Fatherly Memories Hang upon "The Holding Tree"
- 2010 19 Jun
Years ago, my father gave me an old hall tree—one of the antique oak furnishings discarded from his office at work. On Daddy’s own hall tree at home, and on every doorknob, nail, or hook in his bedroom hung his weathered hats and wrinkled clothes. When my dad finished working in the yard or on an antique car, he would promptly deposit his stained pants and faded work shirts on the nearest “hang up” spot— for repeated wear the next day (or until Mom could sneak them out for laundering).
After my father’s death a few years ago, Mom returned a few of Daddy’s hats to me—some I had given him years before as gifts. Now my hall tree holds some of the hats he once hung in the foyer of his home.
In a sense, the branches of that “tree” symbolized a restful holding place where I could store my prayers, memories, and concerns. Whenever I passed by that oak structure, I remembered particularly the times we prayed for my father. For over twenty years, we deposited prayers for his health—from the first heart attack until his last heart beat. The first time he literally passed from life to death to life again. It was only a minute—sixty seconds—but I’m sure it seemed like eons to my mom until the doctors shocked his heart back into an even rhythm. A few years later another attack followed, but again he survived.
Shortly after Dad’s early retirement, the doctors discovered a blockage, following a routine cauterization. My father needed open heart surgery. I asked God, “Like the biblical King Hezekiah, please give Daddy at least fifteen more years.”
My father’s schedule slowed down somewhat, but God answered our prayers and gave him more time. He still managed to pastor and help smaller churches for several years. But eventually Daddy’s heart began to weaken. Even a pacemaker couldn’t help.
One sunny day on the front lawn Daddy stooped down to inspect the front flowerbed. When Mom found him, his six-foot-four frame lay prone on their manicured lawn. Mother, holding him in her arms, tried to help him up, but his strength had vanished. A man who had always believed, “I can,” whispered to her, “I…just…can’t…make…it.” And then he was gone.
Like many who struggle with grief, my system shut down for a time in shock. Questions flooded like a river: “Why didn’t I call sooner?” “Why did he have to leave this world so soon?” “Could I have done more to help?” And memories of the past rushed to my mind as I replayed the tapes of childhood, teenage, and adult years.
I had hung some of those memories on the hall tree. One was from a Christmas a few years before Daddy died. Not known for extravagant gifts, (Daddy was quite frugal—we kidded him for being “tight”) his gift to us kids that Christmas caught us off guard. It wasn’t the cost—in dollars—but the time spent in preparing that gift that meant so much. As the family gathered together for the grand opening, my father mysteriously disappeared and returned with a tape recorder. Then, with our mouths gaping open and tears trickling down our faces, we listened to our “gift.”
When we were children, Daddy had a habit of sneaking in a tape recorder on special occasions. Often he would encourage us to ham it up, sing a favorite tune, or recite our Christmas wish list. Daddy had first recorded the tapes on a wire spool. He enlisted a professional to transfer one of those old tapes to a reel-to-reel recorder, then finally onto a cassette.
As I listened to my own preschool ramblings on that tape at our family gathering, I realized how many years had passed since my childhood. I wondered then how many more times God would bless our holidays with a complete family circle. Unfortunately, not enough.
Only one more Christmas arrived where the entire family gathered with Daddy present. As each of us took turns that last year sharing what had been our favorite Christmas, I heard my father echo what had easily become mine—the Christmas when he had given each of us that childhood tape. As is so often true, the giver always gains a greater blessing than the receiver—but in this case, I think it was a tie.
When my father died, he didn’t leave an abundance of personal belongings. Among my cherished treasures are one of his Bibles, a batch of his best sermons, his barely legible, hand-written letters to me, a hat or two, a flannel shirt I snuggle up in on cold days, a few other trinkets—and a tape that spelled love, T-I-M-E.
Perhaps that gift was Daddy’s way of making up for all the times when ministry pulled him away from family—when someone else’s crisis needed his attention—or when yet another meeting demanded his leadership. At any rate, it was one of his best gifts.
Through the years our “holding tree” has become even more than a storage place for prayers and memories. That piece of furniture symbolizes a place to hang my heart. It represents a place where, along with damp umbrellas and hats, I can hang up my worries to dry temporarily—a place where my Heavenly Father holds out loving arms any day, any time. There, like a giant oak tree, He gives me shade, comfort, and a peg-like branch to “hang out” my cares and concerns for awhile.
Rebecca Barlow Jordan is an inspirational speaker, greeting card writer, and best-selling author of 11 books. Her devotional book, Daily in Your Presence, Intimate Conversations with a Loving Father (about the names and attributes of God) is featured on Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Rebecca and her books, and sign up for her newsletter, at www.rebeccabarlowjordan.com.
© 2009, Rebecca Barlow Jordan, excerpted from At Home in My Heart, Preparing a Place for His Presence. Used with permission of the author.
Original publication date: June 22, 2009