Monday, June 21, 2010
The Tale of a Preacher's Kid
Christmas Eve, 1989.
Two figures trudged briskly through falling snow, racing sunset toward the western edge of town. There, standing proud against the darkening sky, an icy steeple shimmered.
The larger figure surveyed the serene country church while the boy gazed up at him. The man pursed his lips at the sight of a snow-covered sidewalk. He took five large leaps to reach the bright blue double doors, leaving snow craters up the walkway. Time was running out.
The boy's fingers tingled with cold and excitement. This was his first time and he wouldn't let the preacher down! With great determination and limited success he followed his hero's giant footprints up the walkway and into the foyer. He sucked in frigid air and puffed out his chest like a real man. Best Christmas ever!
Pastor Dan wiped his glasses, checked his watch, and offered the child a plastic red shovel. The boy snatched it like a trophy, darted into the night, and flung snow with earnest intensity rivaled only by Paul Revere's midnight ride.
They bustled for an hour. Shoveling snow, lighting candles, queuing holiday hymns, and changing into black suits and Christmas ties. With minutes to spare they took seats on the stage, overlooking the small sanctuary. It was breathtaking. No light but the stained glass windows dancing with the candles. Thick maroon carpet to warm chilly toes. Elegant mahogany pews replete with velvet cushions. And instrumental music to complete the effect.
People trickled in and out without a word, sprinkling themselves around the room in family clusters. They sat quietly, meditating. When a father was ready he led his clan quietly to the altar where they knelt in a row. Pastor Dan stood, signaled for his helper to get the elements, and knelt gracefully at the altar to pray with and administer communion to each family member. It was a solemn Christmas tradition.
The boy watched with rapt attention as family after family knelt at the altar. He watched their faces glow as Pastor Dan took their hands in his, looked them in the eyes, and reminded them of Jesus' love.
People traveled from everywhere to be with Pastor Dan on Christmas Eve. He was the most important man in the county. The little boy beamed with pride at how lucky he was. Other boys were jealous of him no doubt. "Someday," he promised himself as he held the communion cups, "you'll be a pastor just like Dad."
Christmas Eve, 1998.
A pimple faced teenager sprinted through the front door toward his room, leaving clods of snow behind him. The bedroom door slammed shut while the front door swung in the wind. Five minutes to slip on jeans and return to the mega-church. More than 1,000 people would attend the production. Sleigh rides, a choir, 50 fellow volunteers, and cute girls everywhere!
After an extra squirt of cologne he nearly collided with his father on the way out. Dad's tired eyes caught his for a moment but the boy looked quickly away. What had become of his hero? Nobody traveled to see him anymore. Since the move he was just an ordinary guy. Most nights he sat alone at the computer, studying. So what if it was the only way to keep food on the table. The boy was no longer impressed.
"See ya around Dad," he brushed by, leaving his hero behind. "I'm gonna be a preacher someday."
Christmas Eve, 2007.
An arrogant young man sat alone in his Chinese apartment. He had already deployed teams of young adults for an evening of yuletide evangelism. Christmas music played happily in the background but he didn't hear it. Painstakingly he dialed an international phone code for America.
His father waited eagerly for the call, nostalgically relaying news of the latest Christmas snowstorm. Through muffled speakers they dreamed about future ministry together. "Just like the old days," they reminisced, talking fondly of the church with blue doors and stained glass windows.
As the conversation unfolded their voices escalated in debate. The boy wanted unquestioned authority in their future partnership. He refused his father's concerns about his maturity. Lashing out, he underscored several flashy successes and compared them to the modest country days.
Pastor Dan softly hung up the phone, saddened by his son's foolish and hurtful words. He gazed at the Christmas tree until the lights blurred together, praying for his son, the leader.
Light snow fell as two couples huddled on the old couch. A broken man wept bitterly, tears streaming down his cheeks. Alternately sniffling and blowing his nose, he hid behind untrimmed bangs. Waves of realization ravaged him when he finally dared to lock eyes with his father.
The two men looked away and lost themselves in the Christmas tree. Presents long since opened, dead pine needles raining from the fading evergreen. Ornaments to commemorate past Christmases dangled precariously in the silence.
For a decade the boy had ignored his dad. Written him off as a casualty of ministry. The truth was heartbreaking. His own failure, like an electric shock, jolted him to see his father clearly again. For the steady hero that he was. The boy's eyes welled with tears of regret while sparkling ornaments cast shadows all around.
To his surprise his dad slid off of the couch and into the old communion position. He took his son's hands in his, like he had so many times before, and reminded him of Jesus' love. If only the boy had payed attention he would have learned that dad had been ministering all along.