More than a fuzzy feeling

I am so proud of my kids.

I know there are all kinds of parental warnings these days against too much verbal affirmation, or the wrong type of verbal affirmation. We're not supposed to tell our kids they are smart, gifted, or inherently talented. We should praise them for their efforts, for working hard, not simply for being.

I missed the memo. I have been praising my kiddos for years for both outward and inward traits. I think it will turn out ok in the end because the main point of all that affirmation is to communicate my unconditional love for them, and to make sure they know, in their heart of hearts, that they are wonderfully and uniquely created by God - talented, gifted, and intelligent.

I know I'm completely biased but my kids are amazing.

In becoming Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, through their own blood, sweat and tears they have accomplished something that very few adults have enough fortitude to do, never mind children.

As thru-hiker kids they are at the top of an elite class. And yes, I am dang proud of them for their incredibly hard work to achieve that. Something I told them often on the trail, minus the dang part (the kids reprimand me when I swear).

Family thru-hiking was a difficult endeavor and in those moments (and months) of self-doubt about why we had taken on something so monumental I sought a sliver of reasoning to hold on to, something to justify why we'd willingly putting ourselves through these trials, and conscript our kids to come along. (What kind of parents are we??)

The words of encouragement that came most readily to me were ancient and true. They were the Apostle Paul's perspective about trials, perseverance, and character.

But I was mixed up because, without a Bible handy for reference, I kept thinking that character was the highest aim. That we struggled through sufferings, to produce endurance in our lives which in the end, develops character. End of story.

Not so. When I finally took the time to check the verse I was a bit surprised and puzzled that character was not the end goal or "prize" when we suffer tribulations, hope is.

As Christian homeschooling parents, good character is high on the list of our child-raising goals. (I'm not saying non-Christians don't have this same value but Christians tend to place a high value, rightly or wrongly, on character.) Throw in my innate tendencies as a rule abiding, authority respecting ESTJ, and you can see how raising kids with responsible, solid character is something I naturally uphold as a good goal. And so I think I took the bit I knew - trials produce perseverance produce character - and stopped there because for me, often, character is the highest aim.

So when I read the verse again, and wrote it this time in my trial trail journal to ponder further, I was challenged by Paul's idea that hope is the highest aim.

I spent the rest of our hike asking myself the question, "why is hope the highest end, not character?"

I perceive hope as risky, sometimes a bit naive, and almost always too trusting. There are no guarantees.

Character on the other hand is more solid. It's a firm foundation, it's stalwart and steady.

As I wrestled with this I remembered discussions Damien and I have had about our parenting goals for this season of family life. We want our teenagers to be invigorated by hope, ideas, and inspiration for their future. We want them to experiment with creative ideas to solve problems, to take chances and not be afraid.

Yes, we want them to develop good character. We've been working on that since they were toddlers. But maybe that's not the end aim and is only the foundation for the real goal, having the courage and inspiration - the hope - to move forward with living, loving, and learning.

You need both.

If hope is the audacious belief you can fly, then character is the firm footing from which you jump.

Last weekend I picked up and resumed reading Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly. I had started it before our hike but just couldn't get into it with all our efforts and preparations. It's a timely read to get back into. Funny how it was the book most accessible and handy to reach in our many boxes of "life" stored in the basement.

I started near the beginning, where I had left off, but right before closing the book for the night I flipped to the end, to the chapter on Wholehearted Parenting. And this sentence in bold jumped off the page for me.

Hope is a function of struggle.

A new take on ancient wisdom, wouldn't you say?

Brené goes on to say a few things about hope.

If we want our children to develop high levels of hopefulness, we have to let them struggle.

hope isn't an emotion; it's a way of thinking or a cognitive process... [it's] a combination of setting goals, having the tenacity and perseverance to pursue them, and believing in our own abilities.

Children with high levels of hopefulness have experience with adversity. They've been given the opportunity to struggle and in doing that they learn how to believe in themselves.

Our kids came off the trail full of ideas for their future. Hope. Their enthusiasm built on experience and personal knowledge (in their aching muscles) that they have what it takes to accomplish dreams, goals, and vision. Character.

I am proud of my children for their accomplishment. (I am proud of my husband, beyond words, for holding the whole show together.) I am proud of myself for following through on my commitment to our hike even though I felt broken and weak. It didn't actually break any of us. Instead, all that hard work grew our character.

I am extremely gratified at the character traits I see in my children. Determination, tenacity, long suffering, responsibility, sacrifice, kindness.

Equally though and perhaps more importantly, I am thrilled that hope is the fruit of that character growth. That from the foundation of character springs hope and inspiration for their future, hope and inspiration for my future.

Hope. Not a fuzzy, feel-good emotion, or wishful thinking, but a faith rooted in the soil of adversity and perseverance through trials. The confidence that you have what it takes to move forward with your dreams and goals.

That is something to feel good about.

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  • Michelle Payette

    Michelle Payette on Oct. 9, 2014, 1:06 p.m.

    Renee, this post is spot on. It will have me thinking a lot in the weeks and months to come. Thank you for writing it. I have been following along with all of your videos (as I was a sponsor) and I must say I shook my head a lot in amazement that you all took this on. It was an incredible journey. I know it did not end (for you) the way you wished and although I chose not to leave my comments like hordes of others did I was still thinking of your suffering. And now you write a post like this... I know all will be well again in time. <3



    • renee

      renee on Oct. 9, 2014, 3:03 p.m.

      Yes Michelle, all will be well in time. And some days I get to glimpse that more clearly than others and really know it. And other days I choose to believe it, to hope (smile).


  • Anastasia @ Eco-Babyz

    Anastasia @ Eco-Babyz on Oct. 9, 2014, 2:10 p.m.

    That is awesome, I think your children are pretty amazing! I can imagine how much of their individuality would have rubbed off if they were in public school, trying to conform to everyone else. I think my kids are pretty amazing too! ;) At age 5 and 2 I'm just trying to figure out our life-learning, unschooling path and navigating all the naysayers. 


  • Amy

    Amy on Oct. 9, 2014, 8:28 p.m.

    I really like your perspective on this verse.  We have had a very stretching three plus years in our family adding three older children via adoption and guardianship while homeschooling.  I think of this verse quite often for myself and my kids and I hadn't thought about hope being the highest achievement.  I definitely have more hope in general even when I am in the midst of general burnout and my kids also have a lot of hope too.  I am going to try to remember to focus on hope in the low and challenging spots of life.


  • Jill Colorfulheart

    Jill Colorfulheart on Aug. 11, 2015, 3:44 p.m.

    YES! You sum up so well a deep held value we have pursued without having specific words to define those principles. We have raised 6 kids to young-adulthood and your words might well be describing each of them. Our youngest faces extra challenges---and she and I are leaving in less than 4 weeks to spend 2 months backpacking on the AT. I will be pondering your words as we continue to refine our goals for this coming adventure! THANKS!


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