It’s amazing how life has a way of making Scripture more relevant.
Such is the case when I think about Psalm 127. For years, whenever I’d read, preach, teach, or pray this passage, my focus was always honed in on verses 1 and 2:
“Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good.” (New Living Translation)
The rest of this short psalm typically escaped my focus – that is until Sunday May 5, 2019. That’s the day I stepped into the waters of baptism, taking six newly-minted Kingdom souls in with me.
One of those six was my eight-year-old son, Micah. Suddenly, Psalm 127:3 jumped out at me and made me almost forget the two preceding verses. I love the way the New King James version articulates it.
“Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.”
As a young man, being a family man was always a desire of mine. I recall times when I sat in my ninth grade physical science class daydreaming about what life would be like as a husband and a dad when I should’ve been focusing on the periodic table.
Sometimes I’d gaze out the window and pray a silent prayer for my future wife, whoever she was and wherever she may be. I would even pray for the future of my unborn children. Weird stuff, right? But that was my heart. I longed to be a father and to do my best to lead a family.
Well, as a metro Atlanta, Georgia pastor, and journalist, I’m 25 years and 1,000 miles removed from that Omaha, Nebraska high school classroom. But God did allow me to meet the wife I unknowingly prayed about, and through her, we received that reward the Psalmist wrote about in the personage of my son.
Now from my understanding, a reward is supposed to be given to a person in recognition of that person’s service, effort, or achievement. But as I think back on the eight years of awesomeness that has been life with my son, I still don’t know what I did to deserve such an honor.
On the day my wife told me she was pregnant, I was sitting in the study of the church I was pastoring at the time. Her grandmother lived in a house just across an alleyway from the church. She walked over and banged on the door. When she told me, she had a look of fear on her face. I, on the other hand, jumped and ran around the church with excitement.
Later, people would ask me whether I wanted a boy or a girl. My response at the time was simple: “I don’t care, as long as the baby and mother are healthy.”
Then came the ultrasound, which revealed that our little baby was a boy. I was having a son! Almost by reflex, my chest stuck out a little further, and I remember calling my father and telling him that the Stovall name would carry on another generation. Little did I know at the time how poignant that conversation would be.
We didn’t know it then, but around the same time my son was making way for his grand entrance into the world, my dad’s brain was deteriorating by way of Alzheimer’s Disease. I remember clearly the day I received the word from my mom that our suspicions had been confirmed – the diagnosis was what we’d silently feared.
We heard the horror stories about people who suffered with this disease, and so while we prayed for God’s best, we prepared for the worst. Over the last eight or nine years, we’ve watched Dad gradually slip away. They call Alzheimer’s “the long goodbye,” and for good reason. Although my dad is still physically with us as he gets deeper into the disease’s final stages, I feel like I haven’t had him for almost a decade.
Then God’s Spirit kicked in and showed me that as I was losing my father in one way, I was actually rebirthing his legacy in another – by being a dad to my own son. As my relationship with my father involuntarily dwindled because of this disease, my bond with Micah continued to grow.
As Micah began to mature, I realized life was coming full circle. The same way I, as a five-year old, would sit on my dad’s lap in the morning learning to pray by listening to him, I saw my son doing the same with me.
As I got a little older, Dad started sharing scriptures with me to learn and memorize. One of the first? “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother…” (Very funny, Dad!) And of course, as Micah got older I was able to do the same for him.
His mother and I helped lead him to Christ over a year before baptism. My father and mother did the same with me when I was just six years old. And when we finally came to that moment where Micah stepped into the water, looking up at me with a little fear and hesitancy in his eyes, it was then that I realized I was experiencing the heritage part of Psalm 127:3.
With tears in my eyes, I quoted a portion of Matthew 3:17 – the part when God the Father’s voice boomed from heaven and described a freshly baptized Jesus as his “beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” There haven’t been many moments in my life where I felt closer to my Heavenly Father, my son, or my earthly father than in that baptistry.
My mother and one of my sisters made the trek from Nebraska to Georgia to witness it. My dad, unable to travel for quite some time now, couldn’t make it. But in a sense, we all knew he was there. He was there in the personage of his heritage. His two greatest legacies – a son he brought up into the faith and a grandson who followed the footsteps of the two Stovall men who came before him.
As for the reward? Years ago, there were certain things I prayed God would allow my parents to see. One of them was to let them see grandchildren that gave their lives to the Lord. That happened when my mother took the video recording of Micah’s baptism back home and showed it to Dad. Although we knew he’d forget it shortly after, in the moment, his reaction of joy and pride was priceless.
According to my mom, he kept saying, “That’s my son? That’s Gabe? That’s my grandson!”
I like to think that was the reward. My dad got the opportunity to see the seed of his seed follow Christ. I got the chance to lead my son into the waters of baptism. None of these rewards came because we’re so great or perfect or deserving, but simply by way of the amazing grace of God and because we tried our best to train up our sons in the way they should go.
I must tell you, two weeks prior to the baptism is the most recent face-to-face visit with my dad. I was summoned home by my mother to see about him shortly after he entered home hospice care. If he makes it through the rest of the year, we’ll consider it a gracious extension of life by God.
I went knowing that trip could be my last time seeing him alive on this side. But what I didn’t think about at the time was how God reminded me through my son’s baptism that in some ways, no matter what happens to my dad on this side, in some very important ways, he’ll never die.
He’ll continue to live through me.
He’ll continue to live through my son as I teach Micah the things my dad taught me.
That’s what I’ll focus on this Father’s Day. Not the sadness of gradually losing my father, but the heritage of my dad lived through my son and me and the reward of being able to carry on his life through my own and through Micah.