My father’s words

When I decided – in my confident, teenage way – to go to university in a city far from family, I didn’t really know how alone I would feel. I chose Edmonton, city of snow, indoor malls, and hockey mania. I might as well have decided to relocate to Timbuktu.

While I found it exciting to meet new people and try new situations, I had always been able to retreat to familiarity if the strain of discovery got tiring. Phone calls were now expenses I couldn’t afford, and writing letters drained time from a resource in drought. Letters from home were welcome distractions from studying, but couldn’t be timed to connect with frustrations or successes as I felt them.

Instead, I carried out internal dialogues, prayers, and journal entries with no expectation of response. I saved up stories, queries, anger, and angst for Christmas vacation.

When I pulled a letter from home out of my narrow, metal mail slot one afternoon, I felt no compulsion to tear it open. Like other motherly editions, it likely contained reports about church happenings, the weather, and my father’s work. There’d be questions about my courses and living conditions, and maybe the answer to something I’d forgotten I had even asked.

I folded it neatly and placed it in my backpack. This pleasant-but-outdated one-way conversation could wait for a moment of leisure.

The important business at hand was a trip to the embarrassingly huge West Edmonton Mall. Twice a semester, armed with a lists of needs (underwear, shampoo) and wants (new jeans, a hot pink toque), I allowed myself the luxury of such an outing.

Walking from end to end of the material mecca, I looked, touched, and evaluated my measured purchases. Finally, I stopped my marathon for a rest. As I pulled a bruised apple and crumpled crackers from my bag, the letter fell out. This was my moment of leisure: I bit into the apple and stuck my finger under the flap.

The writing on the envelope was my mother’s, but inside the hand was my father’s. I couldn’t remember him writing me since summer camp when I was nine years old.

Fully engaged, I flipped open the letter and began to decipher his unfamiliar script.

With a customary lack of pleasantries, my father entered into what seemed to be a theological essay, explaining the Israelites’ role in God’s revelation of the plan of salvation. He explained that God had pursued a relationship with his chosen people despite their determination to live apart from him. He told of the many persistent ways God showed his people he loved them. He further explained that by ensuring a strong bond of faith throughout many generations, God enabled the Israelites to withstand the temptations of their neighbouring environments to establish a lasting witness to his faithfulness.

After this impromptu essay came a list of answers to my cynical university professors’ questions about God’s existence, uniqueness, power…. My eyes filled with tears and my vision vanished. Completely ambushed by emotions, I scrambled to hide my face behind the flap of my backpack as I fumbled for Kleenex and clarity.

Once again, the letter was put away to be read at a later time.

The words were secondary; the letter showed me a father pursuing a relationship with his daughter despite her determination to live apart from him,  persistently showing he loved her and cared about her spiritual state. They demonstrated his hope that a strong bond of faith would enable her to withstand the temptations of her environments and to establish a lasting witness to God.

My father had pulled me from ambivalent solitude. He dragged me back to the questions about faith and God I’d sent home and promptly forgotten. With this letter, he demanded to be relevant; it was not a one-way conversation, but his half of the dialogue. Sensing my weakness, he had made the trip across the mountains, climbed the stairs to my apartment, and accompanied me to my hostile classroom. I was not expecting the visit.

—Darice Wiebe Lutz attends Emmaus (MB) Church in Surrey, B.C.

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