Saturday, December 15, 2007

You can't marry my daughter.

You can't marry my daughter.

The first time I asked my future father in law if I could marry his daughter, he said no.

It was the worst experience I’ve ever had at a Waffle House.

It ended up being OK though because the second time I asked, I was able to get him to say no again.

Although my wife and in-laws have added those conversations to the list of things we can all safely joke about, they’re not my favorite collection of memories.

It all started out so simply. During one of my visits to Atlanta to see Jenny, I asked her father if he and I could have breakfast together. We were not in the habit of breakfasting and I’m sure he was aware of my intent. He chose Waffle House. We sat in a booth. Desperado by the Eagles was playing on the jukebox, a random stranger’s song selection that would unfortunately prove to be rather fitting.

I said the things I thought boys in their early 20s say when they talk to hulking fathers of daughters they want to marry. I love her. God loves that I love her. I will take care of her. She can work or not work, depending on her preference. Either way doesn’t matter to me, because I love her.

He paused and then gave me a fairly succinct response. I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like:

“No, no no no no and no. No no, although no, and more no. In conclusion no.”

We paid our bill, got in his car and then proceeded to take the most awkward car ride I’ve ever been a part of. A week later, after much prayer and fear, I came back down to Atlanta from Massachusetts where I was living at the time, to ask him again.

This time we stayed in his kitchen. While carving up a piece of fruit that was oddly enough about the size of my heart, he laid out his thoughts:

“No, no no no. Her mother and I no no, then no, or no no, why, no no no.”

I walked upstairs crestfallen and spent the rest of the night trying to figure out if the toilet held enough water to adequately drown myself.

It’s been seven years since those conversations but I’ll still occasionally bring up that story for some sympathy. A few months ago I told a friend of mine and his reaction was so remarkable I kind of bragged about it to my wife.

Me: “You know what Jack told me? The guy whose dad used to break his nose by punching him in the face? The guy whose mom died of cancer when he was 11? The one who is a recovering crack addict? He said he couldn’t imagine living with the pain of having a father tell him no twice when he asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage.”

I was clearly hoping her response would be some variation of “Oh Jon, you’ve been through so much trauma, my wounded writer. How do you carry on my tragic poet of a husband?”

Wife: “My dad didn’t tell you no. He told you wait.”

Wait and no used to be the very same word to me. My lack of patience denied me the ability to have a sense of the future. If I didn’t get what I wanted, in the exact moment I wanted it, I thought I’d never get it. Now was the only time that existed in my mind, so waiting for something to happen later didn’t make sense. There was no later.

So when my father in law tried to warn me about some foundational truths that needed to be built over time in my relationship with his daughter I didn’t hear him. He was asking me to get married in the future. To propose marriage later. To go slow and wait. But “no” is all I heard. So I refused, and rushed into some of the very same mistakes he was desperate to prevent.

This was a foolish thing for me to do, but it’s not really unique. In Exodus 13:17-18 we see God preventing the Israelites from making the same bad decisions. Here is what it says:

17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle.

I love that last sentence about the Israelites being armed for battle. The story wouldn’t really be extraordinary if the Israelites didn’t have any weapons. You could read those verses and say, “All they had was pots and pans, of course they had to take the long way. It’s only logical.” But they were armed which means the shorter route makes more sense. They were ready for battle. They had swords and shields and all the trappings of men at war. I had an engagement ring and a proposal plan and all the trappings of a man of marriage.

But neither of us were ready for what lay ahead. And you might not be either right now. Whatever mistakes you’ve left behind or challenges you’ve left ahead, doesn’t really matter, you have some big things ahead of you.

New relationships. New wisdom. New decisions and maybe even consequences of the old. Expect the temptation to rush through things, to hear no when all God might be really saying to you is “wait, wait. I don’t want you to get discouraged.”


23BeforeMichael said...

Good insights. Any time you can see something like that - something that mirrors one of the stories God tells us from the Old Testament - you're hearing clearly from the Holy Spirit. That doesn't come from trying hard to's a gift. Those times are like treasures on the ocean floor that are covered with silt. When He moves the currents to uncover enough to give us a glint of something being there...start digging. And remember Who moves the currents.

Karen of Scottsdale said...

oh, man do I know! waiting is so hard sometimes.

Good insight on that passage from Exodus. Never thought of it that way.

Michaele said...

This would make a really fun post if you didn't let us in on your eventual success right away - I loved the subject line in my inbox that said - "You can't marry my daughter is what he told me. Twice." We didn't know he was your father-in-law until you told us right off the bat in your post.

Leave us guessing while you tell us the story - let us squirm along with you while you contemplate the depth of the toilet - then ease us into a punch line when we are sufficiently uncomfortable for you - even use one line you already wrote - my wife said, he didn't tell you no, he told you wait.

I concur with your points and have my own variation regarding marriage I've shared with my children since they were small about their future mates - sometimes the RIGHT person is the WRONG person if it is the RIGHT time - ask the Lord to change the heart of the parents if they can't give you their blessing. Unless they are habitually controlling, selfish and unreasonable, you have much to gain by leaning on their wisdom.

Michaele said...

*should have said sometimes the RIGHT person is the WRONG person if it is NOT THE RIGHT TIME . . .

Donna Hanson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Blake said...

I can identify, but sometimes I think I am the opposite. Sometimes I think God is telling me, "Now! GO! Do it now, Blake!"...but I end up saying, "Hold on, I need to go pray about this first."

I tend to over analyze things and look for way too long before leaping.

Anonymous said...

I loved it. I though it was very funny.

fun535 said...

What great insight you have. My daughter has just become engaged. It wasn't how we expected to be ask. On a cruise ship... while we were leaving a show.. our daughter not too far behind us. And our hearts were screaming no. Many of our family members including us are saying he's the wrong guy. He's been on his own since 17, with no family values.. a new christian due to the fact that our daughters a christian. How I wish I could have shouted from the top of the ship no. But its like there's this spell over her. And I have prayed for my childrens spouse seen there were real little. And she's saving herself until her wedding day. Is it too late to shout no!!!

In deep prayer for my daughter

Rebeccamh said...

Of all the entries I've read in the past week, and of all the knowledge and wisdom and heartbreaking stories you've shared, this one has touched me most of all. He's not saying no, he's just saying wait. Slow down. That's more applicable in my life now than ever before.
So thanks.