When my dad told me he wanted to begin reading the Bible nearly twenty-five years ago, I gave him mine. It was full of highlighted passages and notes I’d written throughout its pages – most of which I thought probably wouldn’t mean a whole lot to him.
A few days later, I asked him how his reading was going. He told me he had read the entire book of John, at my suggestion, and he said he had a lot of questions. But first, he wondered about the blank pages in the back that I’d filled up with various quotations.
“There is a lot of wisdom on those pages,” he said.
“Whenever somebody says something that helps me understand myself – or anything – better, I jot it down,” I said. “I transferred those quotes to my Bible one day so I could have them all in one place.”
I asked him which ones spoke to him. He said he liked the quote, “Don’t let the dirt of your yesterdays bury your tomorrow.” And he liked this one too: “If every man swept his own back porch, the whole world would be clean.” (Unfortunately, I cannot give you a source for either quote because I didn’t record one, although the latter one seems to be a variation of something Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote.)
By expressing his interest in my list of quotes, I got the feeling he was reaching out for a life preserver for the first time in a long time. The words offered him hope – partially, I think, because he knew I’d found hope in those many quotations; and partially, I think, because he was beginning to read the Bible and he was learning that as long as we breathe, redemption is possible. Not long after, it became a reality for him.
After he died, his Bible became my Bible again. I would have loved to have found a page on which he jotted quotations that spoke to him, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, I found this on the “Special Events” page near the front, “This Bible was given to me by my oldest son Lee, July 6-98.”
He actually considered my gift to be a special event — the same way that one might record a baptism, a birth or a death. Special events are supposed to be remembered. And so, July 6 is a special date on my calendar — one that reminds me of the day when the Scriptures pointed Dad toward the Savior.
My dad has been gone for twenty years now. I still find that hard to believe. But quite often, I find myself thinking about the six rules he seemed to live by.
After I consulted with my siblings, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that we’d heard him say the same things, even though we didn’t necessarily grow up in the same household (my dad married twice and had two children in each marriage).
Here are his six rules, in no particular order:
1. There are two types of people in the world – givers and takers; be a giver.
He had a theory that you only needed to sit in a room with someone five minutes to determine which type of person he or she is. Dad didn’t have much tolerance for takers. I don’t think he avoided them as much as he kept an eye on them.
2. Never pass a red kettle.
Continuing with the theme of giving, after seeing how one of my nieces, who has cerebral palsy in her lower extremities, benefited from the work of a couple of charitable organizations many years ago, I told my dad it made me even more aware of the needs of charities and it made me want to do more for them.
“Never pass up the opportunity to drop something into a red kettle,” he said, referring to the Salvation Army’s red kettle at Christmastime. But I knew he was talking about more than just the Salvation Army.
3. If somebody asks you for something, give it to him or her if you can.
Sounds amazingly consistent with what Proverbs 3:27 says: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
“And he abided by that rule,” one of my sisters told me. “Almost every time I asked for something (a new piece of clothing, a few bucks, to go out for dinner, to spend the night with a friend, a toy or some candy at the store) his answer was ‘I don’t see why not’ and he made it happen.”
He once pulled three hundred dollars out of his pocket to offer to buy me a laptop at a computer trade show when I was beginning to express an interest in writing. I knew it was all the money he had in the world. The laptop wasn’t worth it, so we didn’t buy it, but I never forgot that.
4. Keep spare change in your pocket so you can make a phone call if you need to and a dollar in your glove compartment so you can buy gas if you run out.
The specifics are dated, but the sentiment is timeless. Always try to keep a little in reserve, just in case.
5. The system is fine – it’s the people who run it who are broken.
Underneath Dad’s compassion was a healthy suspicion of people who seemed to operate with little or no regard for others.
6. Take a lot of photos. The older you get, the more important they will become to you.
In 1998, I had an instant camera. The film cost nearly a dollar per photo. As my family gathered at one of my sister’s houses that year, I shot a few photos and then ran out of film. I didn’t plan to shoot more that day because of the cost. Dad handed me a ten dollar bill and said, “Go get more film. You can never shoot too many photos – especially in a situation like this.”
He was right. Boy, was he right
In my grandfather’s final years, he used to sit outside behind his house at a picnic table and watch the wildlife. And when he got too sick to sit outside, he sat on the front porch and watched wildlife—squirrels mostly. He had names for many of them.
I was a teenager at the time, and I have to say, I didn’t really get it. I had places to go and people to see, as we used to say. While I gladly spent time with my grandfather at the picnic table and front porch, I couldn’t imagine finding fulfillment in such simple things the way he did.
Fast forward thirty-five years, and you’ll probably find me sitting around a fire pit many fall weekends. I have a couple of friends who are talking about inviting a few of us over to gather around the fire. There’s something about hearing the snap and crackle of a good fire on a brisk evening while talking about whatever comes to mind that is so satisfying.
If it were up to me, I’d sit around the fire pit a couple of times a week. I seem to have a greater affinity for doing so than many of my friends though, so I don’t do it as often as I’d like. I’ve thought about that this week as we welcomed in fall, and images of my grandfather sitting by himself outside came racing back to my mind. It made me think I need to enjoy a good fire more often, even if it means doing so by myself.
The problem is, I moved a couple of years ago, and the house I live in now sits in what I can only describe as a bowl. Several houses behind mine can look down into my backyard, making privacy feel impossible — especially since they all have decks. I feel like a pet goldfish back there. But maybe I need to do it anyway.
I’ve done a lot of things by myself in public. I’ve gone to movies, out to eat, to baseball games, concerts and more. Why not sit by the fire by myself once in a while? I might just tap into what my grandfather experienced.
I’ve been thinking about being powerless. Not in the sense that we can’t make changes, adapt or accomplish anything. But more so in the bigger sense of the word.
We can’t control a diagnosis. We can’t control pink slips after a company buyout. We can’t control an oncoming drunk driver. We can’t control the stock market. We can’t control germs. We can’t control the weather. We can’t control violence. Or a thousand other things.
The seeming randomness can make us feel so vulnerable and raw. As Christians, though, we don’t believe in randomness. We believe in a sovereign God. But sometimes we are overcome with the happenings of this world. To pull ourselves out of such a funk, we only need to remember what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:3-5:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”
No matter what we endure here on earth, this isn’t the end for us. Our inheritance (heaven) is kept for us through faith as we are shielded by God’s power. And such an inheritance can never perish, spoil or fade. It can never be ripped from our clutches or stolen under the cover of night. It’s a constant truth that settles our souls when we consider it.
I’m preaching to myself this week. But maybe you needed to hear this too.
During the third-round match of the 2020 US Open tennis tournament this past week, Amanda Anisimova played Maria Sakkari. Neither are huge names in the sport yet, but that appears to be on the verge of changing.
The battle of two talented players who probably haven’t reach their upside yet might be appealing enough to nominal tennis fans, but when viewers learned their backstories via the ESPN broadcast as the matched progressed, it gave fans more to root for.
This time last year, Anisimova’s father died of a heart attack as she was preparing for the US Open. She was just 18 at the time. He’d been a big part of her tennis life, making it even more difficult for her to step back onto the court for the tournament this year. In her second-round match, in which she made a comeback, she said she was thinking about her dad the entire time.
Sakkari is a little older (25) and her story isn’t nearly as dramatic but it’s still compelling. Her mom was a player on the tour (reaching number 45) but didn’t experience the same amount of success (Sakkari is in the top twenty). Sakkari berated herself early in her career when things weren’t going her way on the court, but her mental focus has improved. She went on to win this match against Anisimova in straight sets, primarily because of her newfound focus.
“Show me your habits; I’ll show you your future,” said ESPN broadcaster Tom Rinaldi during the broadcast in reference to Sakkari turning the tide.
Throughout the match, commentators built on both players stories with tidbits of information, showing pictures of Anisimova with her dad and pointing out how Sakkari was able to move on quickly after losing her serve early in the second set — saying that’s not something she would’ve done in the past.
All this background information reaffirmed the power of story. Knowing where somebody has come from and understanding his or her battles makes us care more.
We know this, inherently. It’s the reason we gravitate toward novels, movies and music as we look for common ground that bonds and inspires us.
All the more reason to connect with each other — to go deeper by letting others in. It’s not wise to let everyone in, but if we don’t allow a few into our world, it’s going to be difficult for anybody else to root for us. And we all need that.