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The Prayers of a Helpless Parent

with Barry St. Clair | October 8, 2009

Sometimes when all your safety nets are broken you have no choice but to fall into the arms of God. That's where today's guest, Barry St. Clair, found himself when his wife of 28 years died suddenly after a short illness, leaving him as a single father of four. Barry recalls how he leaned on God in those early months to help his children process the loss.

Sometimes when all your safety nets are broken you have no choice but to fall into the arms of God. That's where today's guest, Barry St. Clair, found himself when his wife of 28 years died suddenly after a short illness, leaving him as a single father of four. Barry recalls how he leaned on God in those early months to help his children process the loss.

The Prayers of a Helpless Parent

With Barry St. Clair
|
October 08, 2009
| Download Transcript PDF

Barry St. Clair:  Carol was a lover, a nurturer she had invested her life in her kids.  It’s like Carol would be the sort of ideal mom in my picture of things.  Really, from the time we discovered that she was ill, till the time she died, was a four month period of time.  So in August, 1998 she passed away and then when she was gone it was a huge, huge gaping hole in our family. 

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 8th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey and I’m Bob Lepine.  You can learn a lot about parenting when all of a sudden the full responsibility for raising the next generation rests with you.  We’re going to hear about that today from Barry St. Clair. 

Welcome to FamilyLife Today thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition.  I’ve been thinking about the subject we’re dealing with this week, this whole issue of parenting and it would be a lot easier if our life was all together, perfectly wired but when you bring your own stuff or your own junk, your own issues, your own life challenges to bear on the parenting process it makes being a parent that much more challenging and the guest we have with us this week knows a little bit about that. 

Barry St. Clair is joining us and Barry has worked with youth for more than 30 years.  In fact he is the founder and president of Reach Out Youth Solutions.  He and his wife Lawanna live near Atlanta, Georgia and they have nine children.  We should explain the nine children.  You and your late wife Carol had four children, right?

Barry:  Yes and when I remarried and married Lawanna she had one child, put those together and that makes five.  Four of those five have spouses.

Bob:  And you’re counting the spouses.

Barry:  We’re counting the spouses as children because they really are and then we’ve got one who is not married.

Dennis:  They’re grafted in.

Barry:  Grafted in to the tree.

Dennis:  You’ve written a book called Parent Fuel and really from a context standpoint I want to go back to your first wife and have you share how that relationship came about and then what happened years later.  How did you meet?

Barry:  Carol and I met in the library at graduate school.  I walked in there she was with another guy and I looked at her and I said that’s the most beautiful girl I have ever seen and I need to meet her.  I don’t know what the status of that guy is, but I need to meet her.

(Laughter)

Bob:  You need to move him out of the way.

Barry:  So I went back in the stacks of the library, looked through to see if she was as beautiful as I thought she was at first glance and if she had a wedding ring on or if this guy was just sort of a peripheral.

(Laughter)

Dennis:  If he was on the hunt, in other words.

Barry:  Being brash as I could be I went out and started talking to him, he introduced me to her whatever happened to him I don’t know or care but I ended up marrying this girl nine months later.  Carol and I were married for twenty-eight years.  It was wonderful.  We had our ups and downs.  We were like any other couple we would struggle through things and we were trying to figure out who we were and what we were doing.

Bob:  Along the way you had three boys and a girl?

Barry:  No, we had a boy, then a girl, then a boy, then a girl.

Bob:  All right.

Barry:  And Jenny our last one, was nine years younger than the next youngest child, so

Bob:  so is it fair to ask the question about Jenny?

Barry:  Yes!  What’s the question?

Bob:  Was she a surprise?

Barry:  No, she was just long prayed for.

(Laughter)

Dennis:  Well, you were married for more than twenty-five years and your wife experienced excellent health, right?

Barry:  Yes, and then she became ill and really to make a longer story short, from the time we discovered that she was ill, till the time she died was a four month period of time.  So in August 1998 she passed away.  And when she did, then that brought a whole set of issues to our family, really what I would call a tragic unraveling and it was a difficult time for all of us. 

Carol was a lover, a nurturer she had invested her life in her kids, it’s like Carol would be the sort of ideal mom in my picture of things.  She was the ideal mom, her kids would say that to this day she invested in them and then when she was gone it was a huge, huge gaping hole in our family. 

Dennis:  Here she is your life partner though, for close to twenty-eight years at that point.  And you’re in a doctor’s office.  Were you anticipating the diagnosis that you received?

Barry:  No, and when you get into that then you’re in to this medical maze.  So what seems to be something that is just routine becomes larger, but you really don’t know what it is especially with this because part of her problem was an autoimmune disease.  And really until the Friday before she died on a Sunday, we didn’t really know that she was going to die. 

Bob:  Really?

Barry:  We didn’t have much time at the end to prepare there.   I called all the kids; they came in on that Saturday.  We spent Saturday together, Sunday together, Sunday afternoon she was gone.

Bob:  So it was Friday that the doctor said we don’t know what to do?

Barry:  Yes. 

Bob:  Wow. 

Barry:  Quick.

Bob:  That’s stunning to even imagine and to gather, not just for you as a husband, but you’re trying to lead a family.  You’re trying to lead kids in this process, too, while you’re dealing with it yourself.  What were those forty-eight hours like?

Barry:  Well the picture that comes to my mind is after Carol died, we are still in the hospital and all of my kids and I are crumpled on the floor crying on top of each other.  That’s what that was like.  So somebody says, “Oh, I just couldn’t do that; I don’t know what I would do.”  Well, you don’t know what you would do, but by the grace of God He gives you what you need to pick up the pieces, get up off the hospital room floor and take the next step. 

Dennis:  Barry, it’s because in the last couple of years we’ve not experienced the loss of a spouse, we’ve experienced the loss of a baby.  A grandbaby.  I know a little bit of the power of a family in those moments.  Those last forty-eight hours, how did you see your family come around her?  And honor her life?

Barry:  We gathered there at the hospital and one of the things that I wish had happened that didn’t happen was that we would have had time, but when people found out about this, it was just a ground swell of people who were all around us and we really never had the opportunity to say goodbye.  It was Friday and the doctor said she’s going to die Sunday afternoon, we didn’t know how much time we had, we just knew it wasn’t long.  So here we were, people coming in, people coming in and probably if I was doing it again, I would have arranged that a little differently, but at the time I had no idea. 

After that we were torn to shreds shall we say.  At the same time I was just crying and crying myself and I remember being in the phone booth and calling Carol’s parents and telling them and just expressing to my son the regrets I had about some of those hours before and what I would have done.  He says, “Dad, we’re not going to live with regrets.”  That was a powerful thing from the son to a father.  He said, “Dad we’re not going to do that.”  So really he picked up the ball at that point and just really ministered to me.

Bob:  When the doctors said on that Friday afternoon, there’s nothing more we can do, did Carol have an opportunity to really say goodbye to you and to the kids?

Barry:  She did, sort of.  But again with all these people and not knowing that she was, when she was going to die, you know the kids were in, they were around, they were with her, but not to come in to say ok, I’m going to die here in thirty minutes and now we’re going to have this time to say goodbye to everybody.  We didn’t do that.

Bob:  We’ve been talking this week about parenting really, and about parents having the right goal, the right objectives, the right strategies in place, being pointed at the right stuff.  In moments like this in the life of a family, this is where what you’re really made of comes to the surface.

Dennis:  Yes, you have been talking about parents having a purpose.  In those moments the purpose gets real focused and real clear doesn’t it?

Barry:  Do you love Jesus is the purpose.  Do I love Jesus with all my heart?  As a parent I’ve got to answer that question to go back to what we had said before.  At that moment in that time everything that you’ve ever done to invest in that relationship yourself with God and everything you’ve ever done to invest in your kids at that time that’s the time where it just all fleshes itself out in reality.  

You’re numb, you’re grieving, you hate the circumstances, you would give anything to change it, but you say, God, I know you love me and I can trust myself to you.  I walked away from that experience with two very clear theological truths grounded inside of me that I didn’t even know were there before. 

They were there but I, they had never surfaced in my mind before, but I walked away from that whole experience, you ask all the why questions, you wonder about God, what’s He thinking.  God, why in the world would you leave me with this ten year-old daughter and why in the world would you leave a ten year-old girl without a mother to bring her up in adolescence? 

Here are the two truths; God is great.  God is good.  It goes back to that little blessing that you say around the table when you are a kid.  God is great.  His greatness is unsearchable.  God’s great.  God’s good.  The Lord is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness He has compassion on all he has made and He is good to all. 

Dennis:  And to that point in a time of crisis we all fall back upon that which we’ve been trained to do. 

Barry:  If you don’t have that resource under you at that moment you can’t create it.  You either have it or you don’t have it at that point.

Dennis:  No doubt about it.  Now I’m going to ask you a tough question because I’m going to ask you to go back into the past around someone that you loved profoundly and deeply and to summarize in your twenty-eight years that you operated together as a team and as you raised children, what would you say you and Carol did best?  Where did you really win as a team and as parents?

Barry:  In one sentence, we put Jesus at the head of the table.  In fact, at our house in the chaos of having six people around the table.  We sat around this old wooden table that was stained and had black legs and it was a mess.  It was all we could afford and that was really the gathering place for our family and it was clear to everyone that Jesus was the center there.  He was at the head of the table. 

We expressed that in giving thanks, we expressed that in the discussions we had around that table.  We reflected that in everything that happened around there in terms of the laughter, the conversation, the Bible memory, the Bible discussions, the prayers we had, the issues we were struggling with, the things we brought to that table, around that table, that was sort of the expression of that. 

Bob:  When Carol had died your North star as a parent didn’t change, but how that got lived out and expressed, I mean your circumstances had changed.  How was your parenting different six months after Carol had died than it had been six months before she had died?  Or was it different?

Barry:  We were sitting in the back seat of the car, the funeral car, going from the funeral and Jenny and I were in the back seat, Jenny was ten and Jenny said to me, “Dad, what can you cook?” And that was sort of the beginning of my new life.  I could cook nothing.  It was great if I could get a bowl of cereal on the table, so we started into that and we began to figure out what we were doing in life together.

Dennis:  Father and Daughter.

Barry:  Father and daughter, single dad.  Jenny and I began to just do life together and as we walked together.  Before Carol had been the nurturer and she had done ten thousand things every day, to nurture the kids, all of a sudden now, and she did another ten thousand to take care of me it seemed like, and now all of a sudden, that whole support system was gone and the thing with the kids is gone.  Three of the older kids were out of the house, but here was Jenny and I was responsible for her, and what changed about my parenting was that I really focused in on her. 

And she focused in on me and the two of us knew we had each other and that was what we had and we were going to survive this class seven rapids together, and so there we went.  And so what we began to do was just really spend time, I took her with me everywhere and so we really during that year and a half, two year period of time, we really bonded closely.

Bob:  So relationship as much as anything else is what changed.  You drew closer to her as she drew closer to you probably than you ever would have because it was just the two of you.

Barry:  Yes.

Bob:   How about with the kids who were already grown and out on their own.  Did your parenting with them change?

Barry:  Probably if there was something that I was going to do differently from this point of view to there, I would have more clearly defined that.  I’d never really thought about this before, but when your kids leave you sort of have to redefine them as adults now.

Bob:   Right.

Barry:  So they left and their mother died.  That’s an overgeneralization there, but you get the idea.  And when their mother died and they were adults, I didn’t really make that transition with the older ones the way I could have or would if I was looking back on it and doing it again.

Bob:  You kind of figured they’re adults, they’re just going to have to deal with this on their own, rather than going I’m they’re dad, I need to lead them in this process?

Barry:  Yes, it wasn’t like I abandoned them or anything, I mean we were close, we stayed in touch, but they were all in other cities and other places and they had their own lives and so how much do I infringe on that with a newly married couple and how much do I then step back and let them leave and cleave and do the things that their supposed to do as a adults.

Bob:  And of course you’re processing your own grief at the same time.

Barry:  And down here at another level you’ve got this whole grief thing going on and so how do you mix all that together.

Dennis:  You lost your life partner.  It’s interesting, Barry, listening to you talk, I think the thing that we underestimate in situations like this is how God still cares for us as helpless parents.  All my parenting years I have embraced a very simple prayer, it’s the prayer of the helpless parent.  Just crying out to God, saying, “God, I don’t know what to do, I need your help.” 

I think we underestimate how the Holy Spirit, even in a situation that is a crisis like yours where you’ve lost your life partner, you’ve lost the mother of your children, everything is up for redefinition.  Your soul is now been scarred and you’ve got a wound, an open wound. 

The Holy Spirit who is the third member of the trinity does exist.  He does speak to us.  He does teach us through the word, through the scriptures.  He brings people into our paths that minister to us and they can be gifts to us.  Now we’ve only got just a few moments, but he brought someone to you who did that for you didn’t He?

Barry:  Yes, and to set the context for that, in those single days, when I was a single dad, I was so helpless according to your prayer that you mentioned there a moment ago, that there were days I couldn’t even get out of bed and it was like the grace of God would pick me up and move me through a day and that’s really the only way I got through that day. 

In an amazing turn of events, the Lord brought a beautiful, beautiful woman into my life.  I had my long time friend, Dave Busby, the oldest living cystic fibrosis patient in American had died in December of 1997.  I was actually supposed to be at his funeral and speak there, but couldn’t because of some illness that Carol was experiencing. 

Carol died in August of 1998.  About a year later, Lawanna became a significant part of my life through actually sharing a book on grief that she had read that meant a whole lot to me.  In the process of discussing that and talking about it, emailing back and forth between Minneapolis and Atlanta, we really fell in love and the Lord just bonded our hearts together. 

Most people never have the opportunity to love once, I say it this way, I have had the opportunity to love twice.  It’s an amazing, amazing gift and the bonus to that was; now there is a female on the scene to be able to help raise this adolescent daughter that I was giving my best shot at raising. 

Dennis:  Barry, as I hear you share that story, I have to smile and go isn’t it interesting, how your paths intertwined with this youth speaker years and years before and his passing away, your wife’s passing away, and his widow wanting to minister to you.  Really with not having ulterior motives, she wasn’t pursuing you in a relationship was she?

Barry:  No, in fact interestingly eight years before that I had begun to pray for David who was slowly dying of Cystic Fibrosis.  He’s the only person outside my family that I ever prayed for on a daily basis.  Never knowing that when he died I would marry his widow. 

Dennis:  God is good.  And God is great.

Bob:   The reality is that we’re going to face a variety of challenges.  We don’t know what they’re going to be, you didn’t know this was coming for you, but as we try to raise our kids, there are going to be curve balls coming right and left and there are going to be job disruptions or there are going to be challenges financially, or there are going to be depression or grief or loss.

 I mean we’re going to do life and in the middle of it try to raise kids who are healthy and who love Christ.  If we are going to do that, we need help, we need community, we need others around us who can cheer us on, we need wisdom that the scriptures give us.  And I think we need help from resources like the book that you’ve created called, Parent Fuel, which we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today resource center. 

Our listeners can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the book, Parent Fuel.  Let me also mention there is a video curriculum that goes with this book, so if you’re small group wants to go through the material, if you want to use this in your church.  All of the information is available online at FamilyLifeToday.com.   Look for the information about Parent Fuel by Barry St. Clair. 

Or if it’s easier call 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number, 1-800-358-6329.  Give us a call and someone on the team can answer any questions you have or make arrangements to have the resources you need sent to you. 

Let me say a quick word of thanks here to those listeners who from time to time get in touch with us to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we are non-profit, we are listener supported. It’s donations from folks like you that cover the costs of syndication and distribution for this daily radio program.  

While we are on the subject of parenting today, if you able to help with a donation of any amount right now to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we’d like to say thank you by sending you a two CD series conversation we had with Dr. Tim Kimmel author of the book Grace Based Parenting, how do we apply our understanding of the biblical concept of grace to our assignment as parents. 

This two CD series is our gift to you this month if you are able to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.  If you make your donation online you’ll come to a key code box on the donation form, type the word “PARENT” in that box and we’ll know to send the two CDs of our conversation with Tim Kimmel or call toll-free 1-800-FL0-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329.  Make your donation over the phone and just mention that you’d like a copy of the two CDs about parenting.  Again we’re happy to send them out to you and we do appreciate your financial support of this ministry.

Now tomorrow we’re going to be back to talk more with Barry St. Clair and we’re going to hear how he navigated his way through some challenges he experienced with one of his teenagers.  I hope you can tune in for that. 

I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey I’m Bob Lepine.  We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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