FROM THE HEART OF
DR. REXELLA VAN IMPE
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
Have you ever wondered how the world must look to a little baby? After nine months of confinement, tucked close beneath its mother's heart, the world must seem a strange, vast place.
Looking up from its crib, perhaps a little one's first awareness is of faces looking down. Probably the first person to attract the baby's attention would be its mother.
"Who is this person?" might be the baby's first question, if it could speak. I'm told that the miraculous, divinely-planned bonding between child and mother begins almost immediately after birth. Many experts believe a baby even recognizes its mother's voice from months of hearing it inside the womb.
And the baby's next question might be, "Who is that man?" Given the proper time, care, and attention from the male parent, the infant will grow to recognize and love its father, too. Throughout every stage of its growth and development, that child needs the influence and nurture of both a mother and father. Expressing affection to the child in a positive way, like hugging, is important in developing a sense of security.
Sorry to say, too often there is not enough of a relationship between fathers and children. There is too little male bonding. Some recent studies have determined that a great many men spend only about ten minutes a day with their children. As a result, fathers are virtual strangers to their offspring. Children can't identify with their father-they don't know who he is or what he stands for. They would find it impossible to say what their dad's outlook and philosophy is.
This condition is one of the sad and serious consequences of homes broken by divorce. There are millions of single-parent homes where children grow up never knowing the influence of a man in the house.
Even in homes with mothers and fathers, sometimes dads spend too many hours watching TV, or involving themselves in hobbies or activities that take them away from their children. Sometimes, even church activities can keep men really busy with Sunday and Wednesday services, and perhaps one or two other nights of serving on boards or committees.
Because of the hectic pace of modem life... and possibly even because of the demented, evil behavior of a small percentage of men who victimize and abuse youngsters-the normal, healthy bond of intimacy between father's and children is deteriorating.
In recent months, there seems to be a new emphasis on developing positive parent-child relationships-especially with fathers. I applaud this and encourage every Christian father to invest more time and interest in his children. Almost nothing is more important to the whole family's welfare than for the man of the house to be a real father.
As I look back over my childhood and teenage years, I realize what an important role my dad, Rex Shelton, played in my life. And looking around at the multiplied thousands of youngsters who have absolutely no father-image, or a father who takes little or no interest in them, or even worse, a father who persecutes and abuses them, my heart goes out to them.
No wonder our youth are out of control, our families deteriorating, and our nation veering disastrously off course! God, give us fathers-godly men like my precious dad!
Caring and sharing
I knew my father. He was a real, flesh and blood, down-to-earth person. He was not afraid to share his struggles and troubles openly...not to burden his children but to let us see how he worked through hard times and faced adversity...and how he trusted God. He openly showed us the reality of Christian living.
Dad had a big heart. He cared for others, and always was quick to extend a helping hand. Dad came from a family of eight children, and he even helped take care of his brothers and sisters, taking responsibility for them until they were old enough to be on their own.
My dad was tenderhearted... and not afraid of tears. He was moved by the feelings of others. If I cried, often he cried too, sharing my sorrow, and offering comfort and encouragement. I always knew he cared.
He also was free-spirited and fun loving, and never outgrew the joy of playing. I remember going swimming and water skiing, and tobogganing with him in the snow. Once, when I was just a little girl, Dad and I were out walking in the snow and I got so cold I couldn't stand it. Dad picked me up, put me inside his coat, wrapping it snugly around the both of us. I felt so secure in his arms-protected, safe, warm, and loved.
That's really how Dad made me feel all my life. I never remember him saying, "Leave me alone-I don't have time for you right now." He made time for me when I needed and wanted him-he was always there, physically and emotionally.
When I had a serious tooth problem and had to go to the dentist for a root canal, it was Dad who took me and held my hand through the frightening ordeal. And it was Dad who taught me to face reality, putting Merthiolate on a scrape and saying, "Rexella, this WILL hurt-but it will help you get well."
Dad knew how to make me feel special. Sometimes I'd follow him out into the backyard garden-just because I enjoyed walking with him and looking at the vegetables. He'd find the biggest and best red tomato in the whole garden and give it to me, along with a salt shaker he'd carried in his pocket just for that walk.
Children love to know what their fathers do. My dad was a quality control inspector on a General Motors auto assembly line. I'll never forget when he took me to see his work. I was so proud of him-I thought he was so important. It made me look up to him even more.
My father did not send me to church with my mother-he took us to church as a family. I started singing at church when I was about five years old. When I'd look out at the congregation, Dad was always there and his face shone with approval!
Years later, when Jack and I were young evangelists, whenever we were within 50-100 miles of home, Dad would drive over to be in our services. Sometimes it meant he could only sleep four or five hours that night because he was up each morning at 5:30 a.m. for work.
I've always thought it must be profoundly painful to be publicly ridiculed or disciplined by one's parent. Dad always corrected me privately. I sometimes needed correction-and I got it! But Dad never humiliated me or made my misdeeds a public spectacle. And he used my mistakes as opportunities to teach me a better way.
Once I was trying to train a puppy to do tricks-with little results. I got so exasperated that I was yelling! Dad came out with a handful of treats and said, "Try using these as rewards-it will work better." Then he told me that when he was a boy, his mother had taught him to use sugar cubes instead of a stick to train his horse. I never forgot that lesson.
I was so fortunate-so blessed to have a good father. It was never difficult for me to understand or receive God's love because I had experienced the love of an earthly father. I could believe God would take my burdens (Psalm 55:22), supply my needs (Philippians 4:19), protect me (Psalm 91:11), direct me (Proverbs 3:5,6), and give me everlasting life and love (John 3:16). My earthly father had exemplified all these things to me. If Dad had these qualities, how could I doubt that God had them to the ultimate degree?
My dad taught me how to live. And he also taught me how to die. When my father's life came to an end, I remember the whole family gathering in his hospital room to spend the last precious hours with him. He suffered in dignity...and died in peace.
Shortly before he crossed over into heaven, I was alone with Dad for a few minutes. I asked, "Dad, we don't have a lot of time left to be together here in this world. Is there anything you have to tell me?"
He was quiet for a long moment, then he squeezed my hand gently and said, "Fulfill the reason for which you've been born!" Those words have been my goal ever since. And with all the strength and wisdom I can summon, each day I try to give my best...to the work of God that is my life's calling.
Walking through the valley
Not long after this happened. Dad stirred a bit and said, "Look, I'm walking through the valley!"
"Who is waiting for you on the other side?" I asked, as tears streamed down my cheeks.
"My Lord," he said. "My Lord is waiting."
In a few minutes, Dad said he needed to rest, but he wanted to pray before he went to sleep. I held his hand as he prayed. He said, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul to take."
I knew Dad could lay down to sleep, knowing he had been a good father-that his primary work was done. Like the Apostle Paul, he could say, "I've finished the course."
Looking back fondly, somehow it seems just right that, in his last supplication, Dad would revert to that simple, beautiful child's bed-time prayer. After all, he was moving into the presence of his Father.
The other day, after an exhausting session before the TV cameras, I was feeling a bit weary and under the weather. For some reason, when I got home I opened an old scrapbook, and a piece of paper fluttered loose. It was a church attendance slip from my childhood days. Written on the back, in Dad's handwriting, was a note he'd jotted down for me after I'd sung at church. But his words reached across the years and blessed me once again. "Dear Rexella," I read through my tears, "this was your most beautiful and best yet. Love, Dad."
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