Last week I went to my home state of Kentucky to visit my parents for a few days. It’s been awhile since I ‘ve been there and I was really excited to be going again. With great anticipation I thought of seeing my parents. My brothers and sisters of which there are not a few. Eating fresh, juicy, crisp red watermelons in the fields, still cool from the night before.
I went. I did so many things. Played with my younger siblings. Washed dishes with my sisters (much to their embarrassment), grilled some great food, got up everyday at the crack of daybreak to harvest summer squash, and in a few days I was so stiff and sore I could hardly move. But it was amazing.
And Sunday came. I went with them to church. Tradition dictates that guys my age must all madly scramble to sit on the back row. I am not sure why. I am not always known to do exactly what everyone else does and this particular time was no different. I decided to sit beside my dad on the front row. So there I was, in my charcoal/pepper trousers that I had picked up in London with a lightly plaid shirt that screamed bloody murder in the middle of somber, subdued solid colors, sharing the old German hymnbook with my dad, slowly chanting a 17th century tune that sounded more like shrieks and moans from the purgatory hinterlands than a joyful noise. But that’s okay. As I was sitting there my thoughts went back to how I used to do anything possible to avoid spending time with my dad. How it has changed so much. How today I chose to sit beside him, breaking all cultural norms, because I admire and respect him. How I felt from him that he was proud to have his worldly-wise son sitting on the front row with him.
My thoughts went back to ten years ago when I was debating about leaving the Amish culture. Would it be worth losing everything I ever knew for a life of uncertainty? My good friend Amos was very much on the same journey that I was. He felt God calling him into something different. We had many hours of late night talks. Talks of what we think God might have for us. Dreams of what we want to do.
But time went on. Eventually we had to make a choice. There was endless pressure from our parents to just give up; do what everyone else does; just join the church. And I tried. I actually gave up and decided I would just join the church. But I couldn’t do it. In a powerful move of redemption God showed me I must leave. Read that story of My Ever Restless Heart.here.
I moved ahead with my plans. My parents were heartbroken. So was I. If you are not a calloused person… well then, it’s really hard to break the hearts and shatter the dreams of your parent. It’s rough. It makes a person feel so small and so mean.We aren’t made to feel small and mean either.
I left. Amos did not. I betrayed the trust my parents placed in me. They grieved. The community sent them sympathy cards. They were forced to accept several years of intensive counselling from foggy minded bishops for their failure in raising a son. Amos was patted on the back. He was a hero. He was well liked. He stood on the end of the broad way and looked down the road longingly. But he turned around. They said it was bravery. I said it was cowardice.
But the THING is, Amos betrayed himself when he turned around. I embraced myself when I left. Amos turned his back on what he knew in his heart was good for what he his mind told him is good. I turned my back on what my mind told me was good to follow what my heart knew was good. And the problem is that both Amos and I have to live with ourselves the rest of our lives. And we must love ourselves. For if I don’t love myself I can never love another person from the heart. I have not done nearly everything right. But I followed God then, and I follow God now to the best of my knowledge. It has set me free. Amos is still frustrated with his choice which has led him to hate himself. And you just can’t love yourself, your surroundings, the people around you or anything, for that matter when you despise yourself. Don’t try it. Just believe me.
Now to our parents. My choice in honoring God and myself has allowed me to reach forward and rebuild the relationship with my parents. Amos’ choice of honoring his parents over God has left him feeling like his parents robbed him of something. And they did. They demanded his integrity and his soul. He gave it to them. He still holds that against them. He cannot forgive them for this.Even though he was briefly celebrated for his wise choice he developed a deep dislike for his parents and moved out. Because I am free, I reach out to my parents. I enjoy spending time with them. My dad and I are better friends than we have ever been.
The Bible says that if we lose our family for Jesus’ sake it will be restored to us a hundred fold. I feel like I am seeing this today. Amos is not. I hear when family gatherings are created he tries to be busy elsewhere, unless he just can’t get out of it then he will show up for a bit.
My good and wise friend Leroy said, ”I believe that the highest honor I can bring to my dad is to live my life in such a way that when I stand in front of the judgement seat of God and my dad is in the background watching, he will tap his neighbor and say,’That’s my son. Did you know that? That’s my son!’
I am more convinced than ever that the best way we can possibly honor our parents is to whole-heartedly follow God’s path for our lives. Whether that is with them or somewhere else is for each individual to hear from God.
How could this happen? Because God is gracious. Because my parents truly are good people. And yes, because of the choices I made. I pondered this on my 12 hour drive home. I was overcome with thankfulness. I shed some tears and whispered, “You are good.”