Practicing Parents

The Best Sermon I Ever Heard

~by Horace McMillon

whale

I am not sure that I will ever get a handle on this fatherhood thing. Things are ever changing. I can never be sure if they are for the better or for the worse. But my hope is what I imagine is every parent’s hope is: that things are getting better and that my child is going to be ok, a healthy, well-adjusted contributing member of society. I had intended to write this post about the peaks and valleys of parenting. I usually write from a peak, looking back on some valley we have just recently crossed. I had intended to write this one from one of our lowest points. But then out of nowhere, we arrived at a plateau. After a particularly difficult stretch, my daughter offered up the best sermon I have ever heard.

For those who may be reading my contribution for the first time, my wife and I have been helping my daughter, Julia, work through some significant behavioral and emotional issues over the last few years. We have been to doctors, counselors, and therapists. We have talked, cried, screamed, yelled and prayed. And mostly prayed–for some kind of turn around, for some kind of breakthrough, for some kind of epiphany for Julia or for ourselves. Epiphanies seem to be in short supply. We mostly have faith, hope, and when nothing else is working, love. What does love do when your minor child is engaging in reckless behavior, getting suspended from school, sneaking out of the house, taking money, not telling the truth? Julia’s actions and our reactions led to Julia spending eight days in a juvenile correctional facility. She had not done anything criminal, but we needed a safe place to hold her while we sorted things out, and home wasn’t that place. I didn’t sleep much all that week.

At this point we had a judge involved, several more counselors involved, an attorney ad-litem involved…. (See, high school Latin is useful.) We had reached a place where we thought an extended placement might be for the best. The court decided that we could still make things work for home and promptly ordered (more) parenting classes for me and more counseling for Julia. I have to be honest. This outcome did not disappoint me. I am long past any shame or embarrassment. I hope the classes help. I hope the new counselors help. I want us to keep trying, keep working. I just need to know Julia wants to try as well. Otherwise… it will be in vain.

I picked her up that evening. We were glad to see each other. We had some pretty open discussion about how she felt and I felt and where we are. Then this conversation happened: Julia says to me, “Dad, you know how Jonah spent three days in the belly of a whale because he would not do what he was supposed to do?” I said, “Yes.”  Well, I feel like the last eight days have been my time in the belly of a whale because I wouldn’t do what I was supposed to do.” We talked a lot that evening. We are even planning to baptize her this Sunday. At this point, I am not going to speculate on the peaks and valleys ahead. I am going to enjoy the place where we are right now. Julia preached the best sermon I have ever heard. I am going to say amen, and look for our map to Nineveh.

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