The Never Ending Salute

Seven months later, we ebb and flow in the adjustment to my father’s absence. Following weeks of apparent resolution to the deep, tangible grief, there is a relapse of pain that can be momentary or persistent. Triggers can range from pictures to places to experiences to nothing at all.

I’ve said recently, “I think Dad underestimated the impact of his departure.” It’s because he did. He didn’t understand the power of his presence. He was deferential and humble, especially with family as he served us without any apparent expectations of a quid pro quo return. His investment was into the legacy that his humility wouldn’t allow him to entertain credit for.

His life had changed the last 15 years or so. I didn’t see him cry until he was in his 60’s. You could guarantee his tears in the past decade every time he went to talk about us with any spotlight at all, including something as private as a prayer before a family dinner. My father was transformed.

Increasingly over the past several years, my dad had some health challenges. Sometimes they would limit his ability to do things but mostly they would cause him to feel bad. I didn’t realize the extent of it until after his death as my mother has shared some of the details. He never put it on display or drew attention to himself, and at times he walked further or smiled more than his body would have made easy for him.

The gradual yet evident demise of his capacity wore on his soul, too. He didn’t want to be a burden or burdened; he lived with purpose and with passion. He was mentally sharp and his ideas were weighted with wisdom and vision. That wisdom and vision combined with his selflessness to serve had always put him in motion but as his motion was increasingly limited the frustration would set in.

The value, however, of his place in the room was likely not something he ever completely embraced. As such, he was not overly impressed with the possibility of death. He wasn’t reckless by any means, but he was not afraid either. If he had known with greater certainty, I suspect, that he was a mountain of comfort and confidence in our lives then he might have been a little more hesitant to embrace the glory of eternity.

At his memorial service, the picture above was taken during the playing of taps. He received my first salute when I became a Second Lieutenant and I offered him his final salute (and possibly the final salute I offer) as a gesture which had meant something to both he and I. The gesture, however, is a temporary effort to convey eternal gratitude, honor and love.

We Need More Dads

We are working from behind as there is a shortage of fathers. It doesn’t help our efforts to overcome this shortage that there is a lack of appreciation for the value of fathers. The problem compounds as generations are raised up with no dads. The results in society are catastrophic and even within the church the impact is significant. While the impact in society may be so enormous that there is not a plan that could successfully address it, the solution resides among the community of believers that call Jesus “Lord.”

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:15, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers.”

So, since the time of Paul in the early church, there have been plenty of “guides.” The original meaning of the word for “guides” is defined as tutors or guardian of boys. These guides were men entrusted with oversight of boys that would instruct them in their upbringing by accompanying them everywhere to supervise their morals. They taught the boys right and wrong.

That word which is used to describe the tutors or guides is also translated in other areas as “schoolmaster” in reference to the law. That is, the law is referred to as a “schoolmaster” which guides students by imposition of boundaries with enforcement of rules. The schoolmaster acts as a guide and the law plays that role, as well.

We can’t please God with keeping the law, however, but only by faith (Hebrews 11:6). It’s not the presence or adherence to the guide’s direction which we ultimately need, but it’s the few fathers that Paul refers to which brings value to sons. The countless guides are always limited to correction to enforce a standard of conduct. All they can do is discipline according to the behaviors they observe. Their teaching is performance based.

The deficit is not in a lack of guides that want to correct behaviors, but in the lack of fathers that want to invest in lives. The correction of others based in an interpretation of the law versus their behaviors is easy. Fathering is not.

Fathers are an originator of a legacy, not simply a guardian of conduct. Fathers invest life on life to raise up others that will invest in the same way. It’s life-giving and multiplying to transform sons into fathers in a way that a schoolmaster is not equipped or expected. Where the cycle of fathering and sonship is fostered, it will reproduce itself.

Consequences Are Your Friend

One day I was checking the docket at the courthouse when a woman approached me to ask where a particular courtroom was. She went on to explain that she was nervous because her son was scheduled for an appearance on a possession of marijuana charge. “Why does that make you nervous,” I asked her?

“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 that “well, if he goes to jail, just drive home.”

“But he’s my baby,” she explained.

“How old is he?” I asked. After learning that he was 19, I told her, “he’s not your baby, he’s a grown man.” It was about that time that he walked over. “Is this him?” I asked, and she affirmed that it was.

“Listen,” I told 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 scared to death. It was clear that 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 for 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 that place of pain that comes as a result of or rebellion or immaturity, we get to choose. 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 sometimes. The stuff that we do is not who we are. Don’t rescue people from their consequences and don’t believe that the mistakes are who they are any more than your mistakes are who you are. It’s the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance; not the sloppy compassion or harsh judgment which we may offer in its place.

Fear Produces Control Where Love Allows for Wisdom

The other day, I was talking to one of my kids and decided to give them some counsel about some things to look out for. From all appearances, it could be viewed as pretty good parenting. Maybe, to some degree, it was. The problem wasn’t so much the counsel I was giving, it was the driver I was reacting to.

I realized later that night and into the next morning that the reason I chose to speak into the situation (which wasn’t really a situation yet, just the thought of what might become) was that I was afraid. Fear had driven me to warn and counsel where there was an imagination of what might be someday, somehow. Fear is not a healthy driver.

I could have given the exact same advice in the exact same situation and been doing it from love, but I wasn’t. Not this time, anyway. That next morning, I realized the distinction and spent time in prayer receiving the Father’s love. His love casts out fear. I prayed to realize His love for me and for my family, too. His love is the perfect driver.

When our children are small, we have a greater chance of controlling the environments they are exposed to and protecting them from potential threats. Increasingly, however, as they grow they are exposed to the potential of danger and evil as they mature in their ability to relate beyond the controlled environments of their youth. That’s scary. The stuff out there that is intended for their harm is real and active in its pursuit.

We can’t control everything for our kids for ourselves and, at the same time, we don’t have to be afraid. The control we thought we had was a bit of an illusion in the first place as we can never control all possible circumstances to mitigate all possible threats.

We have to rely on love, and not only our love, but the love of the Father. It’s His love that supersedes our fears and feeds our wisdom when we operate from healthy emotions. Unhealthy emotions like fear and worry won’t allow for wisdom as they seek to control. Healthy reactions like trust and faith from knowing the love of the Father gives way to His wisdom in where the boundaries need to be drawn and allows Holy Spirit to counsel us situation by situation.

Children Don’t Interrupt Our Purpose; They Embody It

photo 2-1croppedA few months ago I was preaching and something outside of the ordinary occurred. My wife and daughter were traveling so it was just our eight year old son and I at church. He got up in the middle of the sermon and walked up to the front. I was surprised to see him, but not at all upset with his interruption.

“Hey, are you OK?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied, “I just want to give you a hug.”

Of course I hugged him and asked him, “do you want to stay up here or go sit back down?”

“I’ll go sit back down,” he concluded.

That was it. Simple and sweet and child like. As I reflected on this interaction, I was thankful that the place we go to church is an environment where it wasn’t weird even through it was abnormal. As everyone was watching, a pause to interact with my son was natural. I hope and believe he felt no sense of shame or guilt for the interruption and saw me first and foremost as his dad.

I don’t want my kids to think ministry is more important than them because they are my most important ministry. I do this for a living now, but no vocation takes the place of our primary calling as disciple makers to our children. The practical details of how to walk that out are not always easy or obvious, so the heart of intention better be.

Someone shared with Julie that interruption for a hug was a picture of how God receives us. I like that and am thankful for the ministry that apparently occurred from this simple act. I didn’t, however, intend to minister to others as I received my son. I simply received him because I love him. He was my first priority in that moment, even though it took me by surprise that he had a need or a want in that particular moment.

We aren’t always going to get it right with parenting. There are demands and variables that challenge our desires regarding our children. Many of us have times and areas of parenting which leave us feeling inadequate. I know that I do.

I pray today that the spontaneous reaction of that day be a picture of meeting my kids in the moment every day. I pray that I always stop to make them first over any others that also may need ministry. I pray they always know that they are my ministry, no matter what demands my vocation may present.

The Core of Rest

restThe other day there was an accident. My six-year old son was supposed to be in bed and he got up and made a bit of a mess. Not on purpose, but a mess just the same. It’s not so much that he was “bad,” but that this was another in a long line of adventures after the announcement of bedtime. Something about that time of day that brings out reasons why he’s not quite tired.

I was a little irritated, but didn’t respond with any anger as I worked to clean it up. As I was working on the mess, I heard Haynes crying. I turned and asked him why he was crying and he said, “I thought you would be mad at me.”

I’m not immune from anger but, for the most part and in large measure, I have not been angry with him much. We have a good relationship and I’m pleased with my kids. When I mess up, I admit it to them (at least I think that’s the landscape, from my perspective). In any case, I’m trying and generally express my pleasure with them.

In this instance, I held his head in my hands and looked him in the face. I told him, “I’m not mad at you and I’m always, always going to be OK with you. I always approve of you and you are always, always my guy. I love you.”

Haynes has heard similar things from me before, but he needed to be reminded that this incident didn’t jeopardize my pleasure with him. Everything changed. He had a smile that appeared to originate from the depth of his soul. There was peace and restoration and he went back to bed and quickly to sleep.

There is a need inside of us that needs our dad’s approval. The need exceeds the ability of our father to satisfy the craving as no dad is that perfect. We want deeply to be affirmed in our place as sons and daughters by the man who has the best shot at it. The problem is that the man with the best shot at it misses sometimes. Even the best ones are flawed ones.

The destination for the ultimate approval and affirmation is the Father. Our dads provide a bridge to the love of the Father, and His love is perfect. He will hold our head in His hands whenever we go to Him and need the soothing of a troubled soul. He’ll tell us that we’re OK with Him and our pleasure will originate from the depth of our core. Then we can rest.