". . . for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord." -Acts 11:24
Just yesterday on Father's Day, I received one of the most meaningful notes I have ever received. It came from our foster son Darius who is twenty years of age and expecting his first child in July. Darius comes from the hood (his own words) and has had his fair share of troubles throughout his life. Our hearts and our prayers have always been with him, though we have not always agreed with his choices and also have grieved the oppressive nature of poverty which he has known his entire life.
Darius texted to me, "Thank you for everything you've done for me on the scene and behind them. You always have made sure I was straight and I'm not even your biological son. I couldn't thank you enough for all you do and all you already have done and I don't think I could pay it back in a million years. Your love is priceless man. I'm super grateful I've had a man like you to look up to and guide me when I've needed it. Thanks for being more of a father to me than my own dad and thanks for being the man. I love you Mike. Happy Father's Day."
Needless to say, I had a hard time holding it together when I read D's text. Don't get me wrong, the notes my biological children wrote to me were terrific, but this one was probably the best Father's Day message I have ever received.
In many ways, Darius continues to struggle with life and poor life patterns passed down to him from his family of origin- we worry about him often. I also know that life on the streets is a lot different than the world my children and I have known, that "street smarts" and pointers on how to handle a situation when a gun is pulled on you, as one example, is something I have never been able to pass down to D (unlike his biological father). I still remember weeping before D when he was barely a teenager when he shared with me that he had beat up another kid- I pleaded with him to become a good young man. But I've always also understood that there are some things I do not understand, and that he would always be a recipient of my love and care regardless of his choices, bad or good. I had always been a recipient of the Lord's great mercies, despite deserving none of them, and so for nearly his entire life, spiritual fatherhood has been my joyful obligation to discharge to D.
This last year, Darius has been pursuing a barbering degree, something Tanya and I are helping him to do, but also a vocation, a kind of work, that represents that of one of my favorite characters in all of literature, Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow. My prayers are that Darius would become a good man like Jayber, who had a early childhood full of sorrows like Darius. Jayber was twice-orphaned, would as an older man befriend a woman who was in a loveless marriage. Despite his love for this woman, he promised himself fiercely to guard the proper boundary that his friend remain true to her marriage vows. Jayber always yearned to love and be loved, but also very much grew up in the world "alone," except for the loving local community he had been welcomed into and of which he had become a member. He did have a ministry, and it became most fully expressed in the work of barbering.
Jayber as an old man reflects on his life and how his calling from above was always to be a barber, though early on in life being orphaned as he was, and hearing messages at the Christian orphanage of the value of "full-time Christian work," that he should become a pastor. Jayber initially set out to pursue a pastoral education, but having the kindness of a seminary professor, being guided by this dear man, he learned that his calling was to be elsewhere. Many years later, he would learn that it was primarily through the vocation of barbering that he would most faithfully discharge his service and work.
Jayber reflects on his work as a barber and those he would tend to who had come from an agrarian society (p. 127 of Jayber Crow), "I came to feel a tenderness for them all. This was something new to me. It gave me curious pleasure to touch them, to help them in and out of the chair, to shave their weather toughened old faces. They had known hard use, nearly all of them. You could tell it by the way they held themselves and moved. Most of all you could tell it by their hands, which were shaped by wear and often by the twists and swellings of arthritis. They had used their hands forgetfully, as hooks and pliers and hammers, and in every kind of weather. The backs of their hands showed a network of little scars, where they had been cut, nicked, thornstruck, pinched, punctured, scraped, and burned. . . . I loved to listen to them. . . ."
Recently, I was reading Every Job a Parable (pp. 147-48), and the author (a Calgarian) reflects on the vocation of hairstyling, "A stylist holds your head as you lean back into a washing basin. With her own hands she washes your hair and, if you are lucky, gives you a scalp massage. After she towel-dries you and moves you to the chair, she then takes a part of who you are physically-your hair-and cuts it, reshapes it, and (for some) recolors it! A stylist touches your body and uses sharp instruments near your eyes, and you sit there, wide open to this very intimate aesthetic intervention. In order to see God's hand at work in the parable of another person's job, you have to let their good work touch you. God knows every intimate detail of who you are-your flaws, your gray areas, the places where you are thinning-and he wants to make every square inch of your being and body new. He wants to shape you-to wash, cut, dry, and style your life. . . . Discussing what she loved most about her work, my stylist said, "Hearing the words, 'I trust you.'" Customers often step into her salon totally exasperated and give her total freedom to cut and style their hair in whatever way she thinks best. Knowing hair the way she does, assessing a person's face shape, and considering their overall look, she will come up with something her customer could never have imagined, often to their great delight. But it takes trust to get there. You need to let go and put your life in another's hands. It is only then that you will be able to experience the delight-both yours and that of the one who is making you over. Just as a stylist delights in being given this kind of trust, God does too."
Darius is pursuing barber college, and Tanya and I are doing everything we can to ensure that he finishes, but even more than that, that he sees his life as one full of possibilities to become the good man that God means for him to be, like Jayber, or perhaps like Barnabas who is described in the Holy Scriptures as a "good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith."
Our prayers for you dear D, have always been and continue to be, that you might become a good man.