Warning Lights for Highly Vulnerable Leaders (part 1)

A few weeks ago, I attended a retreat with a group of pastors in our network.  The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, nor the location for that matter.  We were situated in Akaroa, a beautiful little town on the Banks Peninsula, southeast of Christchurch.  We were all tired after a busy year of ministry.  It was great to grab a couple of days together where we had no responsibilities except eat, sleep and have an open heart to what God might be saying to us.

The highlight for me was the session by Rowland Forman called “Ten Warning Lights for Highly Vulnerable Leaders.”  We all know about warning lights.  I have one on my stove top at home.  It glows red when the element under the glass is still hot.   You have a few warning lights on the dashboard of your car.  They are there for your safety as well as your passengers.  They are not to be ignored.

There are warning lights also in our spiritual lives.  We all have them; not just pastors.  Ignore them and not only will you suffer, but also those you lead.  These particular “warning lights” from Rowland were so good I wanted others to be aware of them.  Withi his permission, I am sharing them in this post.

Pondering over the warning lights. Rowland is seated on the far right.

WARNING LIGHT #1: PRIDE

I could have spent the entire morning just thinking on this one.  In every sphere of Christian life and ministry, pride is our greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.  Pride was the first sin – among angels and men.  Pride is the essence of all sin, and it is the sin that God finds most offensive.  Why does God hate pride so much?  Charles Bridges summed it up well, “Pride lifts up the heart against God. It contends for the supremacy with him.”

Rowland writes:

“The story of King Uzziah, recorded in 2 Chronicles 26 always gets my attention, as I think of my propensity to listen to my own press [I underlined that one with my pen].  In verses 1-14 of this chapter, Uzziah was on a roll.  He reigned successfully for 52 years.  He was in touch with God, famous and creative [a pastor’s dream].  Verse 15 records a turning point – he was marvellously helped of God until he became aware of his own power.  No longer would he listen to the reproofs of those closest to him, and he ended his days as a lonely leper.”

3 questions were posed to us:

  • Which aspects of Uzziah’s pridefulness do you do you identify with?
  • What are some signals that indicate you may be more prideful than you realize?
  • How will you respond to those signals?

I found these questions deeply convicting.  There was more propensity toward pride within me than I realized.  I answered them by way of a prayer which I wrote down:

 “Lord, you know I am a prideful man.  I am a glory-seeker.  I love admiration and praise; I secretly covet both.  I like my accomplishments to be noticed; I want people to think well of me.  This affects my relationship with you, with my wife and my children, as well as my church, neighbours and everyone I come into contact with in the world.  Please forgive my sin and make pride odious to me.  Make it repulsive and revolting.  Help me see it in its subtlety so I may abhor it, repent of it and seek to glorify only you.”

WARNING LIGHT #2: PRAYERLESSNESS

Rowland writes:

“Imagine being able to tell whether something was accomplished through prayer or in the flesh.  The scary thing is that churches and ostensibly flourishing ministries can run without prayer.  Mark chapter 9 contains the story of the disciples’ inability to heal a demonized boy.  They couldn’t work out why they were so busy, yet so powerless.  Jesus; answer needs to become a motto in our churches: “This kind can only come out by prayer (some translations add ‘fasting’).”  Now there are some things I would try without prayer, but driving out demons is not one of them!”

Here were the questions for us:

  • What has our church accomplished lately that could only be attributed to prayer?
  • To what extent is this warning light flashing on your spiritual dashboard?
  • What steps do you need to take?

Before reading this I would have scored myself quite high on the prayer-chart.  I start each day with the Word and prayer.  I have a number of people and ministries that I pray for each day.  And yet, when it comes down to it, I’m often too busy serving God and writing sermons to spend time on my knees.

Here was my prayer:

“Lord Jesus, I want to grow in my dependence on you.  I am self-sufficient by nature.  I have too big of a view of my own abilities.  My “can do” attitude hinders me from coming to your throne on my knees and seeking your enabling.  Forgive me Lord and cause me to seek your sufficiency, all through the day.”

WARNING LIGHT #3: OVERSENSITIVITY

In our ministry amongst God’s people, we can often take things too personally – especially criticism.  We need to be reminded we are in a battle (Ephesians 6:12).  When a soldier is shot at, he isn’t surprised.  His feelings are not damaged.  He doesn’t raise his head above the parapet and say, “Did I say something wrong?” He is prepared for it; he’s in a war.  When we are oversensitive to the criticism of others, that’s a warning light that we take things way too personally.  It’s not about us.  It’s about God and his cause.

The question posed to us was:

  • To what extent are you over-sensitive to the criticism of others?

Here’s my prayer in response:

“Lord, whenever my feelings are hurt by criticism or negative comments, I forget who I am, and what you have called me to do.  I ought to be criticized and opposed if I am faithfully following you.  Give me a thicker skin and the ability to welcome criticism – for often it is correct and deserved. Use it to humble and refine me.  Amen”

I trust these were helpful to you as they were to me.  Perhaps you might think about writing out your own prayers (you are free to use mine!)  In my next post we have some more warning lights to cover:  Joylessness, fatigue and insensitivity.  I think you’ll find them very helpful also.

(You can read Part 2 of this series here)

Advertisements

Lyn

This past week we had a special visitor stay with us.  Her name is Lyn Riley.  We first met Lyn a little over two years ago in Huntington hospital  where our son Mark was recuperating from his motorcycle accident.  The Air 5 helicopter crew who rescued Mark asked Lyn to come and check on how he was doing.  We formed a special bond with her from that day onward.

Lyn is one of those larger-than-life people who lives life to the full.  EVERYTHING matters and so does EVERYONE.  If you are low on the enthusiasm chart, just spend some time with Lyn.  She’ll give you a good top up!

Lyn’s official role is clinical care coordinator for the LA County Sheriff’s Department – Air 5 medivac program.  She is responsible for the continuing education and quality improvement programs for medics in the SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics), SEB (Special Enforcement Bureau) and ESD (Emergency Services Detail) teams.  The crew who picked Mark off the road belong to the ESD.  The crew is made up of two pilots, two paramedics and a crew chief.  Lyn personally trained the two paramedics (seen below) who tended to Mark’s injuries, stemming the bleeding and saving his life.

The Air 5 Crew (from Lft to Rght): Brice (Paramedic), Rod (Crew Chief), Tom and Clint (pilots) and Tracy (Paramedic)

Lyn would often come and visit Mark (and us) in the hospital ward.  She was never in a hurry and always had time for us.  Whatever we needed in the hospital, she would try and take care of it.  She was the one who organized the Air 5 crew to come and visit Mark and do a fly past of his window.  As they circled the building, the windows and instruments in the room all started shaking – which didn’t go down all that well with some of the staff.  I think it might have been the first and last time they tried that!  Before Mark flew back to NZ, she had them land on the roof and Mark was taken up there to meet them.  That’s the kind of person Lyn is.

Lyn and Mark with Air 5 crew lifting off at the Hospital heliport

We thought that it was pretty cool that after all this time Lyn would fly out from the States to come and see us.  She timed it for Mark’s birthday so that we could celebrate it together.  While she was here, Mark took her to see some of the sights in our region including the Nelson Lakes, Golden Bay and even some salmon fishing.

Mark, Britney (Mark’s girlfriend) and Lyn checking out some of the pics they took on their trip to Golden Bay

The day after Mark’s birthday, a special package turned up.  It was sent by Brice Stella, once of the paramedics who tended to Mark on the side of the road.  He has taken a special interest in Mark throughout his recovery.  Brice had one of the Air 5 flight jackets made for Mark, with his name embroidered on it.  It came with an official letter from the LA County Sheriff’s Office.  This is what it read:

Dear Mr. Somervell.

The men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) have been following your recovery these past two years. Your tenacity and attitude has been an inspiration to all of us.

As you may know, the radio call sign of the SEB Emergency services Detail is 240R (240 Robert).  As the Captain of the Special Enforcement Bureau, I would like to assign you the honorary call sign of 240R-KW (240 Robert- Kiwi Warrior).  You are the only person we have ever given an SEB call sign.  We are proud to have you as one of us.

I wish you continued success and good health.  We all look forward to seeing you at SEB the next time you visit the U.S.

Sincerely,

JIM McDONNELL, SHERIFF.

This means when Mark is in LA next time, he will become part of the Air 5 crew, with his own call sign (240R Robert- Kiwi Warrior).

Francelle and I continue to be amazed by the events that have unfolded since Mark’s accident.  We’ve also been amazed by the kind of people who have taken an avid interest him and his recovery.  That convinces us that God his hand on all this in special way and very likely there will be more surprises down the road we don’t yet know about.

We are very thankful for Lyn for all the love and kindness shown to our family and to Brice who has been a great encouragement to Mark (and us) throughout this journey. You are both special to us all.

Here’s a video of Mark opening the package.  The memory card maxed out just when he went to read the letter!  It shows Lyn in her full bloom 🙂

 

Carl

Two weeks ago, I received a phone call while sitting in an airport waiting for a flight.  I recognized his voice immediately; it was my friend Carl.

“Hello there Peter, it’s Carl.”
“Hi there Carl, it’s good to hear from you”
“I have you on my list of many people to call.  There’s something I need to tell you and the news isn’t all that good.  I have only a short time to live.”
The news came like a bombshell.  “Carl,” I replied gently, “what happened?”

Carl unravelled the whole story.  Some melanoma growths appeared on his body a few years ago which were removed.  He went in for check-ups regularly after that, but unbeknownst to everyone, the melanoma was spreading.  They found it in his lymph nodes in his neck.  Carl was then operated on and a large number of those nodes were taken out.  That was eight weeks ago.

They sent Carl home to recuperate.  But Carl didn’t recuperate.  In fact, he got worse.

His wife Rina saw that something wasn’t right.  But when she tried telling the medical personal about this all she got was, “It’s just post-op depression.  He’ll come right.”  His condition deteriorated even more.  Finally, with some advice from some friends, she got their attention.  Carl was brought back in and a full scan was done.  A very aggressive form of cancer was growing in his liver and spleen.  It was terminal.

Life expectancy: approximately 3 weeks.

Carl had been a hard worker all his life.  He ate well and lived a healthy lifestyle.  He was looking forward to a new season in his life of slowing down and spending more time with his family.  One of his dreams was taking a river cruise with his wife in Europe.  They had even booked the trip.  Carl had also just received his gold card.  The first time he got to use it wasn’t for travel, but his operation.

But it gets even more difficult.  At the time of this news, his two sons were overseas along with their wives and young children – one working and living in Holland and the other on holiday in Canada.  They both had to be notified: “You need to get home.”

While Carl was telling me all this, my mind was reeling.  I knew this family well.  They were very close and all loved Jesus.  Still, this would rock them.  More importantly, how was Carl himself holding up?  Would his faith in God and hope in the gospel be strong enough to endure this?  Carl answered that in the next part of the conversation:

“Peter, I absolutely for sure, for sure know where I am going.  I am going to be with the Lord.  I am going home.  That’s not a concern.  My concern is for those I know who aren’t.  So while I still have a clear head and I can think straight, I’m calling them all one by one.”

Carl had phoned his mother and brother and sister in Holland.  For many years he had tried to tell them about Jesus and why he came, but they didn’t want to listen.  Now, things were different.  Carl was dying.  They were ready to listen.

Then Rina got on the phone.  She told me about all the visits they were having.  Carl is an engineer in a large company, so he has many co-workers who know him.  They have all made a special trip to come and see him.  As they come in, one by one, he has them sit down and then for 30-40 minutes, he shares with them how they can get to heaven.  No one argues.  No one gets up and walks out.  They all stay and listen.  “Peter,” she said, “I’ve never seen Carl like this.  He has always struggled with witnessing and finding the right words to talk about God.  But you should see him now!  I’m absolutely amazed.”

Something very special was happening here. This wasn’t a tragic tale about a friend who was dying.  God was at work.  Carl’s prayers were being answered.  He wanted to be a better witness for Jesus.  Now at last, he was – and in a more powerful way than he could ever have imagined.  Carl was using his cancer for the glory of God.  Through his slow and painful suffering, others were hearing the message of life.

When the phone call ended, I sat there for a few moments in the airport staring through the windows outside.  This is what life is really about, I thought.  It’s about people.  It’s about relationships.  It’s about knowing for absolute sure whether or not we are going to heaven and helping others find their way there also.  Carl has a few weeks; others may have a few years.  Sooner or later, everyone’s time will be up.  Like someone said to me once: “We’re all sitting in the departure lounge.  It’s just a matter of what flight you’re on” (which was somewhat ironic considering where I was sitting at that time).  How is it that we all get so busy, we don’t have time to think about what matters most?

I was still in deep thought when an announcement came through the speakers.  “Last call for flight 8239 to Wellington. Passengers must board immediately.”  I grabbed my bag and water bottle.  I didn’t want to miss my flight.

Epilogue

When I arrived home, I booked a flight for the next week to Auckland so I could go and see Carl.  It seemed the fitting thing to do.  It was possible he wouldn’t make it until then, or his condition would deteriorate to the point I wouldn’t be able to talk with him.  Too bad, I thought.  I’m going to trust God and take the chance.

I’m so glad I did.  He was alert and very pleased to see me.  We had a beautiful time together, talking about many things – his family, his work colleagues, and the many conversation he’s been able to have with people.  Rina was there alongside of me, constantly adjusting his bed and pillows so he could be comfortable.  The pain levels were increasing, and so was the medication in order to cope with it.  We read some scripture together and prayed and then let him rest.  I stayed a while to talk with Rina and the other members of the family.  Many tears had been shed and many more would in the next few days.

Regardless of the strength of your faith, death is still death.  It’s distressing.  It’s painful.  The greater the love, the deeper the sense of loss.  But Jesus provides a comfort deep enough to match it.  He understands death.  He knows.  He was there.

After dinner, Carl asked if we could sing.  We stood around his bed and sung together – “I Know Whom I Have Believed.”  Here are some of the words:

I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.

But “I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.”

I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.

I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.

I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.

While we sung, Carl closed his eyes and listened.  He knew whom He believed.  He is the same One who imparted saving faith and brought peace to his heart.  He is the One who redeemed Carl for his own.  He was the One walking with Carl right then and there, through the vale of the shadow of death.

It suddenly dawned on me – in a very real sense Carl wasn’t going to Jesus.  Jesus was there with him (and with us all), in that very room.  Carl would soon see him.  His faith would become sight.  And then he will finally be, home.

A branch on the vine

John 15 is one of those chapters I come back to again and again.  Each time I read it something fresh and new appears that I hadn’t noticed before.  Most of us are familiar with the passage.  Jesus takes an example of everyday life: a vine with its branches, leaves and fruit and uses it to teach his disciples the importance of remaining or abiding in him.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes, and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me.” (John 15:1–5, CSB)

We need to stay closely connected to Jesus.  That’s the point.  We need the life of Jesus, pulsating in and through us, just as the life of the vine pulsates through the branches, to enable us to bear fruit and be the people God intended us to be.  If we don’t, we will fail again and again.

The Christian life is not me doing my best for Jesus.  It is Jesus doing his best in and through me.  Apart from him I can do nothing.

So far so good.  I get that.  Then comes the next part.  The Father, says Jesus, is the gardener (or vinedresser).  His role is to prune the vine.  Notice however, which branches he prunes.  It’s not the barren ones.  It’s the ones that are producing fruit.

That was something I hadn’t really noticed before.  And it got me thinking… hard.  If I’m on the vine – if I truly belong to Jesus, then I’m going to be pruned – regularly.  And if I’m not pruned regularly, something is wrong.

So, let’s think about how this works.  I’m no expert in the area of viticulture, in fact, the joke in our house is I’m a real nog when it comes to anything to do with gardening.  I have two gardening instruments in my tool-shed, a chainsaw and a big pair of loppers and I’m dangerous whenever I get hold of either of them.  My wife tells people we make a great gardening team – I destroy things and she rebuilds.

OK, so I’m no gardener but I did some reading on this.  There are actually several stages when it comes to pruning a grapevine:

  • There is what’s called pinching – that’s when you remove the little tips at the end of the branch so it won’t grow too rapidly
  • Then there’s topping, when a foot or two of new growth is removed to prevent the loss of an entire shoot
  • Then there is thinning where you remove entire grape clusters so the rest of the branch can bear more fruit as well as better quality fruit
  • And then there is cutting away of suckers to give more nourishment to the whole plant

And all of this pruning doesn’t happen all at once, but in stages.  Now I’ve watched someone prune a grapevine we had once, and I tell you, I got a real shock.  It was brutal.  He didn’t just snip off a little leaf here and there.  He chopped off entire branches.  But he knew what he was doing.  He knew what was necessary in order for my plant to grow healthy, juicy fruit.

The same is true for the Christian life.  God knows what is best for us.  He knows what to cut away.  Sometimes God prunes because there is sin in our lives.  Sometimes there is a relationship that needs restoring that we have been ignoring.  Sometimes it might be because there is fruit in our lives, but God wants us to bear more.  So, he picks up the knife and he begins cutting.

Now I think I can speak personally here.  I don’t mind sharing something of God’s work in this area in my life.  The most recent “pruning” I have experienced would be my son’s motorcycle accident.  But that’s still going on.  I have no idea of what God wanted to accomplish with all that.  I know I have a lot more understanding of what it’s like for people to go through trauma or loss.  I don’t know what the Father is up to, but he does.

Sometimes it’s only by looking back, years afterwards that we see what he was doing – like my first year of marriage.  When Francelle and I got engaged, we were the postcard couple.  The day we announced it at church a bunch of our friends made this huge placard and held it up and hooted and whistled and made a huge scene.  How I passed any papers at Seminary that semester I have no idea; I walked around half the time in a daze.  We were both utterly smitten.  We got back from the honeymoon and the whole thing crashed.  It was like, this is not the same person I married?  Someone has done a dirty and made a swap.  I was expecting lovely evenings gazing at each other across the table and instead I got plates thrown at me.  NOBODY told me about that in the premarital counselling!

What we had there was two very determined, headstrong, independent people trying to forge out a new life together.  There was pride and stubbornness and pig-headedness (more on my side than hers) that needed to be named, exposed and repented of.  Fruits of love and patience and kindness needed to grow in its place.  

 Snip, snip, snip.  The Father was very carefully, wisely and lovingly tending to his vine.

Perhaps you are experiencing a season of pruning in your life right now.  It might be relational conflict like it was with me in my first year of marriage.  Or you’re experiencing financial difficulty – you’re finding it hard to make ends meet week to week.  Or you are having to watch someone you love suffer.  That is almost as hard as going through it yourself.  It doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.  It doesn’t mean you’re being punished or that you’re not performing in your Christian life to the extent God wants you to.  You’re being pruned – that’s all.  You’re part of the vine and God’s vine gets regularly pruned.

During a very difficult season in my life I was handed a little hard-covered book called Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman.  Inspired by her experience as a missionary to Japan and China, it is filled with spiritual riches of God’s provision and purpose for our lives, particularly during seasons of suffering.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from February 19:

A CHILD of God was dazed by the variety of afflictions which seemed to make her their target. Walking past a vineyard in the rich autumnal glow she noticed the untrimmed appearance and the luxuriant wealth of leaves on the vines, that the ground was given over to a tangle of weeds and grass, and that the whole place looked utterly uncared for; and as she pondered, the Heavenly Gardener whispered so precious a message that she would fain pass it on:

“My dear child, are you wondering at the sequence of trials in your life? Behold that vineyard and learn of it. The gardener ceases to prune, to trim, to harrow, or to pluck the ripe fruit only when he expects nothing more from the vine during that season. It is left to itself, because the season of fruit is past and further effort for the present would yield no profit. Comparative uselessness is the condition of freedom from suffering. Do you then wish me to cease pruning your life? Shall I leave you alone?”

The comforted heart cried, “No!”

It is the branch that bears the fruit,
That feels the knife,
To prune it for a larger growth,
A fuller life.

Though every budding twig be lopped,
And every grace
Of swaying tendril, springing leaf,
Be lost a space.

O thou whose life of joy seems reft,
Of beauty shorn;
Whose aspirations lie in dust,
All bruised and torn,

Rejoice, tho’ each desire, each dream,
Each hope of thine
Shall fall and fade; it is the hand
Of Love Divine

That holds the knife, that cuts and breaks
With tenderest touch,
That thou, whose life has borne some fruit
May’st now bear much.

—Annie Johnson Flint.[1]

[1] Cowman, L. B. (1925). Streams in the Desert (pp. 56–57). Los Angeles, CA: The Oriental Missionary Society.

Note: this post is based on a message I preached at our Church called “The True Vine.”  You can listen to it on our website here.

Two years on

Today is August 1st, the second anniversary of our son’s motorcycle accident, where he lost control at a corner and collided with a steel road barrier, severing off his left leg and badly mutilating the other.  It was the day when our world was turned completely upside down.  The weeks following were an absolute nightmare.  Looking back, we wonder how we ever got through it.  If it wasn’t for God’s sustaining grace and the faithful prayers of his people, the outcome may have been quite different.

Even so, the whole episode has affected us more than we both realized (perhaps I was the slower to admit it), and it is only now, two years on, that we feel that life has retained a measure of stability.  It has made me think quite differently about those who go through some kind of trauma.  It can leave even the strongest of us feeling weak, battered and a little frail about the edges for months – perhaps even years afterwards.

Francelle put some of her thoughts down on paper (it is the first time she has been able to do so since the accident).  I asked her if I could include in this blog.  She graciously agreed.  So here it is.

As I’ve been reflecting over the past two years, I’d thought I’d share three things that God has taught me in the midst of our new normal.

God’s grace is sufficient. It seems like a cliché, until you really experience it.  I can still remember the awful terror rushing towards me like a speeding freight train when we first got the news.  I covered my ears, not wanting to know if Mark was dead or alive.  But in that place, God met me and sustained me.  He really does walk with us in the valley of the shadow of death.  I remember filling my heart with the truth of God’s word and calling out and asking Him to with me—and He was.

God’s love is shown through His children. In those early days, Peter and I were surrounded by love and tangible support from our brothers and sisters in Christ.  One couple laid everything aside and drove over 14 hours to be with us during those early days in the hospital, sharing with us in our sorrow as we dealt with the repetition of telling Mark he had lost a leg, experiencing the grief time and again.  But not only friends and family helped-the people of God surrounded us with help and love in so many tangible ways.  I knew God loved us because God’s people were caring for us.

God calls us to walk the life of faith. Hebrew 11:1 tells us Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. The walk of faith calls us to dwell in the realm of the unseen. When tragedy strikes, it purifies the heart.  Do I really believe that God works all things out for the good of those who love Him? 

Not every story has a happy ending.  While Mark survived in a miraculous way, he will live with the damage done to his body all his life.  And as yet, he has not chosen to follow the God who saved his life.  But I do know that God is faithful and all of His promises are Yes and Amen (2 Cor 1:20).  However, I recognise that I may not live to see all that God would do because of this tragedy, just as the saints of old did not receive what was promised.  But while I wait, I can continue to fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith (Heb 12:2).

Letting Go

Last week we had all four kids at home with us, for one night.  They live busy lives and it’s hard to coordinate their plans so that they are all here at the same time. There was plenty of laughs and banter – the kind of raucous you’d expect for the Somervell household.  I got them all to sit on the couch so I could take a picture, which was a bit of a mission because they wouldn’t keep still (hence the slightly blurred effect). “They haven’t changed much,” I thought to myself.  How did we manage to raise such an unruly lot? I can’t even take a picture without some level of chaos!”  

But as I stood there with the camera, watching them horsing around, a deep sense of fondness and affection for them welled up within me.  Despite all the pain, heartache and loss of sleep they have caused over the years, I really did love each of them deeply.  It’s not that I ever doubted this.  But something happens when your kids grow up into adults.  The relationship changes.  You are still their parent, but it’s in a different sense.  They are no longer living in your shadow.  They are their own individuals.  They now make their own choices in life – for better or for worse.  Some of those choices you are happy with; others you are not so happy with.  But you still love them all the same.

You may have heard of a phrase parents often use called “letting go.”  Well, it’s a lot easier said than done (in my experience).  And it’s not just a one-time deal.  I find myself having to continually “let go.”  After all, when you consider my wife and I have invested 23 of our 25 years of marriage raising, nurturing, teaching, training and caring for each of these precious individuals, you can understand why letting them go is a daunting task.  They are not ordinary people.  They are very special.  They are part of us.  They are a product of our love and commitment to each other and to God.

I can’t speak for my wife, but the most difficult part of the “letting go” has been with my two sons.  That might surprise you.  You’d think it would be with my daughters.  Fathers can be very protective of their daughters and find it hard when they leave home.  I have no problem with my daughters leaving home.  I know whose hands they are in.  They are both strong believers in Jesus and have surrendered their lives to his Lordship and loving care.  Whatever choices they make will be, for the most part, wise ones.

My sons however have not chosen to follow Jesus.  They made that decision in their late teens.  They both have their own reasons for that, which I respect.  But I personally find it very difficult.  In fact, rarely is there an hour in the day when I’m not thinking about it (and praying for them).  And it’s not because I’m a controlling father (at least, I hope not).  Nor is it because I’m disappointed that my own sons are not following in my footsteps.  It’s because heaven and hell are serious realities for me.  The Bible isn’t a collection of fairy stories and fables.  It is divine truth, which affects the eternal destiny of every human being, including my four children.

No loving, responsible parent, who holds these beliefs can overlook that.  It’s just not possible.  So yes, I’m still having a heck of a time letting my sons go (in the spiritual sense).  In fact, until they come to Jesus I don’t think I ever will.  I will continue to wrestle for their souls before my Heavenly Father, begging that He will reveal Himself to them in such a clear and profound way that they believe.

In the meantime, I will work on loving each one of them equally, without showing favouritism, supporting them in where I can and praying for them daily.  This is my God-given duty, privilege and joy.

 

 

 

Mark

Something has happened with our son.  We are not sure exactly what has caused it, but it is quite evident that he’s turned a corner, or is turning a corner in his recovery.

Since returning to New Zealand after his accident he has been living in a portable cabin on our property, which gives him – and us, some space.  The time he spends in there has caused us concern.  He rarely comes over, except for dinner, but doesn’t stay around long to talk and then disappears back into his little enclosure.  He’s been working a couple of days a week for one of the guys in our church who owns a tree nursery, which has been a saving grace, as it gets him out and about for at least part of the week.  But he hasn’t really been progressing in life.  There has been little improvement in anything.

A few weeks ago, things began to change.  He’s been more lively, more talkative and more social.  He stays longer after dinner, just to talk.  He’s been asking what our day has been like and taking a genuine interest in what we are doing.  He’s become bored with gaming and got himself a guitar.  Instead of loud shouting and railings (at his online opponents) hours on end, we hear soft strumming and singing.  And he’s tidied his room.  Mark never (or very rarely) tidies his room.  Something must be going on.

Perhaps the most significant change is he now talking about the future.  Now you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal about that?  I talk about the future all the time.”  That’s right – you do, because your future is in the realm of hopes and dreams and possibilities.  Mark’s future, up until this point, has been in the realm of fears and uncertainties.  Try to think about your present life with one leg, and possibly (because the uncertain future of his right leg) no legs.  Everything changes – your work, your leisure, your social life, your home life, your holidays – even taking a shower and making your bed.  Things you once loved doing you can no longer do.   And there are no longer any guarantees.

Watching all of this close up hasn’t been that easy.  It’s all new territory for Francelle and I.  We’ve never had to care for someone who has suffered major physical and psychological trauma.  We are trying to understand Mark and putting ourselves in his shoes (or shoe – it’s  a new family pun).  We are learning when to be tough and when to be tender; when to push hard and when to go easy, and when to speak and when to just listen.  We want the best for Mark, but sometimes that wanting morphs into urging and insisting and we wind up driving him away instead of drawing him in.  It’s a waiting game.  As someone with a little more wisdom than we have said to us lately, “Just be patient – give him time.”  So I’m asking God to help me do just that.

So you might imagine – all this (“this” being the positive changes above) has come as a breath of fresh air.  He came in last night, cheery and talkative.  It was a wet and drizzly day so he wasn’t able to work at the nursery, which was a bit frustrating – not being able to get out.  He asked me how my day was.  We chatted together and he told me how he’s been building his upper body strength.  “Watch this,” he said.  He put a stool close to the edge of the kitchen bench, positioned himself in between them both and then lifted up both of his legs in a horizontal position and proceeded to do push ups.  I watched all this with fascination.  It suddenly dawned on me how far he had come.  He asked me to have a go.  It can’t be that hard, I thought.  I do push-ups most days, after I finish my run.  I couldn’t even get my legs off the floor.

We both laughed.  His was a friendly, hearty laugh.  And there was a twinkle in his eye.  He could do something that I couldn’t do.  Sometimes, in the difficulties and disappointments in life, winning the war on the inside is the most challenging battle of all.