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

When good kids go bad

Over a year ago I first read a blog post written by a pastor who received a letter from a young  woman who grew up in a good Christian home and went to a Christian college. She describes how she ‘went off the rails’ at college despite being ‘a good Christian’ and that this is a common scenario.
Living in a university town and having worked on campus for many years I have seen plenty of students arrive here fresh-faced and reasonably tame, only to deteriorate into a drunken, debauched mess within months. Christian kids can find it especially hard at Otago as their peers party up and throw off parental restraints.

Very few Christians make it through their university years with faith intact. Some do, and they shine strikingly against the secular backdrop surrounding them. But unfortunately the attrition rate is huge. A shallow faith doesn’t last long in the pressure cooker of student life. Even those with deep, robust faith can find themselves stumbling.

There is no ‘easy-fix’ to this situation, it is an unavoidable trial of living in a secular nation and this is where we are called to live as salt and light. However, what has made this letter stick in my mind is what it highlights about the importance of a father’s faith and relationship with his kids:

Here are some excerpts from that letter:

… I found out when I went to college that I am not the only “good kid” who is or has struggled with or is still struggling with serious stuff. We struggle with issues like eating disorders, depression and suicide, cutting, pornography, gender identity, homosexuality, drugs, drinking, immorality, and the list could go on. We listen to “wild” music, we idolize pop culture’s heroes, we watch dirty sitcoms. We have no discrimination in our entertainment, dress, or any aspect of our lifestyle.

… the problems that are supposed to be bad kid’s problems belong to us too. Unfortunately, our parents and youth workers don’t know that we struggle with these things and they don’t know what to do with us when they find out. Quite frankly, I believe that if you grabbed the average Christian school teacher or youth worker and asked them, “What would you do if you found out that one of the kids you work with was a homosexual?” they wouldn’t know what to say.

… Our parents did not spend time teaching us to love God. Our parents put us in Sunday Schools since K4. Our parents took us to church every time the doors opened, and sent us to every youth activity. They made sure we went to good Christian colleges. They had us sing in the choir, help in the nursery, be ushers, go soulwinning. We did teen devotionals, and prayed over every meal. We did everything right. And they made sure that we did.

But they forgot about our hearts. …. Unfortunately, our fathers don’t have time for us. They put us where we are surrounded by the Bible. But they didn’t take time to show us that God was important enough to them to tell us personally about Him…

Many of us struggle with stuff that our parents have no idea about because they hardly know us.
Saddest Letter I’ve Ever Read by Cary Schmidt

My eldest child is not yet a teenager, so there remains time to deepen our relationship such that she can see for herself how my faith in Christ really works. Will I be brave enough to admit when I don’t have answers to her questions? Even tougher, will I allow her to see my struggles when I do not have answers to my own questions?

I’m not at all eager to face tough times, but maybe my children need to see me do so. They need to have seen me wrestle with hard decisions and choose to trust God. They need to see me weak and desperate yet clinging to Christ in all circumstances. As yet they are still a bit too young to understand the world of adults. What I don’t want is for them to be adults and still not understand it or have seen genuine Christian faith in action within the world they find themselves.

I would also like us to trust each other enough to be honest and share where we really are at. How will a child learn such honesty? Perhaps by seeing it in their parents’ relationship and by their father being brave enough to be open to them.

Pastor Schmidt has also posted a couple of responses to the letter, with a very good one addressed to parents here.

And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:6 ESV)

Who am I

It is 5 minute Friday in which I write feverishly for five short minutes, find a picture to fit my story and then post without reworking and rewording the entire thing before being brave enough to publish! This week the topic is identity, Go:
There was a time when I identified myself as a rock climber, not any more.

I was young, not any more.

I used to identify myself by the job I did, after over ten jobs that has worn thin.

I even had the audacity to identify myself as being intelligent… until I went to university!

Now I have many roles: husband, father, Poisons officer, son but my identity does not rest in any of these.

Who am I really?

Am I my thoughts, actions, emotions?

Am I what others think or see? Or what I present to the world?

In the end none of these are substantial. They will all crumble. Like earlier this evening when I was putting up gib in our bathroom and felt some identification with my father and brother who are both builders. Then I drilled through a new pipe placed by the plumber only last week and immediately identified myself as a complete idiot!

I want my identity to be in Christ, that I may know Him and be found in Him.

As Paul said, who had so much going for him by some standards yet threw all that away in order to gain Christ:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
(Philippians 3:7-11 ESV)

Missing them

Alone at work in the middle of the night.

Alone at work in the middle of the night.

I don’t enjoy this. I want to be at home with my wife and three children, together in the same house, sharing our lives.

This separation is the way it has to be during this particular season. There are some benefits but the cost of separation is high. For some, perhaps, not having the family routine we had become so accustomed to would be a trivial thing. I have a good job, an adequate income, this is a great blessing.

Yet the evening routine with it’s ‘jungle hour’ when the kids become hyped-up and unruly, the wrestling of baths and pyjamas and nappies while trying to catch snippets of today’s news and tomorrow’s weather from the telly. Wanting to collapse with a cup of tea, just my lovely wife and I, but needing to do the bedtime routine first. The dishes to wash, toys to pick up yet again, stories to read for the hundredth time (does he ever tire of Thomas the Tank Engine?).

I miss these things, the mess of being a family together.

A few scribbles

I was tempted to skip my usual eucharisteo post this week, then read this today: The Most Exquisite Pleasure I Have Ever Had

Giving thanks – as much and as often as we can for as many things as we can – is one of the most important spiritual habits we can cultivate.

This is more than just keeping a list of stuff I am happy about, in cultivating a habit of thanksgiving I am thanking a particular person (God) for what He has placed in my life.

While thinking about this during the day one of my children had a tantrum and disappeared into a bedroom. Later we discovered the damage – pencil scribbles all over the bedroom wall. Not exactly something we were thankful for!

Why would a child do this, knowing full well that it is naughty? We are not quite sure, there are a few issues with that child, this is likely to be partly related, and partly just plain naughtiness. A discipline challenge and maybe another small piece in a behavioural puzzle.

Gifts I have noticed today (#818 – #826):

818) Neither parent over-reacted or got angry
819) The incident happened at a time we were able to cope – earlier in the day I was on a short fuse!
820) The scribbles were in pencil, an eraser got it off
821) Grandparents coming to visit
822) Fresh apricots (the taste of sunshine as my wife says)
823) Chocolate frogs (the cause of the tantrum)
824) Better behaviour from naughty child this evening
825) We are gradually figuring out how this child interacts with the world
826) Still feeling love towards all my kids even when I simultaneously feel frustrated, angry, tired and fed up with them.

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:

God was not in the beating

And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12 ESV)

Sometimes things happen that are not necessarily God’s direct acting but He uses them to communicate to us. Last week I wrote about my daughter being beaten up at school and that it seemed my prayers for her protection had gone unanswered.

Since then my wife and I have been to discuss the incident with a teacher at school, done a lot of discussion between us, written to the board of trustees, met with the Principal of another school and tomorrow my daughter will start at that school. Maybe this seems like a rather strong, knee-jerk reaction. Actually the decision to change schools has been two years in coming and was possibly overdue. There have been a number of issues which individually have caused us to consider such a change but the upheaval didn’t seem justified for any single issue.

This most recent incident required action on our part and turned out to be a floodlight on the issue behind many of these problems. Like a seed crystal the immediate incident brought together a whole lot of other issues to clearly indicate that for our children’s sake it was better to inconvenience ourselves by changing schools. Not an easy decision, which is why we resisted such a change for so long.

While I don’t think this is the entirety of why God ‘allowed’ the incident to occur, in even such a short time it is apparent that there is a bigger story going on than just a violent over-reaction by a schoolboy. He is not a bad kid, his Mum is surprised and concerned by how he reacted and when both Mum’s talked together they gained increased understanding of each other and the strains on both children.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
(Matthew 10:29-31 ESV)

At least now I have some sort of explanation to offer my daughter if she asks, “Why did God let that happen?” Not a complete answer, for that she will have to wait until she stands before God Himself, but in His grace He is at least allowing us to see some good emerging in the responses to what happened.

Gifts I have noticed recently (#710 – #722):

710) Being forced to face a hard decision.
711) Grace at work in relationships.
712) God’s ‘still, small voice’.
713) Sermon prepared and delivered despite tiredness.
714) Poison prevention talk delivered.
715) Coffee and cake in a beautiful café.
716) The aroma of real pine Christmas trees.
717) Sunlight.
718) God putting the sun in the heavens (Genesis 1:16).
719) A peaceful election.
720) Not being allergic to pine pollen.
721) A quiet walk in the cool of evening
722) Realizing that too much alone time can be very bad for me, even as an introvert.

Pray for your kids – protection

… our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.(Daniel 3:17-18 ESV)

This post is not following the 31 Days of Prayer for children guide but is based upon a dilemma which occurred for me as I prayed for my 10-year-old daughter who was beaten up at school today.

She was foolishly kidding around and provoked a boy in her class. He then proceeded to punch and kick her, pulled her hair, and banged her head against a coat hook. She now has a nasty bruise on her forehead and a very sore head.

I often pray that God will protect her, she hears these prayers and yet didn’t feel protected today. God did not intervene to prevent the incident, no teacher was around to stop it happening and it was her peers who vainly tried to stop an out of control bully. Even her parents are only able to respond after the fact, we will be discussing it with the school tomorrow but could not prevent what has already happened.

When I rested my cheek on hers and prayed this evening I could not bring myself to ask God to protect her, though secretly that is still what I want. Instead I prayed for Him to comfort her and take away her anxiety, to heal her and give her rest.

How do I pray out loud for God to protect the child who He has not protected from being bullied?

I know that bad things happen to Christians and this does not mean God has deserted us. My understanding of God is able to accommodate incidents such as this, my main concern is about how this affects my daughter’s perception of the usefulness of prayer? Is there any point praying for God to protect her is He appears to simply allow bad things to happen? How do I encourage her faith in a God who really does listen to (and answer) our prayers?

These are honest questions, I do not know the answers. I will continue to wrestle with this over the next few days. (See the results of the wrestling here).

A possible explanation is that it was better for Iona to suffer this incident and learn valuable lessons from it rather than to have to experience worse sometime in the future because she had not yet learned those lessons. But does this mean that God’s wisdom is limited to only being able to teach some things through hurtful experiences? The trite answers fail.

Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
(Job 13:15 ESV)

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Image of boy punching: iStockphoto