My Angry Father
It brings tears to my eyes when I think of my father. J.L. Barnes—Joseph Lavelle, if you are curious.
Born dirt poor as the only child to a mentally ill mother, he surely loved his father, but his father died at age forty-two, when my dad was only thirteen. At that time in Mississippi, the only thing you could do was to drop out of school and work. And so he did, in the dusty fields, picking cotton, hauling wood; anything to support his mother.
A child doesn’t know how to care for himself, and a young man knows how, a man knows how to care for others. If that’s true, then my father was a man by age fourteen. He soon moved away from his unstable mother and lived with relatives. There he continued to work, learning to work the fields, drive a tractor, use a chainsaw, build fence, do small engine repair, earning cash and calluses. He learned to be a man.
He also learned to be angry. He wasn’t permitted the luxury of other emotions. Depression? Fear? Those paralyze. Dad was always on the move. Anger is a portable emotion, and He carried it with him everywhere he went. Angry about his job, grumpy about the weather, fuming over crops.
After he and Mom (Annie Ruth) married, they expected children to arrive soon after. Everybody expected them to be expecting, but it didn’t happen. Twenty years passed and only miscarriages and false pregnancies marked their calendar. They had no birthdays that mattered because they had no births.
Adopted children were not genuine. They weren’t viewed as your actual child. However, desperation grew and, with it, they began to consider adoption. The Baptist church had a hospital in New Orleans that “gave away babies” as they put it and so they submitted to the process of adoption. The well water was tested. They had to read Dr. Spock’s book on child rearing. No joke, that was it. Around $800 later (about two cow-calf combos sold at auction in Slidell, Louisiana) they were parents.
Oddly, I didn’t meet their needs. I didn’t heal the pain of miscarriage. I didn’t bring peace to a troubled man. I pooped, I cried, and I disappointed my father so very much in my humanity.
I recall my mother hitting my father with the flyswatter, trying to get him off of me as he beat me with a belt, knocking me off my feet. I remember him grabbing his wallet from his back pocket and throwing it at me like a missile, raging at me, screaming for me to take it all. I remember an angry man who was always, always disappointed in me. And that I could do nothing to fix it, this was painfully obvious.
That’s not what brings the tears. Don’t feel sorry for me.
My Father in Heaven
God reached down in the midst of this all, and rescued me. At Whitesand Baptist Church, after I estimate I’d heard the gospel 300 times, at age five, I walked down the aisle and professed faith in Jesus Christ. This . . . this was real.
He changed my heart. He gave me repentant faith and a desire to read the Bible. So as I read Psalm 27 “though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up,” I knew that my adoption was fake after all. My actual father had adopted me into my actual family and had promised to protect me. When I read Galatians 3 and it said “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith,” I knew that “Our Father, who art in heaven” was my father, and I was his son, and that changed everything. At an early age, I knew a father’s wrath. And at an early age, I knew what it was to be rescued from wrath, and brought into the family of God.
My Angry Father Changed
It wasn’t until my Dad became a Christian three years before his death that it all came full circle. I saw God save my wrathful father from a Father’s wrath. This is where the tears begin; it’s where the gospel begins to show its power.
I read, as a youngster, Romans 1:18 which says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” This is given as the reason why we need salvation. God is very angry at our unrighteousness and the way we suppress and distort the truth to justify ourselves and my heavenly Father revealed to my earthly father this truth, and it changed him forever.
It changed me, too. At first, I didn’t believe God could save him. I had prayed for his salvation for twenty-five years but I didn’t believe it was possible. But now, God had done the impossible: he’d given me a father.
In a nutshell, God’s love (Romans 5:8) gave my father justifying faith (Romans 1:16–17) and thus removed the righteous wrath of God from a man of unrighteous wrath (Romans 1:18). This gave my father, J.L. Barnes, a Son with whom he was well pleased (Jesus Christ) and gave me a father I could admire—one with repentant faith replacing anger as his motivating emotion.
From family to wrath. From wrath to family. This is the story of salvation for all who will hear it.
This article is from the April 2015 issue of Every Thought Captive magazine. Subscribe Today!
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