She called me Dad. Jessie had come home to celebrate her birthday—she was turning 68. “I know the routine, Dad” she reminded me. (I am 83 years of age.) And immediately, she began to jump in and help my wife, Karen, with tasks that needed doing around the house. My wife hates to run errands. She feels that they can eat up a whole day when she’d rather be accomplishing other kinds of goals—such as meeting writing deadlines.
Jessie had first come to live with us when she was 37 years of age. Homeless. On the streets. A mutual friend brought a very disgruntled young woman to our door. Wearing a leather jacket, she had developed one of the toughest demeanors I’ve ever seen. This was her adaption in order to face down a hostile world. Karen, nevertheless, with a spiritual gift of discernment, understood that beneath Jessie’s rough exterior, there was a beating heart still filled with unaccountable tenderness.
“Yep! On the inside, I’m just a marshmallow,” Jessie says now, describing what we came to discover was the truth. Despite an abusive mother, despite getting into “a lot of bad stuff” as Jessie would say, something true and beautiful, had survived those years as a motorcycle gang moll. Some inner spirit filled with longing for the right kind of love had survived her practiced liturgy of worshiping the dark and satanic.
Karen says that when she opened the door and discovered this tight ball of humanity beside our friend, an unaccountable kind of love flooded her emotions. So, Jessie came to live with us, went through an extensive rehabilitation as part of our family of four growing children. She stayed for six years. She and Jeremy, our youngest son and 10 years old at the time, became great buddies. How could Jessie not thrive with Jer acting as counsellor and life coach. This budding relationship was not only hilarious, it was touching beyond description.
We asked Jessie, on her latest visit home, what she remembered about those years in our house. “Oh, the love. You just loved me, and you loved one another. I also remember that we prayed a lot. I mean a LOT! … Why did you take me in?”
Well, it was obvious. Karen had prayed for help in the house, with the children, with the hated running-errand tasks, with the piles of laundry, and with the dishes in the sink. Who was she to argue with God concerning the way that prayer was answered and how it was packaged?
It occurs to me as we head into another national day that honors the fathers in our lives, that there are many people who become non-biological fathers to displaced folk who desperately need fathers.
Jessie’s transformation to a God-lover, to an ardent Jesus follower (“Oh, Jesus! He’s my life. He means everything to me!” she reported in our recent catching-up conversation.) was framed and formed by living in our not-perfect-by-any-means family, where there was at least a healthy and caring father-figure.
Have you observed that it’s easier for people to form an understanding of a loving God when they have had loving parents? Loving, wise, caring father figures often pave the way for a redemptive path toward God.
So, this Father’s Day, perhaps it would be a good exercise to consider those men who have been father figures in our lives. What teacher gave you crucial and encouraging attention? Did you have a neighbor who taught you how to use his tools? Was there an uncle or a great-uncle who encouraged your faith walk? Was there a Sunday School teacher who let you know he considered that you had much promise?
I had a band teacher in high school, Dan Perino, who took me aside and asked if I had ever considered running for student council president. “If you did, David, you would be sure to win.” In fact, I had never even thought of such an idea. However, I took his nudge seriously, mounted a campaign and to my great surprise, won the election! This was an embryo incident that helped me understand I had qualities in my personality that other people considered “leadership potential.”
Karen says that whenever Jessie calls on the phone and in her gravely voice prays, “DEAR LORD, BLESS KAREN . . .” my wife is always moved to tears.
I know that I am moved deeply when she calls me “DAD.”
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