24: The Preacher’s Kid

24: The Preacher’s Kid

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

The Preacher’s Kid

To speak and to speak well are two things.
A fool may talk, but a wise man speaks.

~Ben Jonson

The preacher’s kid. Ah yes, the stuff of movies and stories and jokes: the PK. I’m also a mother, an author, a wife, a friend, even a nurse, but I have been this one thing since I was born and will be when I die: my father’s daughter.

Sometimes we don’t know why we love someone or something or somewhere — we just do. Love that is. It’s okay not to know all the reasons why, but I do know at least part of the reason I’m now a novelist, a piece of the reason I love stories: telling them, listening to them, reading them, taking them apart and putting them back together, and that reason is the preaching. All those sermons. All those Bible studies and Wednesday night services and parables and youth group bonfire lessons. There were too many to count.

There are the harder things that come with this PK title: moving towns, being watched by a thousand parishioners, going to church four to five times a week, enduring religious confusion. Then there are also gifts, and mine was this: I learned the power of story. Because really, what does a preacher do? Tells the same story over and over in as many ways as possible. The bottom line in every sermon is always the same: God loves you. He sent his Son to die for you. That might get a little boring after a while, right? So the preacher must find new and interesting ways to get to the same endpoint every single time.

Sure, there’s variation in the characters and disciples and plagues and sins, but it’s always back to this: God’s redeeming, relentless love.

Who really wants to sit in a pew for an hour and listen to a lecture except by the best preachers, the ones people come to hear, who tell us a story? Does it matter if the story is true? Well, yes . . . sort of, but maybe not always in the most literal sense. What are parables but truth hidden in story? What really matters is The Truth, not whether the particulars of the story are facts. Dad would get so carried away with the story that he’d teach the congregation the Greek word for the English word (as if they cared) and then what that word really meant. He wanted everyone to know what it all really meant, and he somehow knew that this Truth was inside all those words. He might have failed in other avenues of life, but here he never wavered — wrapping words around faith and trust in an unfailing God.

And there it is. The power of story.

His other gift of story to me is less obvious. When I was twelve years old, God apparently told my dad to move the family from Philadelphia to Fort Lauderdale and start a new church (I didn’t hear this particular marching order, so I still doubt it). Now God and I didn’t exactly agree on this subject, so we had a long talk (God and I, not Dad and I) and with me God was silent on the subject. So we moved. In the process of finding the right place to live and the right place to plant the church, I attended four different schools for seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth grades until we finally landed where we stayed, in Coral Springs, Florida.

The desperation born of adolescent loneliness sent me into novels and stories. Libraries and small quiet rooms with a book in my hands became my sanctuaries. These books were my best friends, my confidantes. These stories understood the world beyond south Florida, beyond loneliness and into dreams. These books carried my heart and me to better places.

Then there were the days I’d be bored while the cool kids (meaning they had friends) were driving around in their Firebirds and T-top Camaros, while they had dates and went to football games. This is when I’d browse through Dad’s library. Here is where I found C.S. Lewis. Not literally, of course. Mr. Lewis had departed from this world the year I arrived. But his words were there just as if he sat with me. I read The Screwtape Letters and understood the truest power of story — how sometimes the thing that needs to be said is best said with fiction.

When I finished my first novel, Between the Tides, the last person I had in mind to thank was my dad. I’m the one who rose at four in the morning to write while my babies slept; I’m the one who toiled away for years on the art and craft of words to write a single novel. I’m the one who fell in love with words, and the way they sound and move and come together.

But there is a beginning for all loves: a first encounter; a first moment; a beginning. There is always a beginning. And my love affair with story and words began with and because of my dad.

So let me thank Dad for not only showing me the power of story, but also offering me the chance to lose and then find myself in its magic.

~Patti Callahan Henry

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