Lessons From a Nudist Colony

I grew up in a great home, the oldest of three Jones boys. My dad was a pastor, my mom a school teacher. We didn’t have much in the early years, but I never knew the difference. We had enough. Our needs were met. Our relationships were rich. We had each other.

Canoe

My father’s life loomed large in our home and I looked up to him in more ways than one. I suppose that’s normal for a young boy to idolize his dad. I loved mom, of course, but dad…he was something. In my case, Pop represented the epitome of strength and boldness. He was the definition of what I thought it meant to be man. He was a leader who modeled integrity. He was a Christian who walked with God. He was the guy who showed me how to shoot a gun and use a pocket knife and clean a fish—you know, all the important stuff. And he impressed something very deep in me, that I’ve never forgotten. I’ll show you what I mean.

One year, when I was a teenager, we were invited as a family to attend a canoeing trip on the Russian River in California. We were so excited. We donned our helmets and paddling gear and set off down the sleepy stream. One canoe was too small of course, to fit all five of our tribe. I may be the oldest, but both my brothers have me beat in the height and weight department, so we split up. Being the oldest, I captained one vessel, while my dad skippered the other of this rickety craft. My mom, not a particularly strong swimmer, rode with me. But that was going to change.

We’d been given some instructions from the canoe company about which fork of the river to follow. Clearly, we missed something, because what we came upon next was nowhere on our map. As we rounded the bend, suddenly the serene landscape changed. The sense of quiet isolation on a gentle river went right out the door. We had paddled right into the wild whirlpool of a Nudist Colony.

Naked people were everywhere: on inner tubes, on lounge chairs, on picnic tables. (There’s something deeply disturbing about naked guys eating fried chicken, by the way.) They were playing volleyball. The were flinging Frisbees. And just in case you’d missed all that, colonist after colonist were somersaulting into the river from the forty-foot rope swing strategically positioned to broadcast the camp’s location. And every one of them were naked a picked birds.

My mother is a very modest person and she was instantly mortified. My dad immediately came to her aid. “Mom’s going to ride with me from here, boys” he directed. We paddled together quickly and my mother disembarked for Dad’s boat, just in time for our first meet and greet. Looking back, the sight of this teenage boy’s jaw hitting the canoe floor must have been pretty funny. I’d never seen anything like this before. And it wasn’t long before the first dude in his birthday suit came floating out to us.

“Hello!” he called to my dad. I know he was talking to my dad, because my mom had her face in her hands. “Hello! Just passing through,” my dad replied, as he attempted to paddle past the man and his air mattress. (Candidly, there’s no classy way for a naked guy to float on an inner tube.)

“Well, hey man,” said the floater, “How about if I swim over there and get in your boat? I can float with you guys for a while.”

My mother was horrified, and honestly a little panicky. Why would this strange man from this strange place want to do such a strange thing? Mix that with a dose of terror from the thought of being spilled into the river and having to swim for her life. Instantly, came my father’s reply.

“How about I part your hair with this boat paddle?” he threatened. “Nobody’s gonna be gettin’ in my boat today.” And with that we darted past the bewildered man, who looked like somebody had just prematurely blown out his birthday candles.

When we got back into calmer, less naked water I popped the question. “Dad, what was that guy thinking? And what would you have done if he would have tried to climb in the boat with you and mom?”

He paused for a moment as though gathering his thoughts for this salient teaching moment with his three sons. He said, “Boys, nothing in all my life is more important than your mother. And taking care of her is my number one job. I meant what I said to that guy. The possibility of him not only embarrassing Mom, but flipping us both right out in the river was very good. And I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

It wasn’t bravado. I had every confidence that guy would have been wearing a boat paddle where his ball cap should have gone. My dad went on to challenge us that when we had a family of our own, the responsibility would fall to us. The truth is, as fathers, we can’t always control what’s around the river bend. We can’t promise that a freak on a flotation device won’t come looking to invade our space. We certainly can’t control the fact that we live in a chaotic world, filled with people and behaviors that are going to sully our scenic waterway from time to time. What we can control is whether we let it get in the boat.

I thought my father was hilarious then, and I think it’s hilarious now. But beyond the humor of my mom getting splashed by that rope swing, lies the sober reminder of one dad to another. Always take up the standard to be bold on behalf of your family. If you don’t, who will? And the next time you see Crazy floating down the river toward you, get a good grip on that boat paddle. You may need to thump a knot on somebody’s head. That’s what a good dad is prepared to do.

All I Know In a Paper Bag

The older I get, the less I know. Can you relate?

paperbag

I don’t mean that I’m losing my ability to remember, although some would argue I should seriously address my Diet Pepsi addiction. I mean that the more I learn in life, the more I’m keenly aware of how much I have yet to learn. The more I discover, the more I’m cognizant of the very narrow boundaries of my understanding. The universe is vast; my grasp of it could scarcely fill a paper bag.

I have endeavored to follow Christ for most of my life. I’ve admired Him and studied Him and marinated in His book again and again. I’ve spent a lifetime listening to people much smarter than me pontificate on all His manifold qualities. I’ve called upon Him in the darkest of nights and rejoiced with Him in the brightest of life’s blessings. I’ve travelled with Him through glories and graves, vistas and valleys. And all along the path, He has revealed Himself to me.

The walk has been thrilling and enriching and life-transforming for the good. But the longer I walk, the greater the revelation that I’ve barely scratched the surface of Who He is. Gather up all I understand about God. I’d scarcely fill a paper bag. The Mountain of His power, wisdom, grace and grandeur are still an undiscovered country.

And yet, in spite of all I do not know, I know His love.

The Apostle Paul sums up the seeming paradox:

I pray that you… know this love that surpasses knowledge….”

Ephesians 3:17,19 (NIV)

How can I know something that exceeds my ability to understand? The answer is: “I have no idea.” And yet we, mere babes, have the God-given capacity to know the Father’s love.

But the revelation of God’s love lies not in our keen knack to sneak morsels out of God’s love vault. The reality is that our God desires to impart an understandable, experiential expression of His love to us. He intends it. Mountainous though His love is, He actively and eagerly delivers kid-sized pebbles to our paper bag. This side of His Holy Hill, a brown bag will have to do. We simply have no more capacity. But one day, we’ll look on the Himalayas of His love and eternally understand. One day, what we have known in part, we will know fully.

But until then, I’m thankful for a God who lavishly and consistently delivers incomprehensible, yet completely understandable expressions of His love to my tattered paper bag.

Don’t Forget Who You Belong To

When I became a father, I started doing something that my dad always did. Isn’t it funny how that happens? You end up turning into the Old Man at some point. But in this case, it wasn’t an accident. I did it intentionally.

Dad_son

Every time one of my kids leaves for school, or heads to a friend’s house, or leaves my presence for any extended period at all, I pull them aside, grab their little face in my hands and remind them of something. I’ll whisper, “Don’t forget who you belong to. You belong to Jesus and to me.”

My dad used to remind me of the same thing when I was a kid. It was as predictable as the sun coming up. Every time I’d head out somewhere, he’d always remind me, “Don’t forget who you belong to.”

It made an enormous impact on me, obviously. (Because now I’m inflicting it on my kids.) But it would be difficult for me to over-state how significant the expression of love, care, responsibility and value of the family name was conveyed in that simple phrase. Even as a small boy, I would finish my dad’s sentence. And you know what happened when I became a man? I remembered.

Now, with my kids, I find myself wanting to communicate the same thing. I’m intentionally trying to express how much I love them and how much I care for them. I’m also being careful to inculcate in them the value of being a responsible person—to remind them that their name means something. I want to steep them in the notion that integrity is a precious commodity, and a scarce one at that. “You belong to Jesus, and to me,” reminds them both of their eternal value to God and of their earthly significance to Dear Ol’ Dad. I tell them this because I want them to know that they BELONG—and nothing could ever change that fact—for Jesus or for me.

I dropped Brody, my six-year-old son, off at school the other day. I did what I always do. I got down on my knees, grabbed his little face in my hands and said, “Brody, don’t forget who you belong to. You belong to Jesus and to me.”

And you know what he did? A little grin creased across his lips and he quickly grabbed my face with his little hands and replied, “Don’t forget who YOU belong to, Dad.” And with that he wheeled and went into class.

If you don’t think you’re being watched by your kids, think again. Every little action and encouragement, every voice inflection, every look, it’s all being imprinted on the hearts and minds of the little people that follow you around. Be careful what you’re writing with your words and actions. They’ll quote it back to you someday, one way or the other. Make sure the chapters you’re recording are worth reading by the little boys or girls under your care.

One of these days, they’re going to grow up. And they’re going to start writing their own pages and modeling what really matters to your grandchildren. And the loudest voice they’ll hear ringing in their ear—for good or for bad—will be yours.

If you’ve never done it, give it a try. Get down on your knees in the next little bit, grab a pint-sized face in your hands and with all the love and care you have in your heart, tell that boy or that girl: “Don’t forget who you belong to. You belong to Jesus and to me.”

They’ll thank you for it some day.

REACT: What expression of love has made the most significant impact on you? Leave a comment below.