Devil or angel, I can't make up my mind." The words to that sappy old love song have often reminded me of my son's childhood. Now that I'm a great-grandmother, I look back on his younger years and wonder how we ever would have survived without God's extra patience poured out on us.
Perhaps you've got a child who seems to be out of control, one who shifts between savage and sweetheart by the hour. If so, I'd like to encourage you with a story about my once-wild child, Michael.
In elementary school, Michael often talked back, sassed his teachers, and came home bloodied from fistfights more times than I care to recall. By age 12, Michael was a handful, making me love him and want to strangle him in equal proportions.
Then one morning, my husband, fed up with Michael's behavior, gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his cool, he'd need to go outside and hammer a nail into the back fence that protected my flower garden from our cows. Michael laughed, but promised he would. I had my doubts.
Before going to bed that night, I moseyed outside and counted nine nails in one of the rails. I couldn't believe it. Every day for the rest of the week, I walked outside to the fence and counted nails, finding fewer and fewer each time. Apparently, Michael was finding it easier to hold his temper than to hammer nails.
Finally the night came when I didn't find any new nails. I shared the news with my husband and he simply smiled. The following morning, Michael's dad told him that for every day he was able to control his temper, he could pull a nail out of the fence.
Again, I wandered outside to the fence and counted nails each night. Sometimes there were more, sometimes there were less. A month later, all the nails had been pulled out of the fence.
A few days later, the three of us walked out to the fence. Michael's dad looked at me and grinned, then scowled at Michael. "Just look at that fence," he said. "It's full of holes." Michael stepped back, confused. "That's what you're doing to yourself," his dad went on. "That fence will never be the sameand neither will you."
"But Dad " Michael started.
"No buts, Michael. When you lose your cool, people might be willing to forgive, but they'll never forget. Angry outbursts leave scars, Michael, just like the scars in that fence." Michael mumbled something, but I didn't catch it.
His dad just walked off, heading for the barn. Michael sniffed, wiped at his nose, then reached out and took my hand. Hand in hand, Michael and I strolled quietly back to the house.
While I'm not sure the fence led to the changes in Michael, I am sure that from then on Michael did change. He never again sassed me, and while he did come home bloodied from a few more fistfights, I never again had to go to the schoolhouse because he had sassed his teachers.
Today, Michael is married with two grown sons of his own. He's a lawyer and lives in Washington, D.C., but whenever he comes home for a visit, we always walk out to the fence around my garden. It's a new fence, of courseexcept for one faded rail that's full of holes.
Janett L. Grady is a writer and grandmother living in Alaska.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today magazine.
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