Monday night, I took a deep breath and pushed play on my iPhone. I knew the weight of what I was about to listen to on my phone.
A familiar voice came blasting through the Bluetooth speaker into the sound waves of my kitchen.
“Poppa. I hear Poppa.”
My two and half year old started shouting with excitement from her high chair. Just seconds before she had been throwing a little tantrum as she is not a fan of waiting on me to get her dinner cooked.
In an instant, the sight and sound of her Poppa preaching changed her entire outlook on waiting for the stir fry to finish cooking.
“Three Things Every Christian Can Know for Sure”
That was the title of the sermon I was listening to my daddy preach. His final sermon on a verse by verse study of the book of 1 John, and his final sermon as the pastor of Marietta’s First Baptist Church….the church he has pastored for 34 years of his 45 plus years of being a pastor.
I wish I knew the exact number of my Daddy’s sermons I have listened to over the years. If you count the number that I slept through as a child in my mom’s lap, I’m sure the number is well into the thousands.
I would be lying if I said that I loved sitting through every sermon I heard my daddy preach. But there was a monumental day in my young life when I went from being a “preacher’s kid” having to be at the church every Sunday morning, evening and Wednesday night to being a “child of the Father” who saw my desperate need to be under the teaching of truth.
My search for truth began during my middle school years, as I watched some of my friends start making choices that didn’t line up with what I was being taught about the Bible and Jesus.
I found myself at a sort of crisis of faith. . .going through the motions of my identity as the “good girl” and “preacher’s kid.”
I remember sitting in my room all alone some nights trying to decide for myself if the Bible and Jesus were a big hoax that had deceived my family.
At that point in my life, I really had not faced any true test of my faith. When I describe my childhood, I use words like ‘sheltered’ and ‘glossy’ and ‘fun filled’ and ‘stress-free.’
Why in the world would I want to stray from this life?
I remember the moment that my true crisis of faith began. It happened when I injured my knee my junior year playing basketball. I wrote about that dark time in my life here. Even those closest to me didn’t really know the extent of the crisis in my heart because I was good at going through the motions of being “the good Christian girl.” Coupled with the fact that I lean into my introversion when I am sad or depressed instead of reaching out for help…I sunk deeper into the loneliness of my crisis of faith.
But what I didn’t include in that entry was what happened the Sunday morning following the Friday night that I tore my knee up.
I had spent the better part of Saturday moping around and crying and not wanting to see anyone. I didn’t want to go to church on Sunday morning, because I really hate being the center of attention and …bless Joe’s heart…I come from a long line of women who are not huggers. I knew I would have to endure a lot of hugging when people saw me walk into church on crutches.
And to be honest, at age 17 I knew churchy jargon all too well. I knew I would be forced to say thank you to well intentioned people who would say to me,
“I’m so sorry. I’m praying for you”
“Remember, God works everything out for His good.”
And my least favorite church jargon
“God’s plans are not our plans.”
I’m a child of the 80s so to these things I would scream in my head to myself…
“Gag me with a spoon,” as I smiled and the words, “Thank you.” would be forced out of my mouth and I offer a side hug.
I honestly don’t remember if I made the decision to go to church that morning or if my parent’s even gave me a choice. What I do remember from that day is etched in my memory as a pivotal moment in my teenage years.
I walked on crutches down to sit with my leg propped up on the pew. I pulled my Bible out of my backpack and looked down at the sermon notes inside of the bulletin. And as if indeed all of heaven had orchestrated this moment just for me, I read my daddy’s sermon title.
“When Bad Things Happen to Good People” lessons from the life of Job.
I had heard the story of Job my entire life. I could detail his life to anyone who asked.
But it wasn’t until that moment. In that pew. Listening to my Daddy’s preach that sermon….. that I knew indeed there was a God. I knew for sure that when I had given my life to Jesus as a child that I hadn’t fallen for a hoax.
Like never before, that day I felt the arms of my Heavenly Father wrapped around me in that pew, as I listened to my earthly father preach.
I remember that I avoided eye contact with my daddy during that sermon. Those who know my daddy know he is an emotional man who I have seen cry many more times than I have ever seen my mom cry.
It wasn’t until the end when eye contact could not be avoided. It was as if my Heavenly Father told me to raise my teary eyes up and look at my daddy.
In that single moment, I felt loved as never before. With the arms of my Heavenly Father wrapped around my heart, and the teary eyes of my earthly Father looking straight at me as he closed out his sermon on Job with hope.
It was as if in that sanctuary filled with hundreds of people, that it was just the three of us. Me and my Fathers.
In that moment, as his eyes locked on mine, I think we both knew the significance of that sermon that day. A sermon that had been planned for months, perfectly timed by my Heavenly Father to be preached by my earthly father less than 48 hours after the most disappointing moment in my 17 years.
Now that I am a parent, I understand that moment so much more deeply. I know at some point my own children will know and experience extreme disappointment in life. As a parent I cannot shield them from the bad things that indeed do happen to good people in this world.
You see my daddy’s childhood was very different than mine. He knew his fair share of disappointment throughout his childhood. He never had a earthly father to guide him. He didn’t become a Christ follower until he was 19.
What I understand now as a parent myself is that in that moment of our eyes locking, my daddy knew his limits of being an earthly parent and that my real healing in my heart would have to come from my Heavenly Father. . .just as it did for him when he was a young adult being launched into the world.
I have asked my daddy a few times if he would let me write a biography of his life. He declines. He tells me that no one would want to read it.
I always shake my head in disagreement as he quickly changes the subject. I’ve learned not to disagree out loud with my daddy….But in my head I scream at him, “Get real, daddy. A boy who grew up in poverty, without a dad in a small town in Oklahoma, who failed senior English, who never finished seminary….yet has sold well over a million books that he has written about the Bible…people would read it… Believe me. And boy would that make your momma in heaven proud!”
I have lived a couple decades of life since that moment in that orange pew in the church of my childhood. The years of my life since I was 17 have for sure been filled with many more disappointments. I’ve lived through my share of “bad things happening to good people.”
Last night as I listened to my daddy preach his last sermon from that pulpit, I was filled with all kinds of mixed emotions.
Just as the picture my mom texted me last week caused a thousand memories to flood my head, the sound of my daddy’s voice preaching fills my brain with mountains of childhood stories of being a preacher’s kid.
Someday, I dream of recording all of these on here for my kids to read.
But right now, I am in the throes of parenting a teenager and a preteen and a two year old and there isn’t a lot of “me” time to spend writing childhood memories. I know that in just a few short years, like my daddy did me, I will have to have them ready for a world where they will experience for themselves that bad things indeed do happen to good, good people. . .
So for now I will press on parenting daily putting into practice all these lessons and sermons I learned from my daddy, and maybe one day the stories swirling in my head will make into onto paper.
The past two days I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my dad’s life and his faithfulness to teach and model for his children to lean into God’s Word when life gets hard.
I am reminded of how daddy didn’t use his “growing up without a father” as an excuse.
I can’t help but think when my daddy puts his Bible up on the shelf Sunday and turns in the keys to the pastor’s study that he has used for 34 years, that heaven will be rejoicing and that God will be saying,
“This is my son in whom I am well pleased.”
And to a man who grew up without an earthly father to cheer him on…this is hope for all those who have to live this difficult world without the daily guidance of an earthly father to encourage and support them.
Well done Daddy. Well done. Now hop on that motorcycle and come see us next Sunday morning! And if you don’t mind…I’ll strap a two year old to the back when you leave and you can return her when she gets over this tantrum stage. Together you could do what you two do best…travel the world making people smile.
Thanks for sharing your precious daddy with all of us – his sheep that he led so wonderfully for many years.