March 11, 1944--September 20, 2015
My dad was a super hero. I grew up believing there was nothing my dad couldn’t do. I was always safe when he was around. He had big broad shoulders, a soothing deep voice and nothing ever seemed to alarm him. And I had other proof. In the snowstorm of 1975 he was part of a brave group of men who escorted a doctor on snowmobiles to a woman’s home who was giving birth. Her house was miles from town and their chances of making it were not good. It was a harrowing night. They couldn’t see a thing and their snowmobiles nearly failed them as they battled the ice, snow and 90 mph winds. The next morning the snowdrifts were up to our roof, but my dad and the other men had defied the odds and were holding a healthy newborn.
There was the time he raced a tornado home in his Chevy El Camino. And the utter lack of fear when he would stand outside, surveying the greenish-black sky during a tornado warning while the rest of us huddled in the basement.
He filled the hearts of my possible male suitors with fear. One young man was foolish enough to pull into our driveway to pick me up for a date and honk his horn signaling me to come out. My dad was not having that. No boy who wouldn’t treat his daughter better than that would have the opportunity to take her out. My dad waited this guy out so he could look him in the eye. Needless to say we never went out again.
My super hero dad also dressed the part. For living in a small town in the Midwest my dad dressed more like a city dweller. And I’m pretty sure none of my friend’s dads blow dried their hair or used multiple hair products to create such stylish locks.
As I grew into a teenager, I discovered that even super heros aren’t invincible. His cancer when I was 16 was the first time I’d seen my dad that physically weak, and yet, he was gracious, kind and positive. I began to see that he didn’t need super strength to be an exceptional human being.
But as an adult, rather than losing my childlike awe, I realized my dad did have a super power. But it wasn’t in his physical strength. It was his ability to make everyone he met feel like they were valued and valuable. Even his lack of complaining, I believe, was primarily due to his love of others. He desired to love others well and for everyone to feel comfortable around him.
I think that was the most amazing thing to me. It was easy to see how much other people enjoyed being with him. How even in his quietness he was a presence in any room. How kind he was to every person, no matter how unimportant they might seem to others. EVERYONE loved my dad.
And he loved me. If it's true that a child's view of God is shaped by their view of their dad, I was profoundly blessed.
His body let him down long before his strong spirit. And in the end, Jesus held out his hand and said, “Come on Jim, are you ready? Let’s fly away.” My dad replied with his usual smile, “I’m ready." And he was free.
My dad is a super hero.
Today I sat in on a high school assembly. This may be an obvious point, but can we take a moment to thank God we're not in high school any more? Unless, of course, you are in high school. Then, hey--don't worry, it'll be over soon. But this is not my point. Tomorrow evening is the homecoming football game and this was part of the week-long festivities. A thousand awkward teenagers (with a dozen or so freakishly attractive adolescents mixed in just to make everyone else feel the weight of their inferiority) were jammed onto the gym bleachers. There was a drum line, perky cheerleaders, a balloon arch and the necessary grunting football players standing off to the side. They would have their time, but event began with the speeches from the homecoming king and queen candidates.
Which is why I was sitting in this hormone laboratory in the first place. Our son, Cade, is one of these candidates. Yep. I'm a proud mom. This kid, who moved from Arizona in the middle of his freshman year has done the difficult work of acclimating to a new culture while remaining true to who he is through arguably, some of the most confusing years of life. This is no small feat and I'm taking this moment to soak in the reality that as his childhood and adolescence winds down, he's entering adulthood having already weathered some character building seasons.
I remember my counselor telling me how hard it is to develop faith in our kids because it requires that we allow them to be in situations that build faith. It's much easier to rescue and protect our kids than to entrust them to God or allow them to fall and fail. I'm not talking about negligence or laziness (although I probably over-spiritualized my refusal to assist on science fair projects). I mean the disciplined, soul-wrenching work of learning when to intervene and when to let them fall. And then trusting something good can come out of your mistakes.
That's what I saw today. A man who is growing in character and faith. A man who is learning to be gracious in adversity and affirmation. The young man (and I use that term loosely) who gave his speech before Cade apparently mistook the assignment as a roast of all the other candidates and, I have to admit, my mama feathers were riled when he took a verbal jab at my son. When I asked Cade about it after school he just laughed. He hadn't been offended at all. Which is the problem with kids growing up--sometimes they're better at being adults than we are.
This afternoon, the votes are being counted and tomorrow night the announcement will be made and the 2014 Homecoming King and Queen will be crowned. Cade may or may not win, but both of us will be fine no matter the outcome. I have so much respect for him and I couldn't be prouder. Of course, I have an advantage over him. I know that in the scheme of life, homecoming court successes fade quickly. But Cade is teaching me that perseverance in the ups and downs of the daily grind will always be rewarded. Maybe not in being king for a day, but in the kind of life that matters.
This week we dropped Caleb off at his new life. Without us. But, frankly, its better that way.
Here are the top ten reasons why:
10. He was starting to like country music so we were going to have to kick him out eventually anyway
9. Cade no longer complains about how long it takes Caleb to get ready for school each morning
8. A gallon of milk goes farther (further?)
7. No wet, smelly towels left in the van after surfing
6. No more lengthy discussions about what college will be like
5. Those bulky surfboards are finally out of our garage
4. More hot water is available for showers in the morning
3. I only have to pay for one band trip this year (not sure we break even on that one)
2. The drums are silent
And the number one reason its better that he's gone is...(drum roll please)
No need to plan a birthday party for him this year.
And that's why I haven't gone a day without crying.
On a perfect sunny day last month, our eldest son walked across the stage and accepted his high school diploma. Of course, this is the best possible ending to his previous twelve years of education but it still left me with a gaping hole in my heart.
I have yet to cry, but sometimes I feel like I can't quite get a breath.
When you unleash a man like Caleb into the world, you're bound to get asked what you did right.
I wish I knew. To me, Caleb is a beautiful picture of redemption and grace and the sovereignty of God.
This isn't false humility. We did do some things right. For starters, we weren't drug dealers and we stayed out of jail. This is a very low bar, but you have to start somewhere. (Frankly, even that may have nothing to do with us. I'm too lazy to do the research, but I know I've read about people who've overcome great domestic difficulty to become outstanding citizens.)
I'm not saying parenting is a crap shoot (although it has that feel on many days), but I am saying there are no guarantees. I just know I want my son to be better than me. And in a great kindness, God has given me that gift. This selfish, broken, insecure mother happened to be entrusted with an exemplary child.
I was not too far into this whole parenting thing when I began to recognize my own neurosis in my children. Parts of me I thought I'd conquered or hidden or simply hadn't discovered yet began appearing in my children in the most distressing ways. Very early on my kids could tell you that at an intersection "red means stop. Yellow means slow. Green means go, go go!!!" People pleasing, creative responses to incriminating questions (a.k.a. lying), a deep need to be perceived as 'good', etc. all reflected my personal demons.
The reality of how my own imperfection, sin and unhealthiness affected my offspring was sometimes more than I could bear. But it was also motivation to keep moving toward Christlikeness. To submit myself to more pain and healing and feedback and scrutiny so I could model authenticity in the journey.
I made so many mistakes. Big ones and little ones. I have so many regrets. I wish I'd held Caleb more as an infant, but I was so committed to "doing it right" and the prevailing wisdom of the day was to help them gain a sense of self-reliance. I wish I would have sent more encouraging notes in his lunch box. But I rarely even made his lunch. I wish I'd have been more nurturing in painful situations, but mercy often escaped me when it was most required. And prayer? So anemic during the early years. And the middle years. I did try to make up for it in the last couple of years, but I'm not sure it really works that way.
And yet, like the pain of childbirth, these faux pas seem quickly forgotten by my son. I do expect some of this to come back during future counseling sessions (if only for the redemption my parents need for enduring my seasons of therapy), but for the time being, my mistakes seem to have been covered by a grace I don't deserve.
As a former Calvinette (if you don't know, don't ask...you probably wouldn't believe it anyway), I had to get in a reference to the theology of Sovereignty. I'm not going to provide a definition (feel free to Google it...there's plenty out there), but I will describe how it has played out in my parenting. Essentially it boils down to this: God is in control. He decides who he will use in what way. While all of our efforts and excuses as parents are noticed by God, he is not limited by our wisdom, idiocy, triumphs or failures. My acts of faith are counted as righteousness for me and my effort matters for eternity but it is not a formula for positive outcomes this side of Heaven. Bottom line--I am not in control.
And now for my next illusion...
People (at least 3 of them, anyway) have told me I should write a book about parenting. That's funny to me. The reality is God used motherhood to expose so much of my crap and I spent most of my energy digging out of depression, selfishness and fear. I read three books on parenting and about two hundred on personal growth and spiritual transformation. I don't think that's a great formula worth repeating, it just happened to be the unique journey God had for me. So, please, don't try this at home.
What I would invite you to do is celebrate with me the gift God has given to Richard and I in Caleb. How God has redeemed our personal and parenting inadequacies, given grace beyond measure and has blessed Caleb with a heart that seeks after Him, a desire to know Christ more intimately and live out the Gospel more fully. I have no illusions...this is not our accomplishment, but in God's design, we are recipients of a most wonderful gift in our son.
But let's be honest...I don't deserve this kid!
I just returned from my first funeral in Santa Cruz. Amazing how much you can grow to admire a person in just a year. Jim went to be with Jesus after 85 years on this planet and the overwhelming consensus was that his was a life well-lived.
Reminded me of my maternal grandmother's life. I want to be sure her legacy continues so I thought I'd share my remarks from her funeral.
14 “For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
My maternal grandmother was not a five talent servant.
Limited financial resources.
Limited education or vocational skill.
No influence or power to speak of.
But a faithful servant makes it grow.
With her few financial resources she was frugal, creative and joy-filled.
Her skill was a heart for service that she invested in "the least of these"--the marginalized and overlooked. She became a professional caregiver.
Her only influence was with her children and she used it to introduce them to Jesus.
But in God's economy all it takes is one good investment. And this was a good one. My mother is one of those children. She has been given more talents than her mother, but she too invested wisely. Also introducing her children to Jesus. All of us (her children) have been entrusted with more--not because of anything we've done and largely because our grandmother was faithful with little.
My grandmother's life went unnoticed by most. But not by the One who mattered most--her Savior and the lover of her soul. I can hear her happy cry as Jesus smiles at her and says--
"Well done my good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness."
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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