The Pure and Honest In Heart

December 10, 2007

Her angelic face radiated with pure and undefiled joy.

Her eyes glowed bright, her forehead was lifted and pushed together, and her mouth was wide open and drawn gracefully across her face in a massive, unrestrained smile.

But it wasn’t just her face… her whole body was engaged in that smile.  Her perfect hands and arms waved joyfully in the air, her legs pumped back and forth, unable to contain the excitement, and her vocal cords joined the jubilation in squeezes and coos and tiny bursts of laughter.

The whole attitude was beyond contagious and I simply could not resist smiling back at her, talking to her, holding her just a little tighter, and loving her all the more.

As I sat in my office that day, holding my 3 month old little Sariah, I wondered at the unbounded love and trust this little soul had for me.  In that moment, she knew no better, but being thrust from God’s presence into my arms, she was almost forced to love and trust me.

In that moment, I couldn’t help but cast my mind’s eye forward a couple of years.  At two, would she love and trust me this much?  And what about at five, when she was awake to the world, would this confidence grow and strengthen, or diminish?  And how about during that awkward pre-teen stage of ten… what about then? Could I still win the glowing smile and enthusiasm of her heart?

And, of course, the ultimate test of parenthood… as a teenager, filled with a whole new awaking and awareness of her agency and independence, would she turn again and again to me, believing in me, trusting, me, respecting me as a peer, and calling me her own dear and wonderful papa?

Few things in my life have so captured my attention and engaged my whole soul as the journey to finding a way to answer all of those questions in the positive.  The love and trust of my eight children is a thing that I enjoy now and want to relish in, no matter what their age, circumstance, or position in life.

So how do I ensure that I can have the sought after prize?  I can’t guarantee it, I know that much.  But, having carefully watched hundreds (if not thousands) of families, I have observed that there are lots of things that I can do, and many more things that I should not do, to increase my odds of always basking in the love and trust of my children.

Perhaps that is why a recent article in Parenting Magazine so disturbed me.  The author , Julie Tilsner, titled her article, “Why It’s Okay to Lie to Your Child (Sometimes)
A guide to little white lies, social fibs, and more — and when the truth really matters.”

When I read that article, I considered the relationship I enjoy with my wife.  I seriously questioned: “Do I tell her so called white lies and social fibs so as to strengthen our relationship?”  In fact, I thought of all the human relationships that I have… friends, neighbors, church leaders, clients, extended family, etc… Is it convenient and acceptable to lie to them now and then?

Is truth a thing that only “really matters” some of the time?

No, I will have to respectfully disagree with Parenting and Ms. Tilsner on this point.  Especially when I look into the pure and honest face of my 3 month old and, indeed, all the faces of my innocent children.

Many years ago, before the Continental Congress had convened, John Adams took up a case defending the English Red Coats who had been the force behind the Boston Massacre.  During that trial he repeatedly stated, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

As a parent, I believe – and try to live by – this statement.  I have learned by sad experience that if my relationships are not based on truth, honesty and integrity, then my foundation is like the proverbial sand and my house has little chance of standing.

Ms. Tilsner’s handy social guide to lying may be convenient to some, but perhaps it is actually a mini-handbook on how to erode relationships and ensure that at some distant point in the future, your children will look at you with distrust and disrespect.

I wonder if there isn’t a clue in this to the troubled teens of our days, the lack of respect for authority that far too many children possess, and the sickening divorce rates we continue to see rampant in society.

Lies, white, black, socially acceptable, small or big, undermine the truth and attempt to defy the facts.  But, facts are stubborn things.  We cannot engage in any degree of negotiating with the truth, without chipping away at our own moral fiber and damaging our relationships.

And do we really believe that our children don’t know when we lie?  I think of the words of Mary MacCracken, “Nobody spots a phony quicker than a child.”

So, while a little nip and tuck of the truth may be convenient for us at times and sociably acceptable, it is not right, nor will it build and strengthen the relationships we have with our children.

As parents, each of us has a choice to make in every interaction with our children: Will we be socially acceptable… or respected of our children?  We can listen to the voices saying it is OK to lie a little and cheat a little, or we can turn our ear to the voice that still whispers and calls to us from Mount Sinai in words that have defied conventional wisdom for thousands of years, “Thou shall not bear false witness.”

Looking into the beaming face of my newborn daughter, I’m moved to try at little harder at always telling the truth so that at 20 years old, her look of trust and love will have grown and not faded away.


Crooked Hair and a Great Marriage

October 15, 2007

The gentle Puget Sound sun was streaming through a crystal clear sky that Saturday afternoon in early May of 1998. The sound of razor sharp metal edges slicing against each other as they effortlessly cut is still ringing in my ears.

I was sitting on the back patio of our Kirkland, WA condo. Before me was a rich, lush green belt that was more like an ancient rain forest ravine. The ravine dropped down immediately off our patio and went down some 120 feet to the bottom where a small spring fed the massive trees, the bed of thick ferns, and heavy undergrowth (not that any help was needed). The regular – almost constant – Northwest rainfall gave all the moisture any plant would ever need.

The scene was peaceful enough to calm down a ranting warrior heading into battle, but it had little effect on my arrogant and immature 25-year-old mind. The tension in the air was thick enough to be consumed with a spoon… I felt it and, worst of all, Margie felt it.

For the past 3 years of our marriage, I had absolutely refused to let her cut my hair. I preferred, in stead, to pay a “professional” $15 to $25 to provide me with a slick and stylish ‘do. Plus, I wanted my wife to be above “that” kind of demeaning work. After all, she was the queen of my universe… right? (A thing I should have remembered in actions and not simply in haircuts.)

But, the Lord has a way of humbling you. Since our move to Washington, we had hit on hard (dare I say extremely hard) financial times. The stress and strain of our circumstances was weighing heavily on both of us… and on our marriage. The simple fact is, we just did not have $20 to spring for a haircut. But we did have scissors and clippers – a Christmas gift from one of Margie’s sisters. Plus, over the years, I had had enough rotten haircuts to realize that even “professionals” can botch a snip job.

So it was, that I found myself in one of our wooden chairs on the back patio, wrapped in a black plastic cape, cringing at every “snip, snip” of the scissors.

But as nerve wracking as it was for me, it was 100 times worse for my dear and patient wife. She had been the receiver of more than one ugly blunt remark from my lips and knew the heat of my bitter, snide comments. In those days, I’m ashamed to say, that they came frequently and were heated with the flames of financial pressure and my own miserably low self-image.

Rising from the 30-minute torture chamber, I went into the bathroom to review my first home-delivered salon experience. Looking back, I have no doubts that no one in the world would have noticed the few crooked lines or uneven cuts… but I did. And worse of all, I made sure to tell Margie all about it, painfully pointing out each and every one with snide precision.

This painful encounter continued month after month, and, yes, even year after year.

Someone should have whipped me that first day – but they didn’t. So it continued… but not forever.

After a few years of this agony, I began to see myself as the selfish, ugly tyrant that I really was. For heaven’s sake, my poor sweetheart was doing the very best she could. Not only that, but she was saving us hundreds of dollars a month by giving me and our boys haircuts, relieving a bit of the financial burden for our family. And, she was putting herself humbly and patiently in the line of fire each time I sat in that chair. On top of all that, she was getting good at haircuts. Everyone could see it… except me.

One day while standing in front of the mirror, that still, small voice that has done more to impact the affairs of men and change history, snuck inside my heart and said, “So, how much comfort has that hair of yours been to you through all the years of struggle? And, while we’re on the subject, is the praise of a good hair cut worth the tears of your eternal companion and best friend?”

It was a sharp blow. It ran deep and pierced my heart

Of course my wife and her feelings were WAY more important than my hair and how I looked. Of course, the comments and opinions of others were infinitely less important than the joy of my wife.

So, I decided to change – even if, I said smugly to myself, her haircuts didn’t ever get better.

From that day on, every haircut I have received from my dear wife has been “The best haircut I have ever gotten.” “Man, you really out-did yourself this time, sweetheart. That looks awesome!” “Wowww! Look how even and perfect that line is! Nice job!” “I think I’m the luckiest man in the world to have a wife like you. Thank you so much for taking the time to cut my hair!”

The truth is, I stopped looking at my hair – though, lately even barbers and beauticians have remarked at how well my hair is cut. Instead, I started looking at my wife’s heart and accepting the tremendous gift of love, patience, respect, support, and courage that she was giving to me.

Actually, she had been giving it to me all along – it was just that I was only now starting to notice it.

But more than a better cut, the change in my words has given us something much better. It has given us an awesome marriage. You see, while I was noticing the bad haircut, I was noticing a lot of other things too. And you can be sure, I was quick to bring up those things as well.

It was a wedge between us.

My critical eye and lightning tongue was creating a dam that stopped up our love, our affection, our respect, and our friendship. Once I let go of my petty selfishness, the dam burst open, the floodgates flung wide, spilling joy, peace, harmony and happiness into our lives like we never could have imagined.

Once upon a time, I had crooked lines in my hair and a choppy marriage… today, I’ve got a smooth hairline and sweet marriage. But you know what? Seeing how good it can be, I’d take crooked hair and a sweet marriage any day.