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Journey to the Cross and a father’s heart
Less than a month into the merger conversation, our family attended an event at the other church held on Good Friday (April 7, 2023). This event was called called “Journey to the Cross.” This was another unique situation where we were one of the only families from our church in attendance.
Our own church already had a Good Friday service scheduled. Our church uses the Good Friday service as a way to give people with musical talents who are not a part of the regular music team a chance to serve. This also gives the regular musicians and vocalists a brief rest to prepare for the Resurrection Sunday service. Because I did not have the obligation of playing for the Good Friday service, our family opted to use that time to visit.
“Journey to the Cross” was an interactive adventure that travelled from room to room around the church. Each room told a part of the crucifixion and resurrection story. There were props, costumes, videos, sound effects, and activities where audience participation was encouraged. All four of us were readily engaged, and it was a great sensory experience for the boys.
That is, until the very last station…
This final station was a private participation of the Lord’s Table. Each small group that had gone through the stations (around 10 people per group), gathered for a very brief time to participate in this.
To this point – and again on this night – we had not allowed Little Brother to partake of the elements of the Lord’s Table. We believed that LB had not yet come to full awareness, understanding, and acceptance of the gospel nor all the the Lord’s Table entails.
Over the prior few months, Russ and I had become deeply burdened for Little Brother. and we had been praying for his acceptance of the gospel. It hadn’t happened yet, and we were okay with that. But we were having frequent conversations about it with him and teaching him the gospel as often as we could. This whole night, as I held his sweet little hand in mine, I was praying that this beautiful experience was showing him the gospel again with new eyes – that as he used a sharpie to mark stripes on a white sheet or picked up the hammer to bang a nail into a piece of wood, that he was understanding the gospel more fully.
When he wasnt allowed to partake in the Lord’s Table, LB began crying and became disruptive. I stayed with Ezra to participate in the elements, while Russ took LB out so he wouldn’t cause a commotion. When we were done, I joined Russ and LB, who were in the fellowship hall. As I approached, though, Russ waved me off. It was apparent to me that Russ and LB were in a deep conversation with the pastor. In fact, if my recollection is correct, LB was standing face to face with the pastor, who was seated. He was speaking gently to LB, and what I could hear from across the room was definitely of a spiritual nature. They were speaking of the gospel. He was explaining it again to our child.
Russ and I both come from a background where children are often emotionally manipulated into “making a profession of faith” or “asking Jesus into their heart.” This is something we guard against in our own family, and not something we have encountered at our own church. But here we are in a different church, with a different pastor. While, on one hand, I was excited and hopeful that maybe this would be the night that LB would come to that level of understanding, I was also incredibly on guard. I didn’t know this church or this man, and I didn’t want my son to be manipulated into some kind of “decision” he wasn’t fully capable of making.
As I eavesdropped from a distance, the conversation was winding down. This pastor looked right at LB and said something like this, “And you know what, LB? God has given you the PERFECT person to ask these kind of hard questions. And this person is so ready and willing to talk to you about these things. Do you know who it is?”
LB tearfully shrugged. Then this pastor pointed at my husband. “It’s that man right there – your daddy.”
I stood there in awe, really. This was a vulnerable moment where someone could have so easily taken advantage. But in one breath he not only chose not to, but he also directed our son back to his father, affirming my husband to my son.
Russ would be the first to tell you that he has not always been the greatest father. His love for his boys is undeniable, and his intentions have always been honorable. But his own emotional traumas, mental health challenges, and debilitating anxiety have often interfered with his capabilities to be calm, gracious, patient, and gentle with our high-octane, emotionally challenging boys.
As Russ wrote so poignantly a decade ago…
In our efforts through the years to get some professional help for our family’s many challenges, I have often walked away from meetings discouraged. All too often, the blame seemed to be laid solely at the feet of my husband. If Dad would just… Dad really needs to… If only Dad could… The problem here is that Dad… We even had two counselors drop our family citing that my husband was just too hard to work with or too resistant to change.
Yes, the issues with our family dynamics are very real. But being told repeatedly that Russ was the problem didn’t do anything to help us. Yes, I had influence; but that influence was more the glue holding our family together. I could do nothing to repair my husband’s childhood trauma, change his parenting style, fill the hole left by a lack of Godly role models, or “fix” much of anything.
It wasn’t until we found our current counselor in 2019 that we finally found a professional who truly affirmed my husband’s love and leadership within our family. Her guidance did much to shift my efforts away from trying to “fix” my husband to praying for him, affirming him, and leaving him in God’s hands – trusting that God was in control.
Moments such as this moment – when a pastor we barely knew affirmed my husband’s love and leadership to my son and I – was a much-needed incidence of affirmation and encouragement. He didn’t know how much our family needed this.
That evening, Russ and I stood in our kitchen talking, and Russ said, “That man oozes a father’s heart.”
Less than a month later (May 1, 2023), we had our first play date with a family from the other church and a family from our church. We all had children from varying ages, we all homeschool our kids, and we were all looking forward to getting to know each other better. About ten minutes after we arrived at a local park, our playdate was interrupted by a cry from Ezra. It was the kind of cry that immediately told me that something was very wrong. He was holding his arm. Between my 16 broken bones and my new friend’s experience with children in cheer and gymnastics, we looked at each other and knew that it was broken.
This was my first experience with one of my children having a broken bone. (A sheer miracle, if you ask me, that it took us 12 years to get there!) Since my tib-fib fracture in 2020, I’ve dealt with severe anxiety and possibly some medical PTSD regarding that experience and other broken bones I’ve had. So seeing my child in this level of pain and knowing first-hand what he was going through was incredibly triggering for me. Thankfully, I held it together.
The friend from my church took LB with her, and my new friend told me of a local urgent care place with X-ray capability that was only 5 minutes from the park. This was a true Godsend. We still ended up transferring to a children’s hospital later in the day to have the arm set; but this urgent care was able to confirm the bones were broken, give Ezra pain medicine, splint the injury, and give us a sling. I still shudder and get teary eyed thinking about the experience, especially thinking with terror how hard it would have been if we had had to drive the 25 minutes to the children’s hospital with Ezra crying in excruciating pain rather than around the corner to urgent care.
While Ezra was waiting to have his arm x-rayed, I received a Facebook voice message. This pastor, who we had known for just a little over a month, reached out and left a voice message specifically for Ezra, speaking to him – telling him how strong and brave he was and how cool he was going to look in his cast! It was a comfort to both of us.
Two days later, at a combined prayer meeting, Ezra was so excited to have all of his new friends sign his cast.
If you are a man who is reading this, I implore you in this matter:
Look around and notice the young fathers in your church, family, and community. Do what you can to encourage them and to affirm their love and leadership to their families. You may not know their background or life story, but ALL fathers (and their sons) need Godly male role models and father-figures to build them up. You don’t have to be a pastor, or even a father, to do this. You do have to have the willingness to develop a father’s heart, and then use your resources and love to pour into the fathers around you.