There's this man I know.
I'm told this picture was taken on the day I first smiled. Seems fitting that I'm looking into his eyes because he can still make me smile 38 years later.
Ray Smith is his name. He's my dad.
He isn't the life of the party. He doesn't command the attention of a room. He isn't wildly wealthy or always driving up in the latest amazing sports car. He doesn't care all that much about brand names or the applause of those around him. Upscale restaurants actually make him a little uncomfortable with all the doting attention of the servers. He's not interested in long, luxurious vacations, although as a retired man who has worked hard all his life, he'd certainly be entitled to just that by most folks' standards.
I've told you a few of the things this man does NOT care much about. So what does he care about? What drives him?
People. Plain and simple.
My father is a man who shows up when others do not. He's the first in line to help in any way he can, even if you don't say a word or mention anything that you need. He looks for ways to help. He's the kind of man who shows up at your front door with his toolbox or his ridiculously powerful toilet plunger at 11pm when you've got a plumbing emergency. He's the guy you discover has taken care of all your flower beds with new mulch and has trimmed all the bushes even though you've never said a word to him about it.
He doesn't dominate the conversation and gives you plenty of room to say whatever you need to in that moment. He's not driven by the winds of a volatile temper or at the mercy of a relentless need for approval by others. He asks questions. He tells corny jokes. He leads by example.
My dad was the man up in the bleachers for over a decade, cheering us on at our sporting events while still in his suit and tie from a day at work. He never once complained (that we knew of, anyway) about eating cold dinners we'd pack and meet him with at the ballfield. He never ate out on his lunch breaks, in part because I'm sure he and mom didn't have the money for such luxuries because they were sacrificing to send us to a Christian school where we'd be taught the truth.
I've always known my dad is a strong man. I've known he is compassionate and a servant leader and loves Jesus.
But during the last four years, I've seen it in action and personally felt the love of my heavenly Father in more ways than I can count.
My dad was the man who, early on when my world was imploding and I could no longer hide it, didn't shy away from my tears. He put his arms around me in my kitchen one day as we were painting and my daughters were on a trip with their dad, the first of many I would not be invited to join them on. He knew the churning in my stomach and the anxiety always on my mind. He hugged me and let me cry and asked me what I was afraid of.
Not an easy question to ask a woman terrified she is facing divorce. The torrent of tears really came then, and I rushed into all the things that seemed so scary. The gates that were threatening to give way did, and I talked about everything from finances to my daughters to managing a house, the car, my fears about ever possibly finding a good job, being alone, etc, etc, etc.
He just listened and then, with tears in his eyes, he said, "Sharon, there will be better days."
In the next couple years as it became plain that my marriage was in fact over, my dad then became my biggest cheerleader. He pored over the pages and pages of legalese. He (and a couple key others) became my source of strength, holding up my arms for me just like the closest friends of Moses did in the Old Testament. When my determination to fight the legal battle with all my might would wane, when I was just so weary of the battle and intimidated and so desperately wanted it to just be over, he would remind me why I was fighting so hard. Why I could not afford to give up. He helped keep the long-term goals at the forefront of my mind and gave me courage to keep going and to play hardball.
He didn't encourage me to fight hard because he's a natural fighter. He encouraged me because that's what followers of Jesus do. We do all we can to promote peace and live with others as we're called to, but when push comes to shove and we are facing evil that threatens to destroy us, we pray up and we fight. We fight hard regardless of the fear or the pain.
In the years since, my dad has continued to be my biggest cheerleader (and not to diminish the role my mom has in this regard...she is often the voice in his ear making him aware of things that could be done over here and she helps with my daughters just as much as he does). Scenes like this one are not at all uncommon:
He's actively engaged in our lives. This picture was taken three years ago right after my ex-husband had moved out. Dad took us to an amusement park in Chattanooga and showed the girls a wonderful, care-free day like kids are supposed to have. I was there, but not on official duty and could let him take the reins as the lead for a while when I needed a break because my world was spinning.
All my neighbors now know and wave at my dad when he's out in my yard. They've come to recognize his truck and I hear comments all the time about how lucky we are to have him. I agree.
To my dad, the servant leader.
The quiet strength I've relied on time and time again.
The man who was always up every night spending time with Jesus long after we'd gone to bed when I was growing up.
The man who never waits to be asked.
The one who has deeply shaped and molded me into the woman I've become.
The one who, at my recent birthday dinner, said he's so happy to have his daughter back. He made it a safe place for the real me, the one I had almost entirely forgotten was in there, to slowly make a return appearance. He waited quietly for me to find my footing and cheered me on when I was unsure of myself.
To the man who, just last week, got into my minivan with me and looked into my red, puffy eyes, swollen from the tears of a new sting. He listened and he was angry. I can count on one hand the number of times I've heard my dad cuss. He just doesn't. But during my divorce and the darkest days, I can now remember two times where he said "damn" in reference to some very difficult and unjust circumstances. And it made me feel better somehow. Made it okay for me to be angry, furious even. Dad taught me by example that sometimes we really are supposed to be furious. Once again he said, "Sharon, there will be better days."
His own eyes were a little teary, too.
You see, my dad can say this with confidence because of this other man we both know. This other man tell us that we know the end of the story and it's really, really good. This other man faithfully leads and loves and serves even though He is the King of all. My dad has pointed me to this other man all my life and encouraged me to listen to Him first and foremost. Oh, I hope you know Him, too. His name is Jesus - maybe you've heard of Him but never really known Him for yourself. Don't wait another second, friend. You can't imagine how good He is.
Though his daughters are grown and moved onto families of their own, Dad has not taken a backseat or put his life on autopilot. These days he can be found doing homework with his granddaughters or cheering them on from the bleachers at the ballpark. He loves faithfully and well.
Happy Father's Day, Dad. I love you.