I watched him for nearly half an hour, standing at the door, giving out bulletins, greetings, smiles, and at times, a hug, to those who reached for one. No one knew that he was in pain, that his hip was bothering him, or that his mind was racing with worry about his partner of 55 years. You would never know by watching him that he was in the middle of one of the most stressful seasons of his life. He just kept smiling, kept serving, kept giving. Every weekend, without fail, he shows up to do his part. Joy radiated from his steel-blue eyes, as he caught me watching him, and he gave me one of his legendary winks.
I smiled. Where does he get his strength? As soon as the thought occurred, I simultaneously knew the answer. My mind wandered back to memories of my father quietly reading his Bible in the evenings in the comfort of his big blue leather recliner. Of simple, yet heartfelt prayers spoken in reverent, hushed tones, sometimes so soft, I had to strain to hear the words. Never showy, his faith has always been an unpretentious, steady back drop to my own life. He was a man of few words when it came to his faith, but plenty of action. After 40 years of working hard to provide for a family, when most folks just want to kick back and provide for themselves, I have watched Dad tirelessly give his time and resources to help those less fortunate.
Hope whispers, great strength comes from faith in God.
Though I understand the source of my father’s strength, and daily seek to emulate his wisdom in tapping into it, I often wonder if I will ever fully grasp it. In recent years, I have become aware of many sacrifices that Dad made for our family in the early years, yet I have no memories of him ever complaining, or even mentioning what he gave up, in order to give us what we needed. Even today, as I watch him lovingly and patiently care for my mother after a bad fall, I am acutely reminded of the power of his faith. When I share my concern about the toll that being her caregiver is taking on him, in addition to everything else he regularly takes on, he simply smiles and quietly reminds me, “I don’t know how much time I have left; I need to make it count, and besides, God will give me the strength I need.” There is not a trace of doubt in his voice. Only peace. I want to argue, but I cannot, because I know he is right.
When did my father get so smart?
For those of us who underappreciated our parents in our earlier years, this Mark Twain quote is a powerful reminder: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
I think Mark Twain was wiser than I however, as it took me many more years past the ripe old age of 21 to begin to appreciate my parent’s wisdom. I am in the 50-something club now and still learning. And I am coming to realize that I am not the only one impacted by my father’s greatness. While watching him usher at church, a woman approached me, and introducing herself, told me how much Dad’s smiles and warm greetings have meant to her over the years. “He has no idea how much he blesses me week after week; he always has a kind word.” Dad would tell you that standing at the door each weekend at his church and greeting people is, “no big deal”. Yet, it’s clearly a very big deal to the sweet woman who took the time to tell me so. I wonder how many others Dad has impacted week after week, with his consistent presence and warm smile.
Indeed, we never know the impact we make on others. And we truly never know how much time we have left to make an impact; Ebola, school shootings, tornadoes and other tragedies around the globe unexpectedly claim lives even as I write this. Like my father, I hope to make my time count.
Have you been feeling weary or uncertain? What or who do you put your hope in? Have you given God a chance? One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Isaiah 40:31, “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Great strength comes from faith in God.