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The Life of a Book

My paternal grandfather didn’t set out to be a writer. In fact, I’m told he wanted to be an opera singer. These aspirations took him traveling across Germany where he learned to speak the language fluently and, as it turns out, fell in love with the life and writings of Martin Luther. So much so that he translated many from the original German because he felt existing translations had missed the mark.

FullSizeRender (6)-001In his diligence and with study and devotion, John W. Rilling eventually became a Lutheran minister, pastor, and preacher. He also, as it turns out, became a writer. Today, I am privileged to have possession of a “first edition,” hard back copy entitled, “Have a Good Day”… Sermons by John W. Rilling. Inscribed on the inside cover:

“To John, my son,

Tolle Lege! Tolle lege!

Dum vivimus, vivamus!!

Dad

11/20/58″

I, not knowing the Latin which would have been the language of the Learned and the Church in Dr. Rilling’s day, happily used my modern day technology to attempt translation:

“To John, my son,” …. not, to my son John, which would have sounded trite and diminishing, but to John, my son, which echos a voice from heaven which speaks, this is my Son, whom I love, my only son. As my father was to his father.

“Tolle Lege! Tolle lege!”… Take up and read! Apparently from the account of Augustine’s conversion to Christ in his spiritual autobiography ‘Confessions’. My grandfather read widely. His home office and study was filled floor to ceiling with books of the great thinkers of the day and of history. These were his plea to his son, who did not take much to books but rather to fixing and tinkering, to go himself to Word and words and find the truth for himself.

“Dum vivimus, vivamus!!” … While we live, let us live. Don’t wait. Don’t waste a moment. Do it now!! Grandfather’s hand has corrected the spelling of the first “vivimus” which he originally wrote “vivamus, vivamus.” He edited himself, in pen, in inscription, because the proper tense was essential for understanding.

It is amazing what meaning travels down across generations. I am not sure my father, John F. Rilling, ever read this book, though it kept its place on a bookshelf spanning many moves, many jobs, many travels. It came to him 5 months after the birth of his first child, a son. And remained through life’s changes, including the last. My father died a year ago and his beloved wife saved the book for me.

Today, as I read it, sermon by sermon, it shows me who my grandfather was. I had an inkling but must confess I did not know him. The book literally speaks across generations. The phrasing and the storytelling, the meaning so subtle and profound, the message as true today as it was in the 1950’s when it was spoken to a dear congregation. It begs me to read it out loud. So powerful are its thoughts, I have to take a day or two between readings to digest what he’s written.  Who knew the old could be made so new again?

Such is the power of words, carefully culled and selected, so they might be collected in a book to be published and shared. And signed. What a treasure. What a trust. What a miracle.

If today we communicate wirelessly by an internet we can’t see, is it so impossible that words may speak across generations and even, perhaps, across the veil?

My grandfather could not have known when he wrote them that I would ever read his words. They were published before I was born. Yet, they have landed on me and touched me deeply. Gone straight to the heart of another one who didn’t set out to be a writer, rather a thinker and a doer. But something in me kept nagging…you’ve got to write that book so others can know and do for themselves…you can write that book.

“While we live, let us live!

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Six Perfect Words: I Just Love to Watch You Play

“I just love to watch you play.”

Jodi Pink Nallas Fall 95These are the six simple words I would like to tell my kids after every game, every performance, and every event. It’s the one thing I want them to know, and it’s been this way since…well, forever.

I remember my delight at watching them find their hands, accidentally bat their toy and then do it again on purpose. I loved watching them smile, then giggle, then sing when they discovered their voice. I could have watched for hours as they colored and drew, built and toppled, shaped and folded, wrote and re-wrote. The look of concentration on their face as they worked out what they “meant” was priceless. It’s etched on my memory. I just loved that. Just love that. IMG_3434

They wouldn’t have understood then why it gave me so much pleasure to watch them play. Yes, play, it is said, is the work of children, but it’s more. It’s discovery and daring. It’s success and failure. It’s frustration and elation. Watching children engage in this is like watching the moment of Creation itself. From nothing comes something, and they’re as surprised as I am at what turns up.

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It’s mesmerizing, and that’s a good thing because had I stepped in, to guide the hand, balance the block, or re-write the sentence, it would all have ended right there. Instead, I watched in complete amazement with one thought: “I love to watch you play.”

So, today as I watch my children in their life of play, I sit amazed and mesmerized. Of course, now they have surpassed me. There is no temptation to interrupt or correct, just watch and smile, and if they’ll let me, I sing their praises. They know I love what they do, but mostly I love them and especially to watch them at play because that’s where I can see best who they really are and who they’re becoming.

“I love to watch you play”: the six best words in a parent’s vocabulary. Nothing else. No buts, becauses or excepts. We stop there, at play, because on the 7th word, we rest.girls atop hike

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.

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