Much of what I know of charity envying not (and charity in totality) was learned by watching my father - particularly as he laid down his own life for the woman he loves. He never once begrudged what he might have had, but rather did what it took to serve his family and others in his own, individual, consciously chosen path. I hope someday I will be as good a man as he is.
Here is an edited version of what I wrote in November of 2007:
My father called this morning to tell us that my niece had died.
My father’s words to us were concise. He is not given to emotional displays, and his natural stoicism was evident in his call. He said two things: “Treasure your children every day of your lives,” and “Keep animals out of your house.” I was struck by how this conversation with my father encapsulated him so perfectly. To understand this, you need to know my father.
My mom has a rare form of schizophrenia. My father was unaware of this, as was everyone else (including my mother), when they got married. He found out after the birth of my sisters (twins), when she was overwhelmed and her mind wouldn’t shut down and allow her to sleep. She had what was termed a nervous breakdown, which led to her clinical diagnosis.
From that moment forward, my dad shielded my mom from every care of the world so her condition would stay in remission, if you will. By all practical measures, he became my father and my mother. My mom wanted more children, so he agreed - knowing that meant his responsibilities would increase accordingly. He shouldered all of the financial, household, emotional, physical, disciplinary, organizational, educational, etc. responsibilities for his family and allowed his wife to be seen by the community as the incredibly spiritual woman we knew as our mother - a modern Mormon saint. People in town admired his work ethic, but they never realized what he was doing behind our doors - because he never once mentioned it in any way to anyone.
Until her first breakdown, my father served in various leadership positions in the Church - for example, serving in a Bishopric before the age of 30. After that, he literally laid down the life he had been pursuing and focused on serving my mother. He waited nearly 30 years to serve in another position that required he spend significant time away from home - until his children were gone and my mom could function without the stress associated with raising them. He left an extremely well paying job with incredible advancement opportunities to go back to the small town where my mom was raised, simply to ease her stress and allow her to function normally. He became an elementary school janitor for over 20 years, took a 50% pay cut and focused on loving and serving his kids - both at home and at his school - in relative poverty.
Not holding a high-profile church position or good-paying job, he came to be known in town as a salt-of-the-earth farm boy - a good man, but certainly not a leader. I bought into that perception until my mother’s second breakdown a few years ago, when her “sleeping pills” stopped working and her whole personality changed. It was only after this experience that I finally saw my father for what he is - as close an example of the Savior’s single-minded dedication to service and family as anyone I have ever known.
(The full post can be read at: http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2007/10/my-niece-died-this-morning.html)
Today, as I contemplate charity envying not, I think of a man lying in a hospital - robbed of the physical strength and vitality that allowed him to work multiple jobs for years to provide for his familty and allow his beloved to remain at home and undistracted by the real world around her. I spoke with him last night, and the voice I heard was foreign to me. It hit me for the first time in real terms that my father is an old man - and that he now will need to receive the same type of care and attention that he gave so freely for decades.
I love you, Dad - and I will be grateful eternally that I learned at the feet of such a wonderful, Christlike man.