Today is such a challenging day. Today would have been Dad’s 56th birthday, and it is his third in the eternal presence of Christ Jesus. I rejoice in the fact that he is no longer suffering. He is sitting at the feet of Jesus, proclaiming the name above all names. And what sights he must be seeing!
And still, there is the pain of not seeing his smile, not hearing a joke or a pun, not getting to call him whenever I want to talk. While it’s been nearly three years since his passing, my heart still hurts. There are times when something will trigger a fond memory of Dad. Each time, there is a mixture of sadness and immeasurable joy.
I recently found my bible I used as a preteen. As I flipped through the pages, with passages highlighted and marked with which pastor preached which passage on which date in the early 2000s, I remembered growing up in church with Dad. The fun activities as he taught the children’s class on Wednesday nights. The awesome games he came up with leading the recreation for VBS. The day he witnessed my baptism. All the stories of the bible he shared with me from a young age. My heart filled with joy.
As I placed my preteen bible next to a stack of hymnals, I remembered the hymns and gospel music Dad shared with me. Did you know that “they tell me of an unclouded day”? I am thankful Dad encouraged me to trust in the “Rock of Ages, cleft for me.” Together, we were “leaning on the everlasting arms.” We were “standing on the promises of God.” What “precious memories” that “flood my soul!” I am thankful for these memories.
It’s also football season! Watching the Baylor Bears at McLane Stadium reminded me of the time we got to see them host Texas in 2017. That was before I began my seminary journey at Baylor, so we were both for Texas that day. Sorry, Waco friends. Then, when I began my time at Baylor’s Truett Seminary, Dad wanted us to have a rivalry together.
We got tickets to the Texas at Baylor game and were going to cheer for opposite teams, but we never got to go to that game. But I also remember Dad’s kindness. After he began hospice care, he told me of a Texas friend of ours who should get the tickets. She and her daughter joyfully raised up their Horns in front of McLane Stadium for Dad. It brought Dad joy to know they had fun at the game. If he wasn’t able to make more memories with his son at McLane Stadium, he was thrilled that our friend was able to make memories with her daughter watching our two favorite teams.
Fast forward to recent weeks, there was one game that came on for which Dad and I were always on the same side. The Red River Showdown between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners. In an incredible performance by the Horns, Texas shutout Oklahoma this year, 49-0. Wow! Dad would have been grinning and shouting the entire game!
I am thankful for a quarter century of memories made with Dad. The odd thing about grief is that I would never want it to fully go away. Because I enjoy these memories. These memories give me joy. They remind me of a loving Dad who cared for me more than I could ever imagine. As another one of his birthdays comes to a close, I am also thankful for another thing that was constant in our lives. Prayer.
A few weeks ago, I volunteered with our church’s youth group as I normally do on Sundays and Wednesdays. I have a special place in my heart for these wonderful teenagers who love the Lord and are passionate about their care for others. I am also thankful for my friend, Scott, who leads them as the minister of youth.
On a Sunday night a few weeks ago, Scott had prayer stations set up. For a while he stressed to the youth about the importance of prayer, and now we spent an hour of prayer. There was a station with art books where students could think and pray about what God was showing them through art. There was a station with current events so students could pray for people in our world. I was personally drawn to Lectio Divina, the practice of praying over Scripture.
I remembered finding a devotional Dad wrote in the 1990s, when I was just a few years old. He shared it with his grandmother who inspired him to lead a devotional on Psalm 107. And so, there I sat, praying over the words of the Psalmist, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” As tears streamed down my face, I remembered Dad praying with me often.
When I was a young child, Dad taught me how to pray. We would write down what we wanted to pray for. Ourselves. Our loved ones. Our world around us. And then we would pray. Growing up, we would end each night in prayer. If I fell asleep having forgotten to pray with Dad, he would wake me up so we could pray together. Then I would go back to sleep.
As I sat at that prayer station a few weeks ago, with these memories bringing a smile to my face, I listened to the instrumental music Scott had playing throughout that hour of prayer. I’m still “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” I am whispering the words to “It is Well.” I am asking the Spirit to “lead me where my trust is without borders.” And I am praying, with the Psalmist, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”
That same weekend, Dr. York had us think about the value of prayer before we engaged in a class discussion the following Monday. I reflected on how prayer brings me closer to God, a God who wants me to share my wants, requests, and desires. Prayer reminds me to rejoice in a God who loves me beyond all measure, a God on whom I fully depend. God tells us in 1 Chronicles 16:12, “When you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you” (NRSV). Prayer allows me to have a relationship with a God who wants to spend time with me. Praise God!
In my Hebrew class, Dr. Poe Hays has us read the same Hebrew prayer often. I am still struggling with the consonant and vowel sounds, and so this prayer helps. But more importantly, it reminds me to thank God, for God gives me knowledge.
A few weeks ago, Truett hosted the African American Preaching Conference. It was a wonderful few days in which powerful proclaimers preached God’s Word and encouraged us to trust in God. It ended on a Thursday with two preachers. Dr. Jaqueline Thompson encouraged us to place ourselves firmly on Christ Jesus as our cornerstone. Before her sermon, Dr. Clayborn Lea reminded preachers that we need prayer. Amen. We need prayer. I believe in the power of prayer. I am thankful for Dad in instilling in me the value of prayer.
Going back to my memories of learning hymns with Dad, I have meditated on the words to the hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” What sweet memories were shared with Dad in prayer! What a sweet hour of spending time in prayer with amazing youth! What sweet moments in class and at a conference where the power of prayer was discussed!
I am thankful to Dad for praying with me often. I am thankful to God for a dad who valued prayer. These past couple of weeks, I have resonated with the following lines of this hymn by W. W. Walford:
“In seasons of distress and grief, my soul has often found relief, and oft escaped the tempter’s snare, by thy return, sweet hour of prayer.”
Oh sweet, sweet hour of prayer. This is a difficult season for sure, especially this day. But thanks to Dad, who instilled in me the value of prayer, my soul can find relief and rest. My soul can escape the tempter’s snare. When I struggle and don’t know which way to turn, may I remember Dad’s example. May I return to the sweet hour of prayer!
Sweet Hour of Prayer by Mahalia Jackson
Sweet Hour of Prayer by Alan Jackson