Today is a momentous day, and one that I almost missed completely! For some reason when I was recently thinking “January” thoughts, I began to remember a couple of cold January days that were momentous in their own right, days when our family huddled around open graves and said a loving “farewell for now” to both a mother and father. Last week on January 9th was the 13th anniversary of my father’s death. On the 25th my mom will have been gone for over 20 years! I was blessed with the most wonderful parents—not perfect, mind you—but wonderful in their imperfection and made so because they had tasted God’s grace in their lives and were constantly aware of that undeserved gift, and so very glad to share mercy with others including and especially their children. Hard as it may be to believe, I needed a lot of mercy and grace growing up! And I still do…
What is so momentous about today is that one hundred years ago today, my father was born on a farm near Ballinger, Texas, the firstborn son of George and Velma Shelburne. While I’m sure it was a momentous day for my grandparents, in so many ways it was terribly ordinary, the birth of still another child in rural America, a nation not far away from being drawn into its first World War; what was one more child born to impoverished parents on a farm somewhere near Nowhereville?
Of course, that same thing might easily have been said about Abraham Lincoln. A lot of men who later went on to change the nation, even the world, were born to poor parents living in obscurity. It might be argued, and argued well I think, that these kind of men became what they were later in life because of their birth circumstances rather than in spite of them. My own father was no Abraham Lincoln, and his name will likely never be found in a world history book. But he was famous, in his own way, known, respected, beloved by thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ who had been blessed by his ministry. Growing up I never realized I had a famous father. I guess as a child I assumed that everyone’s dad traveled around the country and even to foreign destinations, preaching and teaching anywhere he had the chance. Dad was a capable orator, any giftedness he lacked made up for by his genuineness and love for the Bible. Dad was more teacher than preacher, really, having settled early-on in life into the role of a trainer, mentor and preparer of young men for lives to be spent in ministry. It would be hard to calculate the multiplied influence of his investment in their lives. He touched thousands, and they touched thousands. Today there are hundreds of men and women serving in differing forms of ministry, the 2nd and 3rd generations of the firstfruits of his own investment in them. I am one of those myself.
There are so many things I might say about my father, and maybe those topics are best reserved for another day’s writing. He certainly wasn’t the typical father, and at times I remember wishing that he might be a little more like some of the dads of the kids I hung around with–dads who worked on cars and built things and played football with their sons. That wasn’t my dad. But even as a child before I had the years behind me to begin to understand, I sensed that whatever Dad was driven by—it must have been the most important work in the world, and he, being so consumed by it, must have been an important part of that work. I now know that it was and he was.
Years ago following Dad’s funeral, my brother (the number 3 son Curtis) wrote a piece that so wonderfully captured the consequence of having a dad like mine, as well as how different the world might be if we all were so privileged. I’ll close by letting Curtis’ words resonate once again. Happy Birthday, Dad!
If Everybody Had a Father Like I Had a Father . . . By Curtis K. Shelburne
It’s been just a little over twenty-four hours since I got word that the kindest, gentlest, strongest, and best man I have ever known passed away. He was my father. Though many thoughts have been racing through my mind, I’ve realized that, if everybody had a father like I had a father, well, lots would be different in this world.
If everybody had a father like I had a father, no child would ever have to walk out the door or crawl into bed wondering if his father loved and wanted him.
If everybody had a father like I had a father, no child would ever go to bed worried that his father might not really love his mother.
If everybody had a father like I had a father, no son or daughter would ever see his father raise his hand or even his voice in anger.
If everybody had a father like I had a father, no one would have to ask how it is possible to be strong and gentle, just and loving, all at the same time.
If everybody had a father like I had a father, nations would not fight nations, families would not fight families, and Christians would never fight Christians, because we would all rather be hurt than be hurtful. And the hurts that are part and parcel of human existence would never be hurts we inflicted upon each other.
If everybody had a father like I had a father, every child would grow up knowing that the way to real happiness is to love the Father of all and the Son who died to save us.
If everybody had a father like I had a father, every child would grow up knowing that, even with all the church’s imperfections, the Bride of Christ is still the finest family of all, and that in her warmth is found spiritual nourishment and fine fellowship and genuine love.
If everybody had a father like I had a father, good times would be even better and bad times would be more bearable, because of the unfailing love of our fathers.
If everybody had a father like I had a father, well, there would still be problems in this fallen world because we would all still be sons and daughters of our father Adam, too.
But if everyone had a father like I had a father, then everyone would grow up knowing a lot more what their Father God looks like and acts like and loves like.
If everyone had a father like I had a father, then everyone would know the Father’s love largely because of their father’s love.
If everyone had a father like I had a father, this world and life itself would be much, much better.
But if everyone had a father like I had a father, I might not know what a fine father I had. And, not knowing that, I might not know what a Father I have, and that the best Father of all is your Father, too.