EMPTY CHAIR

 

We embraced as we had done many times before. The six days we spent together in my old stomping grounds just didn’t seem long enough—-but my vacation was coming to an end, and I had to leave my beloved Huttonsville and my beloved dad. We’d talked, laughed, trimmed grapevines, stained a wooden entry ramp, shared meals, watched basketball games, napped in recliners, and other non-descript activities. One highlight was Sunday when Dad and I met my two sisters for church, followed by an all-family lunch at the local steakhouse buffet. As 19 of the 30 or so “kids,” grandkids, and great grandkids piled into the back room, the noise level rose markedly, and the amount of buffet food decreased rapidly. The family always loved to be together, and that day was nearly perfect, the only drawback being those family members who could not be with us. We lamented their absences for there were empty seats at my father’s table, and he would have loved to have them all filled. Strange, only one week prior, I had been in my “father’s seat,” and I knew exactly how he felt.

                                                                 ******

The morning started early, but getting my lovely wife Suzanne out of bed was no challenge; for we were off to Birmingham to see two of our three kids. Katie, our youngest by one minute, had traveled from Denver to Chattanooga for a wedding and she was meeting Eric, our oldest, and his wife, Lauren—who were driving up from Dothan—in Birmingham for lunch. Being the good parents we are, we decided to crash their party so we could steal a couple precious hours with those we love. Sally, our middle daughter by one minute, a teacher in Houston, would be the only hold out.

Suzanne was actually giddy as she was getting ready to leave…by all accounts, she might even have been ready by our 8:00 am departure time. Now realize, 8:00 am departure at my house means I’m ready with car packed at 7:30 am. Then I start my “walking into the master bathroom, looking at Suzanne, looking at my watch and walking out” routine. My frequency increases as the departure time nears, which usually has absolutely no effect on Suzanne’s preparation schedule…8:00 being merely a guideline to her. Amazingly, we were out the door by 8:10 am…5 minutes earlier than the time I really thought we needed to leave, but didn’t tell her.

The day was foggy with misting rain, but our spirits were sunny. We arrived in Birmingham, picked Katie up at a friend’s house, and met Eric and Lauren at a great Greek restaurant. When the food was served, we joined hands and I offered a prayer, including a special blessing for Sally, as she would be missed at my table. As Suzanne and I listened to the tales of the kids’ lives, we realized just what great young adults they had become and how independent they were from us. As I went for my 4th refill on Diet Coke with a splash of Fanta Orange, I looked back at the table and saw the one empty chair—a near perfect day if only Sally could have joined us. I turned to go back to my table when the restaurant door opened and another young adult entered. I did a double take. It was Sally! Suzanne and Katie looked at the rest of us and said, “Surprise!” Sally had flown in to attend a wedding, and the three girls had cooked up their plan.. She looked at me with a huge smile and outstretched arms. We embraced. As we sat down, the remaining seat at this father’s table was filled, if only for a few precious hours.

                                                                         *****

One must think about our Heavenly Father’s table and His immense love for those who sit in His presence to feed off His unwavering grace. But there are also a large number of empty seats our Father desires to fill. Can you imagine His intense pleasure when another soul opens the door and walks in to join His family? And His joy when He embraces one he has known since even before the womb.

His table is open for all to feast; all we need to do is accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and ask Him to be an integral part of our daily lives. He will embrace us with His immense love and we will be astonished at “how more perfect the days can be”…

Keep smilin’, Mike

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