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Hi Daddy! Hi Daddy!

Start children off on the way they should go,
    and even when they are old they will not turn from it. ~ Proverbs 22:6

I’m sorry, but yes they will.

Some will step off accidentally and stumble right back on.

Some will wander off, oblivious to your calls and whistles.

Some will investigate that very pretty flower over there.

And some will test the boundaries every step of the way.

They most certainly will venture from it. It’s how they find their own way along a path with distinct boundaries but invisible guardrails. Kids are a distractable lot and tweens and teens are a naturally inquisitive bunch. Perhaps this is why we are advised to “start children off on the way they should go.” Children pay attention; they’re sponges for everything they see and hear.

One Sunday past, I sat behind Carly, a young mom, cradling her infant in a front pack. Her 2 year old son, Avery, stood next to her on the fabric seat of the pew. Grandpa had brought him in, but he wasn’t holding Avery’s hand. This boy was perfectly balanced; he was an experienced pew-stander. He demanded I shake his hand when the time for greeting was announced and then he remained standing for the anthem that was to follow.

Little Avery’s face just glowed with anticipation. Before the first chord, his happy voice rang out, “Hi Daddy! Hi Daddy!” Smiles on several faces looked his way, but Dad was focused on the music and its message. Avery’s dad Josh sang,

I believe in God our Father
I believe in Christ the Son
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Our God is three in one
I believe in the resurrection
That we will rise again
For I believe in the name of Jesus…

from, This I Believe, by Hillsong Worship

Hi Daddy! Hi Daddy!, sang Avery.

The promise we make to the children of our church upon the occasion of their baptism is this: “With God’s help, we will so order our lives after the example of Christ that these children, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.”

Start children off on the way they should go, and …
…. even though they may wander and explore and adventure on their way, …
when they are old they will not turn from it. ~ Proverbs 22:6 (with my additions)

Oh, children… how wonderful it is to teach them. How magnificent it is to learn from them.

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!

Father, Mayday is Calling

A man I love side-stepped death. No one expected him to come through, but he did. I would say it was by the grace of God. But he wouldn’t. He would say, “Guess my time wasn’t up.” For him, living and dying are two sides of a card. When the Great Hand flips it, you go.

This doesn’t worry him. In fact, he laughs to tell me that a guy with a clerical collar came to see him before his heart procedure. He waved the guy away. “Don’t worry; I’ve been saved,” he told him. His father was a Lutheran Pastor, after all. Church was more home than his house for all of his growing up years. He knows Jesus.

But here in his kitchen the question ‘where is God now?’ hangs in the air. Worth another look now that there’s still some living to do, and seeing that he’s been issued a reprieve. “Oh, God doesn’t bother with small stuff like me,” he says, and he means what he says. It’s not false humility; self pity is not his style. Life is hard. You get through it. God’s got bigger things to do.

The guy has got reason to believe this. He has lost a spouse to a suicide that God didn’t stop. He’s lost a livelihood that God didn’t rescue. He’s been betrayed by those he’s trusted and lost friends to diseases they didn’t deserve. A year ago he lost his son, his only son, to a sudden, preventable death. He’s not mad at God; he just figures these are small things in an unfathomably large universe. He doesn’t deserve any special favors. He’s not important enough to be important to God.

And that’s it. End of conversation.

I love this man. But I wish he knew that God loved him, not just that God would save him. That God gazes at him through the window, peers through the latticework, and calls as Lover to Beloved, “See! The winter is past; the rains are gone. The season of singing has come.” Come, hear the cooing of the doves, see the fig tree’s new fruit, smell its fragrance.

But to hear, see and smell, we have to come outside. Outside of our houses, our jobs, our families, our churches, even beyond our own lives. We have to come close enough to touch and to taste. And listen.

Can it be so? That the God of the universe would bother with one so small? Surely the call is for someone else. Someone more loveable, more in need, more desperate, more deserving. I’ll wait my turn, says this man whom I love, for my flip of the card. Then I’ll know.

But Dad, it’s you He is calling to. You’re the one He calls ‘my beautiful one’ and so am I. That small voice to be heard is the One who loves us, who calls us His beloved, and bids us arise and come.

Who would know better how it feels to lose an only Son?

Today: Spend a few moments at a window looking out. Imagine the sounds and smells, tastes and touches outside. Pray for someone who doesn’t yet know they are loved by the God who made all of this for them.

This writing was recently published in the Lenten Devotional booklet created and distributed by the Church of the Good Shepherd, UMC. It is in response to this scripture: (Song of Songs 2: 8-13) and was published under the title: No, really, I love you. Perhaps you know and love someone, too, who you hope might know the love of a personal, forgiving and loving and redeeming presence in their lives. In the Spirit of this hope, I share what God has offered me.

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