“There are two ways to look at things”
Archives For Jessica
Verses fourteen through twenty-nine in the ninth chapter of the book of Mark connect with me, and many other parents, in an intimate way. In just 331 words the disciple Mark relays a story that has had me deep in thought for over a month now.
A father has brought his son to Jesus’ disciples. The father explains that his son is possessed by a spirit and cannot speak. He also explains that his son experiences seizures and falls into the fire frequently.
After the father explains these circumstances to Jesus, he asks him, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus responds by repeating the question: “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.” The father responds: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”
In a moment of painful honesty, the father shares the deepest secret of his heart. He was afraid. This father just wanted his son to be safe. As he got in touch with his own heart he realized that even though he believed in Jesus’ ability to help his son, he was still afraid.
I’m afraid. All I want is for my daughters to be safe. I realize this is a very American way to think. I can’t even drive down I-70 without being reminded of safety. It seems like every five miles there is some kind of sign warning me to slow down, turn off my cell phone or buckle up. I scrutinize every choice my daughters make, looking for the safety rating associated with each decision.
I have spent countless hours in prayer over each of my daughters. Many mornings I could be found kneeling outside a daughter’s door early in the morning with Bible in hand. I can honestly say that I believe that God can help my daughters. I believe it like I believe the sun will rise in the morning. In the middle of my belief is fear.
Today I’m forced to bear my heart just like the father in Mark did. In my personal prayer time, I bear my heart and soul to my Father in Heaven. I ask Him, “If you can, will you help my daughter?” His voice returns to me: “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Through tears I reply, “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”
“So what did you two talk about?”
Jessica had the biggest smile I have ever seen on her face.
“Oh, we just talked about stuff,” I answered.
Jessica continued her massive smile and held her hands up above her head.
“He isn’t telling me anything either!” she exclaimed.
“You know,” I told her “we guys can have man-to-man talks and we don’t have to tell you women anything.”
A couple of months ago a friend of mine at church gave me the book “Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date”. I was glad to receive the book, but I wasn’t planning on needing it for my fourteen-year-old daughter. I figured I would need it for my oldest daughter who will be turning sixteen next spring. The rules at our home don’t allow dating until the age of sixteen. That is something I don’t plan on changing any time soon. In fact, I would push it to eighteen if I thought they would be compliant.
Still, girls and boys will like each other. In the face of this reality I had two choices when I discovered a blossoming relationship between Jessica and Bryce. I could either set myself at odds with the two of them and create a forbidden love type of situation, or I could embrace the fact that these two young adults like each other, and become an engaged participant.
I decided the smartest thing to do was to invite this young gentleman to a meeting, so last Friday we met at the local McDonald’s for a visit. I learned some valuable lessons during this meeting and I thought it would be fun, and maybe helpful for someone, to share them here.
1. Young adults don’t like talking about the rules.
I guess this is something I should have known ahead of time, but I didn’t. After Bryce and I made some introductions I began to share our house rules with him. These rules are pretty straight forward, and both of my older daughters are quite familiar with them. I was very surprised to find out how uninformed he was. Someone at work today told me, “It’s just not cool to sit with your friends and talk about your family rules.” That seems kind of obvious to me now, but it wasn’t as obvious last week.
2. Everyone is scared.
All week long Jessica kept telling me how scared Bryce was to be meeting with me. I told her more than once it wasn’t my plan to just try to scare him away. When I pulled into the parking lot of McDonald’s my heart was racing quite a bit as well. I started our conversation by getting him to tell me a little bit about his family. We both seemed to relax a little during this part of the interview.
3. This meeting wasn’t just about protecting Jessica.
It’s pretty easy for most dads to get focused on protecting our perfect little angel daughters, and I’m no exception. As last Friday drew closer, I started to realize that this meeting was just as much about this young man as it was about the young woman I love so much. Once I realized that Bryce had unknowingly violated a couple of our family rules, I realized that he needed some important advice. Before your imagination gets away from you please understand that these rule violations were very minor in nature. They are just a couple of simple boundaries we keep with all our children. Anyway, I looked at Bryce and told him, “Never let a young lady talk you into violating rules you don’t even know exist.” Jessica is an awesome daughter, and I am blessed to have her in my life. Still, she had talked Bryce into a couple of things that she knew were against our rules. I’m not coming down on her heavily. She’s human and prone to making mistakes just like the rest of us.
As we finished up our meeting I looked Bryce in the eyes and asked him, “So what do you think?” He looked at me, and with a very somber face said, “I will obey your rules.” I could tell he was very serious.
Over the last week he has proven his character. I have seen a couple of simple changes that demonstrated to me how seriously he took our meeting. The changes he made were things that, if he had wanted, could have been kept a secret from Julie and me. He chose instead to take a less traveled path and honor my wishes even though I was oblivious to the circumstances. I communicated with him in a text message that I was indeed impressed with his decisions.
It’s scary to see my daughters interested in boys who aren’t part of some famous band. When it’s just a poster on the wall, it’s not very disconcerting. When they start liking boys right here in our own community, it’s unnerving. Sitting down with a young man and having a 30-minute conversation has done wonders for everyone involved.
I think we have all grown up a little bit this last week. A young man knows the rules, a young women knows her dad isn’t out to get her, and an old man knows his daughter chooses young men who have some character.
I’m teaching this amazing series in my new parenting Sunday school class.
This coming Sunday I will be teaching on the importance of making the transition from “Size and Position” parenting to “Relationship” parenting. We spend the majority of our kid’s lives in a “Size and Position” place of authority. Our kids do as we say because we are bigger, and we are the boss. Eventually, this type of parenting loses its effectiveness. Eventually, our kids get to the size where we can’t leverage our position or our authority anymore.
Lydia is fifteen and Jessica is fourteen. It took me a couple of years to realize that trying to leverage my position and authority was failing. I was convinced that if I pushed out my chest, and raised my voice high enough, I could get my children to behave.
It was around this time last year that I discovered the flaw in this thinking. I got into a disagreement with one of my daughters on the way to school. In my frustration and anger I told her to get out of my car. She refused my demands. I got out of the car, walked around to her side of the vehicle and attempted to remove her. I was completely unable to make my child do anything. I will never forget that day. It remains a powerful reminder that I won’t always be able to influence my daughters by leveraging my position or size.
I have two daughters who are teens, one daughter who is a year from being a teen and a fourth daughter who is only three years away. These are the years where my influence will be needed more than ever. For the next five to eight years all four of my daughters will be making some of the biggest decisions of their lives. They will begin to explore relationships. They will choose careers. They will begin to examine their faith at a deeper level. I want to maintain influence so I can guide them through the challenges that lay before them.
Navigating these teen years has been no easy task. Their desire for more autonomy scares me, because I’m afraid they will make poor decisions. I want to step in and force them to make good decisions. That’s my years of “Size and Position” parenting trying to break through, and I need to fight off that desire. Anyone can sling rules and guilt trips at their kids. Teens just don’t respond to “I’m the boss and you’re the kid” parenting.
The teen years aren’t about managing them anymore. It’s more about understanding the woman who is trying to surface. Hanging in the balance is either a man who is on the outside looking in, or a father who has earned a place of influence in his daughter’s heart, because he has built a relationship with her.
The 2012 Summer Olympics are quickly becoming a distant memory. There is one experience I will take away from those games that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
Jessica is an amazing swimmer. For a couple of months during the summer we spend our Saturday mornings watching her compete in her swim meets. Because of her love of swimming our whole family pays special attention to all the swimming events during the Olympics.
Jessica has never aimed low at anything. When she sets her heart and mind on something you can bet that she is going to aim to be the very best. She expects to have all the right equipment. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive, but it better function properly, and it better look pretty good.
I remember how intensely she watched every race. Of course, Michael Phelps was her favorite. She absolutely loved watching him. She studied his every move. She was really into the whole experience. It isn’t often the whole family is watching the same thing on TV these days; we all have such different tastes.
I remember after one of the races Jessica looked up at me and said, “I want to be an Olympic swimmer someday.” All I heard was, “We should spend thousands of dollars making me into a world-class swimmer.” I quickly looked at her and said, “I sure wish we had the money for something like that.” Jessica clammed up and didn’t say a word for the next couple hours. It took me that entire time to realize something was wrong. I walked over to her and asked, “What’s wrong? Why are you being so quiet?” She broke down and started crying heavily. She looked at me through her tears and said, “You don’t think I’m good enough to become an Olympic swimmer.” It was only then that I realized the opportunity I had missed. Jessica wasn’t really telling me that she wanted to go to the Olympics in 2016. She was simply asking me if I thought she was a very good swimmer. I grabbed her up in my arms, apologized and told her that I thought she was an amazing swimmer, and that she had all the talent and desire needed to be a world-class swimmer.
I’m reading The Five Love Languages of Teenagers. Early in the book Gary Chapman takes a few pages to remind parents that teenagers aren’t dumb, even though some of what they say and do doesn’t always make sense. Jessica knew we didn’t have the money to turn her into an Olympic athlete. She was just looking for someone to tell her she was good at something. She just needed some words of encouragement. She didn’t stay upset with me. She quickly forgave me for my misstep, and we continued our evening, and it was a good evening.
It was because of this experience that I came to fully understand the weight of my words on my children. With one simple sentence I can direct the course of their entire day. I listen to my daughters better now. I try to catch what they are really saying. It’s not an easy task, but I realize the value of listening twice as much as I speak. I won’t say that I’m very good at it yet. I’m a talker, and I struggle with silence; it makes me uncomfortable. Every book on teen parenting I open keeps telling me to shut up and listen better, so I’m learning to do just that.
And just between you and me, it’s starting to work.
Can chickens jump?
Fourteen years ago today a miracle entered the world.
Today is Jessica’s 14th birthday. I have had many divine appointments in my life. Going on the first date with my wife. My first meeting with Chuck. The birth of my other three daughters. My first breakfast meeting with Pastor Barry.
My divine appointment with Jessica happened when she was two weeks old. She had been placed with a different foster family at first. When she was moved to our home, she was sick. Her eyes were full of drainage and she had a sinus infection. Julie got her right in to see a doctor. We have been caring for her every day since.
It was a real challenge to get her permanently added to our family. Frankly, her story is one surrounded by the prayers of hundreds of people. It is no accident that she is with us today. If ever there was proof of a God in heaven, every breath that Jessica takes is proof of Him.
Now she stands before me on the doorsteps of adulthood. Words cannot express the level of pride I have for her. She is a woman of very few words but many actions.
Jessica “is” and “does” a lot of things. What makes me the most proud of her is her love for Christ. Her faith is noticed by all those around her. Even to the point that she has been asked to be a spiritual leader to her track team. Something she has done gladly and with dedication.
God has used her life to grow me spiritually in these past fourteen years. I’ve learned that my own faith has plenty of weak spots. I’ve learned that God is involved no matter what I see around me. I’ve learned how to pray for someone who is struggling to verbalize themselves. I’ve learned how to enjoy quiet moments with someone, and I’ve learned what it means to love unconditionally.
Before I became a parent I was convinced it was my my responsibility to raise my children in a Godly way. I had no idea how much being a father would grow me up spiritually.
I am truly blessed by God to be Jessica’s father.
Such a simple word.
All these years I thought for sure I knew what the word “with” meant. When I hang out “with” my wife, we talk and visit. When I do something “with” Elaina and Anjelia, we laugh, talk and play. As my two oldest daughters have entered their teen years, the word “with” has become a bit different.
When I drop Jessica off at school, we have around 5-7 minutes to wait in the car for the school doors to be opened. Jessica doesn’t usually say anything. A few times I have tried to force conversation which just frustrated her. Now, we just sit there and listen to 91.9 or 97.3 while we wait. The other day, while I was waiting, I started to think of ways I could use up that 5-7 minutes of time better (it’s a sickness; don’t judge me). While sitting there the Holy Spirit put something on my heart.
“James, this is what “with” means to Jessica. Don’t take it for granted.”
I checked my rear view mirror and saw the side of Jessica’s face. She was turned slightly toward the doors of the school so she could see when they were unlocked. She glanced at me in the mirror, and then she returned her attention to the school doors. I relaxed the rest of that time and just enjoyed the time “with” her.
A couple of mornings ago I told her that I wasn’t planning on attending the Science Olympiad state competition with her in April. I was shocked when she got really upset. I just assumed she didn’t care. When I went to the regional competition with her last weekend, she didn’t say very much to me. I just assumed she didn’t care one way or the other. Obviously, I was completely wrong. She desperately wants me to be there “with” her.
For Jessica the word “with” really just means “to accompany.” She doesn’t need to hear a lot of words. She doesn’t need to say a lot of words. She just wants my presence. She wants my silent involvement. I may imagine “with” being deep conversations or joking and laughing with each other. For her it’s much different.
Jessica needs my involvement to be simple. And quiet. Two things I need to learn, and Jessica is probably the best person to teach them to me.
Better is a dry morsel with quietness,
Than a house full of feasting with strife.
I think bandaids come with too much trash.
When we decided to start a family,
I cried for you.
When we found out we were infertile,
I cried for you.
When we decided to become foster parents,
I cried for you.
When you were placed in our care,
I cried for you.
When they took you away,
I cried for you.
When you came back,
I cried for you.
When you started school,
I cried for you.
When you chose Christ,
I cried for you.
When I got mad at you,
I cried for you.
When you got mad at me,
I cried for you.
Last week when your heart was breaking,
I cried with you.
2 Corintians 2:4
For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.