Wednesday, November 5, 2014

For it is the Challenging Child Who Has Really Taught Me How to Love -In Thanksgiving For George on His 10th Birthday

Ten years have flown by since our "election baby" was born.  It seems like yesterday that I labored on the couch through the night with George, steady contractions waking me several times every hour. Both the pain of the contraction and the knowledge of what was to come roused me just long enough to say a quick prayer and to check the progress of the presidential elections.

If only I had a dollar for every time we have been asked if we named George after George Bush. Um, no. George Patrick Thomas was affectionately named after his great grandfather, George Splichal, a very kind, jovial, hard-working and pious soul.  I wish so very much that all of our children could have known him.  He was one of five boys (and one girl), and I have no doubt that grandpa is in heaven laughing daily at his view from up above of all the craziness in our very masculine home!
I try very hard on our childrens' birthdays to slow things down a bit, to take some time to give them extra special attention and affection. More than anything, I really just love to take long pauses throughout the day to watch them being themselves, to really watch them. I long to cement those sweet impressions of them in my heart and mind.  I cannot help but reach out to affirm them in specific ways, to ask them questions about everything from their favorite color to where they would like to go on vacation next year, I want to know them so well.

Monday was a particularly emotional day for me interiorly.  During those long pauses of watching, of conversation of admiration, I felt that the Lord was very close to me, fully aware of the push-pull movements between my head and heart.  Of all of the children in our family, George has sent me, more than any other, onto my knees and into the Father's arms.   I have always believed that children are a gift to their parents, gifts that are here in our lives to change us for the better, to bring us closer to God, to help us get to heaven. But, receiving those gifts isn't always easy.

The substance of this change that occurs in us isn't formed from a life of traveling down the parenting road of ease, but rather by the pathways that demand more and more and yet a little more of us.

I hope that one day George will read this and not feel shame or disappointment in himself because of my honesty but, rather, I hope that he will experience a deep sense of triumph and joy, knowing that he, with all of his wonderful strengths, and trying weaknesses as well, truly has a great wonderful purpose in this world, and it has been our privilege as his parents to nurture that purpose in him.

I think it's safe to say that every parent, to one degree or another, dreams of having perfect children. Who does not desire an obedient, intelligent, respectful, healthy, happy child in their home? Such desires are pure and natural.  When George was diagnosed with a heart defect at the age of two, when the severity of his asthma and allergies escalated as he grew, I wondered how we would be able to keep him healthy and strong despite such physical obstacles.

As he grew through the toddler years, it seemed evident that his health wouldn't be the only challenge for his father and me.  Without going into detail, I will say that if ever I have stood behind a closed door counting to 10, and pleading to God for super-abundant graces, more than likely George has driven me to that place.

I often find myself repeating to my own children those affirming words my parents spoke to me as a child growing up, "We love all of you children just the same, not one more than the other." But, to like each child equally? I confess with all honesty that there are days where I lack a serious fondness toward one or more of my sons.  That is human, isn't it? (Please, tell me it is.) Do you know what I mean when I say how wearisome it is to be with the unlikeable child day in and day out, your emotions and nerves being worn down by the constant discipline and teaching of that child?

In the midst of some pretty intense days at home with George, I have sworn out loud and under my breath, lost my temper, thrown up my hands, ranted breathlessly to a very patient husband, and for fleeting moments here and there wished for a different life.

She waves the white flag of surrender.

I hate feeling defeated. Feeling as though I am NOT the person to raise this child.
He is going to flunk out of school or end up in jail and it's going to be all my fault.
I have thought these very thoughts hundreds of times.

Polished blog of a polished life? Not here.
How easy it is to show love and affirmation to the "easy" child. But, to make the child who tatters our nerves and exhausts our minds and hearts every day feel loved, despite how we feel toward them at that that is the real challenge.

I cannot count the number of nights I have fallen into bed exhausted knowing that I did not make George feel loved, fearing that I would be facing the same challenges again tomorrow and again fail to help him in all of the right ways through this period of struggle that he is in.

We are not unlike our children in the real, sincere way that we need to be loved.  We need to know love most in the depths our sin so much more more than in our moments of success. God loves us, you and I, perfectly in this way. The mystery of such an abundant, free love is difficult to grasp, but cannot be denied.

Our children need to experience this selfless, disinterested love from us as parents, even when we  don't feel like giving it.  It is a love that looks like patience, like a firm desire to discipline, a discipline that is a calm and steady anchor in rough waters, a love that has compassion and not anger toward the child's weaknesses, a love that is not so easily offended or disappointed by the child's failure to accept and apply all that we teach them to be true and right and good.

I am such a slow learner, and it has taken me so long to embrace this way of love.  Still, I often fail at living and expressing such a love to my children, especially to George, my child who, over the years, has needed it most.
On his birthday, as I watched George work diligently on his school work, play baseball outside with his brothers and read quietly while I decorated his cake, I confessed to the Lord all of my regrets, my shortcomings as a mother to George, the shame I felt for wanting my son to be better and to do better for my sake, so that my life would be easier. 

I prayed the prayer I've prayed so very many times, "Lord, please fill in the gaps, the places where I have failed to fill my children's lives with Your love. Mend the cracks of brokenness I have brought into their lives through my selfish desires and actions."

It's amazing to me how we, as parents, are called to teach and to instruct our children yet, in their very being, they are the ones teaching us.  I cannot express how great is the force that motherhood has had on me, pressing me on to love in ways I never knew that I could, causing me to examine every nook and cranny of my heart asking often, what can I do for these little ones? How can I change to be better for them? Who do You need me to be for these little people, Lord?

Most often is not through great and extraordinary circumstances that we are shaped and refined into the people God desires for us to be, but through the normal, natural daily life. I am thankful to the Father for showing me that, for the abundant blessing of our children in my life, both the easy and especially the not so easy ones, for they are the souls who really teach me how to love every day.
{One thing I love the most about living with boys is that they are always playing pranks on each other.  Andrew filled George's gift bag with old socks and underwear, which gave us all a good laugh!}
What a beautiful gift it is to see your child finding his way through personal struggles and into the freedom and joy that a virtuous life can bring.  I am so proud of George.  He is becoming quite a virtuous young man, responsible, generous, and helpful to me in so many ways.  He loves Joseph so very much and is always first to volunteer to hold him. He has a beautiful passion for life, an adventurous spirit that never tires, and a pure and sincere desire to befriend every person he meets.
As we sat around the breakfast table, stuffing our cheeks with caramel rolls and scrambled eggs, each of us took turns recalling our favorite memories of George, one after the other, sharing those things that we admire most about him....

Andrew was first to tell George what he admires in him and that is his generous heart.  On Halloween night our family set out to go trick-or-treating together, but eventually we got separated as the boys wanted to run around with their friends.  As Steve and I eventually made our way back to the house, we found George, Henry and Andrew sitting on the porch waiting for us.  Andrew pulled us aside to tell us of how George greeted the trick-or-treaters who came to our door, but because we had run out of candy to give to them, he generously gave to them every single piece of his own.  We were deeply touched by his kindness.
{And, surprise! Another army cake!}
Hands down our favorite funny story about George was one that took place when we still lived out on the farm.  Loving to hunt and enjoy daily walks about the farm with his BB gun, George was becoming quite a marksman. Early one morning, however, we caught him kneeling down at his bedroom window with his gun pointing out of a hole that he had poked the screen. He was shooting at the rabbits that were nibbling the lettuce in my garden! Only George would think to do such a thing!
He still loves to hunt, and so buying hunting gear for him for his birthday was an easy decision. He was elated over the gifts!

The night before George's birthday, our family decided to attend the parish mission at our local Catholic Church.  Thankfully, we were able to go to confession prior to hearing the priest give his talk.  After confession, George walked quietly to the front of the church, lit a candle and spent quite a long time kneeling quietly to pray.  After the mission, Steve gently asked George if he wanted to share what he was praying about.  Smiling proudly he said, "Dad, I just asked the Lord to speak to me.  I told Him I was listening. I just tried to be very quiet so that I could hear Him."

I hope that as time marches on, these are the stories I remember most of our boys - the ones that reveal very best of who they are, and that every challenge, every pain, every struggle in sin that we have walked through together will be overshadowed by their victories in the battle for holiness.


  1. Gosh, this made me cry Susan. I have a George too, his name is Joseph. And every single day I fail him in a hundred ways. Praying for the strength and mercy to love him the way he deserves.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I am dealing with a "difficult" (a word I hate, but sometimes best describes the situation) child. I needed this. God Bless you.

    1. Thank you, Jen. It's great to be able to support each other on our motherhood journey. Hang in there - we can do this!! :)

  3. Oh, Susan - those last 2 stories (the Halloween candy and praying) made me cry. George knows he is loved!!!
    My Hunter was like George - when he was 3 I cried every single night. (and didn't always like him) It was a very rough time but we made it through and now he is the sweetest most considerate 13 year old I know.
    Happy birthday to George - double digits is pretty awesome!!!

    1. Thanks, Kim! I passed along your birthday wishes to George - he had a great day! :)

  4. Apparently this is a day for commentors named Jenny! I, too, have a George and his name is Alan. Susan, you are not alone in your thoughts and feelings. In fact, I'm wondering if you have been listening in on my conversations with God. Tonight is my adoration night and I will spend some time praying for the Jennys, Susan, and all of our Georges. Blessings, Jenny Mc

    1. Thank you for your prayers, Jenny! I will also try to remember to pray for your son, Alan when I pray for George. Hang in there, Mama - you are dong great!!

  5. Definitely got a little teary-eyed over the Halloween story and confession stories. I don't know who the George is among my kids (because they are still really small) but today as we were loading up the van for preschool I yelled at my 4 yr old. Immediately after I felt awful (as I tend to do when I get upset with one of my kids) and I collected myself got everything else in the van and then apologized. I have found that apologizing to my kids is one of the more humbling motherly activities that makes me think twice before yelling/getting upset with one of them.

    1. YES!! When we apologize to our children, I think it really means a great deal to them. We show them the way of humility and generosity. God bless you, Joanne!

  6. What a beautiful post! This post really spoke to me. Honestly not a day goes by that I don't feel like I am not the right person to mother my children, or that I could have done better at something, or that I just blew it somehow. I love the prayer you pray asking for God to fill in the gaps and cracks. I may need to start praying that one myself!

    I love how George gave his candy away. What a kind, thoughtful boy.

    I spend a lot of my prayer time asking for St. Monica's intercession. And I honestly have seen some huge improvements in one of my children in so many areas.

    Thank you for your honesty in this post. Its refreshing to read and nice to know I'm not the only mom out there who feels like she's totally screwing her kids up! :)

  7. This si so very beautiful. Thank you for your witness and your courage in sharing this. And thank you for the wonderful example of your mother's prayer. I too often forget that praying for my children is the most important thing I can ever do for them.

  8. Susan, this post is so beautiful! As many of your shares are. But, this one gave me, a young mama of two boys, hope for my younger one. It may sound early, but comparing my two boys I see how easy going my oldest is and how incredibly challenging and strong-willed my youngest is. He has challenged me, already, in more ways than I can count and I just pray that I am fostering goodness and virtue in his precious little self. The stories you shared of George are incredibly beautiful and your honesty is so gentle. The story of George and his prayer made me cry. So perfect. Thank you for sharing your beautiful self and family!

  9. I have prayed, so many times, to be a better mother- more patient, full of grace. The prayer usually includes "if he was easier, i could do so much better!". Twenty years from now, I will be really good at mothering difficult boys, but for now, I am definitely a work in progress too!


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