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Life Story – A Boy and His Father
It was the week before Christmas. I was five years old and I had just finished narrating the children’s program, standing on the kitchen stool from behind the pulpit at my Dad’s church. I will never forget the sense of accomplishment and the bond I felt with my Dad that night. It was truly a magical moment when Dad scooped me off the stool and gave me a big ole hug and kiss in front of the whole congregation. I never felt safer than when I was in my father’s arms. I wondered if I would follow in his footsteps and become a pastor someday. This is one of the earliest and fondest memories of my Dad. He was a very loving, kind, and gentle man. I always knew he would be there for me and nothing I could do would change his love for me; his love was unconditional.
Mom was the youngest in her family and was rejected by her father because her natural mother died giving birth to her. Raised by her older sisters, the insecurity she felt as a child enslaved her to a life of seeking safety for herself and her loved ones. My mother was obsessed with appearances. The house had to be spotless and orderly at all times, and things had to look like we were the perfect family, no matter what was going on behind the scenes. I can remember her saying, “If this gets out it could ruin your father’s career.” I lived in the fear of her rejection and in horror that I might do something that would ruin Dad. Mom’s love was conditional and given out sparingly when she felt it was deserved. I learned to keep things to myself; she couldn’t get upset about what she didn’t know.
When I was twelve years old, I began to realize there was a world out there much different than the one in which my parents lived. I wasn’t really in rebellion, but life in the glass house was taking its toll. I think the Lord saw my heart and decided it was time to reel me in a bit. At a Wednesday night service, a guest evangelist shared a detailed description of the physical suffering Christ endured on the cross while describing the love that held Him there. That night, I got my first touch from God. I was so overwhelmed by His love and acceptance. I wept deep sobs for what seemed to be hours. I understood it was His love for me that held Jesus to the tree. This was the first time I realized that there was more to being a Christian than doing the right things and going to church.
Life Story – A Teen and His Peers
Unfortunately over the next six years, I adopted the values of my peers. Dad was no longer the hero because success in my eyes was measured in dollars. I attended college and the culture was thriving. I jumped in with both feet -- drugs, sex, and alcohol. My first night, just hours after saying goodbye to the folks, I was in a car with three other guys and a case of beer headed for the XXX drive in. Before the end of my first week in college I drank my first beer, watched my first adult movie, smoked my first joint, and of course, cut my first class. We partied every night and then on the weekends we got serious about partying. The typical Friday night party was non-stop thru Sunday, before long money was a problem so I began selling drugs to keep up with my friends. Most of my friends were from wealthy families. As bizarre as it sounds, even during this most rebellious period of my life, I was a key member of a group of teens who filled in for pastors who were on vacation. I was living a double life.
When I was nineteen and a sophomore in college, I headed home for the weekend, looking forward to some rare time alone with dad since mom was away at a retreat. I didn’t share much about my life with dad but I didn’t have to. I’m sure he knew what I was up to and I’m sure he spent hours praying for me. Saturday night at dinner, the topic of death came up and my father shared with me his great anticipation of going to be with the Lord. One week later, I was playing pool at the student union when I was paged to the phone. Something within me knew my dad was gone. My instincts were right -- my dad was dead. At first, I stuffed my feelings so I could take care of mom and make the necessary arrangements.
Two nights before the funeral, I got up in the middle of the night and built a fire in the fireplace. I remembered Dad’s conversation at dinner the Saturday before and realized God had orchestrated the whole thing. Finally, the dam burst open and as I came to grips with the loss, I felt alone and confused. I felt God was trying to love on me, but I was not ready to accept His love.
Over the course of the next seven years, I graduated college and started a career in retail sales management. I wasn’t walking with the Lord and I was angry with Him for taking my Dad. I knew my lifestyle was pushing God away.
I had a recurring dream during this period. I was walking down a long dark hall. I could see a very bright light through the crack of a door at the far end. Even then I knew the light was Jesus and I would recall my experience at the cross from childhood, I remember thinking that as long as the door at the end of the hall was cracked open and I could see the light, I hadn’t gone too far.
Life Story – A Man and His Love
At twenty-seven, I was beginning to wonder if I ever would ever get married. Then through my Mother (of all ways) I met my future wife. Sue was a musician and met my mother at a retreat where she led worship. After we had dated a while, Sue let me know that I would have to quit smoking pot if I wanted our relationship to go further. At this time, I was smoking up about twice a day and really didn’t know what it was like to be sober. I quit cold turkey without a problem, and for the first time in years felt open to having the Lord in my life. Sue and I fell in love and our wedding date was set. A few weeks before the wedding, Sue was to lead worship at a retreat being held at Dodger Town. At that Saturday night meeting, there was an altar call and I struggled and fought. Finally, I was the last to answer. As one of the pastors prayed for me, I went back to my childhood experience at the cross and it felt like I was back home at last. I spent that night in a wonderful glow, feeling the presence of God and soaking in His love. I thought about dad and the comfort I felt was like being back in his arms again. 1 John 3:1 says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are...” The hole in my heart that I had felt since my dad’s death was filled that night, when I accepted God’s love.
When Sue and I had been married for three years, I found myself back in school. We moved into our first house at the beginning of the year, expecting the arrival of our first born in March. Life seemed good and I felt like I was catching up for lost time. I was all too aware of the years wasted away. Church was a big part of our lives and our Sunday School class was like extended family to us. Our son was born in March -- what an awesome experience! I wished my dad could have been there to see his grandson, and give me a few lessons on fatherhood.
By the time my son was two, there were the first signs of trouble in our marriage. We had serious disagreements about how to raise our son, and Sue’s attention was so focused on outside friendships and motherhood that her role as wife was slipping through the cracks.
Sue and I started attending a new church and we both experienced the biggest spiritual growth spurt of our lives. We became worship leaders, home group leaders, and the church was our family. Even our immediate family grew with the birth of our daughter. On the outside, things looked great -- we ministered together, lead worship for retreats and seminars, were leaders in the church, and we loved our children very much. The biggest indicator of our marital trouble was that after our daughter’s birth, we quit sleeping together. Sue didn’t think this was a problem because her parents hadn’t slept together in years. Sue also spent a lot of time away with friends and I was beginning to resent her absence.
We eventually moved again thinking that a change in venue and distance from her meddling parents could help us rescue the marriage. Soon after, Sue had an affair and later that year, while in a counseling session, Sue announced that she wanted a divorce. The feelings were almost identical to those I felt when my dad died -- loneliness, followed by guilt and shame. When I thought about the kids, I couldn’t control the tears. They were the tears of a brokenhearted father realizing that he could not always be there for his children; they were also the tears of a father feeling his children’s pain.