It was easily the biggest, tallest tree in the neighborhood. The knotty, gnarly branches looked ancient. Four of us could circle the tree, arms stretched wide, and tummies flat against the trunk, and our hands would never touch.
The thing we loved most was how the tips of the branches reached all the way to the ground like a curtain. To us, stepping through the veil of our weeping willow tree was like walking into a magical land of enchantment.
I remember a day under the tree, when we were so engrossed in play that we didn’t even notice the darkening sky, the heavy moist air, or the distant rumbling thunder. It was my Dad who brought us out of our imaginary world. We looked up to see him running toward us. He was yelling. He seemed angry, and was urgently motioning for us to follow him. But we didn’t want to go inside – we were having such fun!
We made him come all the way to us before we reluctantly obeyed and trudged toward the house. My Dad’s big hand on my bottom finally kicked me into gear, and I ran.
A few years later, we had become more “sophisticated” in our play – using an imaginary object was not nearly as fun as it once was. Whenever we could find something close to the “real thing” we’d use it – dishes, cups, and cookies for a tea party; a real fire, a canteen, and a tent when we were explorers; and you really can’t play cowboys-and-indians effectively without rope.
I recall vividly a time when I had triumphantly captured my sister, and bound her securely with a rope, only to have my Dad interrupt the game, untie my prisoner, and take our rope! I didn’t feel his hand on my bottom that time, but his reaction to our game left the same mark.
Later still, as a young teenager, I remember answering a phone call from my best friend. It was Sunday evening, and she was inviting me to go with her to the movies. Such invitations were rare, and at that moment, I wanted nothing more than to accept. But my Dad had other ideas.
“Not tonight.” He replied, even though I had used my sweetest voice. “You have the youth meeting at church.”
“But Dad! It’s not fair!” I knew better than to pursue the argument, but I was really angry at his unfairness.
I went back to the phone to tell my friend, but apparently she had overheard the whole conversation. “I know. You can’t come. Wow, I’m sure glad my parents don’t force religion down my throat like that!” And she hung up.
A moment earlier, I had been fuming at my Dad. But I suddenly realized that it was the words my friend spoke, and not my Dad’s actions, that truly rang of unfairness and deceit. I am certain those words were Satan’s arrows intended to drive a wedge between my Dad and me, but his attempt backfired that time. I believe God used the situation to open my eyes to the important role my Dad was trying to fill. All those times I remembered him “spoiling my fun” were not the acts of an unfair and mean tyrant. On the contrary, he was working tirelessly to protect, teach, and guide a much-loved daughter. He was on my side the whole time.
At times my ears have listened to the voice of the world – the voice of those who believe the lie that the Christian life is just a bunch of confining rules and regulations. But I know now that nothing could be further from the truth! Our Father in heaven is for us, and it’s for our freedom that Christ gave his life to set us free!
Jesus was talking about me, and about you when he said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.” (Jn 10:27 NIV). By bringing to my mind these half-forgotten memories, my Father has taught me a wonderful lesson, and I am so glad he used my Dad to do it.
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