God’s Grinders

God used my firstborn son to grind off some of my sharp edges. Sparks flew, and God positioned my second and third son to file down more barbs and burrs.

I felt pretty smooth.

But my wife looked over their work, and she immediately had a conversation with God–like I wasn’t even in the room. God nodded, and my beloved laughed a little.

“The boys missed a few spots.”

“What? Where?”

God ignored me like he does whenever I whine. “I’m sending you three more helpers to grind down a few more burrs,” he said.

“But, Lord. Sweetheart… (Sometimes I get the two mixed up) I don’t want any more helpers! Boys hate school, and drive too fast, and eat too much, and make me crazy!”

God and my Sweetie looked at each other, knowingly. “Don’t worry,” God said. “This batch will grind off the most stubborn burrs on your disposition. By the time they’re done, your character will be as smooth as a baby’s behind, guaranteed. These helpers are GIRLS.”

“Oh, God. Please, No! I thought we were done having kids! Lord? Aren’t we?”

“Your sons will have wives, remember?”

“Of course. Someday, but what’s that got to do with me?”

My firstborn son met his wife in Alaska. He was 17, she was 16–tall, elegant. Shy. The boy decided within a few weeks that she was the one, then her family moved to Thailand!

His personal misery spread through our house like a plague. His day was her night, and her day was his night–so their Internet conversations stumbled sleepily across the time zones.

The boy’s temper grew short, and his hair grew long. We worked together in our family business while his heart wandered through teak pavilions with his beloved.

His girl wandered the same Thai paths, so her parents invited her husband-to-be to Southeast Asia. True love blossomed in Thailand, and my son came home, imbued with romance and the fragrance of jasmine.

It was a fairly long engagement–and then the shy, elegant young woman came home to Alaska and married the man of her dreams.

Thank God.

When they moved in next door, I enrolled in Father-in-law Etiquette 101. In this course, I learned never to warn or advise. Never take “cute” pictures at barbecues. Keep joking to a minimum. Never critique, or appear to critique, or imply that I was critiquing, or think a critical thought… And above all: project smiley-ness at all times.

I cringe now as I recall the elbow-in-the-ribs joshing my daughter-in-law tolerated. I credit her for taking off a few more burrs–and this was only the first course…

My second Father-in-law course began the day that my youngest son brought home a girl from school, his pal. He wasn’t allowed to have a girlfriend, so we called her a “friend.” She was only 15 and my son 16. I sat them down and explained that they could graduate to being “an item” someday (if the silly “pal” relationship lasted that long).

I enforced rules like a schoolmarm: including the six-inch commandment. And no wrestling. They needed to do homework and stay where Mom and Dad could see them.

I thought that my son’s pal would find the atmosphere in our home too inhibiting. Too restrictive.

Nope. The girl THRIVED on restrictive.

Our house became her personal gym, where she tested her will against mine. This 15-year-old child often out-maneuvered me, and sometimes I made her cry!

After my (completely unwitting) offenses, she would abandon the house for a whole day or two, until materializing on my recliner again. To everyone else she acted like nothing had happened–until I came into the room.

“You’re back, huh.”

Talk to the hand.

Buffaloed? Not me. But I always apologized.

When she needed a place to stay for a night or two, I made it clear how things would go. Our camper out in the backyard sat empty, so she spent the night there, shivering and spooked. Somehow she locked herself inside for a time, and I got the blame.

Our dueling continued for years until one day, my son and his friend turned into “an item.” Then serious. Then engaged. Then married.

And did she leave to start fresh with her new husband? No! The two of them converted my workshop into an apartment!

My middle son has always been unconventional. So it follows that only an unconventional girl would light up his heart. This boy was a traveler: Australia, Estonia, Papua New Guinea, Aleutian Islands, remote Alaska. While he biked on life’s highway, his girl danced and studied opera in New York City. They connected by “chance” at our local Anchorage Renaissance Fair–two performers in search of a stage. One was a burly redhead with warpaint and a broad ax, and the other a petite Korean girl with a bad knee being shuttled about in a wheelbarrow.

The whirring emery wheel touched my character once again the day my middle son introduced his girl to us in our living room. She didn’t have much to say, but my son’s face told me he had strong feelings for this one. Powerfully strong. I was about to begin my third course in father-in-law studies.

They hiked and spent time getting to know one another for several months, until deciding on a lifelong commitment. We joined them at the Eagle River Nature Center for a chilly marriage ceremony.

I could never have imagined the gifts this young woman would bring to our family: curiosity, spiritual hunger, an iron will, competitiveness, devotion…


A wasting condition in my son surfaced immediately after their wedding. Her new husband was suffering, and his bride set out to change the scene. She studied to find a way to control his disease, and her gentle persistence has touched our family like a healing soothing oil. Due to her tender care, my son is living without pain.

But can I keep up with her innovations? Never. Animal pens. Exotic hens. Gardening. Remodeling. Opera performances. Instructing dance. Raising five children. Business. A home delivery right next door, and one more baby on the way.

If I have a single rough edge left on my character, God’s instrument in the hand of my Korean daughter-in-law is grinding it away.

As I consider my rough-cut worldview, I realize how God is using those I love to help me learn to be a grandfather–though my role as a father still rises. It’s like learning to hammer tacks after years of swinging a sledgehammer.

My eldest son has fewer sharp edges than me, but he has five boys and three girls to smooth him out, plus a wife of 21 years.

A few burrs remain on my youngest son, but his wife, two girls, and a boy are grinding away. He’s been married 10 years.

I see my middle son flinching because of God’s grinding stone in the hands of four daughters, a son and a wife of 11 years.

As for me, I still snag the upholstery when I sit beside my daughters-in-law. My disposition takes constant maintenance, and I have three families with 16 grandchildren to file me down when needed.

I still josh my daughters-in-law, and they tolerate me far better than when they were teenagers. At least most of the time…


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