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.

Greatness Just Is

Several years ago, I was with my family at the airport trying to get on a flight that was oversold and it didn’t look like it was going to happen. They issued a boarding pass but then took it back. The way it played out left us literally standing at the gate with our luggage in hand ready to head down the ramp at a moment’s notice. My dad had dropped us off at the airport and was waiting in the baggage claim area outside of security, watching through the glass. I looked over at him as we waited at the gate and realized that his oversight was a great comfort.

There he was, standing patiently and watching to see if we were going to get on. Nothing particularly dramatic about it, but it was a great snapshot of what he has done for me my entire life. He’s been there, watching and waiting, ready to help if needed. There was nothing he could do about getting me on that flight so it wasn’t a matter of fixing things for me. It was his presence that was the offering which brought me comfort. He’s a great dad.

The power of presence is often underrated. Just being there offers confidence, security and support among other things and is the greatest gift we can often offer another. In fact, just being there and supporting when there is nothing else we can do to “fix” something is the kind of love that allows those that we love to work through things with the comfort of knowing that if they can’t work it out they still won’t be alone. It assures them of a place at the table of family and community which allows for living.

My Dad is always there. I can walk with the comfort of His presence even when He is letting me work through the details of my choices and the consequences of those choices from a safe observation point. The oversight and invite are an assurance of my place in the world during times when the world seems to offer no place. The consistency of His offering is that when I draw nearer, there is a peace in the middle of the questions of life. There is acceptance among rejection and strength for the next step. He’s a great Dad.

He’s Not Your Baby

One day as I was checking the docket at the courthouse, a woman approached me and asked where a particular courtroom was. She went on to explain that she was nervous because her son was scheduled to appear on a possession of marijuana charge.

“Why does that make you nervous?” I asked.

“He could go to jail,” she said.

“Did you drive here today?” I asked. After confirming that she had driven her son to the courthouse, I responded by encouraging her, saying “Well, if he goes to jail, just drive home.”

“But he’s my baby,” she explained.

“How old is he?” I asked. After learning her son was 19, I told her bluntly but as kindly as possible, “He’s not your baby. He’s a grown man.”

It was about that time her son joined us. “Is this him?” I asked, and she affirmed it was.

“Listen,” I said, turning my attention to him, “you are not a child anymore. Smoking weed and getting your mom to drive you to court are childish. You are a man, you are equipped to be a man and it’s time to start being a man. When I was a child, I acted like one, but when I became a man, I put childish things behind me. It’s time for you to do the same; you are a man and you are capable of putting childish things away.”

This young man’s shoulders straightened up, his eyes locked in and everything about his body language accepted the reality I was presenting him. His mom, at the same time, looked terrified. It was clear she was much less ready for him to be a man than he was.

I don’t know what happened with his court case, but whatever consequences he had to deal with were a benefit to him. A misdemeanor on his record is a small price to pay if he was able to allow the consequence to draw him into responsibility.

Love allows for consequences because consequences allow for repentance. When we have to deal with the implications of our immaturity and/or depravity, we are more aware of the goodness of God. From the place of pain that results from our rebellion or immaturity, we get to choose. We can either choose to submit our lives to the goodness of God or maintain our rebellious attempts of making our own way. The choice to submit our lives back to the goodness of God is much more appealing when we have tried it without Him and are facing the reality of our choices.

We all mess up, but what we do is not who we are. Don’t rescue people from their consequences and don’t believe their mistakes are who they are any more than your mistakes are who you are. The kindness of the Lord leads to repentance, not the sloppy compassion or harsh judgment we may offer in its place.

It’s graceful to let people realize grace by letting them deal with their own consequences. The realization of grace is born of fire, and fire burns every time. Let it happen. We aren’t doing others any favors by being less than honest in our relationships. Honesty includes the willingness to allow others to choose as well as to experience the results of their choices.

From “Abundant and Free; Seeing Life Through the Lens of Grace” now available on Amazon.

Enjoying Joy and Relating with Eternity at 50

Fifty years ago today, I was born. Seventeen years ago, I was born again. Life was born where there had been living without depth. Along the way, I’m trying to figure it out but it gets more simple, I think, not more complicated.

Here’s what I think I know: my new life, given to me by the grace of Jesus, is intended to be shared with people and theirs with me. The other stuff we tag onto the grace of Jesus “in His name” may not have ever been intended to be a part of the sharing of Him among us.

This is supposed to be easier than we make it, I think. We can choose to pile a bunch of religion and expectations and criticism of each other on top of His grace, but we shouldn’t think that it’s Him. He doesn’t do that. He calls us His friends and friends don’t treat each other like that.

In the next 50 years, or whatever number are left on this earth, I want to increase in my presentation of Him in His grace. I want to be His friend and a friend His other friends as well as those who He would like to be friends with. I want to smile and encourage and laugh and cry with people who don’t want or need to be alone.

God, the Father, presented Himself through Jesus, the Son. Now they, along with Holy Spirit, are willing to present themselves through us and among us. They aren’t critical, upset, disappointed, concerned or corrective. I’m convinced that they aren’t worried about the order of service or the mastery of ideas about them as much as they are desirous of relationships. Relationships with them and relationships with each other. I think the whole Book is about relationship.

Jesus is more than willing to live among His people who laugh and sing. The songs don’t have to be from Hillsong or a hymnal, they can sometimes be from the Eagles or Johnny Cash. Then people who don’t know anything about Hillsong or hymnals can join in and have relationship with us, too. Relationship with us might lead to relationship with Them, but if it doesn’t nothing changes about the graceful display of the intention.

 

 

The Grace of Race

Public outcry, eloquent articles, denouncement, arrests and prosecutions or other reactive measures following Charlottesville won’t change the nation. The attempts will bring justice and/or clarify positions, but they won’t heal the condition that has resulted in these types of problems. The rhetoric and outbursts come from deeper roots.

President Obama, quoting Nelson Mandela, tweeted recently, “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love . . . . For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Hate and anger have been fostered on the extremes of the race equation in America and there are incremental shades of hurt sewn all through the fabric of our nation. Without assessment of cause and origin, it’s fair to say that somebody has to go first to step towards healing.

People learn to hate because they hurt and fear. Anger is a secondary emotion. The healing of the hurt and the alleviation of fear will remove the anger, hate and rage. I’m not saying it’s easy. In fact, it’s incremental.

There is no program, policy or procedure that will fix it. There is only love. Love can only be transferred on heart at a time.

Transferring love one heart at a time requires grace. To give love, the person it is being given to must first be received. They must be received despite the fact that they are a person. A flawed, offensive, and even wrong person. The way to change their offensiveness is to receive them and love them. Ugh; right in the middle of their stuff that we want to react negatively to and maybe even punish.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone needs to react to others like this. Only Christ followers. Only those that have been received by Him with His grace. Then, from the grace received from Jesus, we can distribute it to others. We don’t have to manufacture it.

This approach, however, is contrary to justice. There are arguments to be made which are based in justice that will tear down the call to give grace in order to impart love. That’s a choice; justice over grace. That’s a show stopper.

One heart at a time, grace upon grace, we are invited to love others. Jesus is in the reconciliation business and if you have been reconciled to Him, then you are qualified to join Him in that purpose (2 Corinthians 5). That’s what He’s doing, one heart at a time. We are invited to join Him.