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FIRST-PERSON: Trip to daughter’s campus reflects God’s sovereignty

ATLANTA (BP)–Matching blue eyes glued to the television set, my daughter and husband alternately took turns yelling at either the three-dimensional digitized football players running around in a little black box or at each other. Laughing, gesturing, sitting elbow-to-elbow on the well-worn fabric chairs inside her dorm’s living room, they wiled away a rainy afternoon that would be just like any other, except this time we had driven six hours each way to be able to share a “homey” afternoon with our daughter Belinda, a junior in college.

It didn’t matter that she called last-minute and said we didn’t have to drive all the way from Atlanta to west Tennessee for parents’ weekend, that we probably wouldn’t want to attend any of the scheduled events anyway. What mattered was that it was a chilly Saturday afternoon made warm by the knowledge that we didn’t need to do anything “special” to enjoy the day with our daughter. We had only to listen to her chatter about her current “friend,” make sure she had enough laundry soap to last the semester and splurge for a few meals.

Snuggling up with Belinda’s favorite high school lap blanket and a Nicholas Sparks novel, I tried to focus on the events unfolding in a fictional world but was easily distracted by the photo-perfect glimpses of father and daughter enjoying the game. Giving in to the moment, I finally reflected on how much things had changed in our little family, but also on how much they stayed the same.

Belinda and Dad will most likely never outgrow the thrill of watching grown men throw a ball and each other around on Astroturf. Likewise, I will probably never tire of curling up with a good book — or of delighting in my child’s growth and development into a young woman.

From the first time I felt those intense blue eyes staring up at me in the delivery room of the hospital until now, I have marveled at the way God could entrust me with such a beautiful munchkin with shiny hair, penetrating eyes and flawless skin. As she has grown into a beautiful young woman, I am in awe at how much more aware she is every day of the fallacy of beauty that runs only skin deep — and how she is interested in spiritual care and nourishment.

Ironically, it was that weekend on campus that Belinda told us in a gentle way about changing churches, to no longer attend the “parent approved” church we helped her select when she first left for college. All on her own, seeking growth and development in her life, she sought out a church that is providing a solid foundation in the Bible and opportunities for maturing and developing in the faith. Excitedly, she invited us to the early morning service she attends. Remarkably, we noted how she spurred us on, urging us to change our plans to get an early start to our trip, so we could check out this place with her.

Our son Jon, a freshmen at a Georgia college, wasn’t quite so subtle when he told us about the experiences he’s encountered in “learning” about the way non-Baptists express their faith. “Yeah, it’s so cool, Mom,” he has said, at almost every opportunity, in sharing his independent seeker streak. “I just love checking things out and trying new things.”

I’ve learned not to get too excited with his exploration, to trust in his solid foundation and his yearning to stay connected in a way that will allow him to express his outgoing and charismatic nature, while not distorting Scripture to fit his practice. Momentary twinges cause some excitement, but his total willingness to share and discuss give me comfort and peace.

The autumn leaves just beginning to turn color, swirling around in the air outside that morning painted so poignant a picture of the change that is taking place in our family dimension. This change causes a momentary pause, a different approach to family as usual, but like fall, it is a welcome season of change.

God is in control of our children’s lives and destiny, just as sure as he is in control not only of the natural season around us, but also the season of tension and war in which we find ourselves as a nation. Driving through Tennessee to return to Atlanta, this time without tears on my face, I was struck by the peace that comes with knowing God is always in control. Spying the bright, vibrant leaves through the window of the Buick, I thought of the yellow, orange, brown, red and green days of our lives — and was comforted by the reminder that our children’s lives are not in our hands anymore, but in the hands of the Almighty where Belinda and Jon have placed them.

This too is a season of life for us, their parents. Ultimately, however, God is in control and nothing that anyone anywhere might do to try to disrupt that will be but a momentary blip on a landscape he ordered. Thank you God for the reminder.
Hannigan is a national correspondent for Baptist Press and a high school English and journalism teacher in the Atlanta area.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan