A Kiss for Daddy

July 28, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

The gray, metal battleship dominated the harbor. In our childish terms, it was humongous. Five, three, and two, my brother, sister, and I gave Daddy’s leg one last hug while he shared a final kiss with Mom.

“We’ll keep in touch.” He hiked his bag over his uniform-clad shoulder and headed for the gangplank.

“I’ll write every day.” Mom held our hands and bit her lip to stop the tears.

In 1965, keeping in touch meant letters. Handwritten, international snail mail. No e-mail. No instant messaging. No Skype. Long weeks between contacts. But we did have some high tech options—tape recorders. We could send cassettes back and forth, and we could hear Daddy’s voice and he could hear ours.

Mom pulled out the compact black box and set the tape rolling. We told Daddy we loved him and shared our daily sagas. We played the piano for him. I’m sure my rendition of Chopsticks brought moisture to his eyes:

Bling, bling, bling, bling, bling, bling,
Blang, blang, blang, blang, blang, blang,
Blamp, blamp, blamp, blamp, blamp, blamp,
BUMP, bump bump, BUMP!

“We got a tape from Daddy!” Mark would holler when he brought in the mail. Our feet would thunder and rattle across the wooden floor of our grandparents’ house, and then we’d skid to a stop by the machine, staring at the plastic strips of the speaker, waiting to hear that deep voice tell us he loved us and missed us.

When the tape ended, Mom pulled out a fresh cassette and plunked it in. We answered Daddy’s questions, asked our own, told him about boo-boos, and played the piano again.

One day, we were riding to the grocery store. Mom drove, and all three kids slid around on the front bench seat. Two-year-old Nanny announced, “I am going to give my daddy a kiss.” With great drama, she leaned down and smacked her lips against the horizontal stripes of plastic that covered the air-conditioning vent.

Mama cried.

In Nan’s toddler mind, it made perfect sense that her father was a machine. When Daddy came home about a year later, she adjusted very well to a human man with arms to hug and lips to kiss. Over the years, the laughter over the story outweighed its poignancy, but the tale reminded us of the sacrifice on both sides—given freely for our country.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NIV).

Our soldiers not only risk their physical lives, but they give up so much of family life, and we take that for granted.

“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10 NIV). Let us not forget either.

Comment Prompt: Do you have a soldier story to share?

Enough

June 29, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

Locker doors clanked shut. Occasional spurts of laughter rose above the hum and bustle of a hundred students shuffling along the hallway. My thirteen-year-old heart fluttered as my eyes tracked Victor’s passage.

Oblivious of my gaze, the lanky athlete swiped hair off his brow and grinned at a buddy’s comment.

Sigh.

Tearing my attention from his broad shoulders and silky locks, I turned to Susan and breathed, “Did you get it?”

She waved a scruffy red spiral under my nose. “Right here.”

Nerves aquiver, I fingered the cover of the slang book. AKA, slam book. Breath held for courage, I flipped to the first page—“Sign in.”

Susan traced her hand over the second column of names. “Here he is. Number sixteen.”
We scanned the pages. What is your favorite subject? P.E.

“No duh.” Susan rolled her eyes.

I smacked her arm playfully. “Be nice.”

What is your favorite color? Brown.

Well, yuck, but good to know. File for future reference.

What do you think of Brian L.? Best friend.

Knew that.

“Hurry. We have to get to class.” Susan flipped the pages faster.

Paper brushed paper and crackled at our speed. “There. Stop!”

What do you think of Jane Hines?

I skimmed over Susan’s: Smart, funny, best friend with a distracted quirk of my lips. “Thanks.”

I found it. Sprawled across the bottom corner: N.N. No nothing.

The world blurred. Susan’s reassurances faded away. Hope died.

Cold, hard fact. Not everyone likes us as much as we like them. And it hurts.

Of course, not everyone is as cruel as a junior high boy. Thank God. But even the gentlest rejections make our hearts ache. Unfortunately, people rarely tender rebuffs tenderly.

When I was a teenager, I took a teen counseling course. For a symbolic exercise, we each had an IALAC sign—I am lovable and capable—and as the session continued, various people tore pieces off our sign until we were left with a ragged scrap.

A school essay is returned with a failing grade. Snip.

After a woman has been talking ten minutes, her husband looks up from the TV, “What did you say?” Rip.

A man follows up on a job application. “Sorry, you don’t have the experience we’re looking for.” Tear.

A mother says to her daughter, “You’re going out wearing that?” Slash.

A guy leaves several messages, trying to hook up with an old friend. The calls are never returned. Shred.

Sometimes we can’t even get angry about being spurned. Can other people help it if they just don’t find us appealing? We spiral into discouragement.

Look to the answer Paul received from God, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9a NIV). We often seem to take God’s love for granted, echoing our children, “You have to say that; you’re my mother.”

No, He is not required to say He loves us…but He does.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17b-19 NIV).

He doesn’t just love us; he delights in us (Psalm 18:19), and that is more than enough.

Comment prompt: What comforts you during times of rejection?

Can You Read My Mind?

May 10, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

They say grooms don’t care about wedding ceremonies, passing responsibility for colors, flowers, food, and songs to the bride. Not so for my groom. Although he voiced no opinion on colors, except to lay down the law against a pink tux (darn it), he did participate fully in the music choices.

We easily settled on Friends are Friends Forever as à propos for our attendants’ entry. Although losing touch seems inevitable, we knew we would always consider these people friends. Romantically seeing rescue in each other from all emotional struggles, we agreed on Bridge over Troubled Water for one of the introductory songs.

I was excited about my latest discovery. “How about Amy Grant’s Doubly Good for your entrance?”

His brow creased and a speculative gleam entered his eye. “I don’t know.”

“Do you know the lyrics? ‘ If you find a love that’s tender, if you find someone who’s true, then thank the Lord; he’s been doubly good to you.’” Hugging him, I was a bride in alt. “It’s perfect.”

He agreed, but not with great enthusiasm. He was too modest, but I knew how wonderful God had been to me by bringing us together. I wanted the audience to think about how blessed I was in this handsome, godly man.

Anniversary night, five years later, we snuggled down on the couch with our two-year-old son to reminisce over our wedding video. Watching my dad touch my face, tears shimmered across my eyes as I remembered that shaky, excited feeling.

Piano chords chimed over the lawn. Sober, yet calm, Wes entered to stand under the moss-draped live oak while Amy Grant crooned the first line. I sighed, “He truly was doubly good in sending you to me.”

Wes flicked my hair. “Hmm. I thought you meant for me to think about how He’d been doubly good to me by sending you.”

Horror washed over me. With a shriek, I paused the video. “What?” My gaze flashed back and forth between the puzzled, downturned lips on his live face to the serious stare on his filmed self. “You thought I was telling you how lucky you were?” My voice rose to a squeak.

“I am lucky…blessed.” He stroked my shoulder then ruffled our son’s hair.

A gesture that would normally comfort only scraped my raw nerves. “How arrogant did you think I was?”

Honest to a fault, he shrugged. “Maybe I was a little put off at first, but the lyrics were still true.”

Amazing that he could think so when he thought he was marrying a conceited, self-righteous prig who wanted him to dwell on how blessed he was to get her. My heart mourned over the frozen image. At a time when I wanted him to be feeling adored and respected, he was feeling forced gratitude.

I punched the play button. “Watch it now, knowing that it was supposed to be about you.” My stomach churned, but I tried to calm down and enjoy his annual teasing about my forgetting part of our vows.

How many times do we think we understand or have made ourselves understood? How many miscommunications go undiscovered? We could drive ourselves crazy with the ponderings.

How many times do we misunderstand God? But He has promised His Spirit will help us with that:

“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God… no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God… we have received … not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us… ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” II Corinthians 2:10-12, 16 (NIV).

Comment prompt: Any miscommunications you’d like to share?

Joyful Noise

April 25, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

I hate exercise. People keep promising me a surge of pheromones after a workout. However, after I’ve made my quivering, jelly muscles scream for half an hour, the only part of me that feels better is my conscience. One thing makes the chore bearable—music.

This week, as I broke my eighteen-month exercise hiatus, I tuned my iPod to Soaring Favorites. Jackhammering my elbows and heel toeing my feet in a speed walk, ears plugged, I belted out Unchained Melody. A few barks, perhaps even whines, from the backyards I passed filtered in beneath the high notes, but I buried my awareness of them in the joyful power of the song. Just like the music enabled me to stuff my panting breath and stiff joints into my subconscious.

Other emotions wake to the call of music. A Facebook friend recently mentioned Taps played at a funeral. I was transported to my father’s graveside with the bugle’s clarion cry echoing in my heart. Tears of nostalgia and pride brim. Daddy’s love hugs me from beyond.

A tune will make me cry for someone else’s grief, as well. Add a melody to words, and they become a haunting tie to common sorrows. Songs have shared the pain of death, abuse, loneliness, and heartache—arousing empathy as nothing else can do.

Lyrics express so much, but a lingering note or a pounding beat sinks the words into our souls, making them resonate. Not only can I love with The Righteous Brothers and mourn with Stephen Curtis Chapman, but I can slash tires with Carrie Underwood and feel groovy with Simon and Garfunkel.

Often the music overrides the language. Several years ago, my kids—ages eight and five—and I serenaded ourselves as we drove down the road. We rolled along singing “He is exalted, the King is exalted on high.” We were obviously all on the same emotional track as we smiled and swayed. I paused a moment, and Matt’s childish, clear voice rang out, “He is exhausted, the King is exhausted on high.” I wonder why his young mind thought fatigue was a condition worthy of praise and celebration.

Honor does belong to musicians who share their gift with us, allowing us to express feelings we could never articulate through words alone, allowing us to experience emotion more fully than mere verbs and nouns permit.

The same joyous circle expands our worship—our songs both convey and foster our devotion. They have the power to bring us into God’s presence—or at least make us aware that He’s already here.

“The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: ‘He is good; his love endures forever.’ Then the temple of the LORD was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God” (II Chronicles 5:13-14 NIV).

Comment prompt: Share a time music has enriched your experience.

Mea Culpa

February 26, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

“Miss, I think I’m going to cry.” These words from a proud, young athlete drop into the silence around my desk. He’s here to practice one of the human race’s favorite strategies—guilt manipulation.

It’s the day after grades have been turned in, but I can make a few last minute changes in extenuating circumstances. Our students have deduced the true deadline to the last second. This procrastinating teenager has a sixty-eight and has come to beg for two points.

He has made his case, and I have turned him down. Lest you think I am heartless, let me point out that he has a zero for cheating on a test and a fifty for incomplete work even when he knew his grade teetered on the borderline of passing. His pitiful claim hangs in the quiet, disturbed only by my clacking computer keys. The awkward silence stretches over several minutes.

I waiver.

I like him and I don’t want him to be miserable. I bolster my melting heart. This is a relatively painless way to learn an important lesson. Not to mention that a part of me cries, “Unfair!” at the exploitation of my sympathies.

Stopping my work, I break the tension. “I don’t know what else to say.”

“I don’t know what to say either, Miss.” Still, he lingers, hoping against hope I’ll crumble. The uncomfortable moment lengthens until he finally drops his shoulders and drags himself away.

Torn, I feel his pain, but I’m also proud that I stood firm. Many a time I’ve ranted against fictional characters in books and movies who let themselves be manipulated into pandering to someone’s whims. My righteous indignation has spread to live victims, too—friends maneuvered by spouses, parents beguiled by children, administrators hoodwinked by students.

Yet again, however, God uses his still, small voice to draw me up. One of this week’s SAT vocabulary words is hypocrite. Did I not just knead my daughter’s conscience to get my way over her lack of special Easter clothes? I just couldn’t let it go. Even after excusing her for forgetting, I had to get in a couple of digs. Just like the oh-so-irritating mother-in-laws on television.

Guilt and fear of punishment work as motives, but they are not the motives God desires for us. Nor are they the motives we should thrust onto others. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:18 NIV).

Comment prompt: Share stories where you’ve realized your own manipulation of others so we can all ask forgiveness together.

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