Father@FortyOne #11 – A Great Father’s Day Present

***NOTE*** I started this blog post several months ago on Father’s Day and finally got back to it.  Although it’s history, I felt it was important to finish.

Dawn and the kids purchased a new weed-eater for my Father’s Day gift this weekend.  I’ve never owned one before and I was so excited to get that puppy fired up and cutting into the jungle I call my backyard.  It has the ability to accept many accessories and the one they got came with an edger attachment also.  How cool!

While the weed-eater satisfied an inner “guy” type of desire, it wasn’t the best present I received over the holiday.  Sure… breakfast in bed was great, the touching greeting cards (one of which was one of the coolest, sound-producing Star Wars cards I’ve ever experienced) made me well up with tears, but then I got the phone call that would change my Sunday.  I’ve recently had a wonderful widow added to the list of ladies I attend to as a deacon at our church.  She lives in an assisted care complex and a week ago I gave her a ride to church for the first time.  I told her last week after returning her home that if she ever needed a ride, to give me a call on a Saturday evening and I would be glad to pick her up.  No call last night, so Dawn and I made plans to leave town and meet up with her family after church.  That is, until the phone rang this morning.  My new widow asked if I could pick her up and take her to church.  I told her, “Sure, no problem!”  Dawn asked what was going on, I told her that plans were changing and I had an opportunity to answer Jesus calling on me.  Satan tried to temp me with disappointment, but I wouldn’t let him have it.

So we’re riding to church and the widow says, “Oh, it’s Father’s Day today, isn’t it?” and I said “Yep!”  She told me her Father has been gone for 51 years and she still misses him.  I asked her in an attempt to get to know her better, “So what is the one thing you remember most about your Dad?” At this point, my Heavenly Father gave me a Father’s Day present that overshadowed the weed-eater by a long shot.

She said that her father was a great provider and the strength of their family, but he wasn’t an overly emotional man and rarely said, “I love you” to his children.  Her story about the way he died proved that he really knew how to love better than most of us though.  She said that in 1961, her Dad and a buddy went to the Meramec river near Eureka to fish and train their dogs.  She said they heard some screaming upstream and ran to find out if someone needed help.  Five children, ranging from age 10 to as low as 6, were having difficulties swimming and would have drown if her Dad had not been there.  She said that all they could see was the children’s hair.  He drown that day, saving a little boy and giving his life for another.

(At this point I’m hoping she’s not looking at me in the car because I’ve got tears streaming down my face.)

She said that it was very difficult after her father died.  She said her mother sort of “shut down” after the drowning, and she had to pick up the matriarch role for awhile because she was the oldest girl in the family.  The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, an organization with a two-fold mission to recognize those who had given their lives to rescue others and provide assistance to their families left behind, wanted to award her family a Carnegie Medal and award on a TV program.  My widow said that she turned it down because she felt that her father wouldn’t want people making a fuss, but the Commission did help her family financially growing up.  ($500 per month for as long as her mother didn’t remarry)  I looked it up on the Carnegie Hero Fund website and sure enough, he was among the awardees:

House Springs, Missouri

William E. Johnson died after helping to save Willard Wiedeman, Jr., from drowning, Eureka, Missouri, September 10, 1961. Willard, Jr., 8, who could not swim, lost his footing on a sand bar in the Meramec River and was carried into water 14 feet deep 45 feet from the bank. He called for help as he alternately sank and rose. Johnson, 52, moulder, who was greatly overweight, swam toward the boy. He then called for help, but continued to Willard, Jr., and took hold of him. Both were submerged briefly twice, and Johnson called out that he could not retain his hold. The boy’s mother swam to them, took her son from Johnson, and towed him to the bank. Johnson again called for help. Willard Wiedeman, father of the boy, entered the water fully clothed except for his shoes and swam to Johnson, who by then had become inert and was almost completely submerged. Wiedeman lifted Johnson, who was 60 pounds heavier than he, to the surface and attempted to tow him toward the bank. Johnson sank, causing Wiedeman to be submerged and swallow some water. Wiedeman then surfaced with Johnson and, nearly exhausted, called for help. With a man holding one end of a rope tied around her waist, Wiedeman’s wife swam to her husband and Johnson as they sank again. Wiedeman returned to the surface alone, badly dazed. His wife grasped his hands, and both then were drawn to the bank by the rope. Willard, Jr., soon recovered. The body of Johnson later was recovered.

She said losing her father was a traumatic event in her life that left her changed for many years, until one night that she had a dream when she was about 20 years old.  She said in the dream she could see her father walking up the road toward her house.  She said he was old and worn-looking, but she could tell he was happy.  She said after that dream she knew he was alright and she was able to move on with her life.

I was completely speechless the rest of the way to church.  What can you say to that?  I thought about her story the rest of that Father’s Day and reflected on how I measured to that.  I think about whether I’m doing enough for my children and pointing them in the direction that God would like them to travel.  I think about my responsibility to train them up right and teach them how to love others.  If put in a similar situation as my widow’s father, how would I react?  Although a quiet man and not very affectionate during his time with his children, he showed his children the greatest example of love you can possibly show.  She said his memorial stone says something similar to John 15:13, “There is no greater love than to lay down your life for someone else.”

I like my weed-eater, but I like God’s gift of that story better.  I’m glad I was obedient that day to be blessed by the widow’s story.  Thank you Martha.


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