This is a pretty big weekend for my family. My oldest daughter Anna is graduating from college tomorrow, so I expect to cry a lot.
The road that leads to this weekend has been arduous to say the least—and expensive! And while I rejoice that Anna is graduating, my deepest joy comes from knowing who she has become.
You see, Anna was a hellion to raise. Seemingly from the moment she was born, she chose to live according to her rules.
Anna’s first three years in grade school, her teachers called my wife and me about two weeks after classes started and asked to meet with us. They all shared a common refrain: “In all my years of teaching, I have never been treated as disrespectfully by any student as your daughter.” Ouch! I’m sure this provided great fodder for gossip and speculation in the teachers’ lounge when they discovered that Anna’s dad was a pastor.
In eighth grade, we decided to throw a birthday party for her at our house. [Note to parents: if you want to discover what your children are really like, throw them a birthday party. But be warned: You may not like what you see.] Some of the kids who walked through the front door looked vaguely familiar…from my worst nightmares. Many never graduated from high school because they were either pregnant or strung out on drugs.
High school was no easier. She had a few minor scrapes with the law and kept Kelley and me up late many nights. It’s not an exaggeration to say that she was probably grounded for half of her high school experience.
While Anna’s academics were okay, my greater concern was her heart. As a child, I prayed with her every night, “Jesus, I pray that Anna will love you more and more every day.” I believed that if my kids loved and sincerely followed Jesus, the behavioral issues would take care of themselves. (Go ahead—call me naïve)
Once, while driving to church, she told me, “Dad, I’ve decided to become a Buddhist.”
Now, I have nothing against Buddhists, but she had never mentioned the word “Buddhist” before.
“Oh really?” I answered. “Spell ‘Buddhist.’”
That pretty much ended the discussion. She was just trying to rattle me because I was going to be preaching that night.
I won’t delve into her varied indiscretions, but to be brutally honest, Kelley and I were seriously concerned about her wild streak. We didn’t want to control her, but we did want to parent her in a way that she would make good choices. She seemed hell-bent on the road to destruction that resembled the path many of her eighth grade friends had chosen.
One time, in the midst of my frustration, I said to Kelley, “I don’t know what to do with her.”
“Mike,” she said. “We’ve planted seeds in her life. We just need to trust that God will produce fruit from them. She’ll be okay.”
“You’re a lot more confident about those seeds than I am,” I snapped back.
By a sovereign act of God, Anna was accepted into a high academic Christian college with a hefty scholarship. While intelligent, her grades weren’t the reason for being accepted and given that scholarship. She is a gifted violist, and college orchestras compete to recruit them.
Before she left for school, Kelley and I met with her for an important discussion.
“Anna,” I explained. “You’re going out of state to school. I just want you to know that if you make some unwise choices that get you in trouble with the law, you won’t have daddy to bail you out.”
“I know,” she said.
Within a month after classes started, she almost got kicked out of school for breaking their honor code. She also had another scrape with the law—and didn’t have daddy to bail her out (literally!).
But not having parents bail her out was probably a good thing, because it became a turning point in her life.
This weekend, four years later, Anna is graduating. She’s going to remain in her college town because she’s found a church that she absolutely loves. She’s maintained that independent, self-confident streak, but she has grown into fun-loving, godly woman.
The lesson in all of this: prodigals can come home. In the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, the son had to come to the end of himself before he “came to his senses.”
Some kids are compliant and their parents take the credit for the product. I have one of those. Other kids are noncompliant–and they cause their parents a bit of stress and sometimes shame. I have two of those.
My responsibility in all of this? Planting seeds. I can’t change them–only God can. The apostle Paul made an interesting observation in 1 Corinthians 3:7, “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
We plant the seeds of the gospel and water them with prayer. And then let God do his thing.