Over the weekend, a scary four-letter word became a much more real part of my vocabulary: t-e-e-n! On Saturday, much sooner than I could imagine or prepare for it, my older daughter Grace became a teen, and though I am so proud of the young lady she is becoming, I’m also a little nostalgic for the little girl she no longer is.
Grace was born on the morning of September 13, 2001—almost exactly forty-eight hours after the first of the 9/11 attacks, so of course, for the first few days of her life, news cycles were full of stories about disaster, destruction, death, despair . . .
When I called to tell her that Grace had arrived, my grandmother said, “What a world for a child to be born into!” She made a good point. It was the saddest, scariest, and most anxiety-filled of our nation’s experiences during my lifetime. I remember the feeling–shared by many, I’m sure–that everything had changed, and not for the better. So, maybe we could have wished for a different and better time to welcome our first child into the world.
I looked at the timing of Grace’s birth a little differently, though. In the midst of all that suffering, my little newborn brought a little hope and, well, grace into one of our nation’s darker times. We had chosen her name months in advance, but it took on a deeper meaning and significance in the wake of tragedy.
A couple of years later, Suzanne and I sat in a fertility specialist’s office as he shared some disappointing news: we shouldn’t expect to have another child, short of significant medical intervention like in vitro fertilization, which would improve our chances, but would still leave us with only a chance. I was equally confused and upset. How could he say that we couldn’t have children? Didn’t we have empirical evidence to the contrary? I asked him how he explained the existence of my two year old Grace. His response was, “I don’t know what to tell you. She’s a fluke.”
At first, I was hurt and angry. Had he just dared to call my precious girl a fluke!? Gradually, I absorbed the weight of his words, and I realized that he had just told me that I never really had a right to expect my sweet, beautiful little Grace. The absolute greatest gift in my life to that point had come to us completely against the odds. In only a partial voice, because it was all I could muster at the moment, I said, “In my vocation, we call those miracles.”
And she is a miracle. I know every child is. But she’s my miracle. Through her early years, she has been a bit of a daddy’s girl. She has wanted me near. She has wanted my help. She has enjoyed spending time with me.
Lately, the change that always seemed to be out on the distant horizon has grown closer. She is as tall as her mother (although Suzanne will argue that point when she reads this). She has grown more independent. She no longer needs my help as often as she once did. Though she still tolerates it quite well, she doesn’t seek my company quite as enthusiastically as before. Far more frequently than in any previous season of her life, she worries that I will embarrass her.
In short, now she is a teen. In only a matter of days (or so it will seem), she will learn to drive, and a few brief spins of the earth after that, there will be graduations and college dormitories and a wedding all the unknowns beyond.
As we enter these teen years, I understand that I may be headed for some heartbreak. Friends and relatives tell me that I will soon know very little, but my father assures me that I will be quite smart again once she faces adulthood and all its responsibilities.
Uncomfortable days are ahead as young men notice my young lady. I plan to stand uncomfortably close to each one who comes calling, giving him no other option than to notice my size. Ever the protective father, I will question their motives and intentions, and if they break her heart, I will want to break parts of them.
As she becomes (or imagines she is becoming) increasingly self-sufficient, she will necessarily become (or imagine she is becoming) decreasingly dependent upon me. There will be times when she resents the boundaries I impose and resists the counsel I interject. In the heat of those moments, no doubt she will tell me that she hates me, and in the moment, she might actually believe she does.
I realize it’s coming. I’m trying to enter into these teen years with my eyes wide open. In those painful, hurtful moments, it will be crucial that I remember another four letter word: l-o-v-e. After all, it’s the word that most easily comes to mind as I reflect on the first thirteen years she and I have shared.
Grace, this is what you were meant to do! You were made to grow and to become that beautiful lady that God envisioned when he miraculously knit you together in your mother’s womb! You are uniquely gifted to play a special role in God’s unfolding drama of sharing love and grace with the world! There is a space in this world that only you can fill, and we’re all counting on you to do what God made you to do and to be all that God made you to be!
I confess that I will sometimes miss the little girl, but I also promise that I will always try my best to cherish the young woman that you are becoming. I guarantee that I will always be your biggest fan!
Teen. Even though that word has come into my life before I was prepared, I’m grateful to God that I get to explore that word and season of life with you, sweet Grace. We’re stepping into unknown territory together, but God is already there.
Blogger’s note: an abbreviated version of this post appeared in State Street United Methodist Church’s September newsletter.