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Love in Action

As Father’s Day approached, I thought about my dad. He was born and raised in rural North Carolina during the Great Depression. Life was hard. The neighborhood was tough, and my dad got into a lot of fights. Money and work were scarce. Feelings were guarded. It is no wonder that I cannot remember him telling me that he loved me. And while he had a hard time verbalizing his feelings, I do remember actions where I felt loved. (John 11:36)

I was five years old, living in Panama and being deservedly punished. Mom told me to stand in a corner with my face to the wall. Time out. Dad could see that I was barefoot and standing on concrete. He found a children’s book for me to stand on so that I wasn’t standing on the hard concrete. I never forgot that act of kindness and I felt cared for.

A year or so later, also in Panama, I got into a fight with an older boy who was taunting me. As fights go, it was pretty benign but very one-sided. I jumped on him, pinned him to the ground and hit him till he cried. Then I let him up. That was the right thing to do. His older brother egged him on, and he came at me again. Rinse and repeat. This happened three times until my dad came down and stopped the fight. I remember running into his strong, loving arms and crying like a baby. I felt safe.

Twenty years later, I learned that my dad and several other men were on a second floor patio, drinking beer, watching the whole thing, and only belatedly went down to stop it. Mom told me that the wives were furious about the men not stopping the fight immediately. As I listened to my mom rant on, I looked over at my dad. He had this dreamy, faraway look in his eyes with just a hint of smile. Finally, as though reliving the moment, he said, “That was sure a good fight!” While I’m not proud of fighting, I confess that I felt loved at that moment.

Every few years our family would make the long trip back to North Carolina where almost all of my dad’s family lived. Our 1958 Chevy station wagon had all the room we needed for camping and eating along the way. But our camp stove, griddle, pots, pans, plates, utensils, and condiments were disorganized and knocking around in the back of the car. I suggested that we build a box that would fit in the back with a hinged table, similar to a chuck wagon. The camp stove, griddle, pots, pans, plates, etc. would slide into their own space and stay there. The table surface would swing up and latch and hold everything in place. I laid out the design. Dad helped cut the plywood on the table saw. I put it together. Amazingly, it worked pretty much as I imagined, and we used it on our cross-country trip. Mom and dad didn’t say much about it. And I didn’t think much more about it. It was just our box on the back of the car. However, when we got to North Carolina, my dad proudly showed his dad, his brothers and the neighbors what his son had built. In that moment, I felt loved and appreciated.

After my mom died, my dad started to go downhill. When he was no longer safe at home, we found an adult family home for him. He continued getting weaker and less mobile. The physical therapist showed me things I could do to help him such as massaging his hands and feet. After that, we had a routine. I would walk in, and he would be sitting in front of a small stool, ready and waiting for me. I would sit down, remove his slippers and start massaging his foot. I would look up. His head was tilted back, his mouth open, and his eyes rolled back in his head. It was his way of telling me that he was in hog’s heaven. I didn’t even mind his smelly feet. I knew that in his limited way, he was telling me that he loved me and appreciated me. He spoke by his actions. (Matt. 21:28-31) And I felt loved.

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