You’ll Always Be Here At Christmas

Christmas living room. 3d renderingI see you in your favorite seat with sleep in your eye and surprise on your face as children open their presents. The aroma of pies and dressing from your special recipe fill the air with flavor and my mind with memories. The stocking we hang with your scripted name holds no presents this year. I can still see you coming through the front door with frost on your breath, arms full of presents, and kisses all around. Though I haven’t seen you in so many years, you will always be here at Christmas because you will always be here in my heart.

Christmas was always special with you. Whether presents spilled out under the tree or gifts were few, there were laughs and love in abundance and blessings surrounding us all. I still hang the paper Santa you made in school when your hands were so small and writing was new. I hang the old ornament that grandpa bought grandma on their first Christmas tree. The picture of you screaming on scared Santa’s laugh always makes me smile. You grow up, move on, and pass on but you will always be here at Christmas because you will always be here in my heart.

On Christmas night in the peace and quiet with only the lights of the tree, I sip my hot chocolate and think of Christmas past and the joy of what used to be. Wrapped in the melancholy of warm memories, I am not sad but longing for a Christmas that used to be. But I enjoy this day and the ones I am with and celebrate another year. The friendly ghosts of Christmas past surround me and fill my heart with cheer.  I haven’t held your hand in years but you will always be here at Christmas because you will always be here in my heart.

Dusty Dolls in the Attic

The scene was reminiscent of a 1970’s disaster movie. Bodies in piles scattered everywhere; some partially clothed, most nude. Enthusiastic wild eyes stared at me with maniacal wild grins. “GIRLS,” I yelled, “Please come get this Barbie mob out of the bathtub!” I heard giggles from the hallway and gleeful cries of “Sorry daddy” as the girls whisked the dolls to the safety of their rooms.

We started with just a few dolls when the girls were little. A friend of my wife, with several daughters, asked if we wanted their dolls since her girls didn’t play with them. She brought a storage tub full of Barbie dolls, clothes, and other accessories. We made the girls give away many of the dolls and they still had enough to populate a small town. The girls played with them through the years. My wife and I were always cleaning up tiny shoes, clothes, and the occasional Barbie head from every room in the house. Many shoes and accessories were stored in the vacuum cleaner bag and I’m sure some were transported outside in dog poop.

As I guy I don’t understand the fun of playing with Barbie dolls. The girls would brush their hair, take them shopping, or they would stand around and talk. The Corvette was cool but pink.

You see, when I grew up I did have dolls. I had GI Joe and not the small guy with the plastic beard I had the tall GI Joe with the scratchy life-like beard, camouflage clothes (one set – no wardrobe needed), and weapons. I also had the Six Million Dollar Man doll with the telescopic eye and karate chop action. And, of course, Evel Knieval with the stunt cycle. These guys had adventures that usually meant putting an arm back in the socket. GI Joe would rappel down the deck or fly in a cool helicopter. Occasionally I’d borrow my sister’s Barbie as a victim to be rescued from an evil, and dainty, Ken being karate chopped by the Bionic Man. Dolls? Yes, but action and adventure instead of hairstyles and shopping.

Occasionally, when the doll mess was out of control, my wife would put the Barbie empire in a storage tub in the attic for a week until they promised to better control the mess. Eventually the girls put the Barbies in the attic themselves. They haven’t been down in a long time. Even the dog misses chewing on a Barbie foot or wayward plastic high heel.

Little Girl With Baby DollInstead of dressing up Barbie, they are dressing up themselves, combing their own hair, and painting their nails with mom. Gone is the high-pitched little voice, “Bar-be goin’ shop-en. Want to play wif dis one daddy?” My little girls became young ladies.

When I go to the attic storage for a suitcase or holiday decorations I sometimes see the tub of dolls, still smiling, most of them still naked. I would give one day of my life to be able to enjoy another day with all of my children when they were young. I remember eating frozen yogurt with the girls after a trip to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, watching them giggle and play with one another, and thinking, “I’m going to miss you when you grow up.” And I was right.

A Daughter Must Throw Tight Spirals and Bait a Hook

copy-cropped-headerI do not want to impose my rules, however sound and wise they are, on any father. However, when my daughters were born I envisioned things I would teach them before releasing them into the cold hard world. The incomplete list includes: How to:

  • Change a car tire
  • Very basic car maintenance
  • Throw a respectable forward pass
  • Bait your own hook (worms and crickets)
  • Kiss the first fish you catch then remove it from the hook
  • Firmly but politely tell a guy to pound pavement
  • Mow the grass
  • Be a good hostess
  • Play a 301 dart game
  • Be a good winner and loser as a participant or spectator
  • Grill (mom teaches cooking on the tamed fire of the stove and oven)

Mom handled the grooming, nail polish, lady-like behavior (with my commentary), keeping house, and other women’s issues that I’d rather not know about. Our combined teaching has developed some well-rounded daughters with pretty hair and nice nails who can proudly grip the pigskin and play catch in the front yard. Of course, the most important thing that we have taught them is to develop a close relationship with God and strive to glorify Him by the way they talk and act. This includes the principles of being a true friend, humility, sacrifice, service, holiness, purity, the emphasis of inner beauty and industry of the Proverbs 31 woman, how to worship, and reverence. I am proud that they can throw a good pass and fish like their mom, but I am prouder that they are godly and want to honor God.

Stumbling Awkwardly Into Female Conversations

One of the greatest perils of living a life surrounded by women is entering a room or rounding a cubicle and encountering women talking about things that men would rather not hear. My female co-workers joke about my notoriously lousy timing when it comes to such conversations. As I enter their presence my mind processes the words that I am hearing, alarms start to sound, the ladies immediately stop talking then laugh knowing that my curse continues. In Boy Scouts we learned to tap a stick while hiking to warn away snakes. In the Old Testament, lepers had to cover their mouths and yell “unclean!” when healthy people approached. I have considered such measures.

Business People In Awkward PoseFor men in such work situations there is only one response: back away, turn on your heels, and try to un-hear whatever you heard. Do not try to join the conversation using knowledge of your wife or other women in your life. Do not try to interject how men have similar issues and broaden the topic. This is not your concern. These are not the droids you are looking for. There is no graceful exit. There is only the need to exit.

Home is perhaps worse because, as a father of four daughters, there is information I need to know. My wife has tried to help me adjust. For example, we have a euphemism for feminine hygiene products to alert me that we need to go shopping. This way I don’t have to hear the “correct” product name and the household female’s needs are met. Unfortunately, I don’t always recognize her discretion.

Wife: “You need to be extra nice to ____. She’s not feeling well.”

Clueless: “What’s wrong? Does she have a stomach ache or headache or something? Did she pick up a bug at school?”

Wife: Blank stare

Enlightened: “Ohhhh. Sick. Got it.”

My wife never fails to fill in the details when it is a normal sickness so I don’t know why my mind throws out these follow-up questions.

I do appreciate my wife’s discretion. When other ladies have female procedures or surgeries she simply reports, they had surgery and it went well. If my mind slips out of gear and I ask “what kind of surgery?” she raises an eyebrow and says, “she just had surgery.” “Ahh. Got it. Went well then, yes? OK. I’m off to the garage.”

I do not think I’m an atypical male in wanting to be shielded from the biological realities of the female world. Call it immature or silly; I’m fine with that. But I believe most men are content to simply know “fine/not fine” on any women’s health issues without the colorful descriptive details (doubly so when you talk about our moms). You may say, “I tell my husband everything, not sparing any details.” I say, most likely, a little something in your husband has died of shock and trauma. It doesn’t seem to be part of our nature.

This is why God created sisters and girlfriends.

The Disagreeable Father and His Eggshell Floor

Some men are easily provoked, to the frustration of his family. They must be hyper-sensitive about what, how, when, or if to say something that it becomes easier to withdraw and isolate themselves. Often, this is a welcome relief to the man who would rather be left alone. When he has rare bright days the family beams and enjoys the relief of tension and the return of better days. However, there is still an eye on the horizon for they know that the dark days will bigstock-walking-on-eggshells-30217736quickly return and they must assume the defensive posture.  (Of course, a wife can be this way as well but I’ll let a woman write about that on her blog.)

Many men fail to realize how much they set the tone of the household when they are around. The wife and children will adjust to his disposition no matter how strong their personalities are. There may be great joy and playfulness in the house during the day but when the father walks in from work the tone changes as everyone monitors his demeanor to determine how to act. For a man who is usually positive and engaged, the appearance of a beat down and frustrated father will usually arouse sympathy, comfort, and encouragement. For a man who is usually disagreeable, the same behavior will generally result in avoidance. The disagreeable man rebuffs sympathy and refuses comfort, preferring to sulk in the misery of his life. I know. I have been this man before.

There is a better way.

Be Thankful

If you are in a disagreeable mood and I say “develop and attitude of gratitude” I know you will grunt and think “If only you knew about my life.” Yes, I’ve been there. Many, if not most, men have been there at some point in their life. However, reflecting on the blessings you have can open your eyes to how good your life is. A friend of mine was unhappy with his job and it was affecting his overall attitude. One day before work, while sitting in the plant parking lot, he took out a piece of paper and listed the pros and cons of his job.  After compiling the list, he discovered this job really had more going for it than against it. He put the list in the glove compartment and went to work from that day forward with a better attitude.

When you compare your life to the rest of the world you understand how incredibly blessed you are. A friend who travels to Africa to preach says he is impressed by the brethren who have nothing materially but are happy. It may be that we have put much stress on ourselves because we are trying to purchase our happiness at the mall and electronics store. Don’t compare your life with other people. Enjoy what you have and who you are with. Learn to live with contentment (1 Timothy 6:8 – “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”)

See the Beauty of Your Family

Your spouse has quirks. Your kids do as well. Look in the mirror and see someone else in the family with their own share of imperfections. Now look at them and yourself and see the beauty within. Sometimes we fail to appreciate the blessing of our family. Write down all the good things about your wife and children and what you admire in them. Focus on those things, not the negative things. Tell them of the beauty you see in them (they may not have heard it from you in a long time). Constantly affirm your love for them in ways that are obvious, not just grunting “love you” occasionally. Give them your time, attention, and appreciation. Love them with their imperfections because they love you with yours.

There are men who would eagerly take your place. If tragedy or circumstances separated you from them you would sacrifice anything to be back with them. Do not let tragedy wake you up before it is too late. Wake up while you can enjoy them.

Find the Joy in Life

A long term study of 200 Harvard undergraduate men that began in 1938 and continues to this day examined physical and mental health from late adolescence until very old age. Some men faced great life challenges by turning to alcohol and damaging their careers and family lives and creating financial difficulties. Some ignored their problems, some blamed others for their problems, and others escaped into fantasy worlds. Those who were mentally healthy took a different approach:

“…the other mentally healthy men in the study displayed an ability to take life’s hardship and ‘turn it into gold,’ [Dr. George] Vaillant says. He identified several mature coping skills, including humor, not taking oneself too seriously; anticipation, the ability to foresee future pain and prepare for it; stoicism, to endure hardships; and altruism, a concern for others.” (Kam, Katherine. “Baggage Check” WebMD Magazine)

Develop Friendships with Other Men

A disagreeable nature often arises from our feelings of isolation. The average man has less than one close friend with whom he can confide without fear of judgment or exposure. Without someone to talk about the problems and challenges in life common to men, a man can feel lonely and agitated. Another man can understand the struggle and provide wisdom and encouragement. I wrote an article on “Advice for an Isolated Man” with tips on how to relieve this problem.

Develop a Close Relationship with God

If we live a God-focused life we will carry our pain and concerns to Him in prayer. We will trust that this life is not about us but about “seeking the kingdom of God” first. If we develop the mind of Christ, Philippians 2:3-5, we will be as concerned about the needs of others as we are about our needs and end our self-seeking ways. Living this committed life we know that “all things work together for good” because God is in control. The occasional hat tip to God or uncommitted relationship with God will not accomplish it. When we lose ourselves in God we find what we were intended to be and our purpose in this life: to glorify Him in what we say and do.

You set the tone for your household when you are there. Let your home be so blessed by your presence that it is filled with joy, encouragement, peace, and love. Let your leadership be obvious in positive ways. Living this way, your wife and children will eagerly await your arrival from work so they can enjoy the pleasure of your company. And when dark days come, they can comfort and strengthen you until the sunshine returns.

Leading Your Family

The decline of male leadership in the home is disastrous. Some homes are absent a father because of divorce or death. Some children have never had a father at home and some have never known their father. Some homes have the physical presence of a father but he is emotionally distant and disengaged or does not have his family’s respect.

The father occupies a critical role in the family. God has placed him as the head of the family (Ephesians 5:22-6:2). The home needs the presence, leadership, and influence of a father who reflects the holiness of the heavenly father. Without this leadership, the mother must perform her role and strive to fill a second role that she is not equipped to occupy. Men need to rise up to the challenge of being the husband and father in the image of God.

My dad died when I was a five years old. My mom never remarried and I only had sisters. I had to learn fatherhood by observing godly men and my heavenly Father. I have not only raised my four children but have provided a home to some other children at times of need. I am not a perfect father and have made many mistakes but the principles below reflect the wisdom of Bible teaching, experience, and observation of good examples.

Compelling Visionfamily-leadership

A husband and father should have a compelling vision of what he wants the family to look like now and in the future. That vision should be formed with a desire to have a family that embraces holiness, righteousness, and dedication to God. This sets the moral compass and will be a guiding principle through tough times and difficult decisions. In addition, one should have a vision of the relationship he wants to have with his wife and children. He should know the place he wants his family to have within the community and the reputation that everyone will strive to uphold. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). The compelling vision is the core of the other principles.

Leadership

A husband and father occupies a position of leadership. The first great decision is to wisely choose a spouse who will recognize and respect your God-given role. This does not mean that she does not voice her opinions, even strongly. When we look at marital submission in the Bible, the comparison is to the Father and Christ. Christ did not resent His submission to the Father and the Father did not disrespect the Son’s role. A wise husband recognizes her strength, character, wisdom, and concern for the family A good wife will strive to help him to be the best leader he can be and if he is wise he will heed her counsel. After all, if she was smart enough to marry him, shouldn’t he listen to her wisdom on other matters?

The husband is not to rule as a tyrant. He is not to drive his family like a cowboy driving cattle. Such a man only receives compliance from fear and resentment from those he oppresses. He is to lead them, guided by the compelling vision, towards a satisfying life on earth and the eternal joy of heaven. The husband should reflect the glory of the heavenly Father so that his wife and children will respect him and follow him joyfully.

Care and Protection

As a leader, the husband will prioritize the needs of his family. His wife must know that she and the children are physically safe. She expects that she and her children will be protected and not abused. She also trusts that he will provide clean and safe housing, food, and medical care. They may not live in luxury but these needs will be met.

She also must know that  he will provide for her and the children financially. She expects that he will not be lazy and will not let pride prevent him from taking any honorable work that can provide for the needs of the family. She also needs to trust that he will not waste the family income on foolish things and will seek her counsel on financial decisions. The Bible teaches that one who does not take care of his own has “denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever,” 1 Timothy 5:8.

The wife also must know that her husband will take care of her and the children emotionally. She has a right to expect that her husband will not verbally abuse her or the children, will be positively engaged with them (not emotionally distant), and speaks with words of grace for their edification, even during times of disagreement and discipline. The husband is entrusted with the most special gift: the heart of his wife. He should keep her secrets with the most sacred trust. He should never ridicule her in private or in front of family and friends. Likewise, he should speak to his children in constructive ways, not wear them down with sarcasm, insults, and derision or embarrass them in front of his friends or their peers.

Ultimately, the husband must have the sacrificial love Jesus had for the church. In 1 John 3:16-18, John described the love for brethren as sacrificial even to the point of giving ones life to save a brother. Although it is unlikely that one would actually have to die for a fellow Christian, one might be called to give him food or clothing. If one sees a brother or sister without adequate clothing or food and closes their heart to them and does not provide for their needs “how does the love of God abide within?” A person who would be selfish with food and clothing would not give his life to save others. It is unlikely that a husband would have to die for his wife; however, if he has an open heart to much smaller needs she can trust that if the highest price had to be paid he would willingly give himself to save her. A wife would not feel that a selfish husband would give his life to save hers.

Sacrificial Service

A sacrificial life is at the heart of being an effective leader in the home. When teaching lessons on money I urge a three-fold principle: Use some, give some, and save/invest some. The wise husband and father will use this principle with his time:

  • Use Time:  He will spend the necessary time at work to provide for the family. He will also use a reasonable amount of time for his own recreation and enjoyment as this renews his spirit and allows him to enjoy life. He will use his time to take care of the physical needs of the home and his possessions as well.
  • Give Time: He will give of his time to the service of God both by attending worship and working outside of the assemblies to honor God with his life. This should be listed first and could be listed under “use time”. This is ultimately the best and most important use of time. He will also give his time to serve his fellow man and community. His world should be better because of his presence. Don’t let your family be an excuse not to serve: serve with them. My wife and I have taken the kids to visit older brethren (the kids bring more joy than we do). My wife has taught the kids how to prepare the Lord’s Supper. As a family we have often cleaned the church building and participated in work days.
  • Invest Time: He should also invest time in his relationships. There will be many things that he does not want to do but is important to the family. It is critical to realize that we should give what others consider valuable. I might buy a present for my child and think that I have done something good when they would rather not have the present but want time with me.  I remember the story told of two diaries. The father’s diary read “It was a wasted day. It rained in the morning and we didn’t catch any fish…didn’t even get a bite.” The son’s diary read “It was the best day ever!! I went fishing with my dad!” Invest your time with your wife and children giving them what they consider valuable even if you can’t see why they consider it to be something important (hint-ask them what they want).

I posted Philippians 2:3-5 on my mirror:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… (ESV)

This verse is my daily reminder that in all my relationships, especially my family, that I need to have the mind of Christ and be concerned about what is important to others. I should not act out of conceit or selfishness but be concerned about the best interests of my wife and children.

Nurturing Spirit

The husband and father should nurture his family. This is tied to the compelling vision as he provides the guidance to make the vision a reality. Family vacations, rituals, and inside jokes/stories allow the father to provide experiences and memories for his wife and children. He is commanded to nourish his wife (Ephesians 5:29) and nurture his children (Ephesians 6:4). Nurturing his children includes teaching them God’s word and making sure they understand His will. It also includes proper discipline. Discipline is necessary to bring the wayward child back to the positive compelling vision by correcting misbehavior.

Proper discipline has several elements:

  1. Description of the Transgression: A child should be told why they are being punished: the specific behavior that is unacceptable. Never punish because “you are a bad kid” or because you are tired or grumpy.
  2. Pain/discomfort: The discipline must not be pleasant. The punishment should not be administered in anger and never abusive or excessive. Whether an inflicted sting or denial, the punishment must be unpleasant. If there is no penalty that the child wants to avoid, it cannot be rightly called punishment.
  3. Guilt/sorrow: It is short-sighted and unfair to deny a child guilt. The child needs to feel remorse for his transgression and spend time  sorrowful for their actions and the negative effect of their behavior on others. 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 describes the effect of godly sorrow on adults and it will produce the same fruit in children.
  4. Repentance/apology: The child must be remorseful for their transgression, apologize for their behavior, and promise to behave differently. If you punish a child but they never repent or offer an apology you have not reached their heart.
  5. Forgiveness: The parent should be generous in offering forgiveness to the child who has repented of their disobedience and apologized for the wrong. Do not offer conditional forgiveness. Do not tell the child you forgive them but keep bringing up what they have done. Teach them God’s forgiveness by your forgiveness.
  6. Reaffirm Love: Finally, you should reaffirm your love for them and that you hold no grudge against them. Give them hugs  and kind words.

Ultimately, the father should disciple his children. You are training them to be servants of God. Your discipline is not to enforce a set of compliant behaviors but to develop a heart that desires to serve God. The father should disciple his children by actively teaching them God’s word, disciplining them to teach them a right way to live, and living a sincere godly life in their presence. Kids can see a hypocrite easily so if your love and service to God is not genuine, repent and be what you should be so they will see Christ living in you.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, this plan requires self-management. You have to manage your desires, passions, time, money, emotions, and behavior in order to be a godly example as you lead your family to fulfill the positive compelling vision of a family that serves God diligently and loves one another. There are books on time and money management. THE book, God’s word, can teach you how to manage your time, money, and self to His glory and to the benefit of your family. Pray for your efforts to be a godly man, husband, father, and servant in the kingdom of God. Pray for forgiveness when you fail and determine to strive harder to succeed. May God bless you in this most important and much needed role.

Presented to the Florida College Sowers Club – February 2014

An inspiring and motivating sermon on being a man of God was presented by Jeff May in his 2012 meeting at the Gardendale Church of Christ. It is available here and I highly recommend it.