January 22, 2014

Five Ways I Want to Be Like My Daddy

Every now and then, usually on a Monday, I peek out my back windows at home and see something that makes me smile broadly. My dad’s vehicle is parked under the pecan trees, and on his property the big barn doors are flung open. I know he’s out there building something, repairing something, or searching for something stored away in the barn. Most of the time, he’s doing one of those things for someone else. I know he enjoys working with his hands. But I think he also likes the quiet, the familiar calm in the orchard, the space for thought. Perhaps returning to the family land is as comforting to him as seeing him there is for me— a refreshing reminder that some things in this world, though they change like everything else, do so a little more slowly.

Since today is my daddy’s birthday, I'd like to tell you about five of the many qualities I admire in him.

1. He is the hardest-working man I know.

In elementary school, I learned about a concept called the Protestant Work Ethic. It was the notion that “in all labor there is profit” (Prov. 14:23), that work itself was inherently good for a person, and that good people were delighted to work. It was the idea that God is always working; therefore, humankind in His image was created for work, even from before the Fall. I probably didn’t realize it in third grade, but I needed no textbook to describe a hearty work ethic. My dad has always been a living definition of it.

Whether it’s physical labor or the mental discipline necessary to prepare a sermon, he works with all his might. Whether it results in a paycheck or no thanks at all, I’ve never heard him complain about work. Instead, he taught his children that any opportunity for honest hard work was valuable, and he modeled that attitude for us.

2. He does everything with excellence.

I’ll be honest; occasionally I get tired of projects and decide to consider them “good enough.” Not my dad. I’ve never seen him do anything half-way. Before he starts a task, he thinks about the best way to do it. He asks around, reads about it, plans it out. Then he executes his plan with precision. If something goes wrong in the middle of the task, it’s almost as if he anticipated the problem. With my dad’s patience, any inconvenience can be overcome, any setback can be solved. Sometimes when I encounter a challenge, I catch myself stepping back, rubbing my chin, and saying aloud, “Well, now, let’s just think about what we can do about this.” I got that from my dad.

When my dad finishes a task, you can always tell that he did it, because care has gone into every detail. He takes the time to do everything the right way.

3. He always has time for people.

It was supposed to be a day off. It was Christmas Day, of all days. If there were ever a good excuse to say, “sorry, pal, I don’t have time today,” this was it. But when a total stranger needed him, my dad stopped eating his holiday dessert and gave the man his afternoon. That’s typical.

My dad is a pastor. He’s the hands-on kind of pastor, who vacuums the sanctuary pews, repairs church members’ roofs and water pipes, visits nursing homes regularly. The old-fashioned kind of pastor who teaches Sunday School and mid-week Bible study and preaches twice on Sunday. He is on call at every moment. But what makes him really unique among pastors is that he makes time for everyone— everyone, including his family.

If one of my sisters or my mother or I need him, he has time for us. No matter how small our need or how big the enterprise we’ve interrupted, he makes us feel treasured. I think that is a gift.

4. He stays curious.

Have one conversation with him, and you’ll know why my dad is so intelligent. He asks questions.

Yes, he reads and studies and he can remember just about anything. Yet I’m convinced that his main method of learning is by asking good questions. He’s interested in everybody he meets. What do they do? How do they do it? Is it anything like this other process he once learned about?

Though my mom coordinated most of the day-to-day lessons in our homeschooling years, my dad contributed so much by modeling a life-long love for learning. It’s a passion I cherish and hope to pass on to every one of the college students I coach.

5. He loves the Word.

It will always be a mystery to me why men love their La-Z-Boy chairs so much. My dad is no exception. As long as I can remember, he has always had a recliner in the den. But while other men might recline to zone out, to watch movies or sports, or maybe to read the newspaper, my dad’s recliner usually serves a different purpose.

There he is, sock feet propped up, eyes perhaps looking drowsy from a hard day’s work. His hands hold a book. Inside the leather cover, the print is larger than it used to be. My dad is reading it because he’s a Psalm One kind of man. A man whose joy is not found in movies or sports or comic strips at the end of the day. Instead, “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2).

My daddy doesn’t have any sons to walk in his manly footsteps. He does have four daughters who hold only the highest admiration and love for him. I am extraordinarily blessed to be one of them.

Since I started scribbling kindergarten letters on paper, he’s been known by a particular descriptive phrase:
To “the best whole world Daddy," Happy Birthday!

January 16, 2014

You Know Me

We’re in the car, traversing those same fifteen miles again. Past the window fly dispassionate pines and fields and family-owned businesses. From the pane, trying to appear just as detached, my own reflection looks back at me.
I say it again, for the hundredth time. “I just don’t feel like anyone knows me.”
My husband sighs, mutters sympathy.

The fourth person in the same day has said something with good intentions but no discretion. Her words inflict another puncture to my deflating heart. She has no idea that what’s a joke to her, an opportunity to offer cajoling advice, is my most deeply-rooted dream. It’s a dream that seems more and more impossible to me. I’ve shrugged, and looked away to hide the pain in my eyes, again. And again, I haven’t answered her, because I can’t find a gracious way to do so. Like the others, she didn’t mean to be hurtful. She just doesn't know me.

I’m caught in yet another grueling conversation about that thing I’ve become connected to but care very little about. Everyone around me cares so much. I don’t get it, and I'm terribly out of place. Yet I foolishly try to make it work, because I suspect this connection is the only reason anyone knows I even exist. If I bow out now, I’m almost afraid I will actually disappear.

From the outside, my small life probably seems like a placid ocean. Others express admiration, even envy. They see a jovial couple in a sweet little home with no television and a sunny marriage. They don’t know about the violent storms that tear through routinely. They may never know, for the storms are not my story to tell. But since the storms are part of my story, I fear they'll also never know me.

I shuffle into the bedroom, closing the door behind slow steps. There is the journal, the pen, the Bible— the things I gather when I hope to hear His words. Perched on the edge of the bed, desperation makes all my reading charts and plans seem irrelevant. I flip the beloved pages to wherever they would fall. They open near the middle of the book. In bold black I see Psalm 139 and I start reading:
"O LORD, you have searched me and known me."
Is this really where I’ve landed tonight? I start again.
“O LORD, you have searched me and known me.”
He knows me.
“You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.”
He knows the word-wounds.
“You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.”
He knows the out-of-place moments.
“You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.”
He knows the storms.
“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.”
There is more beauty to this chapter, but I need to soak in the first six verses before going further.

Beginning to re-read, I press “play” on the laptop. It’s set to shuffle. This is what fills the room:

I’m not unique in this. We all feel unknown at times, for every soul has carefully masked aches.
I have found a balm for mine.