When I was a kid, around 1989 or so, we lived in the Gorge in a small town called Goldendale. I was nine-ish and trapped in what felt like the middle of nowhere. My mother had left my sister’s dad and was raising three kids on one income and using every spare dime on a two year custody battle to keep my sister. It was a dark time of recovering from flight from an abusive situation, and we were very poor. I remember food stamps, and food boxes full of government cheese and canned salmon. I remember Mom always putting the after Christmas clothing on layaway to lock in discount prices, and paying it off slowly for next year’s school clothes. I remember we had this black and white TV hooked up to rabbit ears with tin foil on them. It was a hand me down from someone who, like the rest of the world, had made the switch to color ages ago. I didn’t know anyone else growing up who still had a black and white TV… but it kind of fit with my melancholy world.
Growing up not knowing my father was hard, but at that time, I felt like the only kid in the world without a dad sometimes. I knew I was loved, but I remember being jealous of kids who weren’t enrolled in the free lunch program, who had name brand clothing, and could go out to eat as a family. Money, sure isn’t everything, but it opens up a lot more doors than people realize. Lots of people want a better life for their family. I have actually been blessed with the privilege of getting to see how living for God, and making a pattern out of doing the next right thing, can build momentum toward a better life. Not that everything in my life is roses and lollipops. Not that following God makes you exempt from suffering or pain, or insulates you from other people’s bad choices. But it has given me the opportunity to stretch and grow and learn from some mistakes that I, by the grace of God, no longer have to make for myself. God has lit up my life like the sun, and lit my heart on fire within me. My daughter, has in her own special way, done the same thing. It is the power of giving and receiving love at work within me, changing me, smoothing rough places and rattling loose corrosion.
Recently my daughter Sophie made this interesting collage on my Kindle. She falls asleep in our bed every night and we move her to her bed later. The nightstand is exposed to her colorful antics, and it has been comical at times to see her cuddled up to my Greek and Hebrew Bible, or otherwise passed out in an assortment of adorable ways. When Liz questioned her as to why she used all my sticky notes up on the Kindle, Sophie replied without missing a beat, “So Daddy can buy some more.” Sometimes I am left amazed, struggling to keep my face straight and stern as I try to say or do the right “parenting thing,” when what I really want to do is roll around on the floor laughing.
Being a parent is the greatest joy of my life. Like that Kindle, I am often single minded, grayscale, and focused on text and information. I just want the facts and the bottom line, the bullet points and the deadlines and the action steps to make it on time. When I am stuck on black and white, parenting pushes me out of the shadows and into a Technicolor world. My daughter brightens my life with sticky-note starbursts, offbeat singing and dancing, and being a goofy, crazy, stampede of one. While I generally don’t have much money, have a great deal of uncertainty hanging in the air about the future, and am always forced in a situation where I have to learn to trust God a little more than I want to. This Thanksgiving season has reminded me that the wealth in my life goes far beyond money and material things. I am wealthy in relationships! I am wealthy in love. Riches often comes in the form of exuberant laughter from my child, goofy candid pictures (often with fake mustaches lately), and silly times of watching her rock an outfit whose photos will later come back to haunt her when she wants to be seen as “mature.” I am thankful to have so much love in my heart, a little money in the bank, and food in the fridge. I am thankful for snuggles with my little girl (when I can get them) and how she colors my life with love, laughter and burst of language with W’s in place of R’s and L’s. I love to hear I “wuv you Daddy” even when she wants to watch Wallace and Grommit, or read Cloudy with a Chance of Meatball’s for the million and twelfth time in a row. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.