He is too young, I said, standing wide-eyed before my husband, stunned by our son’s afternoon profession.
Although we encouraged group activities, a mix of boys and girls, Jon and I chose not to allow our children to date until they turned eighteen.
This made us wildly unpopular with pretty much everyone.
Marcus, only fourteen on this particular day, had appealed to me a few hours earlier, during an ordinary walk around the lake. Zero segue–one moment we had been discussing music lessons, sports, the usual things. This reticent son of mine certainly seemed chattier than usual. And then, as we rounded the final bend, I fell capsized:
I met this girl, Taryn, at youth group, Mom. She is really pretty and nice and she likes me. A lot.
Oh, my heart.
Breathe, Kristin, breathe.
My next thought? Of course she likes him. Tall, handsome, quiet–what’s not to like?
But aloud: I am sure she does. But you are fourteen, honey, and there is no dating for four more years.
His face fell.
Striving for good cheer I continued–But I do encourage you to participate in group things!
I knew you’d say that. He looked at the ground, clearly crestfallen. Can you make an exception? Please, Mom?
I slowed my walking and turned towards him. No, sweetheart, I cannot. Fourteen is far too young to date.
I assumed that was the end of it. A passing crush.
We were living in Florida at the time, in a town known for its winter strawberries and small town charms. A pleasant place with kind people. In this southern town Yes, M’am and Yes, Sir punctuated most sentences–uttered to anyone and everyone. It felt like walking through perpetual confetti, falling earthward.
To neglect these niceties was to break the eleventh commandment.
I jest, but you get the idea.
Regardless, here we were. Following a tedious string of unwanted and excruciating events, our family was trying to heal and move forward. Personally, I was morphing invisible for a time, hiding out in our new home, perpetually red-eyed from private, daily crying jags– while Jon continued his preaching ministry travels. We were now less than thirty miles from our former pastorate, but it might as well have been a thousand–culturally speaking.
In this new-to-us town boys and girls become sweethearts in grade school. Pairing off was encouraged; championed. Dating? A right of passage–it’s what we do—start ’em young.
Our opposite approach caused confusion. In fact, I might as well have been speaking Greek.
Eighteen years old before being permitted to date, Kristin? Whatever for?
So there was this whole When-in-Rome type of pressure.
A picnic of a time, I tell you.
I was overwhelmingly frustrated. Number one–I did not want to live here, and Number two–I did not understand why God had allowed our family to suffer and then land in this spot for no apparent reason. I begged God to change his mind about our entire situation, also pleading for him to kindly provide an escape out of this new life where I felt like some sort of outlier. To be clear, these were not casual prayers, whispered half-heartedly. I dropped to my knees daily, elbows planted on our bed, silently wailing. I pleaded for relief from this crumbling landscape that had become the unbidden reality of my existence. Not only was I relentless in my groanings, but I was also exhausted at a core-level.
Time passed. Nothing changed. I grieved.
This was the ongoing narrative for quite some time.
It is astonishingly clear to me now, many years later, that I held fast to the same heart posture as our son–pleading for an exception rather than trusting God’s plan with whole-hearted surrender. The very thing that I was attempting to teach Marcus (Your Dad and I love you so much and we know what is best for you in the long run!) is precisely what I needed to embrace from my Heavenly Father.
So I had a thickly tied scroll of tough lessons to learn–chiefly this–God is good when things are going swimmingly, and God is good when plans are upended and life is a mess.
Every moment of our life is a link in a chain of loving, holy purpose.
I see now what I couldn’t see then.
But first some suffering was gifted to me–a relentless burning off of my will–replaced with devotion to only God and his will–no escape clauses permitted.
Beginning when they were tiny, I taught our children to answer with Yes, Mommy, and Yes, Daddy, looking us squarely in the eyes as we gave instruction. This was intentional–I knew that not every adult was well-meaning, and I wanted to reinforce to them that they answered to us–as their parents. We taught them to be respectful towards others, saying hello when spoken to, but unless we informed them otherwise, they were to obey only Jon and me.
My children’s swift obedience to me was paramount–I answered directly to God, who had loaned me these four beauties. If they could not learn to obey us, they would have great difficulty submitting to the Lord.
One July morning, Marcus put me to the test.
It was hot. Killer temperatures hovering over one-hundred degrees. I tossed beach towels and goggles and sunscreen and floaties into my oversized canvas bag. Gathering my sweet brood, we flip-flopped to our community pool–meeting a new friend and her children.
Marcus was three at the time, and quite the little fish–swimming for hours on end. He was our quietest, my adorable introvert. He rarely complained, loved the great outdoors–digging in the dirt and planting sunflowers–and enjoyed riding bikes with his brothers (he skipped training wheels altogether and took off down our street on a bike before turning four). I have a precious memory of Marcus buckling his small tool belt around his waist and traipsing behind Jon who was repairing things around our house one Saturday morning. Marcus loved to work.
What he did not care for were strangers.
So we arrived at the pool and jumped in. This new acquaintance from our church swam over to us. She was a large, formidable looking woman–with a heart of gold. I was delighted to grow our friendship.
So I made the initial introduction–This is Marcus.
Hello, Marcus! she smiled.
He looked away.
I pulled my floating son towards me.
Say hello, Marcus.
He said not a word.
Marcus, say hello.
He shook his head, only slightly.
Scooping him up, I excused myself as we disappeared behind the expansive pool shed, where I knelt directly before him. The pavement was hot.
Marcus, you disobeyed me. It is polite to say hello to an adult when Mommy or Daddy are with you. I am going to spank you for disobeying me. And then, we are going to go back to the pool and you will say hello to Miss E.
His full lips quivered. But I don’t like her.
I assured him that regardless of this fact, he must be polite and respectful and say hello. After that he could swim and play with his brothers.
Do you understand me?
When we walked back to the pool, I was confident that he would obey, and we could carry on with our visit.
I was wrong. He refused.
Now I was deeply embarrassed. I scarcely knew this woman, and how could I ever explain to her that this was beyond unusual? It would have been easier to let it go, but I knew that this was paramount. I was raising this beloved little boy to be a man. I desired godly character for each of our children, and was willing to go to war to obtain it. This was clearly a struggle for authority–a battle of the wills. If I allowed his disobedience to go uncorrected, why should Marcus ever trust me to follow through with anything again?
So behind the pool shed we flew, where the exact same dialogue and spanking and instructions ensued.
To no avail.
I was dying on the inside, but remained outwardly calm. I could be stubborn, too–and was prepared to stay here all day–come what may–and see this thing through.
It took four times before Hello, Miss E. flew from his lips.
Marcus had finally relented.
Something important had been settled.
It was now a handful of years after that swimming pool escapade. Christmas was fast approaching, and our children were excited to visit Christmas Lane.
Each year, a good farmer opened his property for this annual event, which stretched through the entire month of December. His land was decorated with strings upon strings of Christmas lights and bunches of jolly decorations. Games and cocoa and gigantic hot pretzels were available for anyone who was willing to pay a few dollars.
People arrived from far and wide to enjoy this generous endeavor. The simplicity and family-oriented fun felt like a gentle pause from the hustle of the holiday season. The most anticipated event for the small children was a train ride. Youngsters under a certain height were eligible to ride this miniature, slow-moving locomotive.
Marcus was tall for his age, and exceeded the allowed stature by several inches. On this particular night, a kind man working the ride–in a measure of good will–waved Marcus through, rightly perceiving Lauren’s wish to have the comfort of her big brother aboard.
So Lauren sat next to Marcus, who was hunched inside the caboose as the train left the station. He was wearing his favorite new shirt of brown and blue–I will always remember this–the words Big Rig scripted on the front. My heart swelled. I loved him–this young, tall son with a huge heart–caring for his little sister.
What I didn’t know?
Marcus’s future wife was standing in line behind him.
Taryn and Marcus hover at our kitchen island now, and this son of mine, ever-carnivorous in his eating preferences, is rolling sandwich meat paired with sliced cheese–popping the entire feast into his mouth. Taryn says something and rests her hand on his arm, diamond glistening through a beam of sunlight flooding our kitchen window. Marcus tosses back his head and laughs. This is my absolute favorite thing he does–unscripted and so him. Taryn laughs, too, long hair cascading down her back. She is glowing and beautiful.
Not only are these two in love, but they also really like each other. I tuck away this golden charm of memory–this kitchen scene–a keepsake to add to my growing collection.
And suddenly, with a slight tilt of her head, I am reminded of something.
What is it?
Yes–a photo of Taryn’s father that I once studied. She looks like him now.
He died of cancer when Taryn was young. This giant of a man was tall in stature but even more so in faith. By all accounts he was exceptional–loving God and his family well.
Jon and I wish that we could have met this man whose daughter is now woven into our family tree.
And then, one mundane afternoon, Taryn discovers a photograph that changes everything.
On the evening that Marcus and Lauren were enjoying the train ride at Christmas Lane, Taryn’s family was living in a town of some 30,000 people. We dwelt in a separate town–population pushing 35,000.
Remember, Christmas Lane was open for hours each evening, for an entire month.
Odds and ratios are certainly not my specialty, but consider this:
Our two families were present at Christmas Lane on the same night and at the same time. Two families who had never once met, lining their children up for a photo at precisely the same moment, and side by side. Taryn’s shirt and a third of her face is on the border of my photo–Marcus’s shirt is hovering in Taryn’s mother’s photo.
Taryn’s father was also there that evening, and it is not difficult to conjure a snapshot of he and Jon nodding to each other as men do, smiling large– delighted by a crisp evening, their beautiful children frolicking in the hubbub of Christmas anticipation–a night where all seems right.
Marcus and Taryn proved patient, and group activities prevailed for years. Those group activities often included our family, and it did not take us long to understand why Marcus fell hard for this girl. He loved her and so do we.
I have watched these two grow and submit to God. That strong-willed little boy from the swimming pool is now a man of godly character. He is preparing to love and shepherd his soon-to-be wife.
When Taryn discovered the picture on Shutterfly, we squealed and she immediately phoned her mother. It was exhilarating, and gave wings to many hardships.
This was a watershed moment–I had begged God to rescue me in my way, and in my wisdom-–and he said no. He had grander plans: authoring and orchestrating this entire love story.
Remember this–when God declines our requests, he is also inviting us to abide: Trust Me.
If I had been granted the answer that I had longed for, Marcus would not have met Taryn when he was fourteen, and we would not be anticipating this June wedding.
God does not always choose to reveal the why behind his plans, and he doesn’t have to. Without faith it is impossible to please him. But on occasion, he gifts us with glimpses of his fathomless wisdom, and it is humbling.
Thank you, God, for giving me your will and not mine.
In mere months–after the sun shines hot before dipping low in the western sky, casting evening shadows against majestic mountaintops–Marcus and Taryn will exchange their wedding vows and begin the journey of a lifetime.
What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. Mark 10:9