At the age of 49, Dad had a heart attack and almost died. The doctor made him retire from the mines and go on disability. When that happened, two of my siblings went into action and built houses across the road from the family farmhouse and relocated their families there from the city. (I was in college at the time.)
For the rest of their lives, our parents were cared for and nurtured by all of their six children, but in particular those who lived nearby.
Our Mama was always the loving, nurturing one. But in those earlier years, she had suffered in silence, living for the Lord, keeping the six children in Sunday School and church every Sunday. (Mom was brought up in a Christian family that was in church every Sunday. No matter where we lived, she had us ready for church on Saturday night and in the pews on Sunday. God gave her two preacher-boys, Ron and Joe, who have now logged more than a full century of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.)
In time, Carl McKeever grew into a center of great love in the family.
—He told our mom every day how much he loved her. She would smile and beam and eat it up. The last decades of their lives, they were so in love it was amazing.
—Now, he never came right out and told us “I love you” or anything. I’d say, “I love you, Dad,” and he would say, “Well, all right,” and change the subject. I smile at the memory. Or he might say, “I know that.” And he did. Just as we knew he loved us.
—Dad would send us money. Now, as a coal miner, the most he ever made was $7,500 a year. Eventually in retirement he was receiving income from three different sources (Social Security, a pension from the union and a special allowance voted by Congress in the 1970s for victims of black lung) and was able to build up a nice bank account. If one of the six children needed a little financial help, Dad sent an equal amount to the other five. On occasions, I received an unexpected $1,000 from him, and once a check for $5,000.
—He adored his six children equally but played no favorites. And he loved his many grandchildren, although he quickly gave up on remembering names and would call each one “Shorty.” The children loved him.
One day, when Dad was almost 90 years old, we were sitting on the front porch, he in the swing and I in a lawn chair 10 feet away. We were quiet, then I said, “Dad, I’m so glad I’ve had the privilege of seeing you grow old.”
I said, “You are a far better man today than you were years ago.”
Silence. Then he said, “Well, you hope you grow.”
That’s all he said.
No man in our family was ever accused of being introspective, and Dad wasn’t. I doubt if he knew why the change had come about in him, transforming him from a temperamental and harsh enigma made up of a thousand contradictions into a loving and gentle patriarch of a devoted clan.
But I have no doubt what it was. Love won out.
“The love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).
The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is just that. Hatred sent the Savior to the cross. Hatred jeered and spat and cursed. Harshness laughed and scoffed and spat.
But love prevailed. “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing,” He said.
My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue only, but in deed and in truth.
Amen. Thank you, Father, for redeeming love.