Failure to Launch

Years of preparation and millions of dollars went into the Apollo manned lunar landing program.  Apollo 11 landed on the moon but it actually came after a long line (20 or so) launches, both manned and unmanned in the Apollo-Saturn program.  Apollo 1 never left the launchpad because of a cabin fire during a rehearsal launch killed all three crew members. Other launches were cancelled or deemed unnecessary.

From its official inception to Apollo 11 it took at least 10 years, but when you include the planning, training, and prior projects it took the greater part of 30 years and would be the primary work of countless scientists, engineers, and technicians for their entire adult career.

I have often wondered when NASA considered the program successful.  Was it when it got funding? Was it with the first successful launch? Was it the moon landing? Was it when Apollo 11 touched back down?

I think there are strong comparisons for parenting.  When will I know if I’ve done a good job raising my kids? Is it when they obey in public? Is it when they understand the Gospel? Is it when they get married, or graduate college, or leave home?  When did my parents know (or do they know yet)?

Part of the struggle here is that there is no defined time in American culture when being an adult is passed from parent to child.  I was blessed with a ceremony of sorts in which my parents officially passed off the responsibilities to me (though I often return to them for advice and aid).  But even with that feeling like an adult didn’t happen overnight.

It is as if people in our culture expect that when someone turns 18 or graduates college or gets married a magical switch flips and they will become mature.  I often time hear Baby Boomers complain that Millennials are entitled and immature, but mostly Millennials are their children.  The over-protectiveness of Baby Boomers wanting a life that was better for their children has often resulted in a sever lack of real world consequences and decision that are a necessary part of becoming an adult.  Note that I said a necessary part of becoming an adult–not being an adult.

The complaint that children have failed to launch can often be traced back to having never been placed on the launchpad to begin with. Man would have never made it to the moon without some astounding failures first.  A person cannot become an adult without experiencing failure.  Let me repeat–a person cannot become an adult without experiencing failure.

While I am still working through what it means to parent through them, I have written 5 Axioms that helped me realize what it means to be an adult.

  1. You have to stand for something. In order to be an adult you must find something that is important to you that is greater than self interest. Until you do everything you accomplish if worth exactly what you stand for–nothing.
  2. You have to be willing to fail and accept responsibility for it.  Anything worth doing is worth failing at.  Anything worth failing at is worth taking responsibility for.
  3. You cannot live alone.  People were meant to be in community and when we isolate we are unable to see our own faults and we are not challenged to grow.
  4. You assign value to things–things do not have inherent value.  Money is only important if you value the things money can buy.  The perfect job is only important if work is where you assign value.  You can make less and be happy if you value time and community more.  It really isn’t that expensive to live if your priorities are straight.
  5.  You can ask for help.  The refusal to ask for and accept help shows an incredible childishness.  If my four year old asks for help an adult would consider him mature to know his limits, but somehow when we become adults asking for help is childish? No. Know your limits and ask for help.

Now, if only I could figure out how to parent these things. . .

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Belated Valentine

Katie had to remind me to write a post for Valentine’s Day because I forgot.  To those who don’t understand the relational dynamic of our marriage that might seem unkind or like she is digging for compliments, but to those who know us it shouldn’t seem out of place.  I forget to eat lunch if Katie doesn’t remind me.  You would think that my own body might inform me that I haven’t eaten but I get so swept up in tasks that I can forget the simplest thing.

I think one of the things that makes life in this day and age hard for Katie is that what she does is under appreciated in modern society.  She is my helper.  Even saying that sounds wrong because we have trained ourselves that saying that somehow makes her less of a person than I am.  I think people don’t like it because they think it makes her less important.  But the truth is that her being a helper is what makes life livable, productive, fruitful, enjoyable, and glorifying to God.

I can’t imagine going through the day to day of life without her.  Tonight a young man said to me that no one in his life has ever taught him as much about how to live as I have.  I would love to take that compliment as something I have accomplished, but the reality is that when he says that I think of my long hours pouring over paperwork and stressing about these kids in group cutting themselves or relapsing while Katie figures out how to buy healthy food for me and the kids on a shoestring budget.  I think about her patience while I worked and went to grad-school and did internships and she worked and basically cared for our kids alone so that I could help people.  I think of all the times I’ve said we can’t afford that, or I can’t take off of work for that, or I’ve fallen asleep while she was talking because I was so tired.

When they tell me that I have changed their lives I remember Katie and I’s wedding.  I remember my promise to love and cherish Katie and wonder if she knows that I cherish her in the only way I really know how–by working to make sure that all the things she gives up to make life work, all the times when she has to deal with my stress, results in our kids living in a safer world.  A world where at least a few people understand that someone cares about them and that life doesn’t have to be defined by drugs and sex and hopelessness.

I hope that she knows that every time a kid leaves my group determined to stay clean and make a life change they don’t do it because I am some amazing therapist, they do it because I get to go home to Katie and our children and that means I could pour myself out for that kid.  I can carry their stories and hold their pain for them because I am not alone.  I don’t have to share with Katie what I hear and see.  I simply have to come home and she reminds me of the good in the world.  She brings me out of the dark world of rape and overdose and suicide.  She talks to me about fixing the towel bar in the bathroom and suddenly I remember that life can be good and simple.  She starts talking about cloth diapers and it brings me back to my own blessed reality.

People will act like diapers and recipes and grocery lists aren’t important, but they are the most important thing in the world.  They are the real work of life.  They are the only thing that really matters.  They are what reminds me that everything is not darkness and sin and death.  Katie’s job as my helper is not that that of my assistant, it is that of my rescuer.  I could not wade into darkness every day if someone was not there to pull me back into the light.  I could not wound myself for others were someone not there to heal me.   It is fitting that in Scripture Eve was called helper like the Holy Spirit was called helper, for Katie is a minister of the Holy Spirit to me.

To speak a language Katie will know is from my heart, Katie is like my Sam:

Frodo : I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam : I know.
It’s all wrong
By rights we shouldn’t even be here.
But we are.
It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo.
The ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger they were,
and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end.
Because how could the end be happy.
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened.
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.
And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you.
That meant something.
Even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand.
I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t.
Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.