Sociology 101, Christmas, and Love

“It’s going to be like a real-life sociology lesson.”  That’s what a close friend said to me last Friday night.  What she was referring to was probably the most meaningful event of my almost 20 year old life up to this point, outside of my salvation in Christ.  After almost 18 years of disappointment, questions, hate, anger, sadness, and prayer that something would change….it did.

This past Saturday I met my dad.  It was one of, if not the most, emotionally and mentally challenging situations of the past year.  July 2009 I started contacting him over Facebook.  A couple of months ago, I decided I wanted to meet the man that was halfway responsible for me being here.  I decided that I couldn’t go any longer without hearing his voice.  For some reason, God chose now, now being the past year and a half, to start mending our relationship.

I’ve gotten to know my dad in a limited way over Facebook.  I know his favorite sports teams, what his job is, how his family is doing, and all that stuff.  I still to this day don’t know why I responded to his initial Facebook message.  But God has truly done a miracle.  Everything is not perfect, and there is no way to make up for lost time.  We both understand that.  We also understand that nothing, NOTHING, NOTHING is impossible with God.  And we know that God is making a way for us to have a relationship.  After all these years of hate and anger and not knowing, God has brought us together.  I not only hope that things will continue to improve and we continue to get to know each other…I know they will.  God is absolutely, truly, indescribably awesome.

I remember the years I would cry myself to sleep because I didn’t know my dad.  I remember getting in arguments with mom and thinking “why couldn’t he stay?” All these questions.  Why didn’t he try harder?  Why didn’t it work?  Was it my fault?  To anybody reading this who is a child of divorce…it is never your fault.  If you think that way…Satan has already won.  Things happen.  Sometimes life sucks.  We move on.  For those of us who are in the Lord, who know Christ, we move on with joy because we know our final home is not on this earth.

For years, I hated my father.  I couldn’t forgive him.  It hurts me to write this, because I know he’s going to read this.  What he did was wrong.  But he doesn’t need me to tell him that.  I’m not his judge.  And God has not only changed my life…He’s changed my dad’s as well.  It took me a long time to forgive him.  And I felt so much better, I can’t even describe the burden that was lifted off my heart.  I was just a happier person to be around.

So, years pass, and then we start talking.  Again, a few months ago, I decide I want to meet him.  This past Saturday, Mom came and told me that Dad was at Cracker Barrel, where we were meeting.  I freaked out.  I had felt like I was going to puke up the past ten meals I had eaten.  This was the man that had made me and mom miserable.  This was the man that although I had talked to him, I felt like I didn’t know him, because I had never seen him.  Then I remembered that God was capable of anything.  I prayed that the Lord would strengthen me and give me peace.  Of course, He came through again.  I remembered all the conversations me and dad had, and how we started laughing and crying and smiling because we knew that through all the pain, all the hurt, all the…everything, God is good.  And God is moving.

We pull into Cracker Barrel.  I see him sitting on the bench.  I’m in the car, shaking.  My beautiful, incredible, loving, Godly mother puts her hand on my knee and says: “Neal…look at me.  I love you.  And you know that through all of this, I have supported you.  I love you…so very much.  I am 100% behind you, and will never stop loving you.  Let’s do this.”  Before I go on, I’d like to thank Cracker Barrel for the “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” song outside.  That definitely made me cry more…thanks.  My dad extends his hand, I shake it and let out a faint “hey.”  Before I know it, I’m wrapping my arms around my dad, we’re both crying, and it hits me.  My dad…will always be my dad.  Without him, I really wouldn’t be here.  And in a weird way, he is partially responsible for who I am today.  He did give me some good traits.  And even in the negative things, I learned from his mistakes.  And I’ve made my own mistakes and learned from them.  Parents aren’t perfect.  My own mother is about as close to perfect as you can get, but I know she’s messed up, if only once or twice.  But I know she loves me.  I know she loves the Lord.  And, finally, I can say the same about my dad.

We sit and have nice conversation over lunch, mostly involving me devouring savory grilled catfish, fried apples, and macaroni and cheese, and…whatever they ate.  Finally, at the end, we get up to leave, and I’ll never forget what he said to me before we left: “This has made my Christmas.”

As this semester draws to a close, I’m reminded of what God can do.  He has blessed me with some beautiful people, some incredible friends in my life.  I am so thankful for you all.  If you’re reading this through Facebook, you’re probably one of them.  He is moving in my life now, through the drama team, through the worship team, through the relationships and people He has sent my way.

And I am reminded of how unworthy of it all I really am.  I’m reminded that just a year ago, I was caught up living my life my way.  I was forgetting my salvation and the call God placed on my life.  I’m reminded how God called someone who had an addiction to sin, an anger problem, problems with respect, pride, selfishness, and anything else you want to throw out there, to a small town in Virginia to serve as a camp counselor.  I’m reminded of that warm Thursday night in July where 20 young men gave their lives to the Lord.  And now, I remember a cold Saturday morning in December where 18 years of frustration, anger, and bitterness started to melt away.

This life isn’t about me.  Saturday wasn’t about me.  It wasn’t about my mother.  It wasn’t about my dad.  It was about God.  It’s all about God.  If we don’t start living our lives this way, we’re in trouble.  I didn’t think there was any way my dad and I would ever get along, much less have a relationship with each other.  But because of God’s grace and His provision, the impossible has become possible.  Sound familiar?  Christ did the same thing 2,000 years ago on a cross.  He made the impossible…salvation….possible.  He bridged that gap.  Let’s not forget what love truly is.  This Christmas season, let’s take Christmas back and make it about Him.

I told my mom recently that she doesn’t have to get me anything.  I know she will, because that’s who she is.  But I know she loves me whether she buys me gifts or not.  How?  Because when I come home on the weekends, my key to the house works.  My bed is there.  The water is running.  I am guaranteed a meal, usually cooked and always amazing.  And she does things everyday that tell me that no matter what, she loves me.  And I will always love and appreciate her.

I don’t want gifts.  I want to thank and grow closer to the gift-giver.  I want to spend time with the people that matter: my mom, my grandparents, my cousins, my friends.  I really am rich.  Not materially or financially, but I am rich in that I know the Lord, and that I have family and friends that love and cherish me.  And whether we think it or not, as David Platt puts it in “Radical,” if we have running water, shelter, food, and several sets of clothes and some form of transportation…we are in the top 15% of the world’s wealth.  Not America’s.  The world’s.  Don’t forget…America is NOT the only country out there.  It is NOT the only place God cares about.

I just want to encourage whoever reads this to not take this holiday season for granted.  I was told a couple days ago that a woman that I helped move in, the woman that was the subject of a previous post, a woman that had cancer, wasn’t going to see this Christmas.  She passed away a week after we moved her in.  Don’t forget what you have, and don’t forget that all we have belongs to the Lord.

Lastly, back to the subject of sociology and my dad.  It truly was a lesson.  I learned where I got traits from, and why I do some of the things I do.  I sat at that table and studied my dad.  Interesting stuff.  But more than that, I gained a lesson from God.  He showed me that no matter what I thought, no matter what had happened in the past, and no matter what’s going to happen in the future, He is strong enough to do anything, including healing me and my dad’s relationship.  It’s something that I’ve been shown this semester as well.  As I go throughout my classes and my different interactions, I see God at work.  I see Him at work when I have trouble with a class or with a person.  He is there and He is faithful.  I see His blessings poured out, and it’s nothing I’ve done.  It’s all Him.

Saturday was all Him.  Finally, I can say that I know what my dad’s voice sounds like.  I know what he looks like.  I know that he loves me.  And I know that none of that was possible without the almighty God.  I know that there is NOTHING He cannot do.  I know that I’ve already received the best gift I could receive through my salvation in Christ.  And this Christmas, I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to meet my dad.  I know he feels the same way.  Again…I know, finally, that he loves me.  And Dad, when you read this….

I love you too.

God bless,

Neal

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