This week October comes to Michigan. She is always a welcome guest. She never over-stays her welcome. I worked cleaning and organizing the garage. Saturday was one of those days you look forward to all year. I love having organized the garage. To some men the garage is their domain. If pressed I would have to say the study is my domain, maybe the pulpit is my domain. Maybe the family-room is my domain and my recliner is my throne. The garage to me is a necessary evil. I’m not one of those guys with a carpeted garage. I don’t have a peg-board on the wall with tool silhouettes painted on it. I don’t putter out there for hours on end. To me the garage is a very utilitarian place where you store things that really can’t go anywhere else. It’s where you put things that smell of gas and oil and things you don’t need very often. The garage is where you archive things that you really can’t bring yourself to throw away.
I’ve been thinking about cleaning the garage since last winter. “When the snow melts and it’s warm outside I will get out there,” I said to myself. Well, it was a very warm spring and the garage went from cold to hot. The cold froze my motivation and the heat melted it. I avoided the garage. A few weeks ago, it cooled down a bit and to silence my accusing conscience I went out and emptied the garage into the driveway. I started to organize when the phone rang. I was needed at the hospital. I quickly put everything back into the garage for another day–maybe another year. But on Saturday, oh, Saturday the moon and planets all lined up on Saturday and I took my radio out to the garage, stripped down to a tee-shirt, and mounted a full frontal assault on the garage.
It was a crisp fall morning. I’d had my coffee and a pumpkin spice donut. There was football chatter on the radio. For a few autumn saturday mornings of the year I love to hear football chatter on the radio. I cleaned and swept and organized and moved things around and re-packaged things. I explored boxes that had not been opened for a decade or more.
Then I found a box in a box. I opened it. Pictures, a ten-year old box of pictures. When you are raising children a lot changes in ten years. I found a chair and sat down. For the next hour a turned back the pages of our life ten years, snapping pictures of pictures with my cell phone, remembering and laughing with a lump in my throat.
There was a picture of our whole family around a huge table in a restaurant. The picture was taken when all the children were still at home. There they were. All eight of them. Four sons. Four daughters. We went everywhere we went together in one car. Looking at that wonderful old picture and I had two significant thoughts:
The first thought was, “Wow, that’s a lot of kids. How on earth did we ever feed, clothe, and care for so many children?” The picture was taken in the Ohio Amish country. When we ate out during those years it was usually at Little Caesars. We would get a couple pizzas and demand that every bit of crust was eaten before they got another piece. Across the street at Woosley’s the sold canned pop for a quarter. If we were on the road we would go to Meijer and get a two-liter of pop and share it. We could not afford to go to a sit-down restaurant to eat.
But all those years God provided. God provided though the church and our diligent labor in it, gathering people who shared with us. God provided through Lois’s hard and continual work. She made things for we to sell. She had all the children at home with her all day, but still she was continually making things. God provided by giving me extra work, driving the Amish, assembling playgrounds with the boys, or peddling Lois’ dolls or crafts. For a season he gave me just the job I needed to supplement my income working one day a week taking insurance claims. God provided through the gifts of people. People gave us gifts of money or clothing or food. They paid for special opportunities for us or for the children. They built nice parsonages for us to live in that we didn’t have to pay for. Friends would share a load of wood or a cut of meet or a basket of garden tomatoes or tickets to a concert or an afternoon on their boat or a weekend at their cottage.
I spoke at camps and God provided opportunities for the family to enjoy Michigan’s beautiful North Country that way. Sometimes God provided through answered prayer by reducing our expenses. We went years without having to go to the doctor or hospital—years without a single doctor visit. He provided dental care. We paid to get the kid’s teeth fixed, God provided jobs so the kids could pay to keep them strait. For years we had a wonderful old farmhouse on a dead-end road with free heat for only 400 dollars a month. We were starting a church and we had so little, but the memories and experiences in that old farmhouse are so precious to me today that they make me ache with gratitude. God has been so good. I keep a little snapshot of that house in front of me every day to remind me of how God provided that house as a direct answer to the prayer of a ten-year-old boy.
Usually we ate inexpensive casseroles and saved money wherever we could. So to go to a restaurant… This was an occasion. A rare occasion. A special day. This day we were all sitting around the table the Das Dutch Essenhaus… in Walnut Creek in Holmes Country, Ohio. I quickly calculated the cost of that single meal and realized that I was looking at a picture of a significant and expensive meal… a big event. Year after year, week after week, morning by morning God has provided. Isn’t He wonderful?
But there was another thought that came to me as I looked at that photo. Will every one of those children be around the table of fellowship when Heaven and Earth are new? I have deep in my heart a great longing to see each of these children, every one of them, around the table of fellowship with the Lord in Heaven one day. I want each of them to live with heaven on their mind all the time and I want each of them to be there when they die. I can’t imagine an empty place at that table. It is too painful to conceive.
Will you be at that table, or will there be an empty chair? Will those you love be there?
September 30, 2013