Friday, September 18, 2009

"I hurl you into the universe and pray"

We just dropped Chelsea off at college. I've only called her twice in the two hours since we got home, so I'd say I'm holding it together remarkably well.

She's ready, though, even if I'm not. In the past year, Chelsea has metamorphosed from a teenager into a woman. She took care of all the planning for her move, occasionally taking me along for shopping trips. She ordered her pink bike on-line and even assembled it herself. (All right, so she put the fenders on backwards, but who's perfect? We had the bike shop do a "tune up." Not that we thought it would fall apart or anything.)

It goes without saying that I miss her, but the strangest part is permanently giving up the illusion of control. I say "illusion" because nobody ever controlled Chelsea. She grew up to be a wonderful young woman with far better judgment than either of her parents at eighteen (and arguably either of us now), but only because she chose to be.

Until Chelsea was eight, The Strong-Willed Child by James Dobson was my child rearing bible. He said that strong-willed children take comfort in knowing that their parents are in charge and that there are consequences when they step out of line. The problem was that Dobson had never met Chelsea Acker. "I shall never surrender!" was her battle cry. And she never did, no matter what the consequences.

One night, Chelsea and I had just finished locking horns about something when in desperation I asked God for guidance. (Yes, it's typical for me to wait until I'm desperate to ask God for help. But I'm getting better.) The answer he impressed on my mind was clear. "If you're under grace, why are you putting Chelsea under the law?" I suddenly realized that "Because she's a child" didn't cut it.

Through Chelsea, God taught me a powerful lesson: The law cannot change a person, including a child. That is the whole point of the Gospel. Only God's grace, working from within to mold the heart, can transform a life.

So from that moment on, we focused on our relationships with our children, making sure above all else that they know how much we love them. And we prayed for them, trusting that God alone has access to their hearts. The other three children have always accepted guidance a lot more easily, but Chelsea needed to make her own mistakes and learn from them. And by the time she hit her teenage years, she seemed to have gotten the rebellion out of her system. William Sears analogizes strong-willed children to high-risk, high-yield investments. If so, we've really hit the jackpot on this one!

The only real power we have over children is on our knees, because they may choose to go their own way when the rules are gone. But the power of prayer is infinite, and not limited by proximity. I won't know where she goes, when she comes home at night, or whether she wears a bike helmet, but I can ask God for his shield of protection. Not just during the next four years, but always.

"I hurl you into the universe and pray."
--Netta Gillespie


3 Blessings said...

What a beautiful post. God bless your beautiful daughter and your family as you all transition to this new way of life.

Again, God has placed one of your writings right in front of me in my moment of need...after just having a battle with one of my strong willed children right before bed time. Thank you!

Anette Acker said...

Thank you, Amy!

Khoi said...

Ms. Anette - Thank you for the timely post. I have visited your blog often after reading your comments on John Piper's blog about the President's speech to the children in public schools.

My 15 year-old daughter wants to start dating (she'll be 16 in February 2010). I definitely have some ideas based on the "courtship" model and have shared that with her. Her response is a summarized rolling of the eyes.

How did you handle Chelsea's "dating" days when she was in high school? What would you have done differently? Please be as specific as possible.

Thank you!

Anette Acker said...


Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment!

As I mentioned, Chelsea was just wired to be the kind of child who had to understand a situation and make her own decision. For that reason, I focused a lot on open communication. She talked to me about boys and her friendships, and I tried to shape her thinking without preaching. That was the most effective technique with her. If I tried to exert control, she would dig her heels in. By the grace of God, she was a good teenager who stayed out of trouble.

I think one of the things Chelsea and I both learned through her relationship with a boy (and her friends' relationships with boyfriends) is that the courtship model is probably the best for the following reason: It's very painful to become deeply involved with someone who is not the right one, because at some point they have to cut those emotional ties. For some kids, it seemed almost like a divorce. She reached that conclusion on her own, and it gave me the opportunity to add that this is even more true if the relationship is sexual. I'm hoping she'll remember that conversation when she's at college. :)

Deciding on the degree of control over teenagers is difficult, because eventually we have to let go. I think helping children make the right decisions is more effective than control, but I recognize that each child is different, and I see no problem with also laying down rules for teenagers. Our four kids know that we pick our battles, and there are certain things we have zero tolerance for.

Blessings to you and your daughter!

Anette Acker said...

All right, I think I just displayed my ignorance when I said I was in favor of the courtship model. Rick asked me, "What's this 'courtship model' you're talking about?" I said that I assume it's when people focus on finding the right person rather than serial relationships. But I did a quick search and found that it seems to mean involving the parents in arranging the match. (Is that correct?) I'm not in favor of that personally, but certainly not against it if it works for others.

Ragnhild K Ulrich said...

Anette: Very insightful, much wisdom (based on experience) and helpful for all parents who have strong-willed children!

Khoi said...

I have the same definition as you do for the "courtship model," namely, going into the relationship with the purpose of finding a mate and abstaining from physical intimacy until after marriage. Hopefully, my daughter will involve my wife and I in making the decision but by no means are we going to pick her husband.

Thank you for the clarification.

Cindy said...

Oh yes! Beautifully put! The picture of Chelsea walking away with her pink bike is just so symbolic. She'll be fine - she's such a terrific kid - but you'll never really be able to let her go. You'll just be able to keep "hands-off" until she needs you. And you'll be best friends. That the real reward.

Anonymous said...

I found this through RK, your Aunt. I am in complete agreement with your story. Funny thing is that I went through the same process as you did with God. I have four kids also, 2 boys, 2 girls. They are ages boy 27,girl 23, girl 17, boy 13. You are so right about the control thing. These kids are so different than we were at their age, I know that it's really all God. They are so focused, mature, independent. What a blessing to see what the Lord has done and not take the credit. Keep writing, you have quite a gift and your Aunt is a real blessing.

Anette Acker said...

Thank you, Cindy!

Anonymous, thank you for your kind words and the encouraging story about what God has done in your children's lives. That really spoke to me this morning--I'm realizing that I need to trust God more with my kids.

Yes, my aunt is definitely a blessing!