…a Time to Laugh

“For everything there is a season…a time to weep and a time to laugh.” Ecclesiastes 3:1a, 4a ESV

My father was an honest man. He took great pains to do the right thing, say the right thing. He avoided anything that looked bad. When we went in a store he would remind us not to touch anything we weren’t going to buy.

He also loved to laugh. He loved to hear and tell jokes as long as they were clean. He was a little challenged as far as telling jokes. His timing was often a little off. Sometimes he missed the punchline or told the punchline before he had told some crucial information. When we would pause and say… “I don’t get it.” He would start again, inserting the forgotten part and wait for us to laugh, but the moment was gone. It wasn’t funny anymore. I think that is partly why puns became his favorite humor. It is pretty hard to mess up a pun.

One day when I was about 8 my Dad and I were in the local Woolworth’s dime store. I asked if we could go down the toy aisle and he agreed. We had spent a few minutes looking over the selection when we came across a small white drawstring bag with the words “Laughing Bag” printed in big black letters. He wondered out loud what it could be and reached out his hand. Something was triggered and a big contagious laugh filled the aisle. My father turned a little pale, looked at me and in a desperate voice, of one who has been caught, said “Let’s get out of here!” I grabbed his hand and we high tailed it to the front door without looking back. We didn’t stop until we reached our car. I think we laughed all the way home.

I’ve thought of that “laughing bag” often. I wish I could have found one again and given it to him for his birthday. For a man who loved to laugh it would have been the perfect gift.

I miss hearing his laugh, but suspect one of the things he is learning to do is to tell a flawless joke. One that will make God’s heaven shake with laughter.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” Luke 6:21b NASB

Looking for Home

He built most of it himself. It was a strong sturdy house with white siding and green trim. It started out as just four rooms. It was what they could afford. His brother, Clarence, helped him lay a basement foundation and then the new part of the house was built while we lived in the old part.

Electrical work, plumbing, windows. He did it all himself. One of the few things he hired out was a carpenter to make custom cabinets for Mom’s kitchen.

Dad rescued wooden floors from an old school that the city was taking down. He carefully refinished the wood and covered the floors in the living room, dining room, and all of the upstairs. He made the stairs extra wide which made it easier for us to slide down on our bottoms. I tried it once when I was older and nearly killed myself.

There was an old garage and a small shed on the ten acre property. The front yard was full of big shade trees. The old cottonwood was an especially fine specimen. My two sisters and I would try and grab hands around it. We could never quite grasp each other’s fingers.  There were two good climbing trees. We spent many hours reading books and eating lunch in them. I would often climb the one closest to the road to watch for my Father’s car as he made his way home from work.

My father carefully planted a shelterbelt made up of a row of evergreens, a row of Chokecherries, and another of plumbs. He added Nanking cherries a few years later. The plowed garden was about two acres. There was a strawberry patch, raspberry plants, and an apple tree with many varieties of apples grafted onto it. My dad was especially proud of the apple tree. He had done the grafting himself. It was a sight to behold when it was in bloom and later, when the fruit was heavy in its branches. He planted rows of corn. More than we could ever eat or freeze, but he liked to give it away. He started studying Gurney’s seed catalogue in the winter and ordered in plenty of time for planting. He usually started the tomatoes and Mom’s zinnias inside. The rest of the seeds he planted in the garden with us reluctantly helping.

The ditches were full of wild roses and white anemones. In the spring they were full of water which meant we could sail up and down on homemade rafts. If it was especially wet the side yard became a pond for a few short days.

There was a small patch of bushes that we called woods. We made an animal trap in a hollowed out spot. We crisscrossed branches and covered it with leaves. Of course we never caught anything, but we checked it often.

We had a big backyard where we played kick the can when church kids came over.

There was a well-worn path that led to the neighbor’s house. He was a widower that watched our dog when we went out of town. We imagined he was sweet on our grandma, but nothing ever came of it. He had a couple good climbing trees that he allowed us to use when we wanted. He also had some metal bars that we would swing on or hang from by our knees.

The winter brought storms which lasted a few days instead of a few hours. After shoveling we were rewarded with high snowbanks for building caves and forts. We would jump off the neighbor’s barn into deep drifts when the conditions were right. On occasion the garden became a skating rink. I imagined I was an Olympic racer.

It was a magical place full of imagination and memories. Now it was gone, replaced by a tangle of roads and buildings. They call it an Industrial park. Doesn’t look like much of a park to me.  I tried to hide my wet eyes from my granddaughter who was happily playing in the back seat. I so wanted to show it to her as it had been…but it was all gone. Not a hint remained of what had been. And I grieved.

I can’t shake the sadness…these emotions that well up. I was trying to find some link to my past…some proof that we had lived there. That my father had built a good life for us there. That we had been happy and safe.  Instead I found progress…I can’t see it improves things. When fields and gardens and climbing trees are wiped out for the sake of an industrial park.

But I think it is more than that. We are, after all, eternal beings. God made us to live forever and when things are ruined or don’t last an aching sadness sets in. This is not how it is supposed to be. Someday it will be different.

“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” 2 Cor. 5:1

I take comfort in the fact that what my heavenly Father is working on will last for eternity. When He calls me home it will really be home. He will be my home.

Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms;

For further study:  Psalm 90:1b; Ezekiel 37:27; Matthew 25:34;  John 14:2&3; I Corinthians 2:9

 

What Did You Bring Me?

The words spilled out as I raced to meet my Dad in the driveway. His work had taken him away from home for a few days. Knowing he always brought home a small, “I was thinking of you,” present I was anxious to see what it was.

I saw his face fall and his brow darken. His disappointment was obvious. Yes, he had brought us all something, but he was disappointed that my first words weren’t to welcome him home.

My words betrayed my heart. I was glad to see him because it meant a gift. I should have wanted to see him, not the present. I should have asked about his trip, enjoyed having him home and rested in his presence. Instead, I was focused on myself and what he could give me.

Sometimes as I pray I remember that encounter and wonder how God reacts to my requests. What is my motivation in prayer? Do I rush to pray so I can get things from God, or do I rush to pray to spend time with the Father who I love? A Father who has promised to do, “abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20b NASB)

Yes, my Dad gave me a present that day. I think it was a pack of gum. He handed it to me as he pointed out my defective manners. More importantly he taught me the difference between people and things. The relationship always has to be more important than the things. Always.

“…Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote;” Isaiah 29:13 NASB

 

My Father’s Hands

I remember my father’s hands being rough, stained and scarred. There was always some new scratch or bruise from working on the car or tractor, or maybe digging in the garden. They were strong, busy working hands.

They could also pound out a song on the piano or play a tune on the violin. When we were sick one of his big rough hands would feel our forehead to make sure our fever wasn’t too high.

They were hands that picked us up when we had fallen or drew us pictures when the sermon at church got too long.

My sister, Jill, was the first to notice those same hands had become uncharacteristically soft and smooth with fingernails short and neatly trimmed. What had changed? I couldn’t like them this way. The months of cancer and paralysis had taken all the character out of them. They were no longer the hands that I remembered, and I grieved. A few weeks later he would go where I couldn’t follow.

As I look at my own hands they are not strong like his. They are more slender and not usually stained, yet they often get bruised and scraped when I am busy working on a project.

I see glimpses of my Father’s hands when I play his violin or feel my granddaughter’s hot forehead. But my hands are not his. And so I wait to see his hands again. Not the clean smooth hands, but the rough and stained ones, because those are the hands I learned to love.

There is another pair of hands I am waiting to see. These I have never seen with my eyes, but have heard about them since I was small on my Father’s knee. They are hands that were bruised and nailed. Hands that were those of a working man. Strong and rough and scarred. Hands that were given willingly to the nails so I could go free. Those hands that will never be soft and smooth again.

And so I wait to see those hands. The pierced and scarred hands that my Father taught me to love, oh so long ago.