I’d like to tell you about a man I know. We met over 30 years ago and, for a time, were very close. In fact, you might even say we were family. We got along ok during those early years but there were some things about him that seemed to get in the way of our relationship. I looked at him as kind of a bible thumping, holy rolling, Christian goody two-shoes. It bothered me that I felt like I needed to hide all of my alcohol before he and his wife came for a visit. What right did he have to look down on me because I drank? Besides, I didn’t drink all that much in the first place (a few years later I learned that his father had been an alcoholic who left his wife and children to move to Virginia and never came back…I thank God daily for my sobriety). I dreaded his visits and would only go with my wife to visit them on holidays, or if someone died (kind of like I went to church in those days). We would act like family then again go our separate ways. Actually I thought that was pretty normal for this type of relationship. Oh, did I mention yet that he was my father-in-law?
A couple of years later things got worse. By that time his daughter (my wife) and I began to argue and fight on a regular basis. We separated then got back together. Then we had a daughter. Her “PaPa” latched on to her from day one. Before she was 2 her mother and I separated for good. Not even a beautiful baby girl could keep us together. PaPa stepped in even more after I was out of the house. He would call Taylor (our daughter) every day and come to see her almost as often. He would become such a big part of her life that at times I even found myself being jealous of him. Though I was close (and still am) with Taylor it was almost like he had stepped in and taken my place.
I know how hard it must have been for him to spend time with, or even see me, after the way I’d treated his daughter. Today I know exactly how that must’ve felt. On Christmas Eve 2007 I finally got up the nerve, after so many years, to ask for his forgiveness. “Dennis, it takes a big man to own up to his mistakes and say he’s sorry.” Then he stuck out his hand to shake mine. I will never forget that night.
On the night that Taylor graduated from high school we shared another of those moments. He’d been such a big part of Taylor’s life for so many years and, by that time, I’d realized how grateful I was for all he’d done.
About a month ago Melvin (PaPa) fell backwards off his hearth straight back on his head. By late that night he was laying in a coma at the hospital. Though there’s been great progress it’s still unknown how much healing there will be. Only the Lord knows for sure. During this time it’s been amazing to see how many have come, if only for a few minutes, to see this man and pray over him. The family’s been having everyone who comes write their names on a notepad. According to my daughter, at last count there have been nearly 1,000 people. They come bringing so many stories of how he’s impacted their lives. His grandson Travis had to go through his important papers and documents shortly after the accident. He’s found letters written to men in prison and their letters back to him. There are notes of thanks and gratitude for how he’s impacted their lives. Perhaps what’s most amazing is how much of this his family never knew. Oh they knew that he’s been a deacon in the church forever, goes out every week with his fellow Gideons and has gone on visitations to homes and prisons for years.
Today they realize that this wasn’t just “doing church work.” They’ve been acts of love. I used to make kind of a running, no-gambling bet with Taylor about her PaPa telling someone about Jesus before we left anywhere that we were together. Today I hope and pray I can become more like Melvin Clarke. Before leaving from my most recent visit with him the words I’d been wanting to say finally came out. “Melvin in these last few weeks I’ve realized how much I love you and how grateful I will always be for all you’ve done.” Though he didn’t say anything I believe that he heard me. He’s taught me so much about what it truly means to be a humble servant. I pray that God’s not done with him just yet. I also know that, no matter what happens, that one day we will all be together forever. Well done Melvin…I love you PaPa.
MON-FRI 1P-3P, SUN 6A-10A