One Good Phrase: No Matter What (Joy Bennett)


I’ve recently gotten to know Joy Bennett in these internet parts and I’m constantly moved by her encouragement, honesty and vulnerability. It’s a gift to have her here today. 


I have four children, three living. My oldest fought for her life for eight years through hospital stays, surgeries, therapies, special education, medications, feeding tubes, wheelchairs, emergency rooms, breathing treatments, seizures, and sleepless nights (both hers and ours). She lost her fight in October of 2008. It has been over four years, and I still have a difficult time accepting that those three sentences are part of my story.

We all know in our guts that a parent ought not have to bury their child. It’s against the natural order of things. The old die, not the young.

I have three other children, and that is a gift. Caring for them kept me from drowning in my grief. Caring for them has allowed me to experience new facets of another thing we all know in our guts. I like to think of it as the first law of parenting: a parent ought to love their children no matter what.

No matter what.

I’m no Pollyanna. I know that ought is no unbreakable law. Just as parents like me face the unthinkable and bury our children, so too do parents commit the unthinkable – disown, abandon, or reject a child. I’ve seen it.

The divorce rates among families of children with special needs are staggering – perhaps as high as 85%. When “no matter what” includes caring for a child who will never be typical, will never be the star player or make the honor roll or live independently, many parents can’t do it. I know it’s hard – I’ve been there. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve punched walls and thrown tantrums and sobbed in utter exhaustion and frustration. I’ve wanted out. But I am committed to “no matter what,” and so is my husband.

My one good phrase is this: “I love you no matter what.” It looks different for my three surviving children, who are relatively healthy and typical. But I repeat it as often as I can, and especially every time they disobey, do something foolish, disrespect me, or confess a wrong: I love you no matter what. Nothing you can do or say will ever change the fact that I love you. I may be disappointed, scared, or sad, but I will never stop loving you.

I want my children to know that they can tell me anything. I want them to trust me. I want them to see in me the love of God, who forgives and loves and offers second chances and can redeem even the worst sinner and sin.

I know this can get messy. When you combine broken people and a broken world, the results are often ugly and painful. I’m under no illusions that life will turn out like an airy-fairy, romantic, Hallmark card. I have a vivid imagination, and I’ve thought through the ramifications of this promise.

One of my children could make a baby out of wedlock. I will love them – all three of them. I will talk them through the options, give my opinion if asked, and pray my heart out as they decide what to do. If they choose to give up the baby, I will pray for and wonder about that grandchild for the rest of my life. Even if they choose abortion, no matter when they tell me, no matter what, I will love them.

My child may choose a different faith, or no faith at all. I will talk with them certainly, and ask questions. But those questions will seek to understand, not manipulate, intimidate, or coerce. I will listen to their questions, to their answers, to their anger and confusion and dreams. I will pray. Most important, I will love them no matter what.

If my child tells me that they are attracted to someone of the same gender, I will hug them so tightly and whisper into their ear, “I love you I love you I love you.” I will cry for all the bigotry and hatred they will experience, and I will fear for their safety. I will defend them to the death. Oh, and I will love the person they love (unless that person breaks my child’s heart, then watch out because all bets are off).

If one of my children becomes addicted to drugs, alcohol, or sex, I will panic every time the phone rings, wondering if this is the day a sheriff or hospital informs me that my child is dead or under arrest. I will stage interventions, pay for rehab programs, and do everything in my power to get them help. But even if they reject it all, even if they reject me, I will still love them.

Even if my child commits a crime, I will love them. I will not stand in the way of the law or the natural consequences of their actions. I will weep tears of disappointment and longing for what could have been. I will wonder what I did wrong. I will mourn over the pain they inflicted on others. I will work for restoration and help them make things right where possible. I will love them.

The one thing I want my children to know is this: “No matter what, no matter how painful, I love you.”

 

Joy grew up in a Christian home, and should know the answers to all the usual faith questions, but she doesn’t. She has delivered four babies, handed two over to heart surgeons in the hall outside an operating room, and buried one in a cemetery just a few miles from her home. She has no idea how she managed to marry a man who would love her and their kids through all of the upheaval, but she did. She has been writing since the second grade. She is a blogger at Joy in this Journey, a contributing writer for A Deeper Story, and frequent guest-host on the 9 Thumbs podcast.
  • Shelly

    What a beautiful gift to your children….yes, let them know us by our love.

  • Ro elliott

    Amen…beautiful …yes…yes…love them …so many time parents think it is the constant encouragement …cheering on all the positive things their children do….this good and does have some value…but what impacted my now,adult children, the most is how we handled their failures. By God’s Grace we extended unconditional love….we hurt…we were saddened…but there was never a break of love. In God’s goodness…my children do not struggle with God’s love for them(I struggled with this for so long)….because God,through His Spirit gave us all we needed to get past our own parenting self to parent with His Love. Blessings as you continue to love well~

    • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy @ Joy in this Journey

      That’s it exactly. We have to let our kids fail, love them through it, help them learn those things that you only learn by trying and failing, and then cheer them on as they try again. AND THAT IS SO HARD TO DO. I don’t like to see them fail, but I have to remind myself that letting them learn it now is so much better than learning it later when the mistakes are bigger and the consequences more devastating.

      • michaboyett

        Joy, this reminds me of a book releasing soon that I had the opportunity to read ahead of time. It’s called “Upside Down Prayers for Parents” (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307955834?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creativeASIN=0307955834&linkCode=xm2&tag=mammon-20) and one of the things I love about it is that it’s full of prayers that are really difficult to pray for our kids: That our kids will “experience unanswered prayers–and develop deeper, wider trust”; that our kids will “weep–and feel free to express both tears of anguish and tears of joy”; that our kids will be “disappointed in people–and realize that we’re all fallible, sinful, and redeemable.” Isn’t that great stuff?

        There’s something about preparing ourselves for the hurt our kids will experience…especially preparing ourselves through prayer, that feels wise and good to me.

        • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy @ Joy in this Journey

          You aren’t kidding — those are some wicked-hard prayers to pray. But I’m with you on the wisdom of preparing for the hurt ahead of time, through prayer. Sounds like a great book.

        • http://www.lovelyspirit.wordpress.com Rachel

          Wow! Those are indeed, difficult prayers to pray. I am not yet a mother, but I am an aunt who loves them as if they were my own, and I pray DAILY that God would protect them, shield them, give them joy, peace, etc. So when I see them going through trials (by no fault of their own), it pains my heart – literally. Yet, I know that these trials are needed to build their faith. The same way God had to take me through difficult times to develop my faith, is the same way that my babies will have to go through trials in order to learn that God will never leave them, nor forsake them. It’s also a trust exercise for us – trusting God that, no matter how bad things look, it will all work out for their good in the end. I recently wrote a blog post entitled Trusting God with Our Children…I feel a part II coming on. Be blessed.

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  • http://nicoleawebb.com Nicole

    Thank you, Joy, for spilling your heart on virtual pen and paper, and thank you, Micha, for facilitating. Parenting is one of the most gut-wrenching yet rewarding things I have ever done. Thx for the reminder to love no matter what!

    • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy @ Joy in this Journey

      gut-wrenching and rewarding – excellent summary!

  • http://jasonboyett.com Jason Boyett

    So powerful and fierce and inspiring, Joy. Thanks for sharing this.

    • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy @ Joy in this Journey

      I like the word “fierce” – and I like putting it next to “joy.” That’s what I want to grow into.

  • http://guidetowomen.wordpress.com Sharideth Smith

    Oh man. Crying before I’ve even had coffee. Post like this should really come with a warning for jaded folk like me.

    • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy @ Joy in this Journey

      It made me laugh to read you describe yourself as jaded. I prefer to use the term “realist.” :D

  • http://Www.theblahblahblahger.com the Blah Blah Blahger

    Joy, I’m sitting in the airport and my eyes are filling up with tears. What a beautiful example of motherhood. I hope one day I can love as big as you!!!

    • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy @ Joy in this Journey

      I’m quite sure you will. I can see it in you already.

  • Kathy

    I cried too. Great post Joy.

  • Kent Faver

    Thanks so much! The amount of love I have for my two daughters and my wife is unsettling. This helps me see why.

  • http://www.sortacrunchy.net/ Megan at SortaCrunchy

    I read this not from the perspective of a mother myself, but as a grown child who so longs for one of her parents to say those words, “I love you, no matter what.” I could fill this comment box with an entire therapy session worth of explanation, but mostly I want to say that depriving a child of the security of that knowledge – “no matter what” – is a choice with ramifications far into adulthood.

    So thank you for this, Joy. Thank you for reminding me to say these words and to live them out wholeheartedly.

    • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy @ Joy in this Journey

      I think that this is why “no matter what” burns like fire in my belly. The perspective of the child who doesn’t know this, who lacks that security and assurance, breaks my heart in a million pieces.

      • Handsfull

        I only ever remember ‘I love you, but…’ I think I will borrow your phrase, Joy, and use it often with my kids!

  • http://teamaidan.wordpress.com Heather

    Wow. Yes. This was powerful. That really is what love looks like when it’s hard. Thanks for articulating that.

  • michaboyett

    I’m grateful for the reminder to say this to my kids more often. This morning while I was getting ready and my boy was playing “sword shark” with my hair clip I said, “Buddy, I want you know I’m gonna love you your whole life, no matter what.”
    He said, “Okay.”
    Just as it should be, right?

    • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy @ Joy in this Journey

      RIGHT. (And I love that your boy plays “sword shark” with your hair clip. Mine was shooting mine across the room yesterday!)

  • http://www.sarahbessey.com Sarah Bessey

    Beautiful. Beautiful. Eshet chayil!

  • http://www.leighkramer.com HopefulLeigh

    I am so proud to know you, Joy. So, so proud. You describe the kind of parent I aspire to some day be. I know my parents love me but sometimes I wonder how they would respond if my life had turned out differently or if my circumstances changed. I think they would be horrified if they knew I wondered about this and I’m sure they believe I am secure in their unconditional love. But it’s amazing what all “no matter what” can convey so there are no guessing games, no surprises, just assurance of love.

  • http://sarahaskins.com Sarah

    No matter what—words I have had to whisper to myself these past 3 years. These words are especially hard as a step-parent because I chose my family, to raise these children, to love them fiercely as if we were united biologically. It has become my mantra through the hurts and pain. Such a beautiful post, friend.

    • http://www.anamcara.com/blog Tara Owens

      Sarah, as a step-mama myself, I hear you. Some days I feel like I need to repeat the “no matter what” twice as loud, twice as often and mostly to myself. When you parent children who, for whatever reason, have experienced parents who haven’t put “no matter what” at the end of that sentence, you can’t say it aloud as much, because they don’t believe you. You have to *live* “no matter what”, painfully, beautifully, brutally and as honestly as you can.

      Thank you for your words, Joy.

  • http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com Kristen

    I love this so much. I didn’t have this kind of parent, but I am working hard to be one myself.

  • http://themommaknows.com Dawn @ The Momma Knows

    Oh Joy. I’m crying. All of those older “no matter whats” are where we live right now, loving teens and young adults making such life-changing choices. Same gender attraction, unwed pregnancy, drugs… we’ve had it all and then some. And you whack me over the head with my feelings. It’s such a balance, loving a kid doing all the stupid stuff and just agonizing over what it is they are doing. Waiting for the phone call is the worst. And I so needed to read this right now. Thank you. *sniff*

    • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy @ Joy in this Journey

      Oh Dawn. :( I’m so sorry. I hope it was the good kind of whacking over the head! And I hope that your children find a way through and forward.

  • Cathy

    Joy, so beautiful. We bring them into the world, and we owe them “no matter what”. My girls, unfortunately, have one parent who is abusively (in my opinion) inconsistent in this respect and the other (that would be me) who has spent years trying to reestablish their confidence in her (after totally losing it during the marriage.) And yes, like Dawn, parenting young adults seems to raise exactly the issues you describe! My mantra, the whole time, has been to reflect God’s “no matter what” love, faithfulness, boundaries, etc. And now, especially, to live in my humanness and dependence on Him in an appropriately transparent way. I pray that it makes a difference, because some days it’s hard to see. (Another challenge by which we get to live by faith.)

  • http://www.lovelyspirit.wordpress.com Rachel

    Joy,
    Thank you for that message. I totally agree that we should love our children NO…MATTER…WHAT! I must say that when I read that – if your kids were to change their faith or decide not to believe – you would listen to them, not try to persuade them, I thought, wow! I could SAY that I’m listening and that I wouldn’t try to change their minds (because it sounds good), but I asked myself, “Could I really speak with them without trying to persuade them to choose Christ?” I don’t know if I could…or if I should. Of all of the uncertainties in this ever-changing world, the only constant, the only one who has the power to help them, is God. Thank you for sharing this resource – it was very timely.

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  • http://thesetemporarytents.com Aadel

    This was beautiful! And it demonstrates exactly what my in-laws did for my son. Even though he made some choices they didn’t agree with, they loved him and accepted me through that love. Amazing post!

  • Stephanie Myers

    Joy,
    Your mothers heart is so right on. I appreciated your post and it was a good reminder for me as we begin to enter into those years sooner rather than later. (I am sure your 10+ son is beginning to show his growing up as mine is!). The only thing I would add i not to forget about the loving call to repentance in the midst of sinful choices. I think absolute truths are so lost today that we feel guilty to call someone to repentance, but it is the most loving thing we can do if we truly consider the reality of hell. Now do not hear me to say we bash them over the head with the gospel, we kick them out for sinful choices. The relationship with your children is vital for the rest of our lives. How we live and respond to their bad choices speaks more volume than a thousand lectures. There is the right time and place that we need to be sensitive to in keeping the Gospel before them and keeping hope for them as long as they have breath. We DO however as you said pray for them urgently and use wisdom. Stuart Scott did a parenting conference this weekend at our church and had some VERY valuable words for this very subject as he has gone through this with some of his children. His message were recorded and are on sermonaudio.com. I will post the link on you sight Joy. Thanks for sharing your heart and touching so many others. Love you!

  • http://www.stillroomtogrow.blogspot.com Kate@stillroomtogrow

    Such POWERFUL words and so easy to say. Thanks for the encouragement and reminder of God’s great love for us. you are one SPECIAL mama!

  • Angle

    Yes, I always think this about my nephews/neice…even if they turn out to follow all the beliefs their fundamentalist church hands to them, beliefs that negate my very sense of what they should believe, negates all that I hold holy…no matter what. What I hope is that at some point being gay, not believing in God, having an abortion or a baby out of wedlock will not be right there next to “cooks meth.” They are not the same apples.

    • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy @ Joy in this Journey

      Good point. In reality, they are not the same apples at all, though whole categories of people lump them all together. That’s tragic.

  • http://allisonvesterfelt.com Allison Vesterfelt

    Wow, what a beautiful, powerful post. Thank you Micha and Joy for sharing this story.

  • http://www.lovewellblog.com Kelly @ Love Well

    This has been rattling around in my soul all week. I love it; it’s a strong foundation for us to parent day to day.

    I grew up with parents like this. I don’t see eye to eye with them on everything, and I know they have been disappointed by me at times. But I am rock solid on their unshakeable love for me. The older I get, the more I see what an immeasurable gift that kind of love is.

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  • http://www.livingpalm.blogspot.com Tamara @ This Sacramental Life

    Joy, this post encouraged me deeply as my 15, 16, 19 and 21-year-olds enter adulthood and give me the opportunity to practice “no matter what” scenarios on an almost-daily basis. Thank you for your words, perspective and encouragement.

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