Today I Saw God
When our daughters were growing up, my husband often traveled out of town for work. Over the years, the girls and their daddy developed a ritual for saying their farewells, which they still observe today as the girls leave for college each semester or when it is time to say goodbye after a visit.
Each time they part, Steve will kiss the palm of each of his daughters' hands, and the girls will then hold their palm to their face for a moment while they say out loud:
"Daddy loves me."
Then it is their turn to remind their daddy of their love for him. They kiss their daddy's much bigger palm, and he holds his palm to his face and repeats the reassuring promise.
"Alex loves me."
"Brookie loves me."
After wrapping them tightly in his arms for a final hug, Steve looks them in the eye and reminds them of his expectations for them. Each time, he says these words:
"Be good, be strong, be brave!"
You can imagine how adorable this ritual was when they were tiny and he had to pick them up for the goodbye hug. For me, it may be even more meaningful to watch now that they are 21 and 23-years-old. As independent young women, they still choose to go out into the world under the covering of their daddy's blessing and love. He names them beloved and reminds them who they are and to whom they belong. They are good. They are strong. They are brave. His blessing and exhortation reminds them that he expects them to remember who they are and behave accordingly.
As we were discussing this ritual the other night, Steve and I talked about the messages we received from our fathers, who are both now in heaven. We discovered we both still hear their voices in our heads sometimes. While my relationship with my father was complicated by his struggle with alcoholism, he instilled in me a strong belief in my ability to tackle any challenge and achieve my goals. From the time I was born, he delighted in me and told me I was smart and strong. According to him, there was nothing in this world I couldn't be or do. Although he couldn't defeat the demons that kept him trapped in self-destruction, I never doubted his belief in me. He and my mom named me well, perhaps the greatest gift we parents have to offer our children.
Throughout scripture, we are offered a similar blessing and promise from our Abba Father who names us beloved. Repeatedly, in both the Old and New Testaments, God reminds us who we are and to whom we belong. In a variety of phrasing and in many different contexts, God tells his people to take heart:
"Be brave. Be strong. Do not fear, for I will be with you."
God doesn't promise life won't be hard. He doesn't promise we won't have trouble and heartache. He does, however, promise over and over and over again that he will never leave us. He will go before us, and he will come behind us. We can be brave because we know our mighty God has our back in every situation.
Because of God's passion for us, we are named beloved. We are good. We are strong. We are brave.
When we forget, we must remind one another until we remember who we are. Let's choose to show up for each other and name each other well.
Hey friend, in case someone hasn't told you in a while, let me remind you of your name today. You are good. You are strong. You are brave. And best of all, you are God's beloved.
Originally published on www.kellyiveyjohnson.com.
As I looked at the handwriting I recognized it instantlyit was my father's distinct cursive. The smear on the front made me wonder if a tear had been shed by eighteen-year-old me. Postmarked August 28, 1981 the letter likely is one of the first letters he wrote to me.
Every week I found at least one letter from my dad in my P.O. box at college. That was in the dark ages, the 1980s, when the only phone available to an entire floor of college students was down the hall and shared by all. "Long distance calls" cost a fortune back then. If I did call home, the trick was to call collect. My parents would deny the charges then call me right back. Because letters were actually the best way to communicate, I actually have many from my father.
I rediscovered Dad's letters recently while cleaning out the master closet. Tucked back in the corner, it has probably been twenty-five years since I looked at them. As I stared at the pile I passed over the tear-stained August 28 letter and instead chose one postmarked August 31. In this letter Dad said it was Monday, he explained that Mom was doing better but that I should call her and he shared general news from home. I figured this letter was written after they had dropped me off at school.
I put the letter down and found my eye drawn once again to the letter postmarked August 28. Every ounce of me wanted to avoid it, but at the same time there was an equally strong push to read it. I picked up the letter, "Well you are on your way. By the time you read this you will be on the way to a new phase of your life, a great time in your life." If August 31 was Monday, then this letter was mailed on Saturday. It was most likely written before they drove me to school. I looked again at the postmark. Interesting, the city in the postmark is Harrisonburg, and yet all the other letters have an Annapolis postmark. Smiling, I realized that he must have mailed the letter from JMU on the day he moved me inthat would be just like him.
As I picked the letter back up I choked back tears, remembering that scared young lady who had never been away from home who wasn't sure what this whole college thing was going to involve. I glanced over the letteryep, there were places that clearly looked like tears had fallen. I took a deep breath and began to read it. "You are not alone. Each day I will stop and reflect on your earlier days and conjure in my imagination what you are doing at that exact moment." It continued, "As you stop and think of me reach your hand out just a little and you will feel my hand." And then this, "Sometime during the day you'll be thinking of meI'll be thinking of you. That warm feeling that comes over you at that moment is a great love for you."
These very same words that I needed to hear so many years ago are the exact words I need to hear today. Once again Dad is somewhere where I cannot talk to him directly or feel his hand in mine. Despite those limitations, I am reminded that I will always have his great love, and I will always be able to experience that warm feeling whenever I think of him. I thank God every day for the gift of my father but especially this Father's Day when I am reminded that love knows no bounds.
There's just something about a father, isn't there? It's been nearly two years since my earthly father went on to glory, but the celebration of his life feels like it was yesterday. What a collection we were, gathered there to pay our respects to the guy we remembered. There was the golf group recalling the yips he got on short putts, bridge partners remembering the joy the game gave him, business partners and employees reminiscing about the mind and method of a man on a mission, the Starbucks cohort retelling stories of the ever-present tall, black coffee with ready conversation and the family coming to realize just how much of this man they didn't know.
A bit of an enigma, this guy, but put us all together in one room, let us share stories, and lo and behold we're all talking about the same guy. Yips, joy, mind, method, coffee and conversationyup, that was how we remembered John Rilling.
Funny, as I mingled with the crowd gathered after the memorial service, guests made a point to tell me how they knew my father. They all qualified themselves with a category. A "golf friend," a "bridge friend," a "business associate," etc.the conglomeration was downright confusing. I joked with Adam, a young man whom Dad had employed and mentored in recent years, that we all needed colored T-shirts to represent the John-team we were on. He laughed and said, "That's exactly what your father would have said!"
I especially loved chatting with an athletic looking, sport shirt-clad man named Mark, who was in a wheelchair. He was a golfer who used an assistive device that allowed him to stand from his chair so he could swing the club. But my father felt that if Mark had something on his chair that widened his base of support he could really improve his game. That feeling, according to Mark, led to connecting him with the head golf pro at the golf club to see how this could be created. Mark told me he had just discovered a video demonstrating such a device in use by another disabled golfer who could now hit the ball 300 yards. Mark lamented that my dad didn't have time to see this video. "He would have loved it," Mark told me. That made me smile. "You have your Dad's smile," Mark said.
Yep, Dad always had that spark of an idea. There was always something more we needed to do with this or that. There was an idea ready to be uncovered, ready to be acted upon, raring to go. That was Dad. Not trying to make a fortune. Not trying to get attention. Just trying to solve your problem, and yours, and yours. He lived simply and was completely satisfied, but he didn't settle for that.
This was not discontent for him; it was purpose. He did not want what you had, he wanted what you wanted and immediately mobilized to help you realize that desire. But only if you were in honest pursuit, which meant you were willing to work hard and apply all your resources to the project. That was his directive in every day.
Some people who came to the memorial service did not know my father except through his wife, Melanie, whom he adored. They came on this day because of her. One introduced herself to me and offered sincerely, "We didn't know your father, but after hearing you and seeing you, now we do."
What treasured words those were. 'We didn't know the father, but now we have seen you and we know him.'
That would be enough. If I could live out my days in such a way that people remarked, "You remind me of your father," I would be content. Especially if I were similar in his joy, mind, method, coffee, conversation, connection, solutioneverything but the yips on my short putts, if you please. But yes, I even inherited the tendency toward those. Guess I'm more like my father than I thought. What a privilege. What a responsibility.
On this Father's Day, as I remember the love of my earthly father I will marvel again at what he taught me, modeled for me, ignited in me and imparted to meall of it mostly without my ever being the wiser. It just happens. When you love someone, they become part of you. If that's the way with a good dad, just imagine the way of a good, good Father.
"I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my father, and I too will love them and show myself to them." – John 14: 20-21