Sylvia and I were sitting in a restaurant next to I-95 somewhere in Georgia. I stared past her as we ate our food. Now and then we would look at each other, but not much was said. I tried unsuccessfully to think of something to initiate conversation. What was there to talk about? What were her favorite things? What did we have in common? Had her life been as lonely as mine?
It was 1992. Thanksgiving was just a few days away. We were on our annual vacation trip, making the rounds in Florida, visiting Sylvia's relatives and mine.
The Sound of Silence
On December 1st of that year we would be married 39 years. We had raised three children, all married now with children of their own. We had spent many thousands of hours together, yet I knew so little about her. For our first year of marriage, I was in the Air Force stationed overseas and Sylvia lived with her parents in West Palm Beach. Suzanne was born while I was gone. In 1972 she left home for college. David went off to college in 1975 and worked as a preacher in other places after he graduated. When Robynne left for college in 1976, leaving an empty nest, Sylvia and I were together without children for the first time in our married life, except for the few days we had together in 1953 before I was transferred to Korea.
Sylvia was very private with her thoughts and feelings. It seemed to be easier for us to talk to others than to communicate with each other. Sometimes I would get some insight into what she was thinking when I heard her sharing with a friend.
On the other hand, I probably talked too much. On rare occasions my thoughtless remarks would wound her spirit so deeply that she was unable to hold back the tears. Since she so seldom cried, I saw that as a sign of strength. However, I later learned that she did most of her crying on the inside. There must have been so many times during our years together that she was hurting, and I was unaware of her pain.
I tried to take seriously my God-given responsibility to be the head of my family. But, like so many other men, I didn't know how to do that. I felt intimidated by women in general, and Sylvia in particular. Sylvia had a way of responding to some of my efforts to make conversation that made me feel foolish, and validated my lack of self-respect. I felt like a child in her presence.
She had her job and I had mine. At home after work, she stayed busy in her world of cooking, washing, and cleaning. I stayed busy maintaining the building and grounds. She read her Bible and prayed alone. So did I. She wrote notes and sent cards to people in her spare time. That was her ministry. Writing and illustrating spiritual articles and books was mine. We were like two singles, living under the same roof with a marriage license.
But the Lord was working on that. In recent months, He had drawn us closer to Him and to each other. We were beginning to find more to talk about. A closer friendship was developing.
Out of Focus
I had noticed that our relationship was a lot like Mom and Dad's.
Many years ago during my childhood, Dad hurt Mom emotionally several times as he focused his attention not on us, but on his parents and siblings while still trying to earn their love and approval.
Dad never said anything about it, at least to me, but I expect that Mom also hurt him many times as he listened to her criticism over the years. But, I know that she loved him. And that he loved her.
A few months earlier, I felt a push to call Mom and Dad at a time different from the time I normally called. When Mom answered the phone, her voice was very weak, and she sounded so helpless. She didn't intend to tell me why, because I was over 600 miles away and she didn't want me to worry.
I knew something was wrong and asked questions until she could no longer suppress her emotions. As she burst into tears, she said that she didn't know where Dad was, or when he would be back. Only the Lord could have caused me to call at this precise moment when she was so vulnerable and needed help.
My nephew arrived at Mom's house while we were still on the phone. I asked to speak to him, and he told me what had happened. He said some of the family were out looking for Dad, and he would stay with Mom.
Earlier Dad had embarrassed Mom in front of her sister. Then Mom had said something to Dad that must have made him feel that no one cared for him, not even Mom. So he left home.
It would be dark soon. I thought about the possibility of Dad being in an accident, or being assaulted and robbed. When I got off the phone, I told Sylvia what had happened. We asked our heavenly Father to keep Mom and Dad safe, to bring Dad back home, and to comfort Mom.
God answered our prayer. Within an hour Dad returned home.
Mom didn't want anyone to tell Dad how concerned he had caused everyone to be. I told her that he needed to know how much he is loved by all of his family, and especially by her. And I told him.
During our visit this trip, Dad gave Mom an anniversary card. It included a note telling her how sorry he was for the times he had hurt her, and asked for her forgiveness. Mom said that she didn't have a problem with that anymore.
Sylvia and I prayed that Mom and Dad would enjoy a very special relationship during their remaining years, with the peace and joy that comes only from God. And they did.
A Religious Wedge
After an enjoyable visit with Mom and Dad, we were looking forward to our visit with our son, David, and his family.
David has never said anything about it, but I am certain that he received a lot of criticism from some of his fellow preachers because of my articles and cartoons. In addition, he had a growing concern about my spiritual condition as he observed me rejecting religious doctrines that I once defended.
While I was experiencing a closer walk with God, he must have interpreted the few things I shared as clear evidence that I was moving away from truth. At the same time I felt an urgency to get him to see the fallacies of some of the doctrines I had once believed. Our religious differences were driving a wedge between us.
On our trip Sylvia and I talked about this and determined to focus on what we had in common as a family and avoid religious conflict. This would be easy, I thought, since we would be seeing our new grandson, Jonathan, for the first time. We were excited about that. David also had a new computer system. He and I would enjoy some time together with that.
Apparently, Vickie, our daughter-in-law, had been thinking along those same lines. Shortly after we arrived, she emphasized how very important both his new son and his new computer system were to David.
Little did I know that during this visit there would be two other things that would really get my attention. I would see a evil spirit one morning and hear a powerful Voice that did not come through my ears the next.
This was at a time when I had been grieving over lost opportunities. The Lord continued to soften my heart and bring to mind my shortcomings as a father. I didn't spend much time with my children as they grew up.
I had apologized to Suzanne, who lives near us in Brevard, and I had written a letter to Robynne asking for her forgiveness a week earlier. Shortly after we arrived at David's home, I apologized to him, too. His quick response gave me some encouragement.
He said, "Dad, you came to all of my practices and watched me sit on the bench during games. Some of our starters' parents seldom came to watch them play."
My thoughts went back to his early school days. In the fifth grade, David began playing basketball in a Boys' Club league, and I went to the Pine Hills Elementary School grounds directly from work daily to watch his team practice. I really enjoyed that. Maybe I was doing something vicariously through my son that I never had an opportunity to do myself. No, it was more than that. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was doing something with David that my father never had an opportunity to do with me.
Yes, I did have memories of a little time spent with David, but what about my daughters? I love Suzanne and Robynne just as much as David. What memories do we have of special time spent together? Most likely, they can't think of one. I didn't know how to relate to the girls. I regret that so very much!
Seeing the Unseen
As I woke up the morning of our last full day at David's, I saw a very handsome face up near the ceiling across the room. No body, just a head. It was full of light, smiling, and coming toward me.
My first impression was that this was God and he wanted to kiss me, and I was pleased with that. But as the face came closer, the light in the image faded and became very dark. Even while I was lying on my back, he was able to move to the back of my head, which was in a pillow, and sink his teeth into the base of my neck, the area which was the center of most of the pain from my back injuries.
I immediately became numb and paralyzed from my neck down. My body felt like it was dangling in mid-air from the teeth of this evil spirit. I couldn't move my arms or legs. I felt helpless. It was frightening!
I said, "No! Stop!!!"
Then the image faded away. Feeling and movement returned to my arms and legs.
No doubt about it -- what appeared at first to be an "angel of light" turned out to be an evil spirit.
Apparently the Lord was letting me see that not all of my back problems were physical, but that evil spirits were also involved in our lives.
It is for sure -- we are not alone!
Later that morning just before breakfast, despite my good intentions I entered into an argument with David. He showed me a book by F. LaGard Smith on "the church and culture" and said that I should read that book; it has a lot in it about the New Age Movement. He said that I sounded a lot like them. Then I responded and our emotional discussion was under way.
"Tell Him Nothing!"
That night after we went to bed, a couple of thoughts came to me. I said to myself, "This is smarter than I am. This must be from the Lord. If I were to tell David these things, he would clearly see what I have been trying to get him to see."
The next morning I was up before anyone else. I lay on the floor in the dining room in the dark doing my stretching exercises. We planned to begin traveling toward our next destination after breakfast. I thought about the two things that had come to mind the night before. I started to plan my strategy of how I might tell David these things without getting into another argument and having to leave with bad feelings between us.
Then it occurred to me that I had not asked God if these thoughts were from Him, and if He wanted me to tell David these things. I was certain that they had come from the Lord. These thoughts were too brilliant to be mine. And surely they did not come from Satan or his minions.
Asking the Lord about something before I did it still did not come natural for me. I usually didn't think to do that until after I had acted on my own, and it was then too late to ask. But fortunately, this time I remembered.
I prayed silently, "Lord, do you want me to tell David these things that came to my mind last night?" I continued exercising and counting the repetitions while I waited for some indication from the Lord.
A thought suddenly entered my mind: "Wait on the Lord."
At the time I did not realize that this was the Lord's answer to my question. I interpreted it as a command to be still and wait for an answer. I realized that I wasn't giving God my undivided attention. I was continuing to exercise and to count the repetitions. It was very difficult for me to stay completely still and wait for the Lord's answer, but I forced myself.
I asked again, "Lord, do you want me to tell David these things?" And I waited.
For a couple of minutes or more, I lay there with my eyes closed, listening intently for a strong thought from God. At the same time my mind's eye searched for something visual. I expected the Lord the respond in some way, but I had no idea how.
Then I heard an audible voice that seemed to originate inside my head just above my left ear. It was a powerful, deep, masculine voice with the effects of an echo chamber. With much authority, the Voice said, "Tell him..." There was a pause.
"Yes. Tell him what?" I thought. I was concentrating so much on the message that the full impact of what was happening escaped my notice for the moment.
"NOTHING!!!" the Voice responded.
I wasn't expecting this. I was still sure that I should tell David what had come to my mind the night before.
I said, "Is that you, Lord? Do you want me to tell David these things?"
"TELL HIM NOTHING!!!" The Voice came back stronger.
"You don't want me to tell him anything?" I asked again.
"Tell him NOTHiiinnnnggggg..."
The Voice faded away.
And then silence...
It took me a few minutes to digest what had just happened. I was surprised, yet relieved. Now I didn't have to run the risk of having a confrontation with David during our last few minutes together.
And I felt a burden lifted. Until now, there seemed to be an urgency to get David to understand what I had learned. It wasn't urgent anymore. The Lord let me know in very clear terms that He was in charge.
As David and I talked on the phone about nine months later, he told me something that I tried to put out of my mind; but I couldn't. The Lord prompted me to write a letter to David, and troubled me over it until I finally obeyed two weeks later. Here are some excerpts from that letter:
"It is easy to see Satan at work when it comes to immorality. The news is full of his handiwork. But what is not so obvious is his success among Christians. Certainly, religious people are not immune to the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye, but for those not so easily tempted by that, Satan has another trick. He uses it over and over, and we keep falling for it. It is called pride.
"He gets us to take our eyes off Jesus...
"He gets us to focus on the Church instead. Preaching and conversation bears witness to this fact as the word 'church' comes up in practically every other breath and is used when the name of Jesus would be more appropriate...
"For some time now, I have felt there was something very wrong with some of the preaching and writing on baptism. But as I paid close attention to what was said, I found myself in agreement. That puzzled me. What was troubling my spirit? I finally realized what it was. There was such an emphasis placed on baptism that it was taken out of the realm of grace and put in the realm of works. The sermons and articles were focusing on baptism instead of Jesus.
"At first I was encouraged when you told me that at a monthly luncheon the group of preachers you meet with had determined from the scriptures that God made no law concerning choirs and solos. But then you went ahead and made one yourselves. You said that everyone agreed that it would be expedient not to allow them. You would all probably deny that you just made or perpetuated, a man-made law for God. But you did. You said the group of preachers were concerned that someone may have the wrong motive and do it for entertainment..."
Within a few days I received David's response -- a big thick letter. I thought, "Uh oh! Maybe the Lord didn't want me to write that letter after all."
I guess I was expecting a light bulb to come on inside David's head as he read my letter, and that he would respond with "Now I see!" But as I began to read his letter, while I realized it was not the response I was expecting, I could see the Holy Spirit at work.
Although David responded very strongly with arguments against what he perceived my beliefs to be, he did so from a heart of love and concern. Tears swelled up in my eyes as I read his words:
"I hope the tone of this letter doesn't sound disrespectful or harsh. That is not my intention. It is just that your letter has stirred up things that have been running through my mind for a long time, that I was tempted to say, but didn't...
"It's not fair to you, to not tell you how these things are sitting with me... I trust you will understand my motivation. It is simply to be frank. If I didn't love you, I would continue to bite my tongue and not respond. My delay in responding before was to give myself more time to mull it over and to try not to react before making an effort to know where you are coming from. Though I have responded at this time, I do not intend to stop trying to understand you."
The rest of his letter dealt with what he perceived to be my beliefs and his response to them.
I responded promptly to his letter with this short note: "I received your very nice letter today. Thanks so very much for letting me know what you have been thinking...
"I'm going to wait a little while before responding to some of the things in your letter. I want to carefully read it again, digest it, study the scriptures, and pray about it before I write. There are some misunderstandings which maybe I can clear up now that I know about them, but I'll just wait and do that at the same time.
"You may be surprised to learn that I was greatly encouraged by your letter. We have started a dialogue and I would like to see it continue.
"You are a very special person, David. I know you love me, even as I love you. I thank our Father in heaven and our Lord Jesus for allowing me to be your earthly father. What a blessing!"
A week later I followed up with a letter to clear up some misunderstanding and to deal with some of the disagreements between David and me.
And over the years since then our relationship has grown even stronger!
The Lord was teaching me that there is a time to speak and a time to say nothing. And as I focus on Jesus, the Holy Spirit will let me know which...
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