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A letter from Dad to his sister

by davesandel on July 17th, 2022

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 17, 2022

            (click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

 A letter from Dad to his sister

This mystery is Christ in you, the hope for glory. It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.

Family systems theory dictates that I can probably change one dysfunction of the family I grew up in. And my dad/mom could do the same. Trying to do everything is too much. It usually goes to pieces somewhere in the middle of your life.

Dad grew up in a dry bones farm family, where everyone worked hard and there wasn’t much interest in spirituality, other than the Sunday go-to-church variety. I’ve been reading Dad’s various memoirs, and yesterday I read a letter he sent his sister when her youngest son died in his mid-thirties. He wrote that letter in the summer of 1995.

Who will live in the presence of the Lord? He who walks blameless and does justice, who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue.

By 1995 Dad was well on his way into a different spirituality than he’d found in his own father. He never stopped working really hard, filling two blue workshirts with sweat on any given summer day. I’m sure 1995 was no different. Before he took time in the evening to write, he might well have spent much of the day cutting fencerow weeds with a big, dangerous, antique weed mower.

Or maybe he didn’t write at night. Maybe he wrote at dawn, at 5 am when he got up to start his workday. But in the midst of his hard work, Dad’s last twenty years were highlighted by retreats, charismatic worship conferences, and many times of personal prayer. He died at age 80, seven years after writing this letter.

Dear Eugenia and Bob,

Are you surviving? Do you feel older after all you have been through?

I felt older today. John, Israel and I were getting a load of hay from Horney’s barn across from where we lived at Beason. I looked over there and realized that when we moved there sixty-one years ago – 1934 – I was the same age as Israel is now. It really made me feel old, and that most of my life is probably passed. And you were one year old, Eugenia! A lot has happened in those sixty-one years – some good, some bad. If you can take the bad with the good, I guess you are a survivor. Most of the time I feel like a survivor.

They say that God never gives one more than he can handle. As long as I can remember that I get along pretty good.

I’m sure you have both felt that in these last few weeks. May God grant you his peace and help you to realize that you did the best you knew how for Richard. The rest is up to God, and though we may never know why, we will have to be satisfied with His decision.

May God grant you the strength to be survivors.

Love, Rollie

A moment after I read this I found a journal that his sister Eugenia gave him in May, 1977.

Dear Rollie,

I have written in this book some of my favorite psalms, scripture passages, poetry and prayers. I wanted to share them with you, because to me, they express the beautiful presence and reality of God.

Love, your sister, Eugenia

On the first page Aunt Nenie (that was our nickname for her) inscribed Ignatius’ prayer of surrender: “Take Lord, and receive all my liberty … give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.”

And in her classic 20th century schoolhouse penmanship, she continued with Psalms 1, 27, 40, 51, 103, 121, 131, and 139. Then there was a copy of Dad’s obituary (added later), a bookmark to end the psalms and begin the other prayers and scripture passages. Many pages follow, all hand-written. She ended with a quote from Dialogues of the Carmelites by Georges Bernanos.

Only one thing is important, whether we are brave or cowardly, to be always there where God will have us, and for the rest to trust in him – there is no other remedy against fear but to abandon ourselves to His will.

Long before Jesus spoke to Lazarus he spoke to Mary and then Martha. He wanted all of them to follow their own paths toward God, rather than toward accomplishment or wealth or fame or pride. Potential idols abounded in his friends’ life as they did in Dad’s, as they did in Grandpa’s, as they do in my life too. He might have been speaking to Martha in her kitchen, but as we read Luke 10, he is certainly speaking to us.

Martha, Martha (David, David), you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.

Come and worship. Kierkegaard said prayer must be our “one thing,” and not one of many others. It sounds like Jesus promises us relief from anxiety, worry and fear. Turn and follow me. Listen and pray.

Do what I do, Jesus says.

 (Genesis 18, Psalm 15, Colossians 1, Luke 8, Luke 10)

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