Recently, a few weeks after my father Frank’s passing, I spent time with my mother Flora going through some of his things. He didn’t leave much behind, being a simple man with simple tastes. There were a few clothes; some medals from World War II; a few service pins; several books; a 1980 appointment calendar in which he had scribbled dozens of motivational sayings; and a strange piece of metal we found lying in a drawer. My mom gasped when she picked up the metal bar, thick and laden with screws. “Look at this,” she said. “What is it?” I inquired. She proceeded to remind me how, as an infant, I’d had some kind of problem with my legs. They were crooked or bow-legged or something of the sort. I’d worn these special braces for a while so they would eventually straighten themselves out.
She said I’d bang my brace-covered legs against the side of the crib, making quite an awful racket for my family of six.
Mom said my Dad would never part with this particular brace. He kept it with him, one city or another, one office or another, one drawer or another, for some 37 years–the entire duration of my life with him. I had no idea the brace even still existed until that day, when he had already slipped from my grasp and into the arms of God.
I asked her if I could keep the brace now, and she nodded that I could.
I thought warmly of my Father, keeping the brace with him even as he watched his son grow into a youngster with strong legs that ran baseball diamonds and galloped across sandlot football fields. Legs that took me into my teen years, that pressed an accelerator and a brake shoe, legs that eventually took me out of the house and off to college and off to start my own family. He kept the baby’s brace, even as the baby gradually became a man.
Perhaps it was his own simple effort to hold onto a slice of the past that he treasured. Perhaps it was a way to always be reminded of the once-frail nature of his tiny son, who had grown taller than him as a teenager. I don’t fully know the depth of his motivation. All I know is that the fact he kept the brace was no surprise, given the bigger picture of the love he showed me and many others.
As I held the brace, I could still feel the frailty, the helplessness, the sense of needing my Dad so much. Although on the outside I stood tall and straight, inside I felt crippled again, heartbroken at my loss. But I also felt deeper strength welling from within, as if the ongoing legacy of my Dad’s love was continuing to shape how I saw myself and others.
I then began to think of how our heavenly Father feels about us. He understands our weaknesses with more empathy than we show ourselves. He sees our frailty, our lack of ability to walk on our own without him. Sometimes, in sacred moments during which we are paying attention, he lets us stumble upon some relic, some object, something that reminds us of our timeless need to have him strengthen us and protect us so that we can walk in our full potential.
The heavenly Father’s heart grows sad when we decide for ourselves that we can walk without him. I imagine my earthly Dad felt said at times when it seemed–especially during my teen years–that I didn’t need him any more. He wanted something nearby to remind him of how needed he once had been. The brace stayed in his drawer nearby, a tangible reminder of the frailty he had nurtured into strength.
The Old Testament book of 2 Samuel tells the story of a young man named Mephibosheth, who was a member of the extensive household of Israel’s first king, Saul. At the end of his reign, chaos swept Saul’s kingdom and he, his sons and many others were killed. In the confusion, baby Mephibosheth was dropped to the ground and his feet were injured. The ancient scripture states that he became lame, or crippled, in both feet.
Years later, when the legendary David succeeded Saul as King, he remembered his warm friendship with Saul’s late son Jonathan. Even though Saul had been cruel to David, for Jonathan’s sake David wanted to show kindness to a member of that family. When he asked if any survivors remained upon whom he could express his graciousness, he was presented with Mephibosheth and his crippled feet.
The text records that David invited the crippled boy to eat at his table. From that day forward, it asserts, Mephibosheth dined at the king’s table, crippled feet and all.
I spent many years at my Dad’s table, eating, listening, talking, learning, growing. There always was a place for me there, even if part of me sometimes felt crippled.
God continues to promise a place for each of us at his heavenly banquet feast. He accepts the crippled, the broken, the downtrodden, the discouraged, and the ashamed.
We’re invited to drag our often sorry selves into his great dining room, and to be overwhelmed by his love. He has not forgotten our frailty, for the constant reminder he keeps nearby is his own Son, who has made us able to stand and walk.