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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Greatest Man that Ever Lived

There are no two ways about it, my dad was the greatest man on earth. I knew he was special because everyone thought so. And it didn’t hurt that he always handed over his lunch box at the end of a long day for me to clean out—and that he always left me a treat.

We lived in a two-story apartment, my family of eight. My oldest brother made nine, but he had moved away a couple of years earlier. I had the enviable position of being the youngest. My sister, Linda—several years my senior—hated sharing a bed with me because I kicked at night and because I stole her pads to put on my dolls as diapers and threw a fit until she let me wear her bras to sleep in. But that’s another story altogether.

My dad, the greatest man on earth, fixed up old junker bikes for the neighborhood kids whose parents couldn’t afford bikes, he instigated water fights after dark for the older kids, made homemade spaghetti and donuts, and hosted gatherings for friends from our small church—a white frame building that sat on the corner of 7th and Gregory where I accepted Jesus and was baptized at five years old because my best friend, Lori accepted Jesus and was baptized. I had a true conversion at age nine when Jesus revealed himself to me on the floor of my mother’s bedroom. I cried for hours and that next Sunday I got baptized again and when everyone started singing: Oh, happy day, Oh, happy day when Jesus washed my sins away. He taught me how to watch and pray and live rejoicing every day. Happy day, happy day when Jesus washed my sins away—I knew this time it took.

Every year, about a week before Christmas, Daddy picked out the biggest, oddest-shaped tree he could find and we decorated with gusto, hanging cheap glass and homemade ornaments and tossing tinsel on the branches in clumps that exasperated him, but he nevertheless allowed. He strung popcorn and spray painted the white fluffy kernels red and green. We had the best tree ever—every year—because my Daddy did everything better than anyone else. And because we had bubble lights and no one else I knew had bubble lights on their tree.

Oh, how my dad was loved. The church ladies from 7th and Gregory fixed potluck meals with him in mind, preparing his favorite foods, careful to leave out any trace of onions—because Daddy hated onions with the same passion he loved his family.

Filled with a sense of security and pride in who I was and whose I was, I went to school, had lots of friends, spent summer days playing outside in the gorgeous Kansas sun and went to church on Sunday, bolstered by the knowledge that my Dad lived and breathed greatness. I knew it. In my mind everyone knew it, though my older siblings have stories of their own.

That year—my eighth—we moved to a small town in Oklahoma with no more than one-thousand residents. I don’t know if Daddy ever lived in such a place before, but he couldn’t have been prepared for the closed minds and hearts, the impossible to penetrate criticism and shocking lack of admiration from our fellow church members. Years later, I understand they were well-meaning, truly concerned for his soul, but they didn’t understand how great he was—despite his flaws.

You see, Daddy was a smoker. He was not financially well-off or even comfortable. And he had a big mouth and lots of opinions that didn’t necessarily reflect those of the church we attended.

Suddenly ours wasn’t the house where kids hung out and church folks gathered after service for cake and fellowship. These church ladies couldn’t care less if Daddy hated onions and used them freely during potluck. I think somewhere inside, he took this as a personal affront to him. And it hurt. It hurt me too, because didn’t these people recognize greatness in their midst?

And then one day a thought came to me. A revelation, really. How on earth hadn’t I seen it before now? Daddy was a nobody. He smoked and didn’t have money and oh, the humiliation, he didn’t think the way the small-town, religious folks thought.

The truth hit me hard—like the time I pitched a softball game and got a line drive to the leg. A big fat, softball sized bruise darkened my skin, reminding me of that pain for weeks and weeks and I never pitched again—too risky. And that’s exactly what it felt like as I got the picture—If Daddy was a nobody, then I was a nobody too.

Many years have passed since that short season imprinted on me as destructive as a hatching duck imprinting on a hungry wolf, but inside, I still regret that he never had a chance to be who he was in that town—the greatest man alive who once fixed up old bikes, made homemade donuts, chopped down the most wonderful, imperfect Christmas trees, and delighted in eating potluck without onions.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad lately as I work through my own story—the one I’ve written for myself. I’ve been a nobody, trying to please somebodys since I was eight years old. I know this about me now. I understand why I have so much trouble living authentically. If Daddy, the greatest man alive, couldn’t make people like him, how would I, the daughter whose identity was so woven into his? I lost my identity in a sea of voices. I learned to agree with anyone who might like me. I learned to read faces and decipher tones of voice—criticism cuts deep, and I’ve lived my life willing to say anything to avoid it.

I know Jesus loves me. In a deep-down way that bolsters me. If Jesus is somebody, and he loves me just the way I am, then I’m okay to be me.

I’ve spent thirty-five years writing the wrong story of this Tracey character. But inside, I know Jesus has my story all written for me, the real story. And that’s the character I’m discovering day-by-day as we re-write together.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation, purchased of God. Born of His spirit, washed in his blood. This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long…


Kristine McGuire said...

This is beautiful, my friend.

Kathleen Y'Barbo-Turner said...

Victory in Jesus, amen and AMEN! Thank you for letting me know about your daddy. And for the record, I don't like onions in my potluck either!

Frances said...

I'm glad you honored your dad on his birthday, sweet girl. And he was great in many ways.

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