Leading from Behind

Onward & Upward

“He was quiet but confident. He led from behind.” ~ Mom

He led from behind. Like the rudder of a large ship that directs the ship where to go from behind. Leading by serving others. Calling others to a higher place by meeting them in their low ones.

He never once posted about how great he was on social media. Not even a hint. He did not even like social media.
He is not in nearly as many pictures on my phone as I want (although I have quite a few) but so often as I look at a picture, I realize he is there but just off to the side, serving or loving or just enjoying life. If he is not in it physically or was not in close proximity when it was taken, his influence is in it.
Nothing he did was to self-promote or toot his own horn or try to get people to follow him at all. He was not looking at who followed but over the years, many did, because they saw Jesus and Jesus is someone you always want more of.
Confidence, kindness, always thinking of others, humility, sacrificing love. That’s my Jesus and that is Dad.

Dad had a strong faith and felt especially passionate about the need for discipleship and teaching the truth about creation, but he never pushed it down anyone’s throat and he loved you no matter whether you ever agreed with him or not. He was passionate about carrying a torch for these things and knew what race he was called to run and why. I think knowing that allowed him to speak boldly but with great love, never being swayed by whether someone else agreed with him or not – it allowed him to love them anyway. Loving them anyway is leading from behind. He loved you right where you were without ever asking you to change – that kind of love does change people.

Throughout my life I have come across many people whose lives were touched by Craig Coria. I have found favor with many just because of whose daughter I was. I heard consistent things from all these people: he loved me right where I was without asking me to change first, he ALWAYS had a kind smile for me, and especially, he was there for me during an incredibly hard season of life and helped pull me through. I am who I am today largely in part because of Craig Coria. We, his family who knew him best, wholeheartedly agree because he treated us even better.

He was my rock, his arms were my safe place, he was my cheerleader, my buddy, my encourager, my strength, my protector, a step stool that got me up higher where I could see things better in life, from a better perspective. He saw past my insecurities, anger, fear, sickness, idiosyncrasies, and he saw ME – the real me, the One God created me to be and the one I already am inside. He talked to me like I was already her. Because I am. A good leader doesn’t ask you to become someone else. A good leader calls out what is already in you, whether that be a child God loves and wants as His own, or a child who has already said yes and is just like Jesus inside. He didn’t ask me to change. He told me who I was and encouraged me to live in it.

When it comes to serving in the little things, nobody did it better than Dad.

Growing up, one thing I remember clearly is that there was always milk in the fridge. We would start to get low but never too low – we never ran out, because Dad always made sure we had plenty for when we woke up and ate breakfast.
He was always up before me and often, I’d find a strawberry oatmeal smoothie in the fridge waiting for me when I woke up, with my name on it.
It was the little things like that, done faithfully, over time, that made us feel like the most loved people in the world. Leading by loving, leading by serving. Leading from behind.

Every time, and I mean every time, I needed Dad, he was there. He would be filing papers or working on a message (that’s what we called a sermon) and when I walked in, his attention was on me. This opened the door for me to talk to him about what was going on in my life. When I was there, I was most important, and everyone in my family would say the same. Leading by example.

He did not ever get his books written. He had so many in him to write and we were going to write one together. He never had a bestseller or even a series of fiction based on his amazing stories, but Craig Coria touched countless lives with his quiet, confident steadfastness and love without ever having anything published. His life was the story people read – a living epistle, read by men.

Most people I see get upset when someone starts using a tone with them. They get upset if someone vehemently disagrees. Not Dad. He was not threatened by differences and he always listened, without interrupting, to where someone was coming from. He was the first to apologize, often surprising me because I never knew anyone else who would come back and apologize for something he said or something he wished he did and didn’t. He was grace when under attack, not a wimp, by any means. On the contrary, he was the strongest man I’ve ever known – because He did not have to be the “bigger man” by being “right” or coming out on top, besting the other person. He was at peace with where he stood before his audience of One. That strength under control and quiet confidence made him an amazing leader. Not by winning, but by serving. Leading from behind.

I forgot something at karate once. He turned the car around to get it for me. I thought of a friend who had forgotten something close to that time and her dad got frustrated and would not go back to get it. I was so glad my dad did.

Another time Dad looked for my brother’s very favorite stuffed animal that he lost on a camping trip for over an hour. It was eventually found rolled up in the bottom of a sleeping bag. It may not sound like a big deal, but to a child who is missing something they love, Dad showed him: I love you and I know that is important to you and I will move heaven and earth (or a sleeping bag) to find it for you and get it back to you. What a way to lead a child.

We camp because of Dad. He provided the best memories for us with carefully planned trips that were so simple by today’s standards but gave us the best memories a kid could ever have. Hiking, smores around a campfire while he told us a story or read from our family read aloud, his breakfast scramble in the morning that he had ready before we were up (or sometimes, if I was early, I got to help with), playing catch together. He is why Calen and I wanted camping to be part of our own family. One camping trip when I was little a terrible storm came and we had leaks in the canvas of our small pop-up camper. Dad got a tarp and went out to cover up the camper. I don’t know if the wind became too strong for it to stay or he couldn’t secure it but he ended up just holding it up over us. When the lightning flashed inside the camper, mom and us kids who were huddled up together saw the outline of Dad holding the tarp over the camper for us, standing out in the rain to keep us dry. Love always protects.

He was one of my biggest cheerleaders in life. Every belt test, every dance performance, every award banquet, every birth, every hospital stay, my half marathon and even a 5k, he was there, cheering me on from the sidelines, not the focus of the event, but there to encourage and make sure I knew he cared and believed in me – and that is how he led.

Nobody was insignificant to Dad. Whether child, adult, cashier at the grocery store or barista at a coffee shop, if you came in contact with him he looked you in the eyes with a big smile, talked directly to you, used your name (and remembered it and what you told him for next time). It was his way of saying: I see you. You matter. You are important.

He had integrity in the small things, like never leaving trash in a grocery cart, always making sure our table was clean for the next person after using it. He prayed for waitresses and always tipped well, knowing that he took Christ with him wherever he went and desiring others to see the God he knew because he knew it changed everything.

I once told him one of my friends was separated from her husband and had an unexpected medical expense. Actually, I think I told my mom. But next time I saw dad he asked about her and then went and got a small stack of $100 bills for me to give to her – while he stood in a house that had had a plywood floor for years because flooring was last on his and mom’s list to finish the little house they dreamed of. Even though it would still be awhile before they got (get) that floor, he gave and he gave with joy. He was always, always so generous. Leading by example. Leading from behind.

Once he saw what I now know was a pornography magazine strewn all over the road. Dad was taking me to work with him that day and he pulled over to the side of the road and asked me to wait in the car. I sat and watched him quickly gather every piece of magazine, roll it up in a tight wad and stick it in the back seat, and then drop it off at the nearest dumpster. He was mad and only gave me a short answer about bondage or how the enemy works but later I heard him telling mom what it was. He couldn’t leave it out for someone else to come across, especially a kid on their way home from school. Nobody but me saw what he did. It was a small act, done with integrity, that will impact me forever.

He constantly served my mom. She knows how to put gas in a car but she never had to because dad kept it filled up, until the last few years when he worked so many hours. He kept mom stocked with fresh flowers. She said he asked all the time, “what can I do for you? Can I rub your back? Stroke your hair?” after a long day when they were finally together. He was building her their simple dream home in the woods together, one remodel at a time. He delighted in delighting her. He lived to love my mom and that always made me feel secure. He led us by loving.

One of Dad’s biggest passions was teaching and he was an amazing teacher and speaker. But behind the platform or the pulpit or the chair he sat in in front of us was a life lived all out in love.

It would take volumes of books to hold all the stories like this one. While I don’t have every story all in one place, I do know what they have in common. Dad lead from behind. Supporting, encouraging, loving, empowering, self-sacrificing. Never looking for applause or his name in bright lights, just living out his faith. His faith was the basis of EVERYTHING he did, not something he included in what he did. It showed and it shined and it shouted the Gospel so loudly. He was known by many for the words he spoke from the podium or in one-on-one talks, but he was known by those closest to him for his actions.

This morning as I write this on my phone laying in the dark, I hear his words, “what verse are you standing on?” He said that a lot when I reached out because I was struggling. What verse are you standing on? He always had a verse he was standing on. He would not ask something of someone that he was not already practicing himself. One of his favorites passages was Psalm 23. When I was struggling to breathe he spoke verses about God’s Word being God-breathed to me and said that is where the breath I need is – God’s breath is in His Word. He said it with such love and such conviction. If God’s Word says it, it’s true. You need a verse to stand on for whatever you’re going through.

I know not all of you knew my dad. Oh how I wish you did because he wasn’t just Dad to me but someone who changed the lives of everyone around him by the way he lived and I got to see it. I want to be it. You don’t know my Dad, but I’m here to tell you now that the most powerful way to lead someone… is from behind.

7 thoughts on “Leading from Behind

  1. Thank you so much for this. As I read I kept thinking, “YES, this was Craig!” A beautiful tribute. May the Lord bless you and keep you all in his loving arms, where your father is waiting for you.

  2. This is BEAUTIFUL!! What an inspiration! I can’t wait to meet him in Heaven one day. Prayers and love…

  3. I know your Dad and Mom from our church together in Ames. As I read your thoughts I could see his face and hear his voice. Especially his smile and the friendly kindness, joy, and sincerity in his eyes. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts of him.

  4. Beautifully written memories of your Dad. I had come online to “search” as a friend shared of his passing.
    I knew Craig briefly in college… I was a new believer and new to campus and new to church. I “knew” who your Dad was because he was one of those (along with your Mom – before they were married) up front singing during worship. It turns out that we ended up being in a class together, and when I saw him there, I was sure he didn’t know me. But…true to your above description of him, and to my total surprise, he came over and sat by me (for every class that semester!)…introduced himself and said he had seen me at church. Made me feel noticed and like I mattered, and that it was a big deal that we were fellow heirs of His grace! It’s amazing how that act of selflessness impacted me. Yes, your Dad was a bright shining light for Jesus.
    Thank you for sharing your sweet family memories. God bless you all as you go through the ups & downs of the days ahead.

  5. This was beautiful read! I really wish I would have known him longer than the short times that I’ve had. Always a positive and caring man!

  6. Kristi, thank you for sharing, I enjoyed reading more about him. I did not even personally know him, but years back I remember meeting him a couple of times when you had events at your house or your parents house, and I do remember his kindness and genuine personality!

  7. Oh I am so sorry to hear about your dad kristin. What a beautiful example. Thank you for sharing your inspiring thoughts. I will be praying for you and your family

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