"It's a paper clip. I've worn it before and you didn't say anything."
"Because I didn't see it." A big red unbent paper clip dangles from my daughter's pierced ear. "Take it out. You don't wear paper clips in your ear."
"But, mom, what's wrong with it?" She's got that half defiant, half pleading look on her face. My usually reasonable, obedient daughter is going to challenge me on this one. But why? Why this?
"That's not what they're for. It looks awful. Take it out." We're on our way across the church parking lot.
Once in the car she slouches in the seat next to me and continues, "I don't see anything wrong with it. It's just a paper clip."
"I said take it out. It's going to infect your ear. The hole is already way too big because of it. Just take it out! Now!"
I hate it when I have to fight with her. It doesn't happen often and there's always a hidden reason for her resistance. I need to find out what it is this time.
She removes the clip and turns her head away so I don't see the tears. For some reason this means something more to her than just a fashion statement or a rebellious act of adolescence.
"Why would you want to wear a paper clip in your ear?"
"I like it," she answers. "There's nothing wrong with it."
"Besides," she adds so quietly that I almost miss it, "Katie gave it to me. It was her idea and we decided to do it together. It's like a friendship bracelet. That's how she'll know I'm her friend. You let me wear the dog collar she gave me."
This is my daughter's first year in public high school and although it's a good school, I had been afraid something like this would happen.
"Oh, now I see. It's Katie. What's next, black lipstick, tattoos and multiple piercings?"
"No! That's gross and I wouldn't do that anyway."
Katie is part of a group of kids my daughter has become friends with at school. She seems ok, but black clothing, clunky chains and studs are her choice of attire. I've only met her once and I really don't know that much about her except what my daughter has told me. We've talked about her influence before and I decided to see how it would affect my daughter.
"Mom, if I do this then Katie will know I'm not judging her. She'll know I'm really her friend. She'll trust me." My levelheaded daughter then uses the ultimate weapon in her Christian teenage arsenal. "If she trusts me then she'll listen to me when I tell her about Jesus."
How do you argue with that?
At least now I understand what this is all about. I relax a little. My daughter hasn't gone totally to the dark side.
"That's great, but it doesn't usually work that way. People always have the best intentions, but wind up getting pulled down instead of pulling the other person up."
"I know, mom, but I want to do this. For Katie. She's my friend."
I see the sincerity, the genuine caring in her expression. This is something she really feels she needs to do. She has thought about it. It's not just an impulsive act.
The offending paper clip has been removed. She's still wearing the thick black silver-studded dog collar. I know it's not over yet, but for now we call a cease-fire.
At home she goes to her room to do homework and I'm left alone. I start replaying the conversation in my head. At the same time I pray. "What is going on here, Lord? How do I handle this?"
As I go over what my daughter said I start to think. What is so wrong with wearing a paper clip in your ear? Did I object so strongly because of how it would reflect on me? I hadn't even noticed it before today. What if she's right and by wearing a paper clip in her ear and a dog collar around her neck Katie sees something that draws her to seek and follow Jesus?
That was several months ago and my daughter sometimes still wears a paper clip in her ear and a big dog collar around her neck. She's still friends with Katie and has asked her and some other friends to youth activities at our church. She's gotten to know several Christian friends at school and been invited to their youth groups too.
As a parent I want to protect and shelter my daughter. As a Christian I need to place her in God's hands and trust Him. I can't interfere in their developing relationship.
In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians he says, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." God can and will use anything, even paper clips and dog collars. And who knows, maybe my daughter will be an instrument that God uses to "save some".
How can I object to that?
Author's note: This was originally written almost seven years ago. My daughter and Katie have graduated from high school and gone their separate ways but still remain friends. The paper clips and dog collars have disappeared and although Katie has not quite come around yet there have been small indications that she will eventually. I got to know her through some tough times and agree with my daughter that she is someone special. We are still praying and hoping; and my daughter is still willing to do whatever she can. As Christians there are many lessons we can all learn from paper clips and dog collars.