The Best of DIB: The Next Generationposted on August 1st, 2012 / by Bob Hamp / 9 Comments
Last year I drove past the prison where my father died. I was on my way to speak new life to a group of strangers, who since have become family. These two bookends, containing thirty years of time, intersected on a drive across southern Michigan and reminded me of the power of God’s intervention in my life.
You see, I have not always been “Pastor Bob” the Freedom guy at Gateway Church and the token dude writer for Destiny in Bloom. Once, I was an angry and fearful boy, who was raised by an addictive and distant father. Once I was on a path to repeat my father’s destiny and end up alone, and in jail. All indicators would say that his addictions and relationship patterns would repeat again in my life, and that I would end up making destructive choices and leave a trail of wounded children, and self-deception as I blazed into my adulthood, and my marriage.
I was well on the way. Selfish and self-destructive, my habits and relationships were already a seedling of that which I had seen mature in my father’s life. In my anger, I was already making the inner vow that sends most humans down the path of repeating the very cycles they vow to break.
“I will not be like that man,” I would tell myself. I could not see that the condition of my heart combined with my barely-below-the-surface anger at him was precisely the right formula to end up exactly like him.
God had another plan. He sent men, some my age, and some much older into my life. He pulled this reluctant, arrogant, pot-smoking atheist into a Kingdom that I knew nothing about. He surrounded me with families, and friends, marriages and mentors who would help me start to think differently.
God planted a new seed in the toxic soil of my heart, and began to prove that a seed from His Kingdom could change the very soil in which it was planted. No longer driven by anger or pain, I began to be driven instead by this new thing inside of me. What had been a quest to “show my father” that I would be better, became a quest to respond to my new Father, while He, instead showed me that He had made me someone new.
Knot by knot, one wound and lie at a time, God began to show me that He had truly made me a new creation. He began to show me how if I stopped “trying to be someone” and would instead agree with Him about everything He showed me, that He would sculpt to maturity this new heart He had put in me.
Sometimes agreeing with Him meant being honest about an ugly motive, or a distortion in my soul. These were hard, because I had dealt with rejection before. When God showed me ugly things, I preferred to hide them, and minimize them. Bit by bit He showed me that accepting and agreeing with what He showed me allowed Him to make me new again.
He began to Father my unfathered heart. Not only showing me “things”, He also showed me His love. Day after day, my soul was untangled and re-trained. Day after day, I began to discover the new self that He had created.
As I learned, I learned to hear His voice. He told me I was made to be a counselor. Later He told me I would counsel Pastors. None of this made sense at the time I heard them. Fearful of people, and especially male authorities, I could not see myself helping others, and I had never even been a pastor before. Who was I to help them in any way?
He pushed, He trained, He loved. He stretched. I was being formed into someone that I was created to be. Sometimes He did so against my will, and certainly in many ways, contrary to my expectations.
So here is where I found myself last year. It had been twenty-seven years since I had walked into the visitation room at Jackson State Penitentiary. I had gone to tell him good-bye. I was moving to Texas, and I wanted to try one more time to share with him my new-found relationship with God. It had been a painful and awkward visit. I said good-bye and left. I drove away from Jackson, Michigan and never saw him alive again. He died in that prison ten years later. I was one of three people at his funeral.
Last year I drove through Jackson for the first time since that day. It snuck up on me. I was on my way to Three Rivers, Michigan. The new me was going to work with their pastors and staff, and share with them the power of Jesus to change us. This is what was on my mind when the highway sign appeared.
“Jackson 20 Miles” it said.
It hit me. The last time I was here, I visited a man who had abandoned his family and I had come to say good-bye to him. Twenty-seven years earlier, I had said good-bye to a man who could not get past nineteen years of marriage without multiple affairs and constant conflict.
I drove through town in the middle of my twenty-fifth year of a happy marriage.
I had said good-bye to a man who had willingly given up his relationship to his offspring. On this trip, I was missing my four kids, who are amazing people, and are the richest and most important relationships in my life. At the time my daughter was courting a boy whom she would marry, and he had come honorably to our family, in relationship with me to ask permission to marry my girl. I know my kids, and I love them.
I had said good-bye to a man who had shown me little to nothing in the way of morality. My daughter, in the meantime, was giving us all a lesson in saving her first kiss for the day of her wedding.
I had said good-bye to a man who had so little to give, that he seemed to only take. I was on my way to meet a small staff of a beautiful church to give away the very love of God who had rescued me from this past. Today that staff, and their team of believers have become meaningful friends.
You see, all those years ago, I had believed God was saving me. It turns out He had something much larger in mind. It turns out He was saving the generations that comes after me.
Last year, I drove past the prison where my father died.
Thank God that this prison has nothing to do with me, and the generations that come after me.
The Next Generation was originally posted on Dec 22, 2010. Click Here to see the original article and comments.We welcome new comments on this post as well.