Birthday Burnings and Pleas for Mercy

Josh and Me (2)

Josh,

You would have turned 37 today. Mom and I may not have necessarily enjoyed the pleasure of your company this very day. You would likely have pulled a double at the restaurant. But we would have caught up with you on your day off, maybe even watched the Super Bowl this Sunday, played perhaps with properly inflated balls.

I would grill you a ribeye, medium rare, just as you liked it. Mom would have baked you one of those killer “Black Magic” cakes – a Heff birthday tradition. We would have sipped a Zin brought by you purchased inevitably above my pastoral price point. And the preacher in Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 would have smiled upon us: “There is nothing better for a person than he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”

But you are gone. I miss you.

Love,

Dad

Those horrible words sink in yet another heart-stabbingly relentless time. Just when I thought I survived January 18, the 28th brings another of grief”s battering waves.

Once again, where does a grieving father turn? He goes to His father above. And He never disappoints.

There this miserable-memory morning I read these words from another familiar-with-suffering servant:

Job gives utterance to a mood which is not foreign to us when he says, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that You set a guard over me?” In certain moods of anguish the human heart says to God, “I wish You would leave me alone; why should I be used for things which have no appeal to me?” In the Christian life we are not being used for our own designs at all, but for the fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus Christ. He has prayed that we baffled-to-fight-bettermight be “one with Him as He is one with the Father”; consequently God is concerned only about that one thing, and He never says “By your leave.” Whether we like it or not, God will burn us in His fire until we are as pure as He is, and it is during the process that we cry, as Job did, “I wish You would leave me alone.” God is the only Being who can afford to be misunderstood; we cannot, Job could not, but God can. If we are misunderstood we “get about” the man as soon as we can. St. Augustine prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.” God never vindicates Himself, He deliberately stands aside and lets all sorts of slanders heap on Him, yet He is not in any hurry. We have the idea that prosperity, or happiness, or morality, is the end of a man’s existence; according to the Bible it is something else, “to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever.” When a man is right with God, God puts His honor in that man’s keeping. Job was one of those in whom God staked His honor, and it was during the process of His inexplicable ways that Job makes his appeal for mercy, and yet all through there comes out his implicit confidence in God. “And blessed is he, who is not offended because of Me,” said Our Lord (Oswald Chambers, Baffled to Fight Better: Job and the Problem of Suffering, Discovery House, 1990, p. 41-42, emphasis added).

I’m not a 21st century Job. Not even close. But I do need mercy. Thus I appeal.

Sovereign God, if I belong to that privileged company “Guardians of Your Honor,” and I believe I do, only by grace, then burn away as You please. But have mercy on me for I am but a sinful, grieving man dealing with this birthday’s burnings. I admit it. I sometimes wish you would leave me alone. But not so much that I entertain offense at my Savior and abandon my implicit confidence in You.

Writing a Tribute to Your Parents

Dennis Rainey, in his book The Tribute: Whatever Every Parent Longs to Hear (Thomas Nelson, 1994, 288 pages), advocates every son or daughter writing a tribute of honor to their parents at some point in their life. He also advises presenting that written tribute publicly, usually on some milestone date in their lives.

On July 23 of 2004 my parents marked their 50th wedding anniversary. I struggled with what to give them since they possess so much due to God’s blessing in their lives.

It was then that I read Rainey’s book and found it inspirational, helpful, and practical. He talks about the biblical importance of honor and goes into quite some detail how to write a tribute. He wrestles with tough subjects like how to honor parents who have been abusive and less than honorable in their parenting. He also provides numerous examples of tributes people have sent in over the years. It’s worth the read.

It may be a bit late to write something like this for your Mom with less than twenty-four hours left before Mother’s Day, but I would commend the idea to your thinking for Father’s Day in June or some other event in the future.

I finish this little exhortation with a copy of my version to my folks. They matted and framed a copy and placed it on the family picture wall of their home in Viera. God worked wonderfully that night of their anniversary. My hope is that this might serve to prompt you to do something similar on the right occasion as God leads.

The Best Gift I Can Give
A Tribute to My Parents on their 50th Wedding Anniversary

Dear Dad & Mom,

I wondered long and hard, even prayed, about what present to get you for this momentous occasion. God’s voice was clear. Give them honor. Write a tribute.

Memories from these years as your son came back like a flood. I thank you for them all. I honor you for the earliest memory – joining me on the floor to play with my cowboys and Indians fort. I honor you for the latest memory – turning your 50th into an occasion to gift your children with stunning generosity.

I honor you for all the memories in between – not just for the memories, but for what they represent – love, family, care, commitment. Some of those memories seem more insignificant than others. Certain ones belong to you, Mom. Whipping up the world’s greatest chicken pot pie. Decorating a perfect tree every Christmas Eve. Teaching me how to cook, wash, and even iron for college. Instilling in me the importance of writing thank you notes.

Others come from you, Dad. Tutoring me through Mr. Donnely’s tortuous 7th grade math class. Taking me to see the Phillies play at Connie Mack stadium. Letting me drive the corvette to the prom even though it cost you a night’s sleep. Being able to fix absolutely anything. Making me help build that endless stone wall in Berwyn.

Still more have to do with you both, and the family. Singing “I wish I was a Colorado Marmot” under the Rocky Mountain summer night sky. Tolerating my rock band blasting sixties songs in the garage. Attending all my plays and graduations. Letting me get a hamster. Buying me a 12-string guitar.

I honor you for those lesser memories and these weightier ones. Mom – breaking the generational chain of addiction by trusting Christ as your Savior and relentlessly facing Goliath-like issues with God’s help.

Dad – not just marrying Mom though I came with the package, but even adopting me as your very own son. I gladly bear the family name, Heffelfinger.

Both of you – raising me in the church where I received my call to the ministry. Nurturing my love for music, theater, and speech – recognizing my unique bent and never trying to make me into someone I wasn’t. Refusing to allow my foolish dishonor in leaving college against your wishes to drive an ultimate, endless wedge into our relationship. Standing with me and Nancy in the hardest choices of our lives – leaving CCVF in ’79 and heading for Idaho in ’98.

And certainly on this day, July 23, 2004, I honor you for the testimony of covenant- keeping marriage – for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, until death do you part. In all of this you haven’t been perfect, any more than I or any of us have been perfect. But you have been real, faithful, loving, devoted, and enduring. For these things and so much more, I honor you. I give you tribute. You are exactly what God wanted me to have. Praise be to His name!

Your loving and forever grateful son,

Curt

Leviticus 19:32