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Thanks for Dinner, Dad

CIMG0341“Rats,” said one. This was greeted by a delighted chortle from the backseat, where sat the other, smiling at beating her sister this time to thank Dad for the dinner we had just enjoyed at the restaurant. The rules are: you can’t say it until we return home, the driveway counts, first to remember, wins. No prize. Just satisfaction.

Our oldest daughter started this game years ago. But last night, our youngest raced her to the thanks. She must have been primed for the punch because, the second our wheels hit the driveway, out came the: “Thanks for dinner, Dad.” Then the groan from the front seat, admitting defeat.

I had no part in creating this game. It was all them. In fact, last night I was cautioned because I thanked Dad as he signed the credit card slip at the restaurant. That doesn’t count, I was told. You have to wait till we’re home.

At least I can still play, even though it’s my husband I’m thanking and not my dad because we all call him dad. Even me, when the kids are around.

But today I am marveling at the message in this game, created by the kids, refereed by the kids, perpetuated by the kids: the race to thank their father for his generosity to provide a lavish meal, at no expense to them.

What a meal was set for us at a table in a long ago upper room. By His grace, we get to eat it. And we don’t have to wait till we get home to play.

Thanks, Dad, for dinner.


The Power of a Life Well-Lived

JFR photo shoot_0002In honor and remembrance of John F Rilling, my dad, who would have celebrated his 80th birthday today.

Psalm 37:1-6

Fret not yourself because of the wicked,
    be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass,
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your vindication as the light,
    and your right as the noonday.

It’s amazing how people come out of the woodwork when they hear time is growing short. A deadline really motivates, especially when it’s imminent. That’s what happened when my dad received his diagnosis. People he hadn’t heard from in decades started writing, emailing, and calling. Each one had the same message: were it not for you, I would not be who I am today.

It was heartening to hear that my father’s deeds had borne fruit as they echoed through the years. Though Dad appreciated the sentiments shared, it didn’t change things. He would soon die in his home of many years. A man of modest means, he was never wealthy, never famous, never in the headlines. As the world measures, he had very little to show for himself.

It doesn’t seem fair that a man who lives an honest life, works hard, cares for his family, supports his friends, and mentors his co-workers, just perishes. I hear daily of those who lead tarnished lives with questionable business practices, extravagant spending, and expendable relationships, and yet they prosper. The Bible may say that the wicked “will soon wither, soon die away,” but I see plenty who are flourishing. Why bother to lead a good life when this is what it gets you?

My thinking did an about face when a kind friend offered, “While the wicked may prosper, they never leave a legacy.”

So true. The stories which follow the wicked are best forgotten, but those shared after a life well lived are told and re-told. They magnify the goodness and continue to inspire. Dad didn’t plan what people would say about him after he was gone, he had just made regular deposits in other people’s lives, and the interest compounded over the years. This flowed freely in loving remembrance after he left us.

Not long after the memorial service a group of employees from the neighborhood Starbucks came by the house with a gift. In recognition of the many hours Dad had spent at the Johns Creek Starbucks welcoming and conversing with patrons, they had framed a green Starbucks apron. At the top was Dad’s photo encircled by the apron ties, and underneath were the words: John, honorary barista of store 8202.

When a good man dies, we’re left to tell the stories of his life, not only to remember him but to take meaning and purpose for our own. While the wicked may flourish for a little earthly while, the righteous leave a legacy of goodness and mercy that inspires even greater things. One might even say that it gives such a life power over death itself.

Wendy Rilling LeBolt

Today: Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Concurrently published in the Lenten devotional booklet distributed by the Church of the Good Shepherd, Vienna, VA.

Are you leaving a margin?

IMG_7198What if we printed our books and wrote our essays right up to the very edges leaving no margin? Wouldn’t that be a much a better use of our space. Why waste all that good white paper around the edges?

I know. I know. The book publishers out there will tell me it’s easier on the eyes, better for binding, and cleaner for copy to leave a margin. But there is a better reason: it’s jotting room. A place to make note, respond, or converse with the author, whom you may imagine is sitting there with you, reading or speaking these printed words to you.

Apparently, I am not the first to discover this and even to value this. There is actually a project called Book Traces which is seeking books with notes in the margin or entries in blank space or even with things shoved in them for safe-keeping. As libraries go digital, these treasures are in danger of being lost. They are asking for help:

Thousands of old library books bear fascinating traces of the past. Readers wrote in their books, and left notes, pictures, letters, flowers, locks of hair, and other things between their pages. We need your help identifying them because many are in danger of being discarded as libraries go digital. Books printed between 1820 and 1923 are at particular risk.  Help us prove the value of maintaining rich print collections in our libraries.

Ironically, the books they are particularly trying to save – pre-copyright books published before 1923 – do not qualify as rare or fit for special collections, because they are considered damaged because of their marginalia. I would call them personalized, but to find their personality each has to be opened and examined.

A University of Virginia English professor found a tale of lost love in a 1891 copy of Longfellow’s poetry he pulled from the shelves at the Alderman library. In it, Jane Chapman Slaughter, one of the first women to receive a PhD from the University, wrote in a blank front page,

“Our readings together were in this book, ere you went to your life of work and sacrifice, and I remained to my life of infinite yearning for your presence, the sound of your voice; a yearning never to be satisfied in this world or the next.” (more here)

Ah, books are more than printed pages. There is printing, for sure. Words lived and spoken and acted out. But those margins have purpose:

  • So we can expand our thinking?
  • So we can share our thoughts?
  • So we can reach out to others?
  • So our eyes can rest from their reading?
  • So we can doodle during the Service?

Somehow, my creativity is meant to go there. I’m meant to be a bit more adventuresome, to try things out, squeeze it in, go sideways or up and down. Perhaps shade or circle, foot print, teardrop or floralate. (yep – just made that up) The margins let me be me, even when we are all looking at the same printed text. They let me put my signature flourish or quiet discontent in writing. After all, who will ever read them?

But what if someone did? What will they say to those who never knew me? Perhaps more than I would say, were I to be standing there wearing my most honest, politically correct and socially acceptable face. There, in the margins, I stand exposed.

Regrettably, so much of my life is pushed to the very edges, leaving no margin, no room for error, no padding, and no comfort zone. There is no room left for whatever might come along.

What if I treated margin as it’s meant to be treated, not as extra room to fill, but extra space for extending?

  • Time for someone who needs it.
  • Patience for a child who deserves it.
  • Calm for a body that rests in it.
  • Quiet for a mind that expands in it.

Then in the end, in the very end, there will be room around the edges, just enough for the affixing of our frames in the banquet hall of masterpieces. We will be not only justified by our typewriters, but by our Lord. Oh, our words do echo through the generations, perhaps because the Word Himself left a margin for us.

A letter from my dad to his parents about his first scout trip

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