Friday, June 25, 2010

"Who's Your Daddy?"

When it comes to understanding the love of God the Father, we often hear of people who struggled to “get” Him, because of their earthly fathers’ shortcomings. But this can also work the other way. Even imperfect dads can, in part, help their children to better see attributes of God, helping pave the way for us to recognize our Heavenly Father. Not that I would compare my dad to God, but there are definitely some ways that Norman Harvey rightly reflected the Father’s heart to his kids. So maybe it would be good to reflect today, on a few of these attributes that dad so shined.

First of all, he was faithful. Our dad kept his promises, honored his vows, and you could count on him. Secondly, he was committed. Whether to his marriages, to his children, to his family and friends or to his work, he was an example of what it is to be responsible. And thirdly, Norman Harvey reflected the nature of God in the joy that he so obviously had in being creative. He was an extremely creative mind and talent; and he brought great joy into our lives when he was creating. There are other ways I’m sure Danny and Sandy would add to this list, but for time’s sake, we’ll focus on these three attributes: his faithfulness, his committed way, and his joy in creativity.

How was this expressed in the way dad lived his life? How did him being who he was, reflect the Father’s heart? For one thing, he would come into your life, gently and gladly, whenever he was invited. He loved a sincere invitation, and he was faithful to come when invited. The Lord said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20). Again, not that I am comparing dad with the Lord; but that dad, in being the way he was, made it perhaps easier for me to see God’s gentleness and gladness to come when invited; when it was my time to come to faith. Dad always came when invited; never barging in; but always with gladness.

And when dad did join you, he enjoyed you. In this way too, he reflected God’s heart for his people. “For the Lord takes delight in his people; He crowns the humble with salvation.” (Psalm 149:4). If you are here today in this congregation of the family and friends of Norman Harvey, you know what I am talking about. When he came to you invited, he enjoyed you. You were a “delight” to him. And he let you know it. We gather here today to recall his ways, and in that sense are “Norman’s people.” And so when it came time to consider how God enjoys those who come to him sincerely, my dad embodied that attribute. Dad delighted in you.

And while I can’t think of a Bible verse that spells out this characteristic of God (and you all know I would throw that verse your way if I could find it), it is clear from scripture, that whenever anyone ever invites God in, that they not only find themselves enjoyed by Him, but that He leaves them better off than He finds them. Dad was like that too. He would come to you if you asked, enjoy you while together, and leave you in a wake that would find you better off than before his visit.

For example, I think of the visits that he and June would make to Ann and I, over these past several years. I did not inherit his genius for building, and designing things; and so whenever dad and June would come to visit, a typical visit would look like this: After driving or flying down to Charlotte (no small trip), they would come in and enjoy us. We’d have a meal together, catch up some, laugh and hug of course, and it was just a joy to be with them. Day two, I’d come home from the office, when Ann would call and let me know they were on their way over, and I’d walk in on them, in great activity. During the first visit, unbeknownst to us, Dad and June would have taken some kind of mental inventory of ways to bless us, and with tools, paints, and accessories and gadgets they have found helpful to themselves, they would visit on day two, armed to bless. A visit may last one or two weeks. There would be lots of meals, hugs, laughs, and after we’d all waved goodbye in the driveway, Ann and I would walk back into our house, and look around and say, “Wow! Look at our house!” He always left us better off than he found us. And that is definitely a God thing!

During their last visit to our home, Ann’s dad next door, passed away. It was for sure a hard time for the family, Ann and her mom certainly grieving most I got to see a side of dad that I’d only really heard about. Over the years, as different friends and family members have had health problems or were grieving, I have been hearing how dad and June would come into that situation, and minister comfort, and really help. As sad as it was to be saying so long to Ann’s dad, getting to see my own dad, with June, spring to life and action, helping Ann and her mom, and helping me by their example was kind of a last minute gift to me too, as it turns out. I was getting to see dad in action, in a way I’d never seen before. Still learning about him, after knowing him for 51 years; I can tell you that's really something special!

Not long ago I was leaving a visit to a prison, where I’d listened to a man who was hurting. He was talking about a recent visit that he’d had from his two teenage children. Due to his own actions, he had been in prison for most of their lives, and ached to be with them. As he spoke with tears, of how he’d let his children down, I thought of something my social worker friend once told me about the kids in the city of Charlotte. Apparently 70% of the children in Charlotte, have no father in the picture at all. They either do not know whom, or else do not know where their father is. 70%! And here was this man in prison, who was rooting for his kids in life, praying for them daily, longing to be with them, and visiting with them for 4 hours every other week. Those kids know who and where their dad is. They know he loves them. They know he prays for them. They know that he wants to be with them, and that he is rooting for them to do well in life. I quickly sat and wrote this man a note, to let him know that his children were in the top 30% of the most blessed kids in Charlotte. While fully 70% of their peers had no dad at all to speak of; this brother's children had his love; for as much as he could express it.

Now I stand here and I have to say, that if this brother’s children are in the top 30% of those kids most blessed; then surely Danny, and Sandy, and I must be in the top 1% of those most blessed. Because our dad was always for us, always ready to visit and have input, always enjoying us, and always leaving us better off than he found us.

Not many kids can say, “My dad designed and built our house!” Not just the house we grew up in, but dad seemed to be able to make anything better than store bought. He made furniture for our rooms; and the very dining booth that we had our meals in all growing up. He built into our home special features that were cool; like the laundry chute that you could send just about anything down (and we did). After building a fence out back, he took the left over lumber and made a tree fort for Danny and I. Right up in the tree, with a rope ladder that we could climb up. Well, that Danny could climb up. I more had to be boosted and hauled in. But once in, we could pull up the ladder, where we’d be safe from all cooties and the Indians (or cowboys, depending upon the day). When we outgrew the tree fort, dad brought it down for Sandy to use as a clubhouse, under the tree’s shade.

What dad would build in the back yard each year, with lengths of lumber and rolls of plastic, and lots of water, a skating rink for his kids to skate on with their friends? Our dad did this every year. And when our neighborhood, full of steep roads, found kids buying soap box derby type “go carts,” I asked dad to get me one too. I had in mind one from the store; but the next thing you know, he’d taken the seat off of Sandy’s old high chair, and with wood, iron rods, ball bearings, wheels, and sharp blue paint, he in one afternoon, made me the fastest go cart in the neighborhood. All the kids would bring our carts up to Culter Farm rd. or to the top of Woodcliff, or when our parents didn’t know it, the top of Marlboro rd. itself, and race down. By the end of the first summer, it wasn’t whether or not my go cart would win; but how much of a head start could I give the other kids, and still have dad’s go cart win.

When Halloween time came around, dad’s genius would be tapped into. Harvey grown-ups annually held their amazing costume parties, and dad always came up with some really fun costumes. And he made costumes for us kids too. While most of my friends went out as boring ghosts and goblins, I got to go out as whatever I wanted. All I had to do was tell dad what I wanted for a costume. And I mean anything! My favorite costume ever was this very specific pirate costume he made for me. All I had to do was to show him the picture from some book. He made the hat out of material and cardboard and it looked authentic. Eye patch of course, but when he came up from the basement with a hard wood saber that he’d just fashioned out with his tools and spray painted the blade silver, I had me a great outfit. Ha! I remember another pirate that Halloween, coming up to try and swash-buckle me. I wielded my saber and that kid’s lame curtain rod was a bent into a disappointed droop with a single pare from my sabre.

Hey, I even got to be “Cousin It” from the Adam’s family once! Whose dad can do that? Trick or Treating in one of Norman Harvey’s originals meant never having to hear, “And just what are you supposed to be?”

One year I decided to carve my own pumpkin for Halloween. Whatever it was I was trying to do wasn’t coming out, and I was so upset; I was about to put my foot through the face of it. Dad heard me and came to my rescue. In frustration, I asked him to help me. Once again invited in, he took my pumpkin, considered it, and told me to go and get two black checkers. I ran to my toy box, and, thinking to myself, “Black checkers? What is he going to do with black checkers?” came back to find a funny mouth and nose, carved into the pumpkin. Then, he took my two black checkers and finished the amazing piece, by inserting them in ready cut slots, so that when lit, the eyes looked crossed, and while not scary, but more looking like Red Skelton or Mortimer Snerd, the pumpkin was a masterpiece, much marveled at by those visiting that night. Dad was cool for sure!

Danny and Sandy could tell you lots more! And much of dad was not appreciated until we left home. It wasn’t till I went to college and classmates and new friends would say things like, “You’ve never been to a barber?” Dad cut our hair. Or, “Where’d you learn to walk on stilts?”

Dad made Danny and I each a pair of stilts. One day when we were racing around the block, a guy drove up beside us, as we were making our way up Woodcliff road, and asked, “Hey, where’d you kids get the stilts?” We answered, “Our dad made them for us!” as we ambled along. The man said nothing. Just rolled up his window and drove off, apparently needing to come up with another idea for his kids.

When Sandy was a baby, we had a very white winter. Unable to stroll her around, dad made a really beautiful baby sleigh of wood and runners, so that she could be bundled up and placed inside. Then mom or he could pull her around the snow-covered streets. When you grow up with a dad who is both creative and humble, you just think these things are normal; at least until you start comparing notes with other young adults; or when you have children of your own, and you try doing half for them, of what had been done for you.

Dad passed on to his children, an amazing work ethic. Growing up with him for a dad, you naturally felt lazy by comparison. I only remember him missing work twice, and only for having a thrown out back. If he could get up, he was at work. If he ever thought to call in sick, he sure didn’t. I remember him saying to me, “Tom, you are spending more energy trying to get out of work than you would expend if you just did the job you were asked to do.” And he was right. It wasn’t till later when I started getting my first jobs that I realized that some people didn’t have a dad like mine, to point out the obvious to them. You have a job; you do it. Life doesn’t have to be so complicated. But I’d hear some co-worker at McDonalds complaining to the manager, something like, “You mean I’m supposed to come in every time my name is on the schedule?” As if that were too much! That kid didn’t have my dad.

My dad had me pegged! Seeing my character or lack thereof, he once told me, “Tommy, you love to play tennis and you come alive when you are doing what you love to do. You’d better train to do a job that you love to do, cause you’ll be doing it many hours a week. Do something that brings you energy, so you won’t be so spent at the end of your days.” Those words are still true of me. I’m sure Sandy and Danny had their own times of being advised according to what dad wanted for them. He wanted only and always what was best for us.

Dad leaves us impressed. He also leaves us an example of what it is to “finish well” in life. Over the years, we’ve gotten to see dad gain in personal freedom, in joy, and in peace. As we’ve been mourning, I’ve invited God my Father to come in, to sit with me; in expectation of Him making me better off than He finds me today, this verse came to mind as I was thinking of my father. Again; not that I’m comparing dad to Jesus; but he sure had some qualities that made it easy for me to recognize God when I finally did meet him! Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Then as I found this verse, the very next one jumped out at me, as I felt the Lord’s blessing. It reads: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28,29) It was to me as if the Lord was saying, that if I would follow Jesus, that the Lord will work these attributes which I’ve mentioned about my dad, somehow into me. And I find myself wanting to let Him try and do just that.