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A 3-year-old Broke Our Hearts

Eli and his single mom Kari lived with us for 3 ½ years. We took them in, believing that God could use us to strengthen and prepare them for life’s next chapters.

Though raised in a Christian home, Kari struggled greatly with anger and shame, and often looked to Eli to meet her needs for love and security. She was often impatient and harsh when his frustrating toddler behaviors failed to meet those needs. In sometimes volatile interactions, the unspoken messages she communicated to him were, “You’re a failure (at meeting my needs).”  “You’re a problem.” “Your feelings don’t matter, only mine.” Eli usually reacted with more defiance, and their interactions spiraled downward.

kari-n-jacksonsOver the years we had the privilege (and challenge) of being the “Grace Incubator” in which Kari and Eli could both experience God’s grace when they struggled. We all learned to give each other grace when we were selfish or irritable, and to communicate peacefully through our conflicts. The predominant core messages that Eli began to receive from his mom as she grew insightful and gentle in her interactions with him shifted to “I’m here for you (not vice versa).” “You are loved.” “You’re important and your feelings matter.” It was a joy to watch this amazing growth in her, and the way Eli blossomed as a result. We all supported these messages in a variety of ways by helping him express his feelings, experience the joy of serving others, grow in skills and responsibility, and learn about God’s incredible love for him.

On June 9th Kari and Eli started their next chapter. Kari married Adam, a great guy from Louisiana, and the next day she and Eli packed up to start their new life in the deep south.

In the final months before Kari’s wedding, Jim’s passion to build Eli’s identity with core messages of love and faith intensified. They played a daily game in which Jim would smile, look in his eyes and say, “Eli, you are….” Eli would grin and fill in the blanks with each familiar repetition: “…AMAZIN’ …LOVED …A BLESSIN’!” Jim repeatedly explained to Eli that these messages were about God’s love and purposes for him. The week of the wedding Jim passed the baton as he challenged Adam and other relatives to passionately, intentionally build those messages into Eli’s life.

The day after the wedding, the new family headed off toward their new home in Louisiana. Eli’s excited grin and affectionate “Bye Lynne. Bye Jim. I love you!!” helped us stifle our tears until we had closed the van door.jim-n-eli Riding away in that van was a secure, confident pre-schooler who knew he was loved and significant as God’s child. We now hope and pray that Eli will grow well into that identity as he travels the next chapters of his life.

The empty rooms in our basement reflect the echoing cavern in our hearts. We miss Kari and Eli deeply. But this painful parting has left us with an increasing passion to help parents learn to build their children’s identity around essential messages of faith and love, and to be “Grace Incubators” in which children can struggle, know they are loved and significant, and grow toward God’s love and purposes.

Parents shape the identity of their child by the core (often unspoken) messages they communicate. We all struggle with our own baggage at times, but even a struggling parent can learn to intentionally communicate core messages rooted in love and faith. Discern what core messages you might be communicating to your children in your daily interactions. Live the rest of your days with your children intentionally, daily communicating core messages rooted in love and faith. And when they’ve left you with an empty nest, listen for God’s calling to mentor a single parent someday. If he puts that in your heart, let us know. We’re happy to mentor you!

Food for Thought:

  1. Imagine you only had a few months left with your children before passing the baton to someone else. What core messages would you want to communicate to them? How would you do that?
  2. If you started the sentence, “You are….” with each of your children, how would they complete it? Give it a try, and let us know how it goes.

Lynne Jackson
Lynne Jackson
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