My dad made 70 today. In New Orleans you don’t “turn” a certain age, like “turn 30.” You MAKE your age each year. Only Dad’s not here, he’s in Lakeland, Florida. Still, for me, he makes 70. I’ll see him soon, but on days like today I wake up with tears wishing I were helping cook his birthday dinner and make him a cake.
New Orleans is the wild, wild west compared to where I grew up. You don’t find guys like my Dad here. Sure there are lots of good ole boys, but it’s not the same. I remember when I first moved here, going months on end without seeing a cow, or really a piece of open land big enough to handle a cow. It was weird.
Dad isn’t really all that fond of the nearly 700 miles between us. I’m not either.
Some days I wonder why I even bother. If anyone knew how many times a day my heart cries to go home to Daddy and Mom, they’d wonder the same thing. But I know the answer, really. I bother because I really think God wants me here in this crazy, awesome, sideways place. My mom took a picture of me at about 17, upset over something and crying in my Daddy’s arms. I’m pretty sure God knows that if I were physically close enough, I’d never really move beyond that. There’s no place safer or better, except the arms of God Himself. I’m lucky to have had a Dad who introduced me to God and made an example of God’s unconditional love in a world where so many Fathers become an obstacle to a child’s understanding of God as a loving Father. My Dad only enhanced that understanding for me.
My Dad, and Mom, taught me love. They taught me work. They taught me Jesus. They taught me faith, a for-real, down-deep, affects every part of your life faith, not a measly one day a week, take-a-lick-at-a-snake excuse for religion. And here… here in a place where there isn’t any room for cows, I’m bringing and sharing and living what they taught me. I’m raising my kids their way. I’m growing veggies in my fenced-in, subdivided yard. My house has more than its share of mason jars and my van finds its way to the farmer’s market practically on its own. I stand there among very cool, very green, hipster types and look for a flat of strawberries cheap enough to make jam. I cock my head to the side at the things they grow, like kale, and wonder where are the “new potatoes” and “silver queen corn” and “zipper peas”? My hands hold babies the way Dad and Mom did, and love old people the way they did. They introduced me to hospitals and nursing homes and funerals through their ministry in those places and now I love old people for a living. My eyes and my smile carry their physical traits, and communicate their philosophy of real faith and real love for people.
It occurs to me that I repeat this behavior on a fairly regular basis. Trying to bring a little of the love I was brought up with to the place I’ve been transplanted. Trying to say “See, Daddy? Mom? See, Granny? Papa? I listened! I watched! I loved the things you made for me and taught me and did for me and now I’m doing them over and over again, copying you in another part of the world because the goodness of you needs to be taken to other places.” It’s in my tomatoes, potatoes, strawberry jam, vegetable soup, various holiday casseroles, and so on. It’s in my children and the way they are being raised. It’s in my work and the way I love to see crinkly laugh lines and wrinkly eyes light up.
It’s you, Dad. (And Mama too!!!) You gave me a lot of good stuff to bring beyond the 20 acres where I learned it all. I’m living the faith you taught me. I’m adding your flair to my everyday life. I’m following the God you introduced me to, with all of my heart. I keep Jeffries in my name because it’s a reminder of who I am, and who I’m teaching my children to be.
You’ve made a lot more than 70, Daddy! Hope you have a happy birthday!!by