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Dad’s Wallet

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My Dad kept his wallet in his back right pocket. I remember it being thick and full of things like credit cards, business cards, a little cash, a full year’s calendar, and notes he had torn from pieces of paper. There was also the plastic photo holder filled with pictures of me, my brothers, and my mom.

Dad was very far from ever being considered rich, but you’d never know it from his wallet. If we were at dinner with another family, Dad was always the first to grab his wallet in order to pay the bill. He often did so on the sly so that by the time the time we would finish the meal, the bill would have long been paid leaving the other Dad surprised…and grateful.

I never thought too much about his wallet until I had a family of my own and discovered how few dollars were usually in mine. I have since learned from my Mom how tight things were when we were growing up. They would talk privately, late into the night, wondering how they were going to make ends meet. But I never knew. Dad’s wallet always seemed to have more than enough as far as I could tell.

There was the time I found my wallet completely empty. I had no where to turn, except Dad’s wallet. A difficult and tear-filled phone call home resulted in an immediate gift which to this day, I have no idea how Dad’s wallet managed. Missionaries, after all, are almost always just barely surviving financially. There was never even the slightest hint of repayment.

As Dad grew older, the need for his thick back pocket wallet changed. New technology let him carry around his calendar and notes on his cell phone as well as dozens of photos of his family. Several years ago I noticed Dad’s old wallet had become worn out and it was time for a new one. I found a new slim-lined front pocket wallet and wrapped it up for his birthday. It was the last wallet he’d carry.

It’s funny how such a simple little thing like a wallet can become meaningful. Just this past week, my Mom and I returned from a trip to visit my youngest son. As we walked through the airport I mentioned I needed a new wallet because mine had started to fall apart. Shortly after returning home, Mom presented me with a gift. Yes, Dad’s wallet. The same one I had given Dad a few years earlier.

I love this wallet. I had carried it many times before running various errands for Dad when he was restricted to his bed. When he gave me his wallet, he intended for me to use it completely and freely, just as if he were standing next to me. And I did just that.

Missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” I think Dad understood that statement rather well and dedicated his life and wallet to “gain what he could not lose.” Dad believed God’s promises and often talked about being an “heir to an infinite inheritance.” He would quote Romans 8:17, “Since we are His children, we are His heirs…”  He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

As I write this letter to you, Dad’s wallet is resting comfortably in my left front pocket. It was three years ago this month the Lord took my Dad home to start collecting on that inheritance. I can’t help but take Dad’s wallet out and look it over. Each time I do, sweet memories come pouring back. It has my things in it now, so I suppose to my kids it still is “Dad’s wallet.”

Over time, I know Dad’s wallet will wear down and eventually need to be replaced. That’s okay, it’s just a thing. But in many ways, it represents who I am, the choices I make, and how I live my life. And that makes me wonder what my children will remember when they think about “Dad’s wallet.”

May God give me the grace to “give what I cannot keep in order to gain what I cannot lose.”

Making Better People

I have a vivid memory of my oldest son, Matt, walking off his high school football field after his final game. I wrote about it in “Surviving the End of High School Athletics” describing the slow, agonizing walk off the field. Shoulders were slouched giving way to heavy sobs. And Matt wasn’t doing much better, either.iF7D45B52-C766-470B-9882-B5CF871AB46D-1

Another powerful memory was after my dad died. The time had come to clean out his belongings from dressers and closets. I was standing in Dad’s closet overcome with emotion when Matt quietly put his strong arms around me, buried his head in my shoulder, and cried with me.

There was the time he chased a young man down the street who showed up to visit his little sister. Matt was just goofing around, but it was evident the young man didn’t know that by the cloud of dust his legs and feet were leaving as he took off down the street never to return. Guarding, protecting, and loving his little sister has, and always will be, a top priority.

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Dropping Matt off his first year in college in Pennsylvania revealed the inseparable bond he has with David, his six-year-the younger little brother. Saying goodbye was like they were both having an arm pulled off. I first became aware how close they were when one of David’s school assignments was to write about his hero. I was accustomed to being the “hero” and didn’t quite know what to think when David’s assignment revealed it was actually Matt. The two of them still have an awful time saying goodbye to each other.

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Of course, I also remember Matt’s failed attempt at “neighborhood pool hopping.” He and two high school buddies decided it would be a lot of fun to video each other hopping fences and jumping into unsuspecting neighbor’s pools. It was a lot of fun until police cars and even a police helicopter showed up with sirens blaring. Apparently it never crossed their minds that some terrified homeowner may have misconstrued three screaming teenagers’ fun for an Al-Qaeda training exercise. Hiding out at a friend’s house until the heat cooled off was just part of their unforgettable summer afternoon.

August 2nd is Matt’s birthday. It’s hard to believe someone as young as I am has a 27-year-old-son, but it’s true. He married one of Miami’s most wonderful and beautiful girls and a career move has taken them to California. We text and phone and Skype quite a bit, but I still miss them terribly.

One of the things I told Matt when he got to the age — when a girlfriend could turn into fiancé — was to make certain she brought out the best in him and he brought out the best in her. “Do you make each other better?” I often asked. When he met Laura, I didn’t need to ask. It was obvious for all to see and their wedding was one of the great days in my life, too.

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God has blessed me with a wonderful family. We’re so far from perfect that even the hint of such a thing is laughable. But at the end of the day, the one thing that has bound us together is right from God’s Word. 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”

Thinking back over Matt’s 27 years swells my heart with pride and joy. It is a very rewarding and beautiful thing to realize your child makes you a better person. Thanks, Matty.  I love you, son!

Happy birthday.

Pops

Enjoying Life

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Our dog, Bentley, has fallen deeply in love with my wife, Jenn. He has also become rather protective of her. I found this out the hard way when I leaned over to give Jenn a kiss while Bentley was lying beside her. Instead of the nice soft embrace of my wife’s lips, I got a face full of Bentley, who with amazing quickness and agility, sprang between my face and hers and pushed me away with his long, wet nose.

I jumped back with a start and stared at this crazy dog who was now suffocating my laughing wife under his protective paws. Not one to easily give up when it comes to getting a kiss from my wife, I leaned over once again searching for her lips. This time, Bentley started barking and positioned his long body completely over Jenn’s head.

By this time, Jenn was laughing hysterically and Bentley-the-Protector was barking madly to keep me away. The battle was on. Man versus beast. Passion versus protection. Crazy dog versus desperate husband wanting a kiss.

I cautiously circled the sofa. Bentley stared at me with his big, black eyes with Jenn safely secured under his paws. Tail wagging, he watched my every move. When the moment was just right, I jumped in, scooped Bentley up in my arms, ran the yapping dog into the other room with the tile floor. I put the frantic dog on the tile floor, held him back from running, and took off for the sofa to retrieve my kiss. As I ran toward Jenn, I could here the clatter of Bentley’s toenails flailing wildly on the tile floor desperately trying to get traction so he could beat me to the couch. His spinning legs gave me just enough time to race back to Jenn and win my kiss.

Man had won over beast once again.

Oh, the simple pleasures of life. Playing with a dog. Working hard for a kiss. Laughter. The list of ways to enjoy life is truly endless.

I am amazed by the entire concept of joy. It’s interesting, for example, that “joy” is both a noun and a verb. My dictionary defines joy—the noun—as, “intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness.” Joy—the verb—is defined as, “to take great pleasure; rejoice” as well as, “to fill with ecstatic happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction.”

I recently heard a wonderful message on creation. I was enthralled when the pastor suggested that God may have “sung” the world into existence. Of course, we have no idea if this is the case, but I love that imagery. Just imagine the beauty and joy of God’s voice singing as he creates stars, galaxies, and you and me…into existence.

Like love, joy is a part of God’s very essence. “God is love” as much as “God is joy.” The two are inseparable. The Tyndale Illustrated Bible Dictionary explains that joy is a “quality, and not simply an emotion, grounded upon God himself and indeed derived from Him.” Perhaps that is why famed author and professor, C.S. Lewis, described his conversion and ultimate belief in Christ, by simply saying, “joy.”

I have a friend who is battling cancer. Through emails, he keeps me up-to-date on what is going on through the various stages of treatment. He has endured many surgeries, medications with terrible side effects, long hospital stays, difficult setbacks, and endless doctor visits. Watching him fight this terrible disease is a reminder that none of us are immune from trials, sorrows, disappointments, and frustrations. “What a blessing,” he says, “that I have a basis for which I can experience God’s love, joy, and peace regardless of my situation.”

The famous preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon once said, “When you speak of heaven, let your face light up with heavenly gleam. Let your eyes shine with reflected glory. And when you speak of hell—well, then your usual face will do.”

So, here’s hoping more and more faces “light up with a heavenly gleam.” After all, there are far too many walking around with their “usual face.”

Father of Girls

My Dad’s favorite singer was Perry Como or, as Bing Crosby referred to him, “the man who invented casual.” I can picture Dad sitting in the living room with his eyes closed and head tilted back soaking up Como’s every note. “Now he is a singer,” Dad would say, “every note is effortless.”

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“Mr. C,” as he was nicknamed, sold millions of records. He also pioneered the weekly musical variety television show. He was the 7th of 13 children and when his parents emigrated from Italy, he was the first to be born in the United States. Along with his smooth-as-silk voice, he was known for his high integrity and demand for decency. If he felt something in one of his TV shows crossed the line, he would publicly apologize for it in his next show. Imagine…

One Christmas back in 2003 while visiting my parents’ home, we were listening to Perry softly crooning many of our favorite Christmas songs. Then came The Father of Girls. I had not heard the song before and was captivated by the lyrics and melody. You see, I was the father of a girl and every note he sang made me think of my daughter. Abby was then 13 years old, beautiful, full of personality and adventure. I was a nervous wreck.

We somehow survived Abby’s teenage years and I certainly took to heart the message from the song, When you’re the father of boys you worry. But when you’re the father of girls, you do more than that…you pray.

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And now I have had that experience that simultaneously fills a Dad’s heart with joy and dread: a young man asked if I would give my blessing and permission for him to ask my little girl to marry him. I knew it was coming, but was woefully unprepared. I did my best to not appear a blubbering idiot, but failed miserably. He was asking for my treasure.

So it was soon thereafter, a young man named Alex got down on a knee and with my blessing, asked my beautiful daughter, Abby, to marry him. She said, “Yes!” of course. I had no doubt she would. (You can see their engagement video here.)

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I had the opportunity to record my own rendition of Father of Girls which you can see the music video HERE. The song lyrics rapidly move through time saying, “From the time of diaper and pin, till the time she cries ‘don’t come in,’ till the time you gown her in white and give her away…” Now these lyrics are coming true and the emotions running through my head and heart are difficult to describe.  Can I ever really “give her away?”

It’s Father’s Day weekend and Abby will be out of town. She’ll call of course; probably FaceTime. We’ll talk about all the wedding plans underway and she’ll beam with excitement. She’ll ask how I’m doing with all the wedding thoughts and plans and my eyes will fill with tears as a thousand memories flood through my heart and brain. After all, it really was just yesterday I was trying to figure out those diaper and pin things.

Oh, did I mention they will be living in Australia?

Time to listen to Father of Girls again.

 

Baby That’s Love

I admit it, I need a kleenex every time I watch one of those “soldier comes home” videos where they surprise their family. I’m reminded of the sacrifice made not only from the soldier, but of all the family and friends. I wrote a ballad a few years back with my friend, Don Koch, which seemed a nice fit for some of my favorite “soldier reunited with family” clips. It was also fun to include clips from my son and daughter’s engagements.

The idea behind “Baby That’s Love” is enduring love–love that survives through thick and thin even when it comes to saying goodbye. The song is on my “Beautiful Feet” CD which is available, of course, on iTunes. Hope you enjoy it, too…with or without a kleenex.

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