved the input we had. The kids added so much joy to life." She paused. "But, it was hard. A hard decade."
She made the statement as if looking back on a difficult labor, with a bright-eyed newborn in her arms softening the sharp edges of memory.
I listened for a litany of complaints about what they'd been through, what Lila and her husband had sacrificed while they watched their grown daughter ping-pong through rehab centers, treatment facilities, and crashes. None came.
"Interesting way to describe what it must have been like caring for your grandchildren while their mom dried out. 'That was a hard decade.' So much lurks behind those five words." I watched as her face took on a serenity like the rich patina that distinguishes genuine art from a reprint.
Lila drew a hitched breath, then exhaled a decade of concern. "Now it seems it couldn't have been that long. But it was. I wonder if I slept a full night any of those ten years."
She didn't rush through her story. I didn't press. Some pain takes as long to express as it does to experience. I waited for Lila to set the pace.
As she gathered her thoughts from wherever they'd wandered, I considered how much it must have cost Lila and her husband to take on the obligations of the newest grandchild who came to them with womb-born addictions, with tremors and screams and brain cramps she inherited from her mother.
Unable or unwilling—and did it really matter which?—their daughter didn't set aside her drugs when she discovered she was pregnant. Meagan upped her intake to cope with morning sickness, her bulging belly, the clawing contractions that told her the alien she'd carried was about to explode out of her.
When Branilyn slid from her, screaming and trembling, Meagan's addiction told her she'd been freed from the pressure of a flesh-eating tumor. Lila and Don stepped in, paid for another round of rehab, and wrapped the unhappy child in their arms.
"Mom, you keep her," their daughter begged when sane enough to know what she'd done. "I'm no good for her."
No argument there.
Nursing Branilyn through infant detox and its residual effects while caring for the older children and emotionally nursing their daughter through her adult version of detox exacted a high toll.
"I want you to understand," Lila said, leaning in, "that it wasn't all negative. Hard, yes." Her gaze drifted to some year's ago soul-squeezing midnight. "But our grandchildren were a gift to us. Unlike many grandparents, we had the opportunity to influence their lives every day. We loved on them like no one else could, including their mother, at the time. We lived life over again through their young eyes and saw what we'd missed in parenting the first time around."
My mind rehearsed what it would be like to have a parenting do-over.
"They infused us with joy so intense it pulled a protective covering over the reasons they were with us rather than with their mom."
"You and your husband are remarkable people."
"Far from it." Lila's shoulders curled forward. "Giving them back to our daughter took more courage than we'd needed in ten years of caring for them."
"Your daughter's doing better though?"
The silence between us dripped with concern. Hope still had a fight on its hands.
Lila's smile recaptured the serenity I'd seen earlier. "Don and I are learning to relinquish the need to control the outcome. We can't fix anything. The best we can do is love them, make a difference where we can, and give God a wide berth to do what only God can do."
"You should write a book," I said.
"You are, so I don't have to. Remind your readers to watch for the glory moments when life gets ugly. They'll find them."
Watch for the glory moments? It's far more natural to watch for the gory, the awful, the misery-producing moments. "And here's another thing we've had to give up! Another hardship we shouldn't have to bear."
That approach may be natural, even expected. But it drives us deeper into the grip of the crisis rather than lifting us above it.
Artists through the centuries have used canvas and oils to capture a particularly poignant scene from the Bible. Jesus invited His friend Peter to get out of the boat and walk to Him on top of the water in the middle of a windswept lake. Peter obeyed. For a few steps, he rose above the natural pull of gravity and the laws of nature. Then he looked around at the waves and realized what he was doing was impossible. That's when he began to sink.
Love reached out and caught him before he gulped lake water. The artists' minds and ours wonder what would have happened if Peter hadn't looked down.
A friend of mine confessed she wasn't just conscious of the waves of her family's challenging circumstances; she was counting them. "Here comes another one. That makes eleven."
It wasn't until she got her eyes off the waves that she began to walk on top of them again.
Lila and Don could have drowned. They chose to look for the glory moments.
What if the prodigal son in the Bible had been a single parent? Who would have taken care of his kids while he rolled around in the pig slop of life? Grandma and Grandpa. They would have put a wing on the tent or outfitted the rooftop with bunk beds, walls, and a ceiling. They would have set more places at the table and then bought or borrowed a bigger table. They'd rock the children to sleep and try to keep their little ears from hearing all the gossip about their daddy's dumb decisions.
A grandchild in need is a grandparent's call to arms—both a call to action and a call to the arms of their embrace. No matter the cost.
And the costs demand more than one scrap of paper.
* * *
1. It isn't surprising Lila and Don agreed to raise their grandchildren. What's startling is the grace with which they did it. They resisted the idea of becoming martyrs in order to love and serve with grace. Does that make your heart clench? What sacrifices are you making for someone you love, but sensing the taint of victimization?
2. Don and Lila are letting life and God educate them in the concept of giving up the need to control the outcome of their situation. How strong is your determination to manage the results? When you think of the word surrender as it applies to allowing God wide berth to do what only God can do, does that introduce a sense of serenity or resistance?
3. Loving grandchildren comes easily. Caring for them takes uncommon strength and courage. If you're a primary caregiver for your grandchildren, what have you built into your schedule to care for your own needs, to refresh you and rebuild your mental and physical energies?
If you know a Lila ...
Consider what it would mean to someone like Lila for you to be as persistent in loving her wayward daughter as she is. How much would it mean to the Lilas in this world if we stopped ragging about their children's sins and began treasuring the broken shards of pottery, the priceless though shattered people?
Do you know someone in the early days of a difficult assignment? Are you keeping your distance because you don't know what to say or do? Are you willing to ask God to reveal the role He'd like you to play, even if it costs you something?
* * *
Let your servants' children live safe, [Lord]; let your servants' descendants live secure in your presence.
Excerpted from Ragged Hope by Cynthia Ruchti. Copyright © 2013 Cynthia Ruchti. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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