A boy’s world

Lego, army figures, tanks and trains
wooden railway encircling planes
worlds in your head
worlds in your hands
You could grow up to be an engineer
but how can I know the future from here
all I’m sure of
is who you are now
Absorbed in your game, oblivious
the creations you make, ingenious
lost in your world
your world is us
Wiry arms wrapped around my neck
my stubble prickling your smooth cheek
kiss, cuddle, kiss
not letting go.


This poem was inspired watching my son playing and thinking about the world as he might see it, but written from my perspective as a father. 

A father’s love

a-fathers-love

I had an interesting conversation with my 6 year-old son this evening. He has been ‘disengaged’ at school and told me that school is boring and he just wants to play with his Lego. We talked about how learning new stuff is fun and that being able to count is useful. I explained that all he has to do is try to learn one new thing each day and before long with be able to count to 100 and read stories for himself. My point was that school seemed boring because that’s what he expected of it.

All through this conversation I could see both my adult self and me as a child of similar age staring out the window feeling bored, actively disengaged from what I should be doing. It is a familiar feeling and odd to hear myself giving the very advice I should act upon many days at work.

My wee boy is a reflection of myself. He is like me in many more ways than he knows. It worries me that he may carry my own weaknesses on into another generation.

I can be stubborn and proud. I’m irrational when angry or experiencing strong emotions. What I told my wee guy this evening is that he is a lovely, inspiring person when he is happy, someone people really like. It’s harder to accept this as true of me too. He has always been a cuddly kid, I’m learning to return the affection.

While boundaries and discipline are necessary, I’m discovering that a better way of being heard by mini-me is to give him a cuddle, show him he is loved first, then allow conversation to follow. Letting him tell me what is upsetting him has a far deeper effect than a battle of wills in which I tell him what I think is wrong – our two versions of what the problem is are never the same. Boundaries exist, discipline will occur, but the first need is for this boy to know his father’s unconditional love.

This is what I also long for when struggling with my own strong emotions. To be held by a Father and assured that I’m loved. To know that within the hurt I’m not actually alone, my Father is walking alongside me even in the mess of my life.

for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. (John 16:27 ESV)

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
(Isaiah 43:1 ESV)

Outwardly, being held by God and told I am loved looks different to me cuddling my son. The inner dynamic is much the same. I grow older, get grey and look like an adult but have the same need of love as a child.

A few more years under my belt means the path of consequences and discipline is longer and maybe rougher. Yet what I’m only slowly learning as a parent, God has been doing for me all my life – responding in love first, before the discipline.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.(Romans 5:8 ESV)

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
(Hebrews 12:6 ESV)


Image: iStock

Becoming a father

As I left the hospital after my daughter was born I wanted to shout, run, jump, dance. Life had changed forever, this kid who lived in my skin was now a Dad!

Ten years ago my life changed dramatically.

I became a father. I had always thought of myself as just a boy, not as someone’s father! A 2695 gram (5.9 pound) baby girl captivated me, gazing knowingly into my eyes as I held her after an epic delivery in which her heart nearly stopped and her Mum was left utterly exhausted.

There is a violent intensity in the arrival of a baby, Ann Voskamp expresses it well (and better coming from a woman than a man:

“Birthing babies are like earthquake fault lines ripping up the very earth under your house….babies tear the hard crust of existence open, allowing you to peer down into the secrets of being, of what it means to be human.” Night Watches

I had been impatient to finally see her face-to-face and it seems she also was eager to get to know us; a quiet, alert little person intently soaking in every detail of our faces for over an hour after she was born.

I don’t actually remember driving back home, though I did write:

As I left the hospital I wanted to shout, run, jump, dance – in actual fact I just walked to the car and drove home feeling utterly stunned by what I’d just seen and experienced. It is the most miraculous thing I’ve ever witnessed.

I do recall getting home and playing Carl Orff’s ‘O Fortuna‘ loudly while watching the sun rise over the city. I felt exhilarated, stunned, shocked, overjoyed and fearful all together. Nobody had told me about this bit – the sense of awe and dread at now being a father and responsible of a fragile little life. So little that when her head was cradled in my hands her tiny feet tickled the inside of my elbows.

One of my big fears was simply that my daughter may not like me. Perhaps that seems silly, but some fathers are feared by their children rather than being liked by them. I did not, and do not, want to be such a father. Then there were fears over job security, stretching my pay to cover all the bills, the world in fear of terrorists, and a whole lot of pressure and expectations from our own parents.

Other fears were of being too rough with such a tiny little person, or letting her get too cold or too hot. But soon nappy changing, bathing, dressing and feeding a baby became normal. It is normal – this is how life is, not having children is a rather unusual situation for the bulk of humanity. Yet in our society there is a massive disconnect between generations, leaving a parenting vacuum in this nation.

This first decade of her life has had some tough times. I had good intentions of maintaining balance between work and family and faith. At times I became quite unbalanced in these. There were external pressures upon us, looking back I’m not sure that I’d be up to the challenge anymore but we somehow got through. Every child has difficult phases, but God certainly blessed us with our first in her placid temperament and gentle nature. We needed that grace!

By the time she was two years old my wee girl had a propensity for dressing herself in the oddest array of brightly coloured clothes she could find so I started to call her ‘Ragamuffin’ and the nickname kind of stuck. My Ragamuffin has had plenty of tough times herself; changing day care more often than we would have liked, dry skin and ezcema from birth, experiencing the dark side of human nature from kids at school, bullying, eczema of Job-like severity (Job 2:8) and a restricted diet.

Through all this she has remained happy, loving, friendly and a great violinist!

The next decade will have different challenges, and I think the song below sums up well how I feel as a Dad:

Parenting fail, prayer fail


My wife is away on a well-earned break this weekend (if you call walking all day with a pack on your back a ‘break’!), so I am attempting to look after our three children. It did take me a while to get started this morning and while I was preoccupied with having a coffee and reading, a certain amount of mayhem erupted at the other end of the house, requiring my intervention (interpret as ‘kids got yelled at’). The highlight of the morning was taking the kids to the museum and butterfly house. Although, there was usually at least one child not wanting to be doing what the rest of us were, so a certain amount of stress was generated.

Due to me being slow out of the blocks this morning we were a bit late getting to the museum, stayed longer then expected, I forgot to take drink bottles and extra snacks, so by the time we got home it was already lunch time, the kids were hungry but nothing was ready. After some ranting from me about kids not belonging in the kitchen and something about ‘stop nagging’, I started throwing together some pasta and sauce for lunch. In retrospect that was a bit heroic and a can of beans on toast would have been wiser.

The pasta was fine, the sauce, however, was not my best effort. Too much tomato puree, too much mixed herbs and not enough simmering made it ‘sharp’ in taste. Eldest child got the hint after screwing her face up and receiving a comment as sharp as the sauce along the lines of “if you don’t like it, don’t eat it but it’s all you’re getting!”. The younger two were not so compliant. One ended up in bed for his nap with almost no lunch (he did eat all his dinner though!), the other was fed by me despite many grimaces.

After all that I let the girls watch a DVD while I fell asleep, leaving the house a complete mess (which will, of course, be remedied before my hard working wife comes home!). While I slept, Grandma phoned to offer eldest daughter a sleep-over at her house tonight. So dinner was a little calmer with only two children to feed. During dinner I asked our four-year-old whether she had a nice day? With characteristically brutal honesty her reply was, “Umm… No, because you were too grouchy Dad.” Parenting Fail!

What made me so grouchy? The short answer is that stress makes me grouchy and I was getting stressed today. Which obviously raises the question of why was I getting stressed? Basically, conflicting agendas:

  • There were things I needed to do.
  • There were things I wanted to do.
  • There were things the kids wanted me to do.
  • There were things I needed to be doing so the kids could have what they needed at the right time, but they wanted me to do other things right now which distracted me from what I knew I needed to be doing.
  • There is what was most important to do.

Guess what didn’t get done?

Prayer fail

Earlier this week I was praying, asking God to use me to do His will. As I prayed I caught myself saying, “Father, I want You to change me and use me to build Your kingdom, but…” At that point I think it was the Holy Spirit who poked me and opened my eyes to see the inherent hypocrisy of such a prayer – praying with my own agenda. Prayer fail!

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
(James 4:2–3 ESV)

In effect, by having my own agenda as I pray, I am asking for something from God so I can spend it on my own desires. Prayer is a deep and mysterious activity, asking for stuff is only a small aspect of what prayer really is and if asking for stuff is happening so that I can rush off and occupy myself with the stuff while ignoring God then it has become a meaningless exercise. The real meaning in prayer is coming before God.

I mentioned above that I failed to achieve the most important thing today – the most important earthly thing was to connect with my kids and get to know them, letting them know me. The absolutely most important thing was to come before God. Today I failed to achieve either.

Thank you God, that your mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Fear and faith

fear-and-faith

While I do a very imperfect job of it, I am a Dad and I love each of my children very, very much. My biggest fear is that something bad might happen to them – if anything bad is to happen to my family I would prefer it to be me who suffers rather than my wife or children. When I pray for my kids at night I ask Jesus to hold them close and keep them safe, knowing full well that in fact bad things do happen to Christians and their kids just as bad things happen to other people (see Luke 13:1-5).

In praying for God to keep my kids safe, my primary thought is that He will give them the faith to trust Him and keep that faith intact no matter what happens. I try not to think about the things that could happen to them, partly because it is a pointless, anxiety-producing exercise and also because God tells us not to worry ourselves about ‘what-ifs’ (Matthew 6:34). A more grey area is anxiety regarding how I might respond to a tragedy or suffering in my family – in part such anxiety is about something that may never happen, but it also relates to how deeply rooted my faith in Jesus and God’s goodness is – will my faith survive being tested?

Having been a Christian for over twenty years, my faith has been tested in various ways over that time but not by anything really major. I very much feel like the father asking Jesus to heal his child:

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24 ESV)

I believe, Jesus help my unbelief. In fact, I have felt this deeply in praying for my daughter to be healed of severe ezcema – I know Jesus has the power to heal her, yet also know that mostly healing comes through medicines and doctors and often people just have to endure sickness in this fallen world. Am I praying with faith when thinking like this?

When I worry about the safety of my children, a child who comes to mind readily is little Aisling Symes who died tragically a year ago, leaving a devastated family grieving her loss while clinging to faith in Christ. I’m sure they have struggled much over the past year, but their faith and the support of their church last October was inspiring to me and still helps me to be mindful of where my trust needs to be.

A couple of extracts of what was said by Pastor Russell Watts of Ranui Baptist Church in Auckland at the funeral of Aisling Symes on October 16, 2009:

“Last week we searched day and night, we posted flyers, we prayed for Aisling, for the family, for the police, for the nation to find her.
On Monday night we were still praying here in the church and many other churches joined us in prayer for her safe return. While God speaks to prophets about tragedies or impending disasters, to most of us He gives words of encouragement or comfort or words that will build character. And so, motivated by hope and love, we really felt that she was safe and that God was going to return her to Alan and Angela. When you love you hope, when you want to put practical legs on hope you pray, and often a miracle will result.

By this time Aisling had been in heaven for a long time, by our standards. And yet, I believe that God took those prayers which we prayed too late, and He stored them up and poured out His help in different ways. The Bible says that He treasures the tears of every believer. We did not get the answer to prayer that we really wanted; it was already too late, a tragic accident had taken place. But I know God still responded with compassion to our tearful pleas.”

“When you love, you hope, when you want to put practical legs on hope you pray,” this may seem odd to an action-oriented, make-it-happen-yourself type of society, but actually goes straight to the core of where the power to make things happen lies – with God, not us. Only God knows what the real purpose was in taking Aisling home so soon was, but her disappearance moved this nation to pray and helped many of us to see more clearly what is truly valuable:

“In a hundred years’ time that great house we built will be crumbling and decaying, that career we worked so hard at will not matter to anyone anymore, that sporting trophy or medal or money in the bank that we accumulated just won’t hold any significance to anyone anymore.

Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, said all that stuff would pass. Those things aren’t eternal but these three qualities will remain: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.
I would suggest to you that in those intense seven days of prayer, of searching and supporting, that you did something better, and bigger, than win a gold medal or gain world recognition. You displayed three qualities that really matter, three qualities that really count, three values that are of eternal significance – faith, hope and love.”

(Quoted with permission from an article featured in the November 2009 issue of the NZ Baptist newspaper.)

I have read  1 Corinthians 13:12 many times and have read commentaries about this verse, but this is by far the best and most vivid summary of the meaning and application all integrated in one that I’ve ever encountered. Love, hope and faith all in action as tearful, even fearful people pray desperately for God to have mercy on a little girl.

What I am talking about here is not some abstract, theoretical ideal of how faith should work – many of us prayed for Aisling to be found, her family and church grieve to this day, and so the reminder that the love, prayer and support given to them, the hope in Christ that she is right now in God’s loving arms, and the faith behind all of these – this is real. When I fear for my children, I am grateful for the reminder that faith, hope and love are what counts for eternity.

Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.
(Mark 5:36 ESV)

God bless you Aisling.

Fathers missing in action

My 4-year-old daughter helped me carry and stack firewood on Saturday. She saved me several trips back and forth by making numerous trips carrying a single piece of wood each time. Then she saved me from fumbling with fat, gloved fingers on the remote by locking the car for me. It was her pleasure to help me, useful to me, and a chance for her to learn simply by joining with me as I worked.

I know that the skills I’ve mastered best are those learned working alongside someone who had already mastered them and to whom the work seemed to come naturally. My favourite learning style is probably that of an apprentice. I find myself wishing more of this happened in the church.

I don’t really have a spiritual father so have used a lot of trial and error in following Christ. We need spiritual ‘fathers’ to teach young Christians how to live out their faith (1 Corinthians 4:15-16). Unfortunately it is rare to find such people in the churches of New Zealand, many who should be mature are still captivated by the world and its ambitions, others have been beaten down by life and feel like they are barely holding on to faith themselves (Hebrews 5:12).

What is a father in Christ like? The apostle John expresses it this way: I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning (1 John 2:13). The disciple Jesus loved calls those who know Jesus intimately, ‘fathers’. No matter how old a person may be, Jesus is from the beginning and has yet more of himself to be known.

If you know someone who has walked long with Jesus and is ever growing in their depth of knowledge of Him, offer that person the respect due a father or mother. Walk with them and allow them to pass on the riches of their intimacy with Christ. This sort of learning from elders takes time and occurs at walking pace. Don’t disdain such a path in this age that demands instant solutions for everything.


Image of firewood: me

O how selfish you are!

A pastor and friend told me about ten years ago that getting married would teach me how selfish I am, and that having children would really teach me how selfish I am.

Now, after almost nine years of marriage and with three children, I can confidently affirm that he was right! On multiple occasions every day my selfishness is exposed by the normal demands of my responsibilities as father and husband. This is a good thing, I need to be aware of my sins.

Each time I’m confronted with my selfishness I have an opportunity to be obedient to Christ. At that moment, as selfishness rises in my heart, I have an opportunity to deny myself (Matthew 16:24) and consider others more than myself (Philippians 2:3).

Obedience to Jesus, or specifically my lack of it, is a cause of great disillusionment to me. Realism assures me that even a day is too long for me to be consistently obedient to Christ in all I do, let alone all I think. How can I possibly live in a fallen world and obey Jesus? Yet that is what He demands (John 15:14). It is not good enough to claim to know Jesus, I must obey Him (1 John 2:4-6).

So when selfishness rises within me I can choose in that moment to consider the love of Christ toward me and lay aside my own desires to do the one, usually quite small, thing that is being required of me right now when I do have the ability to obey. The battle with sin can be won, in my mind, in milliseconds, by acting in love rather than selfishness.

Thank you Lance.