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Extending Life in Real-Life

The old John Deere belched a little black smoke, laboring mildly to pull the creosote eight-by-eight from its spot at the corner of the fence. The old posts needed tearing out … more or less.

I’ve been guilty of hunting for logs to drag and fields to plow, looking for an excuse to be on the tractor and always disappointed when the last row had been done and the final roll of hay was up by the barn. But today there was a reason for the fence and its condemned posts; this day there was a reason for being on the tractor.

Tragedy had me working…. Years earlier, a dad had stood before his wife and son and told them he was leaving to find fulfillment in the arms of another woman. And that’s exactly what he did. Just why he skipped out is not important; the point is he abandoned his boy, and that’s where I entered the picture.

Cody and my dog Katy were best buddies. I don’t know who loved whom the most, but I can assure you that the feelings were mutual. Some sort of magic exists between a boy and a dog, and Cody’s joy with Katy was the genesis of my relationship with him.

It didn’t take a graduate degree to read in Cody’s brown eyes the rejection he knew and felt from his dad; gosh, I hurt for that kid, and I spent more than one night sitting by the wood stove wondering what I could do to help. In what turned out to be a revelation to me—and not knowing what else to do—I asked Cody if he’d come to the farm and spend the day with Katy and me. I fretted over the time as it approached. Pray as I would, inspiration for something profound to say that might ease his pain eluded me, and any creative ideas for a bang-up slaphappy time avoided me altogether. So when the day finally arrived and Cody showed up, I settled for something I’d enjoy in hopes that he’d enjoy it too.

And so it was we found ourselves smelling of creosote, inhaling diesel fumes, and admiring the power of John’s (as in John Deere’s) hydraulic lift. Any way you cut it, a chain is cantankerous to work with, but Cody and I had a good time lashing the posts with the heavy strand of looped steel and hooking it onto John’s implement arms. The green beast extracted the posts with such ease that neither Cody nor I could help but grab the old uprights ourselves from time to time just to be sure we didn’t possess something of John’s might; our admiration for him grew.

It didn’t take long to pull the posts and work through the other tasks I’d planned for John, Cody, Katy and myself … so we finished the afternoon off down at the creek. After all, what boy’s day (or man’s for that matter) could end any better than being around the therapy of cool water? We climbed down the bank, descending the stair-step roots, scrambling here and there for solid ground. We chased a water snake, caught a couple of crawfish, skipped a few stones, and topped things off sitting under a canopy of hardwoods and listening to a ripple gurgle toward the big pool around the bend.

There were other days when Cody came over, each of them similar to the last: nothing necessarily profound, no magic in the air, not even anything exceptional—we just spent time together. In fact, I remember being especially busy one day with some really boring stuff, so Katy and Cody took off on their own. I tracked them down later…holed up together in a fort made of hay bales. I wasn’t there that day, but I was around and somehow that was okay. I guess Cody sensed he hadn’t been abandoned even though my physical presence was elsewhere.

I had to move unexpectedly in the spring of the year, so my relationship with Cody was cut short. Only a few brief weeks had passed since that first day on the tractor, but something had clicked in him —I had filled a crucial void. A month later I received a Father’s Day card signed simply, I love you, Cody.

I was thrilled and I was brokenhearted. To know that I had somehow reached Cody and touched his life meant volumes to me, but someone else should have gotten that card … if only he hadn’t been gone.

It is immaterial that Cody’s dad did wrong, and your view of divorce is unimportant … to Cody and to his mom anyway. The fact is this: Cody’s dad did do wrong and a divorce did occur and a kid was left holding the bag.

Thousands of moms and dads have bailed out on their kids just like Cody’s dad did. They’re bailing out as you read this article. Does Christianity relate to such real-life situations? Better yet, does your Christianity relate?

Listen folks, the deacons can discuss it all day long, a committee can be formed to look into the situation, some money can be donated and the minister to youth can extend a special invitation for "Cody" to attend the church bowling party, but that won’t cut it. What we need, here, is a dad.

I know, you have kids of your own, maybe even some grandkids, and you work hard all day and try to find time at night for fixing up the house and changing the oil in the car and sharpening the blade on the lawn mower and…. It just isn’t right that you or I ought to have to spring for "Cody’s" dad. And yet the hard fact remains: "Cody’s" dad fumbled the ball and picked up a cantaloupe as he ran the other way. Where does that leave "Cody"? Who’s supposed to take him under their wing?

As men and women committed to Christ, we must confront the hard realities of life around us and allow the Spirit within us to rise to the occasion. The Lord instructs through Isaiah, "Learn to do good; …defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (1:17). What’s right and what’s wrong are superfluous issues here; this isn’t a theological matter. We are to "learn" (through the tutelage of the Spirit) to "defend" and "plead" for the orphan and widow. So Cody isn’t an orphan by pure definition, nor is his mom a widow…I ask you, is there a difference?

Reaching out is tough. It takes initiative, but for us as Christians, it’s imperative. There are, quite literally, thousands of little girls who could sure use a surrogate dad to go shopping with them. (You should know by now that buying isn’t necessarily the objective when a lady [even a little lady] goes shopping. The trip is a success if she has someone who is genuinely interested in what interests her.) Likewise, there are thousands of little boys who could use a "mom" to come to their ball games or to talk to them about girls.

I know a man whose wife left him with two young kids. His task was overwhelming: go to work to earn a living, get the kids to school, fix meals, mend clothes…you know the rat race as well as I do. God put it on the heart of a lady to get in there and "get her hands dirty" by helping out a tired frazzled dad even at the risk of her reputation. There were plenty of folks who assumed she was after this "available guy," and they didn’t hesitate to "share" (gossip) their "prayer request" with each other either.

I’ll tell you this: This man would lay down his life for the lady who helped him and his kids out. He has long since remarried, but he can’t forget the days when an equally tired lady would pick his kids up from school, fix their dinner, do some laundry, clean up the house, and wait until he got home so she could leave and tend to the duties piling up at her own house.

Ideal? No way. Necessary? Indispensable. And that’s a part of Christianity in the nineties and beyond.

Not long ago, I sat at Chili’s eating my favorite fare—a Muy Mucho burger with chips and hot sauce. The waitress seated my party in the back where I had a clear view down the long row of tables. We finished eating, and as I waited for my change to be returned, I contemplated my exit; a somber sobriety settled over me when I realized that two out of every three hearts that I would pass on my way out would have been, more than likely, broken by divorce. What of them? Who will dare to reach out to their fractured lives and fragmented families?

Is it fair? Of course not, but we don’t live in a fair world, and we certainly don’t fight a fair enemy. The demands are extraordinary, but then we have an extraordinary Resource within us; the love outlay is phenomenal, but the Reservoir is absolute.

Hey, Cody. This is Pres. Katy and I are going fishing Saturday; come spend the day with us! Do you remember that old aluminum boat I had leaning against the shed? We’ll "drop a few lines" and grab a burger on the way home. What do you say?

Preston Gillham

About the Author

As a co-founder, Preston Gillham led Lifetime for 30 years. Preston is a writer, speaker, and leadership guide. He has authored numerous articles and several books including No Mercy and Battle for the Round Tower. He blogs on “Life and Leadership”. More about Preston, his writings, speaking, and his consulting practice can be located at PrestonGillham.com.