It was a sunny evening at home last summer. Sean was at the church doing youth ministry and I was wrangling kids, dishes, and baths. I told the older three (ages 6, 5, and 4) they had 15 minutes left of play while I bathed Haley. When I called out the door, "bath time!" a short while later I heard no response. As I made a bottle and pulled out pajamas I realized no pattering feet were coming up the patio. I tried again. No response.
I slipped on a pair of Sean's shoes, put fresh faced Haley on my hip and went outside. All was quiet and if you know my kids, quiet means they aren't nearby. I walked behind our property miffed- calling names, meandering, kicking around in Sean's big shoes.
Our neighbor was in his yard and asked if I needed help. I laughed. "They aren't far. They know they aren't allowed to leave the yard."
"They're good about that" he acknowledged.
"And if the boys decided to wander Darla would tell on them before they took a step," I added confidently.
Just in case, he walked through the back fields while I took the front.
Soon it had been 10 more minutes and my confusion was turning to concern.
"Maybe we should call someone?" The neighbor offered. I nodded suddenly feeling warm and Haley feeling heavy.
"This is just weird. None of them have ever taken off..." I trailed off realizing the only other alternative would be if they were picked up...? The warm evening suddenly felt chilled.
"Should you call Sean?" My concerned neighbor was giving me prompts, I could feel it. I'm not a worrier and everything in me was refusing to believe this was an emergency.
"I guess... I just never call him during youth group..."
I called my sister instead, aware that over 15 minutes had passed of my unproductive search plus the time I had been inside with Haley. She jumped in her car to come up the road and see if she could see anything on the other side of town.
I was paralyzed, realizing I couldn't go far in case they came back home. I couldn't very well start running with Haley on my hip and dang it- these aren't even my shoes! Minutes ticked as we yelled and walked up and down the road. An acquaintance stopped and started searching side streets.
"Shilo, I think we need to call the police. I have a friend who might even be off duty but we need to get them looking."
That practical neighbor again. I nodded and called Sean. He left the church immediately.
There I was standing in the middle of the road completely helpless, scared, humiliated, and at a loss.
As my sister drove up with no children, looking a little panicked herself, my phone rang. It was Sean. "Shilo? I found them. They were almost to the church. They walked almost two miles, Shilo. They wanted a puppy. Darla told the boys that they'd keep walking until they found a puppy they could keep. They got lost and a lady was trying to help them find the house back."
My fear flipped into anger. Driven by embarrassment, lack of control, and panic, it was the type of anger that all emotions funnel into and turn hot.
I had no words when Sean drove up with three sniveling little scoundrels. He let them out and apologetically explained he'd better hurry back to the church. He did and my shaky hands ushered a whimpering crew into the house and onto the couch.
I bit the words out. "Stay here. I'm going to tuck Haley in. Don't you move ONE muscle off of this couch!"
As I disappeared down the hall I could hear the speculations. "What is she going to do? What's going to happen now?"
I began praying as I rocked Haley. "How am I supposed to handle this?" I was trying to conjure up consequences that they would remember. Forever.
Then God reminded me that I say my aim in parenting is to constantly direct my kids to Jesus and model Him. "What will that look like?"
Then it was as if God spoke directly to me. "How do I respond to you when you're the one running after puppies?"
"What? I'm not even that much of a dog person. Oh. Wait. Are we talking about figurative puppies here? Ah. Anytime I choose to pursue what I want instead of what you've commanded? Any time I compromise your plans for me by walking the other direction? When I'm too far to hear you calling?"
With a suddenly clear mind I went back to the living room. I sat down with my wanderers and listened. "We're so sorry!" "Mom, we'll never do it again!" "Mom- I should have a worse consequence than the boys because it was all my idea... I just really, really want a puppy."
I explained to them what they cost me by their disobedience. The worry, the time, the heartache of broken trust and not believing that my rule is for their good. We talked about how it impacted the neighbor's evening, Dad's youth group night and his students.
We talked about asking for forgiveness. We prayed together, asking God for forgiveness and then I taught them how to ask me for forgiveness. In that instant- reconciliation. Because the first thing I remembered about how God responds to me is that the reconciliation is instant. The consequences, they might be long lasting. But He doesn't punish me by acting distant or by waiting for me to prove myself. He scoops me up in my messy, crying repentance. So I scooped up Everett whose scraped knees indicated not all had been smooth on his puppy trek.
"For Your name's sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great." Psalm 25:11
There were a hugs and tears. We ultimately decided their consequences would involve apologizing to the neighbor for the inconvenience, having restrictions for a time period of where they could and couldn't play, some extra chores to acknowledge they made more work and took time away from our chores (and lastly... NO PUPPY!).
When we explained the consequences, I remembered how in my consequences the Lord comes alongside me. He demonstrates His love and grace by helping me honor Him even as I experience discipline. His grace doesn't mean there aren't repercussions for my sin. There are logical effects but not only does God's forgiveness save me from eternal damnation, it also gives me grace within my consequences. I realized as I sat holding my grubby kids that God had redeemed my own sin to understand and instruct my kids in this moment.
"Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, for they are from of old." Psalm 25:6
We went with them to apologize to the neighbor. I empathized with the struggles of restriction, encouraged them, and loved on them, ensuring they understood long lasting consequences doesn't mean long lasting anger or broken relationship.
That night after I tucked the boys in I found Darla still crying on my bed. "But Mom- I feel awful. I feel like I want to be by you but I also feel bad so I don't want you by me at all! I can't believe I would do that! I don't know why I went even when I knew I wasn't supposed to." My rule following, justice enforcing, black and white daughter was horrified when faced by what she's capable of in her own desires. Her hands covered her face in shame.
I cried alongside of her. We both laid on the bed a red-eyed, hugging pair with our self righteousness broke wide open, exactly the way it needed to be.
"Keep my soul, and deliver me; Let me not be ashamed, for I put my trust in you." Psalm 25:20
As we talked about our inability to pay our debt and needing forgiveness, I thanked God for slowing my hot head down to deal with my kids' hearts instead of only addressing behavior. We talked about how God gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us when we're tempted and even to bring us back when we mess up. Without Him we have no hope of staying in the yard.
"Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He teaches sinners in the way. The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth." Psalm 25:8-10
If you think to yourself that there is an ounce of wisdom in this moment of parenting, allow me to explain. My daughter gets her black and white, rule enforcing, law abiding streak from me. No one, even on their best day, could teach me to parent with grace and insight. Only by the Holy Spirit, by experiencing my own depravity, through Jesus' complete forgiveness of me do I have a hope of showing it to my kids. Puppy Search 2012 wasn't a turning point into perfect parenting. I continue to fail regularly in the way I parent. I continue to fail daily. I fail hourly. Okay, some days I just don't get it right at all. But Puppy Search 2012 opened my eyes and left me humbled, begging God to continue getting my attention in issues of the heart instead of obedience in the head. I don't want to raise my kids to be rigid moralists. I want my kids to be soft hearted Christ seekers, dependent on the Holy Spirit.
"Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day." Psalm 25:4,5
Just throwing myself out there a bit...