Last week I was in San Diego attending an event and met a man there named Jimmy. We work for the same organization, but in different parts of the country, and that day we were serving side by side on an outreach project to feed the homeless. As we talked about our lives and backgrounds, Jimmy told me his story. It goes like this:
When his mother became pregnant with him, his father tried to cause a miscarriage. He didn’t want another child and soon enough, Jimmy would know it. As a young boy born in the Bronx and raised on the Lower East Side, Jimmy would wander the streets on his own. It seemed like no one noticed or cared. His parents soon separated and he lived with his father and basically raised himself.
Without proper supervision it wasn’t hard for Jimmy to drop out of school. As he grew older and reckless his father gave him an ultimatum, “Join the Army or you cannot live in my home.” He joined the Army but still felt empty. After his discharge in 1982, he avoided his problems, first by using drugs, then by dealing them. He married and had three boys, which resulted in increased drug activity as his way to provide financially for his family. Of course he was eventually caught, and under the state’s then-strict drug laws, he was sentenced to 15-30 years. He had lost his family and his freedom.
While he was in prison, his sister and brother-in-law became believers. They started going to church and the people in the church began praying for Jimmy. Jimmy behaved while he was in prison, and when the drug laws were slightly modified in early 2005, he sought early release. Influenced by his sister he prayed, “God, if you allow me to leave here, I’ll serve you.” Jimmy is quick to say he didn’t really know what that meant, but God answered his prayer and he was released on Monday, May 2, 2005, after serving just 3½ years.
As he was telling me his story, I noticed a tattoo on his arm and asked him about it. He related another life-changing event that happened during his prison stint. His dad passed away. “In Loving Memory of Jimmy Badillo Jr. RIP.” Jimmy had gotten it after hearing the news of his dad’s death. It cost him two packs of cigarettes, he said. He teared up when he told me how he lives with regret that his dad died only knowing that his son was in prison. He told me how he hurts whenever he thinks about about how his dad never got to see the person he has become.
I found it interesting to talk to a grown man, a thick, strong man, who served time in a tough prison, who lived and sold drugs on the streets of New York, a man who knew his dad didn’t want him when he found out his wife was pregnant and who tried to end his life while he was still developing in his mother’s womb. But here he was, still wanting validation from his dad. He wanted – no, he needed – to hear the words, “I’m proud of you son. You have become a man. You have done good things with your life.”
I wasn’t sure if Jimmy had ever heard these words before and as I sat at my layover in Phoenix headed back home on a Thursday afternoon I felt the Holy Spirit ask me to email these words to Jimmy:
“I know your dad is proud of who you have become and if he were still on this earth you would hear him say, ‘I am so proud of you son,’ just as your Heavenly Father is saying the same thing about you. You’re a good man and God is going to use you in mighty ways, just as He already has in touching the lives of countless individuals. You have impacted people in ways you will not know until you get to Heaven but it will be tens of thousands. Keep up the good work. I’m proud of you too!”
Several years before meeting Jimmy, I had a similar conversation with a gentleman in his late fifties who had previously been homeless but was now working at a soup kitchen at a church in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the course of our conversation he confided, “Last year I heard for the first time someone say they were proud of me. Those words had never been spoken to me before but to hear that meant so much.”
Dads, if you have sons, they need to hear often how proud you are of them. They need to know you believe in them, that you believe they have what it takes to be a man, that they are important and you can see specific things in their lives that are unique to them. And when I say “often,” I’m talking about every day. They won’t get tired of hearing it. Look at it this way – would you ever get tired of your boss acknowledging the work you did and how much it helped the company out? If he said something positive to you every single workday, would you grow weary of hearing it and ask him to stop? I know I wouldn’t. And neither will your son grow tired of hearing these words from you.
But wait, there’s more! Not only do your sons need to hear this, but God has allowed your path to cross with the paths those of other men who have not heard these words spoken to them. God wants you to be His voice, His hands and feet, to encourage, inspire, and speak words of life to others. When the Spirit prompts you, listen and obey what He wants you to say and who He wants you to say it to. You can have a profound impact on someone’s life by saying a few small words they need to hear.