He will be seventy-eight this fall. He looks good. He blames his strong health on poor diet and Coca-Cola.
His father was a Pentecostal preacher. As a boy, he grew up underneath a microscope. He was a good kid. He did things all good preacher’s kids do. He sang in church, attended Wednesday services, youth groups, Saturday prayers, and marathon Sundays.
Until age eighteen.
“My girlfriend got pregnant,” he said. “It was hard. People were so judgmental.”
His father kicked him out. The eighteen-year-old gathered his clothes and stayed at a friend’s house.
“All happened so fast,” he said. “One minute I was a straight-A student, the next second I was homeless.”
He and his girlfriend left town. He took a low-paying job. A full two years went by. He called his father and arranged a visit.
He appeared at the church office. He and the preacher spoke for ten minutes before tempers flared.
Old wounds ran deep.
He had a tantrum. He kicked a hole in his father’s office door, and for almost two decades he and his father had nothing to do with each other. Nothing.
On his forty-sixth birthday, his mother called. It was bad news. His father was sick, they expected him to pass at any moment.
He made an all-night drive to a familiar town. He pulled his car into a familiar driveway. He walked through a familiar front door, into a home he still knew by heart.
“The house was smaller than I remembered,” he said.
His father sat in a recliner. They held one another. They cried. Apologies came easy.
Father and son stayed awake half the night, sipping coffee, telling stories. They laughed. They shed tears enough to fill gallon jugs. One month later, his father died.
It was his mother who suggested he read a few words from the Good Book for the funeral. He refused. She insisted.
Thus, when they laid his father down, he recited from a leather-bound book, then he sang a song.
Something happened to him—inside. Something good. The next week, he enrolled in school. He attended night classes, he finished an education in record time. He became ordained.
He took a job at a small hospital. His occupation: visiting those going through hell on earth. The sick. The terrified. The grieving. The terminal.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do is help people,” he said. “Just like my dad did.”
He’s helped hundreds, maybe more. Mostly, people in ICU beds, hospice care, or nursing homes.
“My job is to help people make peace, or relax when they’re scared. I try to tell them it’s never too late to forgive. I’m living proof.”
He’s a rare breed. There aren’t many like him anymore. During the worst moments of your life, you want a soft-spoken fella like him to remind you about things like forgiving your daddy.
Someone who knows what he’s talking about.
“I’m a chaplain,” he said. “Lotta folks call me a preacher, but that’s just a common mistake, I don’t preach, I just listen and pray.”
You could’ve fooled me, Joe.
You could’ve fooled me.
Ann Gaddis - June 6, 2017 1:46 pm
Dottie - June 6, 2017 1:50 pm
What a beautiful story of forgiveness and how our own life experiences can help others during their difficult times.
Jack Quanstrum - June 6, 2017 1:54 pm
Beautiful touching story. There is nothing like forgiveness and a soft spoken man or woman. When a person speaks to you in a soft spoken way with you there words are healing like bactine on a cut when you where a kid. Thank God for people who encourage you to do the right thing like his mother. Sean there is so much real life treasure in your writings. I feel like I have a gold mine that keeps me excited about what each day may bring. Happiness, goodness and authentic folks which money can’t by. Love ya and appreciate you!
Todd Ledford - June 6, 2017 2:00 pm
People don’t give heart felt compliments and encouragement anymore. Sure we give the occasional, “Nice Shirt” or ” I love your hair”. But, rarely do we speak from the heart. You my writing friend have found a way to bless, encourage and compliment both your readers and your larger than life subjects. For that I thank you and hope you find this a heartfelt compliment and an encouragement to press on!! Well done Sir
Lisa Egstad - June 6, 2017 2:13 pm
Interesting that he said “My girlfriend got pregnant” as if she did it all by herself!
Did he ever take responsibility for the child he helped create? Now that is the story I would like to read!
Judy Miller - June 6, 2017 3:33 pm
I’m the same age as “joe” and been in the same place, only being a girl, I was the pregnant one. My Dad said I had brought shame to our good family’s reputation and he would never be able to hold his head up, in town, again. Oh well, “Joe” and I are still standing and trying to help as many people as we can by bringing smiles and hope.
Sandi - June 6, 2017 3:57 pm
Sean, your stories get better and better, although I didn’t think that was possible, because each one is a gold nugget of wisdom and touches the landscape of our hearts and souls. You are such a gifted writer and storyteller. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching several of your YouTube videos and actually hearing you speak, because you infuse genuine emotion into every word.
Sandi - June 6, 2017 4:02 pm
Sean, your stories keep getting better and better, although I didn’t think that was possible. Each one is a gold nugget of wisdom and emotion that touches the landscape of our hearts and souls. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to several of your Your Tube videos, too, and the way you infuse such genuine feeling and down-home reality into every sentence is a pure delight.
Debbie Anderson - June 6, 2017 9:39 pm
Just Listen and Pray.
The best advice is always the simplest!
Thanks for reminding me. Again!