Saturday, June 18, 2005

Tribute to my father

Like most of the men I know, I haven't spent enough time telling my father how much I love him and appreciate his commitment to me throughout my life. Like most of the men I know, my mother is the recipient of praise, and my father ... well, he does a good job supporting my mother.

My father, however, is unusual from most other fathers. A former preacher, our faith wasn't something we practiced inside a church building. It wasn't something we discussed in a detached, distant manner. It was real, tangible, meant to be lived and shared like others take pride in their cars or material goods. We didn't have riches -- we were quite poor most of my life as a child -- but we had the wealth that comes with God's blessing of love. With my father taking lead, our faith was something we wore on our shirt sleeve.

I spent much of my teenage years raging against the machinery of my father, the Church, and everything else I perceived to be holding me back from freedom. It's a part of my life I've lived long enough to regret.

My father spent much of his energy during my formative years between ages 12 and 21 scrambling to understand my rebellion. He fought desperately to corral me from dangers I didn't understand while I fought back to loosen his grip on me. He had the courage to discipline -- he did not spare the rod.

When I outgrew the belt, he did not stop being my father. He didn't back away and give me over to the world. When I was 19, a high school dropout on the loser track, he gave me an ultimatum: stay in the comfort of home and go to church ... or leave.

I would be a liar if I said I wasn't tempted to leave, to just roll on and live a less-than-noble life. People talk about needing discipline, but nobody wants a taskmaster, even when we need it the most. It would've been easy to walk away because I desired to be master of my heart and mind, even if it meant sacrificing the luxuries I'd become accustomed to. Somehow, though, instinct told me there was a reward for sticking around. Maybe it was the instinct to eat three daily meals and have a roof over my head. I made the "difficult" choice to stay and follow the rules. However, I can reflect now how difficult my father's job was. Nobody seeks to be a taskmaster. In my father's case, he was compelled to be one out of his love for me. Even then, he had to fight through doubts about my ability to benefit, and the benefit of expending energy that could be spent on helping my two little brothers avoid my poor choices in life.

I am thankful for his persistence.

I "asked Jesus into my heart" at the behest of a Sunday school teacher when I was 7 years old. I even sang a solo in front of the church in honor of my salvation. Somehow, though, the fire never burned in my heart. As the son of a preacher, I knew the language of Christianity, but I was not familiar with the renewal of the heart, the grace and mercy of God. My life as a teenager was marked by rejection of God's word, not a life walking with it, in it.

Some time before my 20th birthday a fire was lit. Despite my best efforts to work around my father's insistence I attend some church -- any church -- I walked into a small church plant led by an old friend. The message was revolutionary to my ears, even though I may have heard it dozens of times before. It was so new and exciting -- a story about a loving God that came to save me, not judge me -- I couldn't get enough of it. It was a chain-reaction explosion that forever changed my path for the better. I am not any wealthier or healthier than I was before the Spirit blew up inside of me. What I've been given is contentment, faith to endure, a joy that conquers my soul's angst, an unconditional love that betrays my flesh's best efforts to take offense.

Many people can talk about the irresistible will of God in academic terms, but understanding it in practical terms may elude some of the smartest men. I have a physical example in my earthly father. My faith was at the forefront of his concerns, and he pursued me, rattled me, disciplined me, until my heart was prepared to receive Him. I'm not one to judge the works of men, but from my point of view, my life in God is my father's crown jewel of his work here in this life. I live my life for God, but my very faith is a tribute to my father's efforts to be the father God calls all fathers to be.

I breathe in the Spirit today because a man was willing to allow God to work through him, to endure the pain and untold struggles of fatherhood to see God's work completed in my life. It was not a thankless job, although it certainly appeared to be one to him at the time. I am thankful today and I will be thankful for eternity.

Thanks, Pops. I love you, too.

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