When I arrive on a Saturday morning I like to park at the new fire department building. I do this for a couple of reasons. One being that parking is limited. The second being that I actually enjoy the short walk down the street. It’s a good time for me to get myself composed and ask God to put me in the right frame of mind before I walk into His work. That focus is really necessary to do His work in His way. I’ve done His work my own way in the past. It’s not near as effective.
So this morning, I am walking across the street. As soon as I put my feet on the parking lot, he motions me over to him. He is here just about every Saturday. We talk quite a bit, actually. I enjoy talking with him. He’s just an old country boy. He can do anything with his hands. In fact, he has offered to help me out with things around the building on more than one occasion. He’s an old soul. Rough around the edges, tell you exactly like it is kind of guy. Has a good heart. He always makes time to speak to people.
I watch things pretty closely around House of the Harvest. Or maybe I should say I watch people pretty closely. You can tell the people that the community respects and appreciates. He’s one of those. I walk over towards him.
“I need to talk to you,” he says.
“Cancer is stage four. They gave dad less than a month. Found out Friday.”
“Man, I am sorry to hear that. Tell me more.”
He does. He tells me a whole lot more. I have known his dad for a little while too. When his health permits, he is usually with his son on Saturday mornings. It has been a few weeks since health permitted. He begins to tell me all kinds of things about his dad. I had no idea. It’s a beautiful story. Maybe I should say a rocky story...with a beautiful ending.
My friend was three when his dad left his mother with the two kids. Mom couldn’t keep her head above the water. Just three short years later, at the age of six, mom had to put them in foster care. He grew up in the system. In his words, “That’s why me and my sister are so close. House to house. We were all each other had.”
He would be well into his adult years when he moved to Harvest and that is where he reconnected with his dad. His dad actually pursued a relationship with him. And over the next several years they would become like best friends. You rarely would see them apart from each other. He always took care of his dad and his dad was the kind of guy that didn’t need taking care of.
He lived in a van for a long time. In a shed for a few years. Even now he lives out back in an old metal building on someone else’s property with no heating or air. Suits him just fine. He doesn’t need much of anything. Is content with nothing. But carries much of the same spirit as his son. Always smiling. Always speaking. Just a good ole’ boy. He’s never needed anything from anybody.
Except, I would say, there is at least one person who knew different. There is one person that knew that man needed something. It may not have been anything tangible like the rest of us need...or maybe I should say desire. But there was something. I think my friend knew all along that his dad needed a relationship...a deep, meaningful, intimate relationship with another person in order to be fulfilled.
And what I admire most, only God can do. Because the person that was hurt the most by that man’s life is the same person that fulfilled his need. I don’t know that I would be capable of forgiving the dad that walked out on me, my baby sister, and my mom when I was three years old. I can’t relate and I’m glad I can’t. I don’t know that I would want to find a friend in the person that let me grow up in foster care.
But I do know this...on this side...it’s a beautiful thing to observe. I have no doubt that my friend is one of the toughest guys that I know. He’s just a good ole’, put your boots on, go to work, can-do anything country boy, who became the man of the house at the age of three and then protected his sister all the way through foster care to the age of eighteen when Alabama dumped them on the streets. And he made it...and continues to make it. In spite of everything that life has stacked against him. It all started with his dad’s decision to leave. And today, when he talks about his dad, that tough old survivor has to fight back tears…every time.
It’s the power of forgiveness. It’s the unfailing potential of love that Paul wrote to the Corinthians about. And there aren’t words to express it. I wish I could forgive like that. I wish I could love like that.
I don’t think it all matters when it is said and done. All the things we do in this life...at least the things we do to make our life on this earth better. This morning I stood talking to my friend, one of us an assistant principal at an elementary school and the other a handy man who will take any work he can get. One of us a middle class American with more house than he needs, wealthy by the world’s standards, and the other having what he needs for today and not pressing for more. One of us part of the ministry team at his church, the other a believer who doesn’t really feel accepted by any church. But here is the thing...
I have so much to learn from him...about what really matters. And in his way, he understands Jesus more than I do. His life is preaching a greater message than mine may ever deliver. And only the Spirit of God can do that.
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25