Surprise, I’m a Father!

Well, sort of. I’ll admit that title was a bit misleading; I’m just a father for one week. The Bozich parents, the family I live with and get to do ministry with, had to leave Germany and go back to the States for a “church fundraising campaign.” Sure, likely story, Mr. Campus Pastor. Anyway, they left me with their three awesome kiddos: Lili, age 10, Truett, age 8, and Barrett, age 6 and 11/12ths.

So far, so good. We’re on our last day right now and the house is still intact and the kids are still all alive. I count that as a success. It took some adapting on the kids part, but each of them has really done a phenomenal job. They’re mature and strong-willed, and they’ve already proven this in their willingness to tackle moving to a foreign country and learning the language quicker than I learned English. But, the strong-willedness also brings a disadvantage to my end of the table: new rules and my way of leading them is not what they’re quite used to, and not always what they want to do.

It took a few days, and I think they were all a little shocked that I actually gave them chores and took time off of their bedtimes if they talked back or fought. But the past two nights no one’s had any chores or early bedtimes, so I call that a success too. (Edit: an hour after I wrote this sentence, someone got an early bedtime. So. Close.)

Last week I read Don Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, about living a story worth telling, life worth living. On our second day alone, I was thinking about that concept. That’s a wonderfully dangerous thing for anyone to think about, especially a new interim 18-year-old parent. I decided we weren’t gonna sit around and wait for Mom and Dad to get home, but instead do something memorable. So we did.

I pitched the idea of shooting toilet-paper-roll-rockets filed by Diet Coke and Mentos to the kids, and the reception of the idea was of humdrum. No matter, I figured if I was excited about it, they would get there eventually. With a good amount of push on my part, the kids built their rockets, I bought the fuel and other materials, and we headed out to the fields for launch time. The kids’ friends Tease (pronounced Tee-us…probably not spelled ‘Tease’, but it’s plausible) joined us, along with his brother Andrew.

We positioned the rockets and stood far away, preparing for a massive take-off. Barrett’s was the first for flight, and we all counted down: three…two…one…BLASTOFF! The rocket launched, but to our dismay there was only a mediocre six inches of Coke froth. Not the volcano we were anticipating, but I don’t think Barrett really ever understood what was going to happen anyway, so he was impressed. I realized he never understood the process when he exclaimed, “Oh, the rocket is shooting up!” I wasn’t aware that aspect of it was up for dispute.

A few seconds after the first launch I realized our issue. I watched in horror as five kids, apparently starving to death, pushed and shoved each other to take a sweet sip of the brown nectar, now covering the dirt and gravel below the rocket, and to take just one bite of the white minty goodness. Andrew picked up the Coke bottle and tried to chug it, but Teepee, (still, the spelling here is debatable) his brother, snatched it away. I confiscated the bottle and made everyone watch as I poured it into the grass. Sic semper tyrannis, right?

Two rocket launches later, each going higher than the last, the oohs and aahs were growing. It was awesome. Sadly, the awesomeness of it all was quickly overtaken by the sugar-addicted monkeys, who had reverted into screaming and pounding their chests to try to intimidate one another. I think I saw one scratch both his armpits at the same time while jumping ravenously up and down. The coup-de-grass, literally, was when Barrett knelt down, picked up a Mento that was no longer white but stained green and brown, and popped it into his mouth gleefully. I watched as his eyes got big like a cartoon and he spat out the treat in disgust- turns out dirt isn’t good seasoning. Who’d have guessed.

We wrapped up and everyone talked about how awesome the explosions were. The explosions, after all, were quite awesome. Everyone also talked about how awesome those drops of Coke they stole were. That, I thought, was less awesome. We were all wallowing in the overwhelming awesomeness when Tyrannosaurus, (spelling questionable) Andrew’s brother, asked me,

“Do you have any more stuff?”

“No, just three.”

“You didn’t let me take a turn!”

“Yeah….”

“You guys are all poops!”

The last word rang in our ears like a gunshot. How could he? We were all pretty torn up about being “poops,” and told him. He stormed off.

I’m sorry Tiabetes, I really am. I guess that’s kinda what parenting is about, though, right? You work hard to do something, and the kids don’t really notice, or they do something another way instead. But you still love, you persist, because that’s what your parents did for you. And ultimately because that’s what God does for us. The rockets were still fun, still memorable, just not what I was expecting. That’s kinda how life gets a lot of time, I think: we expect God to do one thing, and then when he does something else, we’re disappointed.

This is something Lili, the oldest struggles with me about. She likes to be in control. I can relate; I wrote my last post about relinquishing control. Lili really likes things her way, even if she hasn’t told me what that way is. So then when things don’t happen like that, she’s frustrated. Like when we didn’t have gelato three times in a weekend. Like when I make her share things that I bought for her. Like, as I witnessed as I was writing this, the boys play with “her stick.” (Don’t even get me started on who’s stick is who’s- spoiler: I broke multiple sticks one night after the kids went to bed.) These are all understandable frustrating things, and she is an incredible leader; she is just learning how to go with the flow more and let others be in charge sometimes. That’s something I could work on too.

Patience. It seems like parenting is all about patience. It is exhausting. The kids are very helpful in the kitchen when I’m making dinner and lunch, telling me useful things like, “Mom normally doesn’t do it that way,” and “Wow, never seen it done like that before…” My favorite is after I finish making a meal, and I sit in on the table and hear, “This looks weird.” It’s all very good advice for a new parent like myself. I think about the song lyrics, “I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing,” like 12 times a day. I need patience especially in times like those.

Now that I see how much patience it takes to be a Dad, I realize the insane amount of patience God has for us. It is literally unreal. I think about how so often the Lord wants me to do something, something that probably seems so obviously good to Him, and I don’t do it. But unlike me, He doesn’t get frustrated or go take a nap when He’s annoyed. I have a newfound respect and appreciation for my own parents too; love ya Mom.

Also, even though these kiddos know how to push all my buttons, there’s no real complaining here. Don’t hear me say I don’t love taking care of them, because I really do. Man, it’s just so hard. I bet all parents are reading this and laughing to themselves about my obvious realization. But I see it firsthand. It’s hard, you guys rock. You need to congratulate yourself more often honestly.

John 15:13 says, “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for his brother.”  I’d like to add that there’s also no greater love than to lay down your life for your kids. I know a lot of parents that do this so well, including my own, including the Bozichs, and so many others. I’m thankful to have those influencers in my life, and I’m excited to maybe have some of my own kids some day, some day far in the future, and do the same.

It’s the end of our long day and we’re all sitting together watching Disney’s movie ‘Coco.’ I won’t ruin the ending, but there’s a part in the movie where a character comes really close to dying. Barrett climbed up on the couch next to me and tucked his head under my arm. He covered his eyes and hoped it would end soon, and tears streamed down his cheeks. I held him tight and said, “Bear, it’s alright buddy. It’s okay to cry, and it’s just a movie.” After I said those words, I felt the full weight of parenthood. I realized how I had hundreds, thousands of those moments in my childhood and it shaped who I am today. My Dad telling me to get up and keep trying to ride my bike. Telling me he was proud of me. Telling me he was ready to go to Heaven. I wished I was Bear’s age for a second, wished I could tuck my head into my Dad’s arm one more time. I miss you, man. Shoot,  these dumb Pixar movies always make me cry; Disney, you’re seriously a poop.

So, that’s what I’ve been learning as a temporary Dad. The kids have given me the nickname “The Chore-Giver.” I’ll take it, I told them. I could write a hundred pages full of hysterical things these kids do, but I guess that’s just what it like to be a parent.

This one goes out to all parents, especially my own Mama, and my Dad. Wow. You are all incredible.

Can’t believe you made it more than a week.

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Freedom in Giving Up

When I was younger, I stressed a lot. Life was a game of Operation, and I was always touching the edges of that little man and getting shocked. Going to the movies was the worst for me. I don’t know why, but I was so fearful that we’d miss the beginning of our movie that I would’ve rather stayed home altogether. These days you probably wouldn’t guess that I used to be like that, and I don’t get nervous about much anymore. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve just elaborately covered up my worried side by wearing a veneer of confidence, but I really do think I’ve gotten over those old worries. For the most part.

I’ve been living in Germany for a little over a month. I love everything about it. The Bozichs, the family I live with, are awesome, and the Lord has blessed the youth ministry in incredible ways here. I’m grateful to be a part of it. God’s showing me a lot about ministry and good friendships and taking risks, and it’s all very exciting.

Last week my family flew in from the States and we spent a week together, wreaking havoc across the continent. It was joyful and fun and memorable. But honestly, it was really hard not having my Dad there, and his absence was felt. Interestingly, for the first time in a long time for me, I started to feel those old worries and stresses again like when I was a kid, even though at surface level we were having pure fun together. What I realized is that I was trying to compensate for my Dad’s absence; I was protective of my family and wanted to carry them on my back and make everything perfect. Basically trying to control the trip because I was afraid of what would happen if it wasn’t in my control.

Control is a funny thing. Most of the time I don’t need control, and I can laugh through life and stressful situations because I know Jesus has got it. This past week though, it was as if I forgot all those things I knew about Jesus. I reverted to this child-like state of worry, because, when it comes down to it, I doubted Jesus could take care of us if I wasn’t trying to control things myself.

A few days ago I felt the Lord saying to me, “You don’t know the depth of my grace.” Yes. True. I don’t. Grace is Freedom. Grace is Surrender. Because we can’t do this on our own. It is impossible. I have tried. I have failed every time. I was reading 2 Corinthians the other day, and one part stuck out to me. It said, “You are only looking at the surface of things.” And I knew it was true of me, that I was looking at the surface of things and not at God, not giving in to grace. I had to give up trying on my own.

To understand grace, I think, is also to grasp that we don’t need to be in control anymore. It’s handing over the pen to our script, and saying to God, “Here, take this, because I can’t write anything nearly as beautiful as you can.”

2 Corinthians 5, verses 16-19 says:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.

So there I was, a few days into my family’s trip. I had realized I was holding onto the pen really tightly, but I hadn’t quite figured out why or what to do next. The four of us got in our rental and drove over to the country next-door, the Czech Republic and headed to Prague. We pulled up to this awesome hotel in the heart of the downtown, and right then we realized we had forgotten the most important thing back in Germany. We’d forgotten our Passports. Instead of freaking out, my Mom calmly laid out our options and figured out a game plan. She’s incredible. I was tempted to freak out, but decided God wouldn’t think highly of that. My Mom and my brother decided to drive back to Germany the next day, a six-hour drive, and got the passports successfully. I realized then that I was holding on to an unhealthy amount of stress, and I wish I could say that I gave the pen up then, but I didn’t. I really didn’t until my family’s last night here.

The idea that I’m an unfinished person bothers me some. It shouldn’t, because I am wholly imperfect and incomplete. But I get the idea in my head every once in a while that I’m competent in most areas of life, so as long as I stay where I am, there’s no need to grow or change. That is a lie. Humans are never finished until we die and meet our Maker. There’s a lot of people who become calloused and unwilling to change, and I don’t think that’s ever a good thing. I really don’t want that to be me, either. So when I started feeling this stress, I figured it’d probably go away and I wouldn’t have to actually do anything. But I was wrong.

I think letting go of control is an everyday act. Taking a deep breath, and saying “I accept Your grace.” Exhaling, saying, “This life’s in Your hands.” That’s necessary, because we’re never finished. We’re works in progress, and our Writer is ready to let his pen fly across our pages, creating beauty never before seen until now. But we have to let Him. We have to give up control, we have to be willing to change, we have to be willing to accept grace. And when I realized that, I was able to breathe again. I think this is one of those truths we have to relearn all the time throughout our lives, because we always forget about it and try to take control again. I’m tired of that.

True freedom through Christ is only found when we give up control and when we accept grace. And freedom is a glorious thing.

This is my prayer, and I hope it can be your too: “Lord, help me accept Your grace. Show me where I need to change. Take hold of this messed-up life, and let me give up control of it.”

It’s worth it folks. Go take on the world with this freedom Jesus gives us.