How to prove that you’re a responsible adult.

There are two things you need to know before I tell you this story.

First: my dad is impossible to buy gifts for. He only likes things that he actually needs. But he already has everything he needs.

Second: paraffin candle wax is solid at room temperature and begins to melt at approximately 99°F.

It’s a typical Michigan midweek day in early November. Cardigans, a heated work office, and lots of hot green tea. My phone starts vibrating on my desk, so I pick it up to see who it is. It’s my dad. And this is not just any phone call. It’s an opportunity. An opportunity to finally prove to the world that I am a responsible, reliable, grown man.

My dad never once told me I was irresponsible. He never berated me for being immature. He is a kind, encouraging, loving father. But he is also a hyper-responsible efficient machine, which set the maturity-bar in the Cabral home very high. At 14 years old, my dad was already contributing financially to his household. He fixed his own cars, worked overtime, has perfect legible handwriting, and never wastes time with games, sports or music. I take long lunches, my grass is always too long, I play Pokemon GO, and I breakdance. My dad calls me every week between January and tax day to make sure I file my returns. He still habitually reminds me to lock my car, compare insurance costs, and get my oil changed. But now, he is calling ME for a favor!

My parents are on their way to Florida for a long vacation and he needs some help while they are gone. I grab a post-it, jot down what he needs done, wish them a safe trip, hang up, and stare at the list in my hand. A triathlon obstacle course with a competence certificate at the finish line. This is my Everest. Over the next couple of weeks I tackle the task list like a champ. Picking up my mom’s medication at their pharmacy, done. Driving to the airport with my brother, done. You name it, we do it.

It’s one week before my dad comes home and there is only one item left on the list. The last challenge. All we have to do is drop off a few things at their place and check on the house. Easy! Easiest task on the list. So easy in fact, I even take my wife and kids with me and we stay a while so the kids can play around. Of course my ultra-responsible dad turned down the heat as much as possible to save energy. Apparently that's what you're supposed to do. No big deal. We go ahead and turn the temperature up a bit. What could go wrong? Their thermostat is strange and confusing but I hit every button on that thing until I get the heat going. Before we go home, I turn it back down and double-check everything one more time. We leave the place just the way we found it. Task list done!

A week later, my dad gets home. As far as I know, he finds everything in perfect order. Which means that it’s time to celebrate! I have finally entered adulthood. Why not invite dad to dinner? He comes over and we all have a great time talking, eating and hanging out. He even helps take the grand-kids to bed. He says good night to them and heads back to our living room. But instead of going to the door to say good bye, my dad sits on our couch and motions for me to sit next to him. I do.

“Son,” he says with a gentle serious tone, “thank you so much for all the help this week. I do have to tell you something.”

Ah, this is it! The time has come. He’s about to tell me how responsible I am! Wrong. Without showing any worry or disappointment, my dad proceeds to absolutely shatter my perception of the last few weeks.

Here’s what really happened. While I was messing with his thermostat, I changed its settings in such a way that if and when it underwent a system reset, such as in a really common November power outage, it wold proceed to go completely nuts. And as you can probably already guess, the power went out for a few hours the day after we stopped by his place.

Candles at my parents house, bowing and melting to the great heat.

My dad got to his house from the airport, goes to open the door, and nearly burned his hand when he touched it. It was so hot that he thought there was a fire inside. He rushed in and found a long list of disasters waiting for him. It was extremely hot and it became increasingly clear to him that it had been very hot for a long time. His kitchen cabinet door panels were full of heat bubbles. His wooden floors were suddenly squeaking for help. The refrigerator and freezer door seals warped out of shape and everything inside of them went rotten. The whole place stinks. My dad stayed up most of the night cleaning it out. In fact, the refrigerator, the microwave and some parts of the heating unit all had to be completely replaced. And just for kicks, all of the candles in the house basically melted. Melted candles! Large ornamental candles bowing down to the great fiery heat. That’s how hot the house was for a full week.

I made a mistake that cost my father a LOT of money. I’m feeling like an absolute failure, sinking into my couch, squirming with shame. I can't even look up at mydad. Everything in me wants to fix this, pay for it, take it all back, go back in time and undo it all, earn my dad’s approval and forgiveness. But I don’t have the money. I don't have a time machine. Even if I did have one, I’d probably lose the keys to it or something anyway. I’ve got nothing.

"Son," I hear his voice again begging me to look him in the eyes. And with one look I know what's next. Not anger or scolding. No. In that moment he offers me what I truly need: grace. He never once points his finger at me. He never demands. He tells me he loves me and that he is proud of being my dad. He lays his hand on my head and thanks God for my life. He smiles and embraces me. And he reminds me of my Father in Heaven. The One Who gives before receiving. The One with Whom you cannot pay to have and audience with. Being in His arms is always free, and only free. We cannot earn our way into His family just as I cannot earn my way into being loved by my own dad. Our daily failures, big or small, are not digging us a bigger hole. Our successes, big or small, are not stacking up under us as climbing steps closer to Him. We cannot buy His love, His power, His providence, or His salvation. God is never earned. His love for us is so abundant that it already cost Him everything. There is nothing left to pay. Now we embrace Him in return. Repent, embrace, enjoy.

Why wouldn’t I want to be like my father? He’s still teaching me what being a responsible, reliable, grown man actually means: to rely on God, to walk in holiness, to forgive, to love, to take ownership, to give grace, and to laugh at the face of misfortune. I never want to be free from his arms just as I never want to be free from God's hands. I’m now even further indebted to this man and even further grateful for him.

At least this time, we know just what to get my dad for Christmas. A smart thermostat.

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