About 2 years after my dad passed away, my mom remarried, and I wasn't too keen on the idea of a stepfather. It wasn't even personal - I had just worked out a system for getting what I wanted from my exhausted mother, and I knew a stepfather would disrupt my nice equilibrium. Yet up until their wedding, he had only seen my scheming ways in small doses. Surely once we were under the same roof, he would truly understand just how much of a hellion I was and go running for the hills. I would be back to spending my afternoons eating Cheetos and watching Nickelodeon in no time. Boy, did I bring out the big guns, too. My stepfather drove an old, beat up, 2-door Chevy Blazer with the ceiling liner held together by thumbtacks. When our next door neighbor bought a nice car for his 16 year old son, I saw my opportunity and pounced. "How does it feel to have a high schooler who makes straight D's be driving a nicer car than you?" Burn! This was it - surely he would blow up, just like Mrs. Fleming. I rubbed my hands together like a praying mantis and enjoyed an internal sinister laugh. Yet his response completely bucked my expectations - he didn't even get angry. He just looked me in the eye and said very calmly: "I don't compare myself to other people."
|My Step-Dad, Peter, Me, and my Wife|
I have no doubt that my words were extremely hurtful, and I am ashamed of myself when I think back on all of the stupid, malicious things I said. In fact, I think part of the reason I'm so scared of having kids is I'm afraid they'll turn out like me, and I don't have half the patience of my stepfather. Yet for some reason, my stepdad thought I was worth fighting for. He thought I was worth driving an old car and working strenuous hours so that he could provide endless opportunities for me. Even though I wasn't his own flesh and blood, he thought I was worth loving unconditionally - even when I was the most ungrateful of little devils. He never tried to appease me, but rather loved me in the way he knew I needed - forcing me to do yard work and chores around the house, prohibiting me from being inside on sunny days (I literally wasn't allowed in the house - even if I was bleeding. "It's just a flesh wound - keep on playing!" he would say). I may have loathed these methods at the time, but the older I get, the more I appreciate the way he loved me. When the Bible refers to God being our Abba, our Father, our Daddy, the only reason I can even comprehend the analogy is because of the way he loved me fiercely. His love wasn't kind and rosy, it was the kind of love that put on boxing gloves and was willing to fight to the death for a lasting relationship with me.
This crazy, reckless kind of love wasn't limited to my stepfather, either - his whole family seemed to have the same disease. They loved me abundantly, and welcomed me with open arms. I was surprised most by the oldest of the cousins because I had officially taken his spot as the eldest of the clan, and I guess I thought we'd have a sort of Game of Thrones battle for who would be greatest of the cousins. Yet he didn't seem to care about this at all, and just loved me. It's quite an odd feeling to be told a bunch of strangers are now your family, but he made everything feel right by just being a fun, close friend all the time. As much as I tried to push them away, these people seemed to see through my obnoxious ways and pernicious words and fought hard to show me love. Before then, I didn't think I was worth it.
|I thought I looked cool, but really I was just annoying|
My friend Peter leads a weekly Bible study of local business leaders, and last week he brought up Proverbs 1:08: "Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching." It seems like a simple concept, but we all kind of struggled with it because, well, all of our family situations are messy. Our parents don't always seem to give the best advice. Every single person I know has been painfully hurt by a divorce in some way (no exceptions). I personally know pastors who have broken up their families because of extramarital affairs. I know a father who gave up a relationship with his child because he preferred the taste of cocaine. So my instinct is to chuck this verse out the window out of cultural irrelevance. Sure, during biblical times when family life was A-okay, I'm sure this proverb made sense, but not now. Yet the more I read the Bible, the more I learn the family situations were just as messy then, if not even more so. Absalom raped his dad's wives on the palace roof for everyone to see (seriously, read 2 Samuel). In 1 Corinthians, we read about a guy who is sleeping with his stepmother. The list is endless! Yet Paul still has the gall in Ephesians 6 to reiterate Old Testament scripture and command "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." God knows family relationships are messy, then and now, and yet He doesn't let us off the hook - He says they're worth fighting for. The fights may be vicious, they may be painful, but they are worth it.
|Family worth fighting for|
A few years ago, my favorite cousin, the one who loved and welcomed me so dearly, stopped speaking with our family. He speaks with his father, but he disowned his mother, sister, stepfather, aunt, uncle, grandparents, and me. I don't really know why, but I'm sure he has his reasons - families are messy. Yet no reason could keep my heart from being mangled and torn - I miss him. I've seen the tears flow on Mother's Day, I've stared at the empty space at the Thanksgiving table, and I've witnessed the lack of Christmas cheer. Last Saturday, I signed on to Facebook and discovered he had gotten married that day, and well, I guess my invitation got lost in the mail. As I gazed at the wedding photos, I began to wail. I wanted to be there to support him, I wanted to welcome his wife to the family with the great love he had shown me. I wept as I thought of his mom not being there to kiss him and make sure his tux looked just right. I cried through the night, longing for restoration. Yet this week my sadness has transformed into a fierce desire to fight. I just sent him an e-mail congratulating him on his nuptials, and invited him and his bride to Atlanta for an all-expenses paid trip. Tonight, I go to bed praying he responds. I know I may end up hurt, bloodied and bruised, but I don't care - I'm ready to fight. I know he's worth it.
What I'm listening to during this post: