A Legacy of Faith

I’m old enough to not only know who Billy was but also to have been to a few of his crusades. But I had a realization a few weeks ago when a friend mentioned a documentary on Netflix about the late evangelist. I realized although I was very familiar with Graham and even had played and led worship at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina, my children didn’t even know who he was.

Now, that might not be so significant to some people, but it was significant to me for a few reasons.

First of all, I’ve introduced my children to a lot of pop culture, maybe more than I should have. It’s really a result of my own sheltered upbringing. We’ve been to Graceland. We’ve been to the Johnny Cash museum. We’ve seen Lynyrd Skynyrd. We’ve seen a few other groups as well. So, it seemed odd that the view of the world that I was presenting to my children wouldn’t have a sufficient balance to it.

Unlike my own upbringing, my kids aren’t being raised on only Christian music, movies, and books (but that’s a whole other blog post). I’m doing my best to raise my kids to know quality music and art. Sometimes we hit on the not so quality zone, but I do my best to steer them towards tasteful and good.

But the second reason for introducing my kids to Billy Graham is more significant. Billy Graham had his start in the late 1940s. In 1957, Billy Graham brought his crusade to New York City. For sixteen weeks, Billy Graham preached the gospel message to New Yorkers who came to hear. And that Spring, a 14 year old boy came and felt the call of God on his life to become a pastor. That boy was my father.

Billy Graham MSG

My dad would often tell the story of being called into ministry at a Billy Graham crusade, but I don’t think I thought much of it. He was always a big supporter of Billy Graham and his ministry. He seemed excited when I was in Asheville and he found out that I would be doing music over at The Cove. When he got more into counseling, he volunteered at crusades that were close by and also offered his services at a local call center that would receive calls from people who had seen the crusade on television.

Since I lost my dad nearly six years ago, there have been things that have helped me to feel more connected to his legacy. Some of those things were expected, while others were not.

I actually hadn’t thought about my father and his connection to Billy Graham. In fact, I think that I had even forgotten about the connection to the Madison Square Garden crusade until a few weeks ago when I watched the Billy Graham documentary on Netflix. As soon as I watched the short film, I realized that I was heading to Charlotte in a few weeks and I would have the opportunity to go to the Billy Graham Library.

Now, my kids are at an age where it can be hit or miss as to whether or not they like an idea that my wife or I throw out to them about an activity we are planning to do as a family. I’ve done my best to lower my expectations so that I won’t be disappointed when they don’t take to an idea that I’ve come up with for an activity. It’s been a journey and has taught me selflessness better than anything else.

I set my sights low and mentioned the idea to my wife and subsequently, to my children. No one seemed to balk at the idea initially but I knew that a five hour drive followed by a visit to a museum could easily be just a good idea on paper rather than a reality.

The Billy Graham Library is fairly inconspicuous. There are no huge signs pointing visitors to the property. If I hadn’t had GPS, I would probably have driven right past it. In much the same way that Billy Graham wasn’t flashy or showy, the library telling of his life and ministry wasn’t either.

But not flashy or showy doesn’t mean boring by any stretch of the imagination. It was a testimony to his ministry and the One whom he had served for his entire life. It was well done and engaging, not only for my wife and I, but also for our 12, 10, and 7 year old children.

As we walked through, I came upon a picture of Madison Square Garden from the dates in 1957 when he was there. A light bulb went off in my head and I remembered hearing my dad tell me those stories of being there, of being called into ministry, and of the change in direction of his life. I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten about it.

A flood of emotion came over me as my eyes began to tear up. I proudly pointed out the picture to my sons and told them about their grandfather. Whether they know it or not, they are part of this legacy too. They didn’t know my dad very well as they were only four and six when he died, but he is still making an impact on them, because he made an impact on me.

As I look at the legacy of faith in my family and in my wife’s family, I am struck by just how many people God has called to be in full-time ministry. Uncles. Great uncles. Brother-in-laws. Cousins. God’s fingerprints are all over our family and we are grateful to be part of the legacy as we hope and pray that we also might be purveyors of that same faith.

Trying to make a point about the importance of the smallest work, I recall pastors and Bible teachers tell me in the past that although we know the name of Billy Graham, most of us don’t know the name of Billy Graham’s Sunday school teacher or others who made significant impacts in his life.


I don’t think my name will ever be anything great, and I’m completely fine with that. My only hope is that I can make the name of Jesus great as I continue to follow his leading, hopefully making an impact in my three children, but also others whose path I cross along the way.

Play the Man – A Book Review

play the man“I fear we have forgotten how to make men.” That’s one of the lines in the introduction of Mark Batterson’s latest book “Play the Man.” We’ve lost something as a society with our inability to foster an adventurous and daring spirit in little boys and to help them grow up to be men. Just as animals within a zoo seem so much tamer than they would normally be in the wild, Batterson quips that perhaps churches do to people what zoos do to animals.

Batterson is a great storyteller and throughout “Play the Man” he tells stories, his own and the stories of others. He has a way of inspiring passion in his reader as he tells stories in such a compelling way that you’re ready to get up and go storm the gates of hell with a squirt gun when you’re done.

To make a case for raising men, Batterson suggests seven virtues that need to be instilled in young men in order that they might grow up well. These virtues are tough love, childlike wonder, will power, raw passion, true grit, clear vision, and moral courage. Mixing Scripture, personal anecdotes and stories, and real life accounts of people living out these virtues, Batterson makes a case for the importance of these virtues but the need to pass them on as well.

The most important part of this book, for me, was the last part where Batterson shares more personally about the various things that he has done with his own sons to instill these values into them. He never claims perfection, honestly admitting his own faults and laying out the things that he might have done differently had he had the chance. He shares from the experiences that he had with his own sons in their rites of passage that he helped to cater specifically to them.

Batterson has also set up a website where he shares resources. Specifically, he has copies of the discipleship covenants between fathers and sons that he talks about throughout the book. These covenants are set up to help fathers and sons move towards this rite of passage together.

I’ve read most of Batterson’s books. I am always inspired and filled at the conclusion of his books. He communicates in such a way that is simple and helps to make even the most unlikely of candidates believe that they too can embark on the journeys of which he writes.

“Play the Man” is an important book for our culture. In a day and age where kids are growing up faster than they ever have before, this book lays out some important ideas and virtues that require time and investment in order to instill them in the next generation of men. If you are a father, a grandfather, an uncle, or just a mentor to young men, you need to pick up a copy of this book to get some ideas as to how to successfully help young men to grow up to play the man!

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Moving On But Not Forgetting

It’s hard to believe, but yesterday marked the three year anniversary of my father’s death. I feel as if I say this every time that I pass a milestone, but in some ways it seems like it was yesterday while other ways it feels as if it’s maybe even been longer than three years. Time if funny when it comes to loss and grief.

While the loss and grief are still new, there is such a tension as to what to do and how best to handle it. How do you grieve through the remembrance? How do you recognize the day without giving it too much recognition? What happens when the day passes you by and you don’t really do anything to remember or acknowledge it?

Every time an anniversary, birthday, or other significant date comes, there is always a tension in me as to what to do and how best to handle it. Do I live into it or move past it? What’s the appropriate level of recognition for it?

When it comes, I feel that I at least have to think about it, otherwise, I feel as if I’m not honoring it. Why is that though? It’s not like those we’ve lost can tell whether or not we are recognizing the day. It’s not as if we are hurting their feelings, they don’t know the difference in how we acknowledge, or don’t acknowledge, the day.

How do we honor the day and the memory of those who we’ve lost while not getting bogged down in the emotion of the moment or feeling sorry for ourselves? How do we continue to acknowledge the loss while still realizing how important it is that we are moving forward? How do we move forward without seeming as if we’ve forgotten the person whom we’ve lost?

The first few years after I lost my parents, I felt the need to stop at the exact time that they died. It was as if I needed to take a moment to remember, acknowledge, and think about them. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been missing them all along, it just felt necessary to me, almost as if I was obligated to do something special in that moment. It was almost as if I didn’t stop to honor the moment that I was forgetting them in some way.

The thing about grief is that it hits everyone different. Even talking through this anniversary with my brother, he had a whole lot of other things going through his mind than I did. We’ve both had a very different approach towards the loss, mine was significantly impacted by my children (in a positive way), my church community, my friends, and my wife.

On the other side of the day, life moves on. It’s essential that it moves on, after all, we can’t stop it from happening. I miss my dad. I feel that pangs inside me when I hear others talk about conversations they recently had with their dads and I just want to say to them, “Enjoy every conversation and every word,” but I’m pretty sure that they do.

Time marches on and I can’t forget. It doesn’t really matter how I acknowledge the day, it’s just a day like any other. The remembering, the rituals, whatever they may be, aren’t for anyone else but me.

Today, I might walk a little slower, ponder a little deeper, sigh a little longer. I’m grateful that God’s given me another day and I’m looking forward to the day when I see my dad again.

Love you, Dad. See you again!

A Reflection

mirrorEver have a comment that someone made leave you speechless or stop you in your tracks? Not in a bad way, but in a good way.

I was talking with a friend last night on the phone. She and her husband have become surrogate parents to me and surrogate grandparents to my children especially in the wake of my parents’ death. They’ve given above and beyond the call of duty and done everything that family would do for us. Other than the blood connection, there is nothing else that distinguishes them from family.

As we talked on the phone, she was commenting upon a sermon that I had given at church in the morning. She said, “I didn’t know your dad and I never heard him preach, but I can’t help but think about how proud of you he would have been.”

The lump rose in my throat and I was rendered speechless in that moment. A guy who speaks and writes for a living had no words to offer up.

Those words rang in my head for the rest of the evening. I reflected on just what that meant.

My dad and I were different people. While there are certain idiosyncrasies that have reared their heads to remind me of our connection, there are many differences between the two of us.

But there’s something to be said about a reflection. I couldn’t help but wonder the reflection that I have been of my earthly father. Those who knew him may see it more than others. Those who didn’t know him may get a glimpse of him when they see me.

It’s moments like these that I wish he was still here. The old adage that if I knew then what I know now holds true. How I wish that we could have shared more moments of exchanging thoughts, ideas, philosophies, and other things. Our relationship was good, don’t get me wrong, but one of the consequences of loss is that we always will look back at what might have been, and this is no exception.

My father knew no strangers. While I wouldn’t consider my father opportunistic, he never missed opportunities to tell someone about the things that he loved and the people he cared for. He never stood down from his convictions and was never afraid to engage in healthy debates and conversations with someone with whom he disagreed. Never in a hateful or angry way, always in a loving and gentle manner, regardless of what came back at him.

While some of those characteristics are present in me, like I said, I’m very different than my father. But I think my friend was right, I think Dad would be proud if he watched and observed. I still have notes where he expressed that very thing to me, his pride at who I had and was becoming, as a father, as a son, as a husband, as a pastor, as a person. Those notes remain cherished pieces of a relationship that lives on within me.

I can assure you that if my father were still around, we would still engage in some healthy debates. We wouldn’t see eye to eye and our philosophies would most likely butt up against each other, but I think he would be proud to know the values he had instilled in me.

Yes, if he had been there yesterday, I think he would have risen up with pride for who I was becoming. I’m a far cry from perfect, but I’m a reflection of who he was for all to see. More importantly, I’m a reflection of my heavenly Father as well. Even further from a perfect image, but every day becoming more and more who I was created to be.

Two Years…Again

Today marks the two year anniversary of my dad’s death. Time keeps passing by, there’s just no stopping it. I can’t really say whether or not it actually feels like two years have passed.

It was such a wearisome process that brought us to April 17th, 2013. Many times I thought the day would have arrived much sooner. Many times I wished that the day would have arrived sooner, if I’m brutally honest. It’s not that I wanted my dad to die, it’s just that there are times when what we might call “living” doesn’t really equate to a really good definition of that. While he wasn’t taken by something like Alzheimer’s or ALS or some other devastating disease, depression and heartache can take their own toll on the human soul. And that’s just what they did.

In many of the same ways that I have begun to see the growth that has come out of the death of my mom, I’ve started to see the same thing with my dad’s death. Relationships within the family that had been strained or non-existent have been reborn and restored. What might have seemed impossible or improbable has actually become real and existent. Who am I to doubt what God can do with broken and dead things….or people, for that matter?!

There are certain things that I’ve done that might seem weird to people. I still keep my parents’ phone numbers in my phone. It’s not like they still belong to them or that I can actually pick up the phone and call them. They won’t answer if I did and the people who belong to those numbers might think me crazy if I did, nothing new for me though. I’ve left voicemail messages on my phone from them as well. It brings me comfort to hear those voices. There’s something about hearing my dad say, “I love you very much” in a message. It’s as if all of the weakness that I was seeing was stripped away, even if for a moment, and I was left with a glimpse of what used to be.

I still want to pick up the phone and call them both. I still want to share things with my dad, to get his insights, to hear his voice, but I can’t. Nothing can replace him, just as nothing can replace my mom. They’re gone, not forgotten, and there still remains hope.

While some people have seen my sharing of thoughts as possibly exhibiting bitterness or anger, I can honestly say that those emotions haven’t really been strong within me. Sure, there is remorse in lost moments and maybe some regret as well. The regrets are more selfish though, I wish that I knew more about this or that, they don’t have anything to do with what I did or how I treated my parents. I wouldn’t take back anything. There’s nothing that I wish I had said or done. I feel like they left with things in as good of a place as any for us. Still doesn’t change the fact that I still wish for them to be here, to share more moments with me and my family.

Two years have come and gone and my heart still continues to ache. On these days, it’s almost as if the pain is palpable, that I can touch it and feel it more than other days. I imagine that no matter what anniversary it is that I’m remembering, those days will always give way to a fresh feeling to that grief and loss, as if it had just happened. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, unless I let myself get swallowed up by the moment. Feeling pain can sometimes help us remember that we’re human and that we’re alive.

I love you, Dad. I miss you every day. I can’t wait to see you once again.

Dancing With A Princess – Director’s Cut

I’ve asked 2 good friends and loyal readers to share their favorite blog posts.  Over the next few months, I will be sharing their thoughts and insights that they have shared with me regarding some of these posts.  I hope that what they share will add some new insights to some of my previous posts.

[Wanda writes: It almost goes without saying why this would be a favorite for anyone to read or re-read again and again. What a gift for a parent to figure out so soon how fleeting these precious moments with our children are. If we are blessed to be in a loving family, we pray that there will be many more moments to share, but also realize that we can’t ever let them slip away. It will be a shared memory for the parent and the child each time they hear a special song and dance a different dance, but one thing stays the same: she will always be your princess.]

I have a two year old princess.

After my second son was born, I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never have a daughter. I had dreamed of having a daughter for most of my life. I never really told anyone that was my dream….if you talk of your dreams, they won’t come true, right? I would welcome whatever child God brought me, but inside, I was wishing for a girl.

I love my boys with all of my heart and I have a special connection with both of them, but there’s just something about a dad and his little girl that is incomparable to any other relationship in the world. No matter how old she gets, she will still be my little girl, my little princess, my Cinderella.

Whenever I can, I try to seize moments that are in front of me. It’s too easy to let them slip by and then lose the opportunities, so I do my best to grab them when I can. That’s just what I did the other day.

I was working from home, sitting at my computer, and thinking about the new Steven Curtis Chapman album that had come out. It reminded me of a song that he had written called “Cinderella.” The song is the story of him watching his little girl grow up, progressing through until the day that she gets engaged and married. The song came out long before I had a daughter (4 years to be precise).

At that moment, I stopped what I was doing and grabbed my daughter. I looked at her and told her that we were going to dance. She seemed reluctant, probably not realizing that US dancing meant ME swinging her around in my arms. I turned on the song and we began to dance, swinging and spinning all around the room.

As I listened to the words of the song, singing along, I was overcome by the emotion of the moment. Right before my eyes, my daughter will grow up. Will I capture the moments that can easily pass me by? If I don’t, everything will be just a flicker, a fleeting moment, a blip in time.

We danced all around the room and we both laughed. She, unlike me, was not overcome by emotion. I held my little girl tighter as the power of the lyrics seized me in that moment. I didn’t want to let her go. I wanted to freeze that moment forever, indelibly marking it upon my brain, never to be erased.

Every birthday party, every tea party, every tear shed, every skinned knee, every important event in her life will be before my eyes in ONE MOMENT……and then they will be gone.

Sure, it makes me sad to think about that, but I would rather think about seizing those moments, grabbing a hold, and making memories as best that I can. I want my daughter to know how important that she is to me, how precious she is in my sight, and how to expect to be treated by the man that God brings her way someday.

In those moments, I danced with Cinderella, and we had fun. I can’t wait to do it again, and I know it will be sooner than later.

A Year

2013-05-23 12.38.16One year ago today, I became an orphan. After a brutal 3 years in which he lost his church, his wife, and his health, my dad finally breathed his last breath. To be honest, I was kind of surprised that he had lasted that long. Men half his age would have had a hard time enduring all that had come across his path during that time.

It’s hard to believe, in some ways, that it’s only been a year. It felt like I had been anticipating the day for such a long time that, when it finally came, it felt almost like I was able to breathe again. That’s not to say that I celebrated its coming, but you come to a point where you realize that “living life” means more than simply being mostly conscious and breathing in and out for 24 hours a day.

Some of the conversations that I had with my father over the nearly two years between my mom’s death and his own death were among the most painful conversations that I have ever had to have. Other than my brother and family and a few close friends, I kept the facts about what was going on with my dad fairly close to the chest. He didn’t want to talk to many people and I wanted to maintain some amount of his dignity. He was not the man that he used to be and there was no need for everyone to see that.

Hardly a day goes by since April 17, 2013 that I don’t think of him. I still have voice messages on my phone from him, wishing me a happy anniversary. I still have recordings of him singing in church from so many years ago. I still have a bottle of his cologne next to my bathroom sink. Lifting that bottle to my nose and closing my eyes, I can easily drift off and my mind is filled with images of his smile and his words of wisdom, imparted to his son who has followed in his steps.

Time heals all wounds, at least that’s what the masses say. Not sure whether I fully believe that or not. I always compare the wound of grief to the wound that Frodo received with a Morgul blade in the Lord of the Rings books. Although the wound healed, he was never the same because of it. The damage had penetrated much deeper than just the skin, and the same can be said of grief.

A year from now, I will look back again and most likely be surprised that another year has passed. The memories will continue, but the ache may feel a little duller than before. Things are different today than they were a year ago, and I expect that a year from now, they will be more different still.

I miss my dad tremendously. I miss his laugh. I miss his smile. I miss his voice. I miss the conversations that I would have with him, even when he would give me advice that I never really asked for. I know that his time here was done and I know that he’s with my mom and his Savior now, it still doesn’t take away that ache that persists deep in my very being.

Today, I will celebrate the life of a man who gave all that he had to do what he didn’t completely understand by being a pastor. I will celebrate the truth that he has passed on to me. I will celebrate the love that he showed to me, my brother, my mom, and everyone with whom he came into contact. I will celebrate that the shell of a man who breathed his last breath one year ago today has been fully restored, glorified, better than he was before. No more pain. No more tears. No more dying.

I can’t wait to see you again, Dad. I love you so much more than I ever realized. Take care of Mom. Happy Easter. Enjoy it as you celebrate with the One who died and gave it all so that we might live.

Top 10 Things I Never Thought I’d Have to Say to My Kids

oops i said itParenthood is an adventure.  That may be an understatement, especially if you are the parent of multiples, more than one child, or aliens…..well, sometimes the kids seem like aliens.

If I had a recorder to capture every funny phrase or comment, I think we could easily take some of the top prizes on America’s Funniest Home Videos.  After all, have you noticed that the winners on that show are rarely funny.  My life almost seems like America’s Funniest Home Videos at times.

All that being said, here are the top 10 phrases that I never, ever, ever, ever thought that I would have to utter to my children and yet which have somehow found their way out of my piehole!


1. Boys, you don’t pee on each other in the shower.

2. Boys, we don’t grab each other THERE….

3. Boys, it’s inappropriate to sniff each other’s butt.  You aren’t dogs.

4. Boys, we wait until we’re actually in the McDonald’s bathroom before we pull our pants down to use the potty.

5. Boys, fly swatters are for killing bugs, not for brushing your sister’s hair with.

6. Boys, how much toilet paper do you really need when you go to the bathroom? (or Have we sufficiently showed you how to wipe your behind?)

7. If Mommy comes back there, do you think you can pee in a bag (said while driving in the van on a road trip)

8. Because I said so (this could very well be the kiss of death for every parent to signify that, yes, they have indeed turned into their mother/father)

9. When I was your age, we used to….. (nearly as big of a kiss of death as #9)

10. Forks were meant to get dirty at meals, not hands.


I am sure that there have been about 1000 other statements that have equaled these, but these were the first ones that came to mind.  Feel free to comment and add your own…….help me to know that I am not alone.

Parenting Mistakes

MistakesI’ve been a parent for just under seven years, not an incredibly long time, but it’s amazing how many mistakes you can make in such a short amount of time.  I’m sure that most parents have been there before and maybe will be again.  We’re not alone when we feel like we are the last placed candidate for the “Parent of the Year” award.

Misery loves company, so I decided if for no other reason than to give you a laugh, to share my top 5 parenting mistakes of these past seven years.

1. Never say, “Because I’m the parent and I said so.”

Years ago, when I was a new parent, I smiled as I heard my brother (who has no children) talk about having an engaging and in depth conversation and discussion with a 2 year old.  It was fictitious, it hadn’t happened, so I left wondering about the ability of a 2 year old to reason.  It’s pretty much like trying to preach to a rock, it just doesn’t do anything but get you frustrated if you’re waiting for a response or logical behavior.

While reasoning with children is fairly fruitless, that doesn’t mean you don’t offer them at least something.  I cringed the day that those words came out of my mouth.  “Because I said so” may be used as a last resort, but it should be the final, final, final, final straw.  I think I used it too early.  While there’s probably no irreparable harm done, I wish I could go back and at least make the effort to explain things a little better.

2. Be careful little eyes what you see

My boys have seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  They’ll be 5 and 7 in a matter of weeks.  I don’t think my wife is thrilled about that.  I watched it with them after having seen it myself about half a dozen times.  It’s fantasy, it’s make-believe, but it’s still kind of brutal.  There’s no sex or bad language, but there’s plenty of violence.

While I’ve been more cautious about other things that they watch, I felt like the good far outweighed the bad in LOTR.  It wasn’t until months later when my wife said something that struck me.  She told me that we need to guard their hearts since they aren’t quite sure how to go about doing that for themselves right now.  That certainly got a point across to me and I realized that age-appropriate materials for processing were essential.

Of course, there’s the potential for backfiring on this one as they get older.  I saw “Flashdance” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” at friends’ houses.  Just have to explain why it’s not a good idea to watch it (refer to #1 and don’t say, “Because I said so” here).

I still don’t see LOTR as a big deal, but I could easily see myself being too dismissive or lax in what I allow.  Better to be cautious than too liberal in your viewing choices.  Still working on this one.

3. Watch what you promise…even if it’s in passing

Boy did I learn this one the hard way!  I had mentioned something in passing to my kids like, “Maybe we can go to Sweet Frog/the pool/Toys R Us later.”  After saying it, I either forget or realized that we had run out of time.  My wife finally asked me after one of these instances what I had told the kids.  After I told her what I had said, she told me to never say that since they interpret it as not a possibility but an absolute.  So, I’ve taken to just driving places and letting them figure out where we’re going or where we are once we get there regardless of the constant badgering of “where are we going?” questions.  If I do say anything, it’s usually VERY SPECIFIC like, “If we have time, we may go to [fill in the blank].”  I’ve learned to be explicit in my statements, even to the point of making sure that my children understand beforehand so as to not be disappointed later on.  Still not perfect at it, but a work in progress.

4. Sometimes you just have to try harder

This kind of goes with #1, too often, I’ve given up on explaining something because it’s been too hard or it’s going to take me too much time.  I gave up always trying to have the right answers, for children and adults alike, a long time ago.  Having “canned” answers for things is ineffective for me.  At the same time, to have answers to some harder questions isn’t the worst thing to explore.

Last week, my son was trying to understand the Trinity, you know, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  I was trying to figure out an explanation for him and in my haste, my mind reached towards Transformers (which, my friend kindly pointed out, is modalism).  Thankfully, my son didn’t bite and eventually started asking about something else like comics, superheroes, ice cream, or another thing that captured his brain.

But it’s too easy to come up with quick answers and get frustrated when trying to explain harder and deeper concepts to our children.  There have been many times over the past few years where I’ve really had to stop and wrestle to think through just how best to describe something.  It’s been a good thing, I think, to force myself to simplify my explanations.  If I can explain something to a child, I can explain it to just about anyone, and that’s a good thing!  Pat or trite answers or, even worse, dismissive statements won’t lead to a fostering of my children’s desire for knowledge.  I want to instill in them a desire to know more and learn more.  My parents died when my boys were 2 and 4 and then 4 and 6, that’s an easy way to figure that you can’t give cookie cutter answers.  Sometimes the easy thing to do is not the right thing to do.

5. Do as I say AND as I do

Just like the last point was related to an earlier one, so is this.  Children (and everyone, for that matter) learn not only by hearing, but by seeing and watching as well.  Lately, we have constantly had to tell our sons to be careful what they do because their younger sister will inevitably copy them in whatever it is that they do.  Jumping on the couch.  She’ll do it.  Jumping from the bunk bed.  She’ll do it.  Climbing up the back of the minivan.  She’ll do it. Riding the scooter.  She’ll do it.   Just about anything that she sees them doing is fair game.

In the same way, just about anything that our kids see us doing is fair game.  If we find ourselves on our phones or gadgets a lot, we shouldn’t be surprised when they have their nose stuck in an iPod rather than a book or paying attention to us.  If we have a habit of yelling at people in parking lots and on highways, we shouldn’t be surprised when they start doing the same thing.  If we do it, whether we think they see us or not, they will most likely pick it up and begin to emulate us.  They look up to us, we are examples.

Yes, I’ve made some mistakes (way more than five) in these seven years of being a dad.  I am sure that I will make plenty more.  The reason that I highlight these is because I feel like I’ve learned from them, and that’s one of the most important things about mistakes.  So, if you’re a parent and you feel the same way, give yourself some grace and keep on keeping on.  Just keep learning.  If you’re a parent that thinks you do things perfectly, either brace yourself for your first mistake, or give me your phone number so that I can call you for some advice.

The Day I Saw My Dad Cry

gladys and clarence - tony and irene weddingWhen I was a freshman in college, my dad’s mom died.  The timing of it was a little crazy as it fell during spring break.  Friends had been trying to get me to go on a missions trip to Florida during that week all during the late Fall and early Winter semesters, but I just didn’t feel right about going.  I’m not sure what was irking me at the time, but I just had a sense that I needed to stick around at home.  Turns out the Holy Spirit was guiding me.

My grandmother lived only about an hour or so from us in Astoria, New York.  My dad could easily get down there if he needed to (if anyone can easily get to New York, that is).  He would talk to her every few days and she would come to visit every so often.  She wasn’t always the most amiable person, at least not to me, so she never stayed with us for extensive periods of time.

She had a tough life.  She raised 2 boys in New York City by herself after her alcoholic husband left.  Her building did not have an elevator in it and she walked up the steps to her apartment right up until the time she went into the hospital at the end.  My dad had actually tried to contact her and was getting worried, so he drove down to her apartment.  He had to break through the deadbolts as she had fallen and was on the floor, unable to get up and let him in.

I wish that I had taken better mental notes of those days.  I know that my dad was trying to be strong, but I am sure that it was a hard time for him.  He seemed strong at the funeral, although I don’t completely remember the whole thing.  I know that it was the first time that I had ever seen a dead body before, not something that I had prepared myself for.  I think it was hard for my dad to watch his mom in those final days, especially because it stuck with him and hit him a few years later.

Around my junior year of college, my mom’s mother’s health had started to deteriorate.  She was living in a retirement community in upstate Connecticut and we would get to see her fairly often.  She was one of the sweetest people that I knew.  She was always smiling with such warmth that it was hard not to smile back.  Despite the difficulties that she had during her life, she always had such an incredible outlook.

I remember going to the hospital with my mom towards the end.  My grandma was unresponsive and it was hard to see.  I know that my mom was struggling, but my mom had gained her own compassion and sweetness from her mother, something that I think she passed on to me.  That may have been the last time that I saw my grandma alive.

Within those last days, I remember waking up one morning to a noise that I hadn’t heard before.  As I sat up in bed and listened more closely, I realized that it was the sound of my father sobbing.  I wasn’t sure what had happened, so I threw on some clothes and went to the kitchen where I found my mom and dad.  Dad was sitting in a chair with his head in his arm as he sobbed.  Mom just stood there with her hand on his shoulders, trying her best to comfort him.

I wasn’t sure what was up.  I asked my mom if he was okay and she told me that seeing my grandma in the state that she was in reminded him of his own mother and all that she had been through.  I think the sheer emotion of the moments had weighed him down and he just broke.

As I think about the top memories that I have of my father, that certainly ranks up there.  When I let my mind go back to that day and think about it, it’s almost as if I am there, watching it happen all over again.  What my dad expressed in those moments was so important to me.  He gave me permission to cry.  He gave me permission to express my feelings outwardly, not something that many guys can say about their fathers.  He showed me deep down what it means to be a pastor, to share in someone else’s pain, to weep with those who weep.

My grandma eventually passed away, but I haven’t forgotten her or the impact that she had on my dad.  My dad felt so loved and accepted by my mom’s family.  They always loved him and cared for him, something which probably helped to ease the pain of losing his dad so many years earlier.

I’ve never forgotten that day.  When I lost both of my parents, I did my best to make sure that my kids saw that it was okay to grieve and to cry.  It’s such an incredible lesson that I learned from my dad that day, every moment that I reflect on it, it seems to mean that much more to me.  I miss him so much, but what a better man I am because of all of the things that he taught me.