I am a father of four. My oldest is 13 and my youngest is now nearly 5. Over the last 13 years I have had many wonderful experiences as a father. I have also had many terrifying moments that made me sick to my stomach and certainly shaved a number of years off of my life. When my oldest was not yet 3 she was quite the “welcome to parenthood” manual. About the only thing she did perfectly was sleep at night. I still marvel at how soon and how well she slept through the night as a baby (especially when our youngest was nearly 3 before she started sleeping through the night. Perhaps the most terrifying moment of my parenthood came during the county fair when we were living in SE Missouri. The cul-de-sac to our home was directly across from the fair grounds. Because there was NO parking for the grounds, the car would park all up and down the road. Making a left off of our road was impossible. One day, while the fair was going on, I needed to make that left. So, what I had to do was make a right, find somewhere to turn around and then go back to where I really wanted to go. As I did this, I saw my daughter running out into the street towards oncoming traffic. I quickly spun my car to block ALL traffic jumped out of the car, and grabbed her before she was hit. You might be thinking, what kind of parent fails to watch their child when all of that is going on. I locked the deadbolt before I left because I knew our daughter had a habit of trying to go outside without supervision. My wife was in the restroom. My daughter had pulled up a chair to the door and unlocked the door on her own. We were good parents. We were attentive parents and the worst nearly happened because our daughter was a good climber, had freakishly strong hands, and was determined to give her daddy one more hug before he left for work.
So, when that child fell into that gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo my heart really did reach out to them. I understand how quickly a child can flat disappear from your eyesight. I understand that 20 seconds is often 19 seconds too long. (Like when #4 grabbed the knife while I turned to dump the vegetables into the pan after chopping them). And yet, the comments made in social media about these parents just flat floored me. I honestly read a comment made by one person that said it would have taught the parents a valuable lesson if the zoo had done nothing and let their son die. I read another that claimed the life of the gorilla was of far greater value than the life of that 4 year old boy. The gorilla is a critically endangered species, and there are plenty of little boys running around. That last one choked me up. I couldn’t believe I read that. As a father of four, as a father that has lost a child due to miscarriage, I cannot fathom thinking that because I have four other children or that because there are plenty of children in the world that it is okay for me to just give up one of those children for the sake of an animal.
Paul warned of those that were like this. He said that they did not have natural affection (Rom. 1:31). The English Standard Version translates it a little more harshly. He says that they are heartless. That sums up exactly how I felt about those that lashed out at the parents of this child and the zoo officials who make a quick decision which saved the life of that little boy. They are heartless. It is heartless to care more for an animal that for a child. It is heartless to blame the parents for wait took mere seconds to transpire. It is heartless to blame the zoo officials for thinking that they didn’t try to save the gorilla. The parents, the zoo keepers, they will have to live with the memory of this tragedy all the days of their lives. It will haunt them. It will change how the look at life, God’s creation, their parenting, the children, etc. Rather than lash out at them, we ought to be praying for them.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to Starved Rock State Park. It was one of those occasions I wished that I had researched the area a little better. I kept hearing rave reviews about how gorgeous the canyons were at the park. I wanted to not only take a few worms swimming, but I wanted to be able to hike around the trails and really enjoy the great outdoors. However, upon my arrival I learned that during the weekends it is rather swamped. In fact, it was so busy that the wouldn’t permit people to go beyond the 1st entrance into the park (at least not with a car). I was shocked to see thousands upon thousands of people ascending upon the park Saturday morning. It wasn’t long and our little fishing spot was getting crowded. By the time my eldest hooked her first fish we had people all around us. After she hooked her first fish people took over our fishing hole. At that time I thought it was best to perhaps hit some of the trails. What we learned was the trails were so packed that you couldn’t actually enjoy them. With 6 children in tow I would have spent more time trying not to be separated from them than I would have enjoying the beautiful scenery. So, we packed up and headed home. To be honest it was one of the worst trips to a state park I have experienced. My father had an opportunity to speak to a ranger that said that during the weekends the people from Chicago come down in droves. He explained that we really should have come earlier in the week if we wanted to enjoy all that the State Park had to offer.
As I drove the rest of the way home I got to thinking about the Robert E. Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” I have to admit, when I read that poem I think about how I have stood at many crossroads in my life. I think about how I could go the direction of the masses and how I am usually disappointed. Just like I was this past weekend. I would have much rather hit the Buffalo Rock State Park, which was just a few miles from Starved Rock. It was completely empty. (Or at least it looked that way as we drove by).
In religion Jesus taught the same principle. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matt. 7:13-14).” This is not to say that the having masses is a genuine sign that you are straying from God’s path, but if the masses are coming in droves maybe we ought to make certain that it is God that they are coming to. Not entertainment. No Free Groceries. Not a nice meal. But genuine, holy, worship of our God.
A few weeks ago my oldest finally had successfully bred rabbits. It was a pretty exciting time in our home. I was amazed at how little they were. I know babies are small (I have had four), but those tiny things were exceptionally small. I have really enjoyed watching their mother’s behavior through all of this. She was never known as a biter. She is/was very calm and docile. But she is very protective of her babies. My wife has been bit, she tried to bite me and my oldest at least a couple of times. The other day, i walked out to check on them and saw one of the babies sitting on her mother’s head. It sure looked like she was thinking “yep, this is what we mom’s put up with.”But, this will be rather short lived. In a few more weeks they will be leaving our home.
In the middle of all of this, we have had a great deal of turmoil in our home. My mother-in-law is sick. Her health worries my wife very much. She knows that worrying does nothing to help, but she worries, I worry. It makes my wife sad, discouraged and frustrated to know that in the end there is nothing we can do to make things better. This regretfully is having a negative impact on our home. I am afraid that we have been so consumed with what is going on in the home 7 hours way from us that we have forgotten what is going on in the home right here. My oldest starts her last year of Junior High in just a few months, turned 13 this year and clearly has entered into the teenage drama years. My oldest son is becoming a little man. My youngest son is struggling with anger, frustration, and my baby is turning five in a just 2 months. My wife and I got to talking, we only have a few short years to have a positive impact upon our children’s lives. If we aren’t careful we are going to turn around and our kids will be all grown up. No, this doesn’t mean that we are to make things all fun and games, but we do need to be teaching our children that life itself is a gift. If we walk around being grumpy, angry, frustrated and defeated we will be teaching our children to do the same thing. They will grow up thinking that is normal. I cannot have that. I realize that life is tough, but it is my job as a parent to make certain that my kids don’t see the struggle. Just like that momma rabbit, I need to protect my kids. Protect my kids from predators, protect them from them themselves (at times), and yes, protect them from my problems.
Saturday was quite the experience for me. I engaged in my first long distance relay run. We ran from Jefferson, IA to Des Moines, IA. It was a 75 mile run. We had a team of 8 which left us with the responsibility of running 2-3 times during the course of the day. It was a rather interesting day because we had typical Iowa weather. It was breezy and chilly to start the day. We had thunderstorms by midday and by the evening it was hot and muggy (at least for those of us from Iowa). I had one of the harder legs in the race. I was responsible for the longest single run at 5.8 miles and a grueling 4.4 mile run that had a few big hills and a long climb up another small hill. My first run went well. I thought I timed myself wonderfully. I felt good when it was over and was under the 10 minute mile mark (which is my ½ marathon pace). While I did have to run in the thunderstorm I was excited that I was able to put some distance between me and the runners behind me. My second run did not go as well as I had hoped. It was the hardest 4.4 miles I have ever run in my life. I have heard about people “hitting walls” while running and I think I really hit it for the 1st time. It was painful in every way. My lungs burned, my legs burned. And I was getting overheated. I hadn’t properly eaten or taken in liquids that day. As a result, I stopped sweating. If you know me, you know I sweat a lot when running. As I crossed the finish line, I collapsed on the ground. I gave everything I had to finishing that race. But the reality was, I felt broken. I wanted to quit. I wanted to walk away. And I honestly felt that I had no business running in any kind of race. When I got home, my legs started cramping. I couldn’t walk the 10 feet from my ride, to my truck without painful cramping. As a result, I dropped my “finisher” glass. As I looked at the broken glass on the sidewalk I realized I felt just like that glass. I was broken. I was defeated. I felt like I had nothing worthwhile offering.
What a defeatist mindset. I thought I had gotten beyond all of this “quitter,” “loser” talk 2 years ago when I convinced myself that I can. And yet, there I was honestly contemplating if I should just quit now because I couldn’t run 4.4 miles. What happened? I began comparing myself, and my achievements to those on my team, those running 5 minute miles and those running circles around me. Of course I am not as good as someone who has been running for 15 years. Of course I am not as healthy as a person who has taken care of themselves their whole lives. I spent 30 years of my life eating unhealthy foods, being lazy, etc. I have only been living healthy for the last 3 years. And a solid year of that was spent getting all that bad weight off of me.
So, I realized yesterday, I was not that broken glass. I am not worthless to my team, to my family, to my local church, and most importantly to God. The broken glass was just a slip of the fingers. It was not some omen. It was not some message from God that I should just walk away. Yes, my confidence was broken. But it was broken because I was looking at life in the wrong way. It makes me wonder how often those of us struggle with self worth do this to ourselves. Are we not a good provider because we don’t have Trump’s disposable income? Are we not a good housekeeper because our home doesn’t look like Martha Stewart’s? Are we not a good parent because our children are not the best at everything they do? Are we a failure at work because someone else does it better? No. No we are not. Stop comparing yourself to the best. Stop comparing yourself to someone else. When we do that we end up slipping and remain shattered on the sidewalk.
In recent months it seems that our whole nation has gotten itself into a tizzy about what is proper and what is not proper use of a bathroom. I know this sounds difficult to comprehend. I was very young when my mother and father pointed out the appropriate bathroom for me to use. The men’s restroom (or little boys) was designated by a silhouette of a person wearing pants. The women’s restroom (or little girls) was designated by a silhouette of a person wearing a skirt. It really seemed simple to me. The only times I have been confused is when eating at an authentic dining cuisine and they thought it would be cute to put a different language on the door without the silhouette. Now, I realize the issue recently is not really about whether or not a person is “confused” or incapable of properly reading the sign. The issue is that they don’t believe that they should be forced to use a bathroom that isn’t for the gender they identify with. Many states, schools, restaurants, and even target how now made it permissible to use whatever bathroom that essentially makes you feel the most comfortable.
This of course has resulted in a variety of reactions. Target is now being boycotted with more than 1 million people signing the online boycott and I am certain thousands more that haven’t bothered to sign it. Others have posted a variety of comments on Facebook as it seems that every day now I am reading something on my news feed about the dangers that this policy creates to our children, especially our girls. Are there going to be people who take advantage of this policy? Yes. Yes there will be. Did these predators exist before the policies existed? Yes. Yes they did. To be honest, I personally feel that these really distract us from what the real issue is. The issue is not whether or not I am a bad person now for shopping at Target (I haven’t regularly shopped at Target in 6 years). The issue is not whether it has become more difficult to protect my children. My wife and I have never permitted our children to use a public restroom without adult supervision. I am bothered by this whole issue because it is yet another sin that is being called normal.
Our society has accepted more and more sins as if they is the way it should be. We not only are engaging in these sins, but we give hearty approval to those that engage in such things. It started off as little things over the last 100+ years. But the moral foundation for our society is crumbling. Modesty, vulgarity, drunkenness, drug use, fornication, adultery, greed, homosexuality, trans-genders, and the so many more are no longer considered sinful. They are considered normal behavior of the 21st century American. I won’t deny that someone might feel more comfortable being a man (even though she is a woman). I won’t deny that some might feel more comfortable being a woman (even that he is a man). But that isn’t the issue either. I might feel more comfortable having multiple wives, but that doesn’t give me the right to. I might feel more comfortable blowing off steam whenever I start to get angry. But, that doesn’t give me the right to start hurting people when I lose my cool. I might feel more comfortable never getting married, but that doesn’t give me the right to commit fornication. I might feel more comfortable abandoning my marriage, children, etc. But, that doesn’t give me the right. We are so caught up on what feels good and feels right, that we have forgotten what is right and what is good. What does the bible say is right? Deut. 22:5 “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.”