Growing up, my parents provided for my brothers and me whatever they could, but money wasn't always available. Yet they gave me something far greater than the expensive trappings of the middle-class children at my school.
Their greatest gift was a model of what a relationship with the Lord looks like, both in faith and the study of His Word. They also instilled in me a foundational belief that in America, with education and hard work, I could climb out of poverty and become whoever I dreamed to be.
I latched onto that hope-filled philosophy and grabbed every opportunity given to me. I studied hard in high school and graduated with a 4.07, earning enough scholarships to pay for college. I worked during summers to pay my own car insurance and gas, and I was the first one in my entire family to graduate from college. I received a degree in what I loved—writing, and soon began my dream job working for a ministry.
When I married David Beasley in 2003, we had our lives planned out. We decided to wait five years before we had children, and we did. Then we had another baby two years later, right on schedule.
We were on top of the world. Everything was turning out the way we wanted. Our little family was the picture of the American dream.
The day David died in a head-on collision, my mind couldn't accept that this tragedy was something I couldn't fix. I had always worked hard to get to a better place, turn the situation in my favor. But this was permanent.
It. Could. Not. Be. Changed.
No matter what I did, there was no way out of the pain, no hope to make things better.
I didn't know what to do
The world I thought I had perfect control over had turned upside down. But that's when God started teaching me how to walk by faith.
There were decisions to make that some people won't face for a lifetime. Lawyers and life planners were approaching me, seeking my business. My family's lives were in the hands of strangers, and I had no idea whom to trust. I took my 2-year-old son by the hand, and as we crouched on our knees, I prayed, "Oh God, I don't know what to do, so I'm just going to go with the first person who called. All I can do is trust You, whether the outcome is good or bad, because I don't know what to do."
God took care of me through each challenge, as He sent godly, knowledgeable people into my life at each step. It wasn't my hard work or hours of research that got me through. Every single decision was an internal battle that ended with, "God, I'm paralyzed with ignorance and fear. I'm going to make a decision as best I can, and pray that you work it out."
My single-parent life lasted three years, and every day I worried about the psychological effects on my children. There were so many shortcuts I took as a single mom that were not the best choices for my children. I was in survival mode—too much TV, too much candy, too much iPod, too little discipline.
I experienced mood swings with the grieving process. And I can't tell you how many times I zoned out from thinking about life, or how many times I became preoccupied with social networking or texting, when the children needed my attention. In my "controlled" life, I would have told you I never would have done any of that. But here I was, living in a new pair of shoes.
I worried about how this new crazy mom self would rub off on my kids. I worried about their lack of a male role model, and I was convinced that remarriage would fix it all. So when I met Robbie McDonald three years into my widowhood, I expected my new hero to rescue us. Finally, I thought, a godly man who would love my children will make everything better.
Adjusting to a new dad
Robbie did love my children and me, but it was far from what I expected. I thought the children would be excited to finally have a daddy in their lives. But there was tension, especially with my son, who suddenly went from being the oldest child to the middle child … from the only male to a houseful of males. It bothered him to share the TV … and worse than that, he had to share his mother's affections. At first, he was overly sensitive to Robbie and frequently said hurtful things out of emotional reactions.
I had shed so many tears to that point, double-guessing every decision I ever made—both good and bad, burying myself in guilt and seeking advice on how to control it all again, and I was at a loss. This was not the perfect healing I had expected.
But in my prayer and devotional life, God began to emphasize the fact that He was in control. My children and Robbie's children are not ours. They belong to God, and He knows the plans that He has for each of them.
I started to see how the fear of hurting my kids had affected my parenting negatively. It caused me to feel sorry for them and loosen my discipline, which was exactly what I shouldn't do. I knew I had to let go of the control.
God is called Jehovah-Raphe—the God who heals. Yes, children and parents go through hardships, but God is the Healer. The hurts from the past don't have to leave a lasting pain. With God as Healer my kids can move forward with happy, healthy lives. Satan would have us believe otherwise.
Instead of letting fear and guilt guide my parenting, I learned to forgive myself and realize that many of the things that were done "out of my control" may actually be the very events that God is using to make our children strong, faith-filled adults that He has already ordained to do His works.
A sapling becomes a strong tree by bending in the wind and storms. We can guide our children as best as we can, but if we rescue them from every pressure in life, we're keeping them from the challenges it takes to make them grow strong.
G.K. Chesterton once said, "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." Applying that to parenting, I'm not going to give up doing my best to parent my children even though I make many mistakes. Even though I can't govern everything that happens to them, I'm learning that there are actually two things that I can control in my parenting.
First, I can infuse their lives with the Word of God. Isaiah 55:11 says that God's Word will not come back void, but it will accomplish what He set it out to do. Each Scripture is like a seed planted. When the right moment waters and gives light, God will bring forth the increase from their lives. I don't have to manipulate or worry about it, I simply plant.
In my home, this is done in a variety of ways. I have Scriptures all over my home—hanging on the walls, fixed to the fridge, and in their bedrooms. I have a Bible sitting by their beds, and we read it often. I use Scriptures to teach them about discipline, morality, and character. And we sing songs of Scripture to help with memorization. My poor teenage stepson has heard every kid Scripture song I've ever known.
With our teen, we have all kinds of cultural discussions in the kitchen and the car—the differences between our faith and others, church history, why we believe what we believe. We talk about anything from doctrine to dating (and how the two relate.)
The second thing I can control is prayer. In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus says that we should pray to God like a persistent widow who constantly cries to the judge for justice against her adversary. In Luke 11:5-10, Jesus makes a similar analogy between two friends. A man knocks on the door of his friend who is already in bed. The friend tells him to go home because he can't help him. But, Jesus says, "because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."
I don't know why God wants His people to plead for His help. Perhaps He wants us not to take advantage of His kindness, or maybe it's a lesson for us to see how much we truly need Him. I don't know. But here is Jesus, the Son of God, basically saying, If you want something from God, pray hard!
Those Scriptures have inspired me to be a prayer warrior for our children (and it has spilled over into other things.) I pray for each child every night. I pray with the younger two when I put them to bed, and I ask them to pray to God themselves. Each time I make the beds, I pray specifically for the person who sleeps between those sheets.
I pray mainly for their salvation and protection from the influences of the world. I pray they would love God and serve God and honor God all the days of their lives. I want to pray at the spiritual altar of God so often and fervently that the angels get tired of hearing it!
These years of single parenting and blended family life have put me in my place in many ways—challenging my ego, pride, and judgment of others, and most of all teaching me that control is really just an illusion. The reality is that I can trust God. I've seen His provision with my own eyes.
Already I'm in awe at the difference this has made in our family. The frustrations I saw in all the children are smoothing out. Tensions are lessening, relationships established, boundaries understood. We're all starting to act like true family. It's not perfect, but isn't that what life is all about? Give and take, push and pull, learning and stretching and growing, and trusting in God through all of it.
Since I've really begun to put my energies into prayer and the Word I have been able to relax in the sovereignty of God. When I start to feel worried about the effects of such a rollercoaster life on our children, I stop and praise God that He is in control, and thank Him for the ways He is going to use my mistakes to bring about His good. And I've been watching as day by day, faithful as He promised, God is showing me just how much I can trust Him to work it all out for His glory.
Copyright © 2017 by Sabrina McDonald. Used with permission.