Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Story of a 13-Year-Old

It’s two days since my daughter’s 13th birthday, and I’m still struggling with this blog. I’ve started it twice - got a good ways into it twice - and still I have nothing. I’ve been working on an “Open Letter to My Daughter on the Occasion of her 13th Birthday”, but it’s all sounded so manufactured - like I’m just using her special day to vent a few things that have been on my mind. Weak…

So, instead, I’m going to just start writing this without a plan, and see where things go. It’s sort of like when I write a chapter in a book. I have an idea where I’m beginning, an idea where I want to end up, but really no clue what’s going to happen in between. It’s like Stephen King writes, “Because it makes me happy when the words fall together and the picture comes and the make-believe people do things that delight me.” When I write, I’ve got some influence on the story, but it’s really the characters themselves - when I lean my head back and close my eyes and put my fingers on auto-pilot - who create the action and speak the dialogue.

That’s a little like parenting, I think. I’ve got some influence on this young woman - so much less than I had when she was younger, but still some influence, nevertheless. As a father, it’s my job to provide her with controlled environments in which she can be herself, express her thoughts, make her mistakes, learn about truth, learn about lies, and develop her personality, her humor, her character, her opinions, her faith. I believe her mother and I have given her a good starting point for this chapter of her life - certainly not perfect, but solid. We’ve also tried to lay out a path toward the goal of what we pray at the end of this life chapter will be a woman who loves God, loves her family, and is confident in herself and who God has made her to be. That’s the plan…

There are those times when I write and I get to the end of a chapter and it resolves itself just how I had planned. Want to know how often that happens?

More typically, things twist. Characters begin to do things and say things that I never planned. Sometimes that’s good - Scott Ross was originally intended to be just a throw-away character in the first chapter of Monday Night Jihad. Somehow he popped back up a few chapters later, and eventually became my favorite character of the series. Riley Covington’s the guy I’d want to go hear give an inspirational message; Scott Ross is the guy I'd want to spend an evening with on the back porch with a six-pack of Diet Code Reds.

Sometimes, however, the twists are not so good - I never meant for Jim Hicks to die. I loved Jim, then he got shot, and I cried when he died. (I realize for those of you who haven’t read the books, you’re thinking either “Who?”, “Why do I care?”, and/or “Spoiler Alert”. Sorry for so much “Inside Riley” stuff; it’s just where my mind is taking me.)

Honestly, it’s the twists that frighten me - those times that I don’t have control of my daughter; when she is out expressing her thoughts and making her mistakes and learning to discern who the good people are and who are the ones to run away from. I could keep a tight grip on her, only let her go the directions I think she should go, try to force my thoughts into her head, make all the tough decisions for her, but then my story would become her story. I would write her life. That doesn’t work in novels, and that doesn’t work in 13-year-old girls.

So, what do I do? I give her the best framework I can. I teach her when I get the chance. I try to set an example of what a godly person looks like. I listen to her. I take every opportunity I can to tell her how proud I am of her. And I love her unconditionally, no matter what, through thick and thin, forever and ever, amen.

And then I sit back and close my eyes and let the story unfold. However, this time when my eyes are closed, I won’t be watching the action on my little internal TV screens with my fingers skittering across the keyboard. I’ll be praying. Because there is no more important thing I can do as a father than pray for my daughter - day after day, without fail. More than giving her a framework, more than setting an example, more than telling her “I’m proud of you” or “I love you” or “You’re the funniest thing since sliced snot” (and she is that - dang, that girl can crack me up!), I need to be daily bringing this young woman before God.

You see, there are so few times these days that I get to actually be with her, and those times will only be getting less. However, God will always be with her, giving her a framework, teaching her, setting an example of a godly, sacrificial life in the person of Christ, listening to her, telling her how proud He is of her, and loving her unconditionally, no matter what, through thick and thin, forever and ever, amen.

And He’ll do all those things so much better than her old man ever could.

So, to rephrase Stephen King, “It makes me happy when the story comes together and the growth comes and my daughter does things that delight me.” And she does…all the time.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Water of our Discontent

           So, the Israelites have just gotten through watching God bring ten nasty, bizarre afflictions on the mighty nation of Egypt - nasty enough for the Egyptians to willingly offer them a “Get Out of Slavery Free” card with the added bonus of a free shopping spree at their neighbors’ abodes.

            Next, they strolled through a split-wide Red Sea, parted as the result of supernatural winds provided by God (or, depending on who you’re talking to, parted as the result of a volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini [or parted as the result of a rare weather phenomenon called “wind setdown” {or parted as the result of water nymphs dancing their nymphic “Water Part Dance” (or parted as the result of global warming [or parted as the result of whatever whack-a-do hypothesis some whack-a-do scientist comes up with next {or parted as the result of an all-powerful, Creator God to whom the ease of accomplishing such a minuscule task would be comparable to Kenny G playing “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder (I write that with the full understanding that most of you, given your druthers, would rather endure multiple performances of “Hot Cross Buns” by the Iron Horse Elementary 3rd Grade Recorder Ensemble than have to suffer “Songbird” even one more time)}])}]).
            Quick aside - just how stupid do they think we are?

The Israelites: The Egyptians are coming! The Egyptians are coming!
Moses: Well, don’t look at me.
The Israelites: We’re all going to die! We’re all going to...wait, what a refreshing breeze.
Moses: No kidding. I’m just going to lift up my staff here and cool my armpits a bit. Starting to get a little robe chafe after all this walking, if you know what I mean...Oooooo, that’s nice.
The Israelites: Moses, look! The wind is parting the waters!
Moses: Holy Mother of Ur! This must be one of those once-in-a-lifetime weather phenomena! What a remarkable coincidence that we happened to be in just the right place at just the right time for this to happen. Must be Kismet! Quick, let’s get everyone across!
The Israelites: But what about the Egyptians? Won’t they just follow us across and kill us on the other side?
Moses: Hmmm, hadn’t thought of that. I guess our only chance is if the water fortuitously closes up after we’re all across and drowns them before they reach us. Here’s hoping!

            Yeah, that’s just how stupid they think we are...

            Anyway, Moses led the people through the walls of water and out into the wilderness. Once there, God provided miracle bread in the morning and miracle meat at night. They’ve seen God do incredible things - things that should have them in a permanent state of jaw drag. Instead, Exodus 17 tells us that as soon as the Israelites’ canteens start getting a little dry, it’s panic time.

            “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” they cried out to Moses.

            Seriously? Sometimes you just want to smack them in the head! Did they really think that God wasn’t aware of their situation? Did they really believe that if Moses didn’t quickly holler up to the Almighty in order to break Him away from the annual Heavenly Jerusalem Resort & Casino poker tournament (little hint: never play against the cherubim - you’re never sure which of their faces to watch for the tell), then it was very likely He would totally forget about them as they shriveled into little Semitic raisins?

God: I’ve got two pair - kings over tens! Read 'em and...wait a second, that reminds me of something...kings...king...pharaoh...ten...plagues...THE ISRAELITES!!! Oh, man!!

            Somehow, I figure, even without their grumbling, water would have come. God knew their needs. He’d already proven His love for them. What was there to worry about?

            God knows what we’re going through. He knows the trial. He knows the pain. He knows the shortage, the grief, the loss, the loneliness, the uncertainty. We don’t need to cry out to Him for Him to take notice.

            That’s not saying it’s wrong to cry out to Him. If that were true, King David would have had his ephod in a wringer. He was the master of crying out. However, there is a huge difference between David asking God “Why?” and “When?” and “How long?” and the Israelites’ incessant, faithless bellyaching. The former expresses genuine human emotion and struggle, but in the context of trusting God’s power and character. The latter, rather than trusting, questions them both.

            God knows. He sees. He loves. He provides. It may be a painful journey sometimes, but we can rest assured that even when we are at our thirstiest, God is always there with a rock, a staff, and a refreshing spring of living water.