Parental Whiplash: an update

About six weeks ago, my heart hit the floor when I realized that my son, whom we had trusted with a Kindle Fire that was tied to our checking account had… as we have come to call know it around here… “lost his ever loving mind” for 24 hours and cost us over $200.  I blogged about it shortly after, feel free to go read about it here if you missed the first go-round.

My husband and I struggled with what would be an appropriate punishment. What is big enough? What is too big? How do you navigate such uncharted territories as a nine-year-old overdrawing a checking account?

We started with the confiscation of the Kindle, of course, and the determination that he would have to pay his father back the money he owed him.  We had him sit and figure how many hours his daddy had to work to earn the amount of money he spent on fictional armor for a person in a video game.  And then, for every time he pressed “buy” he had to write a sentence of apology.

There was much late night discussion between Jim and I… Zach had been so forthcoming, so honest, so upstanding since the time we realized what he had done. Between us we knew his lesson had been learned… yet we had to follow through with the punishment we set forth. We worried that he would become disillusioned… our family had just instituted a chore chart which enabled the kids to earn a little money every week… at $12 a week it was going to take a LONG time to pay his daddy off. How long would he keep doing the chores without any tangible reward? Were we setting ourselves up for a three month battle to make him do the right thing?

But the most incredible thing happened.  The surprise and the pride I experienced in the days immediately after ‘the incident’ only grew.  Zachary not only owned his poor decision to press buy 29 times, but he worked hard to pay off his debt. Week in and week out, he kept tabs on his chore sheet as to how much he owed his daddy. When offered the chance to learn how to mow and earn $10 each time, he jumped at it.  Offers to clean out the car for a little extra were enthusiastically embraced. He didn't ask to have his Kindle back a single time. He didn't ask for any extras at the store, not so much as a candy bar. He was gracious and appreciative when he still got to go skating (a Friday night tradition) after a week of restriction from that activity. 

I was amazed.

Zach is, to put it lightly, one of the least patient children I have ever met. He gets it from his momma, who also does not function well in the ‘wait’. Seeing his sister slide money in her “spend”, “save”, and “give” envelopes had to be so hard for him. There were times he questioned whether or not he would ever see the end of that $213.  But he never, ever stopped working at it. He never once threw a fit, or gave up, or got mad… and the occasional pout was of the most minor variety [truly, who can fault the kid an occasional forlorn look or slow walk into the other room? Consequences suck sometimes.]

A week ago, as school let out, Zach proudly brought his report card to me. All A’s… all year. His daddy has always told the kids that if they obtain perfect attendance for an entire school year, he would give them $50 at the end of the year. The result of this offer has been myself making runs to the school at 8:30am to pick up children who didn’t tell me they were sick, because they didn’t want to miss school!  About a year ago, I told Zach on the trip back home that perfect attendance was great, but perfect grades would be even better- all A’s and mommy would give him $100. Apparently this kid just needs a goal, because he set out the next school year to get that $100 from me. And he did.

I made that deal with the kids in a moment of frustration, my second trip in a month to pick up a sick kid from school. But God knew. God had a plan for that. He is in the business of grace, and He KNEW that at just a time as this, that little boy was going to need to have a chunk of money he earned FAIR AND SQUARE. He knew that at just this time, a mom and a dad were going to be looking for a way to expedite the paying off of a debt so their son could move into the next phase of giving and saving. He knew just what we were going to need, and over a yea ago, He made a way.

He is so good, isn’t He?

And so, Zach had earned $100 that he applied to his debt… bringing it down to $50. Which brought about another late night conversation with his daddy. Jim was worried that Zach would become discouraged working and working with nothing but numbers on a paper to show for it. We agreed that he needed to finish paying us off, but decided to let him keep 50% of his money every week and apply the other 50% to his debt.

I talked to Zach about it the next day. I told him we were really proud of the way he had worked hard to pay us off, and that we wanted him to start having some of his chore money. I told him about the compromise we had come up with the night before… but Zach quickly responded… “I don’t want to do that”.

I fully expected him to leap for joy to know he would have some spending money for the summer. Instead he went on… “That will take forever to pay off. I just want to keep giving everything to daddy”.

I couldn’t believe my ears. I didn’t even know how to respond for a minute. Finally I said, with tears in my eyes “That was a really wise decision, Zach, a really wise decision.”  For a moment, I felt like I knew what our Father must feel when He looks upon us with those sweet words “Well done, good and faithful one…”  Those words don’t come because we never make mistakes, they come because we have a heart that desires to do the right thing and a willingness to turn toward Him when we find ourselves on the wrong path. It’s owning up to the decisions we have made, growing through the consequences, and accepting His grace. It comes from our reaching a place where we say "my all for you!"

In that moment, I knew there was room for grace in our growing-our-kids-plan as well. Another late night conversation, and Jim's reaction was the same as mine. Not only had the lesson been learned, but we could see definite growth in our son over the process of walking out of this mistake. We both agreed to forgive the last bit of Zachary’s debt (he had done some mowing and other extras to bring it down to below $40). I spoke about it with a few friends to get their input (it takes a village, people), and all agreed with our heart to extend grace to our son.

Zach was subdued when I told him.

Grace is sometimes a difficult gift to receive, isn’t it?

He did accept it though. And with this last week’s chore & mowing money, he paid his sister back for the portion of her gift card he had also burned through and had $12 to slip into his respective envelopes.

Debt paid, in full. 

(He is even getting his Kindle back after living up to our challenge of a week or two ago to make it to June 1st without any more impulsive decisions).

The correlation to the grace we receive from our Heavenly Father is impossible to miss. Yes, Zach paid off his debt… but every penny he paid was originally his daddy’s in the first place.

Zach, like us, was powerless to really pay off that debt. So we made a way for him to learn, to be refined, to grow and mature. It was never about the money. It was about the growing.

It’s a little like the Law, given by a Father to His people. A system of sacrifice and right-living to pay for the debt of their sin. A debt they could never really pay for. Animals given by the Father, returned to the Father in a ritual that looked a lot like check marks on a chore chart.

And then, in a moment of mind-blowing love… a Son sent to really forgive the debt. To pay the price in full.  A sacrifice of self to end all sacrifices. That last $40 forgiven, an overwhelming grace which really and truly forgave the entire debt. Forever. A debt forgiven that somehow ends with a “well done, good and faithful one” from the Master to the debtor.

It's incredible, isn't it??

I could not have imagined six weeks ago that the Kindle-debacle would have ended with a momma's heart swelling with pride for the young man my son is growing into. And my spirit finds such comfort in the knowledge that HE feels the same way about ME. That even in my failures, His love is unwavering... that, in fact, He knows how He will use those failures to His good purposes. That He knows the end from the beginning, and how we will walk through consequence, finding ourselves refined on the other side. That our Daddy God alone knows the path that will lead us to the greatest realization of His love and purpose. 

Regardless of where you are now, or where you have been... the Father has a plan and a purpose. He is not disappointed. In foretelling of Israel's deliverance, God says in Isaiah 27:4 "I am not angry". That verse struck my heart the first time I read it, and it rings there to this day. I am not angry. For many years, I related to a God who I felt was mostly mad. Mostly disappointed. Mostly frustrated. But here, in talking to a people who were captives because of their own decisions... people who would could have had peace like a river had they only listened to Him... people who instead had chosen to turn away from Him again and again and again... He says "I am not angry".

I think of that night in our living room, daddy confronting a son who had made a huge mistake. Tears in my eyes as I saw my husband take our son by the hands and start his discussion by saying "I love you so much, buddy". We were taken by surprise, disappointed, confused, hurt... yet if Jim, who is just a failed human parent like the rest of us, knows how to love his son well even in that moment... how much more must our Father in Heaven love us in all of ours?

I don't know where you are tonight, but I know from my own life there are things I am walking through even now that are not easy. Areas that I have made mistakes. Things I am still trying to sort out. What a comfort it is to hear my Daddy say "I am not angry". What a comfort to know that He is using this time to grow and refine, that He is is still proud to call me His child. He feels the same way about you, my friend.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1