Saturday, June 19, 2010

10 Lessons I've Learned from My Father

1) Fathers are leaders, whether they accept it or not.

It seems obvious, but dads are commanded to be leaders of their family. My dad was a great leader for our family. Growing up, the he was there making the tough decisions, guiding us with wisdom as to which direction the family should go. Sure, his job demanded he be that, but it was because he was an extraordinary leader of his family that he could be successful at his career.

2) People don't remember your car, they remember your integrity.

Growing up, we were never fortunate enough to have the nicest car or clothes. We weren't in poverty by any means, but we lived according to our means. Through watching my dad, I realized material things mean nothing. It's the impact we leave on others. To this day, my dad gets phone calls and letters from those in his past that he had a profound impact on. That's a legacy that extends far beyond any vehicle.

3) It's okay to bend the rules now and then.

One of the fondest memories I have as a child was on a night while getting ready for bed. I must have been 7 or 8, facing the rigors of an 8:30 bedtime, just long enough for me to get to watch Alf. One night, out of the blue, dad came and got me and told me to get dressed. Little did I know he was taking me out to see the He-Man movie (my super hero at the time). It was such a huge thrill to not only be up past my normal bed time, but to actually be out in a movie theater with my dad watching a movie! I can't even remember much about the movie, but I can still remember how I felt that night, all because my dad bent the rules for me a bit.

4) Helping a stranger never hurt anyone.

Growing up in a pastor's house, you see things that are different than a typical kid sees. I saw my dad help countless numbers of people, be it strangers needing to make a phone call at 3:00 in the morning, or a horrific wreck on the highway. Some may say that he had to help people; that was his job. But those people don't know my dad. The compassion he has for people is overflowing, and I saw examples of it everywhere. He genuinely cares for people.

5) You have to shuck the corn before you can eat it.

I say shuck the corn, because as kids, we literally had to shuck corn. Or take peas out of the pod. Or pick okra and blueberries. We didn't do it all the time, but when it was time to do so, we pitched in. Not always voluntarily, mind you, but through those moments and other chores, I learned a strong work ethic. My dad worked hard at his job, but also when he was at home. He helped mom around the house, and did much of the work outside. The value of manual labor was not lost on me. My dad's work ethic wasn't either.

6) Make your children's interests your own.

My dad grew up as a FFA kid near Clemson, SC. I don't know how much interest he really had in sports before I came along. What I do know is that when I got to the right age, my dad was out every day with me in the spring and summer either shooting hoops or playing catch. I remember finding a field somewhere and me hitting balls to him and he back to me so I could practice fielding grounders. He saw the passion I had for sports and got involved, and helped me in every way possible. He was at nearly every single one of my games and practices. He was also my troop leader when I first began boy scouts. He took me camping, fishing, and to sporting events. I was one of the few kids that didn't just grow up with a dad. I grew up with a buddy to hang around with and have fun.

7) Your spouse is always first.

As much as my dad loves us kids (and his grandkids), that love still doesn't match the love he has for my mom. 40+ years of marriage, and they still act like teenagers in love. She's still the first one he greets when he gets home from work. She's the one he protects and looks out for. Many of the times I got punished growing up, it was because I had disrespected my mom. Dad would put up with a lot, but one of his own children disrespecting his wife was not something he tolerated. After seeing how many of my friends from college grew up with divorced parents, I gained a better respect for the love my parents share.

8) A strong man doesn't need to be loud.

No question my dad went through his fair share of adversity. Various issues in churches that he went through would cause most people to boil over in anger and frustration. Not my dad. He always maintained his composure through any trials he went through. His faith and confidence was in Christ, not in a church body or in other things. Dad never needed to be the loudest man in the room to be one of the strongest.

9) Physical touch isn't just a mom thing.

My dad is a rare man. Not a day went by when he didn't tell me he loved me and that he was proud of me. My dad hugged me. He'd put his arm around me when he saw I was down. When I was younger, we spent lots of time wrestling around, him letting me act as if I was the stronger of the two of us. Too many times, too many dads think hugging their kids is something that only moms do. My dad showed his affection for us kids by physical interaction.

10) How deep the love of Christ is.

Dad was a Southern Baptist pastor for well over 30 years. That's not what made him a Christian. His faith in Christ was personal, and one he shared with us regularly. We'd have devotions sometimes before school. We'd have them sometimes in the evenings. We'd pray before every meal. We'd pray during times of trouble. We'd pray to give God praise for blessings He'd given us. My dad exerts his inward faith in an outward way. He loves people. He goes out of his way to help others, be they strangers, neighbors, customers, old friends, or extended family. It's the most important lesson my dad has taught me: the boundless love of Christ.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there, but especially to mine, Arnold Becker, for being an incredible dad.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Man Who Walks Alone

For the past several years at one of the Home Depot stores I visit regularly, I've seen an elderly couple walking. You know, like some folks like to do in the mall early in the morning, except these people do their exercising at Home Depot, making countless rounds from the entrance to the far right side of the store and all the way to the other end and back around. Regardless of the weather, you'd see these two walking at a pace that wasn't too fast but brisk enough to give proper exercise.

Last week in my visit to the store I saw the elderly gentleman making his rounds as usual, cap on his head and cane in hand, pressed shirt and khakis, almost as if he could be coming in to interview for a job but wouldn't mind too bad if he was turned down. I thought nothing of the fact his wife wasn't walking right beside him.

I came to find out she had passed away just weeks before. Then I find out they had been married for 59 years. Wow.

Let that sink in for a minute: 59 years ago, Harry Truman was president, the Peanuts comic strip was first published, Stevie Wonder and Tom Petty were born, and the first remote control for a TV was developed.

59 years ago there was no Internet or cable TV. Families were fortunate to have a telephone. There was no Internet, no facebook, and certainly, no blogs.

They were married through 12 presidents, 30 Olympics, 4 wars, and 2 new states being admitted to the union. 59 Christmases, anniversaries, and summers. Countless vacations, winter snows, and walks along autumn trails. Laughter, hugs, kisses, and kind words.

Now here this man is, doing what he knows to do on a Monday morning: go walk.

When I heard his story, about how he had walked all these years with his wife and how now his dear bride had departed after 59 years on this earth, I had to think about my own life, my own marriage.

How the words I said on July 12, 2003 will be my words until the day I leave this earth, be it in 59 years or tomorrow morning. I thought about how ridiculously undeserving I am to have a woman love me for such a long time as that.

I also wondered about those 59 years these people spent together, how if there were times he came home from work frustrated and caused a fight. Perhaps she spent too much money on shopping, causing a night of tension. Or the moments where irritation escalated into hurtful words. Days and week that maybe went by with few words spoken between them. Because in marriage, that can happen. The climax is what we decide to do with it. Do we stay or go? Do we forgive and love, or do we throw up our hands and walk out the door?

The bottom line for this man is this: in spite of how he might have been or how she might have been at certain moments, the commitment outweighed it all. Because marriage is a covenant not to be taken lightly. It's not a contract with negotiable loopholes to ease your way out of when things get tough. It's not a game that you can turn off when you feel like you're on the wrong end of some imaginary score. It's not a selfish act of desperation in which to use another person for your own desires, then leave them all alone. It's not a blaming match where you've got permission to give up when the other person does you wrong.

Marriage is a choice. A commitment. A promise that even when I might wake up unhappy with my spouse, that I commit to work and get things back on track.

God bless anyone in today's world that makes it 59 years of marriage. God bless anyone who truly lives out the wedding vow "til death do us part". God bless the man who now walks alone.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thirty-Five Days of Fatherhood

Perhaps the loneliest time in my life came around 10:20 on the morning of August 18, 2009. There I sat, covered in hospital garb from head to toe awaiting entry into the operating room where my wife Kathryn was in the midst of having a spinal injection to numb her from the pain of a c-section. In that moment, I had roughly five minutes of time alone to myself, perched on a clean wooden bench just outside the room where my wife and a team of doctors and nurses were prepping for what can be described as nothing less than an awe-inspiring moment.

I spent that time alone avoiding thoughts of anxiousness as I awaited the go ahead to enter the room. I thought about a million things: the doctors performing the c-section, the discomfort of being draped in a long paper robe, what I had eaten for breakfast, if we were choosing the right name for our child, etc. I thought about the thousands of other husbands that had sat in the exact spot I was sitting, pondering whether or not they were really good enough, strong enough, stable enough, mature enough, and gentle enough to contain the blessing that was about to change their lives.

I thought about how life can be unfair. How nearly 6 years ago we had gone through a miscarriage, and just this past Christmas were scared it was happening again. I thought about men who never get to experience the joy of this moment. I thought about the women who try for years in heartache and frustration, only to find they'll never be able to birth a child of their own.

From the time I was summoned to join my wife in the room surrounded by masked men and women who all likely spent half their adult lives to gain access to perform such invasive tasks to the human body, I was numb. Partially scared, yes, but mostly feeling so unworthy of the very moment I was in. Of feeling nearly ashamed that I would be given the great responsibility to care for another human being when so many times I had failed in taking care of my wife and even myself.

But that's part of the beauty of it. God was gracious enough to see past that and carry out His plans. His will was taking place, and none of my feelings of inadequacy would change that.

And so at 10:52 a.m., Macy Claire Becker entered this world without much of a sound, just a few small whimpers. It wasn't but a few minutes later the nurse handed this seven pound, 19 inch bundle of wonder to me, almost as if she presumed I knew what to do with her.

Now movie scripts and poets will describe such a moment in flowery language, as if some magic spark had taken place. I suppose you could say that's true, because I'll never forget the first moment that baby girl looked into my eyes with curious wonder, unsure of the cold surroundings around her. How witnessing a miracle first hand could change a man.

As these days and weeks have passed, I've completely fallen in love with her. The way she smiles when she's sleeping, the noises she makes as she eats, the exploratory nature of kicking feet and arms flinging. How every single movement she makes is ordained and planned by God.

And the beauty of it all is that I've only got 35 days down, with an eternity still to go.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

10 Prayers for my Baby Girl

1) I pray that she'll be healthy. I know that sounds cliche and simplistic, but it's really the first desire for us to have a healthy child. My prayer is that she'll not be afflicted with much illness, pain, or discomfort.

2) I pray that she'll know love. That she'll know love from us, her parents. That she'll know that everything we do is in her best interest. That she'll know love from our families. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and future siblings. I pray she'll know love from her friends, from preschool classmates to college roommates. I pray she'll know love from the church as she grows in her relationship with Christ. I pray she'll know love from her future husband to carry her through her adult life. I pray most of all she'll know the love of God and that His love is the greatest of all!

3) I pray she'll realize she's beautiful. That she'll not use what this world has as it's standard of beauty, but that she'll delight herself in the Lord as an image bearer of God. That she'll know the depth of her beauty begins in her likeness of Christ.

4) I pray she'll follow the desires of her heart. As long as it pleases God, I hope she'll chase her dreams. If she wants to be a paint, we'll get her brushes and canvas. If she wants to be a lawyer, we'll work extra hours to put her through law school. If she wants to be a writer, we'll get all the paper and pens she needs. I pray she'll never ever be afraid to chase the dreams God has placed in her heart.

5) I pray she comes to know Christ at an early age. I pray she'll learn stories from the Bible when shes young. I pray God will turn her heart towards him early in her life. I pray we'll be parents who teach her God's word.

6) I pray she'll grow into a strong woman. I pray she won't let the things of this world bring her down. I pray no man will ever treat her as anything less than a daughter of God. I pray she'll be confident in herself. I pray she'll depend solely on Christ, and nothing other than Him.

7) I pray she'll understand life is about moments, not things. I look back on my childhood and couldn't tell you 10 different toys I owned. But I could tell you the times my dad played catch with me. I remember mom tucking me in every night. I remember my parents being there for every lame band recital, every little league game, and every Christmas play. I remember vacations to the beach and mountains. I remember shooting hoops and homemade ice cream. I remember driving lessons in church parking lots. I remember the moments with my parents, not the things they gave me. I pray the same goes with our daughter. I pray she'll remember not the Christmas or birthday presents, but the daddy-daughter dates. The apple-picking trips with the family. Manicures and pedicures with mom. I pray she remembers MOMENTS, not material posessions.

8) I pray that she'll want to play sports, but still be a girly girl! This is selfish, I know, but it's worth a shot right? I pray that I can help our daughter to shoot a basketball or to kick a soccer ball. At the same time, I want her to be feminine, to see her mom dressing up and want to wear the earrings and lip gloss like her.

9) I pray that she will learn from mistakes and heart breaks. This is the toughest of all to pray, because it's facing an inevitability: some time, probably more than once, she'll mess up or get hurt. I pray she'll not be discouraged, but learn from those incidents and carry on with hope and confidence.

10) I pray she'll look just like her mom. Never was I blessed in my life as I was the day I married Kathryn. She's the most beautiful woman in the world to me, and I pray that our daughter has her same looks. That she has the radiant smile, the olive complextion, the smooth skin, and gorgeous eyes. I pray that she'll realize just how much I love her mom and find her beautiful.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Plea To Parents of Little Boys

I'm roughly a month or so away from adding a new label onto my life: father. And if you think that sounds like just another step, to me it seems so out of place. The word father seems to carry a sense of maturity to it. Because now you're not only responsible for yourself, but for an entire other life. One totally dependent on you to clothe, feed, clean, stimulate, play with, read to, hug and kiss, and sacrificially love daily. And lucky me, I've got to do all this with a little girl! Not that I'm not excited, but it sure is intimidating!

I've been thinking a lot recently about how Kathryn and I are to raise this little girl in today's world. A world filled with such crudeness and sin that it causes me to shiver just thinking about not being with my daughter for a single moment to protect her. So I wanted to write a blog directed to the parents of young boys out there. Just a few requests:

1) Teach them to respect other girls as the weaker sex. We lived in a society where gender lines are often blurred. The feminist movement has leveled the playing field for men and women, and both genders have felt reprecussions. While some good things have come of it, it has also taught us that females are to be treated no differently than men. That's bogus. It's obvious we were created differently. Women are weaker physically than men and often times emotionally. PLEASE teach your boys to respect girls. It goes beyond just holding doors and lifting heavy things for them. It's respecting their hearts to never break them, their minds to never discourage them, and their bodies to never defile them. We are all image bearers of God.

2) Respecting other girls starts at home. Fathers (and husbands), if you are crude, crass, mean, rude, disrespectful, slanderous, abusive (physically or verbally), harsh, condescending, or arrogant towards your wives at home, your son WILL see that, and he will most likely view that as how women are to be treated. If you have negative things to say towards your spouse, you NEVER do so in front of your children. That doesn't mean it's okay to do it in private unless it's a civil discussion between both of you. As a child, the worst punishments I received (and the most painful spankings, for that matter) were when my father found out I had disrespected my mother. His love for her showed me that I was to love her and respect her because HE did. Dads, love your wives (Eph. 5:25-27). Your children are watching.

3) Teach your son that sex is for marriage. The saddest part of today's world to me is how open and disclosing people are with their sexuality. As someone that is going to be raising a girl, it scares me to death. In today's world, girls are pregnant in some cases at age 13. Many girls will have their first "sexual experience" by age 16. And then, once you're in college, it's just an expected thing. Sex is normal, natural, and boundless. Often times today a normal part of a dating relationship is even something called "sexting", where a girl sends nude pictures of herself via text message to a guy. How sad! It's clear in the Bible that sex is an act of marriage, and marriage alone. God never gives permission for anything sexual to take place outside of marriage. However, the world will try to convince you it's no different than a goodnight kiss. Please parents, teach your sons that they should not only respect other girls, but themselves as well. Teach them that sex isn't just a physical act, especially for a young woman. Teach them that often times the consequences vastly outweigh the pleasure. Sex IS intended for pleasure, once you're married. Your son should view other girls as "daughters of God", and respect them as much. This means, along with waiting until marriage for sex, to not look at a girl with lust. Hard to do, but nobody said following God's word was easy. Direct them in those ways!

The day will come where I'll start going on daddy/daughter dates with my girl. The day will come where a boy will write a "check yes or no" note to my daughter in class. The day will come that some boy will break my daughter's heart. The day will come where she goes on her first date. The day will come where some young man will ask for permission to marry my daughter. The day will come where I will walk her down the aisle and give her away to the love of her life.

And there's a chance that young man may be your son.

So please listen to my requests. I won't puff out my chest with bold statements like "she won't date 'til she's 35" or "I'll have a couple of shotguns waitin' on a boy that comes to me wanting to date my daughter!" But I am serious when I say this: your son better respect my daughter. If not because I said so, then because Jesus Christ commanded it (1 Pet. 3:7). Not just my daughter, but all little girls out there, because there's thousands of daddies of little girls that feel the same way I do.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

6 Years and Counting...

It's difficult to really describe marriage. I've often thought about what I would recommend to a younger couple looking to get hitched regarding marriage. In part because I still feel at times like a newlywed myself, but more so because I feel a lot of times like I'm not in the best position to be dispensing advice on a topic that I'm still taking lessons on daily.

First of all, you have to take your vows seriously. It's not just a formality to get up in front of people and recite promises to your soon-to-be spouse. It's a whole-hearted commitment, one not to be taken lighty. Sadly, too many people today discard that wedding day promise as if it were made in haste, or as if it wasn't really intended to be serious.

On July 12, 2003, Kathryn and I made those vows to one another. We promised to ourselves and to God that we would always be there for each other, never failing in our love or honor for the other. That doesn't mean everything is perfect. It doesn't mean we don't have knock-down drag-out fights from time to time. It DOES mean, however, that we always promise to be there, for better or worse.

We'ce celebrated 6 years of marriage. As we enter into the seventh year, we know it's a volatile time. Year 7 is often a "make or break" year for marriages. Statistically, if couples can make it past their seventh year of marriage together, they usually make it for a lifetime.

Having a newborn arriving in August won't make things easy. Finances tightening won't make things easy. The stress of late night feedings and budget calculations will sometimes strain things. So what to do? Maintain focus on God's word to humbly submit to one another.

Do you know what that means? That I'm supposed to put my wife's needs above mine. That I'm to love her regardless of the way she loves me. That when times get tough, I don't walk out the door, but that I commit myself to my wife, my lover, my partner, and my best friend to work things out.

The best example of marriage to me has always been my parents. Their love and affection for one another hasn't wilted in their near 40 years of marriage. I can still remember my dad coming in from work when I was younger and walking straight over to my mom to greet her with a warm hug and a kiss. That's love. That's marriage. And all I hope for is that same love shared between Kathryn and I for many, many years to come.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Why You're Also To Blame for Jon and Kate's Divorce

Chances are, you did this. In fact, in all likelihood there's still blood on your hands from it. So tell me, how does it make you feel to tear apart a family with a mom, dad, and 8 kids?

I know, I know, it wasn't your intention. I guess from the start you were just simply entertained. But when things took a turn for the worse, you jumped on the TMZ train straight to "Happy Hour: Divorce Style" to get your fix on the latest break-up news. Only this time, it's not some A list actor splitting from his wife of 9 months. No, this is a family, one that began well over a decade ago. One that encompasses 10 people, 8 of which are age 6 or younger.

I can't be too harsh on you because, after all, I'm just as much a bearer of the blame. I tend to get a fix on these stories myself. It's so much more fun to watch people in the spotlight fail. After all, they get to be in that light, while we can only sit from afar and dream of just being in it's shadow.

If you were unsure of the exact situation I'm referring to here, be glad. Be content in being removed completely from this drama, one so disgustingly engrossing it's popularity spiked only when the worst moments arose. Jon and Kate Plus 8. The TLC reality show starring a big Brady Bunch like family, one with a set of twins and a set of septuplets. Only in this show, there seems to be no sweet Alice to help pull the troops together and smooth things over before the hour is over.

Jon and Kate announced publicly (via their show, of course) that they were filing for divorce. Cite different reasons all you want: she's too bossy, he's been cheating, they're exploiting their children, the stress of public life is too much, etc., but the only defining outcome of it all is this: two parents of 8 beautiful children are splitting up.

Understanding all the nooks and crannies that come with raising 8 kids (let alone doing so publicly) befuddles us "normal" people. We see this cast of characters as mere Monday evening entertainment. Quite frankly, it presents itself more of a fun show for our wives. However, now that things are falling apart, everyone wants to know about it. No sliver of gossip even this juicy escapes the interest of most Americans. But our reaction to the situation is what saddens me the most, and proves that we are becoming more and more numb to the idea of separation, divorce, and broken families.

Why is it we never talk much about the moments in a couple's life that go right? Why did TMZ and E! and those other stations not cover the times when Jon and Kate were reading bedtime stories to their children and having date nights and laughing and loving on camera?

Because we don't want that. A safe, strong, secure family is boring. We prove it with the ratings. You don't watch Entertainment Tonight to see which couples celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. You watch it to see who's been caught red-handed with their secretary. Who's been out at the clubs with another man? Who filed for divorce among their other items on their daily check off list? Who's in alcohol rehab? Who was arrested for drug possession?

Perhaps even more tragic is that we react much the same to people in our every day lives who aren't daily tabloid fodder. Neighbors divorcing, co-workers cheating, family members going through depression. It's become all a big joke. Like screwing up is entertainment, and no price is too high to pay for it.

My hope is that we all will take a step back, and rather than label the Gosselins as "media whores" or as "just another reality show curse", we will instead be broken. That our hearts will break for any family going through tough situations. That we wouldn't simply sit comfortably in our chairs and become marriage therapists will all the advice and answers, but we would pray earnestly for family reconciliation. That we wouldn't turn our neighbor's issues into water cooler discussion, but we would seek out whole-hearted ways we can serve them in love.

And maybe, just maybe, we'll see Jon and Kate and any other families being torn apart as nothing but human beings on the other side of the camera, going through the same trials that we all go through. Then perhaps we could sympathize rather than judge and cast stones, and hopefully in turn not play the damning role of accomplices in a crime of breaking apart a family.