When the Creator was planning things out, way back when, before, before, he carefully thought about Dad's hands. He knew that he would make them strong, with long deft fingers, able to hold onto God’s own hand while staying busy doing the work he would give him to do.
He watched him grow up in Michigan, grabbed his heart and made it his, filled it with love for Barbara and joined them together to serve as one, his love pumping from their hearts to hug the poor, the marginalized and bring them into his arms.
So God put a scalpel into Dad's hand, taught his long artistic fingers how to carve with healing purpose: cut through barriers, cut out harm, save a life or bring life from the womb, even in the dark unknown of tragedies not seen before.
Dad lived for the praise of the Father’s glory and in his old age entered into that place where the beauty and majesty of our God will make everything make sense, that will make the hardships worth it all: He now sees Jesus, his precious Lord who has held him and moved his hand.
I do so miss Dad's long loving fingers that led me, taught and played with me. But I know where he is, united at last with the Master who guided him faithfully through every challenge as it came. He knew it was what had been planned for him and that brought him joy in the journey.
Father’s Day is around the corner, and yes, I am thinking about Dad, Dr. Dwight M. Slater. He taught me in word and action what it means to enjoy daily life.
When I was in eleventh grade I got to study via correspondence from home in Ferkessédougou since the boarding school our mission was running in Côte d’Ivoire had not yet finished adding the last two years of high school to their offerings. It was a very special year for me. Three other missionary came to study at our house, all of us planning to someday go into medical work. As you know, the Lord had other plans for me, but that goal gave me great motivation to spend most of my free time working at the mission hospital with my mom and dad. I learned newborn baby care from Mom. Dad let me assist in surgery where I learned all kind of things about anatomy and surgical procedures.
Best of all, I learned a lot about Dad. He always began a surgery with prayer. He loved his work, and commented step-by-step on the process – a great teacher. But when things were at a routine point his sense of humor would emerge. Once he asked the missionary nurse who was at hand to please try to find him some dessicated water in the storeroom – he knew she was naïve and would go look for it, and eventually get the joke.
Then at dinner, if there had been a particularly interesting case that day, he would grab a napkin or piece of paper and draw out the surgical picture for us. Sometimes visitors found that a bit unnerving!
One night when we gathered for devotions after supper he shared some verses that explained to me the way he viewed each day and its tasks.
24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness , , , (Eccl. 2:24-26a NIV)
He was a prime example of someone who found satisfaction in his toil. In addition to the scientific drama that energized him, I saw his acknowledgement that this toil – the hard work, the draining hours – was what God had purposefully handed to him to do. And God was with him in it, every moment.
I discovered that my work in mission also often exhausted me, and there were many unexpected hard times. But I tried to put this lesson learned by his example into practice and to be grateful for the meaningful challenge the Lord had assigned me: linguistic, exegetical, and cultural learning as I worked with native Nyarafolo speakers in the process of Bible translation. I often thought to myself: And to think I actually get paid to do this great stuff!
You’ve heard it before: live in the moment! But that moment — the normal daily moment or the tough one — is meaningful in a whole other sense when it is lived with God, “for without him, who can . . . find enjoyment?” This is an enjoyment that goes deeper than just doing work you like; it is enjoyment of working hand-in-hand with the Father, doing what he made us to do, where he puts us, with his purpose as our purpose.
I am in a new phase now, retirement, learning what the Lord has in mind for me in this setting, facing the seeming roadblocks of the pandemic, distances, and misunderstandings but being grateful for food and drink, for each opportunity that comes up and for the presence of the Lord. He is with us, and that makes all the difference! Dad realized that God put a scalpel in his hand for a reason, and served him with joy. My goal is to do the same, with a different tool in my hand but with the empowerment of the same God.
Of course I forget all this sometimes and get grumpy, forgetting where my satisfaction must be found. We all need to turn to the Lord in such times with this petition:
Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives. (Ps. 90:14 NLT)