Anger and indignation filled my 14-year-old heart as I hurriedly brushed on the last layer of bright-red nail polish. After pulling on my blouse and short skirt and applying one more layer of hairspray to my already puffed-up hair, I grabbed my favorite silver ring and rushed out the door.
My parents waited in the car, ready for church with the conservative congregation of which my dad was pastor. Knowing they would not approve of my attire or attitude, I avoided eye contact and slumped into the back seat. No one should be able to dictate how I look, I thought.
Just the week before, though, the school principal had called me into her office regarding my short skirt. To my pleas of "Well, it's a lot longer than most of the other girls' skirts," the principal had responded, "Well, you're the pastor's daughter and should be setting the example."
Despite the principal's statements or the church members' whisperings, my relationship with my dad through those two or three years of turmoil carried on as though he saw none of my rebellion. He still loved me, respected me, cherished me, and tucked me into bed each evening with the words "How are you really doing?" These words and actions demonstrated his constancy, his concern and care for me, and that made me ready for the healing that comes to teenage hearts when they are receptive.
The years have passed, and as I have looked back on those times, I have been amazed at my dad's reaction--or should I say lack of reaction?--to my behavior and appearance. Why didn't he take it personally? Why didn't he say "How could you embarrass me in front of my church members like this?" or some other such statements. (The only time he would make an issue of my appearance was when he felt my skirts were short to the point of immodesty, and then he would simply say, "At this point you just do not understand how guys' minds work, and so I have to protect you by not allowing you to leave the house in that skirt.")
One day not too long ago I decided to ask him how he managed to stay so consistently accepting and loving. I pray that his answer will forever affect my interactions with not only my own children, but with other children as well.
He said, "If I had focused on your outer display, it would have distracted us both from the real issue, which was what was going on in your heart."
What was going on in my heart . . . Yes, the pain and struggles that so many teenagers face can surely be revealed through their outer appearance and behavior. But these are so often judged instead of loved. Instead of patiently waiting until teenagers are ready to receive love and grow, people distance them by their judgment and frustration.
I've often wondered about what other ways pain might be displayed, which we miss because we focus on the outward. "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).
I am so glad that my earthly father was granted the wisdom of my heavenly Father to know that his patient love would see me through.
Mary Jo Vollmer-Sandholm writes from Loma Linda, California.