I cried this morning . . . again; just like I have cried the morning of every March 29th for the past 30 years. I vividly remember holding him, moments after his birth. Man, he was a wiggling, greasy little thing with a confused look on his face. Can you imagine spending 9 months in a 98.6-degree swimming pool then suddenly emerging into a cold bright hospital room with all these people wearing masks and gloves? The look on his face was priceless. He still makes that same face today when he is perplexed; his right eyebrow raised and a pursed upper lip that curls up just a bit at the corner (Think of Elvis Presley for the visual.)
Yes, Tyler Garrett Etheridge, was born 30 years ago. Gosh that is hard to believe. This morning I re-lived all 30 of those years. Oh, the memories that came flooding in that were so thick I could wipe them away. His first breath. First dirty diaper change. Falling asleep on the rocking chair with him in front of the TV during the 2am Sportscenter episode on ESPN. His first steps. How he screamed “daddy” with joy and raised his arms when I came home from work. How he always asked eagerly for more “appole booberry” baby food on his highchair. How he was scared that the tooth fairy had come in his room, took his tooth and left him a buck . . . “Why was she in my room?!?!” How he always wanted me to re-read his favorite “The Monster at The End of This Book” with Grover from Sesame Street. How disappointed he was as a 7year old in his first football helmet, and he realized he DIDN’T look just like Troy Aikman. When he broke his arm falling off our neighbors’ monkey bars. When he got his first hit in a baseball game. Caught his first fish. Suffered his first broken heart. Got the call that he was going to play college football, then college baseball. (Yeah . . . I’m crying again, RIGHT NOW)
I also remember some tough times. How I failed him and his mother by putting our family in a horrible bind. I remember him looking at me when I came home from one of the lowest points in my life when I almost ended it all. (Oh, how ashamed I was; I will never forget that look on his face) The many mistakes I made by being a hypocrite in front of him during life. His lowest moment as a teenager on a football field. How I wept when his mother and he left that summer when he was eighteen. She was going to start her new life and he was heading to college. I remember how the empty, soon to be foreclosed, house echoed when I breathed; the same house where he used to laugh his goofy laugh, when we watched funny movies. Man, how I love to hear his spontaneous, lively laugh. It has always made me smile. (Yup, another tear.)
Through all the memories, good and bad, one thought that kept popping into my mind this morning was, “How was I as a spiritual leader for my son?” I prayed about that this morning. Over the years, I remember trying so hard to be a good spiritual leader (Like so many men do). After all, it is what God calls us to be, right? I always tried to pray harder, do more good things, plan more, control more, be a positive example, show more love, create a safe environment, protect him and his mom, etc. I guess I had some good moments trying to live up to the “Spiritual Leader” standard. But boy, did I blow it in so many ways.
My revelation in my moment of truth in 2010, with the knife in my hand pressed against the base of my throat, was a key moment for me regarding my feelings on spiritual leadership. (Check out the story on the Grace for Man Podcast) I realized all those years while I was putting so much pressure on myself to focus on being a good spiritual leader or role model for my son, that I did not focus so much on WHO gave me that role . . . JESUS. My intensity on being a good spiritual leader actually ended up highlighting my failures as I added more stress to my life when the failures came. It was like I needed to do more to make up for my or my family’s mistakes and failures, which resulted in a merry-go-round ride that I was caught on and couldn’t get off. So, I began putting on a mask to cover up my failures. A persona for the world to see to make me look better, even though I was struggling inside if my family or I was not perfect. The pressure also increased if my family members ever failed (even other family members outside of my home). Like me, do you ever gauge your spiritual leadership skills based on how well your family performs in life? I know so many men who blame themselves if their kids slip into drugs, porn, gambling or running with the wrong crowd. We often actually grade ourselves as men, by how our kids turn out! Is that what spiritual leadership is all about?
As I look back over my short 30 years with Garrett, my prayer today is not to be a good spiritual leader. I tried that, on my own, MY WAY, for way too many years. My prayer today is that I know and focus on Jesus more, on His Spirit, living inside of me. I pray to understand his word and teachings; understand my identity in HIM and how He changed my identity the day I believed and received His Spirit and grace. I pray this in the hope that Garrett, my wife and stepsons, my brother and his family, my father and friends will see Jesus . . . in me. Yes, I do not pray anymore to be a good spiritual leader. I pray my family will just see Jesus through my eyes.
Think about it, spiritual leadership does not come from you or me, it comes from The Holy Spirit inside of you and me. So why do we try so hard to do better than the very Spirit who raised Christ from the dead. We just can't do it y'all! We are not that powerful. Yes, we do have the most powerful being in the history of the world living inside of all of us who truly believe in the blood and resurrection and purpose of Jesus Christ. Maybe we just need to pay more attention to HIM and let HIM lead us for our families. That, or should I say HE, is the definition of true Spiritual Leadership!
Happy birthday G-Man! Hard to believe you are 30 years old. There are no words to describe how much I love you. I cannot wait to see the memories we create the next 30 years. With Christ in us, HE will lead . . . THROUGH US!
“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ . . .”
– 1 Corinthians 11:3