Dysfunction Junction

I grew up in a fairly conventional family in what’s known as the Bible Belt of America. My dad drove to the same job every day for nearly 40 years, and mom was usually there when I walked home from school every afternoon. Then I played outside untethered until the streetlights came on each evening.

That was about the time I’d look for that familiar porch light halfway down our street and pedal my bike back home.

I know it all sounds so innocent. But little did anyone know there were diabolical forces at work behind our front door.

You see, when I was a little boy, I had a problem. No, I didn’t hurt small animals or peep in neighbors’ windows. But I did something most nights that caused both my parents great concern.

Confession is good for the soul, so here goes…I wet my bed both with great frequency and impressive breadth of coverage.

I recently did a little research online and was surprised to find advice from none other than Dr. James Dobson himself! He warned that “enuresis,” the medical name for bedwetting, can result in “emotional and social distress” for little dudes like me.

Mom and Dad were at a loss for what to do. Thankfully, science and technology stepped up to provide the answer. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the Sears and Roebuck “Wee Alert” Bed Wetting Alarm System!

This electrical device set off an alarm whenever moisture was detected in the child’s bed. There were two convenient styles to choose from. One involved making your son wear a humongous diaper (genteelly referred to as a “brief”) which was attached to the machine waiting ominously at your bedside.

Thankfully, Mom and Dad didn’t use the diaper version, because yeah, that would have been humiliating. Instead, a long, thin metallic sheet was placed underneath my bedsheet. Then battery-powered electrical conductors were attached to the metallic sheet, connected to an alarm box sitting expectantly on your night table.

Please note my use of the words “metallic sheet,” “battery-powered,” and “electrical conductors” in the previous paragraph. These items fit better in Frankenstein’s lab than a boy’s bedroom. I’m trying to picture my mom reading this all from the good old Sears and Roebuck’s catalogue and thinking it sounded like a really good idea.

The picture above I found on Google is like something from a horror movie. It reminds me of that device Dr. Kevorkian put by the bedside of his unlucky patients. Some of the parts resembled that Operation game we played as kids. The alarm’s buzzer sounded a lot like when your “scalpel” struck the metal sides of the game’s patient.

To my knowledge, my nose didn’t light up when the buzzer went off.

As if this wasn’t terrifying enough, Dr. James Dobson has an additional suggestion.  He advises that after the alarm awakens the child, a parent should then immerse the soggy waif “in a tub of cool water.” He says you’ll probably need to do this for four to eight weeks. This is not punishment but merely a way to help them associate the cold water with bedwetting.

If that doesn’t qualify as punishment, I’d hate to hear what Dr. Dobson thinks would!

One tiny flaw with this device is that ANY moisture can set the alarm off—a child’s drool., for example. So if you hadn’t actually wet yourself by the time that buzzer went off in your dark room in the middle of the night, you will most certainly have wet yourself then!

And people wonder why I’m so weird. Like Judy said, “There’s no place like home.”

I’m divulging this moist skeleton from my closet to get across a point: even the best families are imperfect, and well-meaning parents do dumb things. Most homes have embarrassing little secrets going on behind their doors. In fact, my little nightmare is probably one of the more innocuous things families deal with, especially these days.

It’s time we faced the fact that every family is dysfunctional. Every. Single. One.

Right now, my own family is struggling with fostering a 6-year-old boy now living with us. The problem is that things have been pretty ideal in our home up to now. My two little girls are delightful and well-adjusted. Though they are adopted, we raised them to honor our family’s values from infancy. Both Ellie and Gracie already reflect the kindness and Christianity prized by their parents.

Conversely, this little 6-year-old boy has not been raised with our values. He’s selfish and tyrannical and continually demands his way. It appears he’s been through significant abuse but also has been given few boundaries. Knowing how much to discipline him and give him mercy is a constant struggle.

When I talk to friends about it, they drop their heads. “You’re not going to risk messing up your perfect family and let him stay, are you?”

On the one hand, we always must think about what is best for my girls. But I also must balance that with the reality that God never meant families to be perfect. That is a fiction we have added to the original design. When we take the safest option, we don’t succeed in insulating our families from evil. Sin is already at work in the hearts of every child. They come to us already infected with the disease.

However, that kind of “circle the wagons” mentality will keep children like this boy from ever experiencing a loving home.

God is not calling our homes to perfection, but He is calling them to be sanctuaries. Your home should be a place where we keep the weak and innocent safe. They should also be a place where the abused can nurture and heal.

As I search the Scriptures, I see God does indeed want our homes to be a refuge for the weary:

“My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.” Isaiah 32:18

“They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.” Isaiah 65:21-22

But when God makes your home a sanctuary, isn’t it your obligation to share it with others?

One afternoon, I remember my teenage son called to ask if his friend could come and stay with us. When I said yes, I had no idea he meant for good! His friend was a 16-year-old African American whom his family had abandoned. He was a great kid but was flunking out of school. My wife Dawn decided he would become her own personal project.

I remember listening as my wife spent countless hours on the phone trying to fix his difficulties with the school. After three years, he finally completed his GED and moved out of our house and into the workforce. As I write this, he is 26 and on Christmas vacation with us once again this year. While I know he likes me, he clearly loves my wife and will do anything for her. It’s so funny to see her 5 ft of height trying to hug his 6 ft 4-inch frame. Thanks to my wife, our home was there for him and many other foster kids when they needed it through the years.

But what would have happened if we had said “no” when my son called for help? We would have missed one of the dearest relationships in our family! When we selfishly grab for security, we miss God’s grand design for all we were meant to be. Home is not just about preserving “us four and no more.” The home should be a force for good in the world. It is God’s fortress for transforming our communities and bringing peace to our cities. It should be an outpost for spreading the good news to our neighbors.

Our homes also provide safe spaces for friends who need to unburden their cares to sympathetic ears. Dawn opens our home to friends like a doctor uses his examining room. Her hospitality has probably done more to change lives than any sermon I’ve ever preached. When our homes are places of comfort and friendship, they become a refuge for many.

But the big mistake people make is thinking their home must look like a Better Homes and Gardens cover for God to use it. And with social media, we’re shamed by everyone’s idealized Facebook posts about their superhuman kids, awesome marriages, and perfect lives. Just once, I’d love to read a post that says:

“Our Cindy tried out for the school choir to sing in nursing homes at Christmas. But they said her voice was pretty awful, and those poor old people had already been through enough!”

“After 20 years at my present company, God decided He had better things for my future. Unfortunately, He told the company before He told me!”

“Here’s a picture of our new grandson! I know they say there are no ugly babies, but this little guy just crushed that theory for good!”

I’ve found that the homes God uses best are the ones that let others see their bruises. Air-brushed photos are nice, but God uses Truth to set people free. Keeping up a perfect front is exhausting and will ultimately destroy you. And your kids will grow up resenting you for making them play along with the lie.

Sadly, if you’re going to build a great home, you won’t get much help from today’s media. Most of what we watch is no friend to the traditional family. They love to imply that our parents were all sexually repressed and that the outward appearances of our families hid many evils underneath. Women were oppressed, serving against their will as slave laborers in the home. The men worked dead-end jobs and drowned their sorrows getting drunk as they mowed the grass on the weekends.

While there were certainly problems, there also were more good things than bad. Many previous generations grew up with an implied trust in authority figures and a love for country. Fair play was encouraged, and honesty rewarded. These values were not just patriotic—they produced good citizenship and encouraged civility. The fact that these goals were not always attained doesn’t invalidate them. Even if we didn’t always live up to them, they were honorable ideals.

Home and family aren’t just quaint relics of the past. They are lights still shining in our communities, making them better places to live.

But home is also the place where the most damage can be done. This is the hard lesson we’re learning with our foster son. The instability of his previous home life left him prone to a world of evil. If the home isn’t safe, everyone inside is an easy target. Destroy the marriage in that home, and you’ve destroyed the children as well. Weaken the home, and no strongman is left to stand against the tyrant and the bully.

The answer is not perfect homes with perfect parents and kids, but perfectly loving homes. A home built on love and forgiveness will stand through any onslaught.

For example, right now, there is something in the lifestyles of each of my adult kids that I don’t approve of. There are more tattoos and piercings than you’d ever expect from any pastor’s family. We’d have to make a trip to the paint store before I could tell you what color my oldest daughter’s hair is now! But here’s one thing we have: we are committed to loving each other, no matter what. Our love is so stubborn. There is nothing we’ll allow to get in its way!

When you’re part of a home, you don’t get kicked out just for disagreeing. And if perfection is the standard, none of us, parents nor children, would be there! Even when feelings are hurt, and someone walks away, there’s always a porchlight left on for them.

In every good home, there’s a parent behind the front door watching and praying this will be the night their kids come home.

When they do return, you won’t care that they’re not perfect. Heck, you won’t even care if they still wet the bed. You’ll happily take them back, wet or dry, tanned or tattooed. All you care about is that your kids are home.

It takes a ton of commitment to love that stubbornly, but it’s worth it. It will be tough to offer your home that generously too. But if you’ll give your home to God, he’ll do something akin to the feeding of the 5000.

He’ll take those bowls of soup, mountains of laundry, and outdated Hobby Lobby decorations and make something miraculous from them.

Those are the very ingredients God uses when we place them in his hands. Because if you want to change the world, you don’t have to look any further than your own front door.

Because there’s no place like home.

-Photo by Dimitri on Unsplash

Dave Gipson
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