Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Courageous Faith

My first reaction to the film Courageous was simply “Wow!” I have been mostly disappointed in films from Christian production companies who although having great messages seemed to lack the professional production qualities and storytelling of most mainstream films. Courageous was high quality and a great story. At this point in my life I am facing the tough challenges of manhood and fatherhood and especially the challenges of raising a foster son who I think the world of. This film hit some of the key issues that men face in this world: stepping up to be spiritual leader in the home; live a life of integrity and most of all being courageous enough to face the challenges that we face.

I am amazed at the incredibly huge moral and spiritual void that exists in our culture. The film highlights the fact that a myriad of social problems including teen pregnancy, abuse, and drug abuse have an all too common factor of an absent or abusive father. The main characters being policemen, see the effects of this issue constantly in their line of work. What hits deep is the challenge that the absent father can affect even their own home. The big question is how does a man step up and be the man that God desires? Adam Mitchell looks all the world as a classic “good” man. The truth of the matter is that he neglects his son – someone who will some day need to avoid the trap of being an absent father. The young officer struggles with the guilt of not stepping up to be the father of his daughter that was born out of wedlock. The challenges are great, but I see the answer is back to the Source. God is our perfect Father. In his strength we gain the confidence to step up and engage with our children.

Integrity is an ideal that no one can fully attain. How do we do things when “no one” is looking? Integrity is difficult to maintain and so easy to lose. Shane looks all the part of a stand up man. He risks his life for the protection of others. The first half of the film projects a man who has flaws, but looks like he's on the right track. Sadly, this is not the case as it is discovered that he has been selling the confiscated drugs that the police collect. This ends tragically for him. How does a few dollars add up against your reputation, your family and your freedom? Do we undermine ourselves in some way in which we will pay dearly? Conversely, Javier faces his integrity challenge bravely. Coerced into possibly lying to keep his job he decides to do the moral thing. The cost is great as he has worked very hard to get this job. The beautiful part is that it is in fact an integrity test that he passes. He not only doesn't lose his job but in fact gets the promotion. Not always do we come out this good for living for integrity, but again what does it give to our families and how does it represent the God we love?

Courage of course is what this movie is about? How do we find the courage to lead our families, stand up for what's right and live with integrity? Within us needs to be courage. To be honest one of my biggest fears is what other people think of me. I think that this is a common issue. But what does one do to combat  that? With the truth that we are God's children. We have the power of the Holy Spirit within us to live courageously. At the alter call scene of the movie, the questions are asked (Who is going to step up?) and rhetorically answered with “I am”. This is a challenge that we won't fully live up to. The bigger question is would you do it even when it doesn't work out nicely? Is my view of God big enough to see that it's a battle that we're living out and our lives and our family's lives are at stake. I think that when I wake up to this reality I'm motivated. Slowly I'm seeing that fear paralyzes me and that what I fear is much bigger that what reality is.

The film has impacted my life. I am blessed to know that several of my friends at work have started a men's Bible study. God seems to have ordained it best for men to come along side other men to help them along the way. I feel that these guys have latched on to this truth and are running with it. So it is my hope that all of us will be courageous in this world.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Never Can Say Goodbye


Today I said goodbye to you. You are now on your way to Utah to start your new life with your husband, Ron. For some reason this goodbye hit deep inside me. You are truly moving on to your new life with a new address, new job and your own apartment. I sit back and smile proudly when I think about you. You truly have grown up to be more than any father could ever desire in a daughter. You are so beautiful. You are so kind, generous, bright, intelligent and wonderful. You have succeeded in so much and along the way you have deeply touched so many lives. All of this and you're just 22 years old. It seems like so much has happened, but it also seems like it went so fast.

I remember the daddy date nights, pulling your baby teeth, the silly and sarcastic jokes we used to laugh at, the over analyzing of movies, that wonderful trip to Houston, your high school and college graduation, and of course your wedding day. A dad holds tight to those unique and special memories. I truly savor each stage or your life. Through it you have deeply changed me. When I first became your dad I truly was clueless as to how to be a father. Yet you were so loyal to me. You in your own way were so patient and respectful even though in many ways I didn't deserve it. I can take inventory of our time together and ache over the many ways I have failed and hurt you. I wish I was a better dad for you when you were growing up, but by God's grace you turned out to be a fantastic young woman.

So today, I said goodbye - again. Why is life so full of goodbyes? I used to say goodbye when I went to work, went on a business trip or went to the hardware store. Then you became a teen and you were saying goodbye to me as you went out with your friends, took mission trips and youth retreats. Then it was college and you were out of the house. The goodbyes were you going to Columbia or after I left your dorm room. After that it was me saying goodbye to you on your wedding day. That goodbye was like giving up a piece of my heart. My little girl was grown up and no longer my little girl anymore. Today, I say goodbye and not only see you off to somewhere half way across the country, it's saying goodbye to any piece of the life at home we once had. I know that sounds dramatic, but it's what I feel.

"Tell me why, is it so? Don't want to let you go. I never can say goodbye, girl..."

I know that this is a breakup/love song, but for some reason this song rang in my head today. Yes, it's little Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 but did you know that it was written by Clifton Davis of "That's My Momma" fame? You know your dad always has some useless trivia about everything stuck in his head. I guess it's one of those things you've tolerated through the years. That's what is one of your amazing gifts is the graciousness to see and appreciate another person.Anyway, I guess deep down I'll never truly say goodbye to you. We'll still talk weekly on the phone. We can still root together for the Sharks and talk about the latest movies. But even deeper, I look forward to spending eternity with you. You can sit with me and tell me all of your experiences and all the people you have touched while I can sit joyfully enjoying the beauty of your soul.

The apostle John said it this way:

"Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea."

No longer any sea is a big deal here. John was exiled on the island of Patmos. He was separated from the ones he loved by a body of water. Heaven to him was "no sea"; no separation. I really look forward to that day. I'll be singing "Never Can Say Goodbye" to you.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Is This A Good Solution?

I was attracted to this article and to be honest I was filled with mixed emotions. When one confronts the difficult issue of poverty there truly is no perfect solution. I feel like if done right (and isn't that a nebulous qualification) this could be a possible way to help get someone  a level of help. If it turns into some form of exploitation, this would be yet another failed idea. When is helping become exploitation? I see God measuring our heart.
When I owned a KOA Campground, my wife and I had many opportunities to help those in difficult circumstances. We provided housing, food, and jobs. Almost every time, things went south. The problem seemed to be those we helped could not keep to the simple rules we asked. Overall, my spotty record of helping others out is peppered with some good (Compassion Child, helping in a soup kitchen, working with my college friends helping build a school in the Western Highlands of Guatemala) and mostly self indulgence.
I think the big issue is that for most of us we sit back and criticize while not getting out and trying to find solutions. I was highly impressed with Jon Bon Jovi and his Soul Kitchen. There's a guy who seems to have it right. Dignity, boundaries, all wrapped up in the misunderstood and politically incorrect term of charity. Charity is a truly blessed act of grace. Sadly, we have equated it to something condescending.
I also face the fact that God desires that our hearts are moved and we follow where He leads. Feeding one will definitely make a difference but introducing someone to the Savior is the most important thing.
Finally, check out this article from my college friend and USF Professor Bruce Wydick. It's a great starting point!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Will It Diminish Its Value?

I have a signed baseball that I have in a nice plastic display box. I caught it at during batting practice at a Giants game in 1989 (that was the year the Giants and A's went to the World Series and the infamous earthquake game). I had Bill Bathe and that year's MVP Kevin Mitchell sign it. Since I was working with youth at the time, I spent a lot of time with kids and going to ball games and card shows. I can't put a price on the quality time I had with those kids and so many of them have grown up to be amazing men of God. So while the kids would buy cards and line up to meet the stars of their time, I also got to collect autographs on that ball that were important to me (all of whom are in the Hall Of Fame):

Tony Gwynn: lifetime .338 average; 3141 career hits. One of the great pure hitters of any generation.

Enos Slaughter: .300 lifetime average; over 2300 hits. Hard nosed, win at all costs outfielder; famous for his "Mad Dash" that beat the Red Sox; although considered a real tough guy in his time, he was truly kind gentleman when I met him.

Reggie Jackson: Mr. October; 563 home runs and one of the greatest World Series performances in 1977.

Willie McCovey: one of boyhood heroes; pure classy individual, a true giant of a man; 521 home runs; some of my fondest memories of clutch hits, moon shot home runs and even scary line drives that were hit so hard, they ended up being home runs.

Willie Mays: arguably the greatest of them all. 660 home runs, .302 average; the definitive 5 tool player; played with a style and exuberance that left so many in awe; performed the greatest catch in World Series history (and even held the runners from advancing).

This ball is one of those things that guys would consider "prized". So many good memories associated with it. It sits on a shelf in my house for everyone to admire.

Fast forward to 2012: I have had the great pleasure of striking up a friendship with former major league pitcher Lee Guetterman. Obviously he's not making the Hall Of Fame, but he was a very good reliever and even more important a truly great guy and a man walking with God. I have loved the time hearing stories from his time in the majors and learning so much about the art of pitching. The only thing I don't like is that he got Barry Bonds out twice in September of 1993 which might have prevented the Giants of going to the playoffs. He even has a picture of one of the at bats in his house.

Anyway, I asked Lee to sign the ball that has five Hall Of Famers and a league MVP on it. I'm sure some of you reading this are asking this question: Will it diminish its value? That was Lee's question too. What hit me is that in my mind it added to the value of the ball. Why? I feel it a blessing that I have his friendship. In God's eyes, he belongs in the Hall Of Fame. His life will have a legacy of eternal impact. Instead of appraising this ball, I believe I have a token that has a lifetime of memories. The first baseball game I ever attended, Mays and McCovey played (remember when Candlestick had an open right field?). I spent way too many hours watching the Swingin' A's and those Bronx Zoo teams win championships. I revel in the times I had with kids watching ballgames and hopefully showing them the Emmanuel. Heck it's fun to catch a ball hit into the stands! Now I have met and gotten to know a Major Leaguer who also is a man of God. Now that's value!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Father Of The Bride

Written August 28th, 2011 just after Ariel's wedding...

Well we survived Ariel's wedding. There were a lot of bumps in the road and yet it ended with what we all had hoped for: a beautiful wedding for my precious daughter. As for the details, it was in Columbia SC at a plantation style carriage house. It was hot and humid with bugs. I was honored to have my dad, my good friend Ed present and my good friend Wes presiding. Amanda and Jodi were their usual stunning best. Ariel was absolutely beautiful.

I'm sitting here with my feet aching and reflecting on all that has happened. Yes, I did cry a little during the wedding.

I started this all with a quote from Steve Martin's "Father of The Bride". That film really sums up what a dad goes through when he has to give his little girl away. The guy who thought up the wedding ceremony knew that the father has to present the bride and give her up. That's the hardest thing for a dad to do is give up the person who your pour so much of yourself into. Here's how Steve Martin reflected on this moment:

"Who presents this woman? This woman? But she's not a woman. She's just a kid. And she's leaving us. I realized at that moment that I was never going to come home again and see Annie at the top of the stairs. Never going to see her again at our breakfast table in her nightgown and socks. I suddenly realized what was happening. Annie was all grown up and was leaving us, and something inside began to hurt."

I told John Williams I'd tell how much it hurt after I went through this wedding. Well, it did hurt; deep down in you heart it hurts. Yes, you're super happy for your daughter, but there's a loss going on inside and you're mourning it. I think ideally we'd all want our daughters to be our little girls forever. It is no small joy to have them crawl up in your lap, call you daddy while you give them the feeling of safety. But it doesn't last forever and at some point you aren't the most important man in her life. She's out on her own to sink or swim with all of the heartache that comes with it. That makes you want to scream "Hold on!!!".

So to hold on to the moment, I asked that I preserve the last moment with her while she was still "mine". This picture is taken right before we walked down the aisle. I told her how much I love her; how beautiful she is; how much it meant to me that she chose to call me dad; and that my life was so joyful because of her. I think that's about all you can do is speak from the heart and savor the moments since they are so fleeting.

We had a nice father daughter dance. She chose Pete Townsend's "Let My Love Open The Door". She told me she wanted that song for us because my love for her opened the door to her heart.

Could anyone ask for a better daughter?