The first time I drove on ice the feeling of helplessness disconnected me from my ability to act. Few times before had I experienced this feeling of a lack of control; definitely never quite on this scale. Though I spun the wheel the opposite way, me and my little SUV continued to slide into unavoidable disaster. My knuckles whitened even more, my jaw tightened together as my eyes squinted and brow curled at the sight of another car - all braced for impact. I came to sudden halt as my tires spun and slid sideways, undeterred into a curb. Luckily, the curb came before the car, and it was enough. Of course, I waved and smiled at the other car then slowly moving through the intersection because that’s what inexperienced people who feel the heat of embarrassment do amidst the frantic pulsing of their heart narrowly escaping calamity.
As a parent, I’m growing a bit more accustomed to this feeling. To be quite forthright, there are many times strength and confidence and experience give way to helplessness. No matter how much effort I give, we slide out of control toward unavoidable disaster. My frustration boils over and spills out in the midst of our tense words leaving us even more undone. And there we stand worlds apart, all on our own, our hearts still pulsing - one the transgressor, the other the transgressed. Our hearts are one in the same. They reek of sin and self, of defending and demanding, of wanting control and satisfaction.
Parenting is an art of improved loses. Those like me who scurry around to gather the pieces breaking busy themselves with falsities such as good, better and perfect, while others who lose well lock sites on tomorrow and refuse little wins in the name of being right and in control. The key here is tomorrow must contain a hope more promising than a tidy, well-adjusted family. This is where the Gospel must invade your parenting, eradicating sin and displacing self.
Truth: in you, what your child needs cannot be found. Only in the truth of the Gospel will your kids find real life.
The polarizing feeling of not understanding your child and not able to connect with your child visits every parental relationship. No one escapes the mystery of a child growing into their own, still your child but stretching into person and filling their own skin even more. It’s mired in damnable and divine. The sentimentalist in me wants to keep them close and controlled, but my responsibility founded in the Gospel is to lead them into tomorrow and then push.
My responsibility informs my action in the moment, or afterward. It is in that understanding of tomorrow being dependent on my needed guidance in my child’s life today where my head clears from helplessness and fortitude is reclaimed.
I see their smiles now easy and free. Peace quiets worry at this sight.And joy fills my heart in the deep of night.
Most days lived under our shared roof sprawl out without much difficulty. Comfort and security exists again. I remember the days burning hot and dry when we lived a million miles from one another exiled to our own island on fire. How unending those days felt! How unrelenting those waves beat against our shore while offering no respite.
The days, weeks and months following their mother's death, my wife then, will forever be immortalized as a graceful metamorphosis on the timeline of our family, the grand redesign of us now, then and ahead. For nearly 3 years now, we have been learning life again, finding joy in mundane free from extraordinary ordeal. Finding joy in day unfolding with boring, unassuming regularity; that’s how you know your heart is beating alive and not a shell of yesteryear.
To be clear,
happiness is what we pull from the sky,
the smiles we try to wear as long as we can bare,
...joy finds us
as the sky falls
to find us.
Joy swells in white flags waving and in the end of the pursuit of happiness. It glimmers rebelliously amidst darker days blanketed by fear, worry, doubt and is the praise of screw ups who know better than to trust the feeble strength of their own hand.
The light in each of their eyes dims, their faces hang in heavier moments, and I’m reminded again close to my chest I have no guarantees. Nothing promised apart from the breath drawn right now; not even the next day as I once believed.
Belief, that’s all we have and the only choice ever really needed to be made.
And that’s what fuels joy: belief.
The folly of the proud is self-reliance, but the triumph of the humble is joy despite all things, anything, independent of day, night, struggle, ease and especially fairness.
Maybe you’re like me in that I worry often as a parent. I push hard into most days and try to squeeze as much as I can out of it because there are no absolutes or guarantees that my effort put into my children will produce well - adjusted, loving people whose hearts belong to God and affections to the life given soon to them. I know as many parents who do everything as right as one can do who sit up late at night wondering what went wrong as the others who stumbled about aimlessly trampling inconsistently in selfish and ignorant circles whose kids end up running an honorable bid for sainthood.
There are simply no guarantees in life as there are in parenting. “Train up a child in the way he should go”* . . . and he may in fact stray. He may return one day to God’s grace and goodness, but maybe he won’t. No one saves, save for God. That’s why we must only believe.
Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."**
And so in our quest and effort as parents, we must courageously believe in God’s love and plan more than our pocketed strategies and parenting techniques said to tame the heart of the unruliest, liveliest little child. For when we trust in God’s ability in their lives and despite our parenting, we transcend human effort of dust trying to cover dust and allow Eternity to shape, form and guide into all ahead.
As a dad to three little beautiful girls, my heart winces a little more with each increasingly complex conversation. I do good in my own effort as their dad, but soon we’ll travel hand in hand to an impasse where my foot will slip and my hand not able to hold.
Right there my heart better be ready to let go and grab hold of God’s grace and ability. Right then, my heart must be able to believe or all that I’ve done is try diligently to look capable for as long as I could until my hand could hold no longer.
“The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done.”
Believe in the future already owned by the One who purchased a day unable to be bought by impoverished hearts. Be free. Belong. Trust.
image found @ www.ronitbaras.com || *Proverbs 22:6 || **John 6:28-29
Recently I scheduled time to sit down and share a meal with a friend of mine who scales the level of tremendous in my life ...and in the lives of many others. My buddy John shines no less than brilliant in life. The absolute best thing about him is you get the sense that he is as sure as he is unsure of what he is doing in life right now. It's not that John is unclear or unknowing. He clearly knows what he wants to do and must do in life. How he does what he wants to do is the challenge that he daily rises to. Day in and day out, John has tirelessly thought of questions to ask on how to launch a ministry and help lead men out of hurt into hope and tomorrow. In this way particularly, John encourages me deeply without even being aware.
John was a child who tragically lost a father and grew to become a man defined by hurt and abandonment. Yet through God's grace and miraculous forgiveness, he became a father refusing to lose his own children. John simply is a tremendous man with a dream too big for his shoulders. That's why he trusts God fiercely.
And this trust has led John to start a project called, The Father Effect.
I'd like to introduce my friend John Finch to you and let you in on the high points of our recent conversation captured in the 5 questions below. After reading through our conversation and hearing John's heart, watch the short film he made and share it with your friends.
One on One: interview with John Finch
What led you to walk away from stability in an established 17 year career to pursue launching The Father Effect?
Everything began to change when I hit one of the lowest points in my life. February 20, 2009, I reached a point of real brokenness. I was an alcoholic and on a particular work trip I scheduled to see a customer, who was also an alcoholic, we stayed up drinking until about 5am. I somehow arrived back at my hotel room and laid down for about an hour before I had to be up to catch an early flight back to Dallas. As I drove to the airport, still drunk, I remember thinking that if I got pulled over, I could get busted for a DWI. I also went into confession mode like countless times before, telling God that I would never drink again. All the while, I knew very well the next time I hit the road it was game on. At one point on my way to the Nashville airport, I said out loud to God, "you are going to have to slap me up side the head to get my attention". And that's exactly what happened shortly afterward. February 20, 2009, our world came crashing down around us - both of my in laws were diagnosed with cancer, I had knee surgery, the stress on my relationship with my wife and kids was being strained because of all of my travel, and I had recently walked into an emergency room because I thought I was having a heart attack, just to name a few of the things.
I don’t think God did those things to me, but I believe he surfaced in the midst of them and caught my attention. Little did I know that that was only the beginning.
Nearly a year later at the beginning of 2010, God had really started to stir my heart. Part of what God was impressing upon me was the fact that I was gone so much - two or three days a week - for as long as I had had kids, and it had started to take a toll on my family, both my wife and kids. I also began to get a picture of just how massive a problem absent fathers had become to most everyone that I knew. One weekend in early June of that year, I starting praying for God's direction and guidance about this stirring. I asked God to give me some kind of confirmation. I determined to spend the weekend praying and devoted to quality family time. At the end of a long day on Saturday, laughing having great time together, I put them to bed and walked back down the stairs to pray and think a bit more. Within 5 minutes, my middle daughter came down the stairs with the oldest not far behind and she simply asked with tears in her eyes, "Dad, why are you traveling so much?" Before I knew, they were both crying. Neither one of them had ever asked me that question. There was my confirmation from God. I assured them both that I was going to stop traveling and be home more. The next week, I put in my two weeks’ notice.
Tell me about the first day of your new life. What was it like?
The first day of my new life was freedom and healing like I’d never known before. This quote that I once came across describes the feeling best. "I was homesick for a place I had never been." I cannot explain it other than I felt God in every detail. I felt as though I had a new perspective about everything. I had a father wound and needed healing. One simple question that God posed to me turned my life upside down. Almost instantly I discovered forgiveness. Really, I think forgiveness found me in the question - "How could I be so angry, bitter, and resentful towards a man who did not know how to be a dad?" It was as if God had given me a new pair of glasses that made me see everything in a way that I had never seen them before. My relationship with my wife was new, my relationship with my kids was new, and even the world was new. All because the baggage of my past had been lifted from my shoulders. I had spend 30 years of my life living in the past blaming my dad for all my troubles.
Three days after I left my job to launch the ministry I met a guy named Charlie. Charlie was the car transporter who had come to pick up my company car from the job I had just left. Within 5 minutes of conversation, Charlie asked me what I was going to do now that I had left my job. I told him a little bit about all that I had been through, and he began to cry as he told me the story about his father. Charlie said that when he was 5 years old, his dad took him to a ballgame with some of his dad's friends. He said that his dad bought him a huge bucket of popcorn and bragged on him to his buddies like he was superman. Charlie said that he doesn't remember much after that because his dad left the family. For many years, Charlie said that he would get this strange feeling of peace when he went to the movies and bought a bucket of popcorn. In his mid 60's, some fifty years later, he soon realized that it was all because of that day at the ballgame with his dad.
What are the most valuable lessons learned or truths realized since starting The Father Effect?
I am continuing to learn so many things that it would be impossible to list them all here, but here are a few of the important things. I am not alone, we are all broken, and I could be a better father. Satan had convinced me for 30 years that I was all alone and that I was the only one going through the struggles and issues. Once I realized that everyone else had issues and struggles too, I didn't feel alone. And when I came to understand just how widespread the Father Wound was, I didn't feel alone, understanding that everyone has issues and are wounded in some way because of the experiences of life. I, like many men, thought that I was a pretty good father, but I was satisfied with only that, being a pretty good father. I soon came to understand that I could be a great father and the importance of striving for that made me a better father. I began walking in daily awareness of my actions and words as a father. And part of becoming a better father was loving my kids’ mom. Understanding that the way I treat my wife is how my girls see normal to be was eye-opening for me. Knowing that they were watching my every move and that I was setting the standard by which they are going to measure every man, and more importantly, their future husbands.
What are your hopes for the film? What's the next step?
My hope for the film is that it ignites a movement of fathers who walk in daily awareness of the significant and lifelong influence they have on their kids because the words and actions they use every day. I hope that it results in us being able to equip, educate, and encourage men with the resources they need to become great fathers. I pray that God uses it to reach millions of men and that it is seen in thousands of churches, universities, and addiction treatment centers all over the world, freeing men to be the fathers God has called them to be. The messages that need to be told are numerous and they are the catalyst for conversations that need to be had between fathers and kids and between husbands and wives.
Twenty years from today, what do you hope to have accomplished?
Twenty years from today, I hope to have helped redefined what it means to be a father. I hope this film and many others we make have changed the lives of generations - children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren - because it changed the hearts of fathers. My hope and prayer is that I have been obedient to what God has called me to do. And, twenty years from now, I hope to be sitting on a beach somewhere in Maui with my grandkids telling my wife "We did pretty good, huh".