The Value of a Champion

One year ago tomorrow, I jogged down a hospital hallway to catch up with two attendants pushing a gurney with my father on it on the way back to heart surgery. They stopped as I called out and when I reached them, my dad had already closed his eyes as was beginning to go to sleep. He opened his eyes and I said, “I love you, dad; I’ll see you in a few hours,” while placing my right hand on his upper left chest.

He reached his right hand across his body and put it on top of my hand, saying, “I love you, son,” with a slight grin. That was the last time we talked and, as far as I know, those were the last words he ever spoke. The surgery went poorly, he never woke up and my dad entered heaven three days later.

Anniversaries cause you to reflect and as I reflect at the one year anniversary of my father’s passing, I realize the greatest loss I have suffered as a result of his death. I lost a champion.

My dad wasn’t one to give tons of advice and hardly ever pushed his opinion into my circumstances. He was supportive and available and was unconditional in his love. He let me figure things out and responded if called upon. In figuring it out, there was nobody in this world that celebrated the wins for me and with me more than my dad has.

Over the past year, what I have missed the most is the ability to share the victories with him. Phone calls or visits to talk of how something was working out well were always met with equal joy and satisfaction from him. The times I miss him can be diverse in their origin but some of the most palpable times of grief are when I want to share a win.

My friend, Omar, reminded me not too long ago that while we often talk about the Bible’s call to “mourn with those who mourn,” the rest of that verse is to “rejoice with those who rejoice.” (Romans 12:15) It’s just as important to have relationships that celebrate with us as it is to have those that will allow for the healthy processing of our grief.

I’m so thankful to have a loving bride that celebrates with me and kids as well as other family. I just miss my first champion.

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.