Absolutely Abba

It’s only been five months and it’s pretty surreal. The absence of my father is so permanent that the pain of the permanence is the hurt that re-visits most often. It’s also the place where the mirage of the faint and passing thoughts that I am about to see him show up. Those brief and passing moments where I forget the unforgettable give way quickly to the realization of reality.

With that said, I am not an orphan. My father on earth has gone the way of all the earth, but my Father in Heaven is increasingly prominent in my consciousness. The infinity of God co-exists with the intimacy of God and He is Father in the connection of distant to personal.

No matter what the challenge or celebration is, the need for a Dad is real for all of us. We want and need the pivotal relationship with an earthly father and where there are fractures or voids, we hurt and want. The earthly father experience, however, is a flawed and temporal expression of the perfect and eternal identity of who God is for us and through us if we will simply come home to Him.

Coming home to the Father is a daily choice made first and foremost in our will. It’s not a theological debate nor is it complicated set of rules to follow. Our return to the Father through the grace and sacrifice of Jesus is a daily submission of our will and our lives to His goodness and sovereignty. It’s our will that has to die first.

When we will submit our wants, the return on that investment is freedom. When we die to our drivers and choose to depend wholly on the One who is Holy, the fruit of His life can come through us. We can exchange our anxiety and self-consciousness for His peace and love. He loves His kids and that love is the greatest satisfier of any of the wants, fears or forecasts we entertain when we are driving.

Trust is fostered in the silence. Time spent quietly considering and connecting to God as Abba, or Father, or Daddy is an investment into the satisfaction of things that otherwise unleash my will to have its way. These brief and passing moments where I realize the Absolute give way to temporary distractions of earthly temptations and I am in need of my Abba again. Thankfully, I am not an orphan and He shows up time and time again.

That’s All

I miss my dad. Not every minute of every day, but when I do and I do when I don’t always expect it. I miss his support and comfort and consistency and presence. I miss his ear. I miss his completely reliable willingness to hear me work through things. I miss his humility to not need to know or say the answer, but instead just be willing to be and be willing to let me be me.

This deal is difficult. Life, that is. There is stuff that piles on top of stuff and it comes flying at you faster than seems possible, at times. Sometimes it’s Kingdoms colliding, sometimes it accusations calling to any exposed insecurities, sometimes it’s just gravity. Stuff falls when you drop it.

My dad was in for whatever it might be and always welcomed the thought. There was joy in the silence of his listening and encouragement in his gentle assurances.

I really don’t know what the point of this post is other than to value the time I had with a man who was always there but now isn’t. The unthinkable has become the surreal as the urge to call to talk or listen bubbles up in the unfolding of time and it won’t yield to the finality of death.

There’s no fixing it and faith gives hope but grief has its say, too. Faith and hope are incredible beacons of eternity in the here and now. They occasionally get drowned out by the deja vu of imagination about seeing him or talking to him as I consider calling or turn the corner towards the house where he used to be. Then the punch of the disappointment that comes with the realization.

He couldn’t have fixed it but he did take the sting out of it. Whatever the it was, the him gave it some context. Context that came with being there every day, even if from a distance. I just miss him, that’s all.

Dying to Live

The combination to unlock our potential is found in our willingness to give up. We are invited into a greatness that is sourced by glory, not ability. The posture to realize the Source is humility.

I watched my dad figure it out over 50 years. He went from hard charging army officer to yielded servant. When I was a boy, the rules were firm and the expectation was obedience. As I grew, permission was granted for manhood. His presence never faltered, but his touch lightened and his greatness grew.

As an adult, I watched my dad step fully into his greatness. Not only was he permissive in his allowance for positions and perspectives of others, but he was humble in his service to practically everyone. He didn’t qualify people based on their education, experience or ability, but offered his education, experience and ability for their good.

He increasingly became less. In the laying down of his considerable “more,” the impact of his influence multiplied. He gave his life over to Jesus, the church and the Kingdom of God. He became of no rank again. The promotion was supernatural.

Then, not longer after his death, I realized that he would be stronger in his death than he was in his life. It made me think of the scene in the first Star Wars movie where Obi Wan allowed Darth Vader to strike him down, declaring his own impact would only increase as a result. When the marker of death is a gate along an eternal story, the multiplication of purpose is passed along. Vision for eternity fuels intentional living temporally.

I keep writing about him because God keeps showing me stuff about Him through him. The passing along of a picture of transformative greatness presents a target. It’s good to see what the target looks like. It’s not a target of performance or behaviors as much as it is a target of disposition. A picture of what becoming less looks like to put more on display.

Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. He walked in authority, yet He was humility. He is love and “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Love is less.

More than ever, I am thankful for what Jesus did for my father and I. He saved us and transforms us. I’m not yet where my father ended up, but I know what it looks like. It’s available to anyone willing to lay down their sword.

The Weight, Power and Privilege of Legacy

I felt it right away. I mean, in the hallway in the minutes following my father’s death, I knew something that I didn’t understand. There was a shifting of a mantle that was real. I was no longer simply the son of Tom; I was now one of the carriers of his legacy.

My father’s father struggled. He had an alcohol problem and the life my father knew as a son was drastically different from the life I have known as a son. The benefits of my father’s faithfulness which I have enjoyed were not a product his heritage as much as it was the legacy he began. As a result, I inherited a heritage with benefits that had predominately begun with my parents. They initiated a legacy that was significantly distinct from the heritage they received.

It’s easier for me than it was for my dad. He made a way for me. He created and I get to build on. My sister and I have the benefit of a higher floor than the one which was passed on to our father. Now we get to steward that and our ceiling is higher since the floor was elevated for us.

The mantle of a legacy is a mantle of honor. It has a weight to it, but not a burden as much as a privilege. There is privilege in my position as an heir of the legacy my father passed on. As such, I have an appreciation for its value and want to handle it with intentional care.

My father wasn’t perfect and neither am I. Legacy is not the burden of perfection but the choice to honor. The choice to be intentional is what multiplies what was started before me. Whatever I received, I want to pass on to the best of my ability. I choose to honor my father, his memory and legacy by paying attention to it as displayed through how I serve and care for my family.

That responsibility has a weight to it, but it isn’t burdensome as much as it is empowering. I’ve seen what it looks like and have been equipped to walk in it. Now I lean into the grace of Jesus to realize the fullness of the potential that has been handed off. Multiplication of blessings is available to the thousandth generation by the grace and favor or God, and by agreeing with Him regarding His heart and desire to continue what He started in my dad.

This is Worse and Better Than I Thought

The pain that comes in the wake of losing my father has layers that I didn’t expect. I’m caught off guard by the emotions that accompany the hurt.

I didn’t expect the fear. For the first time in 50 years, the guy that I could always count on isn’t there. The safe place, reliable counsel, unconditional love and complete support is gone. The result included a feeling of vulnerability that I didn’t expect because I have never felt it before. I found myself uncovered and unprotected in a way that I had never known.

I’ve ministered to hundreds of people with significant dad issues and represented hundreds more as a criminal defense attorney. I’ve understood the reality of the how important the dad relationship is and diagnosed the cause and effect correctly. I didn’t know and couldn’t have known the depth of the fear that accompanies the hurt.

I have felt aloneness in the adjustment to my father’s absence even though I enjoyed the benefit of his presence for 50 years. It breaks my heart to know that some people go through their entire life with the pain and fear that come from an absent father without knowing the joy of the contrast. I don’t have to stay in the hurt or the fear and neither do they, but the fact that I know what it’s supposed to feel like is a huge benefit.

In the processing of the grief and void of my dad’s consistency, I’ve realized the love of the Father. I’ve known it before, but it’s different now. It was incredible always, but it’s different when there isn’t a father. The joy of knowing that I am a son to the One that gave me a father in the first place is tangible.

No matter if your father story is one of a good dad, bad dad or somewhere in the middle dad, the target and invitation is always to the Father. He wants to provide the eternal relationship which may or may not have been modeled well in your temporal experience.

God gave His son so we could be sons and daughters. We are invited into the security of a relationship which will never end. We are invited into the safe place, reliable counsel, unconditional love and complete support of a Father that is perfect and forever. We don’t have to be afraid; we can be loved.

Our Dads Are a Bridge or a Barrier

In the weeks leading up to my father’s death, I was reminded of a previous surgery he had been through. Eighteen months prior to this most recent surgery, he had been through a similar procedure. Someone had encouraged me to “leave nothing unsaid” as we entered into that previous procedure.

As I had stood by his bed prior to surgery the first time, I considered what it was I should say and I couldn’t come up with anything. My father and I had discussions in the flow of life leading up to that point from which I knew that he knew how I felt about him. More importantly, perhaps, I knew how he felt about me.

My father had told me that he loved me and that he was proud of me with his words and actions. I had heard it from him and I had heard it through others that he had told. I also saw it in is support, presence and contribution to things I did. He proved it by being there.

  • He was my Boy Scout leader
  • He commissioned me as an Army officer
  • He wanted to see my office at various jobs I had
  • He came to court just to watch one day
  • He came to “Bold” men’s meetings I was leading
  • He came on a Quest I was facilitating
  • He was at my book signing when I rolled out my first book
  • He wanted me to come and speak to the men at his church and set up a men’s event

Really, the list goes on and on; those are just what jump out initially. I don’t have any doubts about who my father said I am. He said it and he showed it. His investment positioned me to receive the Truth.

God’s relationship with us is as Father. He wants to be “Abba” to us; not a distant or angry Judge. The realization of His identity as well as ours comes from Him but it is easier to realize when/if our dads agree.

From the affirmation that my father gave me, it was easier to know of the love that the Father has for me. From my dad being there, it’s easier to know that my Dad is always there.

Your father is either a bridge or a barrier to the Father, but the target for all of us is the same no matter if we had a good dad, bad dad or absent dad. The target is to hear from Spirit to spirit that “you’re a son.” Once you hear that, the good, bad or ugly of your earthly father has its proper context and you have your eternal perspective.