Encountering the Father that Loves

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved animated movies. In my preteen years, on Saturday mornings, my Father and I would watch Looney Toons. Dad loved the silly, determined, ignorant Wile Y Coyote, and I loved the mischievous Bugs Bunny. It’s one of my favorite memories, as Dad and I rarely did anything truly fun together where we enjoyed each other’s company. In fact, I was afraid of my him.

Myself being a Father, when my girls were little, Disney had begun putting out movies like “ The Little Mermaid,” and other children s animated movies, and I loved watching these movies with them. The Little Mermaid, at the end, had a moment where King Triton was lifted by water to the railing of the ship where his daughter, Ariel, newly married to the Prince , embraces her Father and whispers to him, “ I love you Daddy.” When it first came out in 1989, I took the girls to see it and when Ariel hugged her Father, it struck a chord deep inside and I got really emotional. I loved my girls so much, and that embrace between Ariel and King Triton just melted my Daddy heart. For years I would choke up every time this scene came up if I watched it.

Let’s go back in time a little bit.

It was October 1987, and I found myself a civilian again after honorably separating from the Air Force. Sande, my ex, and I had split up the summer of 1987. Moving back to Oklahoma from Texas, I began to look for a job, convinced I could easily land a job in the medical profession in which I had training. When each attempt resulted in failure, reality sunk in that it wasn’t as easy as I thought it was, and I got desperate for anything, landing a job with Wells Fargo as a midnight shift Security Officer. My heart was distant from God, and the past three years of intermittent infidelity, and well-meaning but empty repentance had taken its toll. Even with the influence of friends in my life who walked with Jesus, getting distracted by my immaturity and sexual brokenness was easy and frequent. Lack of good parenting and mentoring had left me responding automatically, rather than taking my own initiative, to what my friends were telling me to do when it came to making important decisions. There wasn’t one ounce of any ability to weigh my choices carefully and make wise decisions. The majority of the big and disastrous choices I made in my early adulthood were because I had people in my life telling me to do them. Hence, the quality and fabric of my life suffered greatly. I began to harbor sin and bitterness in my heart. Galatians 6:8 says “For he who sows to the flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit reap everlasting life. This was crazy true in my life. I was sowing to the flesh consistently, having no understanding what it meant to sow to the Spirit.

It’s now 1989, and the situation between me and my ex-wife was super tense leading up to the reunion between me and the girls, which hadn’t been but just over a year. The reunion calmed the situation down a bit, but there was still bitterness and the sting of separation, which had affected all of us. I was trying, hoping to find my way back to being a full-time devoted Dad, a daunting challenge because of shame, woundedness, and brokenness. I wanted so much to be a good Dad. I wanted everything to be better, to be right. Once I had earnestly begged God in tears to take me back in time for a chance to right all the wrongs. However, the reality was, despite my good intentions I fell short of what it took to be a good Daddy and, well, our broken, distorted family dynamics were absolutely horrible, in my mind it was all my fault, or so I thought. A memory that stands out, was one day, November or December of 1987, after going with my ex and the girls to Tinker AFB so my youngest could get medical care, we pulled up to the house, where I was renting a room. On the way to the house, my oldest asked ” Daddy when are you coming to live with us and Mommy?” Gut wrenching question. I responded” Well, sweetie you, Becky and mommy are going to live in your house and I’m going to live in mine.” As they drove off, my oldest, Sarah, was at the back window staring at me and waving, I waved and turned around in anguish. I wept on and off for hours, finally needing to talk to someone, I walked down to the grocery store nearby in the late-night hours, the cold and icy wind beating against me. I reached the pay phone, calling my mom collect and poured out my heart in painful tears and sobs, telling her I felt as if a part of me had died. I cried so hard I could hardly speak or breathe. It was one of the worst nights of my life.

The following years came with shame cycles, guilt, condemnation, sin, consequences, and halfhearted repentance. My life was a mess, and I plunged deeper and deeper into the gay mindset which invariable resulted in flinging off all restraint, and the truth I knew. I embraced homosexuality. Any integrity before was gone as I began to fill my life with constant sex, porn, partying, and defilement. Driven by a hunger I couldn’t understand, I made horrible choices to satiate this monster within that was never satisfied. In 1991, after my ex had moved to a town near Tulsa, to be closer to my girls, I relocated to Tulsa from Oklahoma City, yet, because I didn’t comprehend what my girls needed, for what I needed to be a good Dad, I failed them repeatedly. I began working for Red Lobster during that time as a server.

Pleasure was the thing I lived for daily, and I sacrificed everything to have it. Making promises I could not keep to my ex when she’d call me out for not maintaining my relationship with the girls. She would call me and say, “You need to spend time with the girls”, it would wake me out of a stupor, oh yes, I do. And I would, but honestly when you keep returning to the scene of a crime, guilt and condemnation will always be prevalent. I hated facing the truth. When she’d call me to chew me out for failing the girls, and her, I would try to delay any onset of trouble by agreeing with her fully. I knew how to say all the right things, and I meant them, but there was nothing within me that could keep my promise to do better.

Over time, the fun, glamour, and glitz of homosexuality began to reveal its true nature. I partied frequently with my co-workers, and heavy drinking seemed to come naturally to me. Often, I would look around the bar, in a drunken haze, yet with a clear thought, that not one person in that bar had real joy, or real peace. The 80-90 something man at the bar, in the corner, drinking away his sorrow, numbing the painful truth that no one there wanted him because he wasn’t young, vibrant, and beautiful. I realized that living that life was like a prison sentence. I grew disenchanted with everything and began to resign myself to going to the store, buying a case of beer, a pack of cigarettes, and get drunk at home. Every so often, a guy that lived nearby, who was always ready to receive my call, would come over to take away the sting of loneliness, but it was never enough. Increasingly it got to where I really didn’t want to go to the bars anymore. And I’d try to stop being gay. For instance, one night a group from work were partying and, as usual, I was really inebriated, and this girl who was a new server, I turned to her and said, ” I don’t want to be gay”, and the look on her face was something out of a sitcom, it might have sounded like this, ” Um…….you DO know you’re in a gay bar, right?” Another example of where I was making an effort to not be gay, Karen had invited me to go out to the club, and I said no, I don’t want to do that anymore, and I went home. Sitting at home, realizing I was bored, restless, depressed, and miserable. Eventually frustration set in, and I caved, got ready and went to the bar. My friend Karen was near the entrance when I walked in, and she hugged me with a drink and cigarette in one hand and with the other embraced me and exclaimed ” Welcome Home!” It felt like a death sentence. I hated my life.

The misery and despair of my life began to direct me back to the Father. Working in the restaurant industry, being the social creature I am, it was super easy to connect with my customers, and the Lord began to bring hope to me through customers I’d wait on. One such couple is in my life today and I are also supporters of my ministry. I’m so grateful for them, and how Father used them. Occasionally, a wonderful Kelly Willard song “ Psalm 139”, one of my favorites, would suddenly flow in my heart, causing me to yearn for freedom, but because my earthly Father rejected me, it was impossible for me to understand why God the Father was pursuing me, wooing me. Little by little I found the courage to begin to turn my heart in His direction.

One particular work night, I had just greeted a party of three ladies. They ordered soup and I finished with my routine and stated “guys, I’ll be right back with your soup.”  minutes passed and I was heading to their table and discovered my general manager standing there talking to them, nervously I gave them their soup and my boss pulled me aside. They had complained that I was treating them like men, offended because I said “guys” to them. He said he was reassigning them to my co-worker, and giving me her new table, another three ladies. I minded my p’s and q’s with them at first out of caution, but they turned out to be fun and happy. At one point, one of them said to me, “you’re going to think I’m crazy, but God wants to talk to you the way a Father wants to talk to his son.” I stood there stunned, feeling the tears begin to come forth and I fought it while responding to her, “you’re not crazy.” I knew that I knew this was God moving and I went to the side station and got paper from the register, approached her, and asked if she would write down the message.

A love letter from the Lord

Time passed and I grew increasingly restless and unhappy with my life, knowing full well that it was never Gods will for me to live or identify as a gay man. For three years (1996-1999) I made attempts at breaking away from my sin, but I only changed the outward stuff, never relinquishing the inner idolatry. A co- worker, Karen, once described me saying “Jim goes through this every six months.” Which was true. I was so miserable, and my discontent grew louder. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment and reason I yielded to His Lordship over my life, whether it was being miserable, or the message from the Father, but one day my life as a gay man came to a screeching halt when I cried out to Him, “ if it kills me, I’m going to follow you.”

Within 24 hours I knew something extraordinary happened, the weakness I to give in to temptation to go back to homosexuality now suddenly was a strength to walk away I’d never known before, and it was as if a light got switched. One morning, sometime shortly, about a month, my alarm clock went off, and sleepily I roused myself out of bed to turn it off. I kept it on a Christian radio station now, and just as I was about to turn it off, the song seemed like it was saying something to me. It was a Bryan Duncan song, “Strolling on the water” and I was listening to the latter half, slowly comprehending he was singing about where his strength comes from, and the image of Jesus walking on the water indicating that He had the ability to make us walk on water (the difficulties of our lives). The last set of lyrics floored me….

“You feel the wind in your hair with your eyes closed, take a breath of fresh air, feel the mist on your toes, look where we are…” at that moment I heard Jesus say to me “see what I’ve done for you? I did it!!”

I crumpled to the floor in a crying mess with tears gratefulness, thanking God for His kindness on my life.

As I daily continued to spend time in His word, I began to grow hungrier for truth. I was without a car at the time, so I had to take mass transit, and I thought about the downtown library. There I found books by Charles Finney, A.W.Tozer, Charles Spurgeon. I devoured them all. At work my friends didn’t know what to do with me, and one of them once said, “so what does that mean? You like girls now? I responded, “that’s not what this is about.” I wasn’t deliberately going from homosexuality to heterosexuality, I was just pursuing Jesus with all of my heart, going wherever he led me.

In the fall of 1999, I relocated from Tulsa to Des Moines, to be near my Mom who was having serious surgery on her back to remove five tumors. My time in Iowa took me on a most wonderful journey of discovering who I was and how God made me. Jesus showed me in His word that I had been created heterosexual and that I only struggled with homosexual sin. That changed everything, it became something that didn’t define me, enabling me to lay it at the foot of the cross, receiving the truth that set me free. From there God began to reveal the lies upon lies that had been a part of the foundation upon which I had lived my life, and I began to overcome them, establishing the truth. Those were the most precious times in my life in my new journey of freedom.

So much has changed since then. I’m now a men’s minister, on staff with a ministry, I lead a parent’s support group, and I do pastoral care and biblical discipleship, public speaking, and writing. God The Father has been incredibly gracious and kind to me, and I have a solid foundation of truth in how He loves me.

Recently, I was watching “Finding Nemo”, and what inspired this blog post was the scene where the Pelican flies to the Dentist office, and through the window he lets Nemo know that his father was coming for him, going through great difficulty and danger to rescue his son.

As Nemo is listening to the Pelican, the music sways and you see Nemo’s face as he’s hearing about his dad who loves him so much, he’s coming to rescue him. In the past, my heart would respond to that scene with a deep emotional pain, knowing my own father never valued my being his son in that way, never really fighting for me, able to walk away from me at an early age. Yet this time, this scene reminded what God has done for me and how he went through everything He did to rescue me, and I got emotional, but this time it was a joyous emotion, remembering what He did for me. What a mighty God, and Father, we serve! He does leave the ninety-nine to go after the one, and I was the one. For the first time in my life, because of the healing He’s continuing to do, I know deep in my heart that God the Father loves me. I hope this inspires you to know this love as well. We have an advocate. Our Creator. And He knows your pain, and mine, intimately. There’s still wounding that revolves around my earthly father, I continue to honor him on Father’s Day and his Birthday and to pray for him and my stepmother when they come to mind, but they have nothing to do with me. The pain from that wounding, well, that may linger for a time, or until I die. But no matter how that transpires, I can and will bring my heart to Jesus. I can bring my needy, clingy, and hurting, burdened heart to the Father, and I know He hears and sees, and that I can come to Him and pour out my heart to Him. I’m reminded of Luke 4:18-

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;”

He loved me enough to pursue me. Pursue Him with everything you have. He’s worth dying for because, we were worth dying for. Something to consider.

I’m still learning how to be a good Dad. I wish I could say that I’m the best Dad ever. I want that to be true. But the word tells us that we reap what we sow. Galatians 6:7 And I have sown years of not being a good Dad. I was absent and unreliable. Both girls know that I want to be a good Dad to them, and I’ve spoken to both about my past sins against them, which doesn’t make it go away, but humility goes a long way. Staying in communication is difficult if not impossible, and to be honest, the advent of conflict made it hard for me to press through any difficulty I might encounter to be in relationship with them or anyone for that matter. With my dad, if I wanted relationship, I had to do all the work. I don’t want to be like that with them. I want to be vulnerable, and willing to own where I’ve failed and not blame it on anyone else but myself. Last year my youngest reached out to me, and told me “Dad, I want relationship with you”, and of course I was on board, of both my girls, the youngest has been the hardest to stay connected to, and she indicated that she also wanted to talk about difficult things, which I believe is about the past and how I’ve let her down. I responded absolutely. This is what I know about reconciliation: Just because you say you’re sorry for whatever you’ve done doesn’t make it all go away, confessing how you’ve sinned against them is only the start, and with your children, even though you might own how you’ve failed, they probably need to be able to have the freedom to come back to you at some point down the road, IF you’re someone that’s open to them to do so, to process with you how you’ve hurt them. I’m prepared for both my girls to come back to me to address HOW I’ve failed them, and I’m okay with that. I want them to know I care about how they feel, and what’s important to them is important to me. When the time is right, they will. So, I press on and press in as best I can and I trust God will help me, but there are things you can never take back, or get back. I trust God with the now in our lives.

thanks for reading- JF

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