Free Will

God and I have a lot in common. But then, every parent can say the same thing. Even if you don’t believe in Him, when you hold that precious child for the first time, you have some pretty strong evidence that God believes in you.

I’ll never forget holding my firstborn son one glorious September day. I wanted to shout to the whole world, “Look what I made!”  I’d never guessed that my heart could contain so much love and hope. I held pure potential in my arms.

We gave him a name. It was a fine name for a strong, courageous man. It was kind of big for such a small baby, but I knew he would grow into it.

Emotions nearly drowned me that first day, as waves of joy at the miracle of it all crashed against despair at the overwhelming responsibility. Then it hit me. “I’m the mother. I’m in charge here.” And the Momma Commandments were born. I decided that very day that I would build a peaceable kingdom for this child. There would be no guns, no military paraphernalia, no exposure to violence of any kind. Period.

That rule remained unchallenged for almost two years. Then, one day, as my son ate a piece of pizza in his high chair, he chewed it into the shape of a gun and pretended to shoot me.

Testosterone is such a dangerous chemical! But there was no way to protect him from that. I began to doubt the whole “free will” thing. What was God thinking?

Really, he was a great kid, and very obedient. He took his responsibilities as the oldest of four quite seriously, mostly setting a good example. And he was so careful. He never took dangerous chances or made rash decisions on the spur of the moment. (Hardly ever.)

He spent his senior year in high school working out and running miles every day, so his announcement that he intended to enlist in the Air Force wasn’t a big surprise. I tried my best to talk him out of it.

“The military is a great gig, unless they have one of those pesky wars,” I told him. “Then, people will try to kill you. This is serious stuff.” But he wouldn’t listen.

My son took to the Air Force like a duck to water. When he came home on leave, I found his company delightful. Our relationship blossomed into the mutual friendship of adults. The younger children couldn’t stand it.

“Why do you treat him so good when he comes home?”

“You people leave and see how I treat you.” (It was an incentive plan for emptying my nest.)

I had successfully launched a child into adulthood and the wide world, and it felt wonderful to know that I didn’t have to worry about him anymore.

Then, we had 9/11.

Every one of us above the age of reason can remember where we were and how we felt that day. You could almost hear hearts breaking as we all grieved for the victims and everyone who loved them. Then my husband called. “They’ve grounded all the planes,” he said.  “The U.S. air space now belongs to the U.S. Air Force.” That’s when it got personal.

I made up a brand new Momma Commandment on the spot, and began calling my son three times a day, every day.  If he didn’t answer, I left a message. “You may not, I repeat, you may not leave this country without calling your momma.”

He called on September 17th. “They’re sending some guys from my unit over there, but they didn’t call my name.” Before I could start the hallelujah chorus, he said, “They called up my friend. You know, the one who got married last week-end. His wife just flew in today. So, I volunteered to take his place.”

Speechless, I just stood there holding the phone, doing my best to hold onto my lunch. He went on. “When I was walking up there to volunteer, I had this picture in my mind of my whole family, sitting around the table last Easter. And I told myself, ‘That’s who I’m doing this for. I’m doing this for the people I love, to protect them.’”

I thought, “When you lived at home, you wouldn’t empty the dishwasher for the people you love!  Couldn’t you just come home, empty the dishwasher and we’ll call it good?”  But I didn’t say a word.  I couldn’t breathe.

The waves of emotion were reminiscent of that September day when we first met.  But this time it was soul-bending fear crashing against pride, admiration and respect. Then it hit me. I finally understood why God would give us the awesome, dangerous gift of free will. He knows all about being a parent.

You bring a child into the world, and train him up in the way he should go. He falls down, and sometimes he let’s you pick him up and sometimes he doesn’t. He follows your rules and makes you proud. He makes bad decisions, and there’s nothing in the world you can do about it. Watching your child make mistakes is the most painful thing; an occupational hazard of parenthood.

But when your child freely chooses a generous, noble, courageous path …Well, there is nothing sweeter than that.


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