My grandparents called it “practicing what you preach.” This fall, as we go back to our home school, I have promised my wife and kids that I will not ask them to do something unless I am already doing it. Of course, when my grandparents shared their clever philosophy with me, I gave them my best six-year-old blank stare and wondered what in the world those crazy, old people were talking about.
So this school year when I ask my kids to clean their room, I have to ask myself, “Is my room clean?” When I ask my kids to speak kindly to their mother, I will be sure I am also speaking kindly to their mother. At forty-two, I thought I had mastered this nugget of wisdom. I was wrong, and as usual, the Lord taught me so in a rather memorable fashion.
It was one of those gifts you get excited about as a parent. You know it is perfect for your child, and you cannot wait to give it away and watch them smile. It was a Dymo Label Maker, one of those pistol-shaped gadgets that squeeze out a sticky tape with your name on it. I gave it to my nine-year-old daughter, Scout. She took it everywhere, blessing everyone she met with their own, personalized name label, including her co-stars in the Christmas play in which our family participated. Scout generously shared her new toy, but unfortunately, her co-stars were careless and used up all of her label tape in one evening.
Halley (my eleven-year-old daughter), Scout, and I drove away from a late performance at the theater. The sky was dark as we bounced home in my truck. Scout was weepy and sad about the loss of her label tape. In my “Dad-knows-best” lecturing voice, I sermonized to Scout about God’s abundance and how He wants us to share our blessings with others. I quipped, “Don’t worry, Scout. Just give to others, and the Lord will take care of you.
Scout’s face grew even sadder, and I realized my “Dad-knows-best” had not done a thing to help my daughter. Maybe what I said was right, but my attitude was not right; and I could have grieved with my little girl for a while before preaching to her.
We stopped at a video store and rented some movie I have long since forgotten. I am sure it starred a pig or a dog, because that is about all I get to watch anymore at my house. We plodded out of the store and back into the dark. I helped the girls into the truck, walked around, and opened my door.
Out of nowhere, a man rode up on a wobbly bicycle, stopping just behind my truck. He was forty-something and wore the tired face of a desperate man. “Don’t shoot me!” he called out. Now, that was a curious thing to say in a dark parking lot. My stage makeup made my cheeks nice and rosy, but I did not think I was that scary.
I replied, “I don’t have a gun.”
As soon as those words left my mouth, I knew this was one of the dumbest things I have ever said. I’m from Texas! I drive a truck, and as far as this man knew, I was packing a six-gun! Now I had foolishly told him I could not fight back if he attacked.
As I considered the insanity of the circumstances, I noticed my new acquaintance rode a girl’s purple bike. This odd picture did not help me feel any better about my situation. I glanced into the truck at my girls and wondered if they understood my anxiety.
Breaking our awkward silence, the man asked, “Those your girls?” I am thankful that I had grown a little wiser after my less-than-brilliant “I don’t have a gun” confession. I stared and said nothing. “I’ve got a girl of my own,” he followed. Now I knew where the bike came from.
“What do you want?” I hesitantly inquired.
He replied, “We’ve had some hard times. Can you help a fella out?”
I prayed for the Lord’s wisdom, and His peace came over me as the story grew clear. Without a word, I grabbed my wallet, withdrew my remaining cash, and handed it to the man. He thanked me and wobbled off on his daughter’s bicycle. As I slid into the truck, Halley asked, “Daddy, why did you give money to that man?” (Yes, they were watching.)
I answered, “Because God told me to.”
As we were leaving the parking lot, I watched the man pedal into the McDonald’s across the street. That was when I realized God was teaching my girls that their daddy practiced what he preached about sharing without worry. Only I knew inside how close their daddy was to missing that lesson.
If you would like to share your thoughts on this or want my suggestions for a good pig or dog movie, please contact me at ImperfectFather@Gmail.com.