My jaw literally dropped when I heard the words from Bill Hybels. Sitting in a crowded worship center with The Chad and a couple of our friends, I was overcome with vindication. Screaming in my head, “YES! YES! My God, YES!” The Global Leadership Summit was speaking my truth, my life, suddenly everything came into focus and the validation was freeing.
Bill Hybels was sharing about hard fought leadership. He shared about taking a ski adventure from Kalamazoo to Aspen, Colorado. By himself. At age 11. He was all alone without any parents accompanying him. Questions abound regarding his stay in Aspen, where exactly Colorado was located, how he would get to the slope, etc. His father answered with “Figure it out” followed by “And don’t call me.”
His tale of resourcefulness resonated with me on a cellular level. My parents inadvertently raised me in such a manner. During my most formidable years, both parents were absent in waxing the ways of the world. They were a turbulent pair, two young opposites trying to figure themselves out in the midst of a marriage with children. Looking back I can understand how life played out as they were both 21 when they were married and 24 with a new baby. Add the early 80s timeline, another baby, and truly coming of age into their late 20s and 30s, I understood the shit storm that led to their divorce. I digress. They were, however, absent. Absent in the way that a parent should be to a child, something I recognize myself as a parent and an imperfect human. Their absence, albeit led to therapy, also blazed an amazing path for me to evolve as a person and was the genesis for so many “A-HA” moments in my life.
The divorce of my parents is what birthed the “figure it out” life for me. I figured out, at the ripe age of eight, how to ready myself for school. No parents to bumper me around in the morning, ensuring I ate breakfast or that I brushed my teeth or that I made it off to school on time. I dealt with the emotional upset of parents divorcing, figured out how to manage the feeling of being an outcast, dealing with bullies, difficult people, and wrangling with my own education and life skills. I figured it out by watching, because I found that when I asked very mature questions, I felt I was ignored, brushed off, or given the “you’re a smart girl, you can do it.” Which I now know today to be my mothers version of “figure it out and don’t call me.”
While Bill Hybels was offered parents who put him in challenging situations, I was offered God’s grace of being birthed to a challenging life of figure it out. I watched people meticulously. I watched how food was prepared, I watched Bob Ross to learn to paint, I read and watched the paper (for years) for Dear Abby to see if anyone else suffered my plight. I figured everything out in my life by observing, reading, researching, listening, then executing on my own through trial and error. I figured out love and friendship from my early days on the pink school bus transporting me from home to the Baptist church I grew up attending.
I learned how to manage money during my teen years, my mother struggled financially during this period in my life. My mother had broken her arm during a time when she was already out of work; her significant other (the man I formerly considered a “step father”) was also out of work and banking on an imaginary, million dollar law suit. Money was nonexistent, other than my mother attempting to keep afloat by cashing in her retirement that she had worked so hard to earn over the past 20 years. She would give me five dollars for the week.
In the mid 90s, this somehow managed to keep a teenage girl driving a car and feeding herself lunch daily. My car was a late 80s AMC Jeep Eagle wagon with a 22 gallon tank at 17mpg, and gas was roughly $0.99 per gallon and the dollar menu just began to explode at fast food restaurants. Math and figuring it out became my forte in my teens. With my mother’s broken arm I also had to write her checks, balance her checkbook, grocery shop and figure out the coupons, sales, and savings. Quite the daunting task for a teenage girl to undertake. So much of these snapshot experiences helped to prepare me for my own adulthood and life management.
Of Bill Hybels entire message, the first three words “figure it out” were what really struck a chord. A tsunami of memories whirred in my brain as I recalled the many times I had heard those words myself. The words I find I share with my own children. So much of my DNA wants to help my children, to take away the frustration and the feeling of abandonment when left to your own devices. However, what I have told my children in addition to the “figure it out” is that they can call me. If you have tried your hardest and you did not succeed, I am here to help you see another way.
I found a deep reverence in typing this last sentence. Recalling my own personal feelings of frustration and abandonment, yet at peace because I knew the only thing, the only person guiding me was Him. Even today, as an adult I struggle with where this life is taking me; at 40 years old, graced with bounds of potential and just trying to figure out the timing of the rope to lasso the prize. Putting my own moments aside, I feel blessed to have my life experiences and to have the unique opportunity to share with my children. I want them to “figure it out” but not feel abandoned by myself and The Chad, yet not feel so inclined to have us bail them out because life feels too great of a struggle. My generation seems to be the generation that has perpetuated entitlement, bailing children out because they have given up instead of digging in, and we, The Chad and I, as parents are doing what we can to break that cycle.
As my children grow older, since I only have a few years left with G and only a handful with the twins before they fly the coop, I hope they feel the confidence to take the initiative as I did. Albeit mine was more about an initiative of survival, I hope they snag the opportunity nonetheless. My prayer for them in my “figure it out and don’t call me” ideal of parenting, is that they do call me when they succeed, when they fail, and when they say they have exhausted everything and ask “What do you suggest?” I hope they learn leadership, resourcefulness, patience, consideration, grit and a dash of common sense; I pray that by allowing them the freedom to figure it out, the freedom to struggle, the freedom to fail, that when they have figured it out, they will call me and thank me.