(This post is an excerpt from Choosing Change #13: Building Character and Building People, Part 3, and is inspired by the book “The Blessing” by Gary Smalley and Dr. John Trent
I first became aware of Gary Smalley and Dr. John Trent’s book The Blessing during my Sophomore year in college. Having grown up in a home without a father, I decided that if I ever became a father that I would practice the five principles described in The Blessing with my children.
The five principles, as outlined in the book are:
- To provide meaningful (and safe) physical touches,
- To speak positive messages to them,
- To attach high value to their life,
- To picture a special future for them, and
- To actively commit to ensuring the blessing was cultivated in their lives.
I can attest that as Leslie and I applied these principles intentionally in the lives of Marissa and Gabriel, that we observed the positive impact the principles were “designed” to have on children, through their infancy, preschool-age, elementary, middle school and in Gabriel’s case, High School and now College/Young adult phases of development. Little did I realize when I set out to integrate these five principles that I’d be planting, fertilizing, then helping them to “harvest” edifying behaviors that would not only nurture their growth and development but also help me to mature and become the father I always wanted to be for them.
So let me share a few of the behaviors that I practiced with my children, which resulted in Leslie and I imparting these blessings into their lives. As you read what I did, I encourage you to think, pray, reflect then create and implement words, behaviors, and experiences that you’ll provide to your children (or grandchildren), who are the most important treasure and responsibility that you’ll ever receive!
Principle #1 of The Blessing: To provide meaningful and safe physical touches
There’s all kinds of research that states from the moment a baby is born, that physical touch helps the newborn to bond with their parents, provides comfort when they’re distressed, which in turn helps them to “self-regulate,” which is a prime need and function of their developing brain. No one had to prompt me to touch, hug, or hold my newborns, Marissa, born in 1994 then Gabriel, born 4 ½ years later. I wanted to bless them by providing paternal warmth, affection, and love in abundance!
One way that I provided meaningful and safe touches with them (which incorporates the next two blessing principles, a spoken message and high value),was to cradle Marissa in my arms and recite a poem that celebrated the day she was born (I recited a similar version to Gabriel when he was born, and it became a bit more difficult to hold her in this manner when she was a teen!). Anyway, I’d hold her like a baby, look into her eyes and say…
“I remember the day that you were born. And on the day that you were born, the doctor… ‘No, the nurses!’” (My stating “Doctor” was Marissa’s clue to interrupt me in this interactive encounter, as she reminded me that it was, in fact, the Nurses who gave her to me in the hospital so I would continue…)
“Oh yea…the Nurses gave you to me, and I held you in my arms and said, “Oh she’s so beautiful.”
And I held you in my arms, and I looked in your eyes, and kissed your nose (which I did), and said “what a beautiful little girl. And do you know what? You’re just as beautiful today, as you were then. The end” (with Gabriel it was “handsome”).
In that exchange, it was important for me to convey to her my memory of that beautiful and life-changing day, the day God blessed Leslie and I with her, as well as the special place that she will always have in my heart. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me, to convey to her, and to Gabriel, how much they are my favorite son, or my favorite daughter (stating of course, that they’re my only son or only daughter!). I knew that by saying this every day, it was feeding, nurturing and growing their spirit, their esteem, their sense that they were to be honored and that she and Gabriel were very precious in my sight.
Another way that I’ve conveyed physical touch to the kids was to make sure that I hugged, then kissed them at bedtime every day of their life (except when traveling or currently, as Gabriel is away at College). After the hug, I gave them a kiss on their right cheek, nose, then their left cheek, followed by the words “I love you!” This “C-N-C” affection (which I’ll sometimes text to Gabriel), is the special way that I convey a physical blessing to them. In most pictures (probably all of them) taken with Gabriel, you’re apt to see me with my arm draped over his shoulder. Saying I love you and you matter to me in this manner and in other ways (i.e. holding hands when praying or giving a pat on the shoulder when walking past him) is my way of imparting a blessing to my son (and of course to Leslie as she’s a recipient of my affection as well!).
Occasionally I’d ask Marissa and Gabriel “are you going to do this with your kids?” to which they usually responded with a “yes” or an up-and-down head nod affirming my question. Again, I can’t begin to tell you how much the physical contact blessed me, but I also know the continued expression of healthy affection has blessed them.
So I’d like to ask you what form of physical contact will (or do) you convey to your children or grandchildren to impart this unique form of blessing to them?
Principle #2 of The Blessing: To provide a blessing in a spoken message
There were many times in their lives where I mentioned to Marissa and Gabriel “Do you know what?” and Marissa and/or Gabriel would say “What?” and I would say, “Do you know that I’m glad that God gave me the opportunity to be the Daddy of you? I am so fortunate to be the Daddy of you.” I truly am! As a proud parent, I think it’s an awesome gift that God chose to give to Leslie and me these two incredible, loving, beautiful, intelligent and talented children to raise and bless on a continuing basis. God entrusted us with their lives and I wanted them to know how much I loved and treasured them, and telling them how special they were (and are) to me was one way to impart the blessing to them.
Shortly after we lost Marissa in 2008, I created a personalized version of Proverbs 23:24, printed two copies, and put one in Gabriel’s room and one in my closet, where we’d both see the message each day. I wanted to bless Gabriel and let him know how I see him and what he means to me. The simple message from my heart to his is:
“The Father (Daddy) of a righteous man (Gabriel) has great joy;
He (Daddy) who has a wise son (Gabriel) delights in him” – Proverbs 23:24 (TNIV)
It still hangs in our rooms to this day, and because I want him to know how much of a blessing he is to me I’ll either write it in a card and give it to him or text the scripture to him (most times around, versus exactly on the 23rdday of the month!).
Marissa and Gabriel have imparted spoken blessings to me as well, through letters, cards or notes that they have written through the years. A few of those precious and inspiring sentiments are laminated and on my desk in my office. They’re an encouragement to me not only because they came from my children, but they’re a sign that they’ve taken it to heart to bless others, especially their Dad, in this special way.
Allow me to tell you about a moment when I was glad that I had practiced this form of blessing with my children. It was in May 2009, on the first anniversary of Marissa’s homegoing. Leslie was in the other room sharing pictures with a dear friend who came over to support us during our time of grief, and I was in the other room and decided to look at some videos of Marissa. You need to know that Leslie is the “Creative Memories” photographer in our family, and I’m the videographer who documents our times/trips on video. On that particular day, as much as I felt sad because of her absence, when I watched the videos I not only saw my Sweetie, but I also heard myself speaking kind and encouraging words to her; I was blessing her! I realized that even though she was with us for thirteen short years, at least those years were filled with moments where her Dad, Mom, and her brother were conveying spoken messages of blessing to her! Watching those videos was a concrete testimony and reminder that as much as we missed her presence, when she was physically present with us we loved her, and she knew we loved her, as evidenced by words of blessing spoken to her at any given time.
So I’d like to ask you what is (or will be) the spoken message that you’re conveying to your children or grandchildren, to impart this unique form of blessing to them?
Principle #3 of The Blessing: To attach high value to your child’s life
This type of blessing meant Leslie and I would provide meaningful experiences with the children by supporting their interests, be they at home or in the classroom, at the sports complex or on vacation. We always had the philosophy that exposure to different types of activities and experiences would help to shape their character and their life, so if they showed a heightened interest in an activity, hobby, or area that deserved pursuit, or, if an idea came to mind that we thought would be beneficial for one or both (or all of us) then we always tried to make it happen for the kids.
We encouraged and supported their creativity or their interest level when they were young (becoming a cartoonist for Marissa; operating heavy equipment/fire-fighting for Gabriel) and enjoyed visiting historical and fun places where they learned about the valuable contributions people made in society, and how they too could become people who could make profound differences in the world (as we saw during our “American History” vacation, where we visited Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, the Amish country/Hershey, PA, and Booker T Washington’s birthplace on one particular trip).
Leslie always amazed me with her creativity, especially on special occasions like birthdays or graduations, where she’d honor the kids by planning parties with themes based on what the kids were interested in (remember Barney the Dinosaur or Bob the Builder?). Family, friends and Leslie’s specialty cakes helped to celebrate the kids in meaningful ways that said whatever you’re interested in or whatever you have accomplished, no matter how big or small, it all matters to us.
I deeply enjoyed honoring and valuing the children by spending one-on-one times with Marissa (Daddy/Daughter “dates” and the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in Baton Rouge and New Orleans in 2008) and with Gabriel (trips to the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, attending sporting events, and more recently his college recruiting/campus visits). Taking time to invest in our relationship and their interests, whether academic or athletic on any level, was our way of encouraging them to dream big, and hopefully conveyed the message I believe in you, I enjoy spending time with you and of course, I love you!
With all of this, I think the best gift that Leslie and I worked to give to the kids to convey you’re highly valued was to provide them with a home where everyone was loved, valued and could “blossom” in an environment that was conducive for their spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, relational and athletic development, where serenity, fun, and peace were prized values that we tried to deliver continuously.
So I’d like to ask how will you or in what way will you convey to your children or grandchildren they are highly valued by you, as you endeavor to impart this unique form of blessing to them?
Principle #4 of The Blessing: To picture a special future for your children
Helping Gabriel and Marissa feel that they are special, in the eyes of God and in ours, and as such, they have a special place and purpose in His universe to use the unique gifts and talents they were blessed with is how we perceived and expressed this particular blessing in our home. Equally, Leslie’s daily encouragement for them to “glow in the dark” reinforced that everyday opportunities would surface in which they could make a valuable difference in someone’s life; this was the “bar” that we set for them.
Helping Gabriel and Marissa (who at first wanted to be a Psychologist, then a Missionary to Africa) to think about, envision then support their dream to become whatever they wanted to pursue or achieve became our vision as well, and when visions were expressed, the next step we took was to determine how we could help convert their intangible vision into a tangible reality. We did this by encouraging them with our words and by exposing them to opportunities that would educate, equip and help develop their interest and skills in the areas to which they were drawn.
Leslie reminds Gabriel that as a young boy he stated a dream and goal of his was to play football in College and in the National Football League as well. It’s no surprise to us that as a Sophomore at Wheaton College (IL), he’s currently a successful student-athlete where he’s committed to being and becoming the best student, the best athlete and a capable leader among his peers. He’s in the process of living out and achieving the special future that he envisioned for himself!
No matter the dream, I never wanted to “rain on their parade” and subsequently dampen their spirits. On the contrary, Leslie and I lived by a faith principle that we wouldn’t let finances get in the way of an opportunity to develop, explore or achieve something that could help them reach their short or long-term goals.
Finances aside, I think one of the most valuable contributions into their lives was to live out our values before them, especially values that encouraged and empowered them with the belief that they could achieve great outcomes in many areas of their life based on their focused investment of time and energy. Leslie and I would marvel (and still do) at what the kids accomplished and are thankful that each day provides us with the opportunity to see God work and accomplish what we think is the spectacular in Gabriel even though it’s occurring within what some could say are “mundane” day-to-day acts in which he’s involved. Our “future” could be interpreted as the current/present time that we exist and are living in (“right now”), and as we consider Gabriel’s future, we’re very proud of what we see in him!
So I’d like to ask you what is the special future that you envision for your children or grandchildren, and how are or will you impart this unique form of blessing to them?
Principle #5 of The Blessing: To actively commit to ensuring the blessing was cultivated in their lives.
As I mentioned earlier, it was our mission as parents to expose Marissa and Gabriel to experiences, events, and people that would not only build their character and shape their lives but would also provide them with assistance to convert their dreams into goals and eventually their goals into real outcomes.
It’s hard to answer the question “when did all of this begin?” but I do know that trips to the park, reading books before bedtime or throwing and shooting the ball in the backyard eventually gave way to other activities like spelling bees, soccer, basketball, and track practice for Marissa, and soccer, baseball, flag and eventually football with pads for Gabriel.
I do need to say that one weekly and family-focused activity that was very important in our process (and still is) is that we enjoyed going to church. At church, we learned about the importance of Agape-oriented values and principles and how to demonstrate them at home, school, work and on the fields the kids played on. Equally, what’s also important is that church provided the kids with exposure and interaction with others who encouraged them to be the best that they could be, at any given time. It’s the “village” principle, in that Leslie and I were successful as parents because we leaned on and exposed the kids to the insights, wisdom, and encouragement of those teachers and encouragers as well (some of those educators on Sunday were Marissa and Gabriel’s actual school teachers as well!).
Our commitment to bless the kids while helping them to achieve their vision took Leslie all over the State of Mississippi as she drove Marissa (with Gabriel in attendance) to basketball games, track meets and soccer matches, and both of us to football practices and games that began in Texas and now takes us around the country as we enjoy supporting and watching Gabriel achieve his goals. It’s my belief that these experiences have helped us become the family and people that we are, and the expression of our commitment helps me now, and hopefully on my dying day to say wholeheartedly that I have no regrets with how we spent our time and energy. Also, when I blew it as a Dad, it was usually these blessing principles that helped me to course correct with my behavior.
I cannot convey how much Leslie and I have been blessed by our children as we practiced these values from day one in our parenting with them. We have seen the “fruit of our labor” and if you are expecting, have young children, or if your children are grown, or if you wish to apply these principles with friends, family or co-workers, but especially with your children, then I think the application of blessing them by practicing these five principles will yield positive and fruitful returns in their lives. Take a moment and bless someone today. I hope you (and they) will be glad that you did!
So I’d like to ask you what is, or how will you actively commit to your children or grandchildren to ensure this part of the blessing is cultivated into their lives?
Make sure you read Choosing Change #13: Building Character and Building People, Part 3, and the other posts in the Choosing Change series!
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