Hey, guys – my dad doesn’t hunt, but …
I spent most of my days after school and in the summers exploring the mountainside where we lived. That’s where I came alive. It’s where I learned to hear God speak to me. I didn’t have to compare myself with anyone; I could be whoever I wanted to be and always be the best at it. I wore hiking boots, ragged blue jeans, and a flannel shirt, and carried my BB gun, a pocket knife, and a hand-drawn hunting license I pinned to my back just to prove I belonged in this wilderness environment. I might not fit in with the jocks, but I sure as shootin’ could outdo any of them in the woods – at least in my mind’s world.
My father grew up in the hills of Pennsylvania, but he was not the hunter that most men in the area were. He was smart, kind, caring, loving, wise, cordial, friendly, and never had a bad word to say about anybody. But because he didn’t hunt, I missed a lot of those amazing attributes about my father when I was growing up. I wouldn’t come to love and appreciate that side of him until many years later.
Many times, a boy’s identity comes through his penis (that can even carry over into manhood). I remember seeing my father’s penis when I was a young boy, and to a four-foot-six kid with a six-foot-four father, he seemed … well … huge! I went to the high school where my father taught, and I would tell my fellow male classmates that my dad was very well endowed. Why did I do that? I think it was because I thought that if others believed that about him, maybe they would think the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Hey, guys – my dad doesn’t hunt, but …
No, dad didn’t hunt, but he was amazing at coming alongside his son in equipping him with what he wanted or needed for his hobbies or passions. Dad purchased my first deer rifle for me when I was 13. It was a Remington 760 Game Master 30-06. This was not exactly the rifle most 13-year-olds – or even most 16-year-olds – would typically start with, but dad didn’t know any better (or maybe he did?).
When the other boys learned that I was carrying a 30-06 into the deer woods, there was mutual respect. The boys my age were shooting something with much less kick: 30-30, .243, or .222. A kid of my small size shooting a 30-06 was like mounting the guns from the USS Missouri onto a paddleboat. The second time I shot that cannon, I secretly packed the entire contents from a Kleenex box underneath my shirt. Let’s just say the first shot was the most accurate, as that was the only shot for quite a while that I made with my eyes open. After my first time sighting in the rifle, I was very ready to pull my shirt away from my shoulder to expose my he-man bruise to the other boys. In that culture, it was the mark of a warrior. I was learning how to pose, and the scary thing was, it was working for me and it felt good.
In the next few years, dad would take me hunting on some of the most brutal winter days northwestern PA could dish out. One frigid winter morning, with the wind chill at 18 below zero, we got lost and walked for five miles wearing heavy felt pack boots. Each boot probably weighed 10 pounds, which, combined, was 25 percent of my body weight. After walking for hours, lost, freezing, and hungry, we ran into Pastor Towers, the senior pastor of our church. He’d climbed up a very steep hillside and was seated on a huge rock, waiting for his prey to come by. I didn’t know preachers killed stuff! He had sung duets with my mother in church sometimes, and back then, male singers weren’t looked upon as exactly “manly.” At that time my cultural beliefs immediately classified him as a sissy, a wimp. Yet, there he was atop that giant rock, red and black flannel hanging down below his heavy winter coat, braving the elements, and he was carrying a 30-06. Honestly, it was a bit confusing for me. I’d seen pictures of Jesus around the church and in my children’s Bible, but they didn’t look anything like Pastor Towers. They were pictures of Jesus with children sitting on his lap, or cuddling a lamb in his arms, or praying with hands folded staring into the sky – and he was almost always wearing a white fluffy robe. Seeing my pastor clutching a rifle and decked out in hunting garb was a new image of a godly man for me. I immediately was drawn to Pastor Towers.
My dad wasn’t a hunter, but he sure as shooting put me around men who could help teach me and fan my passion for the outdoors. What children know about God comes mostly through what they know of their earthly father. If their father was mean, abusive, or emotionally or physically distant, they tend to see God as someone who is just waiting to “get them,” punishing them for their wrongs (or even for no reason at all), or withholding himself from them because they weren’t good enough. That’s what the enemy desperately wants you to believe. He is a liar and a thief who wants to destroy your life here on earth. The truth is that God promises to never leave or forsake us, to stick closer than a brother, and that He’s gone to prepare a place for us where we will spend eternity with Him. He has a plan for your life, not just in eternity, but in the here and now.
. . . “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV)
Where in my life is this verse connecting right now, and what is the Holy Spirit showing me?