No Pain, No Gain

Sky Fitness

“No pain, no gain” was a popular saying back in the 90’s. My thought was, I’d rather not gain anything if it means I can avoid the pain. I hate pain. We all hate pain, and I’ve been known to try to avoid it as much as possible. The problem is I got hurt a ton as a kid. From bike wrecks to dodgeballs to the face, I just could not avoid pain very well. It always seemed to find me in the most unexpected ways.

Threat of pain aside, I still love sports. I played baseball from kindergarten into high school and football from 7th through 10th grade. For someone who doesn’t like pain, I put myself through a lot of pain to get better at both of these sports. For example, I once got hit in the face by a baseball. I put my glove on the ground to catch a ground ball, it came in so fast that it rolled up, hit my palm, and bounced up into my nose. I know it may not sound bad, but it left a bloody spot that looked like the laces from the baseball. It hurt, however, I learned a valuable lesson in timing the squeezing of the glove that I may not have learned without that pain.

For someone that doesn’t like pain, you’d think I would have avoided playing football – it may have been the most painful experience of my life. One of the worst hits I took was in 9th-grade football. When I say I was small in 9th grade, it may be a huge understatement. I was 5’1” tall and maybe weighed a little over 100 lbs on a good day. Most of the other guys on the team had already hit their growth spurts and were quite a bit bigger than me. I was the smallest guy on the team, but what I lacked in size, I made up for with heart. I was determined to be the best. Whatever the coach wanted me to do, I was there.

On one particular day at practice, the coach decided to put me in at nose guard. I don’t know if you are familiar with where the nose guard plays, but it isn’t way back off the ball with all the smaller athletes. The nose guard is on defense and plays right in front of the center. That’s right – the coach put me on the defensive line, with all of the biggest guys on the team.

I was hesitant, but jumped at the opportunity to get in and play. When the ball was hiked, I shot up, ready to push my way through to the ball. The only thing was, there was no one there to push out of the way. I ended up stepping into the gap where the fullback was about to come through. As I saw him, I ran toward him to tackle him, but I was so much smaller than him, he just ran over me! As we both fell towards the ground, I tried to catch myself with my right arm. Which would have been okay to do, if it hadn’t been for the fullback landing on top of me. This bent my fingers back to my forearm and caused immediate swelling in my wrist.

I jumped up, wincing in pain and walked to the sideline. The coach looked at it and said the infamous line, “Just go walk it off.” As if by some happenstance the act of walking around the football field would magically heal the swelling in my wrist that had now tripled in size. I walked around for the rest of practice, unable to move my hand without excruciating pain. After I got in the car and told my mom what had happened and that we needed to go to the doctor, I finally cried. It hurt a lot. My wrist ended up having a hairline fracture and I had to wear a cast for a few weeks. But, did that stop me from playing football ever again? Nope. I was back on the field as soon as I got better.

As I sit here writing, my entire body is extremely sore. I can’t so much as twitch without pain. My breaths are shallow, and there is an aura of pain around me. Usually, if I wake up like this, I’d think maybe I slept wrong or maybe something worse is happening. However, knowing the context and what I’ve been doing for the last week helps me understand the way I feel today. I don’t like it, but I know it is going to be worth it.

Last week I started working out at the gym for the first time in almost three years. I went pretty regularly before we had kids, and after kids, it became a little more complicated. Alissa’s work schedule forces me to be the one responsible for dropping off and picking up the kids. The first four years of Jonas’s life, taking him to and from daycare added almost 2 hours to our daily commute. By the time I got the kids home, I didn’t want to drive anywhere else. And so, I stopped going to the gym. 

I’m a morning person, so I’ve always liked working out in the mornings. Waking up in the morning, I have a sense of optimism of what the day will bring. No, I don’t always pop right out of bed. There are many occasions I have to force myself to get up and start the day. Especially, now that we have two kids that are capable of waking me up multiple times throughout the night. Once the evening hits, working out doesn’t sound appealing. When I finish work, I want the remainder of my day to be about my family and exerting my energy into wrestling with Jonas and Eliana. 

One of the hardest parts of working out is the incredible amount of soreness you feel in the first couple of weeks. The only thing you can do to combat the soreness is drink water and stretch. If you can make it through that first couple of weeks, the soreness starts to dissipate. Working out is a constant cycle of breaking down muscles so that your body can heal them back stronger. When it comes to the gym, we will endure incredible amounts of pain because we know it is the only way to get fit and get our bodies to our ideal image. 

Outside of the gym, we spend an awful lot of our time trying to avoid pain. We tip-toe around people because we don’t want to get into an argument. We pray for God to help us avoid heartaches that may come. In the middle of going through difficult times in life, we try to pray the pain away. We want God to move and do miracles to bring us out of our situation. It’s amazing to me how many people start to believe in God or even just pray when they start to go through pain. When God seemingly “fails” to take the pain away, people stop believing or feel validated to condemn God to be nothing more than a crutch to help the weak-minded get through life.

As Jesus followers, we many times blame our pain on “spiritual attacks.” I’m not discrediting the fact that we have an enemy who wants to, as the Bible says, “…steal, kill, and destroy” us and everything we hold dear. I just think we give satan more credit than he is worth. Oftentimes, our pain and struggles are a result of our faith in God being tested. I believe it is what Isaiah was saying when God spoke through him, “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” (Isa 48:10).

To refine a metal such as silver or gold, you have to heat them to a liquid state. Back before their were machines to do this, a blacksmith would heat the metal in a large crucible. As the metal was heated, the blacksmith would skim the impurities off the top. The substance he was left with was 99.99% pure silver or gold or whatever metal he was refining. In order for the metal to be refined and purified, it had to be broken down. In Isaiah, where the Bible says that God has “refined you…tested you in the furnace of affliction.”, God is actually letting us know that sometimes He allows us to experience affliction in order to make us better.

Our tendency is to avoid this pain at all cost. We attempt to pray it away and ask God to remove us from the situation. However, God is wanting to use your situation to refine you. It’s not that He enjoys seeing you go through pain, in fact, He hurts when you hurt.

Sometimes, pain comes out of nowhere. It is unexpected and all we can do is pray and trust God through it. And other times, we bring pain on ourselves. We put ourselves in situations that we know may cause us pain, but we think the reward is better. No pain, no gain. When it becomes difficult and we want to point a finger at God, we must realize that sometimes we are the ones who put ourselves in this situation. I encourage you to lean into God and His strength. When we experience pain, when we are broken down, we come out stronger and more pure on the other side. Everything God does and allows is, ultimately, to draw us back to Him and to refine us to be our true self.

I’ve had a lot of pain in my life. I’m not so naive to think I am the only one. We all have scars from the pain. You can see some of my scars here.

 

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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.”

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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.

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Do My Weaknesses Make Me Unqualified?

If I am honest, insecurity is my biggest struggle. I feel unqualified to live the life I lead. I am always so concerned about what others think of me that at times it has been absolutely debilitating. For example, my fears of failure and of conflict all stem from this unquenchable desire to be liked and for people to think highly of me. My insecurities are so bad, in fact, that when someone says something kind, I have a hard time accepting it or even believing that is how they truly feel about me.

At times, in the middle of a conversation, I get this fear of what the other person is thinking of me that creeps in. Once I finish my statement and they start to talk, I am not able to pay attention to them. The fear that is screaming in my head is so much louder than they.

At times I feel unqualified to be a dad. Not having my dad around to teach me what fatherhood looks like feels like I’m starting from behind. If I just had a dad around like other men do, I’d be better at caring for, disciplining, and guiding my kids.

Fear is a liar. It will tell you your greatest fears are your reality. The thing about lies is if we tell them to ourselves long enough, we’ll start to believe them as truth.

2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear. He gave us a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (NLT) Some translations say “and of self-discipline.” Either way, I think it has to do a lot with how we think of ourselves. No matter how much I quote this scripture to myself or tell myself, “It’s not about what others think, just about what God thinks,” I still struggle to be content with myself.

I struggle with the feelings of inadequacy, like I don’t measure up to everyone around me. Even at 37, I still feel like the “little kid” in the room. You know that feeling you get that no one respects you because you are the youngest one in the room?

I always tell people to trust in God, but I fail to tell them it’s hard even for me to do so. It’s difficult to trust in God when we know all of our weaknesses and our failures. How could God not hold those things against us and demand something greater from us.

This is what happens when we rely on our understanding of who we are and how God operates. When trust is a weakness of ours then it is astronomically harder to trust that God will pull you through.

I believe that is exactly where God wants us and why He gave us 2 Corinthians 12:9, “Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”

Did you catch what Paul is saying here? God’s power works best in our weakness. What Paul is saying is because of our relationship with God, our weakness is not a weakness at all but a strength. Why, because Jesus is made strong in our weakness. So even when we struggle to trust, we can rely on Jesus to help us trust. All of our insecurities and inadequacies are a part of who we are and are no longer weaknesses. Now they can be avenues to which God brings our greatest victories.

What I’ve come to realize is God is strong in our weakness, and God’s weakness is stronger than our strength. Therefore, my weakness, when submitted to God, is no longer a weakness, but a strength. Let that one soak in. If God is strong in my weakness, my weakness then ultimately becomes my strength.

As a father, my strength comes from learning what not to do. I know the things I wish I had and I use those as my guides to make a better life for my kids. It’s a weakness, but with Jesus’ help it’s become a strength.

In the book Unqualified, Steven Furtick points out that it wasn’t until Jacob accepted who he was that he received the blessing God had for him. God wants to bless you. The real you. Not the fake you that you show everyone else or the future you that you hope to be one day.

You are important to God.

Inadequacies and all.

I no longer have to worry about my inadequacies and fears, because I know that even in my lack, Jesus is made strong in my weakness.

Fear is a liar, but Jesus is the Liar-Slayer and Truth Teller.

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Want to See My Scars?

Scars are like tattoos. They tell a story of a life lived and denote pain endured by the bearer.

Do you have any scars? Do you have any great stories from the experience you had when you got those scars? Is the story a more devastating one than a victorious one?

I have a couple of scars, but they are merely from surgeries or procedures I’ve had done. So nothing really in which to brag. There’s one on my left abdomen from my appendectomy and there is one on my left shoulder.

The one on my left shoulder is from my time overseas fighting the war in Iraq. It’s a stab wound I received while a member of Seal Team Six. Osama Bin Laden’s son got me…I’m just kidding. I never went overseas. It’s from a procedure I had to remove a pre-cancerous spot on my skin. It is prominently visible on my shoulder. So, I have come up with a war story to make it more interesting for the many times I have been asked.

My brother, Ray, has a couple of scars that have some pretty crazy stories. One scar wraps around his right hand from where he almost lost it completely in an auger at work. The auger’s job was to separate metal, but this one separated his skin and muscle from his bone. The pictures were gruesome.

Ray has a few other scars and I was present when he got them. Two are from a bike riding accident that was pretty gruesome. We were riding bikes down a large hill not long after he had learned to ride. He lost control, flipped the bike, and gashed open his forehand and chin.

The other scar is over his left eyebrow and is kind of a funny story. Ray and I were pretty young when MC Hammer came on the scene. However, we really liked his music. Whenever the music video for “You Can’t Touch This” came on, another side of Ray came out.

One night the song came on the TV, Ray started dancing, spun around, lost his balance, and fell, hitting his head on the coffee table. It split his eyebrow wide open. My uncle was watching us and he felt horrible that he hadn’t prevented the accident. He cleaned up the wound and we looked inside the wound. Waiting for our parents to get back (we couldn’t call them on a cellphone because there was no such thing at the time) seemed like an eternity. Ray finished his night with a trip to the doctor and got a butterfly bandage. The doctor chose to use the butterfly bandage to limit the scarring.

Sometimes we have funny stories that go along with our scars, however, sometimes the stories are more tragic. Cancer, falls no one should survive, car accidents, and surgeries gone wrong to name a few. Some of us have scars we hope no one will notice, or at the very least, will be noticed after they get to know us. Our story is somewhat sacred and telling how we received the scar is letting someone into our humanity. Many of us want to be invincible but our scars remind us of our frailty.

Emotional scars are some of the hardest to see, but there is a story behind each one of them as well. Sometimes I think we are hoping people will ask us about these scars. Telling the story would make us feel better. We really want to let out all the pain and emotion we have bottled up for so long. We just don’t know how to do so without coming across as complaining about our lives.

You’ve heard people quote 1 Peter 5:7,

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares for you.”

But, scars feel so much bigger than just worries or cares. They are deep wounds, which may have healed with time, but they keep us up at night, awaken us from sleep, and bring back the memories all to real. Someone or something has hurt you so deeply that you will never forget a single detail of the experience.

These scars can make it hard to get up in the morning or to even function normally in society. Many of us develop scar tissue, that will, in the blink of an eye, painfully remind us it is there.

When I was 10, I stepped on a nail which was poking up through a board my dad had just pulled off of my grandma’s back porch. He told me to be careful and not walk around or I might step on a nail. He was right. It went through my foot and scratched the bone. Over time, though there is not an outward scar, I developed scar tissue. From time to time, it hurts so bad I have to sit down. It reminds me of the accident that happened more than 25 years ago.

We all have scars, however, we put on our mask, hide what is really going on, longing for someone to care, but hoping no one notice that we are hurting. It’s crazy because we want people to know us deeply and to know the hurts and struggles we’ve had, but we also don’t want to let people that close to us. Maybe, it’s because vulnerability leaves us open to experience more hurt and pain. We’d rather wall ourselves off, than be completely vulnerable with others.

As someone who has hidden behind a mask for a long time, trying to hide what was really going on in my life, the best way to overcome those wounds is to let someone in. It takes us letting a friend in that can speak life into our situation. We have to understand that we are not the only ones with scars. Everyone has them. They all look different, feel different, but have a story. We are not alone. There are people who genuinely care and want to help us heal as we help them heal.

Time can heal wounds, however, scars remind us of a past that really happened. If your physical body has a deep enough wound, you go to a doctor who will stitch, staple, or even butterfly bandage it up to limit scarring. But, that is where their ability stops, healing the broken body. They cannot heal our broken hearts, our broken spirits which the scar leaves in its wake.

Jesus is the only one whom can heal our emotional wounds. The scar will never go away, but the story from the scar can be transformed from a tragedy into a love story.

Jesus loves us and He wants to heal our hearts. We may have to re-open those wounds through vulnerability. When scars don’t heal right the first time, the scarring can be awful and infection can wreak havoc. Re-opening those wounds will allow Jesus to heal them in a way we never thought possible, and to limit the scarring.

Jesus knows what we have gone through. He knows the pain and the heartache we have had to endure. None of it is a surprise to Him. He doesn’t look down on us because of how we have responded in the past. Jesus is the only one who can heal us. Isaiah 53:5 says,

“But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.”

Jesus isn’t ashamed of you or what you have gone through. He loves you and wants to heal your wounds, limit the scarring and the effect that it has on your life. You’ve just got to let Him in to do His work. The scar will always be there as a reminder of the story, the tragedy that once was. But, if you allow Jesus in, it will also be a reminder of a love so great.

Going to Jesus is like going to the doctor, for the real you.

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Pick Up My Bike and Walk Home

I grew up like everyone else; riding bikes, playing in the yard, and committing hours to videos games. First, there was Strikeout for the Atari and then The Legend of Zelda for Nintendo. My interest in video games only grew as I did and some of the most fond memories I have with my father are when we played video games together.

Playing video games was one thing we both enjoyed doing. If I ever got stuck on a part, I could count on my dad to bail me out. We would rent video games from the local movie rental store, play it over the course of a weekend and then return it, to not incur a late fee. Such was life growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Looking back, I now realize, we didn’t have a lot of money. My parents did the best they could to provide for my older sister, two younger brothers, and me. My dad went to school in the evenings to get his heating and air conditioning certification, to give us a better life.

We bounced around a lot. Every 18 months or so we moved houses and weren’t able to gain much stability in one place. We never owned a home, so we were forced to rent and when that would go south, we’d have to move again.

Luckily, we never moved too far away from the previous place so I was able to make some pretty close friends. These friends were my life. We did everything together. We played baseball, played at the park, stayed the night at each others houses and rode bikes together, attempting to make the greatest ramps ever.

One particular night we were out riding bikes and set up a ramp in a rocky alley a couple of house down from mine. My friends and I had found a couple of cinderblocks and an old sheet of plywood. We spent the next hour seeing who could jump their bikes the highest and furthest. It was a ton of fun.

The further and further we landed the more we wanted to attempt longer, faster runs. The adrenaline was intoxicating. On what would be my last approach for the evening, I got as far down the alley as I possibly could and I geared up for what promised to be the farthest jump of the night. As I started to pedal my bike, I began to pump my legs as fast as I could. I began to stand up so that I could propel myself faster and faster down the alley.

As I made contact with the plywood something started to give. All of the sudden, I hear wood cracking and the board began to buckle in the middle. As I jumped, my front tire hit the top cinderblock, followed by my back tire. As I careened through the air, my bike began to tilt forward more than normal and I couldn’t avoid hitting a large rock with my front tire which slammed me into my handlebars and quickly to the ground. I was in excruciating pain. My friends rushed over to pick me up and helped me hobble home. I knew my dad would most definitely be waiting to tell me that I should have been more careful.

Dad wasn’t always the most sympathetic person in the world, but I knew he loved me. I wanted to be like him. I strived in every way to make him proud of me. It was almost as if the only way he could love me is if I earned it. I made good grades in school, because I didn’t want to disappoint my dad.

I spent many hours working on projects around our houses with my dad. We spent time working on Betsy, his blue Chevy pickup I mentioned in an earlier post. I loved being around him. And from what I can remember, he loved being around me, except when it came to my baseball games.

Sports didn’t interest my dad. I think he felt like they were a waste of time. But, I was actually one of the best players on my team. I was a utility player that could play every position on the field. My favorite position though, was shortstop. I loved to dive for the ball, corral it, and throw the ball to first to beat the runner. I remember constantly looking in the stands, hoping to find my dad next to my mom. Baseball just wasn’t his thing. But, I didn’t hold it against him because we always had video games.

That was my life for the first 11 years. It’s all I knew. It seemed normal enough. Nothing out of the ordinary. And then, one day when I got home from school, it all changed. My dad was arrested, taken to jail, and I had no idea when he might be back. It was as if life were being pedaled as fast as I could make it go and then, without warning, the security and everything I knew began to crumble. Life sent me careening through the air, leaving me in a pile of rocks in the middle of the alley. Only this time, my friends were not around to help me home. My dad wasn’t waiting there to be sympathetic, empathetic, or even just to tell me to walk it off. No, life had left me beaten, broken, and alone.

I became angry, pointing blame, and unable to accept the fact that life without my dad in my life was my new normal. No, our life wasn’t perfect before, however, at least it was stable. Now life was, in a sense, suspended in the air looking like it was heading towards a disastrous end.

I looked for support and stability in many people. As I said in My Story, I looked for acceptance and influence in any relationships with guys that were older, to be a part of what seemed to be a family. Gang members, men my mom dated, and even my uncles were men from whom to gain acceptance. I just wanted to be accepted into manhood and know how to navigate it. God kept me from a lot of roads I could have taken because of the influences in my life.

I had to get up off the alley, dust myself off, pick up my life, and trudge home. This journey home took 4 or 5 years. That’s how long it took me to find myself, engulfed in a relationship with Jesus.

It wasn’t easy to accept God as my Heavenly Father. The things I had to look forward to with my dad were just the things that interested him. If this Heavenly Father is anything like my earthly father then I’d rather just do my thing and catch Him when we find a common interest.

Learning that God wasn’t self-centered and that He genuinely wanted to be in my life took a long time to learn. I learned He cares about what I care about and I don’t have to meet some sort of standard to be accepted by Him. God accepts me as I am. Yes, God wants to mold me and shape me to be a better version of myself, however I don’t have to be “good” to be forgiven.

God does lead, correct, and discipline. It is not out of a self-centeredness, but out of a genuine love for us. He desires to draw us near. When we come home, He is sympathetic. He takes us in His arms and bandages our wounds. God tells us it’s going to be ok and that we are not alone. If we need to walk it off, God is right there with us.

When I came to the Heavenly Father, I learned He saw the whole thing; my life careening out of control, the crash, the loneliness, the tears, the brokenness. He wrapped me in His arms and let me know that He was everything I needed and everything I had looked for. Jesus accepted me and gave me confidence in who God created me to be. God is constantly there to build us up and to encourage us along the way.

I have learned to trust that my Heavenly Father loves me no matter what I have done or will do. He loved me before I even existed and nothing I do can change how He feels about me. I will always find acceptance, forgiveness, and identity in God. Because of God, I know what I great Father is.

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Strength of the Fatherless

I have a ton of insecurities. I may be the most insecure person you will ever meet. There, I said it. I feel a lot better…kind of, unless you think less of me, which then I take it all back. But, I can’t take it back. I hope I don’t disappoint you. What are you thinking of me? Does one conversation change how you feel about me? And so, my mind plays tricks on me and these questions are just the tip of the iceberg.

There are seasons that I feel like I am on top of the world. Everything I am striving for, every conversation I have, and every relationship I am in is catapulting towards bliss. In those moments, I feel so strong, so secure. I feel like I have finally overcome the insecurities that weigh me down. It feels like I’ve gone ten rounds, and come out on top against my biggest opponent, my inner voice.

No I am not schizophrenic, at least that’s what the voice tells me. I’m kidding. My inner voice, thanks to cartoons back in the 80’s I picture an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the opposite, is that part of my conscience that speaks one of two things, life or death. In those seasons, I feel on top of the world, my inner voice is whispering life into my heart and spirit and it is so sustaining. One feels invincible in this season, like he has armor on that nothing can penetrate.

On the flip-side of all of this life-giving strength, there are seasons where it seems as though, because I am not at war, I take my armor off and every little thing that could crush me, does. In these moments, I can’t reign in my thoughts. It seems as though my thoughts are going a million miles a minute and I am repeating every conversation I have had with people over in my head to find out if there is any encouragement that our relationship isn’t on the brink of disaster.

My insecurities push me into a perpetual need to feel others approval. As these seasons get darker and darker, my inner voice, or as Steven Furtick calls it, the Chatterbox, screams darkness as well.

The darkness even over shadows the rays of light to which Alissa, or anyone else, is trying to shine into my heart and spirit. Insecurity is selfish because it takes even the encouraging words and twists them to make you feel less and less human. It is hard to let someone in because it doesn’t feel like they will understand. And if I do let them in, what will they think of me? Will there thoughts be, “Just get over it Sammy. Everybody has these thoughts. Stop wallowing in self-pity and doubt. You are just being too weak.”

Studies show that fatherless people are more apt to be plagued with insecurities than those whom have a father, or father figure in their life. For far too long, fathers have failed to realize the impact they have on the lives of their children. You can also be fatherless and have spent your entire life raised with your dad in the home. If your dad was at home, but not present with you, it’s as if you grew up without him.

I am in no way saying that fatherless people have life any worse than those that grow up with both parents, or that people whom grew up with a father can’t have insecurities. I’m just saying, as a fatherless person, I am more apt to have insecurities. Fathers provide security for their family. This security also leads to him being able to give his kids identity and approval. The confidence in who we are comes from the security, identity, and approval our fathers give us.

Does that give me an excuse to allow my seasons of darkness to control me? Do these studies give me leverage to not overcome and to wallow in self-pity and doubt? What do I do? How do I find strength again?

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, when praying about his weakness and asking God to take it away,

“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works

best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about

my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work though me.

That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults,

hardships, persecutions, and trouble that I suffer for Christ.

For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

What a paradox! When I am weak, then I am strong. Our weakness brings meekness. It keeps us humble and in a state of desperation for God to do something better in our lives. Our weakness causes us to depend on God more, because when we feel strong, we tend to lack that need for Him to intervene.

Where this paradox gets me is if God is strong in our weakness, and God’s weakness is stronger than our strength, then my weakness, when submitted to God, is no longer a weakness, but a strength. Let that one soak in. If God is strong in my weakness, my weakness then ultimately becomes my strength.

My weakness isn’t solely found in my insecurities, but stems from my lack of a father in my life. This realization that my weakness is now made strong in Jesus helps me overcome my need for approval, my insecurities. But, I also see how it has made me strong in a couple of other areas of my life.

First, I am more present with my children. My father missed out on the best moments of my life; my wedding, the birth of my children, and graduating college, to name a few. Even when he was still living with us, my dad gave up opportunities to go to my baseball games just because he didn’t want to go. All of these missed opportunities of my father, drive me to want to be there for my kids. I am constantly reassuring them of my love and building on the security, identity, and approval they deserve.

Second, growing up with my mom as the leader of my house, I am sensitive towards other people’s felt needs. I care deeply for those around me and am more nurturing than I would have been had I grown up with my dad. Nurturing wasn’t his strong suit.

As Papa Roach so eloquently put it in their song, “Scars”, from 2004, “My weakness is that I care too much.” HA! Everything reminds me of a song.

I still struggle with insecurities. Most of the time it comes in waves. And the hardest times is when those waves crash into me so rapid, I can’t catch my breath. But, when the waves slow up and I’m able to stand, I have to remind myself of where my security lies (God is my Heavenly Father), where my true identity is found (I’m a child of God), and that God approves of me (He made me). And when I do this, He is made strong.

What about you? What weakness do you have, when submitted to God, you can see how it has become a strength? Leave your story in the comments below or sign up for my email list and let’s chat.

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Fatherless Father

I spent all of my teenage years fatherless. I do have some memories of moments shared with my dad, but those are few and far between. Vaguely, I can remember some of the times I spent with him learning to fix things around the house, playing video games on Atari and Nintendo, fishing, and going bowling (this was before they had no smoking in public places and you could see a line in the air from the cigarette smoke).

I wish I could say I had all of these grandiose memories and times that I spent learning what it meant to be a man, a father. It was just ripped away from me before we had the chance to get there.

My dad use to be around from time to time, but it wasn’t the same. Now, we don’t even talk. If we do it becomes a blame game about why our relationship is horrible. It’s hard to pick up where we left off. I’m not the same and so it feels like we are two separate people, on two different planets when in fact we are in the same room.

For the last 26 years, it has been hard to be in conversation with people when they talk about how amazing their dad is or tell tales of adventures they have shared. There is a sense of envy, when a friend says they are going to grab lunch with their dad. It hurts deep down when someone tells me that their dad is their best friend.

What’s that like?

What is a father suppose to be in someone’s life?

Here in lies the reason it took me several years, 10 to be exact, to be ready for Alissa and me to have kids. I honestly didn’t know what a father was suppose to be like. What is a father suppose to be? I was a little afraid that since I didn’t have a father present for most of my life, I would mess up as a father myself.

How do you teach a boy to be a man?

How do you treat a girl properly?

What does a dad do for his kids in a way a mom cannot?

To be honest, these are still some of the questions that keep me up at night.

How do I do this fathering thing?

Who can I turn to?

How does the fatherless learn to be a father?

I can’t say that I have learned everything I know on my own, nor that I don’t make mistakes from time to time. I have had some pretty incredible father figures that I have met throughout my life. Seeing how they interact with their kids built confidence that I could do the same. I’ve always known that I’d want to emulate some of those characteristics I see in their relationships.

A wise man isn’t someone who learns only from his own mistakes, but someone who also learns from the mistakes of others.

Ultimately, looking at how God loves us and is our Heavenly Father is the best way for me to learn as I go. There really is no greater example.

So, I’ve jumped into fatherhood with both feet. My son is 5 and my daughter is 2. I’m not perfect. I’m not called to be perfect, just called do the best I can.

I’ve learned to be the father I always wish I had. I try not to take for granted any of the moments I have with both of my kids. Being a dad is the hardest thing I have ever done, but it also the most rewarding. I do my best to put their needs ahead of my own.

I want my kids to learn that I will always be there for them and they can always count on me. My goal is to help them experience life and be adventurous. I want them to see that it is ok for a dad to be soft and kind to them, and to also know I mean business when I correct them. I want to make memories with them that we can talk about for years to come. My kids always know they are not a far away thought from my mind, but that I care deeply for them and would do absolutely anything for them.

I finally understand why God loves me so much and would send Jesus to die for me. Everything that I want for my kids, He wants for me and even more.

How can a fatherless man become an incredible father?

I’m not exactly sure, but I’ll let you know when I get there.

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This is My Story

Sammy and Ray at home

I come from a broken home.

We had a pretty normal life. I am from a lower-middle class family. We moved often all around the West Tulsa and Sand Springs area. My parents did everything they could to make ends meet.

Looking back, in those moments, life the way we were living it, seemed normal. Nothing out of the ordinary for sure. My dad would take me fishing on occasion or let me help with whatever project he was working on around the house.

I attended, from time to time, a Baptist church in Sand Springs with my aunt. I specifically remember learning about Jesus on a flannel board and then being bored to tears sitting in “big church”. Playing cars and coloring down on the floor beneath the pew was the only way to pass the time. When I finally got to go home, I’d plead with one of my parents to not make me go back.

I occasionally went to Vacation Bible School with my cousin and even got baptized once or twice. Even still, I never fully understood what Christianity was all about.

I was a good kid, excelled in school, and loved life.

Then, something unbelievable happened that turned my world upside down. My dad went to jail.

As an early adolescent, I had a tough time understanding how something like this could happen to our family.

I remember placing blame, not fully understanding the weight of my words on those around me and just being hurt. Words can’t describe the roller coaster of emotions I went through.

In those following months and years, I was pushed into a role that was never meant for a child. There are so many insecurities and identity issues to contend with when you grow up without a father. I left so many opportunities to have amazing experiences on the table because I was too afraid to take the risk. It felt like my responsibility, duty even, was to help raise my brothers and help them navigate life, and to protect them from outside forces.

I looked for acceptance and influence in any relationships with guys that were older, to be a part of what seemed to be a family. I spent about a year hanging out with a couple of teenagers that were a part of a gang on the north side of Tulsa. The acceptance I felt made me want to be a part of this gang. Fortunately, my friends never let me join. Maybe because I was a white boy amidst 20 hispanic boys or they truly knew I didn’t know what I was getting into. All I saw was a family of guys of which I could belong to.

Eventually, mom remarried and we moved nearly an hour away. Most of my teenage years I had a really hard time connecting with my step-dad and step-brothers. Once you become the alpha male of the house, it is very hard to relinquish those reigns. Especially, when you feel you are more fit to lead your siblings than the next guy. I never looked to my step-dad as an actual father figure, but more of a person with whom to coexist.

A teenage life in a blended family. I struggled to figure out how to become a man and find my identity and to fit in this new family. Constantly, I wrestled with protecting and leading my brothers and helping them to become something I had no clue how to become myself, a man.

My parents started going to church because they wanted to “raise us boys right.” I commend them both. It would be hard to handle six boys and raise them to be good men without a community to influence them.

When my parents started going to church, I was 15 yrs old and well capable of taking care of myself and my little brothers. My sister had moved, so I was the oldest of my siblings and step-siblings in the house. I came up with every excuse you can think of to not go to church. I remembered church as this place I’d waste most of my day at for something I didn’t really understand. “Coming down with something” was a regular occurrence…until my parents forced me to go.

I went to this new church my parents had found. I gave my heart to Jesus. It wasn’t an unusual day for the church, just a normal Sunday. For me, however, it was a day that forever change the trajectory of my life. I finally found acceptance. I finally found the love of a father, of which I had never known. Since that day, my life has been on a course to align my hopes and dreams with that of God’s for my life.

The Holy Spirit has helped me break down a lot of the barriers that have kept me from letting people in and has enabled me to become a better version of me everyday. I don’t claim to be perfect or think I will ever reach perfection, but I know that God loves me just the way I am.

Knowing Jesus, fully, has given my life meaning, given me a purpose. I don’t know how I would ever live without Jesus in my life. I am so thankful for the blessings God has given me and the way He always sees me through the difficult times. It’s why I still believe today.

When all seems lost, Jesus is more real to me in those moments then any other.

God has placed some pretty incredible men in my life at just the right time to help me with every aspect of becoming a man, husband, and father. Here is a thank you to Scott Price, Aaron Malusky, Tim Beitzel, Justin Graves, Scott Heckeroth and countless other men whom have and are living their lives as an example for so many young men to emulate. I wouldn’t be who I am without each of you.

Lastly, I am thankful for my Heavenly Father, for showing me a father’s love. Learning that I have to continually lay down my life for my kids has shown me what it means to fully love them.

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