The Slate

“Unto us a child is born…”  Luke 2:11 / Isaiah 9:6
This passage of Scripture adorned the birth announcements Dana and I sent out to family and friends after December 6, 1979. On that day, we received the greatest Christmas gift of our lives, the birth of our first child, Ashley Dyan. In our home, we begin December with, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Ashley!” 
While waiting for Ashley’s birth, Dana and I were serving on the ministry staff of the First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. We were a long way from both our families. My parents were calling every day from East Africa with one question, “Is ‘The Baby’ here yet?” Dana’s mother was in Beaumont, Texas awaiting the word on the arrival of “The Baby” before she jumped on a plane for Tulsa.
Ashley was scheduled to arrive around Thanksgiving, but she had not been notified of the doctor’s ETA. She would arrive when she was good and ready. Some things never change.
Dana was provided with great care by a member of our church, serving as a nurse on the maternity ward of Tulsa’s St. Francis Hospital. She was loved by a host of friends from the church, who had stepped up to the plate to assist her in the absence of her mother. To this day, every time we think of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma our minds are flooded with great memories of wonderful friends. There is nothing like a loving church family. 
We had experienced a false alarm earlier in the week, and forced to return home from the hospital without “The Baby,” and a little embarrassed. As we headed to the hospital for the second time, it appeared to be the real deal. On the way, Dana had a reality check only expectant mothers can understand. She said quietly, “I realize I have finally gotten myself into something that I can’t back out of.” I didn’t correct her about ending a sentence in a preposition. It didn’t seem wise. My own reality check would come later.
Dana suffered through a long night of labor. Again, Ashley was not cooperating, still reluctant to make her Oklahoma debut. She tells me now that she was waiting to be born in Texas.
Finally, the doctor said it was time to head to the Delivery Room. I shared Ashley’s reluctance about that event. I had attended the childbirth classes St. Francis required me to take in order to stand by Dana, during delivery. They might have helped me more if I hadn’t read The Tulsa Tribune during the films.  Dana had been furious with me for doing it, but I thought they were creepy.
The Delivery Room wasn’t a religious experience for me, filled with the wonder of childbirth. It was surreal, standing in a room, conversing with strangers through the whole process.  At least we all had on masks, except for Dana. Poor Dana.
The doctor was concerned about the delay of the delivery, and was forced to encourage Ashley to come out and play. I guess that is why they call them forceps. It was serious business.
When Ashley finally arrived on the scene, the doctor’s first words were, “It’s a girl.” Dana’s first words to me were, “Is she pretty?” I was speechless. She was a blue mess. The forceps left a mark across her face, and her little cone head gave me pause to think, “If she had been born a boy, we could have put a football helmet on her head.”  When Dana saw her, she was beaming. I just kept quiet, thinking, “Bless her heart.”
My reality check hit about 20 minutes after Ashley was born. Standing out in the viewing area of the maternity ward, I saw Ashley brought in wrapped in a little blanket. She looked completely different. Ashley was beautiful! She still is, inside and out. 
While proudly peering through the glass, at my little girl, I heard the gentle voice of a dear friend behind me. Sharon Ross softly said, “She is a little blank slate, and you can write on her anything that you want.” My knees buckled, and my heart skipped a beat. Ashley’s safe arrival meant I was going to have to step up as a Dad, and guide her safely through a dangerous world. I felt totally unprepared for the task. Maybe I should have watched the films. They might have helped. But I digress.
Simultaneously, parenting can be humbling and humiliating. I have experienced my share of both. There are many times I have given full expression to every failure of parenting I swore I would avoid. I can’t be the only parent who has broken the sacred promise to never blurt out the words, “Because I said so, that’s why.”
For the record, Dana has taught me more about parenting than any one I have ever known. She has a gift for being sensitive to the needs of her daughters without encouraging them become self-absorbed, thin-skinned divas. She listens to them, but doesn’t always agree with them. Her listening ear has earned her the right to be heard when they come to her for counsel. I want to be like Dana when I grow up.  As for Ashley, she was so patient with me. She was the first to experience my rough attempts at parenting and over the years has taught me so much about God’s grace. She still does. Thank you, Ashley.
NOTE TO SELF: Listen to your children more than you talk to them. Rules without relationship always breed rebellion. Pray with your children before you offer advice to them, or make rules for them. Your mission in life is to unplug them from your rules, and plug them into The Father’s rule. WARNING: Don’t write your book about parenting until you see what kind of parents your children become. They learned most of what they know about parenting from you. Your children need to hear you pray for them. They already know what you say to them. Write your prayers on The Slate of your child’s heart today. They need it, and you need the practice. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!