Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Those words are written on the framework and sill around the window in my son Daniel’s bedroom. He wrote them there with a huge Sharpie when we were building our home in 2006. Those words have become a comfort to me in the past couple of years. Since I came to accept Christ and know they are words of Truth that I can trust, they mean so much more to me now, especially when I think of what Dan has gone through to get to what he’s about to do. Tomorrow at noon, this little guy here, the one in blue below, will don a black cap and gown and walk across a much bigger stage as he graduates from the University of Tennessee with his degree in Nuclear Engineering.
His first 6 years (probably more like 18) involved more chaos than most people deal with in a lifetime. I did the best I could to be there for him but so many poor choices I made cost him dearly in terms of family and roots. I wasn’t the most nurturing mother in the world either as the demons I was fighting kept winning the battles. I am so thankful for a God who carried us out of harms way, sometimes on a daily basis. God has always had a plan for us.
Daniel was in the first grade when he told me he wanted to be an entomologist- a bug scientist. Lord, help me, he said he wanted to study bugs. He said “study,” but if you know my son, you know he wanted to play with them. He ended up changing his field of study when he was in high school, but from that moment, I treated him like a kid who needed to earn his way to college because I knew I couldn’t afford to pay for it. Oh, yeah, and he still plays with bugs…
In the 3rd grade, Dan was enrolled in the Talented and Gifted program in school. He learned advanced subjects and for good grades and behavior, he was rewarded with trips I couldn’t take him on because of work or finances. He went to New York City in the 5th grade. Saw Ground Zero, the Statue of Liberty, the NBC candy store, and Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. First trip in a plane and I send him to the Big Apple without me. He handled it like a Boss.
In order to go to college, we always talked about how he needed to have a well-rounded life. That meant grades and being busy. He was in Honors classes from 6th grade through his senior year and had roughly more than half of his first year of college credits under his belt by the time he graduated high school in 2013. But that also meant he needed the character it takes to succeed.
So in all his years with me, I told him no. A lot. He had chores before friends, homework before games, and when he acted out one time too many at school (he went through a phase of thinking that graduating Class Clown like I did was better than graduating in the top of his class), I took him away from his lifelong classmates and moved him to a new school so he could remember his goals. A school in the country that he did not want to go to. I think we both agree now that we should have done it 2 years sooner.
He was recruited for football and had a coach who made the team understand that the first rule of football is that you take care of business inside the school building or you have no business on the field. He made a great Cougar and I’m so proud that the school’s motto of ‘Go Be Excellent’ stuck with him. At his 8th grade graduation, I cried when I heard the applause of the crowd, especially from the students, because the day before, he was awarded Most Improved Student of his grade. He finally had help staying focused and it was mostly from the friends he had made. He started getting serious about that college thing. What Dan thought was meant for a punishment, I seriously believe God had in His plan all along to be one of the best years of Dan’s life.
That’s the year he ditched football for soccer. He got to play the position he wanted and got better with every game. He played enough to balance out that “well rounded lifestyle” we knew he needed. That’s kind of a joke. If you know us personally, you know that means he played 9 months a year for 5 years. Between competitive travel soccer, indoor soccer, and school soccer, he literally got 6 weeks off at the end of the school year and was back at it July 1st through mid-November. The first weekend after New Year’s, he was on the indoor field until school soccer conditioning began mid-February and we did it all over again. He was pretty good too…. best Keeper I know.
But that all seems so long ago now. Yesterday he took his last finals as an undergrad at the University of Tennessee. He’s worked so hard for this day. He had to apply to colleges by himself, go on college visits by himself (with friends and not with me), and pay for it by himself. I just wasn’t there for him because of being wrapped up in trying to make my life a tragedy. Thankfully, God’s plan included the gift of the majority of his college funding coming from scholarships, including his first year being a full ride in the Honors Program that meant living in a condo-style dorm and having a prepaid meal plan. His studies in Nuclear Engineering are a giant leap from his love of bugs, but he still has a plan for that dream and I will be here cheering him on until he reaches that goal, too.
I know that the pain of growing up with me not knowing who I was or what I wanted to be when I grow up has affected him, but I believe with all my heart that it’s also a part of God’s plan that it hasn’t made him bitter like I was for such a long time. He is genuinely a sweet and kind person who has always stood up for the underdog. He is polite and charming and is as real with me as I could ever ask a human to be. He is forgiving and he shows me grace more often than he probably should. He told me tonight, “It’s ok, it happens,” when I painted his graduation cap without checking first to see which way it would be worn… the Dude was upside down…
So here’s to you Daniel Peffley! I’m so honored that God chose me to be your mom. In fact, I’m the proudest mom in the world right now and I can’t tell you enough how much I love you.
Getting to watch you walk across that grand stage is the best Mother’s Day present ever.
Happy Mother’s Day to any mother who’s reading this and, of course, Peace y’all…