Founders Day in my small Florida hometown was a major event. Each February we celebrated our local holiday with a grand parade. Since our home was on the main street of the parade route, all our relatives and friends lined up their lawn chairs across our front yard to view the passing parade, all the while enjoying lemonade and cookies my sisters and I served them while trying to catch candy from the passing floats.
The year I turned 13 the parade committee invited us to ride our horses in the procession. Although flattered, I was also scared. My new horse, a jetblack Tennessee walking mare named Midnight, was spirited and magnificent, and a little too much horse for a 90-pound adolescent.
My father had confidence that, with his guidance, I could handle the challenge. It wouldn't be easy. Midnight sensed she had intimidated me, and the couple of times she had run away with me bruised both ego and body. Riding her around the lane down at our farm was one thing. Controlling her along a noisy parade route was quite another. Yet this was an opportunity I didn't want to miss.
On the morning of the parade, the crisp February air only made Midnight more frisky. As we waited in the line up, my father, sensing my apprehension, reassured me: "You'll do fine. I will see you at the end of the parade." And then we were off. At that moment the four-mile parade route seemed like 40.
I was afraid to take my eyes, even for a few seconds, away from the mare's ears and head. I needed to know every second how she was coping with the pandemonium around us. Horns honked. People shouted. Children ran into the street. I needed to keep close control of the situation. Step by high step, Mid night finally seemed to settle down a bit and enjoy the attention and admiration of the downtown crowd. The mass of people on each side of me was a blurr.
Could it be? Was that my father be hind the crowd? Several minutes later I dared to look up at the people again. It seemed as if I were hallucinating, be cause there he was again. My father seemed to be popping up everywhere. A few minutes later it looked like him again behind another cluster of people. Again and again, as I maneuvered down the street, I caught glimpses of him in the sunlight and in the shadows of the downtown buildings.
When we finally reached our own crowded yard near the end of the parade route, Daddy stood in the front yard. There he was to meet us as he had promised.
"I thought I saw you about 20 times along the parade route," I said. "Were you there?"
"Yes," he smiled. "I ran the whole parade route behind the crowds just to make sure you all were going to be OK. I never let you out of my sight for a second." Then he joked, "It was the only way your mother would give permission for you to ride today."
Our Father and our fears
Most of us who serve in ministry work hard in our assignments. It's a difficult route, with lots of dangers and distractions along the way. We want to give our members every indication that we have all things "under control." For most of us, it is the "opportunity of a lifetime" for service, and we want more than anything to do it well. But some times it feels as though we are on a parade route in front of all our world, trying to please, always smiling, dressed in our best, and giving the impression that all is well.
The truth is, we are frightened. Frightened of our own inabilities, and that we will lose control of some circumstance. We may be afraid that someone, perhaps even a family member, will be hurt. Or afraid because we are stretching our talents and gifts and strengths beyond what we believe we are able. As we go, we could carry the fear that in the confusion of a lost world, people might distract us from our mission, or that the end seems so far away and we might not endure.
Above all, often we are terrified be cause we wonder where our heavenly Father is. Is He really with us, or has He forsaken us? Will He really be there at the end when we get there? Then we remember how He called us to begin our ministry, and we believe He will be waiting there to welcome us, saying: "Well done, good and faithful servant.
. . . Enter into the joy of your Lord" (Matt. 25:21, NKJV).
Meanwhile, sometimes it seems that we are out there alone in the crowd. But then, in a still moment, when we dare look away from trying to control the situation ourselves, when we tune out the distractions, we get a glimpse of Him. He is actually right there, perhaps in the background, running along beside us, cheering us on, feeling every insecurity, ensuring our safety, watching over us every moment.
In much of the world, June is when we remember our earthly fathers on a special day. We give them cards and gifts, or perhaps a gadget of some kind, and we let them know how much we love and appreciate them. It feels good to honor them.
While I will most certainly honor my earthly father, my heavenly Father also deserves special gifts. He isn't waiting for gadgets. He is waiting for me to look up a little more often from my own agendas to find Him there in the shadows, or even out in the sunlight. Seeing Him will leave me less frightened in the crowd. The journey will not seem so long. And when we come to the end He will be there to tell each of us face-to-face, "I went the whole way with you."