(Blogger’s Note: In the hiking community, a side trail, or spur, is a footpath that wanders off the main trail and simply leads to another scenic vista or practical destination. It’s the metaphorical equivalent of journalism’s sidebar. Closing in on the manuscript draft of my book, #PilgrimStrong, I’m incorporating a “side trail” (a different, but related) short story at the end of each primary chapter. I think it kind of breaks the story up and adds some variety. Hopefully, it works. Here’s a “side trail” preview excerpt I wrote today.)
At 33, I left a potentially promising career in the frenzied political world for one more structured, predictable and family friendly. It was that structure that soon got me in trouble and ultimately bestowed a great lesson.
As state communications director for a member of congress I enjoyed the freedom to do just about whatever needed doing to make things work. Most rules, wherever they existed, were completely gray, and I knew how to work them. They were much more black and white in my new state-regulated job as a higher education fundraiser. Rules abounded.
When we needed some giveaway promotional t-shirts for an internal fund drive I called up a buddy I trusted and knew would give me a quality product on time. He said, “What do you need?” I told him. He said no problem. I said, “Done.” We committed to the deal and I sent him a check for $15,000. There wasn’t as much as a handshake.
Just a few days later a trusted secretary brought attention to my grievous error. The structured, predictable and friendly government rules required all requisitions above $1,000 go out for at least three competitive bids. It meant the money I’d committed would have to come from our private foundation, rather than our state-supported budget. In short, it was a $15,000 screw up. Yes, my bad.
There was no hiding. I’d completely exposed my inexperience and had to tell the boss. He was newer to his job than I was to mine. We didn’t know one another well yet, and he scared me a bit. I walked in his office to take a beating that would’ve been well deserved and told him exactly what happened. I said it was my fault. I said I was sorry, and didn’t really know what to do.
He leaned back in his chair, clasped his hands and was silent for one of the most intensely painful moments of my life. And then he said this:
“Well, you won’t make that mistake again, will you?”
“No sir,” I said, waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it never did.
“I’ll take care of it. Get back to work,” he said. And so he forgave my debt.
It was the most unexpected, underserved grace I’ve received in a lifetime of mistakes. And it’s a lesson that’s served me well.
I’ve always been fascinated at the significance of the numbers, and how God uses them in the bible to represent certain things. The number 40 is of particular interest to me. It signifies a period of “testing,” or challenge … and, the fulfillment of a promise.
This is the way you feel 40 days after your dad is gone:
- In the quietest of moments, when there are no distractions, you shake your head in wonderment. And that’s all you can do … shake your head and wonder.
- You savor the moments you went fishing and hunting together.
- If you’re an only child, particularly the only son of an only son, you realize that to some extent now, you’re the head of the family, and you’re scared.
- You take on a welcome new responsibility for your mom.
- By the grace of God, you forget the arguments, and you remember the tender moments of transparency.
- You wonder what he’s doing in Heaven at this very moment.
- You wonder if he knows you miss him.
- You picture him praising the Lord with his hands raised, happy beyond measure.
- You imagine him covered in Light.
- …and you can only shake your head in wonderment…
- You regret not having been a better son.
- You have a new understanding for the burdens he carried as the head of the family.
- You have a new comprehension for his failures.
- You hear a song on the radio that carries the theme of Jesus’ love, and you cry.
- You put up bird houses that await the migration of the purple martins, just as he did for years and you wish he could sit on the back patio with you …waiting.
- You wear his clothes, just because you can.
- You walk into a room where he spent his days, and you can still smell him.
- You wear his dog tag from his days in the National Guard, and you never take it off.
- You try to have forgiveness for those who in his final days denied him the request of Baptism because of the doctrinal beliefs in immersion, and you struggle with that almost every day.
- …and you shake your head in wonderment, because that’s all you can do.
- You start a vegetable garden in your back yard as a tribute to him.
- …and in that garden you plant cotton seeds from his last harvest and you plan to replant those seeds every year on May 1.
- You wear his collection of caps.
- You remember your roots with newfound pride.
- You wish he could sit with you and watch the Final Four in a few weeks.
- You wish you could just sit with him on the back porch and drink a cold beer.
- You pursue lost dreams with vigor and determination because you realize life is short and but a vapor.
- You regret the mistakes you, yourself have made as a father.
- You determine to be a better man and live a life just like he did in the last month of his life, with grace, humility, forgiveness and love, and you re-realize that it’s not important how you start out in life, what matters is how you finish.
- …and you shake your head in wonderment, because that’s all you can do.
- You write, because that’s the gift God gave you, and you do it as a tribute to him and Him.
- You determine as best you can to avoid distractions and focus on what’s important.
- In your heart, you search the world over for another father figure.
- You set new priorities.
- You realize that despite the kind words and genuine goodness of those around you, nobody knows how you feel, and sometimes you are just lonely.
- You hope he knows how much you loved him, even if you were a rebellious jerk so many times.
- You still hear his voice from the basketball court sidelines 35 years ago yelling “shoot the ball!”
- You just sit and stay quiet.
- You weep still.
- … and you shake your head in wonderment … because that’s all you can do.
It’s been four weeks now since dad passed away.
It was on a Thursday. The Sunday before he died was a milestone moment in my life I may never forget.
Dad lived a hard life – drank, swore, mismanaged money. In other words, he wasn’t perfect. Because he set the standard so high for himself, he never saw himself of worthy of God‘s unrelenting grace and prodigal love.
That Sunday morning, the doctor told him flat out, he wasn’t going to get better. They could pump oxygen into his lungs all day long, but they had lived their life. The lungs would no longer move the air and move the ogygen into his blood stream.
“You mean this is the way the rest of my life is going to be? he asked.
“We don’t know how long,” the doctor said.
I think it was at that moment Dad knew the only person who could help him was Jesus.
Many of us who cared about him had tried to impose salvation on him over the years. I now know salvation is not imposed. It is received. And it can be received only when God the Father draws you to Him and you say “yes.”
That day, Daddy said “yes,” and he wanted to be baptized as a public profession of his newfound faith.
Dad never really went to church and as good fortune would have it, the pastor of a local church attended by some of my family members had befriended dad in the hospital paying him almost daily visits in the next to last week before he died. Daddy liked the guy and he had good heartfelt conversations with him.
So upon Daddy’s request for baptism, they called the guy. There was an urgency in the call. Any breath could have been Dad’s last. Not that the baptism made his salvation any more secure. He just wanted to do it, and we wanted him to have it.
So the pastor showed up, was advised of my Dad’s request and the joy of our dad’s salvation took a disappointing turn.
A half dozen IV’s were hooked up to Daddy’s arms. He could hardly move. His breath was short — and unfortunately for him there wasn’t a river nearby.
The pastor believed baptism could only be conducted by full immersion, and the situation and facilities just didn’t allow that.
“So would you consider another alternative … sprinking, pouring of water?”
That’s the only way he could conduct a baptism, he said. That’s what he believed.
Let me try to recap and sum this up in a paragraph.
A 71-year-old man who had lived like Hell up to this point in his life and whose last breath could come at any moment had just asked the God of all Creation to come into his life and he wanted to celebrate with his family with a baptism.
But the preacher said no. That was not the doctrine in which he believed.
I thought about Jesus. What would Jesus do?
On the Sabbath, Jesus told the man to pick up his mat and walk.
Later in His journey, Jesus told a woman who should have been stoned “to go and sin no more.”
Did Jesus care if every square inch of Dad’s skin was immersed, or if water was just poured over his head?
I’d like to think not.
Weeks later, I’m still shaking my head, trying hard to forgive, and to move on.