Ask a toddler what they appreciate about their mommy or daddy, then an 8 year old, then a teenager. You will receive very different answer.
During my middle and late teen years, I had come to the conclusion that my parents were my adversaries. By asking me to be home by midnight and prepare for college, I thought they were trying to ruin my life. When they confronted me for hanging out with questionable friends, I feared they wanted to wreck my social life.
To me, eternity hung in the balance during those heated conversations about whether or not I was grounded for disrespecting my mom. What if I missed out on something with my friends? After all, my life could fall apart if I had to hang out with my family on a Friday.
Toward the end of my junior year of high school, I became interested in planning for college. Getting away from my little West Michigan hometown could be the cure to all my ailments. Plus, I was interested in learning. It was the best possible step for me to take; finally, I could escape my small-minded parents!
As I set out for college, I packed up my things. When I took the time to reflect, each contained memories. My desktop computer originally belonged to my older brother, and my mom had purchased me a new flatscreen monitor at Staples. My Redline BMX bike came from a garage sale where again my mother had taken mercy on my 13-year-old soul and paid the full $75 for it. My clothes came mostly from sales at the tiny JC Penney in Big Rapids, where my mom helped me find the stuff I needed to look presentable.
Arriving at Spring Arbor University, just a half hour south of Michigan’s capital, Lansing, my family helped me unload my memories into a tiny fourth-floor dorm room. After everything was [sort of] in its place, we gathered with many other families on the commons lawn and listened to what were likely meaningful words. I was not listening, really. I was making plans for my new life at college.
Soon, we were engaging in a ceremony. All the families formed a giant circle on the commons lawn, and the Spring Arbor professors and student leaders stretched out a long blue ribbon around the group. We all held on to a little piece of it. It was supposed to represent the connections had fostered between each of us new students and our families. After a small speech and a prayer, they cut the ribbon into a thousand small pieces. One by one, we were cut away from our families. Tears flowed. I was more excited than sad, but my then girlfriend, who was going to a different college, felt differently. So did my parents and brothers.
Each of us, with our piece of ribbon, parted ways with our respective families. A few quick hugs and whispered words, and they headed to their cars and drove away. We stayed there, making our way to the small groups of other freshman students they had established for us.
My college years had begun.
Long after the high school angst, some of my feelings of resentment toward my parents sat hidden within me. I enjoyed my new freedom at Spring Arbor, a place I was freed to be myself and establish my own new routines. After most of my first semester was over, my parents picked me up at Thanksgiving and we drove the three hours back up to Big Rapids. As we skittered across 196 heading West on snowy roads, my mind wandered back to my years growing up with them, then back forward to my new life as an independent college student. That got me to thinking: was I really independent? I got some scholarships, sure, but my parents still footed a pretty big chunk of each tuition bill. Those thoughts tortured me for much of Thanksgiving break.
Soon, I was driving back to Spring Arbor, safe behind the air-bagged wheel of my 1997 Jetta. I had found the car on eBay, and though my dad advised a Saturn, I wanted the VW. Cashier’s check in hand, he took a train to Philadelphia, PA to buy the car sight unseen, then drove it 16 hours back to Big Rapids. Did I mention he bought it for me?
As I drove, I carried new memories with me. Over break, I discovered that my parents are actually on my side. God, in his grace, helped me see them in a new way. Instead of adversaries, they were my biggest advocates. Instead of enemies, they were both cheerleaders and coaches. God appointed them to my personal board of directors. They saw me for who I really am, and understood my weaknesses. They also knew where I excel. And they were willing to tell me the difference between these two.
My life changed when I recognized that, miraculously, my parents had transformed into amazing people. Of course, the transformation was something God did in my perception. They loved me all along; I just needed to see it.