As I was cleaning out cabinets and closets recently, I came across an old manila file folder that contained a glance back into my earlier years of parenting. It contained perhaps one of my few brilliant moments as a parent, in fact.
Aside from patting myself on the back for my one of three or so savvy parenting moves, I wanted to share the contents of this file folder with you today because it contains an even bigger life lesson.
I imagine it was summer time and my probably 10-year-old son Daniel was bored. Or it could have been during the school year when something didn't go his way in the classroom. Or it may have been following a baseball practice when his coach (also his dad) was particularly hard on him.
More than likely it was after a string of events that didn't go Daniel's way. At any rate, his attitude was definitely lousy. This much I know, because the contents of this folder were all about the lousy attitude.
Like most moms, I have kids who have occasionally struggled with attitude problems. (Did you catch the sarcasm in the way I said occasionally?) These days, their attitude problems are pretty much their own and I just clear out when I see the grumpies setting in. But back in those days, when they got restless, bored, whiny, disgruntled, or angry, those ugly attitudes set in like bothersome flies at a picnic. They swarmed around me and everyone else, pestering the stew out of us until I could take it no more.
So I don't remember exactly which "picnic" this was, but I know the flies were buzzing because I had the proverbial fly swatter in hand and I was obviously doing my best to swat the ugly attitudes away.
It was during this "picnic" season that I sat draining my blood for a routine test one day and a poorly mimeographed paragraph on the wall of the lab cuticle caught my eye. It was a quote from Charles Swindoll.
I commented to the phlebotomist that my son needed to read those words and, before I could even take the cotton ball from my punctured arm and lower it, the friendly, older woman had run me a copy to take home with me.
That day I took Charles Swindoll's words home to my son, plopped the copy in front of him on the kitchen table, and said something like, "Daniel, read this. If you display a lousy attitude one more time, you will have to write this out before you will have any more electronic privileges." (That was the way we punished Daniel -- by taking away his electronics, i.e. computer time, game sets, television, etc.)
I had Daniel read Swindoll's words and undoubtedly preached an accompanying sermon about having a good attitude as well. Then I sent him on his way, hopeful that simply reading these wise words would turn Daniel's heart, making him grateful, joyful, positive, and hopeful on some sort of permanent basis.
It was probably just a matter of days before I had to pull the paper from the folder in which I had placed it, plop it in front of my son again, and this time hand him paper and pen. Daniel wrote out what seemed to him, I'm sure, to be a rather long paragraph. And, while I don't recall the circumstances that precipitated this disciplinarian action, I do remember that it indeed resulted in a changed attitude...at least for a while.
When I unearthed the one piece of notebook paper with his boyish handwritten edition of Swindoll's words the other day, I pondered why there wasn't a stack of such papers. There surely should have been. Come to think of it, there should have been a stack of papers with Abigail's handwriting on it, too. But, like most good parenting devices I stumbled upon, I undoubtedly forgot to pull this one out again and instead returned to swatting away my children's bad attitudes with sermonettes, rolled eyes, and sighs again. Undoubtedly my swatting just produced my own bad attitudes and so we went round and round.
Ok, enough of the sentimentality over finding my precious boy's punishment filed away in a forgotten manila envelope. Here are the words that I read while having my blood drawn. Here are the words I insisted my little boy write in hopes they would straighten him out. Here are the words I should have written in my own handwriting a few hundred times. Here are some mighty wise words.
"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company...a church...a home (...a team). The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent how I react to it. And so it is with you...we are in charge of our attitudes." -- Charles Swindoll
These are Mr. Swindoll's words, so it's not really my place to grant you permission to start your own file or two of handwritten copies. But I bet he'd be glad for you to do so, if it would save you or your family a little grief.
By the way, Daniel, just like the rest of us, still struggles with attitude occasionally. But I couldn't be prouder of him. Somehow, despite my inconsistent parenting, he has turned into a mighty fine young man.