Need a Good Father?
by Kristi Overton Johnson
I can’t share my life without talking about my parents. Their love and support positioned my brother, Michael, and me to walk incredible life paths. I thank the Lord daily for the gift of godly parents and their Christlike example.
Growing up, I never realized that not everyone’s home life was like mine. That’s not to say my parents are perfect, but they genuinely love the Lord, us kids, and others, well. I felt safe, valued, and loved.
It breaks my heart to know that so many people have grown up under abuse, belittlement, and rejection by those who should have protected them. If that was your experience, I’m so sorry. This was not God’s intention for your life.
My eyes were indeed opened to painful childhood experiences when I entered the world of prison ministry in 2013. I remember the first time I had to speak after the testimony of a woman who had been sexually abused by her father. I watched in disbelief as most of the female inmates nodded their heads as if they understood her painful upbringing through experience.
I felt so inadequate at that moment to speak into their lives—I hadn’t walked in their shoes, so how could my story possibly make a difference to them? Besides, it just felt wrong to share how good my parents were to me when others had been hurt so badly by theirs.
I felt God encouraging me, though, to lay aside my insecurities and share my story as He led. He had brought me to speak behind prison walls for a reason; it was time to trust Him with my story. God wanted to use lessons from my water-ski career and stories about my parents’ sacrificial and unconditional love to paint a beautiful picture of His love. For people who have been raised by harsh or absent fathers, it is difficult to imagine God being any different, especially since we call Him our heavenly Father.
I was reminded of this truth just the other day in our weekly Victorious Living team online meeting. Out of 9 team members, 5 had been abused, abandoned, rejected, and harshly disciplined by their fathers. And as a result, they have often struggled with insecurities, shame, unworthiness, anger, fear, distrust of authority, and a sense of being unwanted. Each admitted it was challenging not to put the face of their earthly fathers onto God. I was reminded of how blessed I am to have a loving father.
I find myself sharing many stories about my dad’s wisdom or actions when I’m speaking. That’s not because my mother’s influence in my life is any less significant. My mother, Becky Overton, is a precious jewel. Mom modeled the Proverbs 31 woman daily. She trusted the Lord and worked diligently to care for my father, brother, and me. For 15 years, she served as my daily water-ski coach and helped me become a world champion.
It’s just that Daddy is way more vocal than Mom. And his incredibly demonstrative, larger-than-life personality makes for some pretty lively stories. God has used Daddy’s strong voice and actions to provide me with direction, correction, and encouragement.
My father, Parker Overton, taught me how to live a God-honoring life. I must admit, I rolled my eyes at him a time or two, but his one-liner lessons sure have stuck in my mind.
Some of these lessons include: Leave a place and thing better than you found it. Say thank you. Share all you have with others. Be generous. Notice your surroundings. Be a person of your word. When you speak to people, look them in the eye. Make people feel important. Give a firm handshake.
“Protect your reputation,” Daddy would say, “because it’s hard to get it back once it’s gone.” I heard that one a lot. And you know, he’s still teaching me even though I’m in my fifties! That’s what good fathers do.
I can’t go anywhere without his voice playing in my head. If I’m in a parking lot, I’m alert because I remember, “a parking lot is a dangerous place.” When I fly, I hear his voice prompting me to pay attention to the flight attendant: “She deserves your respect, baby.” Last week, I put down my phone to give the lady my utmost attention even though I’ve flown hundreds of times and can quote the safety instructions and mimic every hand gesture from memory.
I’m thankful my father cared enough to teach me how to honor God, people, and places. And he didn’t just preach at me; Daddy practiced what he preached. Day in and day out, he lived a life of integrity and excellence in public and private. “People are watching you, baby,” he’d say. He didn’t realize that I was watching him, and what I witnessed taught me volumes.
For example, the way Daddy treated Mom showed me how my husband should treat me. Even after 56 years of marriage, he continues to open her car door, hold her hand, and speak well of her in front of others. He truly loves her as God intends. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t tell her how beautiful she is and how her beauty would make “a tadpole slap a whale,” “a bulldog break his chain,” and “a momma cat leave her kittens.”
The way he treats his friends taught me to generously share the blessings and opportunities God provides me, whether or not someone can (or will) return the gesture. Likewise, the way he treats his employees taught me to honor those under my authority. Daddy has always cared for those who work for him, whether at his business or our family’s property. He treats everyone like family.
And he is always at work behind the scenes trying to make people’s lives better. Like when he arranged for his dentist friend to give the girl at the Hardee’s drive-through a new smile. He’s never forgotten the pain of having buckteeth as a child and how he felt when he looked in the mirror or was taunted by other kids.
Growing up, my father experienced many painful things that he was determined to protect his family from experiencing. For example, Daddy told me every day that he loved me. He protected me from the harmful effects of alcohol and cigarette smoke. And he made sure that I knew there was a champion inside of me.
Daddy would come into my room every night, kneel by my bed, and tell me stories. “Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Kristi who became the best water-skier in the world…” Each night’s story led me on a water-ski adventure that always ended with victory.
Those nightly adventures laid a solid foundation for my future success in the sport and in life. Because of how those stories played out each night, I never saw myself any other way than a winner on those water skis and in life. This simple act and his constant reminders of “you can do it, baby” kept me motivated and helped me believe that anything was possible.
Those words encouraged me to get up after a disappointing fall at the 1999 World Championships in Milan, Italy. I had fallen short of my goal of winning that day and had landed myself in a three-way tie for first place.
I was discouraged and angry as I bobbed around in that lake where Mussolini once landed his seaplanes. I tell people all the time, Satan will find you anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a lake, a kitchen, or a prison cell. He’ll arrive on the scene at your weakest moment and remind you that you are a disappointment to others.
I almost believed his lies until I heard my daddy’s southern voice yelling out, “You can do it, baby!” from the shoreline. His words reminded me that I was a champion and capable of victory in that moment of uncertainty. With Daddy’s encouragement in my ears, I got up and skied myself into the World Championship title. I am so glad I chose to listen to my father’s voice and not the enemy’s.
Daddy would have still been right there on the shoreline, ready to welcome me even if I had lost that day. He would have helped me out of the water, given me a hug, and whispered in my ear, “It’s all right, baby. You’ll get it next time.” Then we would’ve walked over and congratulated the winner. Dad was a stickler about good sportsmanship. “You have to win and lose graciously.”
When I was 11, my father did something incredible. He built me a private lake where I could train without the disturbances of other boaters and pesky critters like snakes and jellyfish. He called it Lake Kristi. Crazy, I know!
I didn’t grasp the magnitude of what he’d done until I was much older. It’s incredible now to look back at pictures of that dry, dusty land. The property’s transformation shows the power of vision, hard work, and a spirit of excellence.
Daddy saw potential and purpose in that farmland when everyone else saw dirt. As a result, Lake Kristi has been a venue for world-class water-ski competitions, collegiate cross-country events, triathlons, weddings, ministry events, and a safe haven for abused animals for over forty years.
These are all great things I’ve told you about my dad. But I am most grateful for the foundation of faith he helped provide. Not a night went by that I didn’t see my daddy on his knees praying to “the Good Lord,” as he calls Him. He and Mom took Michael and me to church and taught us to respect God. They made sure we understood that everything we have is a blessing from above and intended for blessing others.
I’ve shared many examples of my father’s goodness in this story. But you know what? Daddy’s most generous gifts will always pale in comparison to what my heavenly Father has done for me—and what He’ll do for you. Jesus said, “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:11 NLT).
Our heavenly Father is generous beyond our wildest dreams (Ephesians 3:20). He even sent His Son, Jesus, to die for our sin so that we could have a relationship with Him and eternal life (John 3:16). There is no greater demonstration of love.
Not only is He generous, but everything Daddy God gives to His children is good. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (NIV).
That doesn’t mean everything we experience feels good. But God our Father will never send evil into our lives to hurt or tempt us (James 1:13). That’s Satan’s nature; he seeks to destroy the children of the Most High God (John 10:10).
God is a giver of life, not death. Peace, not chaos. Comfort, not fear. Love, not hate. Forgiveness, not chastisement. Hope, not despair. And His good nature and love will never shift based on our performance or His feelings. Thank goodness! Nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:31–39).
Every day, God invites His children to come boldly into His presence. We find grace, help, acceptance, contentment, rest, and wisdom there. All we have to do is approach Him and ask. Daddy God welcomes your requests and will never rebuke you. (See Philippians 4:6–8; Hebrews 4:16; James 1:5.)
Thinking back to my childhood, I never once needed permission to approach my daddy. I could walk past his assistant and enter his office anytime, and I never once felt like I was bothering him.
Likewise, you and I don’t need an appointment to approach our heavenly Father, nor do we need to go through another person. Through the name and blood of Jesus, we have unlimited and unhindered access to God (Ephesians 2:18).
You might be thinking, “There is no way God would want to have a relationship with me.” That is not true. Your heavenly Father fashioned you with His very hands (Psalm 119:73) because He wanted to have a relationship with you. Don’t listen to the enemy’s voice that says you are unworthy. Study the Bible and see what your heavenly Father says about you. And then listen to His voice and believe His truth.
I told you how my father had a vision for “little Kristi” to be a champion. Well, God has an even greater vision for your victory (Jeremiah 29:11). When your heavenly Father looks at you, he sees potential and purpose, just like my daddy saw potential in me and in that barren farmland. God is a restorer and fulfiller of dreams, and His vision for your life never fades. When you come to Him and lay your dry, barren life down at His feet, you’ll receive beauty for your ashes (Isaiah 61:3).
No matter who you are, God wants a relationship with you. Accept His invitation. Everything you’ve ever desired in an earthly father can be found in Him. Your heavenly Father will never abandon you.
Understanding God’s love for you and your identity as His son or daughter will determine your level of freedom and victory on this side of heaven. Whatever your past experience with your earthly father, set it aside. Don’t put the face of your earthly father on God. Get in the Bible and learn about His nature. Then, draw close to Him and experience His faithful loving-kindness for yourself. He promises to draw near to you (James 4:8).
No matter how many times you’ve fallen in life, God will always meet you with open arms (Luke 15:17–20). He will help you get up and move forward victoriously. He isn’t looking for perfection or performance. He simply wants you to desire a relationship with Him and trust His love. That’s what puts a smile on His face (Hebrews 11:6).
You may be wondering how a relationship with God is possible. It’s simple. A relationship with the Father happens through faith in His Son. According to John 14:6, it’s the only way. Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (NIV). The minute you express your faith and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, something incredible happens: God becomes your Father. He welcomes you just as you are (Ephesians 1:6).
If you don’t have a relationship with God as your Father, why not experience it now? Place your faith in Jesus. God will adopt you into His family and forgive you of all sin. Then, you can experience the love of a good Father today.
KRISTI OVERTON JOHNSON encourages and equips people for victory through her writings, speaking engagements, and prison ministry. To learn more, go to kojministries.org.
Have you ever considered that, no matter who you are, it’s never too late to impact your child’s life positively like my dad impacted mine? You can set a godly example through your words and actions, even from behind a prison wall. Further, you can bring about effectual change in their life and yours through your prayers (James 5:16). God can produce a godly lineage through any willing person.
All you need is faith, determination, and a willingness to make God-honoring choices. As you draw close to God and allow Him to work in your life, others will notice, and they will desire the goodness of God to flow in their lives as well.