I might be 40 years old, but my daddy is still my hero. Go ahead … roll your eyes, but in my eyes my father is one incredible man. He is just short of being able to part the waters and calm the seas. In fact, there was a time when I actually confused the voice of my father with the voice of God Himself.
Throughout my childhood, my family kept a tiny flock of sheep in the backyard, as part of our 4-H project. Several times each year, the sheep would find a way to escape the small pen in our backyard, and it seemed we would only find out whenever some neighbor telephoned to let us know our wooly pets were out wandering along the roadsides. Our lovely lambs were infamous for taking midnight walks, and whenever this happened there was no waiting until morning to go and fetch them home. My father always insisted we immediately track down those sheep, no matter the hour day or night, and return them home to the safe pen in our backyard as soon as possible.
I could tell many tales about these sheep-chasing escapades, but one in particular always stands out in my memory. It happened on a humid night the summer I was sixteen.
The ringing of our phone roused me slightly from my deep sleep. It was soon followed by my dad’s hard knock on the door of the bedroom I shared with my sister. “Paige,” he said, “get up! The sheep are out along the highway, somewhere toward the high school. Your brother and I are heading out now. You follow along just as soon as you get dressed. Meet us on the other side of the bridge. It’s dark, so bring a flashlight. Even so, you’ll likely hear the sheep before you see us.”
I heard the front door shut as they walked out of the house, and then their voices carrying softly as they walked across the front yard, headed toward the highway that stretched out in front of our brick home. A wave of jealousy swept over me as I looked over at my younger sister, snugly tucked into dreams instead of up to go chase sheep in the night.
Five or six minutes later I was dressed and walking out of the house. The night sky was dark. No moon or stars lit the ground. The street light shone dimly on the other side of the highway, providing me with just enough light to dodge a puddle of water at the edge of our driveway.
Walking down the center of the highway, I felt very alone. At shortly after 2 am, the roads in our rural town were quiet. The only sounds I could hear were the sounds of tree frogs, crickets and the occasional hooting of an owl. I walked along, the fear in my throat growing thicker and sharper with each step that took me away from the safety of my home. I quickened my pace, taking hurried steps as my shoes pounding against the dark pavement in my efforts to reach my father as soon as possible.
Soon I approached the bridge. It was darker there. The trees overhung across the road, creating deep shadows. The intense darkness blocked out even the reflective yellow stripes dividing the two-lane road. I hesitated before stepping onto the bridge, part of me knowing that in order to reach the safety of my father I had to get to the other side while another voice in my head screamed for me to run home.
Breathing a prayer, I put my foot forward and started across. Toward the midpoint of the bridge, I heard a noise, a sort of rustling that didn’t sound like the leaves on the trees. I paused, but didn’t hear anything other than the pounding of my own heart. I started walking again, but after another step stopped, feeling as if I wasn’t alone on the bridge. Unable to see or hear anything, I shook off my fear and picked up my foot, determined to get to the other side.
At that exact moment, a voice boomed out of the darkness:
“Paige! Go back and get the truck!”
Immediately, I turned on my heels and began to run, faster than I had ever run in my entire life. (Honestly, this wasn’t a huge feat. I was never a fast runner to begin with, and so it wouldn’t have taken much more than a steady jog to beat my all-time fastest run. Still, I rather like to recall this run as if I made it back home in record time.)
I ran straight for my dad’s truck, the beat-up old Ford that he drove back and forth to his job at our family hardware store. Yanking open the door, I dove behind the steering wheel, slamming myself inside the truck. I took several deep, long breaths. My heart thumped wildly in my chest, though I wasn’t sure if it was due to the running, the fear coursing through my body or the realization that I had just heard the voice of God in the night.
The keys were in the truck’s ignition, just where I expected them to be, for in rural Louisiana during the mid-80’s, most people never bothered to take their car keys into the house. I turned the key and the truck rumbled to life. Three minutes later, I pulled over to the side of the road. Ahead was my father and brother herding the small flock of sheep toward me. I quickly hopped out, leaving the headlights on and the engine idling.
As my father approached, he said, “Thanks for bringing the truck!”
I nodded. “No problem, Dad. I’m just glad God told me to do it … and that I obeyed even though I was really scared.”
My father looked up from his task of calmly guiding the bleating lambs to give me a brief confused look … And then he started to laugh, deep and hard until it seemed as if he might never stop. He finally caught his breath. “Paige,” he said between chuckles, “that was me. I told you to go back for the truck. Didn’t you recognize my voice?!”
“That was you? You were on the bridge with me?” It was my turn to be confused.
“Yes. I hate to disappoint you, but you heard my voice and not the voice of God.” My father was still obviously tickled by my confusion.
It’s been at least 25 years since that deep, dark night when I thought I heard God in the sound of my father’s voice. Yet each time I recall that bridge and the voice that boomed from the darkness, I reminded of two ways that my earthly father taught me important truths about my Heavenly Father.
Almost any Christian will tell you that hearing and recognizing the voice of God can be difficult. Christians, go through life without ever really learning how to listen for God’s voice. I was fortunate. My earthly dad taught me to listen for God’s voice by placing a great importance on studying the scriptures, attending worship services, and expecting me to learn and obey the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus once said, “My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me.” (John 10:27) I am grateful for my daddy who taught me how to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.
The second truth is a reminder that in this life we will have troubles. Jesus Himself said, “You will have suffering in this world.” (John 16:33). But He also said, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20) Just like my dad was with me on that dark bridge so many nights ago, my Heavenly Father is also with me whatever my circumstances.
I’m grateful that my Daddy loved me and through his parenting taught me about a loving God who was always with me, protecting me during the dark nights of life, and guiding me with His voice. And I continue to be amazed that the One who created life from nothing desires for me to call Him “Father.”
Happy Father’s Day to my dad … and to all the wonderful fathers in this world!
My Daddy and me … Easter Sunday 1973