A letter from a friend the other day let me know how little we truly know someone. Her mother had been the teacher of one of my children in elementary school, and a good one at that. We still laugh about the time when the teacher had warned the children to stay off the wet playground due to the heavy rains, and at recess time, she found that one of our sons had indeed gone outside and had re-entered the classroom with a salamander. Now, since she had expressly forbidden the class from going outside and Marty had disobeyed, she had to punish him. And yet, he was not—in his mind—being disobedient, but just doing what he did best: wondering and wandering. The punishment was for Marty to go to the library and work up a study on salamanders which he presented to the class. This was one smart lady.
“I grew up in a dysfunctional family,” writes the daughter of that teacher. “My mother never once told me she loved me or showed any kind of affection.” This is the teacher who was the kindest human on the planet, who wrote great poetry and did excellent art. I still have some of her handiwork.
“To this day,” the daughter writes, “I can’t see what everyone else saw in my mother. The day she gave her testimony in church I sat there in disbelief. I did not know the person she was talking about and wondered how she could lie to the congregation that way.”
“Until the day he died, my father repeatedly told me he was not my father. As you can guess, I grew up hurt and angry. I did not have any idea what love was. All I knew was emptiness, and I had a longing for someone to care.”
“Growing up, I had heard about God, a God who would love you and care for you. To me, that was just another lie. If your own earthly parents could not love you, how could this unknown God love you! Besides, all he wanted was love, praise, and glory. To me, that was just being greedy. He wanted it all. All I wanted was a little!”
“I married the first person who told me that he loved me. At the time, it was another big mistake. Thank God, He changed my husband and he became the most wonderful man I could ever want.”
“As time went on, we started going to church and I began to learn of God’s love and what He had done for us by sending Jesus to die on the cross. I began trusting God, knowing that this was the true love I had been seeking. I asked God to save me. I sure did not want to go to hell. I had lived my whole life in hell. I wanted to go to a heavenly home of love.”
“After surgery, the doctors told me I was sterile and could never have children. I refused to let them do a hysterectomy. I knew in my heart God was going to give me children-a son and a daughter. How I knew was a mystery, but I did know. I prayed for five years, before God gave me the son, and then four years later, the daughter.”
“In my children, I knew a love I could never have imagined. I made my babies a promise at their birth that they would never have to wonder if their mother loved them or would be there for them. Until this day, I have kept that promise with God’s help.”
“Through my children I learned what love was. I also learned more of God’s love and His words are true. God had been taking care of me all of my life; I just didn’t realize it.”
The letter goes on from there, but that is the essence of it. (I asked her permission to share this with you. She said, “If it helps one child, it will be worth it.”)
Many years ago, Dr. Bob Pierce founded and headed up World Vision, an organization of global impact for Christ. Every Christian leader on the planet knew the name of Bob Pierce. After his death, one of his children wrote a book telling how she missed knowing her father. He was gone all the time, she said, taking care of the children of the world while neglecting the ones he had brought into the world. It was a painful story to read.
Some time ago, I stopped at the state capitol to say hello to the governor. He and I had casually known each other over the years but I had never been in his office. When I asked for an autographed picture, he pulled out one of poster size and wrote across the bottom a gushy line about my being the best preacher in the state. Outside, I told one of his assistants, a longtime friend, what a nice guy the governor was, but how he overdid the kindness thing. “I can’t hang that picture in my office,” I said. He laughed and said, “Joe, he does that with everyone who comes into the office. But the people who work for him are dying for a word of appreciation.”
My children…my wife…my co-workers…the people nearest me—are the authorities on my Christianity, my integrity, and my love.
When Owen Cooper died, his wonderful wife Elizabeth said of him, “As great a man as Owen was in the world, he was a far better man inside the four walls of our home.” I told my wife I want her to be able to say that about me when I die. She said, “Well, then, you’d better get started.”