Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Thorn Among the Roses

Shrewsbury, England

When I was fourteen, my Dad signed up for a "pulpit exchange" in England which took our family to Shrewsbury for a summer. Our family switched lives with another preacher's family. This meant that our houses, cars, friends, jobs, and churches were exchanged, including all of the duties that came with those areas of life. 

(A fun detail that did not come to pass until nearly ten years later was that our two families would become united as one. My sister, who was only twelve at the time, would fall in love with the oldest son of this family and they would eventually get married.)

It was during this strange and delightful summer abroad that my Dad started referring to us (his family and women-mom, me and my sister) as "his roses". In fact, being ushered into many new spaces to make introductions with people, Dad would say, "And here are all my girls, as you can see I am the thorn among the roses." Everyone would chuckle at the jest, or look on with admiration as we shook hands and exchanged hugs. 

In the States, we were normal kids. Probably less than normal. We were sort of weird "Preacher's kids" trying to be normal. We dressed like other kids and did things they did. We didn't stand out all that much besides being Jeff's girls which did matter in our community. But outside of that, we were two pretty awkward teens that came with all of that predictable territory. Being looked at with admiration was not something we had a lot of experience with. 

Here, in this church in England, people would beam at us and make comments about our beauty and kindness. There was an older gentleman in the congregation who would stare at me and my sister shaking his head saying, "Such glamor! Just stunning!" We had no idea what to do with this sort of attention and weren't ever convinced that it was even warranted. 

YEARS later in England, this is my sister and me
I don't know what my sister felt about it, but I remember this being the first time I realized that Dad thought I was pretty. In fact, he thought all three of us were pretty. He was such a trickster, always joking with us, that this new gesture really stuck with me. He made a lot of speeches about his desire for us to become women of good character and really discouraged us from superficial vanities like wanting to be thought of as beautiful. But at this stage of life, of course, I wanted that.

It felt marvelous when he would stretch out his hand, ushering us into a room with regal grace, smiling proudly at "his girls". Outside of our daily routine and our community at home, where reputation and example were always at stake, he could simply say that he thought we were lovely. 

4 years later on another trip to England with Daddy

Perhaps he meant it only as a tease, but for a 14-year-old who often felt anything but beautiful, hearing my father call me a "rose" stuck with me all my life. It certainly did not convince me I was beautiful in a world full of models and impossible ideals, but deep within me, confidence started to bloom. It was more like an inner knowing, a trust, that there is a man in this world who thinks I am lovely and good. It was hope and it was a drop of worthiness for this very young teen. 

And I am not saying all little girls need to know that their Dad's think they are beautiful. They need to hear all sorts of truths from their father's. Becoming a "rose" to my father was something that I needed to hear at a stage in my life where acne and growth spurts plagued my self-esteem. I needed to hear a lot of things from my Dad over the years, but the timing of this phrase was well placed and has forged a space in my memory even still.

This Father's Day, as I hold my own little girl in my arms and watch her interact with her father, I remember how important the gestures of a daddy truly are. She is going to remember the words that Joel uses when he speaks to her and about her. She will hear them and take them to heart. She will remember his gestures and the introductions he makes when she walks into a room. She will hold on to the expressions on his face when he looks at her and she will read them like a book, understanding every moment of pride and disappointment. 

Joel will be the first man Noelle will ever love. He will be her example of what a man is. Our Father's are desperately important figures in our lives for so many reasons, but one of them so clear now- they create action. 

In my experience my Father's words became affirmations or challenges. Both of the categories sprung me to action either becoming more like he affirmed or trying to change what he challenged in me (and then there was the occasional rebellion which was also an action in the end). I think a Father's words are powerful because they create spiritual movement for better or for worse. Father's words and gestures, whether we want them to or not, do affect us and transform our lives. 

Thinking back on that summer in England, Dad's words and gestures honored something in me I had not even claimed about myself yet. It was a gift, one of many, that would shape my life long after he died and continue to teach me a little more about the love of the Father who made me.

Like all relationships and anything that truly matters in this world, intentionality will transform. That summer, Dad pointed me down the path to claiming something I wanted to be true- I am a rose.


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