One of my daughters, Chelsea, posted this picture and message on Instagram and Facebook the afternoon after I spoke in chapel at Cedarville University. “My dad speaking this morning at Cedarville. When I was younger I didn’t always like being a pastor’s kid, but today I couldn’t have been prouder of my dad for sharing God’s Word and his heart for missions.”
What is a statement like that worth? Everything. These words mean the world to me. When we went into missions in the late 90’s and then began planting churches in South Africa in 2001, it felt like there was a lot on the line. After all, people were sacrificially investing a lot for us to do the work of world missions. Some might say, there was a lot on the chopping block; including our own kids. I was every bit of an overzealous, insecure, and obsessed new pastor trying to find my feet as a missionary and church planter. In the middle of all that was the not-to-be neglected role of being a husband to Nancy and a father to our four daughters.
Chelsea’s comment is so significant because as I reflect back to those early years for us as family – they weren’t so easy. Missionaries are known for telling the positive sides of life and ministry on the mission field (and we did!), but there were struggles, too, that never made the prayer letters. Our girls were not only adjusting to living in a cross-culture setting in South Africa, away from the familiar, family, and the fun of living in America, but they we were all also having to adjust to their dad being a pastor and no longer a businessman. We were all adjusting to life in the ministry “fishbowl” where not much is hidden, all is observed and often judged. Our quiet and close little family was not only fully exposed to many new ministry partners and supporting churches, we were also overwhelmed by a newly formed church and a growing congregation. As a pastor shepherd, I was always on call and we discovered that the church is a 24-hour operation. We often had people in our home and I seriously felt the pressure of speaking in front of people, the long hours of study, home visits, and counseling. We were all overwhelmed.
For Chelsea, our safe little world was gone. And she so prized that. She was learning how to share our family with many other people. In those early years I recall some really hard conversations and stressful moments with our Chelsea. She has always been and still is such a sweet and sensitive person, yet while not always expressing her true feelings to the affects of the fishbowl, she quietly rebelled at some of the changes that were happening. And truth be known, I didn’t handle that so well. After all…we were doing God’s work. What could be more important than that? Truthfully, I realize now that most of the pressure I felt in the ministry was self-induced.
We’ve always tried to let our kids know how proud we are of them. Each of them know that personally. But it’s very cool when they, as young adults, tell you they are proud. Looking back now it is easy to see the mistakes I made as a father in ministry. And even though I didn’t neglect our girls there were times when they got my wimpy leftovers. I was there physically, but not always emotionally. Years gone by can never be redone but here’s my top 10 list of things I’d do different, if I could.
- I would forgive more freely.
- I would play more and work less.
- I would pay attention to the little things. They do matter.
- I would have been more transparent about my weaknesses.
- I would have stopped trying to make everyone happy and like me.
- I would have laughed a lot more – at my blunders and myself.
- I would have learned how to use the “out of the office” email reply button.
- I would have spent more time working on the inside of me and less on the outside.
- I would have told my girls “I don’t have time” less, and I would have said “No” to less important things.
- I would have shared a bit more about ministry life with our girls. They are brilliant, incredibly perceptive, and would have understood and prayed for me.
How are our grown-up girls and their husbands doing now? Remarkably well, having survived the rigors of missionary life, I think they all would say they are better for it…each now declaring their own passion for God, a heart for lost people and a desire to reach the nations for Christ.
Three of our girls are married and there are five grandkids on the scene (a sixth on the way) as an extension of the original Wolfpack. Am I going about things any differently with our grandkids? Man, am I ever! Because we don’t get to see them very often, we go for absolutely every second that we can to be with them. We are building into their lives as best as we know how.
Thank you, Chelsea, for being proud of me – for expressing yourself in such a meaningful way and for building into my life. It speaks volumes about God’s grace in our lives. And I am so grateful. I love you, Daddy.