8 Things My Dad Taught Me

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It happened again just recently. A new friend was asking about my family and when she learned that my dad was the pastor at a local church she said, “Oh! You’re Denny’s daughter?!”

Yep. I’m Denny’s daughter. I’ve been known that way all of my life.

It used to get on my nerves to be known as “Denny’s Daughter” instead of just as Christy. I have an identity outside of being the pastor’s kid, you know. But, I have to admit that being called Denny’s Daughter has grown on me over the years. It’s a title I’m honored to carry.

I’ve learned a lot from having my dad as my pastor for more than three decades. What a blessing it has been to sit under his ministry. However, it’s been even more of a blessing to grow up sitting around his kitchen table. Sure, I’ve learned things in church, but I’ve learned even more while riding in a Toyota Previa mini-van and while playing video games as a family in the basement as a teenager.

I’ve been so fortunate to grow up with such a wise dad. He’s taught me many things. And so today, in honor of Father’s Day, I thought I’d sit down and list a few.

8 Things My Dad Taught Me

8. Trust Earns Freedom.

My Dad always told me that if he could trust me, then I could earn freedom to do what I wanted to do. For example, if I wanted to go places on my own after getting my driver’s license, then I could earn the right to do so in increasing measure. If I was told to only go to my friend’s house and then home again- I’d better follow the rules. If I did, then maybe next time I’d have the privilege to drive somewhere else as well. If I had a 10pm curfew and I respected the clock and got home on time, then I’d be given a later curfew in the future. It was pretty simple. If I could be trusted to follow directions, then I would be given more freedom over time. I always liked that, because I knew the opportunity for more freedom and privilege was possible and it made me desire to be responsible.

7. Get Your Head in the Game!

I have to admit (embarrassingly) that I can clearly remember my dad yelling this phrase to me during one of my middle school basketball games… and I had no idea what he meant! Get my head in the game? What on earth is he talking about? Of course now I understand that he was telling me to be mentally present on the court and to think about what I was doing. Where did I need to be? Where was the ball going to be next? How should I react to this play, that pass, that shot? I needed to be mentally present and not allowing my mind to be thinking about something else when I should be focused on the game at hand.

That advice has stuck with me long after my basketball career (and I use the term ‘basketball career’ very, very loosely!) I’ve often thought about hearing my dad yell “Get Your Head in the Game!” while working on various tasks throughout my life. Whether it be studying for a final in college, planning an event in my first job out of college, or having an important conversation with one of my children, I need to be mentally present and focused on the task at hand.

6. The Apple products don’t fall far from the tree.

We’ve always joked that my dad is so far on the cutting edge of technology that he’s bleeding. The man loves his technology and he LOVES Apple products. We were getting email in our house growing up (I can still hear that noisy old modem and the voice from AOL saying, “You’ve Got Mail!”) before most of society knew what email was. My dad talked me into buying an iPod before most bands had probably heard of iTunes. And, my dad gave me a laptop in college and encouraged me to carry it to class to take notes.

“Dad, that is so embarrassing!” I said. “Nobody else carries a computer to class!” But it turns out he was on to something there. It seems that now several (million) people have laptops and carry them with them on college campuses.

And Dad’s love for the Apple product has truly been passed on to me. What’s that other kind of computer called? Window something?

5. You are very special, but don’t think too highly of yourself.

Humility is a trait that I’ve always noticed in my dad. He’s not one to “toot his own horn” and I appreciate that about him. I remember being taught a lesson in humility from my dad when I was a freshman in High School. It’s a lesson I’ll never forget, and yet my dad didn’t even say a single word. He didn’t have to.

I was playing on the JV basketball team as a 9th grader, but one week the JV team didn’t have a game so I was bumped down to play with the Freshman Squad… at least “bumped down” was how I saw it. I was proud of the fact that I’d played JV and I was wrongfully quite full of myself during that freshman game. In fact, I’m embarrassed to tell you that during a time-out our coach called a huddle and I stood about 10 feet outside of the huddle thinking that I didn’t need to hear whatever it was that the coach had to say. (Ugh!) I remember tipping my head back to squirt my water bottle into my mouth and when I did my eyes drifting up into the bleachers. There sat my parents and my eyes locked with my dad’s eyes. Not a word was spoken verbally, but I could hear a paragraph’s worth of words coming from Dad’s eyes. That was all it took. I walked into the huddle and changed my attitude from that moment forward.

4. If the ship is sinking and there’s something we can do to help, we’re going to try to fix the problem… or we’re going down with the ship!

In the early years of my dad’s pastorate at our current church, the church building was tiny. As the church grew in membership it also needed to grow in size and so we experienced several building programs. I remember one time in particular that it had been announced that the new building and all of it’s sparkly new classrooms would be ready to open on a certain Sunday. The day before it was to open Dad got a phone call that things were almost ready, but there hadn’t been time to clean the carpets or new rooms and move in the furniture so we’d have to delay the opening for at least another week.

My dad told us to get in the van and off we went to spend a Saturday at the church. We vacuumed, cleaned, moved furniture and more to prepare the rooms, just in time, for church the next day. Dad told us that cleaning toilets was not below the senior pastor’s duty and if we could expend a little elbow grease to help the situation then we were going to do it. We were going to do something to help or go down trying. I’ve never forgotten that Saturday or the lesson I learned.

3. When in doubt, don’t.

I can remember my dad telling me that if I wasn’t sure about saying something or doing something, than I’d better not because it can never be taken back. I often take that into consideration before saying something I’m not 100% sure I should say. I think it’s saved me some heartache over the years and I’m grateful for that.

2. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Life is going to be rough if you can’t learn to laugh at yourself. And laughter is one thing I’ve certainly done… both with and at my dad.

One time when I was in college our extended family rented a house on a large lake for week. We decided to also rent some wave runners. All of the potential wave runner drivers had to go attend a short “class” and watch an instructional video about how to operate the wave runner. The video stressed multiple times that there are no brakes on a wave runner. You must stop pulling the throttle and allow time for the wave runner to slow to a stop. I repeat, there are NO BRAKES on a wave runner.

Yeah, yeah. We signed the papers and rented that thing and off we went. Dad was driving and I was riding along behind him. We were flying through the water and we went into a channel where there were several homes with piers in the water. Did I mention that we were going really fast? Did I also mention that they had stressed to us that the wave runner has no brakes. Well, apparently Dad didn’t catch that part because he drove us way too close to one of the piers and when he tried to brake (um… yeah, you know.) we SLAMMED into one of the pier’s wooden ladders and that ladder exploded. After we shook the shock out of our heads we looked around to see hundreds of pieces of wood floating on the water and a huge gaping hole where the ladder once was. Ooops.

We still laugh about that today. And I am thankful that I am alive to tell you about it. Seriously Dad, you’ve got to pay attention during the safety class next time. (And to whoever’s pier we crashed into… we’re sorry about your ladder.)

1. My dad is not perfect, but he’s taught me about my Heavenly Father, who is.

As I’ve written about before in “One of My Worst Moments,” my dad had the wisdom and courage to teach me the most valuable lesson of all during the worst moment of his life. His wife, my mom, had just died suddenly at our kitchen table at the age of 34. As we stood around her body in a sterile hospital room, my dad reminded me that God was still in control and that He loved us and had a plan for us. If God is good during the worst moment imaginable, then He is good. I can trust my Heavenly Father, and I do, because of my earthly father’s wonderful example in that moment and throughout my life.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I love you!

One of my Worst Moments

It is one of the worst moments of my life.

I was six days shy of my eleventh birthday and, as my six-year-old brother would say later, though the day was called Good Friday, it wasn’t a very good day for us.

Instead, there we stood in a sterile hospital room with our dad. We had just taken an awful ride in a police car as we followed an ambulance carrying our mother to the Emergency Room. Our mom had collapsed suddenly and shockingly at the kitchen table that evening and we had just been told by the doctor that she had died of a heart arrhythmia.

The pain I felt was indescribable.

Now the four of us were in a room alone together for the last time. My dad, even in the deepest grief of his life, had the wisdom to ask the doctor if we could see our mom’s body and so there we stood around her. And though it may sound morbid or scary, it was actually just the opposite. It was helpful.

My dad, my little brother and I were able to say goodbye, although my dad reminded us that what we saw was just my mom’s body and not really Mom. We held hands and prayed together, and my dad told us that even though we were heartbroken and we didn’t understand this, he believed God was still in control.

To say that the evening of March 24th, 1989 impacted my life is a gross understatement. The loss of a mom to a preteen girl is full of impact. I was so very sad.

Yet, I had hope.

The conversation with my dad in that horrible room where my mom’s body lay changed me as well. I was taught a deeply profound lesson in a few minutes’ time, and it has helped me in the days, months, and years since that night.

By pointing me to a God who is unchanging in a moment when my entire world had just been completely thrown off its axis, my dad gave me hope that God could not only handle the change, but was in control of it.

By reminding me that God is sovereign in a moment where everything seemed so utterly unfair, my dad gave me hope that I can trust that God not only knew about my mom’s death, but that He was still in perfect control of her death and my life.

By leading me in prayer around the bed where my dead mother lay, my dad reminded me that I can always turn to my Heavenly Father for comfort, hope and love.

It has been 24 years since that night. I’ve grown in stature, maturity and faith. I’m now a wife and a mom and have now lived longer on this earth than my own mother did. I’ve had other hard moments since that night too, and I know I’ll have more to come.

Yet, I have hope.

When I graduated from college and was in a season of life where everything was changing and there was so much unknown…

When I desperately prayed for a godly husband and didn’t know where I would meet this guy or when…

I was able to trust in an unchanging God who knew my desires and needs and was able to faithfully provide for me what He knew I needed and when.

When I miscarried two babies and struggled with surgeries and issues that caused me to not get pregnant…

When I was told by a doctor that because of these issues I would most likely have a small family…

I was able to turn to my God who I believe is sovereign and I cried out to Him for his comfort, love, hope and mercy. He was faithful. …and He not only blessed us with hope and peace, but has blessed us with children.

When our two-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia and we struggled through three-and-a-half years of chemotherapy and treatment…

When my days were full of dark moments of seeing my son suffer…

I was able to turn in prayer to a God whom I believe is real and not only knows my pain but also cares deeply for both my son, and me. And just like his Word says, He gave me a peace that passes all understanding.

The evening of March 24th, 1989 was one of my worst moments. And yet, through the pain and darkness I was reminded of a sovereign, loving God who offers hope and peace.

And even out of one of my worst moments of my life, God was able to bring good.

And I trust He’ll be faithful to do the same in every moment of my future.