Today is one of those sentimental, melancholy days, so please indulge me in sharing a letter I had the priviledge of writing to my Dad whenever he was going away to a special retreat. Each of us kids wrote a letter and sent with the person who would be attending with him. At some point during the week, the letters would be presented as a surprise for Dad to read.
Unfortunately, he did not get to go to the first retreat due to the fact that he had to go to Dallas for prostate cancer surgery. However, Mom gave him the letters to read on the way back home from his hospital stay. I remember her saying how touched he was by them all. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to tell him these things while I had the chance. So often we take for granted that the people closest to us automatically know the deepest feelings in our heart.
This writing is long, but it is one of my favorites because it reveals so much about the man who was my Dad. As you can probably tell, I am missing him a little today. Thank you for letting me share. I love you Dad. You will forever be with us, because the heart remembers.
When Mom told me about the opportunity to write this letter, I’ll have to admit I was at a loss. It was not the lack of examples that had me stumped, it was how to put all of that information into one little letter. My mind began wandering back over the years, and I want to share just a little of that journey with you (and believe me, my journey covers a longer span than it used to!) By the end of the trip you will have discovered how my memories bear witness to how you have seasoned my life with the love, faith, strength, hope and laughter. My hope is that you will understand why I can say “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” (Philippians 1:3).
My earliest memories take me back to our house on the hill. There was the time you had brought a calf and put him in a pen out behind the house. I remember you playfully picking me up and putting me in the feed trough. I started crying because I thought I was going to be the calf’s dinner. You laughed, and held me close, all the while explaining that cows don’t like people food. This taught me trust.
I also see your company truck turning off of 350 North into what seemed like the longest driveway to our house. Every day I knew you would go to work to provide us with a home, food and clothes. I also remember standing down at the bottom of the hill watching you chop wood in the evenings after you got home from work, or me playing in the yard watching you plow a garden to grow fresh vegetables to have in the freezer, or climbing up in the old barn at the farm watching through the gaps in the logs while you helped Paw Paw Hood mark and brand cattle. I see you taking me with you on a Saturday afternoon to the auction barn to watch the cattle being run through and auctioned off for sale. This taught me the value of hard work, enjoying the labor of your hands, and an appreciation for the practical way in which God provides for this world’s physical needs.
I remember when you felt God’s call to go full time in the ministry and to organize the church at Chesswood. I remember the Sunday sermons you preached to the small congregation in the old Dairy Treat and how you followed the vision God had placed in your heart. I watch as that vision unfolded and the first sanctuary was built. I remember the fun and joy we all had in that little building. I see the Sunday after church when at 5 years of age you took me back into a quiet place and sat me in your lap sharing with me the plan of salvation. I remember the tears that fell from my eyes as you prayed, conviction on my young heart, but not quite understanding what it all meant. Fast forward to three years later when at the end of a sermon Mrs. Delores Adams was leading the invitation singing “Just as I Am” and I fully understood what it meant to be a sinner, and how I wanted Christ’s forgiveness. Even more, even at that young age, I remember wanted to know Jesus like you and Mom did. I remember the baptism at the lake, watching you wade out cautiously testing the water with a stick. I remember the words you spoke, and people coming around to shake my hand and hug my neck as I stood there dripping wet with a sense of unexplainable joy. I remember the voices singing in harmony “Shall We Gather at the River” with their voices being the only musical instruments around. This taught me faith and brought me into the realization of a personal relationship with my Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus. This has proven to be the most priceless lesson of all.
I remember Sunday mornings before Sunday school and church going to the local radio station, watching and listening when it was your week to present Sunday morning radio devotional. Mrs. Peggy Haley sat there drinking her coffee in her bath robe and house shoes in the KETX sound room. There she was, hair all up in rollers introducing you after she completed the local funeral announcements for the week. (Thank heavens it was radio and not TV, but I loved it, and I loved her.) We tagged along with you on visits to hospitals and nursing homes, rode with you to pick up children and adults who had no other way to church and attended more funerals than I can count. This taught me the value of compassion, selflessness and the joy and blessings to be had from sharing Christ’s touch to those who need it most.
I watched you care for my grandparents when it wasn’t convenient or easy. I remember how you let me cry, and I remember the words of comfort and wisdom you gave while sitting on the front porch at the old place the night after Paw Paw passed away. I saw you weep at my grandparents’ funerals, and I witnessed your commitment to Maw Maw Hood after Paw Paw was gone. I saw the mutual love and respect between you and your in-laws, and most importantly I saw the undeniable love and respect you showed to Mom. This taught me the value of marriage, family and family relationships.
I saw the times we went and stood in line outside of city hall and the post office in front of the “Uncle Sam wants You” poster waiting for your turn to vote. We would then go to the courthouse square to gather with friends of the community to watch as election results came in and were posted with chalk on a blackboard at the top of the stairs for all to see. I thought of your routine of getting up early to read the Bible, have quiet time and pray. Next came breakfast, coffee and time with the Houston Chronicle. I listened as you discussed current events of the day. As a result I gained an understanding that world and political events were important, and I had a responsibility to participate in community and government decisions. I heard stories of your time in the army, and saw pictures of the time you were overseas at the end of the Korean conflict. This taught me not only the importance praying for my country, I also gained a sense of civic responsibility, patriotism and a love for my country.
I saw visions of vacations you provided for our family over the years. The trips to Arkansas – especially sweet is the memory of taking Maw Maw Hood, Maw Maw and Paw Paw Moore out of the state of Texas to see the mountains. I remembered the trip where we went to seven different states camping out in the popup camper, Melody and me getting mad at Mary for almost overdosing on chocolate Ex Lax the night before we were supposed to leave town, the huge mosquitoes in Louisiana, getting lost in the military cemetery in Mississippi and having to drive after dark without brake lights on the trailer, having a flat somewhere in Alabama or Georgia, going to the little white country church on Sunday night in Tennessee, going to Clingman’s dome, Rock City and all of the fun we had staying in the KOA campgrounds, and most recently our family trips to New Braunfels. Of course it would be wrong for me to leave out the trip to Biloxi, Mississippi when we stopped off in New Orleans for the night with Sherry Lynn, Melody, John and Little Mary. We got swept up in a crowd of people ending up on Bourbon Street after dark! (From this I learned there must be a literal hell and some people were definitely in danger of going there!) In all seriousness, these trips taught me the importance of having fun and the value of taking time out to slow down, enjoy life and make memories with your children. They also instilled a sense of adventure and a desire to learn of people and places outside my immediate community.
Then there was Camp Gary where Bro. Frank was always the fun preacher for the kids to hang around, or Bible School where you would give the talks every morning after we marched in and said the pledges to the flags and the Bible. You were always been loved by children of all ages. There was always humor, fun and laughter whenever you were involved in our events. This taught me the value of staying young at heart no matter what number your age says you are.
Oh yeah, there was also the time you were trying to talk privately at the house with Bro. Irving about a matter, and Aunt Britty kept trying to interrupt to get you to look at the fish she had caught that day. Being the gentle soul that she was (ahem!), she finally barged right into the living room where the two of you sat talking quietly. She blurted out something to the effect that you had better come out and see her fish so she get them cleaned before dark. Now, Mom had already explained nicely to her that you were counseling someone privately to no avail! To top it all off, she had her little Chihuahua dog traipsing behind her in the house (another boundary trampled over!) I will never forget as long as I live, you looked up at her and told her in no uncertain terms that if she didn’t take her dog and her bowl of fish back outside until you were done, she would find that bowl of fish dumped on top of her head! Maybe it is for the best, but I can’t remember what you said would happen to the dog. At any rate, this event taught me the importance of setting boundaries and the value of righteous anger- neither of which set in with me until much, much later in life!
Then there are the painful memories I wish I could retract. The times I hurt or embarrassed you…the times when you must have wondered if I would ever amount to anything worthwhile…the times that I did not live up to my potential…the many, many times you loved me unconditionally when I was so unlovable. I remember the day you had the courage to send me before a judge in order for me to learn an extremely valuable lesson. I can see you and Mom standing firmly beside me, supporting me even though you could not support the mistake I had made. I feel the deep pain you must have felt, and yet you continued to love and believe in me. This taught me the value of tough love, accountability and owning my mistakes.
I remember the sacrifice you made so that I could be at Mary’s wedding…how you drove to Memorial Southwest Hospital to pick me up when Little John had meningitis the day of the wedding and drove me back to the hospital late that same night. I think of the wisdom and discretion you used when I was attempting to make important and life-changing decisions during my separation and divorce. I will always appreciate the support you provided as my Dad during an overwhelming, excruciatingly painful time in my life. I think of the way you continued to pray for John, and to remain as impartial as possible in order to allow me to come to my own decisions in my own time. I see the way you encouraged me to be as independent as possible while building a new life for me and the kids in Livingston after the divorce. I see the countless hours spent praying for me, Rachel, John and Sam. This taught me to never give up praying for and loving my children whatever their circumstances. You also helped me to develop self-reliance, strength of character and a strong sense of who I am as a woman in Christ.
I see the loving way you accepted Charlie, and I see the day you joined Charlie and I in marriage. I see the love you have shown to him and to Ryan and Christa. I see your constant example of love, humility, integrity acceptance and wisdom. I see how you have impacted Charlie in his spiritual growth and his growth as a husband and a father. I see the humor and love you brought to family gatherings. I see the ageless, timeless spirit in which you viewed life-a spirit that allows you to relate to people of all ages, races, genders and positions in life. I see the value you placed on education and on encouraging your children to open their hearts and minds and continue a willingness to learn and grow personally, professionally and spiritually.
Now you can better understand my dilemma at the beginning of this letter. There is so much more I could say, but in the interest of time I will have to close. I guess in writing this I am humbled by remembering how blessed I am to have a father that I respect and admire, a father whose image I may never even come close to living up to. I guess it is because you so naturally reflect the image of your Father.
With much love and respect,