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The Unnecessary Parent

I caught her out of the corner of my eye as she ambled around the airport. Admittedly, my first inclination was to judge her.

This woman in her mid-forties was disheveled and obviously a little tipsy. Yet, as quickly as I noticed her she moved along.

Boarding my plane from a conference in Indiana to home I was exhausted. It was a great weekend replete with time with good friends. Earlier that day I had stood on a stage talking to those serving in family ministry about the importance of doing ministry with parents, not for them. A main point from my talk was we have no right to judge who other parents are, without getting to know their story.

A packed flight landed me in a middle seat and I was relieved that the woman on the window side, while pleasant immediately plugged in to listen to music. Then I looked up and the whirlwind from the airport plopped down next to me.

I took out my book and started to read, my plan was to just let my true introvert take over, that’s when I heard a sniffle. Looking over to the aisle,  her head was in her hands, I thought maybe she was just getting her wits about her slightly. Then another sniffle. Looking over, I saw her shoulders begin to heave. This woman was sobbing. Instantly I knew this was God’s handiwork. Not only would there not be reading this ride, I would be eating crow.

For a moment I sat there uncomfortably staring at my book, praying and asking the Lord what He wanted me to do. Her cries, although quiet were growing harder. After an internal wrestling match for a moment that she would think I was weird, I gently put my hand on her shoulder. Shocked, she looked up and thanked me.

At first she apologized for the tears, then they returned with a fury, as she blew her nose on the hem of her pants. It all came pouring out, after twenty years of marriage she had decided it was time to leave a manipulative husband that morning. In the wake of it all she had also left four children ages 23, 14, 12 and 6. She hit every stereotype of brokenness in this short ride. She ordered two glasses of wine and gulped them down to dull the pain. Due to her slight build she went from tipsy to drunk quickly. This made her loud and more emotional.  She told me she was into meditation and was trying to cope with that. At one point she dropped her purse and everything fell out.  Scooping it up her words to me were, “I am so out of it. Can you be my Mom and make sure I have everything? I can’t find my ID.” I reorganized her wallet, and made certain she could find her license, credit card and boarding pass.

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On the other hand, she holds three degrees in Psychology, Human Resources, and Education.  We talked about her kids and it was obvious how much she loved them. This woman was a good Mom who had made a rash decision on a bad day. This was entirely the type of person I had chided pastors earlier in the day for turning away. I thought of her 14-year-old who might go to a youth group and say, “My Mom left us today. I’m not sure if she’s coming back,” and what her youth pastor would say.

I felt like God put me next to this woman entirely to say these words, “No decision has to be forever. Get where you are going, take a day, regroup, and then decide if you might need to go home to your kids.” I have no doubt she will be going home in a day or two. Who knows what her marriage will hold, but she loves her children. This woman didn’t need me to heap shame on her for choices she made out of hurts. As she told me, “I wasted all of my degrees to stay home, and coach my kids’ sports teams,” she certainly didn’t need me to fold my arms and tell her, “You sure did.”  Instead, I was able to say to her that it wasn’t a waste at all.

The plane landed, she thanked me a million times for listening, and in a sprint she was gone. A woman who four minutes earlier literally wasn’t lucid enough to understand how to find her connecting flight passed everyone and jolted off the plane. What surprised me was the response of all the passengers around me once she was out of earshot. They said things like, “Wow, she was something.” One woman even offered to buy me dinner for being so “patient” with my new friend. I kindly declined. God had used this 46-year-old woman to remind me what compassion and mercy looked like. He had nudged me in my Spirit and said, “This Mom needs me pretty desperately, and so does her family.” I am grateful I didn’t miss a chance to put into action what I told other people to do: Love the parents as myself.

Let’s remember as we hear the stories from the kids in our groups, we don’t know all the details. We have no idea what goes on behind closed doors, and why a parent responds the way they do. They don’t need more shame. They need Jesus.

At least that’s what God told me today.



3 thoughts on “The Unnecessary Parent

  1. Good word. I’ve prayed the prayer for God to “send someone … a Christian who’s paying attention and willing to do something” for my own immediate family members who were in a struggling marriage in a location I couldn’t be. Its awesome to hear the inside scoop of someone who did that for someone. You were the answer to a bunch of people’s prayers. Good job. The Church world wide needs to be ready to do the same, daily. People are everywhere in similar predicaments. They’re just not sniffling or tipsy enough to be noticed. Thanks for the story.

  2. Jon Batch

    This is an awesome example of practicing what you preach. I am continually encouraged and challenged by the work of Leneita and other youth workers in my life. I know I have been called to something bigger than my own heart but the heart of God. Please prayerfully allow this message to shape your heart and ministry to families.

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The Unnecessary Parent

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