January 23, 1997. Bill Clinton was in office, Toni Braxton was blazing her way up the charts, Ben Affleck’s career was going upward like a rocket, and Dennis Rodman kicked a camera man in the crotch on national TV. So, it looks like nothing good happened that day, but that would be wrong.
On January 23rd, 1997, at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, Michigan, a little girl was born. It was a miraculous thing. I know. I was there! After a long wait, we would finally meet this new little person. We had no idea whether it would be a boy or girl, and we were split right down the middle as to what we wanted to see! Her mother wanted to see the little Jessica Rachelle she had been dreaming of and hoping for, but I was looking for the firstborn son!
After a very long night for both of us (still some debate exists over who was more uncomfortable as I had no epidural), we finally saw our baby, and Ohhhhhh baby was I surprised! A girl? Really? What? I wanted a boy! What am I going to do with a daughter? 18 years later I think back to the moment that question went through my head, and I remember the answer I had then that has served us well. “I will love her.”
I know it sounds bad to read the thoughts that I remember having as I laid eyes on my first child for the first time, but I want you to know, dear reader, that the entire amount of time that it took me to experience this surprise, question, and answer was less than a second. I was in love almost immediately. And it has grown exponentially.
Now I am looking at a young woman getting ready to finish high school and step out into college. I am seeing the first glimpses of her independence, and I am hit with how fast this has all taken place. I look back at that little baby I held in my arms that night and it is almost unbelievable. I am now the father of a legal adult. The best thing is, I look at her, and I have confidence in her future, and that is a great feeling. The thing to remember is that even though it feels like it has happened so fast, it did take work.
Let me be clear on something. I don’t think it was all me. It wasn’t all her mother either. While we worked together to turn that baby girl into an intelligent young woman, we had a lot of help. There were people that came alongside us as Jess grew. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, friends, and mentors were all there to watch and speak into her life. They all had a hand in it, but I still feel that the lion share of the credit goes to one thing.
Jessica’s relationship with God.
Tammi and I were recently talking about Jessica and how she has grown. It is not a false humility when we say that she has grown to be a godly young woman not because of us, but in spite of us. There are many things that we look back and say we could have done better in how we raised her. Times we think that she, by today’s culture, should have rebelled or lashes out, but it never happened. She always seemed to have a level of understanding that while we may have been messing up, we were doing the best we could, and she didn’t hold it against us. She loved us through our mistakes, and didn’t develop any bitterness, just more love.
Over the last few years, Jessica has been spending real, focused, intentional time in her Bible and journaling. Even before she started to journal, she would read her Bible and pray almost every day. It started as a habit, but as habits are known to do, it has become a part of her life, and after spending about half of her life in God’s Word, there is no doubt that it has had an effect on her. I believe that this is a huge factor in how she treats us as parents. Her love for God spills over into her love for us, for her brother, for her family and friends. She also has an amazing capacity to love those she sees around her who are hurting.
So, How did it happen? By the grace of God. Every step of every day, God has had a vital role in this young lady’s life. He put a love for her into Tammi before she was born, and changed my view of what a daughter could be in less than a second. He prompted us through many decisions that we made for the good, and protected us through some that we made that were bad. He made Himself real in her heart. He gave her a desire to know Him better and to care for His people. And she embraced it.
That’s how it happened. I’m so thankful that Tammi and I have been able to have a part in it. We have been blessed.
Now, as I did last year, please sit back and allow me a moment with my daughter.
18 years old. Amazing! Not only that you are actually 18, but that is a word that comes to mind when I think about you. You have grown into a young woman that has amazed me over and over, and I am confident that you will continue to do so. Mom and I are so proud of you.
I see so much of your Mom in you as you reach out to the hurting and offer them comfort and a smile. I see her generosity in you as you share the things that matter most to you with anyone that shows an interest. I see a learning heart that wants to know more and understand more about being the person God wants you to be.
I want to encourage you over this next year as you start spreading your wings a little wider. There will be more demands as you start college in the fall and are (hopefully) holding down a job. Schedules will be tighter and the workload will be heavier. (You’re wondering where the encouragement is coming in, right?) Don’t let your schedule get to a point where you are making a choice whether or not to spend some time with God. The encouragement comes in this – You don’t have time to not have time for God. The time with Him will make everything possible.
Life has been slowly speeding up for you over the last couple years, and I can promise you that it is going to shift into another gear soon. This is not to scare you. It is exciting, and it is going to require that you are taking the time to keep God in front at all times.
You are already ahead of me on this. Keep going! As you give time to God and spend that time reading His Word and journaling, opening your heart to the changing power of God, you will experience Relentless Growth. You can’t avoid it! God promises it!
I love you, and I am so proud of what you are doing in your life and where you feel God is going to take you. Mom and I are excited to watch as you travel that road.
Happy Birthday, “Squirt”! I love you!