To My Kids,
There have been a lot of surprises in life for your dad and me. There was a lot I didn’t know about what life would require of us and who we would need to be to meet those challenges. I didn’t know about losing babies and losing a job. I didn’t know about in-law conversations, medical issues, and communication differences. I didn’t know about how your dad would handle home remodeling challenges, or how hard he’d have to work to provide for our family, or how much time he’d spend watching “Dr. Who”. But I didn’t really care about that stuff when I was trying to decide if he was the man I wanted to marry.
While other girls were looking for the bad boys or the jocks or the future Wall Street executives, I had my eyes on a different goal. I wanted to find a man who would be an awesome dad. I knew that while God gave me other talents and opportunities, I always felt my calling (at least for a season) was to put my energy into being a mother. I was excited about getting to see that dream fulfilled and I wanted to partner with the very best man for the job.
I was blessed with a wonderful dad. My dad showed his love for us by faithfully providing for our family and by loving my mom well. He was usually home for dinner and read the Bible to us over breakfast. My dad planned fun family trips so my childhood memories are punctuated by camping trips, and motorhome excursions, and family camp, and long car rides across the country. I can only imagine what my dad sacrificed to make those vacations happen (for a lot of years things were financially very tight and we were a single income family), but many of my favorite memories of my dad are of times we spent together on trips. . . and most of what I knew as a child about how married people talk to each other was learned while my parents thought I was asleep in the backseat.
I wanted a father for my children who had some of those important traits in common with my dad, but I always knew there were a couple priorities I wanted that were different. My dad struggled to give verbal affirmation although I never doubted his love. My dad didn’t read bedtime stories, or brush hair, or change diapers. He didn’t help with the cooking or laundry and if you saw him cleaning, you knew he had reached his breaking point with the state of the house. I had a great father, but I wanted my kids to have a dad that had a nurturing side, too.
So for a long time I observed your dad to see what kind of a man he was. I watched him faithfully show up to his thankless job doing handyman work on the college campus where we were students. I watched him teach 3-5th grade Sunday School year after year and I watched how those kids responded to him. I saw how he valued people who seemed to others to have little to offer- the socially awkward, those with special needs, the elderly. I watched how he treated the people serving his lunch and cleaning the common spaces and pulling the weeds (and I was one of those people pulling the weeds). The more I watched him, the more I knew this was who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. This was the man I wanted to teach my kids Bible stories, who would value them even if they were born with a genetic abnormality, who would still love me when my hair was silver and my strength was failing, who would appreciate the work I put into meals and keeping our world beautiful (or at least semi tidy). This was the man for me.
Over the years I saw his character proved over and over. I saw how he pursued jobs that had service to others at their core. How he didn’t bat an eye at investing every penny we had into Josh’s adoption. How he cared for me after the surgery I went through when we had our miscarriage. How he took his lunch breaks to rock Danny while he was still in the NICU before we were even his legal foster parents. How I caught him brushing Strawberry Shortcake’s hair with Bethany when they were playing dolls. How he did all of Joel’s first days of diaper changes when I was too weak from the c-section. How he did whatever he had to do to provide for our family. All of his faithfulness in the little things I had seen when we were just college kids became faithfulness in the important things as we took on adult responsibilities.
Tonight we were leading worship at church. Your dad had decided he wanted to sing a Rich Mullins song that he’s always really loved during the offering time. It fit with the theme of the service and seemed like a good night to break it out. I heard him practicing it all week after you guys went to bed. When we got up to sing it for offering, I could tell he was struggling a little. The guitar part was difficult and I knew he wanted to do this song justice. I don’t normally do this, but I found myself just whispering a little prayer as we got started, “God, let him sing this with the same passion and heart he’s been singing it with at home. Let him forget about everybody else and just sing for you.” When he got to the verse that talked about the kind of death Jesus died in our place, your dad did something he rarely does. His voice broke and I could tell he was holding back tears.
I was sitting beside your dad two years ago when he got the phone call that his Papa had passed away. This was a man your daddy loved very much, but he didn’t cry. I was there beside him when he first met each of you, but he didn’t cry then either. He didn’t cry when I walked down the aisle towards him on our wedding day. He doesn’t cry when we argue, at sad movies, or from physical pain. But again and again I have seen your dad be moved to tears by the forgiveness that was offered to him by God. He is moved when he reads about it, hears about it, sings about it. This is very real to him and connects with him in a deeper place than anything else in life can reach. And I love that about him. It’s one of those things he has in common with my dad, too.
I know sometimes you hear your dad and me disagreeing. While we keep it civil, I know you are very sensitive to any amount of conflict in our home. Those moments are uncomfortable, but I hope you always feel secure in our commitment to each other. Sometimes we have to talk about things that are hard, but there’s a history and loyalty behind it all that means we’re never walking away from each other. I want you to find the kind of person that will love you that way, too. A person who is committed to you and that you will sacrifice for. Because I know the love your dad has for God and because I feel confident that ultimately he wants to do the RIGHT thing (which might be different than what he’d naturally do, or might mean he chooses something I don’t like), it’s easy for me to trust his decisions. I was always worried about that scary “submission” word in marriage, but when you marry a man who values and cherishes you and puts you before himself, it isn’t a scary thing at all. My Precious Boys, DO THIS WELL. It is more important than you know.
As you children find yourselves looking for a partner to share your life with and as you become the kind of adults that someone would want to marry, I want you to know these things about your dad. I want you to know that strong men cry. That good men care about those who are smaller and weaker. That you don’t have to be perfect, but you do need to know your need for a savior and appreciate what He’s offering to you. That being a dad is about more than producing biological offspring. That sometimes love looks a lot less like romantic fairytales and a lot more like faithfulness—faithfulness to go to work and to come home, to take out the trash, to change the diapers, to clear your plate off the table, to take time off work to watch three children so one can get to the doctor. That fancy cars are great, but sometimes a good man picks the vehicle with the most carseat space.
My Sons, maybe you’ll want to be a man like your dad. My Daughter, maybe you’ll want to marry a man like your dad. Maybe like me as a child, you will see elements of your dad that you admire and ways in which you’ll want your home to be different. Whatever it is you find yourself looking for, I want you to prioritize finding a partner that shares your values. Good looks (your spouse’s AND yours) will fade. Money comes and goes. But when you marry someone that wants to honor God with their life, that will mean good things for you and your children for eternity. Choose wisely and be the kind of person a wise person would want to choose.
I love you. And Daddy loves you, too.