Monday, November 05, 2012
Happy Birthday, Frank!
Today would have been my father's 79th birthday. That just seems crazy. Time goes by much too quickly!
Dad and I had a tough relationship. I actually look at him from two separate angles.
First of all, there is the Dad I am so proud of I can hardly stand it. He was one of the most amazing pastors I've known in my life. He delivered good, strong messages on Sunday mornings, but that wasn't what made him such a good pastor. It was everything else that he did. Dad was smart ... wicked smart. He loved to read, even though he complained that he was terribly slow at it. He'd watch Mom or me tear through a book and just snarl at us in envy. But, he read a lot and he remembered what he read. Dad was an athlete, so physical things didn't scare him. He started taking kids on adventure trips early on in his ministry. For a while he was involved with Boy Scouts and took those kids all over the place, but then he realized that the youth groups in his churches could enjoy trips and all he had to do was make sure everyone was safe. He could do that.
There were things our family did that I would never consider doing now ... because Dad made them seem easy and if they weren't easy for anyone else, he just took care of them. I thought I loved to go fishing, but what I discovered was that my love of fishing came about because Dad did all the hard work. We'd walk the river at the cabin fishing, he'd set out trot lines and wake me up several times throughout the night to walk them with him. But, he cleaned all the fish and then told everyone how much work I'd done. We went on fishing trips into Canada. Every morning at 4 am, he'd knock on my window and I'd crawl out of bed, bleary-eyed and wander down to the dock so that we could get out on the lake where he just KNEW there would be a school of walleye. I'd try to drag myself awake for 45 minutes while he quietly motored out to a location he'd spotted. Then, when I was nearly awake, he'd hand me a fishing pole and let me go.
Camping? Dad was a master at camping. We didn't have a motor home, he had designed a tent when he was very young and commissioned a tent maker to create it. It's heavier than sin. In 1982, Dad, Mom, my brother and I traveled into Canada. Dad's plan was to drive as far as the road would take us. He'd looked at the map and found a camping spot on a beautiful lake. He was pretty sure no one else would be around. He was right. We drove our van, with a canoe on top all through the night. All four of us changed seats and kept that trip moving. Dad had packed the back of the van so that two people could sleep on 8" foam mattresses which were held off the floor by crates filled with every single thing we would need during that trip. He had packed the food in coolers and crates, had all of the tools necessary and when we arrived at the campsite, he began setting things up immediately. The tent went up, a tarp was strung between trees to keep our table clear and protected from most rain, a toilet seat came out from under the beds and he dug a pit between two downed trees, then set the seat up far enough away that we had privacy and were still safe. He turned that campsite into a home for the next week and we had a blast. He and Jim stayed in the tent. Mom and I didn't like the noise wolves made around the campsite and slept in the safety of the van. I tried sleeping in a tent one more time in my adult life and realized that without Dad there to think of every little thing and ensure that his family was safe and comfortable, it wasn't very much fun.
He did the same thing in his churches. He made it safe for people to attend. There is so much garbage that happens in a church, but Dad deflected it all ... or as much as he possibly could ... knowing that if it was on his shoulders, no one else would miss the good things that God had for them. If there was conflict, Dad waded right into the middle of it with no fear and made sure that everyone recognized that right was right and wrong was wrong and right was going to win. He believed in the power of prayer and spent hours on his knees. Every Sunday morning before worship service, Dad walked to the altar to kneel and pray. Worship wasn't going to begin without prayer. He invited others to join him and every single Sunday, there were always people who were willing to be visible in prayer because he was so open about it.
Dad was an introvert, but no one would have ever known that. It was God's love that flowed through Dad to other people. He was just a conduit and he acknowledged that.
Dad wasn't afraid of hard work. From painting a very high steeple at his first church in Gravity, Iowa (a story that people told for a long time because he scared them to death), to making sure that the Board of Trustees didn't have to show up at the house every time an appliance broke down or a window was broken; Dad was always first on the line to do the hard work which came from owning property. We continually heard from people that they were always surprised to see Dad already working on a problem when they showed up. They were used to the pastor just calling a repairman and submitting the bill. If Dad needed extra help, he called on the people he knew could do the work and then they dug in and did it.
He took every church that was in the red into the black within a year. He knew how to cut back on expenses and tighten up the budget until he had encouraged people to support the ministry of God in their midst. He was the first to tithe from his salary and though he never said a word about it, people recognized that when his generosity far outpaced theirs, they could be a little more generous with their church.
I've been in a lot of different churches under a lot of different ministers since Dad moved away from the Omaha area. I've experienced both amazing and horrid pastors. But, I don't believe that there are any who had more integrity and compassion, dedication and commitment to leadership as my father. He was never going to be a mega-church pastor, but for the lives he touched, he was the best pastor people would ever know. He's the best pastor I've ever known.
The rest of the story? Well, he was as human as they come. Thank goodness he had my mother around to temper his behavior with his family. He could be strident and unforgiving, legalistic and forceful. She balanced him and the two of them managed to have a home with kids who grew up pretty well. My problem was, I was very much like him (but do not think for a moment I accepted that when I was young). I quit talking to him in high school at some point. He just pissed me off every single time I approached him at home. The man needed to just loosen up and let us live a little bit. I suspect that all three of us kids had our issues with him. It wasn't easy being Frank Greenwood's kid.
I have a lot of funny stories about my life during those years with him ... one of these days I'll let you in on some of them!