I’m actually right-side up in this photo, it’s our yard that’s upside-down (which explains why my hat doesn’t fall off).
I’m so tired of this, the man thought as he slowly wrote yet another return address on yet another form for yet another bill that wasn’t his own. The pile of paperwork was enormous. Electricity. Propane. Telephone. Internet. Magazine subscriptions. The cable company and the town hall. The accountant and the broker and the lawyer. And so many insurance companies.
One change-of-address form after another, each requiring the same information: his father’s name and then the man’s own name and address. And between the two names, just three little words: in care of.
The man had been slogging through his days for many months, bearing the burdens of his own life on his shoulders, as well as the great weight of his elderly father’s dwindling life. Nine decades of sheer living and a new and creeping dementia had hobbled the man’s father, and the older man needed his son’s help now more than ever.
In care of. In care of. In care of…
It wasn’t that the man didn’t want to help take care of his father. He loved his dad and he shouldered the new weight with a great sense of honor and determination. But even great love is heavy at times, and even devotion can have a weary toil.
The man pushed his chair back from his desk, taking a break between change-of-address forms. Stretching the cramps out of the fingers on his writing hand. Thinking about family: his aging father, his own grown children, and his new granddaughters.
And as the man stared at the ceiling, looking back in time and then ahead toward the unknowable future, a scene began to play out in his tired mind.
It was last summer again and the man had taken his wife and family down to the lake for a swim and a picnic. The man had dawdled at the back of his car for a few moments, rummaging for towels, and when he turned toward the lake he saw his son and granddaughter standing by the edge of the road, waiting for a safe moment to cross to get to the excitement of the bright sunshine and the hot sand and the cool water and the eager mallards.
Father and daughter. A little hand wrapped in a big hand. Father alert, wary, looking both ways for a break in the inherent danger. Daughter twitching and hopping in place, oblivious and looking only straight ahead toward the happy promise of the waves.
At the safe moment, the pair began to cross, and the man heard his granddaughter giggle and saw her feet fly off the ground in a series of little skips. In those same moments, as the exuberant weight of a dangling three-year-old began the joyous tugging, the man watched his son almost imperceptibly lean away from the load, pulling just a little harder to keep his daughter airborne and avoid a skinned knee.
“He takes such good care of her,” the man had said to his wife.
And the weary man in his winter chair looked past the piles of his father’s bills and out the window into a grey sky filled with greasy snow; and he saw himself watching the road-crossing on that distant summer day. And he remembered that he had been surprised that the sudden weight of one small granddaughter had not pulled her father down, but rather that she had been lifted up.
It was just a matter of perspective, the man realized. His son had been prepared for the sudden yank of a toddler, was ready for the responsibility and the extra load, and was happy to bear it. A burden borne is also a burden lifted. One stumbles, and another catches. One drops, and another carries. And, strangely, sometimes the one who carries bears the lighter load.
And quietly the man remembered something else, the amazing grace and strength and comfort of the ages: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
The man pulled himself back to his desk and drew yet another form toward himself and on the allotted line he wrote his father’s name. And then, with glistening eyes and fresh vigor, he leaned away from the load and wrote again those three little words: in care of.
The house stood empty. Dad and I stood exhausted.
With our backs against our overloaded trucks we stared at the home where time had knitted our family together since 1960. Mom was gone now, and we were packing up. Bright rectangles on the walls showed where hanging photographs had kept the world from fading. The house echoed and whispered with far off and long ago sounds, like a shell held to your ear, a gigantic shell where something wonderful used to live. read more…
Back in October I wrote an encouraging letter to a pastor who had recently become my friend, and who was preparing to give a message at a conference that my wife and I would be attending. I have decided to include the guts of my letter as a post, hoping that it will be an encouragement to all of us.
I have been thinking a lot about your upcoming final message at the conference, “Living as a faithful parent in a hostile culture”. And I have been praying for you, your message, and your hearers. Karen and I have signed up for the conference, so we will see you there.
Parenting (and being a father, in particular), has been one of the great passions of my life for decades, both personally and as my ministry focus. In my long commutes to work each day last week I found myself thinking of you and your final message, and so many things came to mind. While I know you will be primarily sticking to Eph. 5:22 – 6:4, and the following is not particularly exegetical nor expositional, I hope you find the musings of one devoted Christ follower and dad helpful and encouraging.
First of all, in the name of your talk, there is that nasty little word near the end: hostile. While we indeed live in hostile times and in hostile territory governed by the “god of this world,” I think it is helpful for all of us to remember that Satan is God’s devil, and that his leash is only as long as God allows. So, as sojourners and strangers in difficult circumstances, we may yet live for God, alert and careful, but absolutely not defeated. As hard as faithful parenting can be, we can rest and exult knowing that we labor under God’s victorious hand.
And I think that living as a faithful parent is nearly as simple as living as a faithful Christian (which, of course, is not simple at all, but you know what I mean). The two roles, parent and Christ follower, are not separate, but forever bound; if we do the latter well, we will do the former well.
So as not to take up too much of your time, I have boiled my many additional thoughts down to just three. In my own life as a Christian and father for the last few decades, in my work as a churchman, and while helping other men and families, the following things seem to keep rising to the surface. (And while I realize that I am not going to say anything that you don’t already know; I hope it is an encouragement to you nonetheless.)
Live in the Word
I have long gotten over the shock and dismay that even within the church biblical illiteracy runs rampant. As parents, we must “long for the pure milk of the Word” and we must be able to “rightly divide” the Word of truth and we must “watch our life and doctrine closely.” We must understand the fundamental message of the gospel of God’s glorious salvation. God’s Word has life in it! And sound doctrine is important! We can’t proclaim it and live it if we don’t know it. I actually tell people to stop reading their bibles; and I mean reading in the sense that you would read any ordinary book: it’s not just something to check off your Christian to-do list so you feel you have done your duty! Ingest it! Digest it! Devour it! Study it! We must ask God to use His glorious Word to change us and grow our faith!
Proclaim the Word
We are called as Christ’s ambassadors and God has given us the ministry of reconciliation—and that great work begins at home. We parents must never forget that our first duty as ambassadors is not to shout the glorious gospel from the rooftop, but to shout if from inside the house (then go up on the rooftop). My son has two little daughters, ages three and one, and he understands that before he does anything, he is an evangelist and a missionary in his own home.
And we must proclaim the right Word (to reiterate two paragraphs above): we live in dangerous times, often up to our necks in a watered down, wishy-washy, feel-good, synergistic, hollow-promise, free-will “gospel” that doesn’t have the power to save or change anyone. We must proclaim the true gospel, and we must start at home, and we must never stop (we need the gospel every day.) As I heard Mark Dever (Capitol Hill Baptist Church) say recently, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” Anything but the truth wins no one.
Live out the Word
As Christians and parents we can know the Word, and we can proclaim the Word to our children, but we must also live the Word. Fail in this, and hypocrisy reigns; and we may be nothing more to our offspring but clanging cymbals.
One of the best things our children can ever witness is the God of the universe working in the lives of their own parents. For this to happen, we must submit to God’s authority in his Word and in his church, and let him chasten and change us—as God conforms us to the image of His Son, our children need to see the process. We must be transparent and vulnerable. We must not hide our struggles and flaws, nor puff ourselves up. Our kids know we’re not perfect, so we shouldn’t make it worse by pretending that we are.
We must let our kids see at the same time the rebel clay and the conforming hand of the sovereign potter. Defiance and correction. Resistance and restoration. They must watch the God of all that is sanctify their parents. My great hope for my children is that they see me as a falling down man who gets back up each time, not in his own strength, but because God is the lifter of his head. Transformation witnessed can be transforming in itself.
I want my children to see me live a life of utter trust and dependence. I want to be a living, breathing, speaking example of simul justus et peccator—at once wretched and forgiven, damaged by clinging sin, yet freed by God’s daily hand of grace. I want them to watch me fail, and repent, and trust, and forgive, and sacrifice (time, talent, resources), and work, and love (affection is so important), and do all the other things that God calls us to do, not out of obligation or fear, but by faith and hope and with great assurance.
I want to give them my time (time is the currency of childhood). I want them to see me love and cherish and respect and encourage and support their mom ( I know this is already one of your key points). I want to cultivate thankfulness and joy every day (regardless of circumstances). I want my children to watch me love God.
Our children must see us captured, captivated (your favorite words), and overwhelmed (my favorite word) by the glorious and indescribable mercies and grace of God. Even Calvin’s “subdued” isn’t nearly enough. We should be utterly at a loss for adjectives. As our children watch us walk through our lives, they should be thinking: “There goes my dad, living in Romans 11 again.” Oh, the depth…
I can tell by how fast my fingers are moving, that this is all getting away from me, so I will stop before I exhaust us both. This happens to me all the time, and I apologize for getting overly wound up. This stuff just means so very much to me, and I am often (to use an inadequate word) overwhelmed by what God has done and is still doing.
In one of your sermons last week you gave the wonderful illustration of the spotlights that shine each night upon the glorious façade of King’s College: We must be such lights for our children. If all we ever do is point our children to the ever-glorious Christ, we have done enough. Look unto Him!
Thanks for sticking with me to the end. Karen and I will see you on Friday. And we will be praying for you.
And we went to the conference, and it was great. And my friend didn’t use a single one of my points—which was fine, because his message was so much better anyway! 🙂
On a recent autumn day, as I worked to get the last few outdoor chores done before we were plunged into another Maine winter, I was scraping old dry caulk from the window frame in the door that leads to the back yard when my 23 year-old daughter Amanda darted past me on some errand.
My daughter is a living stream of consciousness who never seems to stop moving or thinking or being clever; she is an energized bit of cheery momentum, like a butterfly, but with a better sense of direction.
Seeing the open window as she whisked by, she seized the opportunity to be spontaneously entertaining, stepped behind the paneless frame, blurted out, “Cool, it’s like a portrait,” turned toward me and struck a deep and thoughtful pose. I had an el-cheapo point-and-shoot camera in the next room, so I said, “Don’t move,” dropped my putty knife, ran over and grabbed the camera, ran back to Amanda (turning the camera on as I dodged cats), stopped, composed both myself and the image, took the shot, and that was it. Amanda disappeared in a puff of laughter and enthusiasm; I shoved the camera in my back pocket, reached down and took up my putty knife, and began scraping anew. The whole drama took about 30 seconds, and I forgot all about the photo until the next day.
When I saw the image, I was astonished. The glossy black frame of the door ajar at just the perfect angle, here gleaming with silver highlights, there black as night. The golden-orange edge of the raw wood on the inside where the old glass used to be. My daughter from the waist up suddenly filling the empty window, confident, mature, and a bit mysterious. And all of these serendipitous components bathed in a perfect autumn light filtering down through the October maples.
“Shades of a work by Jan Van Eyck,” a friend remarked upon seeing it, conjuring up the penetrating shadow-and-light portraits of the great Netherlandish painter of the 15th century; although my first thought came from a bit further east and two centuries later, in the work of the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, who, had he wrought this work in pigments instead of pixels, would have surely titled it “Girl with a grey sweatshirt.”
Late that night, lying in my bed and staring up at my ceiling, I began thinking about my two children. Astonished as I was by Amanda’s quick portrait, I was even more astonished by the kind of people my grown son and daughter had become. Gracious, intelligent, cheerful, optimistic, kind, funny, confident, faithful…and so the list of superlatives went on. Not perfect, of course, but delightful and admirable, and my two closest friends.
How did I manage to fledge such wondrous creatures? I wondered. Then, realizing that I was holding my wife’s hand, and that the past 31 years of parenthood had certainly been a team effort, I quickly corrected myself. I did not do this alone, I whispered into the quiet darkness. And lying there amazed and thankful, the continuing presence of the grace of God washed over me, and I corrected myself again. We did not do this alone.