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“Why not be reconciled today?"

J. Mark Fox
Third Prize - $4,000

J. Mark Fox writes a weekly column for The Times-News in Burlington, NC, has served as pastor of Antioch Community Church since its beginning in 1987, and has taught Public Speaking at Elon University since 1990. He is the author of Family-Integrated Church, Real Life Moments, and three other books. He is happily married to Cindy and together they have 7 children and two grandchildren. Mark is a previous Amy Writing Award winner.

Picture three grown sons standing around their father’s bed on Christmas, 2005. The four men of the family were together for the first time in at least 15 years. The oldest grew up like many firstborns, wanting to please his dad, working for the company that gave his father a career, being a responsible son. The second son ran off to college, met his wife, and settled 75 miles away from his hometown. His relationship with his father had been strained over the years, sometimes because of his stubbornness and pride, sometimes because of his father’s. The third son ran off to the beach after some run-ins with the law, and there he had stayed, without a driver’s license but with a job, a moped and a faithful dog. He too had a strained relationship with his father whose feelings about his third son’s lifestyle seemed to alternate between guilt and frustration.


Here they were, all together again, brought to this place because their father was dying. He had been diagnosed three months earlier with cancer, and was doing all that he could to beat the disease. But the prognosis wasn’t good, and the weight of their father’s impending death muted the sons’ laughter and rough teasing. They didn’t know what to say. They listened to their father speak about growing up as one of eight children in a house where there were no extras and often not enough love to go around. “The only thing my parents ever gave me,” he said, “was a .22 rifle.” He went over the finances with his three sons, and began to cry as he spoke of leaving his wife, and their mother, behind.


He said that he had not done a good job when the three boys were growing up of expressing how proud he was of them. “I couldn’t have asked for three finer sons,” he said. “I just wish I had done a better job giving encouragement and guidance for you three, but when I was growing up, all I got from my dad was the belt…and I guess I passed some of that on.” The middle son responded, “Dad, we deserved every lickin’ we got…and plenty we didn’t get!” The father smiled tiredly and praised his two older sons for the way they had raised their own children. The talk shifted to final plans that would need to be made. “What would you like your obituary to say, Dad?” they asked, and the oldest took notes. “What hymn or scripture would you like in your funeral service?” the middle son asked. His father replied, “How Great Thou Art.”


He died a little more than 3 months later. And as the middle son, though I have many regrets about my relationship with Dad, for this one thing I will always be grateful: that the last Christmas we were together, speaking to one another with love, putting the past hurts behind us, loving one another just as Christ has loved us.


I am certain that this column is being read by many who are estranged from a brother, a father, a mother. Some have made a vow to themselves that you will “never step foot in that house again!” because of past hurts or offenses. Consider this truth: “Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Time is short, friend. Why not be reconciled today, before the sun goes down?


Is it hard? Yes. Is it worth it? Oh, yes.


“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you…”



Published in the December 29, 2009 issue of The Times News;  Burlington, NC.


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