She stood in front of me, shifting on her heels, her fingers resting gently on the edge of my desk. She took a deep breath, and we stared at each other in the awkward silence. Her mind seemed to be racing, but her eyes looked weary and exhausted. Emily’s computer crashed two hours earlier, destroying two weeks of research for her final history paper. I felt a little sick to my stomach hearing this news because I knew how hard she had worked, how many hours she had spent collecting data and research, and I knew that the paper was due in a day and a half.
“I am just so sorry,” I kept saying over and over which probably wasn’t helpful, but felt better than the silence.
As she stared at the ceiling, tears started to roll down her cheeks. My oldest doesn’t really like to cry. She has beautiful depth and insights beyond her years, but if she had to choose between emotional control and tears, she would choose dry eyes every time. I stood up and hugged her, because who wants to be alone when the tears win. We stood together for a moment, and then I asked a lot of questions and offered suggestions about how the tech office might be able to help save her work. None were viable. The only solution was for Emily to head home and start the work again.
I confess I was dreading the next 36 hours. I wasn’t sure if I would be faced with an irritable, grumpy daughter and knew that my husband, my other daughters and I might be taking the brunt of Emily’s frustrations about her lost paper. Later that night, I tiptoed up the stairs and tentatively opened the door to Emily’s room. She looked up from a different computer and smiled warmly. “Hi mom!” She said, “I have three pages so far. Only three more to go!”
John Wooden, UCLA basketball coach, once said, “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” I think trials reveal our character too, and as I stood smiling back at my daughter, I realized I was given a sweet glimpse into her character that night. I walked over and kissed her on the forehead and told her how proud I was of her.
As I left her room, I thought about how I have been handling my own trials lately. Not so well if I am honest. I may look one way on the outside, but on the inside, I have been whining and complaining, feeling entitled and lacking gratitude, standing before God with my arms crossed while tapping my foot impatiently on the kitchen floor.
I read a blog the other day by John Richmond on Donald Miller’s Storyline. In trying to decide whether or not he would run a half marathon RIchmond writes, “To be completely honest, I like the idea of being someone who runs half marathons more than the reality of actually lacing up my shoes and doing it.”
In the same way, if I am honest, I love the idea of being someone who lives well in the midst of the struggle much more than the reality of the discipline and sacrifice that this requires. I sit with my coffee at my kitchen table in the early morning and think of all the ways I will serve others or love my family or encourage my husband or live intentionally, but when everyone else wakes up and life happens, I often have a list of excuses about why I just can’t do this well. While God’s grace is ultimately what allows me to do anything well, there is also one fact that I often avoid: sometimes you just have to get in there and do the work, whether it is easy or fun or fair.
Teenagers get a lot of bad press and while it might be justified at times, there are also moments when my teenagers teach me so much about perseverance, character and hope. Emily didn’t find some easy solution that made her paper magically reappear. She cried, yes, but she didn’t whine and give up. Instead she embraced the trial, sat down at her computer and started again. Grateful today for the reminder my daughter gave me that sometimes living well means writing one word at a time or taking one step at a time, even if it is a painful or difficult step you really don’t want to take.