I have always I have always desired to be a great dad, many of you know what I mean. And so as my Heavenly Dad fathers me, I take notice in hopes to learn something. There seems to be this process of “surprise and surrender” in my relationship with my heavenly dad. Although it always brings freedom and joy it carries a bit of pain and struggle. We probably all go through this, maybe we do not call it the same thing but it’s the process of God saying “hey there is something in you I want to heal, make whole, redeem, restore and make right” and we are well…surprised by that! We then face the moment of truth…what will I do with what my heavenly dad is saying? Do I trust him to be good to me? Do I believe in his intentions? Do I “surrender” how I think and feel to him and receive what he is offering?
In July my daughter Linsley and I left on a trip out West for some adventure, time together and to celebrate her graduation from high school. I was certainly excited to return for a second time this summer to Montana to experience it’s beauty, adventure, epic mountains and to hear words from my heavenly dad (which I always do on theses types of trips). We had also been invited to stay with some amazingly generous friends at their “Ranch,” which we love! Sissy and I had a great plan…in our 7 days out West we would white water raft the Clark Fork, rent a motorcycle and ride through the Big Hole, over Chief Joseph Pass, through Wisdom, Anaconda into Philipsburg and then round out the week with a trek up to Glacier. It was what she wanted and I was loving the excitement, the love of adventure I saw in her heart and just the sheer anticipation she had for this trip and our time together. I love seeing the hearts of my kids come alive and I had anticipated just that on this trip out West!
As we left Dayton, the day after my birthday, the security lady made a quick mention of something that in all my meticulous planning and preparation had overlooked…renewing my drivers license. In that moment I had a slight “twinge in my heart” that this might be a problem. I began to think about timing…could I leave the airport and get it renewed and get back in time? Is it really that big of a deal, it just expired yesterday? (she still let me on the plane so it cannot be that big of a deal) Where I live I have 6 months to renew it before there is a real problem. So as we flew out West…I was praying, asking God to cover this trip, thinking to myself “this is no big deal” and yet feeling that same “twinge in my heart.” The flights were great and Linsley and I had awesome conversations about love, life, college, God’s leading, being “fully alive”, etc. The trip was going well and I was excited and thankful. Little did I know as we got off the plane and got to the car rental counter that disappointment and condemnation were coming. To my surprise, no one would rent me a car with an expired drivers license…no matter what! I prayed and explained the situation to the folks at the rental car companies (I have 6 months to renew, its not really expired). That was a dead end. I quickly starting searching online for my options on renewal and made several calls to the state BMV…everyone gave me the same answer – I would have to renew in person, in Ohio. I did all I could to try and figure this out!! It then hit me like a ton of bricks, without a car, there is nothing we can do but sit on the porch at the Ranch. While the “car situation” was happening Linsley learns that her luggage has been lost…salt in an open wound. My heart started to ache for my daughter’s heart and the assault she is going to feel about the trip being “messed up” and maybe even feeling like she didn’t matter, etc, etc…by this time, internally, I am tore up and a whole range of emotion is battling inside.
What happened next is what surprised me the most…I got so angry at myself and my oversight that I could not even think straight. I did not want any texts or calls from my dad, my wife or my “band of brothers.” I neither wanted nor would I receive any help or council. I was not rude or nasty I simply isolated myself in my failure and focussed on its affects on the trip with Linsley. Self hatred seethed inside of me and then a sense of “being alone” in the world and betrayal set in. In those moments of anger a “still small voice” began to speak to me with small persistent messages…”I am here. I love you and want to father you through this. Talk to me, I care. Your failure is not my concern in this moment, your heart and our relationship are my top priority. I want to help you…what do you need?” I pushed back and refused to listen or answer. The voice persisted with the same love and encouragement. Then finally the question that hit the hardest and got my undivided attention…”why will you not receive me as your dad and simply be my son?” Let me just say I was plenty “surprised” by the question and the ensuing need to “surrender” something deep within my heart. It seems that I am ok with extending grace to others and their failure, I am good with things like accepting grace for sin nature and things that are not so much “under my control.” But when I fail and I am the only person to blame…well I just learned that I am not as quick to receive “being a son” or the grace “my heavenly dad” has to offer. I seek “perfection” which is slavery instead of allowing my heavenly dad to grow “maturity and completeness” which brings freedom, wholeness and holiness. There is this fierce independence and thought of self redemption that is not of my heavenly dad but rooted in our culture and American ideology. It has become part of the image I create, deeper than the true identity of being a beloved son of a loving dad, who fiercely pursues my heart, my freedom, my restoration and my healing. Moments like this reveal how deeply rooted these “false images” have become in me. God set himself to father me through this moment of failure, to peel back the onion of my identity, reveal the bondage and false-self and lead me into his unconditional love and acceptance.
That night while sitting on the porch….after my heavenly (and earthly dad and our “family out West”) had provided perfectly for Linsley and I…looking at the mountains and the sunset I heard that still small voice. “I love you Chris and your heart and Linsley’s heart matter to me beyond your human understanding.” I started to get pretty emotional and then some repentance and then a peace and a sense of being a son, like never before, came over me. I felt a freedom to know, I am not going at this alone and in spite of my inability to be unconditional, Gods love for me is absolutely unconditional! Without even knowing it…I had just been fathered. Perfectly.