Jana Fraley shares a story about helping her son be brave as the new kid in school. Now you can find the Kindred Mom book, Strong, Brave, and Beautiful: Stories of Hope for Moms in the Weeds, wherever books are sold. Subscribe to the Kindred Mom newsletter and receive a preview of the book today! Photo by Colin Maynard on Unsplash
I watched as my boy slowly walked over to the bell tower, shoulders hunched, eyes downcast, and there he stood all alone. I needed to get out of the drop-off lane and he was giving me a look that said “Mom, please just go.”
But my heart was breaking. I pulled out and decided to drive around again to check and see if any new friends approached him, and then twice more; by now the bell had rung and he was walking dejectedly toward his class lining up outside. I began to cry and started praying for my son; “God, please!! Bring Kade friends to help ease this transition! Could You just DO SOMETHING to make him feel like he belongs here, make him happy, well adjusted, well-liked? I need to know that my boy is enjoying his day! Lord, You are our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1), please help my son.”
His answer to me was silence.
This went on for weeks. We had recently moved after selling our family’s cattle ranch and buying a smaller one the next county up. We faced a lot of changes that year, but it was our 10-year-old that had to deal with the hardest adjustments.
A new school with no friends was tough enough; being the lone ranch kid in the 4th grade was turning out to be excruciating. He was the only one out at recess wearing jeans instead of shorts or athletic pants, cowboy boots and not tennis shoes, a belt and buckle (a buckle that just months before he had won at the county fair and was his pride and joy). The kids weren’t mean to him, he just didn’t fit in. They’d ask Kade, “How can you run in those cowboy boots?” To which he’d answer with a shrug, “With two feet just like you, I guess.” Or, “Why do you always wear that belt and big old buckle?” His reply, “How else am I supposed to keep my pants up?” Kade didn’t change just because his school setting had changed, which at once made me proud of him but also made me nervous that he was never going to fit in at his new school.
I’d go home to my husband in tears telling him I thought we had made a huge mistake, maybe we needed to move back and let Kade return to his old school and his buddies. My poor husband didn’t know what to do with a sullen boy and a weepy wife.
I kept praying.
And God finally answered.
But He didn’t answer the way I expected or wanted Him to. God told me His plan for Kade’s life had very little to do with making sure that he was happy or well-liked and adjusted. He wasn’t as concerned with my boy being successful in academics or sports. God’s desire was to grow my little cowboy into Christlikeness, in empathy, in courage, and in contentment with where he was. God wanted to stretch and shape my son in ways that couldn’t happen if he was in a place of comfort, ease, and success. God was doing a good work in my son’s life. As his mother, I had to take my hands off and trust Him. I had to allow Kade to be brave, and I had to be brave for him.
And yet, Kade’s experience of being the new kid at a small school taught me God doesn’t grow and strengthen our kids and their faith in places of comfort and ease. As parents, we envision an ideal life for our children: lots of friends, success at school, and in various activities. We push our kids to meet a standard of perfection socially, academically, athletically, but God calls them to holiness, faith, and an abiding trust in Him.
Sometimes our children may be the lonely kid on the playground, the last one picked for the kickball game, the child that struggles in class. Because this is where God instills a sense of something much stronger than compassion into their little hearts, He gives them empathy to know what it feels like to be the one left out and struggling, to grow in a desire to seek out kids who need a friend, or encouragement in school or grace when they aren’t the best one on the team.
Within these hardships, I strive to keep an “Ultimately” type of vision. Meaning that, ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, will what they are going through matter in another day, month or year? If I truly want God’s best for their lives, I have to understand that sometimes they are not going to be comfortable, sometimes they are going to face frustrations and disappointments.
However, my job is not to try and “fix” things for them or manipulate situations to escape hard things. Instead, my job is to help them navigate those less than ideal situations and see the greater perspective of God’s will for their lives. God is still teaching me through the lives of my children. I’m so glad He is a gracious and patient God that never gives up on us. His Word tells us, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” ( Deuteronomy 31:8). God hems our children in, going before and behind them, protecting and keeping them.
As for Kade, two years later, he is surrounded by very good friends, including some unlikely ones. He now wrestles and plays basketball. Kade has no fear when it comes to getting on the back of a bucking steer or roping calves off of a new horse, but as we watched him on the wrestling mat and the basketball court, we saw that he had acquired courage and grit in trying something new. He’s finding that it’s often the hard and scary things in life that end up being the most rewarding.
Basketball was tough at times, being the smallest kid on the team and the one with the least amount of experience; there were a few nights when he fought frustration, but he stuck it out. In the last basketball game of the season, his team was winning by quite a bit. Kade was subbed in and out of the game as usual. But, something changed as the boys came back for the second half. Suddenly, their whole objective was to get the ball to my son. Over and over again, they worked together to make sure that Kade got the ball so he could attempt to make a basket. The boys were shouting encouragement to him. All of the parents were cheering Kade on. And I was in tears.
Kade didn’t end up scoring that night, but he walked out of that gym beaming from ear to ear. He was part of a team. The boys all pounded him on the back and told him how much he had improved, how much he hustled. God surrounded my son with boys of good character and gave him a better idea of what friendship and teamwork are all about. Better yet, God demonstrated to Kade He never left his side, even at his loneliest moments. He made Kade brave; whom shall [he] fear? the Lord is the strength of [his] life; of whom shall [he] be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
Jana Fraley is a Wyoming ranch wife, mom, and Christian writer. When not writing, you will find her hunting and camping with her family, riding and working cattle with her husband, having deep faith conversations over coffee with her adult daughter, helping her son with 4-H projects, or cheering him on in the rodeo arena. She has a heart and passion for encouraging women in seeking an authentic and active faith in Christ. She loves journeying together with women of all ages as they discern Biblical truth, learn to apply God’s Word with a Biblical Worldview, and dive deeper in knowing what they believe. Jana is a collaborator on the recently released devotional book “Tapestry of Grace.” You can find her writing at Rustic And Redeemed or connect with her on Facebook and on Instagram.