The supreme phrase that each person who is a true believer longs to hear is, “Well done thou good and faithful servant!” At the end of the age or the end of one’s life we long to hear words from our heavenly Father that let us know we “got it right” and that in some way, our lives counted for what mattered most. I think God stamped that desire upon each of our hearts when He created us. Who among us does not yearn to know that we are appreciated, respected and that someone is proud of the difference our life makes.
As a boy growing up in northern Michigan I was surrounded by woods. My father was an avid hunter and lived to be in the woods tracking animals, hunting or learning more about them. When the school bus would drop me off at our driveway, my first duty upon arriving home was to get changed and load up bait. Off my father and I would go deep into the woods to setup hunting blinds, check trails or put out feed. I loved being in the bush and just the thought of bagging a huge buck would fill me with excitement. I also longed to please my father and to hear the words “Well done, I am proud of you, son,” but they never came.
My father was not saved and proud of it. As I look back, I remember when the local preacher from our small country church made a visit to the family to talk about spiritual matters. My father was polite from what I remember, but certainly not willing to bend to the truths he was hearing. He was a big man with an even bigger pride. Like most from the area, he was interested in the outdoor life rather than being inside the doors of a church. He was prone to anger and dealt out punishment for disobedience harshly. Often I felt his thundering hand but seldom a velvet touch. I vacillated from feelings of anger that my father hated me, to times when I was sure he despised me, and then at times thinking possibly he does love me. In my younger years I would do anything to just hear those words “Well done.” I could gut a white-tail deer in less than three minutes and at the age of twelve was competing in archery with grown men, but these activities failed to drag out those words I longed to hear.
In my teen years I began to rebel as hopelessness set in. I missed those words like you miss a tooth after it is pulled and your tongue keeps finding the hole. I won’t say that I thought of it everyday but as my mind probes my history I can see clearly that it was a daily driving force. Why can’t he just say it? I felt that I was a failure and as a failure you never set your sights too high in fear it will only bring hurt when you fail to achieve. Hatred became my companion and I found myself angry all the time for any little reason. I had the “don’t you dare touch me” attitude and became cocky and arrogant. Teachers loathed me, and while school was easy I felt no real need to fully apply myself.
By the age of nineteen I was married to my high school sweetheart, Tammy, and shortly after, we purchased our first home. I completed one year of college but was not driven to continue, just not seeing the need. My relationship with my father was often strained. I remember one day in particular; a quarrel had started over my yellow lab that had run away and I was angry, to put it mildly. I went to my parent’s house and kicked on the newly installed front door like a maniac. Denting the metal door, my father whom I had feared growing up, came out off the porch and confronted me in the gravel driveway. I was red hot angry, in retrospect not because of the dog, not at all, but rather because I felt cheated. I felt an emotion I did not know how to express. I wanted to hear those words, “I am proud of you son.” I remember seeing fear for the first time ever in my father’s eyes as I threatened physical action. I was lean and strong and filled with anger. I was a danger even to myself. Only by the grace of God and my older brother’s intervention, was I stopped from doing things I would have regretted forever. How can a son turn on his own father with such viciousness? Even though I myself was still not following Christ, my heart was crushed for days by my own actions as I thought of how I acted and what I did. The dent in the door served as a constant reminder to me of my shameful actions every time that I visited. His eyes… seeing that look in them… I would rather see them filled with anger towards me than filled with fear on account of me.
At the ripe age of twenty I had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. My life changed forever and my manners and conversations were completely different. For one thing I was able to love my father again and even share the Gospel with him, even though he flat out rejected the message and many times got angry. One day, leaving his house to drive the few miles back to mine, I happened to look back over my shoulder. I saw him there standing in front of the opened garage watching me leave. My father had heart troubles and had already racked up a few heart attacks by this time. Without planning it my hands took the wheel of my Bronco and pulled it to the side of the road just down from the house where I had grown up. My heart broke and I cried out to God to save my father and set him free. Yes, he was cantankerous, yes he was hard, yes he was responsible for a million other sins; so was I. The Cross of Christ makes the ground pretty level for most of us.
Several years went by without much change, but he did seem to soften with age. Shortly after coming to Christ I had gone to Honduras on a mission trip and found the reason for my existence. Telling others about Christ in the places where He was least likely to be known became my consuming passion. In the course of answering God’s call, Tammy and I and our two small daughters left Michigan for Oklahoma. Shortly after making the move my father had what would be his last heart attack. I was home in the U.S when it happened and Tammy and I drove back with our two small daughters to Michigan as quickly as possible. In retrospect, I see that our moving away really impacted my father. I am not sure if he missed his grandkids or if he missed me, but I suspect it was both.
There I was, standing beside my father’s bed, having traveled the world to tell people about Jesus and my own father had totally rejected Him. I prayed and asked for an opening to share but it did not come; until my daughter Emily, just a tiny girl, prayed unexpectedly for Grandpa while holding his hand at the side of the bed. “Lord Jesus, please save my grandpa from his sins and wash your blood over him. Make him better so I can sit on his lap again. In Jesus name, Amen!” I had to catch my breath after hearing her tender prayer so purely offered before a hard, rejecting man and a loving embracing heavenly Father. Trembling in the bed lay a once strong and proud man now broken with a bad and broken heart. Later that night he called for me and quizzed me about believing in Jesus. Again at 3:00 or 4:00 am the nurse came and told me that my dad was calling for me. From the time he entered the hospital until the time he was pronounced dead was nine days, nine days that none of us knew he would have at the time. One night, five days before his heart beat for the last time, he called for me. No longer was he the angry, hard man I had known my whole life, but now a man who seemed to be looking into eternity and knew it. He told me he had prayed for Jesus to forgive him of his sins and to take control of his life. I almost could not believe what my ears were hearing. He told me that he sensed His presence and was sure he had been forgiven. Looking back I realize that Dad did not think he could be forgiven for the terrible sins he had committed only because he did not understand what Calvary’s love was really about.
I went past his room before I left the hospital, content that his life was now in the hands of my heavenly Father. I remember him asking me if I had a minute and I sat down in the chair at the corner of the room without saying yes. My dad said, “I’ve been lying here thinking about a lot of things, things I should not have done and things I should have. Remember when I called you a fool and a poor father for leaving your family and going into war zones?” he asked. He continued before I could reply, “I never understood why until now, that you would risk something so good, like your family; leaving them to preach to people in areas were you could die. I thought you were crazy, but it is all clear to me today why you did it and if I could get out of this bed I would love to come with you one day on one of your trips.” Wow, after all this time it seemed like I was getting a nod of approval from my Dad. I knew deep down that day would never come, but just thinking about being with my father on the field stirred my heart. He seemed finished and I got up to leave. While walking out the door he said something to me with a broken voice, “Son… son, I am proud of you! I don’t know that I said it much, but want you to know how I feel.” The words hit me in the back but ripped clean to my heart. Maybe the leper who was touched by Jesus felt something similar. I’m not sure, but the touch that shattered his isolation due to leprosy surely had to change his world. I felt like a small boy again, just for a brief moment. I felt as if I had been plunged into a warm pool after years with out a bath. I was not concerned about life or death or any weighty matters; I just stood there soaking in those words. My father was proud of me!
We had to go back to Oklahoma, but would make one more sudden trip to Michigan, this time for his funeral service.
My son Hunter just walked past me while sitting here at my computer typing. I thought about how many times I have touched his world by always letting him hear the words, “Son, I am proud of you!”
Hindsight clears up what was once a murky road. I understand better, having had years to reflect and yes, my dad always loved me. Yes, he was hard and did many things wrong but I now understand that he was trapped by his own sin and tormented by his failures and had a host of other baggage. I now think he did the best he could with what he had.
Now I am waiting for one last “Well done!”
A son who loved his dad.
Kevin J Turner
Kevin, this story actually made me cry! I want to know more? Did your dad ever comment to you about your daughter's prayer? It was so lovely! Probably God caught that prayer in a special treasure box and still keeps it there to peek at now and then.
I hope you tell your daughter, too, that you are proud of her. Girls need that just as much as boys do. I'm a woman, and my dad said it to me shortly before he died. It was a gift I'll always remember.
Your story could use a little polishing, but even in the rough it is powerful.
What a beautiful, beautiful article. So heartfelt. Let the readers be encouraged knowing that our God is eagerly waiting for that one to say 'yes' to HIM. Never, never give up on loved ones...that child's simple prayer was the last touch to open his locked heart. Thank you so much for sharing this. Many can identify. GOD BLESS YOU