by David Sisler

Your sixteenth birthday is usually a time for celebration -- a milestone reached, the long-hoped-for driver's license is now within reach. Your twenty-first birthday, too -- you're legal! There are other special days in birthday parlance, but today, I am thinking of a twenty-sixth birthday.

She came to live with us 26 years ago today. Jennifer Darlyn Sisler, first born child of Bonnie and David Sisler, first grandchild for Alvey and Dorothy Carter and Melvin and Elizabeth Sisler, first niece for Patricia Carter and Kyle Sisler.

When Jennifer was born, I was pastoring a small church in Damascus, Maryland and teaching history in Boonsboro, Maryland. It was a 45 minute drive from our apartment in Damascus to the school and so when I left in the morning, Jen was still asleep. On the way back to Damascus, I would stop and visit church members and when I finally arrived at home, she would be asleep again. We were strangers that first year -- it wasn't her fault. I was too busy and she suffered because of it.

It is not easy being the first born (Old Testament rules gave two parts of the inheritance to the first born and only one part each to everyone else -- it may have been a way of apologizing for all of the mistakes new parents make with their first child). For almost four years you are the center of attention and then some stranger comes along. I still remember the pride which glowed on Jennifer's face when we placed her new sister on her lap and let the two of them become acquainted. I also remember that visitors who came to see the new baby were callously indifferent of the baby's big sister. Two years later it was double-trouble when visitors came to see Jennifer's twin brothers. Big people sure can be stupid when it comes to little people.

One of my earliest smiling memories about Jennifer happened one day when she came home from kindergarten in Cleveland, Tennessee. I was asking her about her day and a particular question prompted a one word answer, "Yes."

Now, if you grew up north of the Mason Dixon Line, you hear that word as just one syllable. The way the little girl who was born ten miles south of the Line (in Hagerstown, Maryland) and who developed her very basic language skills in Dixie said it, yes has two syllables -- "yeah es."

Startled, and amused, I asked, "Jennifer, how do you spell ‘yeah es.'"

A dozen years or so later, our Short Little Militant Sisler Kid would earn a full college scholarship. It did not surprise her proud papa, therefore, that she could spell at that early age. If you traditionally drive to Hatfud and pak your cah in the yadh, you may miss this one. Jennifer said, "Why ee es." Two syllables. Any questions?

Growing up in a house where you have a younger sister and two younger brothers, it is not all that difficult to feel neglected. Three little ones in diapers at the same time demand a lot of attention. Jennifer figured out a simple way to get her fair share. It took me a while to learn to learn it -- Dad's aren't terribly bright sometimes -- but an occasional stomach ache was a loud shout: "Hey! What about me!" Once I wised up, a few minutes alone with one or the other of her parents worked wonders Pepto Bismol never dreamed possible. The sadness in those big brown eyes would quickly go away. Jennifer's fellow siblings definitely had a better time of it because of what Jennifer taught her Mom and Dad.

Our firstborn child met God's firstborn Son before she entered the first grade. I used to wonder if people that young were ready to make such a powerful, lifetime commitment. St. Augustine was right -- there is a God-shaped void in each of us that only He can fill. If we parents will only point the way, our children will, almost instinctively, find Him.

Jennifer is frequently the last person to go to bed in our house. When I start down the hall to my room, I knock on her door to tell her good night, and she is usually surrounded by a couple of study books and a Bible. She and Jesus are getting better acquainted all the time.

It seems like only yesterday that she was dragging a loaf of bread around Skinny Granny and Pappy's house saying, "Butchie Bay" (that's two year old for "piece of bread"). A few days ago she was curled up on the couch with a young man who has recently started hanging out at our house. When I first asked Jen a nosey, fatherly question or two, she said, "Papa, we're just friends." A friendship is a great way to start a life together. Friendship has a way of becoming love. And love will one day lead dear old Dad and his oldest daughter down the aisle to where a young man will be waiting. Kids, take your time. This walk will be longer than the last one.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 11/9/96

Copyright 1996 by David Sisler

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