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“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11

A friend once noted, “Your dad reeks of integrity.” And he was right. I am blessed to have been raised by a man whose choicest swear words were, “Oh fish” and whose worst vices were peanut brittle, Pecan Sandies, and pocket watches. Some, however, may have considered his corny jokes a fault:

“I once dated a girl named Olive…until I took her to dinner and found out how much it costs to stuff an Olive.”

Dad had other unique ways of speaking. Instead of a simple “thank you,” when someone did something kind, Dad would respond, “I’ll dance at your wedding someday.” When my brothers and I were kids he often greeted us with, “Hey, Posqually,” or “Hi, Pastamazoo.” He nicknamed a granddaughter “P.M.” because of toddler legs in perpetual motion.

An elementary principal, associate pastor, and adult Sunday School teacher for 35 consecutive years; Dad crafted words for sermons, weddings, funerals, lessons, and principal’s notes. His greatest legacy, however, was not in his words. Dad was respected for his faithfulness, even temper, integrity, wisdom, and compassionate heart.  In over fifty years of marriage, he never took off his wedding ring. Not once. His was a life lived louder than its words.

One of my most vivid memories of Dad occurred on a hot day in late spring of 1987. I was headed home, south on Oregon’s Interstate 5, in my Volkswagen Scirocco. By the time I reached Azalea, an hour from home, I called Dad in tears. My Scirocco had stalled several times coming over Canyon Creek Pass, and each time I had watched my life flash behind my eyes as the rearview mirror revealed tractor trailers fast approaching my motionless vehicle. Dad blamed it on the fuel-injection system, told me what to do to my car, and said I would be fine.

As I continued down the road, I eventually stopped worrying about my car and started worrying about my recent decision to accept a teaching job in Nassau, Bahamas. I was driving over the Sexton Mountain Pass, talking to the Lord about moving to the Bahamas alone, when I recognized a refurbished red Corvair in the northbound lane. It was Dad. He had jumped in his car and headed for his girl. A paraphrase of Matthew 7:11 immediately came to my mind, “If your earthly father knows how to give good gifts, how much more your heavenly father?” I have never had a clearer picture of God’s love and care for his children. Through the actions of my earthly father, God assured me He would take care of me in the Bahamas.

I was gifted a dad who offered a glimpse of our heavenly father. And for the godly heritage he left, I am truly thankful.

See you later, Daddy. We’ll dance at the wedding, someday.

David Jenkins, 1927 - 2012

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My strict, German-American grandmother believed that after disciplining your child, “you should be able to go off and sing a song.” I comprehend her point: Discipline out of love, not anger. But in fifteen years of parenting, not once has this soprano assigned consequences to a child and then felt like busting a melody. Wanted to scream? Definitely. Cry? Of course. Laugh at melodramatic antics? Sometimes. Phone a counselor? Possibly. Sing? Never.

You raised three beautiful girls and five mischievous boys, Grandma. After delivering punishments, what on earth did you sing? “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen?”

Yesterday, there was an FBI (Formidable Behavioral Incident) in my home. When it was over, I did not sing. I prayed. I analyzed my child’s actions and my reaction. At some point, Grandma’s “singing philosophy” resurfaced and I began amusing my brain by fishing it for “Fitting Songs to Sing After Making My Child’s Life Miserable for His or Her Own Good.” Here is my selection:

1. The chorus of Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler:

    An analogy jackpot, crooning this chorus could provide timely parenting cues.

  • “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em” – Stand strong on moral, character, or safety issues. Fold on exasperating non-issues such as a son’s Justin Bieber bangs that consistently bury luminous blue eyes (as a random, hypothetical illustration).
  • “Know when to walk away and know when to run.” – Keep a calm, in-control, poker face when disciplining…even when yelling, snickering, or sobbing beg introduction. If this isn’t possible, walk away and “deal” consequences later.
  • “You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table, There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealing’s done.” Avoid evaluating a child’s end-result character based on the current hand your dealt. Keep working; the “game” is not over yet.

2. Get Back Up by TobyMac  –

We lose our way,
We get back up again
It’s never too late to get back up again.

    There is always hope for my child’s behavior. And my parenting.

3. It is Well With My Soul, Kutless Version-

    Reserving this hymn for particularly distressing episodes could offer comforting revelation that at least something is right in the world.

4. The ending of Billy Joel’s  Just the Way You Are

I said I love you and that’s forever
And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are.

My children do not know Billy Joel’s song, but I think they would recognize its theme. After dispensing discipline, I have been unsuccessful in implementing Grandma’s proverb “to go off and sing a song.” But I have told my kids I love them…no matter what. And that’s a tune I hope they remember. 

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Singer Icon: Matma Rex, Wikimedia Commons

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Whether mental or written, I always have a To Do List for the day. Regrettably, the success of any given day is measured by what I accomplished. To Do List completed? It was a good day. Oodles left undone? The inner voice of Perfection enumerates precisely where I failed and suggests schedule modifications for the following day. Lately, Perfection’s been preaching.

My husband’s rotator cuff surgery has slashed our children’s taxiing fleet in half and shredded my To Do Lists. The six week loss of Terry’s dominant arm and his ability to legally drive has me logging additional hours as caregiver and chauffer. (No sardonic comments about backseat drivers will be inserted in this space.) I am enjoying our extra time together and do not mind being supplementary hands for slicing chicken, buttoning shirts, or tying bows. Yet at the end of the day, Perfection’s expectations make no allowance for added responsibilities or people inhibiting production.

Most women are accustomed to putting their family’s needs before their own. Under Section II of both wife and mother job descriptions, “Tolerates frequent task interruptions” is highlighted. We stop what we are doing to tutor algebra, counsel social dilemmas, or move the family van from its station beneath the basketball hoop. (Acknowledgments to my son, Jesse, for supplying the final example as I attempted to complete previous sentence. Sigh.) Even most of the objectives on our To Do Lists–such as cleaning the house, grocery shopping, or working to provide financial support–aren’t singular ambitions. They’re set for the well-being of our families. Helping others is rooted in woman’s genesis–God’s “I can’t find a suitable helper for Adam, so I’ll design one.”¹ So why do I still get frustrated by unfinished things, when I know unfinished people are my created purpose?

Jesus’ primary To Do List could have read like this: Do my Father’s will. Love people. Teach people. Heal people. Die for people. The disciples didn’t think little children belonged on his list, but Jesus scolded them and called for the kids.² After his cousin John the Baptist was murdered, Jesus’ To Do List included finding a quiet place and resting. Jesus and the disciples had been so busy helping people, that even the essential task of eating could not be checked off their To Do Lists.³ However, when they got to their relaxation destination, an anxious crowd of “sheep without a shepherd” was already waiting. Compassion consumed, Jesus delayed his individual hopes in order to heal the sick, teach “many things,” and feed 5,000 hungry men, plus women and children.⁴

Goals provide purpose and focus. God’s Word sets spiritual goals such as loving God with your whole being, loving your neighbor as yourself, going into all the world to preach the gospel, or doing everything you do the name of the Lord Jesus.⁵ The problem isn’t goal setting. The problem is defining success based on personal or cultural values, instead of the Lord’s requirements: 

He has shown you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,

To love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (NKJV)

God’s To Do List could be simplified to six words. Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

How idiotic would I sound if I rationalized my misplaced priorities with words? “Uhh…Lord, I didn’t do justly by my injured husband…but I’m caught up on laundry.” Or how about, “I didn’t offer my child mercy…but I completed a great post on kindness.” Wee bit feeble.

Last night, while Perfection was pointing out clutter and listing unmet writing objectives, I went through my revised To Do List. Did I…

Do justly?

Love mercy?

Walk humbly with my God?

It was a good day.

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¹Paraphrased from Genesis 2:18-22

²Mark 10:13-16

³Mark 6:31

⁴Matthew 14:9-21; Mark 6:26-44

⁵Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 16:15; Colossians 3:17

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Once my toddlers-with-a-death-wish became school age and my perpetual game of “Eyes on the Diminutive Demolition Crew” was over, I thought parenting would be easier. No more embarrassing calls (yes, plural) to poison control reporting my son’s fondness for backyard mushrooms or diaper rash cream. No more sprinting to snatch a future mountaineer before he or she nose-dived off yet another soon to be obstructed household pinnacle, and no more frenzied searching of circular clothes racks in the mall’s largest department store…where my daughter played unannounced games of hide-and-seek. 

In my mind, older children meant reason would replace impulsiveness, family members could function more independently of one another, and household chores would be distributed to relieve Mom’s workload. I could blissfully return to a full-time career; balance triune roles of wife, mother, and professional; help financially support a comfortable lifestyle; and find time to pursue personal interests. Delusional.

Somehow I neglected the parenting pamphlet explaining that raising children does not simplify with each age-incremental stage. Only the challenges change. My dad’s advice, “You’ve got to be smarter than they are,” was appreciably easier to accomplish when “they” were two and  five–versus twelve and fifteen. I was also ignorant that the same darlings who could be bribed or compelled to follow my schedule as toddlers would develop time-consuming, wallet-emptying, automobile-depreciating and laundry-multiplying customs called “agendas” upon entering school. Agendas contain social, academic, athletic, spiritual, entertainment, hunger-inspired, musical, and fashion elements. When teenagers are involved, each element’s potency is raised to the thirteenth power.

Agendas highlight parent-child priority disconnects and generate difficult parenting decisions such as: What comes first…homework or friends? What is our family’s activity saturation point? What (or whose) influences reside outside the boundaries of appropriate?

A difficult parenting decision surfaced this week when my son asked to spend spring break in Arizona with a trusted friend’s family. Besides missing him, choosing to let Jesse go would place so many events outside my protective influences–from sunscreen slathering to a thirty-six hour round-trip drive. Somewhere in my fear-centered debate a quiet voice reminded, “You’re not the one who keeps him safe.” And I’m not. I am simply an instrument in the hands of the one who does. As I write these words, Jesse is traveling…and I am praying phrases from Psalm 91.

“Letting go” is one more reason an older child does not equal easier parenting. My mountaineers are still nose-diving off pinnacles, plunging into independent futures, and I can’t always be there to catch them. I must continually choose to trust the hands that can.

It will be ok, though, because parenting will be easier when my kids are in college.

Right?

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