70

Good memories are never emptied of their treasures.

November 6 would have been my father’s 70th birthday. Below is an edited repost of reflections on a favorite memory that shapes my present fathering.

I am a grateful son.

—————————————-

Bumblebee Pilots
(originally posted Sept. 4, 2014)

Side-by side we sat in a Chevy Chevette.

In a cemetery.

Two men. One confident, one scared. A teacher and student. A father and son.

Tree-filtered breezes meandered across the bright yellow hood and through windows hand-cranked fully open. The yellow, contrasted with the deep-space black, vinyl interior invited active imaginations to view us as pilots of a man-sized bumblebee. A masculine carriage, it was not. At the time, I cared not a bit about a car that was yellow – or bumblebees.

I was under siege. Pinned-down by cascading failures strung together with a thread of terror. I could not master the dance between the brake, clutch, and accelerator. Stooges, those three. Starts, stops, and stalls were their shtick. A humiliating assembly of cyclic failure – which I didn’t find funny.

I succumbed to a pattern of resets, struggling to gain ground toward acquiring stick-shifting fluidity. With each restart, I’d longingly gaze at the root-heaved asphalt that lay in sun-speckled tranquility. I yearned to cruise those curvy paths among the gravestones, deftly marching through the gearbox. But that required a skill I did not have. And in that moment, thought I’d never obtain.

Amidst that battle between man and machine, my passenger-seated father was calm, fully immersed in saintly patience. Woven between the whine of an over-revved engine and the chatter of mistreated gears were phrases of gentle instruction and well-timed encouragement. Over and over, my father renewed his commitment to my success. He was fathering me in the truest sense. I felt his love.

That scene from my 16th summer is a highlight, still vivid in the present because of its ongoing effect. I am now the father in the passenger seat – literally, and metaphorically. It’s a seat that is revelatory. It has brought forth some of my finest, and most despicable behaviors. It has frustrated and agitated. It has made me laugh, wonder, celebrate, and cry. It’s a seat that demands a great deal – day after day.

Life demands many things. How we engage our compulsory duties is a strong indicator of who we are, what we value, and how we grant our trust.

Recalling my rough road to mastering a manual transmission brings to mind this quote from Thomas Watson: “To do duty without love, is not sacrifice, but penance.” (All Things for Good, p.88) My father had a duty to teach me how to drive. But in that necessity, he chose love. He went beyond himself, releasing control and trusting God with the risks.

Many times I have wandered into loveless duty. I’ve found it a debilitating snare of fruitlessness. A joyless enduring pockmarked by missed opportunity.

But each day is ripe with new mercy. Today’s relational intersections are divinely crafted opportunities to extend grace and kindness. To give, not just because we should, but because we want to.

Just like my father, on a breezy afternoon, in a car the color of sunflowers.

Aha!

September has been packed with momentous happenings for my clan.

Last week, our big to-do was the acquisition of a driver’s license for my second son. He completed the rigors of training and passed his final driving test with unexpected excellence. The “unexpected” qualifier is fair. My son agrees.

For many months, he and I have been like alley cats shut tight in a room together. Confined in our four-wheeled cage, instructional drive times exposed our best and worst. His fear and anxiety led to paralyzing uncertainty. His uncertainty met my underdeveloped relational patience, instigating several tense, emotional interactions. Voices were raised, feelings were hurt, the steering wheel was grabbed — by both of us. I was expert at inflaming his anxieties. He was a master at initiating migraines. Squabbling cats, we were.

Together, week after week, we worked to condition his on-the-road actions and reactions. Our key phrase was “drive defensively confident.” Start. Stop. Repeat. Again and again. Speed control, braking distance, parallel parking, and the “simple made difficult” four-way stop. But things weren’t clicking. I’d show him and tell him dozens of times. I had him read the driving manual — twice. He knew the rules; why couldn’t he just do it?

Great question.

Ever have an “Aha!” moment? That flash of inspiration or fresh idea you can’t wait to activate? Today I had an “Aha.” An epiphany, sort of. A revelation that brought me not a novel idea or problem solution, but something that has everything — and nothing — to do with my son and driving.

For a long time, decades really, I’ve known God’s call upon me to be generous. To give quickly,  willingly, and wisely of my time, talent, and financial resource. I’m fully onboard with that principle. Benevolence should be core to the Christ-follower. Yep, count me in.

Yet, for all the messages I’ve heard, books I’ve read, and teaching I’ve delivered, my Father in Heaven needed to bring a personalized intersection of my head, heart, and behavior. A divinely crafted flash of enlightenment.

His “Aha!” from this morning leaves me grateful, and sad.

Grateful for His patient, careful tending to my soul. Sadness for my stunted growth toward being a whole-hearted, generous man. Waves of regret roil as I replay episodes of stingy relating. Moments when I allowed my fear to blanket God’s invitation to trust. To give — even a little. To be an obedient Kingdom partner with what He has entrusted to my stewardship.

In two months my family will be in Kenya for a short stint. It’s an experience that requires us to link arms with friends and family, asking for their participation in our adventure through fervent prayer and generous giving. I’m discovering, with God’s “Aha,” that I’m an eager advocate for generosity when soliciting for my cause. But when others make similar requests of me, eagerness battles reticence. 

Is it pride? Stubbornness? Control? A hint of Scrooge? Whatever the root, it’s serious enough to warrant divine intervention. What I know is out of sync with what I do. It’s like I’m at a four-way stop, hesitant to move. I know what I’m supposed to do; why can’t I just do it? (Where have I heard that before?)

Dane Ortlund said, “We will, every day, be hypocritical in some way. Our creed outpaces our behavior.” Truth — knowledge for right living — requires action. It suffocates when confined to the realm of the mind. If what I know fails to penetrate my heart and activate my hands and feet, it is useless, lonely, and incomplete.

My “Aha!” was a generous gift from my Father in Heaven. A well-timed reminder. Like my son with his driving, I’m a bit slow with assimilation. But there’s forgiveness and fresh starts.

Despite a bumpy beginning, my son progressed to near perfection when tested on his driving skill. I’m proud of him. I hope to progress similarly, pleasing my Lord at the next opportunity to be generous with His resources.

Bumblebee Pilots

Side-by side we sat in a Chevy Chevette.

In a cemetery.

Two men. Confident and scared. Teacher and student. Father and son.

Tree-filtered breezes meandered across the polished yellow hood and through windows hand-cranked to full openness. The contrast of the car’s deep space black vinyl interior gave the impression we were pilots of a man-sized bumblebee. A masculine carriage, it was not. But that was of little concern.

Because I was under siege, pinned-down by a series of moments strung together with a thread of terror. I could not master the mechanical dance between the brake, clutch, and accelerator. Stooges, those three. Starts and stops and stalls was their schtick. A humiliating assembly of cyclic failure – which I didn’t find funny.

Succumbing to numerous resets, I struggled to gain ground toward acquiring stick-shifting skill. During each re-collecting, I’d direct my gaze past the windshield and upon the root-heaved asphalt further along. I yearned to cruise the curvy paths, deftly marching through the gears. But that required something I did not have. And at the time, I was beginning to think never would.

Amidst this battle between man and machine, my passenger-seated father was calm, fully immersed in saintly patience. From the noisy barrage of a high-revved engine and grinding gears emerged phrases of gentle instruction and well placed encouragement. Over and over, he renewed his commitment after each false start. He loved me well.

That scene from my 16th summer is a highlight, still vivid in the present because of its ongoing effect. I now fill the office of father and have spent time in the passenger seat. That seat is revelatory. It has brought forth some of my finest, and most despicable behaviors. It has frustrated and badgered. It has made me laugh and wonder and cry. That seat demands much – day after day.

There are many tasks and requirements we as students and spouses and parents and professionals do because we must. That’s our reality, and it is good. Even so, how we engage our compulsory duties is a strong indicator of who we are, what we value, and how we grant our trust.
 
Recalling my rough road to mastering a manual transmission brings to mind this quote from Thomas Watson: “To do duty without love, is not sacrifice, but penance.” (All Things for Good, p.88) My father had a duty to teach me how to drive a stick shift. But in that necessity, he chose long-suffering, patient love. He went beyond himself, and through his risk of releasing control I felt his side-by-side care for my development as a young man.

I have wandered into loveless duty and found – indeed – it is punishing. A snare of ungrateful effort. A joyless enduring, pock-marked by missed opportunity.

Yet, today is new! Mercy abounds, and each relational intersection is a divinely planned setup for us to love with patient kindness. To give not only because we should, but because it is our desire.

With the onset of a new season of school and activities and fresh routines, my desire that those things I want to do – as well as my duties – be done with tangible, sincere, freely-gifted love.

Like that which was given to me on a breezy afternoon in a car the color of sunflowers.

Dragon Slayer

~ On this Father’s Day I honor my father, a man who slew many dragons on my behalf. ~

More than seventeen years ago, I was blessed with a hope made real.

Joy, wonder, expectation, anxiety, laughter, uncertainty.

Fruit!

I became a father.

Forever.

Never can I shed that role. Five children will always know me as ‘dad.’ My attitudes and actions and words and thoughts and choices and proximity cannot separate me from my fatherly call. For sure, many things will quantify the quality of my parental effectiveness. But inherent with the procreative and adoptive acts that have made me a father is the unrelenting, uncompromising charge to provide and protect. To serve and to lead and to model and to nurture.

As a dad, I’ve been tested, abandoned, tempted, and tired. Celebrated and commemorated. The butt of jokes and the recipient of respect. I’ve been asked to do things I can’t and done things I shouldn’t. I’ve see my hard work ignored as demands for ‘more’ flow unceasing. I’ve been silent when my words needed voice. And there’ve been times when I spoke – and said too much.

Fatherhood is no fairy tale. Sure, our world is fantastic with real and metaphorical kings and queens and castles and feasts. Games and celebrations. Wonderful stories. We live in a Kingdom that’s here in part – with more to come.

But in the Kingdom are dragons.

Hoards of dragons. Devious, dangerous dragons that titillate our senses with the promise of personal peace and affluence. Life-stealers clothed as sex, money, and power. Villainous monsters with no bias or prejudice. Their breath is discouragement. Their claws sharp, eager to plunge deep and infect with despair. In their wake tumble wounded souls left to whither and die.

I hate dragons.

And dragons hate fathers.

Authentic fathers. Father’s who accept their role with gladness. Dads who shield and sacrifice. Engage and relate. Laugh and learn and listen and cry. Fathers who thwart the diabolical thirst for a child’s tender heart and the rending of the marital union. Men who use truth and love to push back the poisonous blend of lies, deceit, and discontentment that seeps from our scaly foe. Manly men who fight and get dirty and bloody and scream at the evil that is the dragons.

I’m a father. And I love it.

Dragons hate me. I love that, too.

I’m eager to slay some dragons.

Are you? 

Best Seat in the House

My hand glides lightly over its velvety fabric. Many hands – sticky and rough and small and greasy and snotty and delicate and yes, even some clean ones – have traveled a similar path. It beckons for touching. Few can resist the temptation to caress its surface as they round the corner into the open room.

Then a year ago, change came.

I still glide my hand along that fabric and receive a tickling of my palm. But now, I pause my routine. I press my hand down into the softness and squeeze gently. My fingers curl deep into the plush fabric-bound stuffing, releasing strong and savory memories. Memories of lavish Thanksgiving dinners. Of gut-churning U of M football games and associated outbursts. Of a dozen grandchildren whipped into raucous Christmastime excitement. Of casual evenings of take-out pizza and conversation. Of pleasurable bratwurst smokiness wafting in from the grill on the porch.

I release my squeeze on the thing privy to it all. A greyed-blue friend. Unobtrusive, yet alluring. It’s the epicenter of the room and hasn’t moved in years. It rests in quiet readiness. Expectant, with arms spread wide.

Those arms serve mostly as perches for little people these days. And that’s okay. Those little ones should be there, nestled in the warmth of a beautiful legacy. They need to soak in the pages of Scripture read there. They need to feel the wetness of tears that rolled from joy, and sorrow. Their ears must reverberate with the historical echo of petitions poured-forth from an anguished, hopeful, satisfied, pleading soul. The soul of a man who once sat where they now sit. A man who left us, and cannot return.

His leaving was not from offense, or disgust, or something said wrongly. It wasn’t from a relationship that cooled. The leaving was required. Expected, really. But this type of exit is always too soon, and never without horrifying pain. 



Dad is gone.

But his chair stays with us.

It’s seems strange to crave the sweet and bitter emotion that chair evokes. Yet I’m comforted when I see it. Touch it. Smell it. I don’t care to sit in it…much. It was dad’s chair. And when he reclined, all felt settled and right and good.

I long for my dad. My kids miss their grandpa. My mom grieves the pain of a severed oneness. So we pray. And beg for joy – because we can, and should. I’m grateful that God is gracious in his supplying.



Dad left a year ago. Remembering freshens my grief. Tears, again, trickle along familiar paths.

Yet, I smile.

At a chair.

For the memories it holds. And the person it held.
 


“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4, ESV)

*My father died February 13, 2012. Here’s the eulogy I gave at his funeral.

Feeling Fruity

I’m a detail guy. Mr. Neat. A place for everything and everything in its place. A bit obsessive at times (I prefer meticulous). Thorough, for sure.
 
I’ve previously confessed such things, affectionately categorizing myself a recovering perfectionist. Each day I go hand-to-hand with my urge to control. Although I don’t completely trust self-evaluation, I do think I’m lessening my grip on ‘perfect.’ I drive a dirty car. The walls of my home are pocked with dings and scrapes and scratches. My lawn is peppered with weeds and I given-up rolling the toothpaste tube with NASA-like precision. Baby steps.

Recently I was ‘blessed’ with another opportunity to face myself.

It was a Sunday morning (isn’t it always?) and we had just arrived at church. My gang was piling-out of the car when my super sensitive dad ears detected the “snap-slap!” indicative of something plastic meeting a sudden death. Instinctively my probing eyes flashed to meet those of a child. Together, our gaze panned to the seat from which said child had seconds ago propelled themself (because stepping out of the car would be too simple). Before us laid a scene of woe: plastic trim – cracked and dangling, taunting me with a subtle bob and weave. That shattered trim was a dagger in the heart of ‘Mr. Perfection.’

Such scenes have been played dozens of times with various characters and props in my 16+ years of fatherhood. Each one adds grey to my crown and something to the ‘fix-it’ pile on my workbench. It makes me weary. It’s difficult to be reminded over and over how this life isn’t going to meet my expectations. From the school for recovering perfectionists I’d like to hear “class dismissed!” I’ve told God as much. But things keep breaking. The weeds keep growing. My boys are still boys. And now the dog has seasonal allergies. Seriously?

Why?

Because I need pruning.

Despite my self-proclaimed progress, I’ve still got work to do with killing the idol of perfectionism. Each day is a resubmission of my desires to Jesus Christ so that He might rule my thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions. I want that. God does too. And He promises to help: ““I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1–2, NIV)

So, as dirty hands make dirty walls and air soft guns poke holes in my vinyl siding, God prunes away my perfectionism. Plastic trim tragedies and soda-stained carpet are much more than moments to practice anger abatement or bemoan crushed desires for a perfect world. Rather, they are well-placed cuts that sever unproductive behaviors so I might be fruitier. It’s a wonderful, painful paradox.

That’s My Dad

I have spies in my house. They watch, listen, observe, mimic. If you’re a dad, you’ve got spies too.

Boys and young men constantly watch and glean bits of manliness from grown men. Even the smallest details get etched into boyhood memories. Much of what a boy learns about manly living is caught.

In my growing-up years, I spent hours observing my dad. I would watch him go about the work of running our home. From fixing all that was broken to mowing the lawn to building a shed. I was his shadow—sometimes seen, sometimes not. And sometimes too close.

I memorized dad’s mannerisms, his expressions, his patterns, his methods. I learned his classic phrases like “measure twice, cut once”, “never do half a job”, and the well-known “lefty-loosey, righty-tighty.” I remember him smelling of hard work—sweat, dirt, fuel and paint. I wondered at his rock-steady hand that could cut-in paint along any ceiling like Michelangelo. I marveled at his ability to coax the rusted bolt loose. Sometime he went shirtless. Often got sunburned. There were cuts and scrapes, but he continued unfazed.

And then there were dad’s muscles. There wasn’t a pickle jar dad couldn’t open. Even the most stubborn jar relinquished its seal to dad with a “pop”. Whether busting through pickle jars or hanging drywall, I was fascinated with dad’s strength. I frequently stole glances at the muscle in the crook of his lower and upper arm. It bulged when he gripped, lifted or just wrote with a pencil. He was tough. His muscle was cool. I wanted one.

I remember wondering if my forearm would someday look like his. I would bend my arm and flex, looking with hope for the desired mound of muscle. Bend, flex, look, repeat.

I’m still looking.

Dad often closed a hard day’s work by grabbing a beat-up, translucent white, two-quart pitcher. He’d fill it half water, half ice. Then he’d stand – not sit – and relieve a bit of his exhaustion with large gulps. He looked like Mean Joe Greene downing a bottle of Coca-Cola. As I took-in those moments, I pondered how manly it was to drink straight from a pitcher. To tame two quarts of ice water in a few short minutes. To feel the satisfaction of a hard day’s work. To be master of a small suburban homestead.

Because manliness is stamped upon my soul, something deep inside me stirred to life as I watched my dad work. As I admired his strength. As I pondered his painting prowess. Even in his drinking he was, at least in my eyes, the epitome of manliness. And I wanted to be just like him.*

I miss my father. Profoundly. I found comfort in his nearness. His accessibility. But that chapter is closed. Time progresses as I, with cautious reverence place my feet into his well-traveled shoes.

Although our reunion will come, the reality of separation sits heavy upon my day-to-day fathering. My dad was solid, steady and wise. He was strong, confident, and courageous. He was faithful and fun. He was a biblically authentic man who understood his brokenness. And I am grateful.

Thanks, dad.

*from a book I co-authored, Man Made: Reclaiming the Passage from Boy to Man

A Eulogy

Monday, my father died.

Then Tuesday came. Just like every other day. It didn’t seem right. It felt rude and cold. Disrespectful. Shouldn’t there be something different about Tuesday? About today? My father is gone, and life won’t ever be the same.

Despite my desire for cosmic recognition, the sun rose again this morning. It has every day since dad’s passing. The days will cycle in apparent ignorance of this week’s events. Even so, I know the impact of Sam De Man sings into eternity.

It has been wonderfully difficult to look back upon my dad’s life. The beauty of a life well lived is an abundance of fond memories. The struggle of eulogizing a great man is brevity.

I’ll begin with memories I’ve rehashed many times over the years. Even before my father’s death, I enjoyed reflecting on the late September and early October Saturdays from my childhood. Those fall weekends were packed with football. I loved the game, and so did dad. Starting my kindergarten year, dad showed amazing patience as he coached and cheered and encouraged this underweight, overly shy son who tried to play the game. He helped me strap-on my oversized battle gear then slapped my backside launching me into an awkward trot out onto the field. Dad would clap and coach from the sidelines, adorned in his ‘Forest Hills Youth Football’ coaching jacket, which he proudly wore many years after I stopped playing.

Our post-game routine included talk over cider and donuts. Memories bring back the smell of dirt and rain and grass. I recall images of dad cupping his hands to shout instructions and encouragement. After shouting he would blow into his hands, trying to stay warm. He served me well in my desire to play ball.

Those Saturday morning ball games were followed by Saturday afternoon chores—and a bit more football. Dad would pace through his ‘to-do’ list accompanied by Bob Ufer, the play-by-play broadcaster for University of Michigan football. Dad would drag his well-worn black and silver radio around the yard so as not to miss a play. I’d glean a listen while tossing and kicking a maize and blue Nerf football to myself. Although occupied in our own activities, dad and I were together. He worked. I played. Yet, all the while I was stealing glances at my father, pondering the day I would grow to be just like him. To do manly work. To serve my family.

The smell of freshly cut grass in the cool of fall has always freshened those memories of my dad and football. Those memories will feel different now, but are nonetheless sacred. I’m forever bound to my father through those unique times we shared. Despite being an average player, he cheered like I was the best. His shouts for number 88 still reverberate in my soul. My father’s words of affirmation continue to have a profound impact on my manhood. He blessed me in ways that continue to bolster me in my marriage, my parenting and my work.

Beyond football, dad also loved to fish. His success varied, but his passion did not. He was infamous for his ‘black grub’ and ‘purple worm’ lures – which often caught more wind-burn than fish. I recall a time of poking fun at a yellow lure he inherited from his dad. It was big, beat-up and ugly. In my opinion, it was good only for catching weeds and submerged logs. Dad absorbed our pessimism without saying a word. He calmly tied-on the lure with an “I’ll show you” look in his eye. Once secure, dad cast ‘Mr. Ugly Lure’ a mile out…and promptly deceived a behemoth from the depths of Lake Cadillac.

We never did get whatever it was into the boat. From my perspective, that was a good thing for two reasons. One, I was young and scared of whatever it was dad was dragging toward our rowboat—a boat that suddenly seemed much too small. Two, because if he landed the scaly beast we’d never hear then end of how we mocked his lure which landed the catch of a lifetime.

For a while, dad fished year round. He, and his best friend David Haaksma made a habit of venturing out onto the winter ice of Reeds Lake in the dark of Saturday mornings. He and David had many adventures together – from eating 3 lbs of taco meet in one sitting to other things best not mentioned in a eulogy. Death came for David years ago. For those who loved him, it was much too early. Just like it seems my father’s death is premature. Yet, they both left us right on time. My guess is they have already recounted the days gone by. David was always coaxing my dad toward having fun. They could be a rascally pair. Much fun will be had in eternity by those two. Trusted, manly friendship is like buried treasure. Search it out. Find it. Savor it. Protect it. My dad had a good friend in David Haaksma. My dad had many good friends—because he was a good friend.

My father’s joy of football and fishing found close company with a chainsaw. He often mentioned the great satisfaction he felt when a hot stream of woodchips would pound upon his pant leg as he deftly sliced through a fallen tree. If there was a tree to be cut, he was there. Then after the cutting, in typical Sam De Man fashion, he’d head home and take all the necessary time to return the chainsaw to a pristine state. Just like he did with all his tools. Clean. Organized. Catalogued. Ready for use. It was impressive, if not compulsive. But it endeared us to him. He served us by always doing—and I mean always doing a job right and doing it right the first time. He was fond of saying “a job worth doing is worth doing right” and “never do half a job.” Thank you, dad, for blessing us with a second-to-none work ethic.

But dad was not all work, just like he wasn’t all play. The same man who coached ball, fished, bowled, laid tile, played softball, tore-down and hung drywall, dug-out stumps, soldered copper pipes, cut down rogue trees and has pictures of John Wayne lining his workshop was gentle, sensitive and caring. At his core he was a man who felt life deeply. Even in his propensity for wanting everything just so, he mustered the patience to teach his children how to drive a stick around the quiet roads of a cemetery. He sat quietly with a frustrated eight-grader and brought understanding to Algebraic equations scrawled on tear-stained paper. And I’m forever grateful for the time he calmly walked me to the bench on our front porch. There, we both cried unashamed over an uncertain future as I was in the midst of my own wrestling with cancer.

In his softness, my dad found courage. Courage to haul his family of five around the country.  We were rather conspicuous in our brown and tan van, green and white striped camper and mom’s handcrafted shirts that said “Let’s go camping.” Dad led us through the collecting of experiences and the building of cherished memories. Memories that have forever embossed themselves on our family psyche. We won’t ever exhaust the laughter from the memory of our wave-saturated Pictured Rocks boat tour complete with regurgitated bologna sandwiches and grape pop. In these, and many other ways my dad sacrificially served our family.

Someone recently asked my father how he managed to stay married for almost 45 years. His answer? “You serve your mate.” And he did. Dad married his high school sweetheart and became a lifetime one-woman man. He was faithful to his covenant with my mother till his dying breath. And while he had breath, every day he told her, “You’re special.” A healthy, vibrant, Christ-centered marriage was the best gift my father ever gave to my mom, and to us children. I pray his example will echo through the marriages of his children, grandchildren and beyond. Thanks, dad, for being a loving, faithful, trustworthy husband.

In so many ways, my dad made others feel valued and honored. He was a man well loved because he loved well. He was a man of impeccable integrity. A man who could be trusted – completely. A man who gave unconditionally. A man who was loyal – to an employer for almost 40 years – and to His God.

A bit more than sixteen years ago, my wife and I spread our wings and flew from the church of my youth and landed a few miles north of here. Dad and I reconnected in a spiritual sense through the men’s ministry at that church. He and I had the special pleasure of growing together in our effort to live as biblically authentic men. We worked-out our faith side-by-side. We built a legacy together. He watched me grow through the tensions of marriage and parenting.

As I grew into my own ministry settings, he blew winds of confidence over my fragile ego. He smiled as he listened to me teach. I could feel his fatherly pride. It warmed my soul. It filled my spirit in a way only a father can for his children. He told me often what a good dad I was. I reflected the compliment back to him. We spoke words of affection for each other. The spoken word is powerful. I treasure my father’s words to me.

Going forward, Thursday mornings at my church will be different. Incomplete and lonely – at least for a while. I will miss seeing dad arrive – 15 minutes early, of course – with his Bible, 3-ring binder, pen and highlighter. I long for just one more of his hearty handshakes coupled with his rye smile. My ears ache to hear him greet me just one more time – not with “hello” but his special blessing of, “my son.” He made me feel valued. Important. Honored. Thank you, dad.

One result from our shared spiritual journey the past several years came on Father’s Day in 2005. Dad wrote me a letter that accompanied a gift. In the opening his letter, he said this: “I have been contemplating writing this note and giving you some token to commemorate our relationship – something that would be a remembrance of some significance. I have agonized over this and had multiple second thoughts about what would be just right. I settled on a gift that would remind you of the direction that you should go and who should be your guide. Hopefully, when I am no longer around, it will bring to mind the good times we have shared and the father/son bond that we have developed.”

My gift was a compass. A poignant reminder to stay the course. To not drift. To walk wisely down the narrow path. My father knew where he was headed. He wanted to help me go there too, and in the best shape possible.

In the journey of life, we are all headed somewhere.

The question is: where are you headed?

Many would say my dad was a good man. Indeed, he was. The overriding theme of his life was gracious service. He was never afraid to go last. He always got the last hobo pie from the campfire. He was frequently last in line at church potlucks. For many years, he was the guy who turned-off the lights. But being good and doing good for the sake of goodness is empty. A long dead-end street. A journey that drifts and heads along a wide path to nowhere. Outside the context of faith in Jesus Christ, the good works of the best men have no lasting value.

What motivated my father was love. Love for God, and love for people. One man defined biblical masculinity as,”the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility.” That was my father. He joyfully accepted responsibility. He sacrificed. And he did it because his Lord asked him to. He lived-out the instruction of I John 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

My father didn’t serve to receive kudos or pats on the back. He didn’t give his best to get something in return. He gave now, to gain later. He worked hard to glorify the sacrifice of Jesus who gave his life for our gain. My dad lived in ways that led people to Jesus—literally and practically. He knew where he was headed. His heart’s compass pointed toward Jesus Christ.

So when dad’s perfect draftsmen’s print declined to illegible scrawls, when his hair went from never being out of place to not being there, when he could no longer communicate with words, he continued down the path of faith. Until the end, he lived-out his life verse:

Isaiah 40:30–31 (NIV)
“Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

My compass reminds me where I’m headed. I’m headed where dad is now.

As each of us ponders where we’re headed, we have to wonder if we’re good enough for heaven. Perhaps right now you’re wondering how to make-up for all the bad things you’ve done? The good news is that Jesus answers those questions for us. We aren’t good enough—but He is. We can’t make-up for the bad things we’ve done—but He can.

Through his death, Jesus made it possible to have a restored and good relationship with God. It doesn’t matter what you’ve said, done or thought. We’ve all got our junk. And doing a lot of good things, like my father, is not enough to cleanup the mess. Only faith in Jesus Christ and His ability to take care of our wrong-doing—our sin—puts us on good terms with the God of the Bible. Only by believing and receiving God’s forgiveness and grace can any of us enter heaven. The heaven where my father now rests and enjoys the reward of his labor. You can be assured of going there, too. By believing in the forgiveness of sin through Jesus. God’s Word, the Bible, tells us…

“But God is faithful and fair. If we admit that we have sinned, he will forgive us our sins. He will forgive every wrong thing we have done. He will make us pure.” 1 John 1:9 (NIrV)

Our hope – which is dad’s hope – is Jesus Christ. The truth of who Jesus is and what He’s done for each of us is why my father gave away so much. Why he served so many. Why he is remembered as a good man.

So, as we say a concluding goodbye to a wonderful man of God, I find comfort in the words of Martin Luther’s hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God.’ Luther reminds us of the battle we fight against a dark, powerful, ancient foe. He also insures we not forget who fights for us against our enemy. The One who give us hope—our Great Hope. Hope in the truth that just “one little word” brings victory. That Word is Jesus Christ. Here’s how Luther said it:

That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.

Dad now sees that Kingdom with clarity. He is again talking with his dad, whom he adored. He laughs about the ‘good ole’ days’ with his best friend. He walks and talks with Jesus. What a conversation that must be. I’m sure there’s a “well done” in there somewhere.

Sure, I’ve got lots of “why” questions.Sixty-six years seems but a short time to tarry here in this world. If I can live my own years half as well as Sam De Man, I will have lived well.

The tears come and go. I suspect they will for a while. In some ways, I hope they never stop. They honor my father, who was a great man. They acknowledge the pain of life. And they intensify a longing in my heart for the day when the vision of the Apostle John is made realty:

Revelation 21:3–4 (NIV)

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’  or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Lord Jesus—come quickly!

Tour de Stress

Peloton. I added that word to my vocabulary this month compliments of the Tour de France. Not sure if I’ll be able to use it in a context outside of bike racing, but I welcome the challenge.
Besides learning a new word, there are other things I’ve gleaned from the Tour. First, I have very skinny legs. Second, I want muscular legs. Third, I will never shave my legs – no matter what. Fourth, European bike racing fans have an affinity for cheering and chasing bikers while wearing Speedos. Sixth, Speedos are obscene.
Watching the Tour, I’ve gained a sense for the danger of professional biking. The crashes can be horrific. I also have a renewed appreciation for the endurance required to ride 150+ KM in a few hours. Those guys are machines.
Endurance has been a theme of late in our home. We’ve been working through a planned disruption. It’s required all of us to be agile with our routines. We’ve had to lay aside personal desires to serve the greater good. It’s been fine. We’ve tarried well. But in the midst of experiencing the abnormal, we’ve also been preparing for our big summer vacation.
For me, vacation prep is a Tour de Stress. A journey filled with mountains and few straight-aways. But that’s reality. Stress is a part of rallying our little peloton. It can be difficult to unify our team when so much excitement and anticipation abounds. My “riders” care little for how many shirts and pairs of socks to pack. They just want to ride. And so do I. But things must get done or we’re going nowhere. That tension requires a special mustering of patient endurance – for all of us.
Of course, the stress-fires get stoked with things like last minute car repairs, finding a dog-sitter, a final mowing of the lawn, a trip to the bank and 42 last minute jaunts to the store. Ah, vacation.
So what do I do? How do I cheer my peloton without deflating their tires? How do I grow a desire to serve, instead of being served? How do I muster courage to squelch the energy I want to put towards having the right number of underwear? How do I strangle nudges toward anger and not demand that I get a break?
Well, life doesn’t offer breaks. Sure, there are times for refreshment and relaxation, but I’m never excused from being a husband and father. From leading, serving and loving. Life’s stresses never abate.
I’m learning anew that in life’s stresses there is opportunity. Opportunity to lay aside my wish dreams. To trust that God has my back. That He can handle my anxieties. That in His strength, I can be a tail-wind for my peloton. That whether I’m stressed or calm, He brings the rest I’m longing for.
Soon we’ll be off to new fun and adventures. As I progress through the stages of my Tour de Stress, I’m keeping my wife’s homeschooling mantra very close:  “Attitude is everything – pick a good one!” I’m grateful for renewed mercies – from God, and my family. And lastly, if I thought it would help, I might consider shaving my legs.

A Last "Huzzah!" for the Puritans

Our fun with the Puritans in our last post generated some interesting feedback. We stirred the pot beyond this blog when Katrina, my son and I changed our photos on facebook to those with Puritan-like qualities. We had a good time with it. The best bit of feedback arrived in a small box. Inside were seven little Pilgrim hats made from marshmallow, chocolate and a fudge-striped cookie. For those little goodies I was, like our Pilgrim (Puritan) forefathers, thankful.
Before we return the Puritans to the history books, I want to ruminate just a little more on what my son’s moniker has stirred for me.
(Note: If you have no idea what I’m talking about, reading this might help).
Over the past few years, it has been interesting to receive feedback from those little angels Katrina and I parent. For sure, our children have never failed to let us know what they’re thinking. Thrown food, rolled-eyes, vitamins thrown in the trash, fake showers, opening ink pens on the carpet and slammed doors have been some favorite means of expression. But with teens and pre-teens now in our home, their feedback is becoming more sophisticated. Almost coherent.
In his story, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde said, “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older, they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” That quote encapsulates why parenting is a venture requiring utmost courage. Being a parent is humbling. Sometimes humiliating. Wonderful and terrible. Joyous and heartbreaking. The tension of familial love strung between a parent and child can feel one minute like a noose, the next a delightful embrace.
As I process feedback on my parenting – from friends, family and my own dear children – I pray for ears to listen. I beg God for humility to receive things true. I pray for protection from lies and false accusations. I seek discernment to know when it’s good to be puritanical, and when the big black hat and funny shoes need to stay in the closet. To know when to be a friend, and when to be a parent. To say “yes” when the only reason for “no” is because it’s easier. To let go of a few bucks because money spent on my kids yields long-term dividends. To squelch caustic words before they leave my mouth. To be a dad who blows wind into young sails.
Of course I want my kids to love me. But that can’t be my goal. They will judge and evaluate the kind of dad I am. Some days the Puritan, other days…?  I’m cool with that. My hope is they forgive my mistakes…and that I would be quick to do the same.