Ties Beyond Blood

Does the journey from boyhoood to manhood need to be recognized? Or will it just happen? Do we, as fathers, brothers, mentors, and sons ourselves, need to usher boys into the life of a man?

That’s the question that Raising a Modern Day Knight seeks to answer, both in concept and in deed. I’m almost done with the book, actually, but the chapter I read this morning titled “Commemorating a Transcendent Cause” really connected with me. The previous several chapters had outlined several ideas for ceremoneously bringing young men into the world of men. The point wasn’t that you have to grab them on their 18th birthday or their college graduation – the point was, they need to be grabbed. Whether it’s a lonely walk through the woods that is interupted by significant men in the boy’s life, or a steak dinner with a father and his comrades sharing their own journeys, boys need to be welcomed into this world. It will not happen accidently. It will not happen on it’s own, unless you really, really, really want to count fraternities, gangs, and the local saloon gang as your initiators.

This chapter I read today went back to the model of Jesus, and how He, the very Son of God, had a need to be initiated. It says:

The physical and emotional characteristics of human flesh were present in Jesus Christ. Scripture tells us that Jesus possessed a body (John 2:21). For this reason, He got hungry (Matthew 4:2) and thirsty (John 19:28) and grew weary (John 4:6). Jesus wept at the sadness of others (John 11:35) and prayed with loud crying (Hebrews 5:7). He was tempted as we are tempted, but without sin (Hebrews 2:18)

Jesus the man was needy. If this statement disturbs you, then you have overlooked Christ’s humanity. As a man, Jesus needed to be affirmed and encouraged. Seen in this light, the Father’s word [at his baptism] became profoundly significant. … As with every man, His Father’s opinion mattered. Greatly. At one of the most critical moments in his life, Jesus needed to hear a word of affirmation from His Father, a hearty word of praise that would buttress His confidence and bolster his courage.

Why do I see this [again, his baptism] as the preeminence event in Jesus’ life? Because at His baptistm, the two most important elements in a son’s life – the embrace of a transcendent cause and a father’s affirmation – came together in one unforgettable, breathtaking moment.

At His baptism, Jesus Christ embraced his mission and then heard His Father say, “I’m proud of you, My Son!” The transcendent cause was blessed, affirmed, and “spiked” by the Father’s vocal affirmation. If He held any doubts about His course in life, they were vangquished in that one instance. Every temptation He would encounter and all the hardships HE would endure were immediatly put into perspective. He embraced His mission, and He was affirmed by His Father, investing the moment with reverential awe.

The author concludes this with how it applies to our own lives with our sons:

I believe that one of the finest moments in any son’s life is when he embrases his transcendent cause and then hears his father say, “I’m proud of you, my son!… I’m pleased with the course you’ve chosen in life!… You’ve chosen well!” What can be better than this?”

He goes on to talk about the great opportunity a father has to bless his son’s life by participating in his baptism. It doesn’t mean you have to dunk him or have a speach prepared… but wouldn’t a public participation like that mean something beyond just sitting in the front row or manning the video recorder?

As I look back on my own life, I see all sorts of men who have brought me to be who I am today. Both for the qualities of my Father in Heaven than I have embraced, and for what I am still lacking, struggling with, or completely unaware of. When I first began to really walk this path about 3 years ago, I felt so lonely in it. My dad had recently broken ties and left. My life was full of casual friends that knew nothing about me. I was still in a relatively new marriage relationship with all sorts of baggage on both sides, much of it completely undealt with on my side, for sure. I realized I needed healing. I realized I needed to be restored, to be affirmed, but none of these people in my life could give it to me! I sought it from them, I tried to barter it and buy it from them, but they couldn’t give it to me.

It was then that I had my eyes opened to the fact that the same Father that gave Jesus the affirmation He needed was the same one that could ultimately give it to me. I remember the day I pulled the 1″ wide electrical cable from 3 feet below the ground through a 3 inch pipe 6 feed above the ground in the rain and mud, how I did it, and then sat down in the mud, hearing those words… “We did it,” from my True Father. I remember the day I finished building the stalls in the new barn, again, seemingly alone, but truly closer to my Father than I had ever been. I remember His words, His pats on the back, and even now, the way those moments hold weight in my life as anchors that I can look back on and remember… It’s true.

I now see that I have a wife I am free to love, not obligated out of duty or because that’s the only way I can get love back. I have brothers who I can share anything with, not to simply “be accountable to,” but because they want to be part of my life, and want me to be part of theirs. They are comrades, brothers in arms, fighting this fight of holiness and being Kingdom Outposts alongside me. I have fathers, uncles, sisters, mothers, and even sons and daughters whose ties go far beyond blood. Well. I guess I can’t say that… they go far beyond “Cromer blood.”

My son seems a long way off from his “journey to manhood.” But even now, as he seeks to help me spread mulch, I can see the hurt in his eyes when I tell him to “stop doing that” or “you’re doing it the wrong way!” He wants my affirmation already. He wants to know that I want him there. I see the same thing in some of the kids and youth I have opportunity to pour any part of my life into… they want to know that they’re worth my time. And is that really all that much to ask? To give time? To make some ceremony? To tell them, “you have what it takes,” and “you’re worth fighting for?”

My Jericho

This weekend I head off to Indiana Outpost Boot Camp. This will be my second trip to this men’s retreat; I think the last time I went was two years ago. I was in the middle of discovering a lot of new things about myself as a man, husband, and child of God. I filled a journal with thoughts, words cried out to God, and words I heard back from Him (a very new experience for me – listening doesn’t come easy). My eyes were opened to passions on my heart I didn’t know existed, and that I couldn’t even talk about the first time they really hit me. Since that time, life has been different. I won’t say I’ve chosen the “red pill” (or was it blue?) every day, but my eyes have been opened. I know there’s more out there than I can see. I know I have a purpose, a battle to be part of, and brothers to grow with. I know that my relationship with my wife is more than just a partnership, more than just 2 people living in the same house who are occasionally in love, and more than a hopeful mess of emotions, hurt feelings, and highs and lows.

As I drove towards the retreat last time, I was considering this concept of “advance words” going into the weekend. Looking for a theme that God might have for me, something he wanted be on the back of my heart the whole time. I found it as I was about to leave Morgan County. As I drove into the little town of Morgantown, I saw this sign… “Welcome to Morgantown, home of the Braves.” That was it. BRAVE. I was venturing into something brand new. I was nervous, frightened, and totally in the dark as to what I was going into. I had very little expectations, and I liked that. But my nature is to maintain control and keep myself containable, if not fully contained. I had to let that go. I had to be BRAVE. And so it went. I pulled in, met the guys of my little platoon, and immersed myself in the experience. It was a blast.

This year as I go into this, God’s been opening my eyes to some walls I’ve built up in my life (or that have been built up around me with the help of others). Things like that “maintaining control” thing, having a managable sphere of influence (also known as my little bubble), and more or less, maintaining a comfort level with my life. I live in the country, but still maintain most of my life in the town I grew up in. I know a few people out here, but have very little opportunity to reach out to them or even know how to because my life is still so “under control.” The same things pop up in my life related to food, related to exercise, related to work. I like that comfortable medium between healthy and “easy.” That comfort level between “able to endure” and truly strong. Emotionally. Spiritually. Physically. It’s all over the map, and as I go into this weekend, I think that wall is the one to keep on my heart.

I want to see it fall. I want to see the city inside become vulnerable. I want to see God’s life flood into the places I’ve held back.

And so… Jericho. Jericho was not defeated through strength or might, intelligence or cunning. It was defeated by obedience, faith, and the power of God. Obedience to some rather simple things, actually… but also rather mundane, to be honest. Walk around the wall every day for a week? Yeah, right. I’d rather bust down the gate or die trying… or maybe just find a way around the city.

So where must I obey? Where must I step up, do what I know I’m to do, and trust God to do the rest? Well, for starters, I’ve got to show up. I was really hoping to go with at least one close friend I’ve developed in the past year, but that wound up not working out. For completely legit reasons, it just can’t hapen. And so I begin to doubt. “Maybe I should wait until next spring when we can go?” “Maybe I should have tried harder to bring someone with me?” “Maybe I should just take the weekend and go camping for a night by myself.”… “NO,” I hear. “GO.” And so I will – and this time, I won’t drive past the entrance and have to come back out of fear. 🙂

What else… find comfort. That’s a big one. It’s time to find the balance between being comfortable with where I am and where I feel God is leading us in the future, but also being comfortable with not knowing where those things are… to just be comfortable being me. Living in my own skin.

Another… build strength. I’ve never been much for commitment when it comes to strength, or even losing excess baggage. I can do it on a plan, but I’ve never found the reason for me that is going to take me from where I am to where I need to be. Not a plan. Not a diet. Not even a fear of something I might have to face if I didn’t change. I want a reason to eat right, exercise right, and, in general I guess, just live for something. A way to fit the day to day parts of life into that bigger picture. To be in the Matrix but not part of the Matrix. To be in the world, but not of it.

So that’s my Jericho. That’s the wall I choose to march around, around, and around this week, expecting God to show up.

I can’t wait for the command to SHOUT.

Afterthought… I went for a run between the cornfields tonight and found a creek with a big tree that had fallen across it. I decided to cross it. Then I decided to try a different way. Then I thought about giving up. Then I made up my mind that I was going to do it, in my strength and skill or not. So I walked, shimmied, and crawled across… and as I now think about Jericho, I wonder if that was my Jordan River crossing, and this blog post is my pile of rocks to look back on and See What God Does.

The Long and Short of It

I sent this to a friend today, thought I’d copy it here as it’s a good reminder of … me …

Ok… got myself up at 5:30 wondering why I got myself up so early and then got up here and now I know… I’m writing you. 🙂

I have nothing to offer you but brotherhood. And camaraderie. You know those words better than I, I think, with pieces of your background. But I am learning about them. And I am loving them. I have a friend named Rob who lives in Nashville, TN. He started out the friend of a friend but is now one of the closest guys I have in my life (don’t know if he knows that or not). I can call on him anytime, anywhere… and he helps me makes sense of stuff. He is, to use the Bible’s words I guess, CLOSER than a brother.

With that said, here’s a little of my story. Maybe we’ll find some connection points. Actually I’m sure we will. I just don’t know what they are yet. 🙂 My life has dramatically changed in the past 2 years. I am not going to dwell on the past too much, but let’s just say ever since High School, I had a problem with lust as well. Visualizing things. Imagining women for who they weren’t. It grew from junk in the head to stuff on the computer, and THANK GOD that’s as far as it went, but that was way too far. I got caught. I remember that night. Erin approached me… “What is that stuff on the computer?”… and that moment was my moment of truth. Turn and face it, or blame it on popups or any other thing I could think of. I think it was God jumping in my mouth and saying something like, “let’s go talk about it. I’ve messed up.” Because I see that as my crossroads. I’d tried to “deal” so many times, in so many ways, but I’d never gotten help. I’d never admitted I was dying inside and wanted to live. Man those were some hard months. I got called some names I well deserved but that hurt me to the core. We got some real counseling that took me back YEARS into things I have never thought before, but not made sense. And when all was said and done (figuratively), the thing that I remember most was this: “The people I need the most are the people I one’s I’ve hurt the most.” I remember that phrase hitting me like a refreshing ton of bricks to the face while I was driving down State Road 42 towards Cloverdale to buy a stinking PIZZA of all things. I cried my eyes out. I yelled. I screamed. Man, that was a release I needed sooo bad.

Fast forward several months… stuff is still rocky, but I’m not headed towards divorce or being murdered anymore. 🙂 I’ve dumped some responsibilities at church that I just wasn’t ready for at this stage of my life, and had enough people in my life helping me that I knew it wasn’t time to jump back into the water just yet. Very few people know this story… Erin, Cliff, my counselor, 3-4 friends around the country… very few… but they are my closest friends anywhere, especially at that time.

Ok now REALLY fast forward… I’m finally finding my “spot” in life. It’s not service. Man that’s what I thought it was supposed to be. Man that was a good, up front, nice sounding calling. Being a deacon. Being there for people… that, to be completely honest… is not my gift. Doesn’t mean I don’t do it, but it’s not what I’m designed to do. God has given me a heart to lead. Not to lead people in the sense that I march in front of them, but to lead people in the sense that I help them find their own hearts, find what THEY excel in, and what makes them COME ALIVE, and then SET THEM FREE to do it. Oh, I have some stories to tell there… but I won’t right now, as this is already long. People like Sara and Deanna, Dewey and Rob… I’m not doing anything important in their lives other than coming along side of them and helping them focus on who God made them to be, and it is AWESOME to see them spring to life. I’m thrilled now when I lose a leader from one area because they finally discover their heart is really somewhere else, and they are going to follow it, dark narrow road or not.

God’s also put youth on my heart. Specifically, for some reason, older teenage boys. I have stories there too but won’t get into them now, but man, He’s put some dreams in me that will never happen without his doing.

So that’s where I am… even though that got long that is oh, so shallow. You know what I mean. There is so much more to our lives than these snippets, and I long to share them. But that’s me… and that’s what I have to offer… me. (and that’s about it :)) Just another broken and healed man, walking on the path, trying not to step off it but sometimes falling in the ditch, dragging myself out and also occasionally getting dragged out while I’m still unconscious. But not JUST that. I am also a child of the King, a brother of Christ, a friend of the creator of the universe, and a heart set FREE. So anyways… 🙂 don’t know where that’s going…

You asked me a few things, and I’ll give you brief answers… because they are my answers, and obviously aren’t the same for everyone.

Input on the lust thing… well you have some of my story now. And I know what you mean, in my version of that story. I “struggled” (and I use that word specifically) with porn, masturbation, lust, thought life… all that stuff. It wasn’t till I was confronted with it and really started getting help that I realized part of the key was to quit fighting a losing battle. Quit giving up. Quit fighting alone. Stop “struggling” and start “battling.” (I love that word now). Like you said, taking thoughts captive is HARD. It doesn’t make them go away – much to the opposite, they seem to keep charging in… but recognizing them as impure lies from the pit of hell and man… for me… just saying so out loud, or writing it down, or just… wow, I don’t even know what the “trick” is because I haven’t found it, but you’re right, we have to take them captive, immediately. One friend of mine who fights this has his own mental “God’s Holy Trashcan” that he consciously wads up thoughts and throws them in.

How I keep in God’s word daily… that’s an easy one, and a hard one. I use the Daily Audio Bible. (www.dailyaudiobible.com) It’s a combination reading plan / community project / audio book. Basically we have a reading plan (I could send you the link if you want) and go through the Bible once every year. Simple enough. Ordinary enough. I’ve tried and failed at that time and time again in my life. But what’s different here is two things… The first is a bit minor. You listen to it. A guy named Brian reads the reading for each day and you can put it on your MP3 player or listen to it right from a website. I follow along sometimes in my Bible, on the computer, or other days just go for a walk or listen to it on the drive in. But I’m up to almost 730 days of this now (that’s two years, I think), and I can honestly say I finally found something that STICKS, for me. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it does for me. The other difference from my attempts in the past, which is much bigger, is that we do it in COMMUNITY. You’re reading the Bible along with thousands of others across the globe each day, and we not only come together to talk about it a bit, but we also KNOW we’re not alone in the endeavor. We get behind. We get off track. But we come back, realize we’re not failures and not alone, and get back on it. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a HUGE part of my life. Right now we’re in 2 Chronicles, Acts, and then also a Psalm and Proverb each day. Let me know if you’d like more info – I think the big difference between this and what you or I have tried is the community aspect – the camaraderie, the shared journey.

Ok, it’s about 45 minutes later now and I’m running out of words. I’m running on empty now, as I’ve spilled my heart out to you. I love sharing this story, and even though this is ever so long I hope you know it comes deep from in my heart and I care about sharing it with you, and walking this walk with you. I’m praying
for you – the things you mentioned, and just for you.

Stay strong. Be courageous. We are children of God….