Once upon a time there was a man named Bill. He was a dairy farmer in a small town in Alabama. If you were writing a book or short story about the life and adventures of a small town farmer, he would have been tailor-made for the part: honest, hard working, someone who knew his stuff, a war vet. Not that his life was storybook. From what I hear, there were times when folks tried to take advantage of him, and looked down on him. But, if the stories they tell in Florette are true, he met each hardship with grace, choosing never to reciprocate any of the negativity thrown his way. I met him later in his life. After the farm was officially closed, the barns starting to fall apart, and the cows long gone, and yet it wasn't hard to see that in fact the stories they tell in Florette about Bill are in fact true. There was an underlying sweetness about him that seemed to defy the conventional farmer stereotypes of the hard men who became stoic after years of hard work and uncertainty. This farmer didn't have that. This farmer was also a father. He had a daughter and a son, and he raised them along with his wife. They grew up, learned how to do chores, and experienced all the things kids enjoy and remember about life on the farm.
Then, circumstances and life being what they are sometimes in this fallen world, later on, this farmer became a father again. This time to another son. Yes, technically, it was his grandson, but if the stories the guy who lives in the other room at my house tells are true, Bill was a father to him in every sense of the word. He loved him, cared for him, looked after him, provided for him, and gave him a sense of place and purpose in the uncertainty this new son found himself in. Genetics helped by giving the new son his grand-father's smile, but it was on long walks, those times of riding around the farm in the truck, those moments so private, that the young boy was given his father's heart, his tenderness, his love and concern for others.
Another chapter of this story played out recently, as Bill died, and as I've been thinking about and walking through this part of the drama with my roommate, I've been struck at how once, long ago, another father had a son. In fact, they'd been together since before there was even time, and they were closer than any father and son has ever been or will ever be. This father and son were one, distinct, and yet the same. Then, circumstances and life being what they are in this fallen world, this father became a father again. This time he did it by adopting people like me, giving us a purpose, a sense of place, a future and a hope. Creation helped by giving us his image, but it's by spending time with him, and his working to conform us to the image of his first son, that we are given his heart. And, much like Bill waited with anticipation, at the end of the long driveway that runs from the road to the farmhouse (and later from inside the farmhouse when he was too weak to be out) for his new son, his second son to come home, this other father waits as well for his adopted children, his new sons and daughters to come and be with him and enjoy him and sit together and learn more about his heart, and leave with more stories to tell.