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“One Thing I Learned” — Father’s Day Week, part 4

John Thomas Vidakovich, a/k/a Johnny Vee, is my closest clergy brother. We’ve weathered storms together, laughed and cried together, played music together, and worked on more projects together than I can count. I’d love to find a way to have you and him and me sit down together for coffee, and — oh no wait, that’s right, he doesn’t drink coffee…don’t let that or any other stuff get in the way of what he’s about to say in this letter to his late father. He wrote this a couple of days ago, and has graciously given me his expressed permission to share it with you here as we continue to celebrate Father’s Day all week long —

Dear Dad,
I have started this letter at least ten times and can’t seem to get past the first sentence.

I am having trouble saying to you how I feel about you.

“Saying” was always a road block for us. Saying how we felt, saying important things about ourselves to each other. So much left unsaid, so much regret.
With a little distance from it the truth seems clearer to me now. Often it is hard to say important things to the people we love the most. I knew what I wanted to say to you but I just couldn’t get the words out and my intuition tells me the same was true for you.

I learned a lot from you. You were one tough old Croatian. Your mental toughness in bad situations made an impact on me and has helped me weather the storms of my life. You quit drinking cold turkey, no support groups. Not an easy thing to do.

There was one incident in particular in which your kindness taught me how to love others. You and mom had just got a new car. Judy (editorial note-my sister) begged you and mom to drive it and finally prevailed. She had an accident and when we arrived in the scene we saw a crumpled fender and a distraught teenage girl. Mom’s first words were “Oh no! Our new car!” The first thing you did was walk over, put your arm around my sister and consoled her. I have used that story in many sermons because it teaches an important truth.

The older I get, the more important these things are to me. Now that I am a dad, I have greater empathy for you.

Speaking of being a dad, I wish you could have seen your grandkids grow up. They inherited that mental toughness from you and have now turned into wonderful adults. One thing I learned from our relationship is to step outside of my comfort zone and say important things to them. I don’t always succeed, but I am trying.

You should see your great grandsons, Petra’s boys Brody and Abraham. They are full of energy and smart as a whip. I just wish they could have experienced you saying “pull my finger.”

I love you dad. I think about you often.


“Watching Men Become Dads” — Father’s Day Week, part 3

Amy Lynn Miller is a friend, a counselor, a consultant, a singer, and was an active youth member of a church it was my joy to serve. She has graciously given me permission to share this with you here, as together we continue to celebrate Father’s Day — 

I love watching men become dads.

If they allow it, having children softens them in a profound way. It makes them sweet and gentle and tender and vulnerable, if only – often, only- in the small, private moments with their children.

A new dad is terrified, anxious, and in love. A seasoned dad is relaxed, confident, and in love. It’s an amazing thing. Dads are an invaluable resource, and for those of us lucky to have or know them, we are blessed beyond measure. Zoe is blessed beyond measure. I have been blessed beyond measure.

But. From working with many couples in distress, I know that many men aren’t always able or willing to extend that vulnerability and softness to their partners. This can be very upsetting to their partners; to be so close to such sweetness and not be able to access it is painful.

But I understand: adult partners can hurt a man. Adult partners can say “your love is not good enough”.

Children are all love and acceptance. Children have no expectations of a man’s ability to produce or make money or express his emotions with any degree of articulateness. Children are a safe place to invest all the emotional energy a man has stored up from lifetime of suppression.

To all the fathers out there, please know that the softening that comes from falling profoundly in love with your children is a gift the world desperately needs, and it is safe to share it beyond the borders of your home. We need men who are tender and gentle and willing to take emotional risks. We need men who are vulnerable and honest and actively engaged in dismantling the impossible expectations of “being a man” this culture has imposed.

We need good dads. Zoe’s daddy is an amazing example of emotionally intelligent fatherhood, and my hope is she will grow into a happy, confident woman as a result of having such a profoundly good dad. I am unspeakably grateful to have him as my partner.

Happy Fathers’ Day to the men who are struggling to integrate the role of being a good dad with being an American Man. I see you. Keep trying. We need you.

Happy Fathers’ Day to all the people who’ve stepped into parenting roles for children not their own. You’re doing the world a valuable service.

Happy Fathers’ Day to the dads who can’t be with their children today for any reason, and to those who are desperate to become fathers and haven’t been able to yet. I know some single dads out here making it happen, and you should know you’re doing a great job.

Happy Fathers’ Day to my own father, as well. He set a parenting example I hope to live up to of being reliably present for his children at all times. That trust is a gift.

Father’s Day Week, part 2 — “Make the Most of Things Today”

—Let’s spend some extra time this week celebrating Father’s Day —

Steve Barrett is a colleague and friend who wrote the following on this most recent Saturday evening.  He has graciously given me his expressed permission to share this with you —-

I was asked what I wanted to do tomorrow for Father’s Day. My first and immediate response was “preach.” After that the rest of the day came together…lunch with my family, possibly a nap, and worshiping at church in the evening. Even though it’s what we do most Sundays, I can’t think of a better way to spend it.

But I’m also reminded that just one year ago, plans didn’t go the way we intended. I struggled to get through the Sunday morning service. I skipped lunch and took a nap because I felt like garbage. When Kay woke me up from my nap, my chest hurt. Then it was off to the ER, transfer by ambulance to another hospital’s ICU, a medical procedure on Monday morning, and lots of prayers for healing by friends and family.

Don’t take “tomorrow” for granted. Spend time with your family and love them more than you love your job, money, or anything else (but Jesus). We aren’t promised tomorrow…make the most of things today!


Father’s Day, The STL Blues, and Meeting Jesus

Happy Father’s Day!

Every Dad knows today is just as big of a deal as Mother’s Day was last month, right?

Hmmmm. Let’s get back to that later. I have an idea.

And how about our St. Louis Blues and The Stanley Cup?! And a Belleville (IL) Union United Methodist Church family was among the 100 people selected to be right in front of the stage for yesterday’s celebration, how cool is that?!

Many are the memes reminding people about certain promises they made about getting back to church this Sunday if the Blues stayed ahead and won Wednesday night’s final game of the championship series. The Blues did…so now whose turn is it to follow through?

Finally, a quick reminder of a Bible verse we first looked at last Sunday, expanded here today to include the second sentence in that verse —

Jesus met them and greeted them.

And they came to him and worshiped Him.

Matthew 28:9

The question: What are you going to do when Christ Jesus meets you?


“Even when you’re ready for it, nothing sneaks up on you like grief.”

That’s from a novel by Brad Meltzer.

That’s also something you and I’ve experienced in real life.

Here’s something else, and this is a song to God —

You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn
through the sleepless nights,
Each tear entered in your ledger,
each ache written in your book.

— That’s from Psalm 56.

But wait! There’s more! This is also from a song to God —

Even when my path

goes through terrifyingly dark places,

you promise to walk with me

and your presence is solid.

That’s from Psalm 23.

“But, Joe, you don’t understand!” You’re probably right.

But get this:

Jesus wept.

— No matter if I get it or not: Jesus gets it. That’s from John 11.

Brad Meltzer’s right: “Even when you’re ready for it, nothing sneaks up on you like grief.”

But our Scriptures are also right.

And there are a whole lot more where those came from.





Are You Really Listening?

“Every morning God speaks to us,” said Rev. Dr. Rose Booker Jones one week ago today.

She was preaching at this year’s Clergy Retirement Service at our Annual Conference.

I’ve known her a long time. Longer, in fact, than either of us will admit. She’s been a colleague, friend, prayer partner, District Superintendent, and side-bar-conversation-partner at a meeting when things got dull.

And she’s real.

Here’s the rest of Rose’s statement from a week ago today —

“Every morning God speaks to us,

‘I called you.

I formed you.

I kept you.

You are mine.'”

— She wasn’t kidding a week ago.

God’s not kidding today.

“Every morning God speaks to us, ‘I called you. I formed you. I kept you. You are mine.'”

In The Message’s version of Mark 4:9, Christ Jesus asks us, Are you listening to this? Really listening?



Perfect Pruning: Nothing to Do with Wrinkly Fingertips

People who can grow things amaze me.

Some would say they have a Green Thumb.

Others of us just have Bruised Thumbs.

I’ve seen gifted gardeners judiciously attack what they’re growing. First time I noticed this, it seemed like it’d be easier just to rip the whole thing up by its roots.

But even I knew that could kill it, and that wasn’t their objective.

They were doing that thing called pruning. In this context, pruning has nothing to do with one’s fingertips being all wrinkly from being in water too long.

Besides being a carpenter, Christ Jesus knew a thing or two about planting and helping things grow —

I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more.

— That’s from John 15, The Message version.

Pruning is preparing.

And then there’s this, from Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Pruning is preparing for perfection

Let’s let Christ Jesus have his rightful last word here —

I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature.

— Let’s remind each other of that the next time we’re being pruned.