Sunday, June 15, 2014

The First After the Last

Today will be the first Father's Day where I won't be making a phone call to my dad. After a tough battle with cancer, he passed away last year. I don't think I took the days seriously enough, and now I have moments I wish could be lived again, mostly so they could be lived differently.

My dad worked a lot as I was growing up. Many people have memories of him and never fail to tell me how much he meant to them. I am blessed to have had a dad who made a difference in so many people's lives. He was hard worker who was always willing to help a friend. He loved Mississippi State baseball with a passion, and those guys were blessed to have known him, as well.

For years my dad owned a restaurant, and in the town where I grew up, that is what he is most remembered for. Don's Drive In. The place where you could get a good meal, a healthy debate, and where teenagers could hang out in the parking lot thinking they were hiding from their parents. The drive in burned when I was in junior high, but they rebuilt it. I remember my dad saying that if he didn't owe so much on it he would have let it burn to the ground. The source of satisfaction for many was a stress for him. I didn't know how to help relieve the stress, so I just didn't do anything.

After graduating from high school, I went to Mississippi State and then on to seminary. Ministry took me to Florida, where I spent the next twenty years. Occasional visits and phone calls limited our interaction, but during those years I saw my father grow in some ways I had not seen before. He was a good man while I was growing up, but at some point during the two decades I was absent, he came to know the Lord. The change was subtle, but the change was real. His conversion was not conventional, but it was concrete. He became more sensitive than I had ever seen him, always getting emotional when we would leave after a visit. He talked about the Lord and even started attending church. Apparently he even led the music sometimes when the "regular" guy was gone. I am grateful that he came to know the Lord before he passed away but with plenty of time to demonstrate fruit in keeping with repentance.

What lesson did I learn from him? I am sure that there are plenty I should list, but the one that stands out is the reality that it is never too late to demonstrate fruit in keeping with repentance. I have been a follower of Christ for many years, but I never feel like I'm all that I should be. A friend gave me a note when I was preaching for a summer youth camp back in the early nineties. The note simply said, "No Regret." Honestly, I have plenty of regrets. Too many to mention in this space for sure. One of them, though, is that I didn't get the chance to spend more dad in ways that others saw him. Still, I am blessed to have the hope that "too late" does not have to come.

What am I doing as a dad to make sure that my kids see fruit in keeping with repentance? Am I growing into a new man every day? Do they see the change in me? Do they know in their childhood that I love them more than life? What would they say is important to me? Am I training them to live with no regret?

Today is the first father's day after the last father's day I had with my dad. Today is the first father's day after the last father's day my kids had with me. The difference in the two is that I have more time. I can take the past and leave it at the feet of my Heavenly Father and choose from this day forward to live each day to the fullest without any tinge of regret. I can, and I pray that I will.