SHS Class of ’83, full of quality kids, my sister had hopes of giving the commencement speech. She came hope dejected, told our father that they’d “only” given her the benediction…
Hear her father respond –
– “They’ve chosen you to speak to God on behalf of all the student body. What could be bigger than that?”
That’s our ole man, in the 1980’s. This is not a man on the mountain top, talking down; this is a man in the valley, speaking up.
The 1980’s Were Hard Years
In the 1970’s things were looking up for the family. We’d moved from country to town. The house was bigger. Mom had a new car and a nice white couch for the formal living room, where only company sat.
The kids growing, Mom restless, she’d taken up painting, and started hosting lessons in the garage. Dad, probably throwing her a bone, put up a little money, and she opened an art and frame shop in a strip center.
Things were about to change.
Dad always had a dual career, farming to put bread on the table, preaching to feed the soul. Russia was the biggest buyer of American soybeans, and when they invaded Afghanistan in 1979 President Carter embargoed U.S. grain products. Overnight, prices plummeted. Beans in the dryer, beans in the field, he was helpless.
Dad went under.
Mom’s “play” business was now the family income, and it was…modest. In the 1980’s the prime interest rate pushed 20%! Inflation was high, oil fell to $10 a barrel. I’d come home from Dallas and everybody was driving these ten year old cars, buying tires one at a time. There was a bumper sticker around here, “Last one out of Lake Charles turn out the lights.”
It was not a time to be selling art.
…and he’d retired from pastoring…
Meanwhile, I was out of college and full of go-go. I’d come home, and Dad looked heavy shouldered, like a bread winner with neither bread nor win. He was in his 50’s, too late to start over, too early to quit, still had his name, but seems like he’d lost some of his identity. But…
But Dad had a certain something. You could hurt him, life could hurt him, and he’d go under, but so barely under, and for so short a time. For someone who didn’t fish, he was quite the cork.
One of his secret weapons was his saturating faith. Good times, bad times, awful times, didn’t matter, God was on the job, He knew your needs, He was faithful, Somehow it’d all work out, Just keep doing the right things…
Dad thrived on giving. With no church congregation to minister to, he’d do odd things, like go to Market Basket – not for groceries – but just ramble around, hope to bump into someone, do a good deed, grab a can from a high shelf for an old lady, let someone cut in line, just to make them feel special, and if he knew you, he was all yours, you had all his attention, to complain about aches ‘n pains, or worries about the choices the kids were making, and he’d give you, with pleasure, his kind eyes, his gentility, his uncommon sincerity. And when he said “I’ll pray for you,” you could take that to the bank. Sometimes, he’d pray right there, just put his arm around your shoulder, green beans to the left and pork ‘n beans to the right, go straight to “Our Father,” and let Him know…
Every Straw A Good Deed
When I was young I compared my father with Billy Graham. Graham was a Big Deal, on TV, full stadiums, prayed with presidents…and here my father was, in these little country churches, 30, 40, 50 attendance on Sunday morning, same old faces, same old songs, and I wondered if what he did mattered.
When my father was dying in 2014 it was time to measure again. I was older now, and understood that God uses us, and whether for Big or Little, we don’t really ever know, because sometimes Big is for just a moment, and gone, while Little multiplies by lasting…
That old needle in the haystack thing, it came to mind for Dad. Forget the needle – it’s the haystack. My father had built a haystack, built by adding the one by one’s of good deeds, right words, of the moment, in the moment, for the moment.
One by one by one by one by one…the humble, manual labor of a clean hearted person, trying to be helpful…
Words Written, Seed Sown
In 2018 a lady found her old diploma, framed by my father during those bad years. Not one to miss a chance, on the back he had written,
“Live by these rules and you will do well.
“Apply your talents.”
He was not speaking from victory, but from valley. It was bread upon the waters. His scraggly hand writing, plain paper, scotch tape, nothing fancy, out of sight on the back, to be once seen and then forgotten…
All Things Work Together For Good…
Every few years I’d ask him about the 1980’s, “Were you ever mad at God?”
His answer never changed, “Oh no! God is always right.”
If he’d have died in the 1970’s his obituary might read, “Entrepreneur, investor, pilot, traveler, preacher…” but his 1980’s revealed the best of who he really was, shedding him of his excess, image, and pride, earned him what I said at his funeral, “The only thing Dad was really good at…was being a Christian,” which was full circle to something he’d told me in the 1980’s, me all full of ambition for stuff and status, and here he speaks, from the deep, rich, valley, “I think that when a person dies, if people’s first thought of them is that they were Christians…I’d say that was a pretty successful life…”
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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is brought to you by Eighty-one, where we trust the healed over of old scars.
A best-of compilation of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is available in a book version at Eighty-one, 3507 Ryan St, Lake Charles.