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The Long Road to Resilience

My son Hosea’s first ever pre-school end-of-year concert did not go as planned. We both left five minutes into the performance, crying as we ran to the car, wishing we had just stayed home.

When I had arrived a few moments earlier, I was nervous. Hosea was only 2 years old and didn’t even like singing, let alone being in the spotlight while everyone watches him sing and dance. But, maybe, just maybe, he’d surprise me, as he so often did.

I was also nervous because I was alone. I didn’t know anyone there, and it struck me how there were still cliques and groups of parents -  just like we’ve all experienced at school, but now as adults. At least, that’s how it felt on the outside of the social circle.

So I found a place hidden in the corner behind the pony wall that led into the kitchen, waiting for the show to be over so I can be reunited with Hosea, enjoy some treats, stumble through some polite chit chat, and then head home to comfort.

As I stood there waiting, I noticed a sheet of paper on the wall next to me. It was a list of all the kids with each of their parents’ phone numbers noted for emergencies. I scanned the long list of children, Hosea’s was the only one that had just one parent’s name next to his. There, where a number should have been written next to the word Mom, it was blank. It caught me by surprise —- though it really shouldn’t have — and I could feel my heart sink, my breathing slow, and my eyes begin to fill with tears. The floods of grief and sorrow that were well-known to me at that point came rushing in, and I tried to pass as “fine” for as long as I could in this strange public place already exploding with anxiety and emotion.

Aletha was supposed to be here for this, I thought to myself as the memories of laying my wife’s body to rest and kissing her goodbye one final time stormed to the front of my mind. She was so good at this sort of thing - talking to strangers, making people feel welcome, spreading joy and peace. Now she’s not here to cheer on her son or to hold my hand as I soldier through my social anxieties.

The pre-school performance started. I spotted Hosea in the back, so small compared to the other kids, holding tightly onto his Bob the Builder blanket, scanning the sea of parents for me. He couldn’t find me at first — I was hidden pretty well from everyone, after all. But when his eyes finally locked on mine, he burst into tears and ran past every kid, teacher, and parent, and straight into my arms. “I want to go home,” he sobbed. Me too, I said to myself, as I carried him to our car.

Fast forward three years later and what a different story unfolds. The Halloween party and concert held by the pre-school just last week was still a mixed bag of emotions, almost as varied as the types of treats (edible and non) in the take-home goodie bags. But it also was one that saw growth in both Hosea and myself.

Hosea was no longer a terrified little boy sobbing on stage. He was excited to participate, singing the songs and performing the actions. He was still nervous, and still didn't love being the center of attention, but he had grown in his confidence to be able to sing and dance alongside his friends for all us parents to enjoy.

And I was no longer a socially anxious, on-the-verge-of-tears dad. I showed up this time knowing some parents and glad to connect with them for a longer conversation than we are privy to in the drop-off/pick-up rush. And as I scanned the chairs set out in the courtyard for a socially distanced parent audience, I saw my chair immediately. It was the only solo chair in a sea of pairs. This time, though, instead of it being a reminder of the pain, I thought it a kind and thoughtful gesture on the part of the school teachers — to know my reality and to provide for me in a way that says “we have a place just for you.”

The journey of the last three years has not been one I would have chosen to take. It has been fraught with many struggles, times of hopelessness, and deep pain. It’s also been filled with more school concerts than I think should be allowed.

I share these stories with you, dear reader, to show you that growth is possible in even the worst of places.

I don’t want to run past the fact that Hosea didn’t just start singing in his school show the second time he tried it. There were years of shows in between his first one and the one last week - all with tears, fears, and some we didn’t even bother to show up to. I, too, didn’t just move out of my grief after a few weeks of mourning. Our resilience has taken time to develop.

And that, to me, is one of the key things to remember when it comes to resilience: it can only be developed over time and through struggle. There are no shortcuts. Much like a precious metal can only be forged in a fire, our fortitude can only develop under duress and with maturity.

Sometimes it’s painstakingly slow and we don’t even feel like there is any progress being made in our situation. But there is. If we just keep going, one step at a time, continually surrendering ourselves to His grace, the Lord will see us through.

I think sometimes we get stuck not only on the idea that resilience happens overnight, but also that it’s something obviously large and strong, like a huge truck barging through a mountain, or a world-class athlete breaking records left and right.

Sometimes resilience is small. Sometimes it’s not even noticed.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Mary Anne Radmacher: “Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.” This has been me so many times. I have gone to bed at the end of the day wondering if I will have enough strength to face tomorrow. 

But, as the Lord promises in Matthew 12:20 - “a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” Whatever strength we have, and when we seem to have lost all strength and hope, we can fall into the gentle yet strong hands of God and let Him carry us. It’s then that we’ll realize, after some time, that we’ve made it further than we thought possible. Even if it took longer than we would’ve liked — we’re there.

So don’t lose heart. Keep going. This is a long journey. It’s painful. It’s often quiet. But it’s not one in which you’re ever alone.