There’s a place I hide the last of my German chocolate, breaking off tiny squares at a time since I likely won’t be heading to that part of the world again until November. It’s tucked away, and I went there today for a bite of comfort because, surprising as this might sound, I’m in the midst of a stress bout, even though I’m a pastor.
The stress is about some frustrations regarding Christians fighting each other. It’s about questions regarding the future because even though they say 50 is the new 40, 60 isn’t the new anything; it’s just old. It has me thinking about the future, and that very line of thinking gives birth to about ten more questions so that by the time I’m done thinking so much, I need chocolate more than anything, and I run to my drawer of comfort.
This time, though, sort of like the Narnian wardrobe thing, I reached for the chocolate in the dark and grabbed a small Bible by mistake instead, it being about the same size as a large Milka bar. I hadn’t touched the cover for over a year, likely, except to move it when I moved this desk for the year. It was my dad’s. As soon as I touched it, though, I thought about my upcoming sermon this weekend about authenticity and said to myself, “Toss it into the bag. Maybe it’s a sermon illustration.”
Then I drove down the mountain, all the while thinking about the many things in my life presently which feel out of control, or at the least, outside of my direct personal control. Lack of control and uncertainty about the future are things I don’t like, and what I like even less is that the answers are often found in only one place: patiently waiting. I’ll quickly confess I’m terrible at this, so much so that when these seasons of uncertainty happen, as they happen to all of us, the stress and anxiety I say are so easily banished in Christ somehow move in and take up space in room that is my soul. Then I think too much – about the o so many things I can’t control, and I often get even more anxious, and then anxious about being anxious. Some of you understand.
i arrive in Seattle and drag my bags into my little place down here, anxious, stressed, feeling overwhelmed. I’m sure many of you know these feelings. Then before I head to a meeting I unpack and there it is, now in the full light of day. My dad’s Bible. I stop and open it because, no surprise, I didn’t read mine this morning in my present state of worry. When I open it though, it falls not to scripture text, but to the inscription from his sister, my aunt, written on dad’s birthday in 1933:
“Happy Birthday Romaine…
May you enjoy many happy hours in the meditation and visitation with our heavenly Father thru this volume of letters He has written to you.
May you never forget that Phil. 4:6,7 as well as countless other wonderful promises will always remain true no matter what happens.
That passage she referenced? Well I thumbed through the Bible and it was the only passage Dad had underlined:
“Be careful for nothing (or another translation writes: “don’t worry about anything”), but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”
“Remember” my aunt wrote, speaking to me from the grave this afternoon, “that Phil 4:6,7 will always remain true no matter what happens”
She wrote those words to my dad in 1933. Yes. No matter what happens:
World War II happened, and countless bouts of pneumonia for dad.
After marrying the delightful prize that was my mom, an early life threatening miscarriage happened. It led to a surgery that put an end to hopes of children. That why they adopted, and where I came into the story, why I’m here writing, rather than somewhere else…
Annual bouts with the flu happened. They would so weaken dad’s lungs that after 40 he could no longer visit the mountains he loved, and his basketball and track days of active sport were gone for good.
Health challenges happened all the time. They would get worse as he got older, and he’d come home and sit with an oxygen tank for a little rejuvenation. Annual stays in the hospital for the flu became commonplace.
Work loads grew as he moved from teacher to principal to superintendent, leading to too much, leading to an early retirement.
The flu shot in October of 1973 happened. It was too much, and became full blown flu, and then pneumonia, and the end.
When my aunt wrote that God’s peace could be dad’s “no matter what happens”, she had no idea what she was talking about.
But she was right. And as I read Phil 4:6,7 today, 83 years after my aunt wrote the inscription, I remember how, in the midst of all that I’ve related above (and there’s much more… too personal), Dad knew peace.
He never complained about not being able to play basketball with me. Instead he’d get high on Oxygen, come outside and play a game of HORSE, and then go re-oxygenate as if he’d climbed Everest. At the time I thought he loved basketball. I now know he loved me. He’d crack jokes about his limitations, and to keep us all smiling, put fake hot dogs in the refrigerator, laughing uproariously when mom tried to put them down the garbage disposal and they shot out like rockets. He went to some of my concerts when I was in high school, and made sure that I was able to go to Europe with the band, even though we couldn’t afford it. “We’ll find a way” he said. And he did.
The man was so very short on self pity, because he was so very full of the peace and love of Christ in spite of the fact that life was, to say the least, not what he expected.
By now there are tears as I write this. They’re tears of gratitude that I have someone to look to as an example as i grow older and also face my own uncertainties, and limitations, and disappointments. They’re tears of gratitude for my aunt who lived her faith and knew her own disappointments, including the early loss of her husband to cancer, and her subsequent years spent ministering to single mothers. Through it all for her too: the peace of Christ. And the tears are the cry of my heart, asking the the God of all peace would be my source of peace right in the midst of the storm that is now, and whatever will be the storms that are tomorrow.
So for lent? I’ll be reading from Dad’s little Bible every day – and I might even buy a fake hot dog.