A Letter to My Dad

Dad,

It’s been a while since we last talked, but I think about you nearly everyday. When I do think of you, my heart aches. There are so many things I wish we could change about our past and about our current relationship. Or, I should say, lack of relationship.

I try not to hold anything against you and the trajectory our relationship has been on since I was eleven, but the day you left our lives, it crushed me like a ton of bricks. I do, however, have to say thank you. Thank you for teaching me what forgiveness is and how I have to choose everyday to walk in forgiveness. It doesn’t come naturally. I have to choose it. I also can’t condemn myself for those moments where I am just angry at where we are and how my life has had to be lived without you.

It feels like I have been half a person for the last 25 years. Not fully knowing who I am and being ashamed that I don’t have my dad around. Did you know that I didn’t have many close friends in high school because I was ashamed that they may find out about my family dynamic and would never want to be around me again? Did you know that because you left, mom had to get multiple jobs to support our family and I got left taking care of my brothers?

I was eleven and I immediately had to step into adulthood. I didn’t have the choice of being an adolescent and making mistakes. There were two boys to help raise.

Did you know I taught Ray and Wes all the things a dad is suppose to teach their sons? But, guess what? I didn’t cover everything because I was still trying to figure it out myself. Sure we had a step-dad around, but I couldn’t let him in. Once your the alpha of a house, it is incredibly difficult to turn over those reins while you still live there.

Guess who became the mediator? Who problem solved and disciplined and fixed relationships? Guess who mom leaned on to make our family work and to keep going? It definitely wasn’t the person it should have been, you.

Your actions stole away my childhood from me and I will never get that back. I just want you to say that you are sorry. But, I don’t think you can, because that would be taking responsibility for our relationship being non-existent. From the texts that I have received from you, I get the sense that you don’t feel responsible.

I look at other men and their dad’s a feel a sense of jealousy when their dad is their best friend. Their dad isn’t trying to control them or manipulate their relationship. He is a friend and a close advisor. Their dad helps them navigate fatherhood and is there to ask questions and give advise. Who do I have to turn to? So many aspects of life have been taken away.

What I’ve come to realize is that my relationship with you affects how I view my relationship with God. Father’s give their sons identity, confidence, and security. All of which, I have been lacking, but am now finding more and more of in my Heavenly Father.

The problem is me getting past seeing God in the same light in which I see you. Aloof and selfish are not characteristics of God. It’s hard for me to see how God actually cares about my life and wants to know the intimate details. It’s hard to see how God values me and wants a relationship with me. He watches over me and cares about who I am becoming. He speaks to me all day long and wants the best for me. It’s incredibly hard to see these things in God, because I don’t see them in you.

I know I can’t hold you to God’s standards, but I wish you were more like him. I wish things were different and that you had never left. Another wish is that we were best friends and that I could lean into our relationship.

One of my biggest joys would be to do life with you. But, for true reconciliation to happen, I need you to take responsibility and the first step. I want this more than you will ever know. When I think of you, I want to see God through that same lens. I know it’s possible. You just have to be willing to walk the lonely street of humility. I know you can do it because, for 25 years, the street of humility is all I’ve known.

I guess the last thing for me to say is, “I forgive you, dad.”

Don’t miss a blog post! Subscribe here.

My Fathers Day Parent Fail

Parent Fail

Another Father’s Day has come and gone. My relationship with my own dad hasn’t changed. It’s not that I haven’t reached out. In fact, I texted him early in the morning to let him know I was thinking of him and that I love him. But, no response. I’m not surprised. Hurt, whether justified or not, does that to people. It closes them off to all possibilities.

I’m not holding anything against my dad, but years of hurt and separation have built up a seemingly insurmountable wall. Just as difficult as it is to be a dad, it is challenging to know how to be a son. Couple these difficulties with the stubborn, hard-headed, selfish people we are and you’ll see a glimpse of why making our relationship work will take a ton of work. Relationships don’t just happen because of genetics or DNA matches. They take time and energy from two people giving selflessly to one another.

Father’s Day weekend was full of excitement for me. I got to spend the day with my wife and kids on Friday as we celebrated. We went to dinner, opened cards, and went shopping for new golf shirts. I went golfing with a friend on Saturday, followed by a trip to the Hot Air Balloon Festival. It was the first time I’d ever seen hot air balloons in person. I didn’t realize how massive one balloon is. (I’ve never desired to go up in one. It’s just something about a wicker basket being the only thing between me and death that has given me no desire to ride in a balloon.) Sunday, we went to church and I saw my family, but I didn’t really get their attention until after I got home.

For me, Sunday is like being the maestro of an orchestra. There are so many moving parts and I direct them all. The difference between me and a maestro is sometimes I have to sit in one of the orchestra chairs and play while still directing. At home, it was back to the pool, in our backyard, for the whole family. I was attempting to rest but was plagued by thoughts and emotions towards my dad. Why hadn’t he responded to my text?

So where is my parent fail in all of this?

I got Jonas, my five-year-old, into golf over the past few years. I’ve taken him to a miniature golf course a few times and last summer I took him to his first ever public course. He absolutely loved his experience. This spring when other kids were signing up for T-Ball and soccer, Jonas signed up for golf lessons. Before you go thinking that I forced him into this, it was his choice. We gave him options and were fine with him not doing anything if he didn’t want. I mean he’s five and only a kid for so long, why force him to grow up, play a particular sport, and be miserable for the next 15 years.

I’m not going to lie, there are selfish reasons I wanted Jonas to choose golf. I wanted there to be something he and I could love doing together. The reason Father’s Day is such a huge day for me is because with my two and five-year-olds, I am a not factor in their day when mommy’s around…except on Father’s Day.

I went to all of his lessons with him. I’m the crazy parent helping his kid learn golf while the instructors were “teaching”. (I may have felt it could have been done a lot better for the cost.) I also know Jonas’s attention span is infinitesimal and he would need a guiding hand to keep him on task. Every time he plays, he gets better and better. The biggest lesson he has to learn at this age is to stay focused and keep his feet planted.

Surprisingly, Jonas loves golf. He was excited about going to his lessons and would even count down the days until his next lesson. Which is why I shouldn’t have been surprised about his reaction when he found out that daddy was going golfing on Father’s Day weekend without him.

My friend Michael and I were planning on going golfing the Wednesday after Father’s Day, but some things came up so we moved it to the weekend. I got my clubs out Friday night, cleaned them, and sat them by the door so they would be ready to go when Michael arrived the next morning. Our tee time wasn’t until almost 9 am, so my morning routine was the same as every morning. I had two cups of coffee and passed the time reading. Jonas woke up, came into the living room about 7:45 am, saw my golf clubs, and his eyes got as big as saucers. If he were a cartoon, his eyes would have come out of his head and grown bigger than his face. He was so excited as he asked, “Am I going golfing today?”

There are times every parent lets their kids down. Most of the time they are not higher than a hot-air balloon can travel, but Jonas escalated to these heights quickly. And like any mischievous cartoon character would, I pricked his bubble with a large needle. “No buddy, daddy is going golfing with a friend. But, Jonas and daddy will go soon.” And with those words, he was crushed and began to wail. It wasn’t just a small cry. It was as if, in a split second, I had taken out his heart and crushed it on the ground. Father’s Day weekend and I had crushed his spirit. Way to go dad.

I should have planned to take him at some point before this, because up to this point we hadn’t gone just the two of us. As he sat on the couch, next to his mom sobbing and saying, “I just want to go golf.” I searched for words of comfort and relief. The only thing I could think of was to promise we’d go golfing on the following Monday. The crying subsided until Michael arrived and we loaded up the clubs. As I kissed Alissa good-bye, it was amid the wailing of a five-year-old that just wanted to go golfing with his daddy. On Father’s Day weekend, no less.

I left feeling awful and a little guilty for not including Jonas. But, the weekend wasn’t a loss. After golf, I came home and my nephew came and stayed the night with Jonas. We went to the hot air balloon festival, they rode rides and played games.

What I’ve come to realize is that if we truly want to show the people we love how much we love them, we need to meet them on their terms. Truly loving someone isn’t coercing them into doing what we want, and when we want them to do it with us. Loving someone is selfless. It’s doing what they want even if it isn’t that fun for us. And here’s the catch: choose to have fun in the moment. It’s not about what you are doing, but about the moments shared with the individual.

I want my dad to meet me on my terms, but love doesn’t require that. Love goes to them and even gets dirty in the process. Jesus was incredible at meeting people where they were and getting dirty in the process. He met a blind man, spit on the ground, made some mud and rubbed it on the guy’s eyes. Jesus tells the guy to go wash and he will receive sight. But, Jesus’s hands got dirty in the process.

Love is hopping in the pool with your son for the fifth day in a row, not because you are excited to do so, and in spite of the millions of tasks you could be doing, but because it’s an activity he loves. Love is planning an event with the people you love, doing whatever it is they love. It’s taking your five-year-old to the golf course and spending that time loving on them and teaching them how to play. Most of all, love is enjoying the moments just because you are with someone doing something they love.

Don’t miss a blog post! Subscribe here.

Do Scary Things

Hi! My name is Esther, and if we were sitting down at a coffee shop together, I would be drinking a tea latte while asking you a thousand questions about your life. (I’m an introvert who loves to listen to people tell their stories.) But after a while of telling me your life story, you’d probably stop and say, “So now tell me about you!” And this is when you get to take a sip of the coffee you ordered thirty minutes ago that’s starting to get cold.

In a nutshell, I’m a university professor, writer, speaker, pianist, and wife to a ridiculously brilliant guy who’s on staff at a church. Me and my husband’s long-term dream is to one day move to Japan to start a church. Oh, and I’m writing my first book! But I’m getting ahead of myself; I’ll come back to that later…

A number of years ago, I participated in an international piano festival in D.C. and auditioned to perform on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. Exciting, right? It should have been, but I was more scared than excited—the I’m-so-nervous-I-want-to-throw-up kind of scared. This was months after I earned a master’s degree in piano performance, and as big as that accomplishment was, I didn’t feel very accomplished. I felt like an imposter.

Let me back up a bit and explain. The university where I did my grad studies had a competition where students auditioned for a chance to perform a concerto with the university symphony. I worked on my piece for a year while doing occupational therapy for hand problems—drilling rough passages, icing my hands, memorizing every detail of my score, heating my hands…Honestly, it was the kind of piece that I should not have been able to play with all the hand issues I was dealing with, but I learned it! And when audition day came, I poured out my soul on the stage. Being able to compete and perform the way I did was a big deal and should have been affirmation enough for me, but it wasn’t. I wanted to win.

The following day, as soon as I arrived on campus, I rushed to the bulletin board where the results of the competition were posted. I read the words on the white paper. I panicked and read it again. There were four names on the list; my name wasn’t one of them. That loss felt like a failure. What am I doing here? Why am I pursuing this degree? Is this a sign that I should quit?

I didn’t quit. I graduated, and two years later I finally had the opportunity to perform that concerto with an orchestra, and it was an amazing experience. But between finishing grad school and that amazing concerto experience, I had the Kennedy Center audition. Painful memories of my previous audition haunted me. I’m going to be found out. They’re going to see I’m an imposter. I’m going to make a fool of myself. It was scary. And I did it anyway. And you know what? I didn’t make a fool of myself. I played at the Kennedy Center. And four years later, I went back and did it again.

I’m the kind of person who feels deeply. I embrace every emotion I feel, including fear. In fact, when I’m embarking on something big, I’ve found that fear exhilarates me! I know this sounds crazy, but stay with me.

There’s a common phrase that I believe sabotages the dreams and potential of so many people: “No fear.” Big dreams require bravery. That doesn’t mean we have to have no fear, but we face the things that scare us and do them anyway. And when a God-sized, Kingdom dream is scary, then we can get excited because we know that it’s too big for us to do in our ability. And that’s when we know it’s big enough for God to show off and display what only He can do.

So what do we do when we have a God-sized dream and we’re scared? The answer, though not easy, is quite simple:

Pray + take the step in front of you.

Don’t use prayer as a crutch that keeps you from moving forward, and don’t take any steps without praying. Do both. That’s it. Really? Yup! But don’t we need to research and seek advice? If that’s the step in front of you, then yes! But if you’re trying to stall, then tell your trusted friends and advisors to give you a light push (or shove) and take the step that’s right in front of you.

So let’s get back to that book I’m writing. Writing your first book is scary! And when I first felt God whispering this idea into my heart, I was terrified! I know that people write books every day, but this is way out of my element. I write a blog, but writing a book is so much…bigger! It’s way more research, a way more intense commitment, and a way bigger risk. What if no publisher wants to take a risk on a “nobody” in the publishing world? What if it gets published and nobody buys it? What if 99% of the reviews of my book on Amazon are 1 star and the other 1% is 5 stars because that’s the review my husband wrote? What if, what if, what if.

What if this book is what will make the difference between hope and despair for someone? What if this book is the answer to hundreds of desperate people’s prayers? What if this book is just the tip of the iceberg of something amazing God wants to do?

I pray about this book every moment I think about it. I pray about it when I’m starting my day and looking over my to-do lists. I pray about it in bookstores when I’m standing in the aisle in front of the bookshelf that could one day hold it. I pray about it as my head rests on my pillow and I drift out of consciousness.

And I also take each step in front of me. No leaps. Just steps, one at a time. The first step was to start writing in my journal. The next was to buy a notebook devoted to writing this book. Then after that, I told a few people so they could cheer me on and make sure I didn’t quit.

Each step leads to another. And the more steps I take, the less scary this dream appears. I’m still scared, but I’m also growing in the confidence that God is in this, carrying me, guiding me, doing what only He can do.

There was one Monday morning when I felt like I was drowning in the bigness of this dream and I exclaimed, “God, I don’t know what I’m doing! I need a writing coach!” Later that morning, I was scrolling through social media and one of my favorite authors had a bunch of videos on Instagram about how she was going to open her schedule to do some coaching calls. Talk about God’s timing! He totally delivered! Oh, and that coaching call ended up being a life changing experience that transformed insurmountable, blind leaps into clear, doable steps. If you pray and take each step in front of you, God will show off in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine!

I bet God has asked you to do something scary, too—something significant, something way bigger than you can handle on your own. And if He hasn’t, don’t worry…He will! So let’s harness ourselves to a big God who holds all things together and let’s go do some scary things!