Yesterday was my father's 85th birthday, January 14th, and one we were thankful to see. Just three months ago, after a week long stay in the hospital, he was entering a transitional rehabilitation facility. After another week there he'd decided he had enough of that and asked to come home. It would be weeks before he was able to walk to his garden, drive himself to church and find the daily routine he'd come to enjoy. By the holidays, he was finally getting back to the normal rhythms of his life, waking early to a breakfast of bacon and eggs and one hot cup of coffee.
I was stranded in five o'clock traffic as I made my way to his home. As I imagined him looking repeatedly at his watch, I called him to let him know I was on the way. My daughter and her children were a few miles away getting a bucket of fried chicken and trimmings as we'd planned to have dinner with him in about an hour. My thoughts drifted to my son in law, most likely sitting in traffic farther south as he made his way home from a long day at work. My sister was working late at school since the recent snowstorm seems to have upset everyone's schedule. Longingly, I wished that everyone in the family could be present as I realized my niece was on her way to Nashville to begin a new adventure as an intern. Her twin brother along with my son and his family would be going about their daily routine miles away.
At 4 o'clock this morning, my eyes flew open and I found myself re-living the scene in my father's house last evening. After many attempts at rearranging my position on the bed and squeezing my eyes shut to make a return to sleep possible, I decided on one hot cup of coffee and writing.
Yesterday evening, as I finally arrived at my daddy's house, he was waiting at the door for me. Couldn't help but wonder how long he'd been anticipating our arrival. Before I'd been there many minutes he'd tried to sneak another look at his watch. It's one of the things I know I'll miss one day. He's done quite his share of waiting in doctor's offices the last several months, so that waiting must seem to have become his new occupation. I reminded him that the food was on the way and my sister was working late but would be there soon.
Before long, the room was filled with activity as the grandchildren arrived bearing homemade birthday cards and we prepared to celebrate the life of this one who has touched our lives in such a special way. As I laid my hand on his back to pray a prayer of thanksgiving for his life and for our food, I noticed how thin and white his hair has become. Over the years, always sporting a thick shock of jet black hair, I am thankful that the change came gradually so that I might adjust to the difference. While I certainly notice changes in my dad, I am more impressed with the constancy of family and the feelings I get from being a part of my unique family.
The definition of constant in the dictionary is “faithful;unchanging, steady in action, purpose and affection,” words that could certainly describe my father and the love the members of my family have for each other. There are the constants, the 'one of a kind' things that we have all come to love about my father that will endear him to us forever.
People say “some things never change” and in some instances that is true. My father will always have a habit of looking at his watch repeatedly throughout the day. When he finds a puzzle piece that fits into his jigsaw puzzle, he will tap it firmly into place with his pointer several times and he will always want a hot cup of coffee every morning. His most popular response to most of our questions will be the affirmative, “Oh yeah,” He'll always arrive for his doctor appointments early no matter how long he has to wait.
After dinner I caught a glimpse of my grandson sitting at the card table fingering the puzzle pieces along the edge of my daddy's latest jigsaw. I called my daddy over to see. “A future puzzler!” I said. My dad smiled. From the other room, my grandson realized we were speaking about him. “I've found four pieces already,” he announced. I watched quietly for a few moments to see how comfortable he was sitting in his great grandfather's chair, completing some of the last pieces of the puzzle.
The faithfulness of a father who is constant in his love for his children and grandchildren and steady in his purpose to care for them can only have one happy ending. Those children and grandchildren feel a sense of belonging and comfort. The constancy of that love allows them to settle down as one would settle into an easy chair and feel as if they were a puzzle piece fitting into just the right spot in the picture.
I celebrate the life of a father who has been faithful in his love for myself and each family member in spite of our shortcomings and failures. My sister and I don't have to look far to find an example of God's faithfulness as a Heavenly Father. I grieve for those who have not experienced the constancy of an earthly father's love.
My sister carried the cake, minus any candles, to his easy chair and asked him to imagine there were 85 flaming candles on the cake. “Make a wish and blow out your candles!” she said. He puckered up and obediently acted as if he were blowing out a host of candles. As I watched this, I found myself wondering... What did he wish for? Somehow I knew it would be a wish for us, his children and grandchildren.
This is the heart of a father who faithfully loves his family. When I woke early this morning, the scenes from last evening scrolled across my mind like a movie. I found myself wishing that every person might have the experience of a faithful father like mine. A father who anxiously checks his watch as he waits for them to arrive, who stands waiting at the door to invite them in to the celebration of life, family and love. Sadly, for some this has not been their experience. For those I share the following words from Luke 15.
“ When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.”
“Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We're going to feast! We're going to have a wonderful time.”
As much as my father must have longed that all the children and grandchildren could have shared in the celebration last night, how much more our Heavenly Father must long for His children to experience His constant and unfailing love. Some people say, “some things never change.” But the truth is that God is the only one who never changes. Whether our life span is 85 years or 8, His love is constant and He is watching and waiting for us to come to the celebration.