Thursday, January 22, 2015

“What it's like to be a parent: It's one of the hardest things you'll ever do but in exchange it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love.” ― Nicholas Sparks

Dr. Ben Kimpel was a close friend and my favorite professor at the University of Arkansas where he has a building named after him and a statue of him outside the building that bears his name.  It is ironic to me that he always said it was the ugliest building on campus.  We talked often and he said some things that I will never forget.  One of them was that everybody ought to know everything, and he almost did.  He studied law at Harvard and knew so much about English literature that he corrected the footnotes at the bottom of the pages in the textbooks as they were often incorrect.  One night having dinner with him and Dr. Duncan Eaves (another good friend), I asked Ben what he thought the hardest job in the world was.  He didn’t hesitate for even an instant.  “Being a good parent,” was his immediate reply.  Duncan and I both agreed.  The moment a child is born, so is a relationship that will remain forever—beyond the deaths of both the parent and the child.  As a job, being a good parent is very difficult as you have no training, only the role models of your own parents (in many cases—bad ones) and you are faced with situations never covered in any courses or books on parenting.  You both give and receive unconditional love.  The baby relies on you for everything and you provide it regardless of the inconvenience or pain it causes you.  Almost every day on Facebook, I see the pictures of new babies and remember Ben Kimpel’s words.  Back when the Peace Corps was young, they had a recruiting slogan that said that the Peace Corps would be “the hardest job you ever loved.”  That pretty much covers being a good parent as well.  You need to remember that Ben had the adjective “good” in front of “parent.”  Anyone can be a parent, but to be a good one—that takes work and pain and ineffable joy.  When you’re 70 years old and your youngest child is in his mid-thirties, you forget what it was like when they were babies.  God sent us a gift to remind us of this in the form of a small Tibetan Terrier named Sissie.  She gives us unconditional love, relies on us to provide her with everything and protect her from everything.  Her love is constant, instant, tender, and joyful.  Karen is the primary recipient of her affection, and if she is gone to Musoma or Mwanza for even just a few hours, when she returns, Sissie jumps, twists, and expresses her love in a very visible and active way.  As soon as Karen sits down, Sissie leaps into her lap and begins licking her.  If Sissie cries during the night (having a bad dream), Karen is immediately awake and making sure she is all right.  Karen was like that with all of our boys when they were little—she would be up and on her way to their cribs before they even started crying.  Sissie has reminded us of the relationship we have with God.  He loves us as Sissie does and can be disappointed by our ignoring His needs.  He is waiting for each of us just like Sissie waits for Karen and His joy will be complete when we are in His presence and have left this world behind.  All He asks is that we remember to love one another as He loved us, something that has proved very difficult for many.  I know a man who was an assassin in Viet Nam.  He went way behind enemy lines to carry out his missions.  One day he chanced upon a Catholic priest who was tied to a tree and surrounded by Viet Cong.  There were too many for him to do anything, but as he stood behind the men with their rifles leveled at the priest to execute him, he saw that in the priest’s eyes there was only love and forgiveness for those about to kill him.  When the shots rang out and the priest's body slumped in death, that American assassin laid his rifle down on the ground and walked out of the jungle never to kill again.  He became one of the finest Christian men I have ever known, and I am proud that he calls me “friend.”  Being a good parent means having eyes that see with love and forgiveness all the time.  It also means that there are moments when that love is returned and your heart melts.  You never forget those times.  Thank you God for sending us a little dog to remind us that loving You means You’re loving us.  Thank You for eagerly waiting for us to finish Your work here and to return to You.
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