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This is the last of a series which can be found in the archives: The Testament. This post was not published until now. I found it hard to write more than a paragraph of it at a time.

A Caveat

A problem with this post is summed up in the phrase Bill Gothard popularized years ago,

Please be patient with me; God is not finished with me yet.

The exercise on which this “testament” is based asked us each to imagine our lives are just about over and then write from that perspective. But my life is not really over as far as I know and so I do not know whether I will, in the end, have any regrets at all. Moreover, once my incorruptible life begins who is to say there will be any room left for regret? When you are a Christian and you firmly believe that “all things work out for the good for those who love God and are called according to his purposes,” then it is harder to find things you wish you had done or not done.

It seems like most of the rash, foolish and headlong stupid mistakes of my life have worked out all right. As the story goes, if you stupidly sell the family cow for a handful of beans and the beans grow up into a great vine which you climb in order to find great riches, it is hard to later regret the loss of the cow. Those who come to King Jesus are all what C.S. Lewis called future “glorious splendors.” Some day we shall outshine the top of the Chrysler Building! The best I can do is talk about this very present time and what I regret having done and not done yet, so far. I do not yet see how God will make the worst of it shine!

I wish I had been a better dad.

Doesn’t every dad look back wistfully at a lack-luster performance, at best, in what is likely the most important role a guy can ever play? Why is that? Because, I think, most of being a father is just living with kids in a place and most of the time we forget both of the critical edges of Stephen Sondheim’s words from Into the Woods:

No matter what you say, children won’t listen.”  …and…  “Be careful what you say, children are listening.

We all have great plans and dreams and hopes and intentions for how we will do better than our dads did and then, before we know it, we are looking back with surprise and regret because, in between, in the doing/living/getting through hours, days and weeks of life, somehow years have gone by and we have missed a whole lot of that time with our kids. I know they say children learn more from what is caught than what is taught yet I think that gives me cold comfort. I regret having not been older and wiser when I was a dad of little kids. I regret that as I have become wiser and clearer about my life, my grown children still mostly view me, I think, as the guy I was twenty-five or more years ago when they saw me every day.

Okay, now I have gone beyond regret to whining. Still, my students today learn more from me about my mature view of the world and life than I ever taught my kids. This I deeply regret.

I wish I had worked harder to build Christian community.

In my twenties and thirties I knew better than what I did. I knew the power of intentional community yet I did not work hard to make it happen in my life. I went my own individualistic way, largely squeezed into the world’s mold in my behaviors if not in my attitudes. And in the one time when some of us got close to forming an intentional community in the late seventies, we blew it. Perhaps my friend Gary Downing was right years ago when he said something like, ‘We Christians now are so individualistic that we will not form intentional communities until we must.’ I leave no signpost of the kingdom in living style, form and structure for another generation to improve on: this I regret.

I wish I had published.

People keep talking about how books are dead and the big communication wave is on the internet and beyond. Then why are the people who get interviewed on talk shows, etc., all authors of books? Right now I am negotiating to get A Year in the Bible, Terms 1-4, InDepth Revelation, InDepth Isaiah and InDepth Luke/Acts published. I should have published much sooner. Time will tell whether I am able to make up for the time I have lost.

I wish I had planted asparagus.

I used to say that when I moved somewhere I was sure I would stay for at least three years I would plant asparagus. Asparagus, after all, is a perennial veggie which requires a long-term commitment. After planting, it must mature for three years before you can pick any of those tender spring spears. Trouble was, from the time we moved to the Twin Cities in 1972 until we bought our present place in 1993 our average stay in any home was just over two years! Asparagus was out of the question unless I was planting it for someone else to harvest (which I could have done!). Then we moved to our present home in Eden Prairie over nineteen years ago.

And did I plant? Sure, I put in a nice garden that very first few years: tomatoes, peppers, beans, snap pees, broccoli, strawberries, leaf lettuce, melons, yellow squash, zucchini. Asparagus? The feeling of being semi-transient was well-established. I was hesitant to plant asparagus! Hesitant, year after year! It was almost as though if I did plant it, something would go wrong and we would be uprooted. I guess that is my version of the “evil eye” superstition.

Or else it’s just ADD and co-dependency rearing their nasty heads. I have read that those of us who are adults with ADD and ADHD always expect some calamity which we cannot name but fear is just around the corner. Those who have grown up in highly dysfunctional families also live with an uneasy feeling of unnamed but impending disaster in our immediate futures. That may be a helpful trait if one is employed as a sentry, guarding an armed camp near an enemy territory. It’s much less helpful if one wishes to have enough confidence in one’s domestic stability to plant asparagus.

I really do like asparagus and I know how good it tastes fresh. Maybe next year…

I wish I had not cut myself off from my dad his last years.

Look! Growing up as I did, it was easy to have seriously awful feelings about my dad. Sure, Mom was the bi-polar one with the drinking problem. Dad, however, was the one who left us with her, often for a week at a time, not knowing whether she was sober or sloshed, at home or on the fly. We kids, my younger sister Cindy and I, were supposed to “hold the fort,” to “rise above it,” to “take it in stride.” We were just kids. I remember us trying to figure out what to make for dinner for ourselves and “the little kids” – two younger brothers and a toddler sister – when we were nine and eleven.

We often had responsibility for the home for days at a time when we were in grade school and junior high. Dad knew this. He knew what was going on. If he did not know what was happening at home when he was gone on a two-day or two-week business trip it was because he chose not to know.

It is not that I never forgave my dad for leaving us like that. I truly did. It’s that as the years went by it got harder and harder to be with him. His glad-handed demeanor and his happy talk about trivia implicitly papered over my pain, shame, rage. (I suspect my pulse has quickened and my blood pressure has gone up a few points just while I have been typing these words. I feel that fury again just now.) We were repeatedly abandoned.

Sure, I forgave him. That, however, did not make it easy to be around him. And so I often chose not to call, not to write, to stay far away from my dad, a shift from the family role of “Scapegoat” to playing its “Lost Child.”

We all have a past that is gone and forgotten and we all have a past which is very much with us right this minute. I regret not finding a way to get past my present past and love Dad in ways he could understand. I did not do so. I will live with that regret until King Jesus wipes away every tear.

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:3-5a

Can others relate to some of this? I hope.