“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:16-17
Moving back into his dad’s house was humiliating enough but to add further ego injury to self-pitying insult, the old family pet, perhaps on its last proverbial leg, just chewed up his favorite running shoes. This was a “double-whammy” because he loved those shoes and while they literally took him everywhere their tattered remains reminded him how shredded and lifeless his life had become. He just couldn’t get it together and get his life off the ground especially with layoffs, constant cutbacks, and the collapse of his dreams and ambitions. His meager savings only went so far and although he was grateful, he had to face harsh reality and come back home where those dreams first took shape and give it another shot. His best bet, he thought, was to enroll in a local trade school and recreate himself. His father seemed to have been living in a parallel universe with similar but not equal issues brewing overhead like a threatening thunderstorm. “So close but so far” was the way he described his situation to the lifetime neighbors who would still listen. After raising two strong boys and a beautiful, talented daughter who had all moved out of that spacious homestead years before, he and his wife were just two years away from paying off the house and enjoying the future of retirement they had often discussed, even while they were dating. All that evaporated in a seemingly horrible flash of tragedy when she suffered a burst aneurysm. He had to refinance the home to help pay for the uncovered medical expenses and of course, her sad funeral which comprised, in his heart and soul, the longest day of his life.
Living together under the same roof was at times awkward and yet strangely comfortable. Both men were stubborn in their own way and didn’t really talk about their problems and struggles much. Their relationship was good at the present moment, but not great. It had been so wonderful growing up because it was like they were best friends. But at some tender, delicate point in the history of their family, the young son at sixteen suddenly discovered that he knew everything while his dad at midlife never seemed to receive enough thanks and gratitude for all the sacrifices he endured. These two men, who actually began to look a bit alike in these later years, drifted apart a bit which became painfully obvious when their wife and mother abruptly left them. And yet, as God would have it, they were a family again.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:9-10
One night, in two different bedrooms of that lonely old house, two different self-conversations were taking place. The father longed to help his son but did not want to hurt his pride or back hand insult him in any way, shape or form. His son counted the situation as unfair for his dad to have to work so hard all over again after a very full life of tireless dedication accompanied by a loving heart that just would not stop giving. They both decided to do something quite heroic and selfless, like father – like son, but behind the scenes so as not to disrupt their father-son relationship which was slowly regaining ground and depth.
The local grocery chain needed graveyard employees to stock the shelves overnight to be ready for the onslaught of customers for the following day. They also needed early morning drivers to haul inventory to and from the warehouse right before the stores would open. Over the next seven months, the son would wait for his dad to get to bed, early as was his custom, then carefully leave to start the graveyard shift to stock the shelves. And like clockwork, an hour or so after he returned and tried to get some sleep before training school, his father quietly got up, made his coffee, pet and fed the dog, and drove away to haul inventory for about five hours every day except Sunday.
Midst this amazing scenario were at least two fascinating marvels: the first was how their little secret was so carefully guarded by them for each other, and how they never quite figured out how each month, the bank never called about the missing mortgage payment and the school never said anything about the expected mounting tuition and computer fees that had yet to be paid. It was funny in a way because both men had worked at that same location as teenagers and there they were again, many years apart, and traveling under the moonlit sky like two ships passing in the night. Even the familiar, uniform, loose-fitting, bright blue company shirts had not been altered over the years.
“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3:14
As the seasons began their predictable moments of change and color, startling weather patterns emerged and brought unexpected bursts of thunderstorms one particular week. Although those who had called this place “home” were most accustomed to these dramatic climate mood swings, there were at least two who were not prepared. One particular gusting downpour caused momentary havoc at the store. The shelf-stocking son had been delayed and several trucks had been damaged by hail. This placed him much later than he realized to get home and get ready for school this time with no nap to revive him for the day ahead. “Thank God,” he thought, as there was a full moon to light up the drenched streets. His dad was right on time as he prepared for his day, perhaps unlike any other, and wondered why his son’s truck was already gone. And that’s when it happened. Out on the back patio, they met, one dry, one wet, both in loving astonishment for when they clapped eyes on each other, wearing that familiar uniform albeit cheaply embroidered with the store’s logo, they both immediately and simultaneously realized what had been going on for months. And with the gentle moonlight blessing their love and admiration for each other, they embraced and cried with any relatable words escaping them only to let the dawn slowly envelop them with the greatest discovery of this powerful force of wisdom and courage that would, from that moment on, ever shape their worldview, and respect that most fathers and sons could only imagine. Sometimes the hardest lesson to realize in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn. Both men decided to cross the bridge to each other and seek always to be at peace. Imagine a world where this is the rule and not the exception.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born and knows God.” John 4:7
Years have passed and the father has gone to meet his wife in their heavenly reward. Today that young man who finally got his act together has begun his own legacy of life and limb and with a wife and two young sons, his hands will be full. When they first bought their new home, miles away from his childhood neighborhood, he insisted on building an outdoor attached patio in the backyard. His wife and children understand what the back patio means and why their dad spends much-needed quiet time out there. Unquestionably, he insists on having all his most important conversations and moments outside on the back patio. It is almost a shrine and when anyone ever asks him why it’s so important, he loves to retell the story of how he found the greatest discovery under the moonlit sky after a refreshing rain. His new dog just stares and wonders why he keeps hiding his running shoes.
He loves to say that everyone needs a back patio.
Maybe he’s right.
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“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7