A LAST LETTER TO MY FATHER
by Mark Sandford
When my Father, John Sandford, went on to be with Jesus, his new wife, Marte, asked his children and friends to write letters to honor his memory. This is what I wrote. May his memory be blessed!
My favorite early memory of you is when I was five and I was stranded at three-year-old Beebee's house when a dust storm roared into our neighborhood. You came down the street and stuffed me under your tent-sized coat to shelter me from the billowing dust. In the coming weeks you caught on to my new habit of sneaking off to Beebee's house as soon as Mom warned me to stay home because another dust storm was on its way. I wanted to relive the feeling of being carried home up against that big strong chest under your thick warm jacket, There was no safer place in the world.
Your faith was always just like that. You didn't just believe in God; you really knew Him, and you held us all up close to His big strong chest inside that tent-sized spiritual mantle of yours. You made Him real at church camps and impromptu living room prayer meetings and bedtime prayers and lively banter at the dining room table about your latest spiritual discoveries.
And God didn't end with religion. You made Him appear everywhere. In glowing embers and campfire songs. In a trek through knee-deep fluff to find the perfect Christmas tree thirty miles from civilization. In the steamy excitement of a stroll through Yellowstone Geyser field. In bedtime readings of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. We always begged you to read us one more chapter. For others, God was a religious figurehead. For us, God was an adventure. And God was life. And life was an adventure.
And you showed us that God was an adventure worth fighting for. In my senior year in high school I sampled life outside the mantle; I fancied myself an agnostic. It didn't last long. Your church's board of trustees ordered you to stop doing altar calls. That wasn't "Congregationalist," they said. You stood at your pulpit in front of 200 people and boldly declared that when you must choose between God and the board of trustees, the choice is obvious. Not long after that I was back under the mantle. Because life without commitment is no life at all. You taught me that.
You never forced us to come under the mantle. You knew the need for us to individuate. We had to take ownership of your beliefs about God and Christian morals and make them our own through a process of discovery. So you didn't overprotect. Unlike some parents, you didn't try to scold us away from the "evils" of rock music, faddish folk ideals, and hair styles you must have found embarrassing. You chose to brave the risk of trusting us to find our way during hippie days — the most difficult time in all of history to raise teenagers. So when real evils came my way — drugs, sex, the occult — I turned them down. This was second nature; I wasn't even tempted. It seemed stupid to even consider them. I had come to own my own morality. None of the world's enticements had any appeal for me because you let me own it. And because of that, Maureen and I have been able to raise three children who stand just as firmly for morality and truth in a world given over more than ever to moral insanity.
Thank you for leaving a legacy of teachings that are enabling Maureen and me and thousands of others around the world to heal hearts and enable them to learn to live the adventure. Thank you for teaching us to enable others to allow themselves to be wooed back to sanity — back to safety and warmth and commitment. Thank you for being a rock in the middle of the billowing dust storm that has become our world. I don't have to worry about where the wind might blow me and my family because we are all tucked neatly inside that safe, warm place, carried up against the big, strong chest of a Father God whom we all know will never leave us. Thanks for helping us all to own that.
© Mark Sandford 2018