The Bookkeeper

I’m the bookkeeper for my son’s baseball team. It’s a job that suits me well… numbers guy, doesn’t really know a ton about baseball but can (try) to count balls and strikes. It’s also a job that gives me the privilege to hang out in the dugout the whole game with the boys and their coaches. You learn a lot about people by watching them come and go in the dugout, and it’s teaching me a lot about teamwork, leadership, coaching, fatherhood, sonship, and boyhood.

I get caught up in the games as much as any parent, I’m sure, but when you’re the guy holding the book that says “this is the kid that hits every time” and your entire infield suddenly has a case of the “my shoes are untied” right as the pitcher hurls a giant pitch, it gets a bit nerve-wracking… and that’s all before the play where it’s YOUR son who needs to make THE play to end THE inning to win THE game.

Pressure. It’s all over the place, and it’s amazing how differently different people handle it, from the kids, to the parents, to the coaches, to the parents, and to me, the guy with the book.

  • There’s the boy who’s there because he wants to play with his friends.
  • There’s the boy who’s there because his parents made him come out.
  • There’s the boy who’s there because he wants to make his dad proud.
  • There’s the boy who can never live up to his dad’s expectations but knows he has to try.
  • There’s the boy who just knows he’s “all that…” all-star material right there, baby.
  • There’s the boy who’s preparing to be a pro someday.
  • There’s the boy who has to be there because his dad’s the coach. Of course he wants to be there, but he also HAS to be there, and that makes it tough.
  • There’s the boy who’s constantly told “I know you’ve got more in you” even though he gives it his 110%, day in and day out.
  • There’s the boy who’s constantly told “I know you’ve got more in you” and still gives just 50%, because that’s the level he feels his team plays at.
  • There’s the boy who gets excited when he gets a foul tip.
  • There’s the boy who gets so excited about catching a fly ball that he forgets to throw it back to the infield.
  • There’s the boy who gets his first sliding steal and comes up beaming.
  • There’s the boy you strikes out… again, and drops his shoulders… again.
  • There’s the boy who strikes out… again, and throw his bat at the dugout fence in anger.
  • There’s the boy who strikes out… again, comes into the dugout, tells his coach what he did wrong, and says “I’ll get the next one.”
  • There’s the boy who dreams of pitching a no-hitter while he’s playing right field.
  • There’s the pitcher who dreams of video games while he’s throwing ball after ball.

These aren’t the boys on our team. Sure, I’m guessing any of those boys fall into these descriptions and more over and over and over again. These are more like some of the boys on any team, I imagine. When I watch the boys on our team lose, you can see the frustration, the hurt, the disappointment. When they win, or even when they just rally or have a good inning, you can see the excitement well back up in their eyes (even though I’ll hardly ever tell them the score).

As I sat on the bench next to a boy tonight, knowing he was frustrated with himself, not so much because of his performance itself but because of what his dad would think of his performance, I see some of where we get caught as dads. We want our sons to give it their all, to be all we know they can be, and even to excel in their sport. We really would be happy if they just gave it their best… we really would, but when game time shows up, what does that look like? Cheering one minute and stone cold looks the next? Yelling one minute followed by a “nice try” the next? It’s a hard thing, to raise a boy. To raise an athlete. To raise a son. To raise a man.

I have no nice easy answer. I feel I really don’t even know the question. I want my son to know I believe in him and will be there to both cheer him on and guide him as best I can, but I also want him to know that there are lines he shouldn’t cross – and others I won’t let him.

These are just some of my observations from behind the book, in the dugout, and on the bench next to a bunch of 9,10, and 11 year old boys doing far more than I was ever brave enough to do when I was their age. I’m proud to keep their book, glad to help them work on their grounders, and thrilled to be the first one to give them a high-five when they slide in the catcher and knock the ball out of his hand.

Father Figures – Resurrection

I first posted this on an old blog back in April 2007. Wow… 4 years have gone by. Someone somehow commented on it today and I re-read it. Seemed somewhat appropriate for this weekend being Father’s day. It also reminds me of how far things have come as I lok to God as my True Father.

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Father Figures – April 2007 – From my old blog.

It’s been 17 months since my dad walked out of my life, face set in determination to do what he thought he had to do. Walk out on his wife. Abandon his friendships. Disregard the things he pretended to teach.

It’s been 5 months since I forgave him.

It’s been 10 months since I became a father myself.

The reason I write those things down, the reason… I’m not real sure. (I did have to add up the first two numbers, they weren’t that fresh in my head) I wanted to write something about father figures, and those three events have been some pretty eventful ones in the past few years of my physical life.

During the past year – maybe it’s been since forgiving my dad, I don’t know – I’ve seen myself really – for the first time in my life, I think – really beginning to grasp what a father is. As my own dad left, I started to look at my relationship with God, to see how His love for me might be similar or radically different than the father-son relationships we experience here on earth. What a difference I have found!

I used to occasionally do little “projects” with my dad. They rarely seemed to be a team thing – they were more of just a task, more of just something we both did at the same time, than something we did together. Who would have thought that I could have a more personal relationship with an invisible God than a physical father… I can’t figure out how to explain this, so I’m just going to write out two stories from the past year that I remember vividly.

Sometime during this past winter, as we had our barn built and were beginning to get things ready for electricity, I had just one thing left to do – get the electrical cable that had been trenched 300′ out to the barn pulled up through a 6′ pipe into the meter base so that the electric company could hook it up. Mind you, this cable is about 2″ around, and the pipe is about 3″ around. The cable isn’t very flexible, and I had about 6′ extra of it. It’s freezing cold, muddy, and I’m out there trying to dig in the dark, even get it started into the pipe, and I finally get it. I’m not even sure if this idea I have is going to work, but I decide to start shoving it through. I finally see the end of the cable coming out the end of the pipe, which means I only have about 6′ more to pull, but there’s a big corner it’s going to have to turn so it is not going to be easy. That was one of the most straining physical things I have ever done. Pulling, yanking, shivering, falling… and then it was done. What happened there was not natural. Not the pulling and yanking part – I’m guessing my muscles had the ability to do it… but what was not natural was that I stuck with it. I didn’t give up. I thought over and over again before and during the event that I could just give up and pay someone else to do it… but I didn’t quit. When I finally finished, I think I finally realized that it was God who had been with me that whole time – encouraging my heart, somehow – to get the task done. As I sat resting on a pile of dry dirt, the only thing I remember saying out loud was that “we did it, dad.” Dad. I called my God, my dad.

The other story happened just last Saturday. We were home unexpectedly from a trip we were supposed to take to visit family out of state. I needed to get my horses moved over to my house / pasturees from the neighbors, and I’d been nervously fretting about it – wondering if my fence would hold them, wondering if I had things set up right. And once again, when I finally stood up, did the task, and got it done, I felt that sense of accomplishing something that I couldn’t have done on my own. I’m standing there in the barn, watching my horses eat hay in their stalls, and out comes another verbal “we did it!”

Only this time, it was followed with a verbal “what did you say?” I think I must have turned red in the face as I realized my wife had just walked in the barn door to see how things were coming. Oh how I wish I could express to her the feeling I was experiencing… I think I managed to say something silly sounding like “oh I was just talking with God” or something like that, but oh how I wish I could have better expressed the joy I was feeling. The sense of belonging, of being loved, and of accomplishment – but not out of my own strength.

Anyways, I wanted to write that story down, and the electrical one was good to re-expereience as well. They may sound silly to anyone who might read this, but to me, they are some of the most personal experiences with God I have ever had.

I also wanted to write something about other “father” figures who’ve come into my life since my dad walked out. You know who you are, and I thank you. You’ve helped me when I’ve been weak, you’ve listened to me when I’ve been torn apart by who I am, you’ve helped me let God raise me back up. I thank you. With my whole heart. With my whole being. With everything I am now and will ever be. You are a part of that. A huge part of that.

It is totally new for me to know God as my not just my Heavenly Father, but as my honest-to-god DAD. He’s adopted me, loved me, raised me, helped me, and never failed me. Regardless of the times I’ve walked away from him, he has never left me or forsaken me. He has always forgiven me, disciplined me, discipled me, and been thee when no one else was, even if I didn’t acknowledge his presence.

This is the same Father that I want my son to know. I want him to see Him in me. I want him to see how much I love Him and in turn love Him as well. I’m sure I’ll give him chances to see that I fail, that I fall, and than I sin. But I want him to see that his Heavenly Father will never do that. And then, sometime years from now, I want to be able to turn the young man over to his true father, to release my hold on him and give him back to the father who can love him more than I could ever dream.

Well that’s it…. I’m out of words. I sit here amazed all over again of where God has brought me from, and to.

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?”

Kingship and Fatherhood

Psalms 72:1-20 : Kingship and Fatherhood
Tuesday, March 31, 2009 2:00 AM

From Deuteronomy 17:

14 “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, take possession of it, live in it, and say, ‘We want to appoint a king over us like all the nations around us,’ 15 you are to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. Appoint a king from your brothers. You are not to set a foreigner over you, or one who is not of your people. 16 However, he must not acquire many horses for himself or send the people back to Egypt to acquire many horses, for the LORD has told you, ‘You are never to go back that way again. ‘ 17 He must not acquire many wives for himself so that his heart won’t go astray. He must not acquire very large amounts of silver and gold for himself. 18 When he is seated on his royal throne, he is to write a copy of this instruction for himself on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to remain with him, and he is to read from it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to observe all the words of this instruction, and to do these statutes. 20 Then his heart will not be exalted above his countrymen, he will not turn from this command to the right or the left, and he and his sons will continue ruling many years over Israel.

I did not know this was in Deuteronomy. From 1 Samuel 8, when it came to pass:

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”

10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

In Deuteronomy God fortells of the longing of a king. God’s kind of king. A king who purposefully reigns under and with God’s authority. In 1 Samuel, the people ask for a king, but what Samuel tells them they’ll get is not at all what God told them they should hope for in a king. Why the difference? Both passages talking about the desire for a king coming from the people because they want to be like other nations. It’s almost like the king described in Deuteronomy would be more of a loving, rulling judge than the warrior king described in 1 Samuel. Maybe this is the difference. I particularly noticed the last words in the Samuel Passage: we want a king to lead us and go out before us and fight our battles. They wanted a king to do their work for them. Even though Samuel told them that they’d be the people thrown to the front of the battlefield, that their women would basically be made slaves, and that their land, money, and possessions would be taxed and taken over. They wanted someone to do their work for them, and God originally wanted a King to rule over them in His authority… to represent Him.

As I think about this more, it starts to click. A leader is not simply a leader because he tells people what to do. He is a leader because he has authority; because he speaks on behalf of someone or something bigger than himself. This is how Jesus led. Not in his own power but that of his Father. Not in his own strength but in the power of the One who sent him. He is the kind of King predicted in Deuteronomy… he is THE king predicted in Deuteronomy.

I loved the Psalm for today as well, which is described as “a prayer for the king” in the HSB. It’s also described as relating to Solomon, so when I first read this, I thought maybe this was one of his wise sayings… an example – a picture – of the kind of King talked about in Deuteronomy.

1 God, give Your justice to the king

and Your righteousness to the king’s son. (B)

2 He will judge Your people with righteousness

and Your afflicted ones with justice. (C)

3 May the mountains bring prosperity [a] to the people,

and the hills, righteousness. (D)

4 May he vindicate the afflicted among the people,

help the poor,

and crush the oppressor. (E)

Here the prayer is for God’s justice to be given to the king… for His righteousness. For him to defend, not attack. To help, not oppress. As I read this, I thought… what a godly leader this would be! What a prayer this would be if we prayed this for our leaders, and if our leaders prayed this for themselves. And then I got to the last phrase in this psalm, and it HIT me.

The prayers of David son of Jesse are concluded.

This is not Solomon praying for himself. This is not the people praying for the king. This is a FATHER passing the mantle to his son. This is a blessing bestowed from father to son, from king to prince. These are David’s “final words.” As I read this I wonder how often the leaders we have – nation, state, organization, church, home – receive this kind of blessing and prayer from their fathers. No wonder so many of our leaders have lost their way; they didn’t know it in the first place or have it set / told / set upon them by those who preceded them!

What to do here? “Being Fathered” is a huge concept in my life, something I long to learn about and share, and honestly… to experience. I no longer look go my earthly dad for this, but still recognize that I need it – from “fill-the-gap” fathers here on earth, but ultimately, from my Heavenly Father. It’s so important, and here it is, put into words as David passes the mantle to his son in Psalms. As God declares what His King will be like in Deuteronomy.

Fathers, love your children. Raise them up your entire life to be your sons, but even more, to be God’s sons. Teach them the word. Bind it on your heart so that you can show them how to bind it onto theirs. Model it. Share it. Do it with them. And when the time comes for your last words, for your “final prayer,” may it be a blessing to those that follow you, a life well lived as a model for what a man chasing after God can do through him.

A talk with my dad

I have been making myself too busy lately to stop and write, to stop and think. I think I’ve almost been avoiding coming here because I know there are some things I need to jot down, a story I need to tell, and a real-life issue I need to walk through.

So here I am.

I called my dad on Thanksgiving day morning. It’s the first time I’ve out of the blue called him since November 1, 2006, the day I left a message on his voice mail telling him I have decided to forgive him. The call went good; mainly just some chit chat, but maybe that’s what I’m needing from a parent figure instead of something deep right now. I suppose we can deal with the broken relationship later, or maybe talking has a way of doing that naturally. I don’t really know, I guess. More on that in a bit, with the other thing I want to write about.

I had asked for prayer for this conversation, and went into it and through it knowing some good friends had my back. Oh that is good to know. Friends here locally, and friends across the USA.

As we were talking, and getting near the end, I suppose, my Father stopped me dead in my tracks with a word from my dad. We were talking about church and what I’m doing there, he asked me if I was still a deacon, like I was when he left. I told him no, I’m helping lead our Sunday School ministry now, and it’s a much better fit. “Do you do a lot of teaching, then?” he asked. No not really. Well yes, but not consistently with the same group of people.

“Oh, ok,” he says, “because I think you would do a great job teaching teens.”

What the hell!???!?!?!??!?

Hope that language is not too offensive, but it was my gut reaction at that moment. Where did THAT come from? How does he know that’s such a big thing on my heart right now? And not only that, this is affirmation coming from a man of whom I remember most belittling comments, guilt-driving speach, and a hard, obstinate heart.

I don’t think he had any idea how what he’s just said pricked my heart, my very soul. The conversation ended shortly after that, and I talked to my wife a little bit about it. Where did he come up with that? Is he reading my blog? Is he talking with someone about me (who that would be a certainly haven’t a clue)?

Or was that my big F Father talking at that moment? I think it had to be. The Bible tells me time and time again that God uses people (even animals) unknowningly to communicate His message. But what would God be trying to tell me through this?

Perhaps it was a word of strength, an affirmation that I was walking the right path by making the decision to make that call. Perhaps it was a sign that my dad does have some sense left in him, and that forgiveness means admitting that, even when you still don’t have an explanation as to the big “why?” question your heart has been asking for years. Perhaps it was just… just… just me?

God, thank you for that moment. Your name is wonderful counselor, prince of peace, almighty God. You teach me things through the strangest circumstances, you awaken my soul in the darkest of nights, you restore me in the wildest of ways. Take this dialog I had with my earthly father, the man you put here to raise me, and use it somehow. Use it me to learn more about forgiveness, patience, and love. Use it in him to learn more about being forgiven, accepting reality, and being used by you.

So that’s that. I needed to recap that call, to take a few minutes to regroup, to think it through, and to really let it sink in. I found myself denying the message because of the messenger, but getting past that is so freeing.

Father, I love you. I need you. Take me, lead me, let me chase you.