A childhood memory: waking up in the pre-dawn winter hours to the muffled thrumming of my father’s car warming up in the driveway. In my mind I can picture the clouds of crystalline exhaust illuminated by the back porch light. I would lie snug in my bed and listen to the sounds of my father preparing to go to work: his step (the heaviest in the house) in the hallway, the jingle of the dozen or so keys on the big ring on his belt, the clink of a coffee cup being set down on the counter; finally the closing of the back door to mark his passing. It was familiar and unremarkable, and I would go back to sleep.
When I awoke again my mind was filled with my own thoughts and plans for the day. In this time my father owned his own business and was rarely home for supper. My brother and sister and I would eat with our mother, and go about our evening routine. I would often be in bed again when I heard him return. There would be the sounds of my mother frying him a steak, and of talking; their voices distinct, but not the words. Sometimes the tone was obviously my mother reciting the sins of the day, and if they were heinous enough, we would be summoned from our beds for the promised retribution of When Our Father Gets Home.
As a father now myself, I understand how this had to have been as unpleasant for him as it was for us.
During this time our father was a seldom seen force in our lives, operating outside our understanding, toward ends unknown. We would see him mostly on Sundays, and there was a feeling of awkwardness as if none of us were quite certain about how we should act. And yet there was always food on the table, a comfortable house, and clothes for every season, even though we gave little thought, or saw little connection, to how these things came to be.
It wasn’t until I was 11 or 12 and old enough to go to work with my father that I really started to get to know him, and learn what a just and wonderful man he was. I admit he never seemed to be at a loss for things for me to do: pick up rocks and litter, sweep the drive, clean the restrooms for the rest of the workers and the guests. As I learned more about how to please him, my responsibilities and privileges grew. I came to know the special feeling of joining him in the early morning while everyone else was asleep as we got ready to go to “our” work.
I have come to see that the way I got to know my father is very similar to the way that I came to know God the Father.
In my early days, God, like my father, was an unseen presence operating just at the edge of my senses. I knew He was out there, but I didn’t know the connection between Him and the blessings in my life. My family would take me to church on Sunday, but just like with my own father, this was strange and uncomfortable, and I wasn’t really sure how I was supposed to act.
I’d hear the sermons and get a sense of God appearing suddenly to mete out some punishment and then disappearing until the next time, just like my father did when we had to get out of bed those times. It was, of course, an incomplete and even mistaken perception. I knew of him, but I didn’t have a personal relationship with him until I began to align myself with the things that were important to him — in the same way my personal relationship with God developed.
When I was a child, it never occurred to me that my father ever thought of me during the day or into those long night hours. Now I understand that what he did he did for me and my brother and sister, so that we could have security and an education and the things he thought we needed to be successful in our lives, whether we noticed or understood his sacrifice or not. I have peace knowing that the decisions he made, even if not always the best, were always his best.
Likewise it never occurred to me that God ever thought of me, or had a plan for me. How he must have waited in anticipation for me to recognize the sacrifice He made for me, the gifts he gave me, the security He gave me, the future He gave me. Ultimately, the job He gave me.
Even now, God is still working in my life in ways I often don’t notice. When my father’s lymphoma was diagnosed in June I knew that I had to pray, and I knew how to pray. My experience and faith (or is it faith and experience?) is in standing on and praying scripture, believing that God will fulfill his word. I resist the temptation to make up my own words and to work in my own wishes in an attempt to make my prayers “juicy” enough to catch God’s attention. I believe God doesn’t watch over our needs to fulfill them (because then who would have needs?) but that He watches over his word to perform it. In this way I have seen God work miraculously many times, including in my extended family. Even with this experience, however, I found myself struggling with thoughts that I needed to do more…as if I could do something to help God out, as if I could work through God instead of letting Him work through me.
When we’re attacked it’s natural to want to grab the beast or the problem in our own hands and wrestle it to the ground, to bite, claw, kick and whatever is necessary to drive it away. But how can you get your hands on cancer; how can you choke it with your own fingers? Sure, a surgeon can cut something out but even then isn’t sure if the root is still there or not. Chemo can be injected, but those battles take place out of sight. You can’t watch the cells collide and slaughter each other; at best you can only see after-effects on the battlefield of the body. So, too, God works in ways out of plain sight; strengthening something here, removing something there, making connections that are necessary. It’s not enough to touch one life when there are so many that can be involved and can learn from the experience. Still I struggled in the depths of my frustration, feeling I was doing this alone (and of course, knowing better), I received an amazing email from my mother.
We had a very touching experience this morning. Janet Thomas who cleans for me called. She said she had a prayer cloth from her church that she wanted to bring by.
She and Charles stood in front of the congregation and asked for prayers for Dad. She said a visitor came forward that was a minister in Potosi. He said ‘I know this man. He got my daughter into the Shriners Hospital and because of him she has the scoliosis of her spine corrected’. You never know when a good deed will be returned. Dad cried when she told him and gave him the cloth. It is anointed. He can keep it under his pillow, on his clothing or wherever he can reach it easily.
I know the practice of praying over a cloth and taking it to a sick person is described in Acts 19:12, and I have also seen it work personally. As comforting (and I believe, effective) as it is for my parents, it was especially important to me. Sometimes I need a hug from God, and sometimes I need a kick in the pants. And sometimes, I just need a little wink to let me know He’s still there.
Part 3 on Friday.