“Beautiful Nate” by Dennis Mansfield

beatiful nateI have tried to write this book review several times now… and each time I have stopped, not liking the way it sounds….

I could tell you about the time I first met Dennis Mansfield (summer of 2000) or about the time I saw him help start an environment stewardship ministry in a local church (a ministry I ended up leading a few years later) or about his youngest son (who was a joy to be around) or perhaps I could just jump into the book straight away… Yet, none of these sound right…none of them do this subject justice…

So I will tell you about my recent interaction with Dennis.

Every Tuesday for the past eleven weeks, my wife and I have joined a handful of other parents in a tiny conference at the Vineyard Boise to try to learn how to be better parents. Dennis and his wife, Susan, are the leaders of this class which is following Dr. Tim Kemmel’s “Grace Based Parenting” book and video series. The core concept of the series is that we, as human parents, are to treat our children the same way God treats His children (i.e. us). While this sound fairly straight forwards, in reality it is not

The reason that it is hard to raise kids the way God raise us, is because we don’t always have a clear view of who God is or what His grace means or looks like. So many of us tend to think that God is sitting up there on His throne just waiting for us to screw up so that He can smack us (just like our human parents used to). Or we think that as Christians we are to protect our children from the evils of the world in the same way the church is supposed to (i.e. remove itself from the evil word and wait till Jesus comes again). Or, still yet, we have a hard time truly believing that God loves us just as we are – no, we think, there is no way that God loves me as I am, I haven’t done enough to earn that love and trust…. And so the reasons and the excuses go…

The reality is that God does love us. He does accept us as we are. He doesn’t sit up there smacking us on the head, He is down here with us, crying with us, hurting with us, rejoice with us, and walking with us. He is a God full of grace because He knows that grace changes us from the inside out. It is not the outward appearance or even our actions as much as it is about our heart. God knows that in repairing our hearts – and let’s face it, we all are screwed up on the inside! – He is breaking us free from the chains of evil and giving us a new life.

Yet this is a hard thing to learn…and it is even harder to put into practice as a little one screams and throws a fit.

This is where people like Dennis and Susan come in. They are parents who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. They are parents who, by their own admission, were control by fear – trying hard to protect their children by isolating them from the dangers of the evil world around them… only, in doing so they got their eye of what was truly important – their children’s heart.

The memoir Beautiful Nate: A Memoir of a Family’s Love, a Life Lost, and Heaven’s Promises is their story of finding grace and love in the middle of pain and sorrow. For what you don’t know yet is that their oldest son, Nate, became a drug addict and was sent to prison for several years. Not long after Nate was released from prison, he died in his sleep at the age of 27 of an adverse drug reaction (two different drugs in small amounts interacting with each other – not an overdose). But still just as heartbreaking. It is not known which drugs they were and who knows if they would have been detected on a drug test, which could have prevented his death. But we can’t change what has happened, regardless of how much we want to. My heart just goes out to his family. This is a truly devastating, yet real story.

Not quite the resume you would expect for the teachers of a parenting class…yet, in reality, it is the only resume worth having as their resume not only includes tragic, but grace, warmth, love, peace, hope and humility. It is the resume of someone who has walked through the valley of the shadow of death as well as lied on the cool grass beside the still waters.

It is a resume of life.

And since life is not fair, nor gentle, I would recommend reading “Beautiful Nate” as it uncovers the uncoverable in each of us.