The Kingdom of God Is Like a Pair of Stretchy Pants
It doesn’t matter if I’m onstage or not. I find the communal experience of a rock concert achieves a kind of transcendence. It’s the closest thing to what I think people expect church to be like. Or maybe just what I’ve always thought church should be. You lose yourself, and at the same time come to the realization or understanding that you’re part of something bigger than yourself.
– Jeff Tweedy
The first look was excusable. Sort of. I mean, really, how could anyone resist?
Two sensuous figures in purple faux leather stretchy pants and platform pumps swaying to the drum beat and shaking their hips like it was the last show on earth.
It was the second look for which I have no excuse.
Oh, did I mention this was a pair of dudes?
Topping out at over 235 pounds apiece?
Craig McConnell was well known for saying, “Never let the truth get in the way of a great story.” This night was a moment when nothing could improve the astonishment of the bare-bones truth.
Even now, memories of that endless summer night swirl into one song, pulsing with life, crescendoing in color and cadence as my 14-year-old daughter and I dance with abandon until we have nothing left and are gasping for air. And then, an encore. The music sweeps us up again and, drenched in sweat, we look at each other, laugh, and dance some more. Through the zealous offering of 20 musicians and acrobats, pulsing stage lights and the wild rhythm of the barbaric drum beat, the Kingdom of God invades us again.
And I almost missed it.
I’ve been floundering in parenting my daughter.
Though there is nothing I’ve wanted more than to become a dad—and, hopefully, a good one—nobody warned me how painfully insufficient my internal resources might be for the task of loving well, especially when my daughter transitioned into her teen years and the currents in the river of our relationship seemed to change overnight.
Yet, as he always does, my Father has been coming to my rescue, especially through the counsel of wise women and men who have gone before me. One wise mentor shared that she’s observed three distinct stages in the life of a woman: girlhood, teenagehood, and womanhood.
“Remember, Morgan, the first and third stages have much in common in how a woman opens her heart to her dad. But the middle one—teenagehood is its own thing.”
My daughter and I are navigating the middle stage. And I find myself continually ill-equipped and disoriented, with the fathering playbook that has been duct-taped together over years of watching other dads and their daughters and dreaming of having a daughter myself coming up painfully short.
In the midst of the confusion, our Father catches my attention, inviting me to pause and listen for the wisdom he has shared along the way:
Stay connected, your true self to her true self.
Come to the center of her experience.
Validate her emotions.
Listen for the sake of listening.
Become a student of her heart.
Learn her love language.
Delight in what she delights in.
And no matter the cost, no matter the reputation squandered,
your delight and affection are her birthright.
Choose to live courageously in a way that demonstrates that
nothing she says or doesn’t say,
does or doesn’t do
justifies withdrawing your delight and affection.
So there we were, a family chasing the Wild Goose on a summer camping trip through western Colorado, with a fought-for joy venture culled from the relentless onslaught of organized sports and the flotsam and jetsam of suburban life.
Midway through, we connected with dear friends in Paonia, a town populated by a boisterous blend of mountain hippies, homesteading ranchers, devoted foodies raising fresh produce in the rich river valley, and a handful of entrepreneurs cultivating rugged mountain wineries. By Kingdom grace, our days in Paonia coincided with the first show of the Summer Concert in the Park series that was finally returning after more than a year of Covid cancellations. To celebrate, the town of Paonia was going all out.
Gathering under the leafy canopy of the small central park, the concert crowd reflected Delta County’s demographic constellation: two parts cultural renegades, one part ranchers and rednecks. Hippies and homesteaders, children and elders, young people and middle-aged all sharing this remote mountain town.
And there could be none better on the earth than the band MarchFourth to ignite the fire of joy.
A hairy 6’4” man in stretchy pants was just the beginning. Like a jubilant New Orleans cocktail, part marching band, part trapeze act, MarchFourth delivered—and then some. Strolling through the sea of humanity like a proud host, the band’s manager sported a metallic gold crop-top, denim daisy dukes, a glow visor, and shimmery high-top sneakers with party lights that sparkled on every step. All I could think of was Howard Thurman’s words on vocation:
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do that. Because what the world needs is men and women who have come alive.
These 20 captivating musicians and showmen were men and women who have come alive and are helping us follow suit.
In the midst of all the revelry, I was reminded yet again that the heart of my 14-year-old girl is like a snow leopard. Images of Sean O’Connell in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty pass through my mind, where Sean is deep in the no-name mountain ridges, armed only with a camera. In theory, a sighting is possible. In reality, very few have had the privilege of seeing this rare creature in its natural habitat.
With all my heart, I want to stay connected to my daughter, this creature whose presence in my life is the greatest of all treasures. I want to glimpse my snow leopard in all her mystery and beauty. Occasionally, moments come when I think I know her. And then she’s gone, not physically but emotionally.
Where did you go? my heart asks. I was just there. We were just there.
And I miss you.
And right there in my disgrace of failing to love again, our Father whispers, I see your heart, my son. I see your longing and your confusion. I see your hope and your pain. I am right here with you. Remember, writing this story is not up to you. I am the author. I am at the center of this. Your only job is to open your heart and respond. I promise you that your unique and handcrafted story of initiation is tucked deep into my heart. And your daughter’s is as well. I am here. We will navigate these rapids together.
And so we did on that anointed summer night.
Serendipitously, the community concert scene was benign enough for family joy but wild enough that leaving teenagers unattended would not be advisable. As the concert started, my kids hung near the back of the action, dancing, laughing, and taking in the scene, while Cherie and I stood a ways off in an effort to give them space while still keeping watch. But somewhere near the beginning of the second set, I noticed something in my daughter. It was the way she was inclining toward the stage, as if longing to move closer to the front of the stage and dive headlong into the pit of awesomeness and summer jubilation.
I watched her waver with desire, glancing sideways at her brother, then fixing her gaze back toward the front of the crowd. Then I realized what was going on: she couldn’t go alone. She needed a companion.
She needed a blend of presence that included mutual revelry as well as protection.
She needed a father.
She needed me.
And Father let me see it and gave me the courage to respond.
I made my way through the crowd between us and tapped her shoulder. When she turned around and registered my presence, what I saw first in her eyes was wariness. But then, over the roar of the music, I told her that I was determined to bomb in to that front row. Would she like to join me? I noticed her hesitation, as if she were gauging the sincerity of my offer.
Then she cocked her head and winked.
And we were off.
Pushing past bongo drums and hemp heroes, cowboys and women apparently protesting both bras and shampoo, song by song, we fought the crowds in pursuit of the front row. In time, amidst the endless movement, the stage was just a few rows of gyrating humans in front of us. A few steps more, and finally the glories of the fog machine and the freneticism of the front row embraced us. One part Kingdom, one part world, with a golden thread of life weaving through it all.
Oh, we danced.
It suddenly dawned on me that my firecracker of a girl has at the ready the same party gear that’s been buried and even long forgotten deep inside my own soul.
I can’t stop the tears as I write.
So grateful to the Father we share for the grace in that moment to let go of my need to control and relinquish my commitment to play it safe and hold on to so much so tightly.
So grateful that for that night, at least, the Spirit strengthened me to lean into longing and uncertainty and hoist my sail into his wild wind, opening myself to these uncharted waters.
We sweated until there was nothing left to sweat.
Sang until our voices gave out.
Danced until we cramped.
“One more song! One more song!” I shouted with the hoarse remains of my voice, as if pleading with these gods and goddess of music and light to keep going forever.
In that moment, my daughter looked at me and just shook her head with a smile I’ll never, ever forget.
Delight in what she delights in.
As we swayed to the music, my daughter aglow in a splendor beyond words, I snuck glimpses at the 14-year-old young woman who was once my little girl. She was as beautiful as a young woman can be.
Wild, unfettered, and free.
God. Here am I. Send me.
The abandoned yes in Isaiah before the face of God kept swimming before me along with the yeses of so many others who finally burned their reasons “not to” and turned to behold the face of God.
God. Here am I. Send me.
I was all in. And that, I believe, she will never, ever forget.
Dad let loose. For her. With her. Because of her.
It’s probably what we have in common that makes some days impossible to navigate. And as Dan Allender reminds us, we can only become the mature and wholehearted parents we long to be through decades of parenting from the heart.
To parent is to risk. It is the risk of staying present at all costs. The risk of looking deeper into my own story and subtle defense mechanisms that often sabotage connection. To confess my inadequacies and to model a confident trust in a Person of great power, great care, and perfect intentions who is fueling and forging our seemingly uncharted path toward the Great Beyond.
To parent is, above all else, to forsake playing it safe. And to risk it all on love.
To love God.
To love ourselves.
To love those precious snow leopards entrusted to our care.
It’s taken until my mid-40s, but a few things have become crystal clear:
My most important and lasting contribution in this world outside of my home will never be as important to God as my contribution to the lives of those under my roof.
And to love my family for their own sake takes a humility and courage beyond self-effort.
It was a fresh reminder that it’s not up to me.
I am on time.
We have each been invited up into a grand adventure of masculine initiation of which we are not the author but only participants.
No one can live our story but us.
And we were never made to do it apart from faith, hope, and love.
The greatest of these is and will always be love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love always looks for the best,
Never looks back
But keeps going to the end.
Love is a safe place of shelter.
Love always trusts,
Love never fails.
And sometimes through our yes, Love comes in the form of very large men in very tight stretchy pants.
I leave you to make of it what you wish.
For the Kingdom,