There’s an empty place at the family table.The place at the head of the table that once held my hero,my dad,sits empty.
I grew up seated between two older brothers. They delighted in attempts to stab me with their fork, whenever; I reached for the salt shaker or a slice of bread. Our table vibrated with good natured and hearty conversation. Dad always had plenty of stories to tell and lessons to share. Like a skilled headmaster, he entertained and inspired us, while keeping the conversation lively and entertaining.
We didn’t know it but the kitchen table was, in fact, his classroom. Eight children, his students, sat enraptured by his tales. My mom held the position of teachers’ aide. She maintained order. Occasionally, my grandmother sat in on our classes like a visiting principal.
At the kitchen table, dad sparked my love affair with words. While reading through my term paper on ‘Tornadoes’, he showed me how to make the paper come alive instead of droning with facts copied from the encyclopedia. To this day, I remember the opening line of that term paper ‘What force has the power to drive a straw through the base of a tree? Drop an entire pond of frogs on an unsuspecting town?
It was at my kitchen table in Reading, PA, twenty years later, I received the call that broke my heart. My sister phoned with grim news from the doctors’ visit. “Dad has terminal lung cancer. He will only be with us a few more months, a year at best.”
I arranged for a trip back home. It was a good visit with dad, although, bitter sweet. Money was tight. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make many trips back home to see him. I would need to depend on my family to keep me informed as to his condition.
During the long drive home, my thoughts plagued me, “I’m never going to see my dad again.” I longed to be able to curl up next to him, forever. But instead, the thought, “I’m going to lose my dad.” Tears fell, a heavy blanket of gray covered me and an indescribable pain filled my heart. I wanted to be mad at God but I didn’t think that I could carry myself through this without His help. I understood Jesus’ cry “Abba!” My own heart cried “Daddy!”
The week after I arrived back home, I received another call, this time from my dad.
“Darlene, I want to come visit you ”, he said. “Dad, it’s a twelve hour trip.” I reminded him
“I’m coming ”, he said determined, adding, “Unless, you don’t want me to?” All I could do was cry.
Dad made the trip. It took a lot out of him but he had things that he needed to tell me. “I wanted to see where you live, ” he said and then added, “ When you write your novel, you should use Reading as your setting. This place is perfect!” He told me that he was proud of me. I knew that. I knew that my whole life.
My dad was the best teacher that I ever had. His ability to believe in me, allowed me to believe in myself. Gently, he guided while teaching me to expand my reach. He loved people and life. His last visit is one of my greatest treasures. Dad made the trip but I know that God gave him the desire and the fortitude to make it.
After the death of Isaac’s mother, God sent comfort to Isaac by giving him Rebekah, his wife. Likewise, God gave me a precious memory to hold in my heart as He tenderly took my dad from hands that didn’t want to let go. The next time I see my dad, I hope it is across the banquet table when I get to heaven.
Matthew 6:8b your Father knows what you need before you ask him