Becoming a Father.

November 24, 2009

“But while he was a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”  -Jesus Christ, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” The Gospel of Luke 15:20

There must be some spiritual substance that we cannot comprehend. Maybe it is biological and just runs through our blood and that is why we cannot control it. The sins of the father are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generations (Numbers 14:18). This is even the case, it seems, when the father is nowhere to be found. How can this be? How is a man’s seed laid so deep in just one moment of climax, when we spend nine months incubating in our mother’s womb? Shouldn’t we be more like our mothers than our fathers? For me, I have my mother’s personality; it is true. However, I cannot escape my father. Somehow in my blatant rebellion against him when I was trying to prove my manhood to the world, I did pick up a bit of wisdom from the man; for instance, I have his solid and strong work ethic. Just the same, ask any woman I’ve ever been with and she will tell you: I also possess all of his faults to some degree. I think of my own children, my two sons, and when I consider the mountain of faults that I have possessed while raising them, I shudder with fear and shame.

My first experience with fatherhood came when I was only nineteen years old. I had befriended a woman who was pregnant at the young age of eighteen. She had no interest in marrying the father. When her son was four months old we were married, and by the time he could talk, he was calling me dad. I did not steal him from his biological father. That man just disappeared. He was a man in his mid-twenties who preyed on girls still in high school with the enchanting ability to purchase alcohol. A real winner. When this man stopped showing up for visits, everyone agreed it was better for the boy I began to call my son.

I was a good step-father; one of the best, but it wasn’t until three and a half years later that I truly became a father. That is when son number two was born. I am not saying that we can only truly be fathers to our biological children. On the contrary, I did my very best to love and cherish and provide for the first boy. As I made the decision to love, I did love, and delight in my child. However, something deep inside me changed the day my second son was born. There was a spiritual shift in my heart. It did not happen when he was conceived; it did not happen when my wife grew large and I could feel him kicking against my back at night; it did not happen until he came out of the womb and I saw him for the first time. It was at that moment I discovered the meaning of life. I held this tiny human being in my arms, all bloody and gooey, and I knew that I would fight off dragons and swim across oceans to protect him if need be. I knew I would clean his poop and throw up. I would listen to endless stories, answer endless questions, and laugh at pointless jokes. I would learn to play sports and read books that I hated because he loved them. I would take a bullet for him, and more importantly, I would sacrifice all my hopes and dreams, everything that I did not get to accomplish in my very short life, to ensure that he was able to succeed in his. I looked into eternity that day; I understood what my most important purpose in life was. And when I carried this frail human being out and placed him into his big brother’s arms, I looked into my oldest son’s eyes, and for the first time I saw the eternity in him. For the first time I understood the difference between adoption and sonship. All the love, all the hope, all the wonder so newly discovered in my heart for the son of my flesh, was poured out for and transferred onto this child I had so long taken care of. Where physics and logic might tell you that there would not be room enough for both, it was like the size of my heart exponentially doubled and then quadrupled in size to make the room. Truly looking into this child’s eyes for the first time, I knew instantly that I would sacrifice my life for both of my boys.

Our Heavenly Father is like that with us. Ever since our very first parents, Adam and Eve, sinned, we have been spiritual orphans. By submitting to the snake’s authority, we chose to remove ourselves from the Father of all things, we stole his parental rights and claimed freedom, but we lost the blessing of inheritance in the process. With no place to call home, we wander a harsh and lonely wasteland. Unwilling to trust anyone around us, our first instinct is murder and survival of the fittest. But ever since Jesus was born, that pure and perfect Son who only did what he saw the Father doing, he began to forge the path to help us find the way back home again. In his perfection, he took the place of our punishment. He gave his life for ours, and he became the way. When the Father looks in our eyes, he does not see our sin and rebellion; he only sees the pure and positive possibilities: He sees all our hopes and dreams and his love freely pours out to us. We are not just adopted sons and daughters; rather, we are co-heirs and siblings with Jesus. Through Jesus, we have found our way to true sonship, and we finally have a father who will truly guide us into goodness and righteousness. In Jesus, all our sins are forgiven; even the ones passed down from generation to generation. However, to receive the blessing, we must make the choice to accept his authority once again. We must learn to walk in his ways.

Son number one is now seventeen years old. He is a man, so he tells me, and he does not need to follow any of my foolish rules anymore. I would probably agree with him, were it not that his rebellion started while he was still very young, and I fear he may have missed some of the most important lessons I offered him. What can I do? He will be a legal adult soon, and he will truly be responsible for all his own choices. He has made it clear to me that I am only step-dad at best in his eyes; he wants nothing from me, either good or bad, so I need to just keep my advice to myself. He will find his own way without me. Some of what he speaks is justified. His mother and I split up a long time ago, and he has had trouble trusting me ever since. In the wake of that title wave of destruction we call divorce, I have made many mistakes. I often chose the heritage of my earthly fathers over the heritage of my Heavenly One. But that, too, was long ago, and my redemption and restoration has been solid and true. My heart still glows with love for him, but it is also broken at his rebellion and rejection, but what can I do? He will be a man soon; he will be cast out into the wilderness to wander without the guidance of the compass of lessons he could have chosen to receive from me. What can I do? I will choose to do what I see the Father doing with all of us: “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45. I will continue to provide for him and be there when he needs me, whether he acknowledges my existence or not. “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression.” Numbers 14:18. I will wait, and I will pray. I will look everyday for signs of his return, and when he comes home (for I have to believe that he will), no matter how long he has been gone, I will welcome him with open arms, and perhaps we will have a party in his honor, and I will even prepare the fattened calf.

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”  Romans 8:14-17.

Peter L Richardson
9/28/09

Three generations...

“What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?” -Robert E. Hayden

My earliest memories consist of staying up after dark and waiting for my dad to come home late from a hard day’s work delivering packages for UPS. As soon as my two brothers and I would hear the back door creak open, we would all run and pounce on him before he was fully in the door. Now that I have my own boys, I know what that feeling is like, and I know how it can put a bad work day into perspective. It helps me realize why I wake up and go back to the same place every morning. However, there were also times the creak of the door inspired fear. After a day of pushing my mother to the limits of her last nerve, I would hear the infamous phrase: “Wait until your father gets home!” I remember running in fear of his belt which was four inches wide, a half an inch thick, and at least two miles long; no matter how hard I tried to escape, it somehow always reached my butt.

When I was a child, I thought my family was poor because when all the other neighborhood kids got to choose from the treasures of the ice cream man, my brothers and I were ushered to the kitchen freezer for Flavor Ice. We never went to McDonald’s unless there was a special occasion; Mickie D’s was splurging and we rarely splurged. If we went to the movies, and that was a big “if”, it was at the cheap theaters where the floor was so sticky you had to tie your shoes tight so you didn’t loose them, and the film was usually out of focus and never quite lined up correctly on the screen. Often, the sound of the film being played in the next room came in louder and clearer than the movie we were watching. All my friends, however, thought that we were rich since my dad had a trailer and a boat at the beach. Because my dad forced us to make sacrifices in some areas, he was able to provide more in the areas that really counted. He had a reputation for being cheap, but in reality my dad just knew how to take a little bit and stretch it out a long way; likewise, this skill has been instilled in me to some degree. At times when I have found my financial boat sunk, it was principles I learned from my dad that taught me to tread water. I never had much of a collection of happy meal toys, and I don’t do well on movie trivia from the 80’s, but I have a deep connection to the ocean that my father helped to instill in me. Going to the beach and fishing with my family built foundations in my soul that helped keep me steady through many storms in my life. The ocean brings a peace and a healthy stillness to the soul that just can’t be bought from Mr. Slushy and McDonald’s or experienced in a cleaner movie theater.

Unfortunately, during my rebellious teen years, my dad also went through a midlife crisis. Chalk it up to bad timing, but the combination of my father lamenting the loss of his youth while I was struggling for my independence and trying to be a man kept us butting heads for years. Somehow my mother stood in the gap between us, as she simultaneously kept us apart and held us together through showing both of us an abundant love despite all the bullshit we put her through. Because of her strength, we managed to develop a very cold truce by the time I became an adult by legal standards. I managed to get a summer job at the beach, so my mother and I pretty much lived at our trailer while my dad came down on weekends and his vacation time. One weekend, my mom talked me into going fishing with her and my father. I was reluctant, but I missed being out in the ocean on the boat, so I gave in. At the moment before the boat was pulling out of the dock, my mom suddenly expressed, “Oh my, I forgot to get my clothes out of the washer,” and off she went. I was alone with my father. As was our habit, we didn’t speak to each other unless we had to, so when I went for the cooler and discovered there was only beer in it, I was pissed. When my brothers and I were young, it was our job to load up the cooler for the boat. My dad would tell us how much beer to put in, and we filled the rest up with our supermarket-brand sodas. This time my dad packed the cooler, and I assumed that he just selfishly packed himself drinks without thinking of me. When I began to complain, he silently reached into the cooler and pulled out a beer and handed it to me. “Oh.” That was the only word I allowed to come out my mouth, but in my heart everything suddenly got put right. I thought my mom had set us up to try force us to get along, but I realized that my dad must have been in on the plan. This was his way of making peace. After so much trouble and drama between us, this was my initiation into manhood. There I was, fishing and kicking back a few beers with my father. I let go of my pain and criticism. Later on, during that same summer, my dad’s brother came down to go fishing with him. When they came back, the only thing they had caught was a buzz. Sitting on the porch as the sun went down, they ended up getting a little lit up, and they began to tell stories about the good old days when they were in school. My younger brother Tom and I realized the correlation between their alcohol intake and the openness of detail in their stories, so we sat there ready at attention to make sure they never had to ask for a new beer. Tom and I just kept looking at each other and smiling. Dad used to be cool; we found out that he was really just like us.

It has been said that hard times reveal who we can really count on. The beers my dad and I had together so long ago didn’t magically take away all the issues we had between us, but after rushing into a poverty stricken marriage, having two kids way too soon, and then watching my life fall apart in a divorce, I have developed a growing respect, love and confidence in my dad. From help with busted water heaters and car engines that give up on life at precisely the worst moment to help with finances (but still holding me accountable to pay everything back), my dad has been there for me despite his frustrations at my refusal to pursue a sensible career like Chrysler. There is a poem I discovered during my first attempt at college right out of high school. I had yet to begin my own adventure into parenthood, so I didn’t really understand all the work and sacrifice it took. I spent a lot of time during my teen years just being angry at my dad for all of his weaknesses. This poem helped me to see my father with a new perspective:

“Those Winter Sundays”
by Robert E. Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

When I read that poem, I realized how much my dad really loved us all. How much he really loved me. Though my dad never really expresses himself in words, his actions prove true. There is a scripture that says, “Faith without works is dead” James 2:17. The word love could easily replace faith and it would be just as true and profound. Even though we don’t often see eye to eye, even though he doesn’t always understand my choices in life; when I am finally successful in all my art, I will be able to confidently say that I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of my father.

Peter L Richardson
11/11/2000

and going back two generations…

“Ode to Pop”
(my grandpop, my dad’s dad, on his passing)

The clouds covered up the stars, the storms swelled,
Yet he navigated his great boat.
Through the mist and through the raging waters
He steered his old ship.
Leaving port, he travailed dangerously
Down river:
Past shallow bottoms, above jagged rocks,
He steered faithfully toward his ocean.

One hand firmly grasped the wheel,
One eye housed on the diming light,
Into the great fog he traveled,
The ship’s passing through the night.

Peter L Richardson
1/10/99

Grandpop, 1996. PLR

Part I: Job’s Elegy on Death

Job Charcoal 1

Naked came I... PLR '99

“Every being born of a women is short-lived and full of trouble. He blossoms like a flower and withers away, fleeting as a shadow, he does not endure.” The Book of Job 14:1-2

We all know the clichés, we’ve all seen the bumper stickers: Life’s a Bitch and then You Die, You Can’t Take it With You When You Die, Two Things are Certain: Death and Taxes. Had cars existed in Job’s time, he may well have made his fortune coining cute phrases that speak a deeper, even if unpleasant, truth. Fortunately for us, Job speaks his truth considerably more eloquently than a bumper sticker; however, often his truth is just as unpleasant to hear. All the chapters of The Book of Job possess stunning imagery; each speaker uses poignant similes and metaphors to convey his ideas, but two chapters can be pulled out from the text and each stand alone as a complete poem. The first is Chapter 14. This is a speech Job gives at the end of the first cycle of debates with his friends. Fair warning: it is pretty depressing. It is not something you would expect to hear from a deacon at your church, or a man who has been a strong tower of security for many others, certainly not from someone considered to be the most righteous man on earth. Everything Job proclaims has truth to it, but we must consider Job’s state of mind when he makes this speech. He had lost every material possession and all of his kids in disaster; his wife has given up on him; his body is wracked with feverish pain; his skin is so bad it is constantly running with sores, so it is peeling off, and what is left is blackened with disease; he is coughing up blood and phlegm on a regular basis; he has chronic diarrhea, and now his friends who had come to comfort him have taken a round of verbal punches against his integrity. Job is depressed; so while we can accept everything he says in this portion of scripture as true, standing alone, it lacks the fullness of truth.
The Book of Job Chapter 14 can almost be considered the abridged version of Ecclesiastes. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon makes the argument that without faith in God, life is completely pointless and meaningless. Job comes to the same conclusion in this speech, yet his statement of hope is very short and easy to miss in the midst of Job‘s despair; however, it is very clear, and it speaks volumes about his faith in God. Let’s begin by examining the first six verses:

1Every being born of a women is short-lived and full of trouble.
2He blossoms like a flower and withers away;
fleeting as a shadow, he does not endure;
he is like a wineskin that perishes,
or a garment that moths have eaten.
3It is on such a creature you fix your eyes,
and bring him into court before you!
4Who can produce pure out of unclean? No one.
5Truly the days of such a one’s life are determined,
and the number of his months is known to you;
you have laid down a limit which cannot be exceeded.
6Look away from him therefore and leave him
to count off the hours like a hired labourer.

Job’s statement is very poetic, but what he’s really saying in verses 1-2 is literally, life’s a bitch and then you die! Job knows he has done everything humanly possible to please God, but he now, in verses 3-4, realizes that it can never be enough. If God was really to call us to account for our actions, humans, in our fallen state, would never be able to measure up to God’s standard of righteousness. Job recognizes in verse 5 that God possesses knowledge of every choice we make, good and bad, and he knows the time we are going to die. He concludes this thought in verse 6 with an excellent simile; we’ve all watched the clock at work, observing the minutes stretching into hours as time seems to move in slow motion, until we can finally go home and rest; Job now views his life as nothing but hard labor and he just wants to die. In the next section, Job focuses on the meaninglessness of life:

7If a tree is cut down,
there is hope that it will sprout again
and fresh shoots will not fail.
8Though its root becomes old in the earth,
its stump dieing in the ground,
9yet when it scents water it may break into bud
and make new growth like a young plant.
10But when a human being dies and all his power vanishes;
he expires, and where is he then?
11As the waters of a lake dwindle,
or as a river shrinks and runs dry,
12so mortal man lies down, never to rise
until the very sky splits open.

In verses 7-9, Job explains how vegetation is able to regenerate itself through seed, and often becomes renewed through trimming and exposure to water and the elements. Even a stump that looks dead may spring back to life, but that is not the case for humans. In verses 10-11, Job states that as we turn the corner of middle age, we have nothing to look forward to but our diminishing strength and eventual demise. However, we get our first glimpse of hope from Job in verse 12; man cannot come back to life as tree might, but Job recognizes a distant time when this age will end, and perhaps a new age will begin. As we see in the next section, Job understands that while our bodies are mortal, our spirits last much longer, perhaps even forever, in the next life:

13If only you would hide me in Sheol,
conceal me until your anger is past,
and only then fix a time to recall me to mind!
14If a man dies, can he live again?
He can never be roused from this sleep.
I would not lose hope, however long my service,
waiting for my relief to come.
15You would summon me, and I would answer;
You would long to see the creature you have made…

Sheol is the name the ancient Mesopotamians called the afterlife. In most of the Old Testament whenever the after life is mentioned as Sheol, the understanding of the place is that humans will exist in a dreamlike, sleep state whether they were good or bad. With all the pain Job is experiencing, he longs for this rest in the afterlife, but, in verses 13-15, he also adds a new revelation to the understanding of Sheol. Job believes that while his current life may be full of trouble and pain, he will receive deliverance in the afterlife. He believes that God is angry at him, but he takes hope in the fact that God, as his creator, will come to show love and affection to him. Just as a parent who may be angry at their child for a time will never lose affection for that child and will seek reconciliation, so Job will find relief and be able to spend eternity with his God in communion and in peace. Yet for now, he is still in the midst of pain and confusion, and he turns again to the meaninglessness of life:

16…whereas now you count my every step,
watching all my errant course.
17Every offense of mine is stored in your bag,
where you keep my iniquity under your seal.
18Yet as a falling mountainside is swept away,
and a rock is dislodged from its place,
19as water wears away stone,
and a cloudburst scours the soil from the land,
so you have wiped the hope of frail man;
20finally you overpower him, and he is gone;
with changed appearance he is banished from your sight.
21His sons may rise to honor, but he is unaware of it;
they may sink into obscurity, but he knows it not.
22His kinsfolk are grieved for him
and his slaves morn his loss.

Job laments in these last verses, 16-22, that this life is pointless. Whatever good you do is still overshadowed by your sin. God sees it all, it cannot be hidden from him, and no matter what we do in this life, it will all be forgotten anyway. No matter what accomplishments you make: you, your work, your descendants, and all memory of anything will be wiped away into obscurity. Pretty dismal, but even though these statements can be considered true, and even though Job catches on to a deeper understanding of eternity than most in his time had, in his despair, he is still lacking revelation. Let’s look at the life you are living right now. True, unless you are George Washington or The Beatles, no one in 100 years will probably remember that you existed. But consider the consequences of your choices on this earth. If you were all about selfishness and made choices that only helped yourself, and in the fallout caused harm to others, you have left a negative legacy on this earth, you made it a bit more shitty than it would have been otherwise. On the flip side, if you were all about giving and serving, and you made choices that benefit others as much as they would you, then you have left a positive legacy on this earth, and you made it a bit more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. Imagine if we humans were more selfless than we are selfish; imagine the kind of world we have the potential to possess if it wasn’t always about me, me, and me. So even if we leave the idea of rewards and punishments in the afterlife out of it, we see that our choices we make in life leave consequences that span the ages, and even have the potential to last into eternity. Additionally, even though Job wasn’t being punished for his sin, he did have it right when he laments that no human is righteous enough for God. However, God, in his love for us and his desire to be with us, did provide a way for us to be redeemed, and even though Job probably was not aware of the fullness of his own words, we can see the foreshadowing of God’s plan to bring a Savoir to the world, part of this foreshadowing is Job‘s statement of faith from this speech that he will have deliverance in the afterlife, but there is stronger evidence of prophecy in The Book of Job in other places. In a later Post we will look at the evidence of Jesus in The Book of Job.

  • All scripture references are from The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha.

Peter L Richardson

Hiking in Autumn

November 3, 2009

Peace. The only sound that surrounds me is the chorus of crickets and katydids and the nervous chatter of the creek as it pushes water up, over and around broken and disassembled stone. Lifting myself up on a stone perch, I almost slip as my fingers find the soft touch of moss hard to grip. I feel the cold stone through my jeans as I rest on the ancient foundation of a bridge with no road and no destination to boast of. Time has worn away his pride and the only paths to this place are traveled on foot. If you wish to cross this creek, you must learn to become a master rock-hopper.

The chill grows deeper in the air as the day pushes its way nearer to the close. The blue sky is fading to gray, pushing us ever nearer to the end of the year, but the foliage is still on fire in this turning of the seasons. Red, yellow and orange decorate trees once so deep green, once so fresh and innocent. Today the air is still and the leaves cling to their lives. Plenty have fallen to the ground; however, and they decorate with color the ferns and ivy still green against the dark brown earth. This is the time in between, the transition of seasons where one still longs for the glory of the sun but is fully aware that the harvest must be gathered up and stored for the long darkness. It won’t be long before the fire burns the leaves to brown and the mighty trees look just like sticks gathered about a wasteland, dead and sterile. But death here is just a trick. It won’t be long after the darkness that new buds appear and the gold and the green spring forth anew!

Still, the chill here and now reminds me of where I am presently. The smell of the earth and the must of the leaves is so great I can taste it in my mouth. Into my pores it invades my senses. There is no faint fragrance of flowers; the air is crisp, but the essence of a rain soaked earth rises up to my nostrils and into my mouth. New life is always ahead, but we must travel the path of the seasons in the order they come. The waters are streaming beneath me; the flow of the current shiny and then dark as the reflection moving in and out of the light and shadows reminds me of how fluid time is. There is no stopping it. There is no pause button out here. The light, pasty foam gathering on the running waters give testimony that you can circle around once or twice, but you must keep moving on.

I like to go deep in the woods. Far, far away to a place no cell phone tower could ever reach me. It is only here in Nature’s “silence” that my racing thoughts of worry and dismay can be drowned out. It is only on old paths that lead into nowhere that I can find who I am and where I stand. This is where I find my peace. There is a Spirit in nature that we can connect with. Our natives knew him well and had a deep respect for him. They knew how well connected everything really is. They paused and listened for the stillness. They listened in the stillness. They could hear the voice of the Great Spirit and they drank deep the cup of his wisdom. As we walk into the depths of creation, we meet our Creator. It is through him the stillness comes, and in the stillness, our rest, and in our rest new life is found. New energy and new ideas is found to conquer crowded agendas and to bring healing to hurting hearts. Nature cheats death every year. She is forever connected with her Creator. We can share in the same miracle. No matter what season we are in, we must delve deep into the wilderness, take in the glory and the beauty, and we can emerge with confidence that new life is just around the bend.

Peter L Richardson
10/21/09

“Hiking the PA Grand Canyon”

I tried to take a photo,
          but I couldn’t capture it,
The majesty too great for the frame,
          the detail too small to focus on.

I thought I’d paint a picture,
          but memory’s not worth the glory,
And colors I can create simply
          can’t capture this creation scene.

I decided to write a poem,
          but words simply don’t describe
          the imagery I see:
Rolling mountain hills cut deep and dark
In the valley by a bright blue river sparkling
In the sun with banks damasked with pastel
Purple and white against green grass and
Trees swaying in the breeze, the warm strong
Breeze that takes my breath away…

My travel companion sighs and says,
     “A picture is worth a thousand words,
               but being there is worth a thousand pictures…”

Words cannot describe your glory, and
          this is just the basest of your art.
The books you write upon our hearts,
          how you write beauty into our soul,
          the way you clear our mind with your Spirit
          so we cannot deny it when we hear it.

Being here with you;
          every time we meet,
                    it’s like being brand new.

Peter L Richardson
5/23/09