Saturday, February 16, 2013

Love is Loving the Fatherless

Let me tell you all a story.  It's a very personal story. . . well yeah it's the story of me.  I don't know how many of you know my story but I am sure even those that do might take something away from this.  I never knew my father (Yes, many of you just went back to Bruce from Finding Nemo when I said that.)  It's true.  For reasons out of my control and realm of understanding, my dad was removed from my life before I could even walk or talk or celebrate my 1st birthday.  Never once have I heard from him, never once has he taught me anything, never once growing up did I ever even think something was missing. 

Theres some interesting statistics that I'm not too fond of.  I found a lot of them at The Fatherless Generation  blog and also at this page.  63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes...90% of runaways and homeless...80% of rapists...71% of high school dropouts...less likely to get 'A's, to enjoy school, to participate in extracurricular activities, to not repeat a grade, to go to college...more likely to use drugs, participate in sex before marriage, be aggressive, be expelled, be in poverty,  to have psychiatric problems and struggle with emotional distress. 

Those are heart wrenching statistics.  It's hard to read the entirety of them without just breaking down, especially considering 43% live without their father.  26% of fathers live in a different state.  I couldn't find a statistic, but I would be interested in knowing how many, like me, grew up the entirety of their lives with no biological father, and whose mother never got remarried.  Or what percentage of those living with a father never really experienced a true father.  Maybe he was gone all the time, or immature, or didn't represent manhood very well. 

Like I just mentioned, I have never met my father.  Never grew up with a replacement father.  But let me tell you how I did grow up.  My siblings are very spaced out.  My sister is nearly 19 years older and my brother is a little over 9 years older.  My mom worked her hiny off to support us by herself.  Up to the age of 7, we moved a lot as my mom finished her college degree and struggled financially.  I was too little to understand that though.  I was just living life.  We went to Bellingham, and Medford, and most of the time Kennewick, where my grandma helped my mom get on her feet. 

I loved having my brother around.  We would go swimming, and he would try to kill me sledding, and he would teach me how to ride a bike, and teach me about the Bible, and how to dress.  He would also take my matchbox cars and loved picking on me.  But that didnt matter, I loved having him around.  He taught me how to mow the lawn, how to take care of my mom, how to be courageous.  I loved my mom too.  She would drive me to pre school at St Josephs, and set up birthday parties for me, and always go above what she was able to get me presents.  She would take me bowling, and to watch NASCAR races in the diner, and to play racing games in the arcade.  I lived the dream!  Eventually my brother moved away and went to college and I lived alone with my mom until I graduated.  She wrung her neck trying to survive off what most would call a impoverished income.  But you would never know that looking in from the outside.  We lived in a nice neighborhood and went to a nice school.  Yeah, maybe I never got new clothes all the time, or was able to travel very much, or never got to experience a lot of things I'm coming to find out a regular home had, but it never affected me growing up. 

Those statistics never even came close to denting the way I lived.  To pass time with the excess of loneliness i encountered (which I never realized was loneliness until later in middle school) I would read encyclopedias, work on ginormous puzzles with my grandma, pain stakingly move my NASCAR matchbox cars one car length at a time as they raced around the house, create mansion forts in the basement.  I would adventure into the wilderness to make bike jumps, to race around the neighborhood, to climb trees.  I loved being active.  My mom raised me as hard as she could free of societal evils.  Alcoholism, drugs, sex, etc., other than from family members who were dealing with those problems, never entered my scope of reality.  I excelled in school from the onset.  By 7th grade, I was already taking high school math classes.  I graduated with 30 college credits, crushed my SAT, and continued on to college.  I loved track and field and excelled in that too.  I did orchestra playing the violin for 8 years and even did symphonic orchestra in high school.  And I dont say all of that to brag.  I say it to show that just because I was raised fatherless, does not mean I am a statistic!

I had an extraordinarily loving mother who although wasn't able to teach me about cars, or how to work in the yard, was able to place me in a home where I could grow and learn.  I had a biblical teacher in my brother who gave me incredible opportunities to travel and experience life.  I saw other kids dads and learned from them. I even learned from countless mistakes and errors and I grew from each one of them. But most of all, I look back, and I see the biggest contributor to being my father was God himself.  Psalm 68 says that He is "a father to the fatherless"...He "sets the solitary in families".  All along the way, God placed male mentors in my life to show me how to be a man.  From my brother, to camp counselors, to middle school and high school youth directors, to friend's dads. 

Now why did I write that? Why did you need to know my story?  To me, my story has never been anything to me.  I didn't feel disadvantaged growing up.  I definitely didn't feel like I was incapable of anything at life! But lately I'm realizing a subtle fact that has been there all along and has recently come to a head.  There is a growing sentiment in church that because of those statistics, that because having two parents is the biblical model, and because fatherless kids "don't learn about manhood", that kids like me, without fathers, are somehow not good.  I've come to realize multiples times growing up that people judge me or my mom based on our family dynamic.  And while I am not going to tell you my mom's story, or why we ended up this way, there is also nothing I did, or could do to change the way I grew up any better than how God directed it. 

Isaiah 1:17 says "Learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow."  Isaiah later goes on to prophecy against a civilization that judged the fatherless, and abused the widow.  I feel like people that judge the fatherless as incapable of certain tasks have a lack of faith in God who promises to be a father to the fatherless.  It's not right and it needs to be addressed. 

I found a catchy little blog post about The art of manliness.  He writes about what he's learned from observation about what it means to be a man despite being fatherless, and I couldn't agree more.  I especially like #3.  "Becoming a man doesn't come with age.  Through experience, a boy becomes a man by: Taking ownerships of failure, letting go of stubbornness and accepting lessons, knowing how to handle challenging situations and fixing their incorrect reactions and attitudes, learning more about themselves."  I love it because it changes the whole notion of what being a man is.  A man isn't someone who is a father.  I've met countless dads who's idea of manhood is ruling over the household, pride, stubbornness, yelling, football, etc etc.  Under this notion of manhood, A man becomes a man separate from his upbringing.  He becomes a man solely out of humility, and following God. 

It's about time we stop judging the fatherless as "broken homes" and start looking compassionately at those statistics I laid out previously.  That is a statistic you can't let slip away and have no feeling over.  There are some hurting people out there without dads, with bad dads, with bad mothers, who made bad decisions, whose parents made bad decisions and they need someone to step in and walk along side of them, not outcast them.  And even for those who aren't that statistic, who grew up with fathers.  Don't judge them, or alienate them.  Step in along side them and teach them.  I know countless times where I have just wanted to learn something and there was no teacher available.  I still don't know hardly anything about cars, or building.  There are people out there that are struggling and I feel a lot of the time most of us just don't care. 

I hope this long post made any sense. It's kind of a jumbled mess the way it came out. I wanted to share my story to those of you who may not know and to show proof that God is not a statistic.  And I also wanted to confront an issue in my life currently where I have been unjustly judged for not having a dad (which I didn't even know was possible).  I hope those statistics and my story stir your heart toward love and compassion and not judgement.  And if anything I have said in this post or during my lifetime is out of line with the Bible, I would love to have you teach me the right way.  Maturity isn't a destination, it's an adventure.  I still have a lot to learn.  Thanks for reading  :)

Love the fatherless!!!!!!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Love is Redemptive

Redemptive: Acting to save someone from error or evil.

Revelation states in chapter 2, during the letters to the churches, "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent." (verse 2-5)

Thousands of years before this letter was penned lived Abraham, the patriarch of Israel.  We see his story start in the 12th chapter of Genesis when God says to Abraham, leave your family and then promises to make his descendents as many as the stars of the sky and the dust of the earth.  So Abraham (Abram at this point) leaves his family with his wife Sarah and Lot.  He starts out on a journey of his own away from his family.  On a new journey with a God who gave him a promise.  We see him travel across ancient Mesopotamia and down into the land of the Canaanites (present day Israel).  And in verse 8, he camps his tent perched on the hill lands between Bethel (literally meaning "house of God") and Ai ("City of Ruin).

Sidenote: Isn't that so often where Jesus meets us.  He provides the bridge from our ruin to the house of God.  I find that interesting in regards to where Abraham builds his alter and calls on the Lord.

Anyway, back to the main point at hand.  Abraham calls on the Lord for the first time.  He, by faith, starts a two sided relationship with God.  I imagine this as a very intimate moment in Abraham's life, here camped on the hills, looking over the land that God has promised him, and communicating with God.  It's where we see the first love of Abraham.

Eventually, due to a immense famine in the land, Abraham goes to Egypt to survive.  And in coming in to their land, he devises a lie to protect himself by telling them that Sarah is his sister.  A big ordeal happens when Pharaoh finds out and he sends him away.  Abraham has sinned.  The man who has so far in the record, lived a faithful, righteous life, has fallen short of the promise that God had for him.  By lying he has shown that he didn't believe God would make a great nation out of him because he feared more that the Egyptians would kill him.  Now he's in a rut.  The Egyptians have sent him away from their rich agricultural lands, back to a place of famine.

But here's the key.  Pay attention to this part right here if nothing else.  What does Abraham do.  Chapter 13:1-4 reads, "Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South. Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord"

Abraham returns to the very same spot where he called on the Lord, where he had his intimate moment of seeking the Lord.  He returns to his first love.

God's love is redemptive.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works.  Go to where you met God the first time, when you were excited to meet with Him, to study his word, to pray, to worship.  Maybe it's a physical location, or a location of mind, or a location of the word.  Whatever it is, go there, repent of where you have fallen from, and God's redemptive love will ignite your lampstand again.  It is such a beautiful illustration that so often gets read over in the haste of reading through Genesis.  But in it we find what Abraham found out on his journey of faith.

Love is redemptive!