Perhaps one of the most startling revelations I faced after I broadened my horizons into including a world of money, a job, and typical adult life, was how much stress and worry the average human smokes every day. To be fair, it’s rather an addicting substance, stress, and worry, and I’ve smoked my fair share of it as well. However, my intensely grounded childhood gave me a distinct benefit that was a marvel to those who noticed, and something that my oblivious self took for granted. Stress and worry were foreign to me. It was a language I spoke so rarely, that it always took me by surprise, and instinctively, I used techniques I didn’t know I had to squash it.
I’ve taken my ability to remain calm, relaxed, and stress-free in nearly every situation and tested it accordingly. Roller coasters. I heard it makes everyone scream. Not one sound left my lips. I did feel the tingling sensation of excitement at tumbling around at breathtaking speeds, but no fear. Skydiving. I honestly couldn’t wait to jump and leave that cramped, small, airplane behind. No fear, just impatience to jump; and the delightful wonderment and happiness when I was finally free in the wind was worth it.
Car wrecks. I will admit to one car wreck I had on ice that at long last created a paranoia to driving on ice to where I no longer venture with the same amount of confidence that I once had. However, if I’m not at the wheel, I have no stress. Multiple times I’ve been in the passenger seat and felt the vehicle start to slide, and I stay relaxed.
There were days this year, thanks to Covid’s economic impact on my life, when I ate the last remaining bite and hoped the hunger wouldn’t be too much till we could make more money. Still, I can’t remember stressing about that. I knew it would be okay, and it always was.
There is an unshakable foundation within the very core of my soul that has been tested against some truly fearful circumstances in my life, that has weathered the storm of 2020 and yet, has remained incredibly strong. Fear. Stress. Panic. Worry. Others around me succumb to it daily. One side has a deathly fear of the virus, the other side fears government tyranny and gathers their guns accordingly. Somehow, I cannot fall prey to any of it. I literally cannot fear. I’ve often wondered why, and as the days pass, as my understanding deepens, I realized the answer.
My father built that foundation. It is truly remarkable that someone can prepare someone else for such an unknown future so well. My life, compared to so many other childhoods, was extremely easy. No, I didn’t grow up in the lap of luxury, but at the same time, I definitely did. I always had food to eat. I always had a roof over my head. I never once experienced traumatizing abuse. I had the rarity of never once hearing my parents argue, or show anger to each other. There was no one that Dad loved more than Mom, and no one that Mom loved more than Dad. This creates an extremely secure childhood base. And yet, it gets a lot deeper than that.
Anyone who has known my Dad for any length of time, will sooner or later, stumble across his book, “Through the Eye of the Needle.” The title summarizes the conversation between Jesus and the rich, young ruler from the Sermon on the Mount. In this exchange, the unsuspecting ruler asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. “If you seek perfection, sell all that you have and give to the poor,” Jesus responded. “And you shall have treasure in heaven.” Disappointed, the ruler turns away, because he couldn’t let go of his possessions. As he walked away, Jesus gives this sidenote to his disciples: “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
Once upon a time, my father was fascinated with the pursuit of wealth and the way in which money could be accumulated. There were so many endless possibilities in which the growth of wealth could be learned and mastered. But there was one thing that Dad loved more than money. Christ. So after he wrestled the appropriate demons of doubt, he made the decision to believe that Christ really did mean what he said. The rich were going to have a rough time of it, trying to fit that camel through that needle, and Dad would be avoiding that drama by cheerfully giving his possessions to the needy. Accumulating treasure in heaven was a huge motivator for him.
Predictably, my Dad’s newfound lifestyle was viewed with a great deal of skepticism by money lovers everywhere. This, and many other reasons, eventually led to vacating one church in exchange for a newer, restless one. However, because my Dad persisted in the firm belief of never holding grudges, we still frequented the previous church. But now, we were weird. I remember once getting jeered at “Your dad must think owning a $100 bill is a sin.” We kids were tempted to feel resentful after such insults, but there was no room for any bitterness in Dad’s heart. “It doesn’t matter what anyone says, just treat them like Jesus would. Just love.” And so we loved.
We might have held onto grudges, but there was never any doubt in our minds that Dad certainly did not. And that sticks with a child. Whether we realized it or not, we had been given the powerful tools of living a life without malice. Mocked by fellow religious peers is one thing. Mocked by random people on the street who hated Dad’s obnoxious gospel signs who expressed their anger with loud name-calling, crude hand gestures, throwing trash, etc. was another. However, Dad just smiled and waved. So we smiled and waved. We were there to love everyone. So we loved.
Anytime there was any debate over spending extra for an unnecessary extravagance, Dad always remembered the poor. “Do we really need a new swimming pool when some children don’t have enough to eat?” Grumpily, we conceded that we did not. But after we gave, we found out just how happy life could be when you were not living for yourself. Dad had a responsibility to the poor because he had chosen to cast his lot with Christ, and following Christ comes with certain stipulations. Christ loved the hurting, the sick, the suffering, and the fallen. In time, Dad’s love for the hurting, the suffering, the sick, the fallen became our love. So we loved.
Love is the first stone in this mystical foundation in my soul. 1 John 4:18 reads: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” Literally next to no one understands my viewpoint when I say that if a violent intruder breaks into your house, and you just choose to love at that moment, you won’t be afraid. How can they know? It is an impossible paradox and fails human common sense, and yet I lived it. I know it. I’ve been in various precarious situations with potentially violent individuals; never once did I have fear.
Faith. The next stone in this foundation. Also Trust, Faith’s twin sister.
As a child, I probably heard the Sermon on the Mount over 500 times. Instead of falling asleep to a TV, we would fall asleep to the New Testament, read aloud on our tape player. Matthew 6:25-34 was instilled in my subconscious night after night until it became my brain. It’s a beautiful set of instructions. For those of you who might not remember what it says, I will paste its entirety here for all to enjoy.
- 25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
- 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
- 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
- 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
- 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
- 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
- 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
- 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
- 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
- 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof
A wise person once told me that literally everything is out of my control. Everything. Except for my own personal choices. My choices is the only steering wheel I have; due to the swirling cloud of millions of others’ choices constantly impacting me unpredictably. This realization caused me so much freedom. I did not have to worry about circumstances out of my control. There was nothing I could do anyway, so I wasn’t gonna trouble my brain about it. I would just do the best with the options and personal choices I had.
The reason this resonated with me harks back to my instilled understanding of the said passage in Matthew. Don’t worry about food. Don’t worry about clothes. Life is about more than food and clothes. Don’t stress about tomorrow, tomorrow will figure itself out. And that beautiful poetic conclusion “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
It’s 12 years later since I listened to those verses on audio. But subconsciously they are my heart’s mantra, my shield, and my biggest dose of mental chill pills. No pharmacy drug can compete.
Dad believed those verses too. He also had some other delightful ones to add to the collection. Well, in fact, if we are going to be real, the most oft-repeated command in the entirety of scripture is “Fear not” or its many equivalents reworded. Now we know, scientifically, that less stress ultimately is healthier for your physical body and mental health. There is a reason why that is the greatest reminder in scripture.
Dad’s money continued to not be Dad’s money. Rather, he was the steward, and if we put the poor and the needy first, God would not fail to remember to provide all of our needs. Remember that swimming pool? We still got one. A gift, if I remember correctly. Ironically, it was shortly after I had surrendered my pool savings for starving children. God had remembered me, I didn’t have to worry.
My brother required an unexpected surgery. Did we have thousands of dollars saved to pay the monstrous bill? No. Oddly enough, the hospital mysteriously canceled out a huge portion of the bill. To this day, I still don’t know why. While others’ marveled at that story, to my young brain, that was absolutely normal. God always looked out for Dad, because Dad was always looking out for God by giving all his extra money to the poor, and the poor were Christ. It all made perfect sense to me.
Time and time again, I watched my father live in an almost seemingly supernatural halo of protection. For example, Dad never locked the car doors. Ever. “Other people lock their car doors. Why don’t we?” I remember asking once. Locking car doors was a completely foreign concept to my dad. #1, There was rarely anything of value to steal. #2, If someone needed something that badly, why would he not allow them to have it? Dad settled with #3 as a reason to give me “Because the angels look out for us. We don’t have to lock them.” I 100% believed him. Still do.
Dad was a firm believer in no debt. This resulted in never buying a house. After leaving the home I had spent the first 16 years of my life in at the landlord’s request, we moved to a smaller double-wide trailer. Less than a year later we moved again to house sit for a family who was spending time away from the U.S. From there, my family moved to a new, large, beautiful 6 bedroom home as renters, because the current owners were vacating but not selling. I’ve heard the whispers from a few acquaintances of the irony of my Dad living in such a place. They are surprised that a man who has lived a life with seemingly no thought for earthly possessions should now live in a house that looks like he did in fact care about such possessions. They can continue to be surprised, I’m not. I’ve watched my father remember God in everything he did for my entire life. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone when God remembers Dad.