Today my mom turns 65. My mom was the middle child, having both an older and younger brother, both of whom are now deceased. In fact, my mom is the elder statesperson of her family now. For more than 40 years mom worked at a local bank, where she earned a position as a bank officer. She took some finance-related classes at a local community college, but other than that her greatest academic achievement was graduating from high school. Mom taught me many life skills such as cooking, and mending clothes, and laundry-including ironing.
My dad, who will turn 71 in May, is the oldest of four. He is the elder statesman of his family. Dad is a mechanic by occupation, but a handyman by necessity. I learned a lot from him. He taught me how to improvise, to use what I had to do what needed to be done. Dad took some classes at a local trade school, but otherwise his greatest academic achievement was graduating high school as well.
Yet despite their lack of higher education, they created an environment early on for me to embrace learning. Even as a kid, I was a voracious reader. During the summers, I would stay at my aunt’s house while my parents were at work and some days I would just read. I remember reading a book a day even as an 8 or 9 year old. And I am not talking about Nancy Drew novels, but Star Wars novels. They would also buy me workbooks in the summer. I would work on math and science and writing just because. The first year of Space Camp began the summer of after I finished 7th grade. I was part of the last week of Space Camp’s first year.
In elementary school, they let me be tested for a “Gifted and Talented” class which met one day a week. I was accepted in third grade for the class and participated until high school, when they transitioned us into AP classes. It exposed a small number of students to different educational experiences than the traditional learning environment. Some of my best memories of school come from the experiences in that learning environment.
When it was time for college, my parents sacrificed and put me through 5 years of undergrad and 3 years of graduate work. They encouraged me in continuing my academic pursuits, even helping to finance my doctoral work later on.
They read most everything I write, whether it’s blog posts or books. Now they don’t always understand what I write which is ok because I don’t always understand what I write either. And like many of you, they smile and come back for more.
I tell you all of that for two reasons. The first is that yesterday I had a wonderful lunch with a young couple, barely thirty. The wife has her PhD in Molecular Biology from the University of Maryland and teaches there, in addition to her computer science degree from William and Mary. The husband has his computer science degree from Johns Hopkins University and works for a government contractor leading development projects for the military. These are very smart people who happen to be Christ-followers.
Our topics of discussion included items from philosophy, neuroplasticity, psychology, and family systems theory and their application to computer modeling & programming, theology and biblical history. We had discussions about early gnosticism, religious history, and the canonization of scripture. It was a long lunch. It was a brain-draining lunch. But it was a blast!
What amazed me during these conversations was I was pulling things from memory that I had long thought lost. I sounded like I knew what I was talking about. I was making connections to all of these topics that satisfied their curiosity in ways that at least made sense. (Hint: I have come to find that in situations like this, if you can at least sound smart and hold them off a while, you may have the opportunity to do some research, allowing you to then truly speak from a strong knowledge base.)
I don’t say that to pat myself on the back. I say that to actually tell you “Thanks!” You tolerate it when I dabble in those kinds of thoughts on this blog and still read what I write. I process ideas here. Some make sense, some do not. I admit I look at theology and faith from many different perspectives and come at them in ways others may not, yet so many of you keep coming back for more, and for that I thank you.
But the reason I think this way is that my parents afforded me so many learning opportunities that allowed me to explore multiple disciplines and to think uniquely. And that is my second, and primary reason for sharing this with you.
From my dad I learned that there was almost always a way to fix something. I might have to go all “MacGyver” with something (MacGyver was known for his practical application of scientific knowledge and inventive use of common items), but I learned that if you would think creatively about what you have, you could improvise in tough situations and come through. I saw my mom do the same thing in different ways. For instance, she would often put together meals for many quickly with a unique group of ingredients and no recipe. For me, I learned that if you looked creatively, you could see how seemingly disparate concepts could fit.
When I was a kid, I used to shoot basketball outside in the driveway by myself, rain or shine, heat or freezing cold even late into the night. I would test out situations. I played around with angles and ball spin. Then one day during PE when I was in junior high, I made what seemed like an impossible shot. The other kids said it was pure luck. But I had practiced that shot over and over in my driveway. I don’t know that I had ever MADE the shot before, but I had practiced it a variety of ways. I prepared myself for the moment when the impossible was needed so that at least I had a chance.
My parents created learning environments where I was able to explore and experiment so much, that when the time came to do something, I had already processed the possibilities using what was around me at the time. I still run through scenarios in my head, though more often than not today, I’m integrating ideas and not trying to fix something on my car.
I don’t usually talk about my parents much here. But on my mom’s 65th birthday, I want to tell them both “Thanks!” for giving me the freedom to explore and learn and for demonstrating innovating and quick thinking. They created an environment where my passion for learning was not squelched but encouraged and not forced but allowed to thrive. In doing this, they have given me the opportunity to interact with, teach, and learn from people who have far more academic acumen than I. They have prepared me to be prepared which has allowed me to draw on disparate information and formulate ideas quickly. This sometimes allows me to sound much smarter than I am.
While truly celebrating my mom’s birthday today, I am truly thankful for the blessing of my parents. The Bible tells us that children are a blessing from God. May we “children” not forget that the opposite is also true: Parents are a blessing from God.