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A Tale of Two Fathers

“…even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Eph. 1:4-6)

***

Our Father in heaven is the perfect example of what a father ought to be like. He is, therefore, the model that should be followed in families. Children who have godly fathers – that is fathers who obey the Lord in faithfully following His commands and displaying humility, love and mercy – have a wonderful guideline for how to behave in their own lives.

Children who do not have godly fathers, will have a difficult time finding their way in life.

***

There was a rather unique story in an English newspaper recently about a little girl who had lost her father, a man by the name of Tony, when she was just four months old. The article gave no information as to how her father had died – whether the man had been ill, had been a casualty of war, or had suffered an accident. The readers were simply told that since the age of 4 months the little girl had been raised by her mother. Such things do happen and, by the grace of God, they can work out fine. The eight-year-old girl was from Braunstone, Leicester in the UK.

In June, when Father’s Day rolled around this last summer, the child felt uneasy and somewhat left out. All her friends were making cards and presents for their dads, but she had no one for whom to make a gift. So she thought to write a letter to her dead father, something she had done before on special occasions. Her mother said it was fine for her to do so again. When the little girl had finished her letter, which was filled with “I love you, Dad!” and “I miss you, Dad!” she asked her mom where her father now lived and what address she should put on the envelope into which she had neatly folded the letter. Her mother replied: “Put down Heaven, Cloud 9.”

There are two reactions that the initial part of this anecdote brings to mind and heart. One is anger and the other is compassion. Obviously, there had been no interaction between the girl and the mother about where dead people might be. For the mother to tell her child that she could connect with her earthly, dead father by mailing a letter to an imaginary, fuzzy, warm-feeling type of place was fundamentally misleading; and for the mother to leave out the comfort of a very real Heavenly Father Who desires a relationship through prayer was to put her child on a path of hopelessness.

The letter was duly mailed and when a postman named Simon opened the red pillar mailbox on his route he happened to notice it. He saw that the envelope did not carry postage and that it was addressed to “Dad in Heaven, Cloud 9.” Having recently lost his own father, he asked his manager if he could try to locate the family to discover who sent the letter. Having obtained permission, he took a picture of the envelope and posted it on Facebook. Thousands of people responded. The mother and child were subsequently tracked down and the Facebook responses were sent on to them. The mother was astonished at all the responses that had come in.

“I haven’t stopped crying since,” she said, “I never thought for a second that anyone would find the letter or do anything with it.”

Simon the postman later met the little girl and gifted her a father-daughter figurine as a remembrance. Her mother placed the Facebook comments in a box for the little girl as a memento.

Perhaps some of the people who responded to the Facebook photo sent messages of a heavenly Father. We are not privy to that information.

***

My own father, Louis Praamsma, was also very young, (he was six years old), when his father, Riemer Praamsma, passed away. Riemer Praamsma, who was a Christian school principal, died of pneumonia. Before he died, however, he left instructions for his children as to how to deal with his death, and his wife made sure that all the children would receive these instructions.

My father, Louis Praamsma, decades later, still remembered what had happened, and he wrote it down before he himself died, so that I and my five siblings would also be guided even as he had been guided. These were his words.

“When my father suddenly fell ill in 1916, I and my six siblings were all parceled out amongst relatives for ten long weeks. At the onset of these weeks, however, I was sent for to stand at his bedside. My father had himself taught me to read, and the family Bible was placed in my small hands. I have now forgotten so many things, but I have never forgotten that my father asked me, at this time, to find Psalm 25. When I had found it, he said, ‘Read, Louis. Read the first few verses of this psalm.’ And I read:                 

‘To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul, O my God, in You I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for You shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.’ 

“I have especially remembered the next few verses – verses 4 and 5 of this psalm: 

‘Make me to know Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day long.'”

The picture of my father as a little boy standing in front of his father’s deathbed is solidly imprinted in my mind. All of six years old, he was undoubtedly not totally aware of the gravity of the situation. His miniature hands could barely hold the large Bible and his immature voice read in a thin, childish treble. When he was done with the passage, he saw his father nod with satisfaction and that made him feel good. My father always recalled that moment. It was the last time that he saw his father alive.

He told me more about his father’s death. He related that a huge crowd of schoolchildren followed their principal’s funeral carriage on its way to the cemetery. Every child and adult wore black and the carriage itself was also shrouded in black. And at the grave-side hundreds of voices sang:

Lo, as for man, his days are like a shadow,
Like tender grass and flowers of the meadow,
Whose morning beauty fadeth with the day;
For when the wind but lightly passeth o’er it
‘Tis gone anon and nothing can restore it;
‘Tis found no more, it vanisheth for aye.

After the funeral, the Praamsma house was filled to overflowing with people, all bringing their condolences to the bereft widow and the brood of seven children. My father, Louis Praamsma, walking between the crowd of legs, hardly realized that his beloved friend and companion was gone and would never come back. He later penned for his own children to read:

“I had such little conception of death that I did not fully understand that I would never see my father again. Caught up in the crowd of mourners who surrounded my mother, I suddenly walked up to a grown man, reached for his hands, and tried to ‘climb up.’ It was something my father had always done with me. Taking both my hands, he would allow me to ‘climb up’ and then, with a flourish, would swing me through the air before depositing me on the ground once more. But even though for a moment I thought that the stranger was my father, I quickly comprehended that he was not.

“When I later questioned my mother as to why my father was not coming back, as to why he had died, she gave me an answer that I shall also never forget. ‘It is,’ she told me, ‘because God has better use for father in heaven than He has for him here on earth.’

“That answer gave me peace.”

Evangelism, making disciples of all nations, surely begins at home.

Perhaps that little girl in England will also have someone who will speak to her at some time about a heavenly Father with whom she can have a relationship. Perhaps someone will point her to all the notes and letters that this Father has written to His children.

***

It is incumbent upon all of us to endeavor to make disciples of our children, of little neighbor girls and boys, and of all the people God places on our way each day. Jesus has said so:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20

Christine Farenhorst has a new book out, “Listen! Six men you should know,” with biographies on an intriguing selection of famous figures: Norman Rockwell, Sigmund Freud, Samuel Morse, Rembrandt, Albert Schweitzer, and Martin Luther King Jr. You can find it via online retailers including Dortstore.com.


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A matter of seeing: decay and delights to consider

Some years back we rented a little island cottage north of Kingston, Ontario, sight unseen, for the first week of July.  The fact that in a world filled with animosity and chaos – spiritually as well as financially – we could freely do such a thing as rent a cottage was truly amazing.  We read of beheadings, homicides, protests, countless refugee camps; of the persecuted, impoverished and dying; of massive and mind-boggling national debts; and we were free and able to go to a cottage.  It is something to digest - something over which to chew. It was a Friday afternoon when we traveled along the 401 towards our destination. We stopped at a small motel across from the Brighton Christian Reformed Church where, forty-two years ago, our second daughter had been baptized by my oldest brother. My brother is now with the Lord; the church, however, and its denomination, have deteriorated incredibly. We walked around the church building with a pang and thought, “How the mighty have fallen,” but Paul's voice reproved us as we drove away across the black parking lot, “... let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Four score and some years… Saturday morning we drove on towards Elgin, bought some fruit and then, became a trifle lost.  We asked directions from a man who was an apparent four score and some years – a man who was motoring along on the edge of his driveway in a wheelchair.  He was a friendly sort, all gummy smiles and anxious to help.  After he had pointed us in the right direction, he began to back up his wheelchair... towards the nearby ditch. My husband, Anco, spoke loudly through the open window, "Stop! Stop, sir!  There's a ditch behind you!" His voice grew louder as the thin, old figure smilingly continued to move backwards. "Stop! Stop!" It was too late. The wheelchair and its occupant slid down a small embankment.  The octogenarian fell backwards off his seat and tumbled onto the grass.  We were both out of the car in an instant, as was another motorist passing by. Thin glasses had been knocked off.  We reached him as he, on all fours, was reaching for them. A little dazed, the man still smiled as we carefully helped him up. "You really have to watch those culverts," he said and grinned, while blood dribbled down his nose from small cut next to his left eye. "Are you all right?" I held onto his arm, and he nodded brightly. "I'm fine, really I am." My husband and the other motorist retrieved the mechanized wheelchair, rolling it back onto the driveway.  I held a kleenex on his cut and like a child that has fallen off his bicycle for the first time, he climbed back on the wheelchair full of courage. "I hit the reverse instead of the forward," he said, "I should have known better." Anco checked the cut, but it was small and he seemed fine.  So we drove off as he waved to us. Good news and bad We launched our boat at the appointed dock at Sand Lake.  The owner, who was to meet us and guide us to the cottage, was late. She arrived in a small aluminum boat, exclaiming as she jumped out, "You must be Anco and Christine.  Sorry about the wait." We nodded and she went on. "There's good news and bad news.  I'll give you the bad news first." We nodded again. "There was a fire in your cottage last night and the fire department had to come.  The good news is that the cottage did not burn down and my daughter and myself have been cleaning all day." We sympathized greatly, raised our eyebrows at one another when she wasn't looking, and followed her, boat-wise, out to the cottage.  A little three-room construction on a beautiful hilly, three-acre island met our eyes.  Fir trees, mossy rocks, a female loon nesting on a little outcropping by the dock, all met our expectations of a northern getaway.  Disembarking and loading ourselves down with food and luggage, we climbed up a small path towards the front door.  As we entered the smell of smoke pricked our nostrils.  The upstairs bedroom ceiling was somewhat blackened but, on the whole, with the windows flung wide open, things seemed to be under control. "The last people," Joan, our landlady, volunteered, "foolishly lit a candle before drifting off to sleep and the lampshade under which the candle was standing caught fire.  The wife burned one of her hands trying to put the fire out.  She had to go to emergency.  They left a day early." We nodded once more and felt compelled to say that, generally speaking, we were not in the habit of burning candles. Joan next related that a John 3:16 framed Bible text had been standing on the night table but, amazingly enough, it had not caught fire.  This was something which had confounded the pyromaniac couple causing them to exclaim, "Your God did not burn!"  Joan, who was a Christian, smiled as she told us this, commenting that perhaps this would give them something to think about. Wonders to behold We spent the week fishing, playing Boggle, reading Spurgeon sermons and marveling at God's creation. There was a scarlet tanager moment in which we noted a small splotch of red in a rock pool - a crimson fifth-day creature stretching its wings as it bathed.  God must have smiled when he pronounced this bird good. We often heard the raucous cry of the great blue heron as he skimmed by and saw, nearby, the dark belly and the white tail of the bald eagle majestically soar overhead.  Again and again, the muskrat, apparently undaunted by our presence, swam up to and past our boat towards rock crevices on the shore.  Daily the female loon, whom we dubbed Constance for her faithfulness in brooding her eggs, eyed us as we paddled by on our way out.  A cerulean warbler sang a duet with a pine warbler.  Water lilies lined inlets and little bays.  During the day, the high heavens above declared how great God's love was towards us; and as we contentedly fished in the evening, the red-balled setting sun in the west sang of the immeasurable distance God had removed our sins from us.  The osprey as well as the kingfisher dove, the big and small mouthed bass bit, and we tanned under God's goodness. Something better coming Yet we were unable to forget that we are pilgrims and continue to be pilgrims en route to a much, much better place than Sand Lake or any other northern getaway.  For even as we enjoyed and glorified God's goodness, Genesis 3 lurked in the background. We noted that creation has many thorns and thistles. There was poison ivy to avoid.  Fly-catchers hunted dragonflies and other insects. Bald eagles and osprey ate fish. Owls hunted mice... and so the list went on.  And in the background, the newspaper headlines we had left behind, whispered of terrorist organizations, human turkey vultures, seemingly devouring God's people as if eating bread.  Neither could we hide from the rampant materialism, egoism and self-centeredness breeding around and in ourselves.  It skulked in our hearts and minds; it hid in the weeds as we trolled the shores of earthly life for a piece of the action. On our way home, we stopped to say hello to the man who had fallen off his wheelchair.  Full of good cheer, he was glad to see us.  He told us that when he had fallen off his wheelchair, one of the things that had initially concerned him the most was that he might have lost his eye.  It seemed that his left eye was made of glass.  He was greatly relieved that it had remained in place in spite of the fall.  We told him that we had prayed for his well-being and he smiled broadly. We drove off thinking about the man's eye, and about eyes in general. After the fall, the continued though spoiled beauty in nature is God's gift; and the promise of a totally renewed nature – both for the earth and for ourselves – through our Lord Jesus Christ, is grace.  And Paul's words of hope followed us as we drove home on the highway, "For, as it is written, no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him" (I Cor. 2:9). This first appeared in the November 2015 issue. Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, including "Hidden: Stories of War and Peace," "Katharina, Katharina: the story of Katharina Schutz Zell," and "The Sweet Taste of Providence."...


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