I trudged into my 12-year-old daughter’s bedroom after we’d had yet another argument to the shocking discovery of self-inflicted cuts up and down both of her forearms. My stomach clenched like I’d been sucker-punched.
When she was 14, the police called to inform us they had her at the juvenile detention center for skipping school and running from them.
At 18, she was detained for 72 hours in the psych ward of the local hospital for severe cutting and being suicidal…twice…in two weeks. The next day we learned about the multiple rapes inflicted upon her. Indescribable grief engulfed my heart.
Each of these experiences had an enormous effect on me. They became defining moments.
What is a defining moment? It is an event or experience that has a huge impact on your life—either positive or negative. The experience plays a significant role in shaping who you are today. The event is a crucial part of your development; vital to your growth—for good or bad.
These are the moments that change us, but not always in the way we want. Parents of struggling teens and adults are all too familiar with this. Their lives are fraught with unwanted events and experiences—each one dealing a blow capable of taking down the strongest person.
Types of Defining Moments
Defining moments come in all shapes and sizes. Not all are negative. Some are positive.
A spiritual experience: the decision to believe in God, accept Jesus Christ as Savior, choose to be baptized or rekindle your faith
A health crisis, accident
A victim of a crime
A major success or devastating failure
A death or significant loss
A life-changing conversation
A substantial financial gain or loss
If you’re a hurting parent, like me, your child may be the source of most of your life-altering moments. Your list might be long. I’ve had many with my daughter: The day she cut herself. Her mental health diagnosis. The discovery of her alcohol and drug abuse. The psychiatrist’s say, “It’s a miracle she’s still alive.”
Experience after experience filled me with grief, fear, and anger. Dealing with trauma like this in my family, much less with one of my own beloved children, was never in my wildest imagination.
At a conference for hurting parents I heard a seasoned father say, “This will be difficult for you to hear, but after all we’ve been through with our children, we’ll never be the same.” My heart beat faster as I clamped my hand over my mouth to muffle a gasp. His statement rattled me. This sounded like hopeless resignation, but I was wrong. It wasn’t a hopeless.
I have changed. I’ll never be the same.
Neither will you.
But staying the same isn’t an option. That’s not how real life is. Change is necessary for our growth.
Over 20 years have passed since the day I found my 12-year-old with fresh wounds on her arms. I no longer want to be who I once was because of how God has used the defining moments of my life—including the ones I thought I couldn’t survive—to shape me and make me more like His son, Jesus.
They were transformational, but I couldn’t see that at the time.
My defining moments changed me in many ways. They increased my compassion for those who suffer like my daughter did. They deepened my faith in God; bringing me into greater intimacy with Him. They taught me more about myself; my strengths and weaknesses. They forced me to slow down and create margin in my life; time to rest. They caused me to cultivate more authentic relationships. They gave me new focus and direction: to help other parents in pain find comfort, encouragement, and hope by starting a new ministry and writing a book.
I’m not unique. There are many others with similar experiences.
How Will You Respond?
You and I have had many defining moments with our children. Some of them we wish had never happened.
If only we could forget.
Will we use our painful experiences as fertilizer for depression and hopelessness? Will we whine and complain to anyone who will listen? Will we wallow in our losses, have a never-ending pity party, and endlessly lick our wounds? Or will we learn to pivot and choose something else…something better?
Dear friend, I believe you can select a different path than the one you may be on today.
A good place to start is turning to God for help. Talk to Him in prayer. Dig deep into His Word, the Bible. Nurture your soul.
Take care of your body. Exercise regularly. Make time to rest. Eat healthy. Make an appointment with your doctor for a physical.
Join a support group and develop healthy connections with others who understand (I can help you; send me a message if you want assistance).
See a counselor. You can’t afford not to.
Remind yourself every day how much God loves you and is with you. There is still hope for them and for you.
I have loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3 NIV).
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20b NIV).
Once you make your well-being a priority, you’ll soon stop feeling sorry for yourself and slowly embrace unwanted changes. They’re not all bad. You might even learn to like the person you’re becoming.
…God meant it for good in to bring about… (Genesis 50:20 ESV)
And the prophet Isaiah reassures me good results truly are possible:
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19).
Trust God with the defining moments of your life. He can use them for good…every one of them.