Father's Day Fossils
by C.J. Couvillion
(Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
It is Father’s Day 2012 and Kathy, my wife of 34 years, is out of town with our 33-yr old daughter Sarah. They have driven the 630 miles from wet and green Baton Rouge to dry and brown Abilene, Texas, to attend a week-long seminar which Sarah needs for her course requirement for completion of an on-line M.A. in Education from Abilene Christian University. I awoke early this morning and tossed and turned until 7 and then got out of the large king-sized bed with the memory foam mattress which fills most of our green-walled master bedroom. I half-walked, half-stumbled down the long hallway through our large paneled den and into our small kitchen area with the huge appliances, opened the solid-oak backdoor for Hildie, the black and brown Chiweenie, (Chihuahua and “wiener dog” mix) to escape and dart out for her morning romp in the wet grass to do her business. Then I pushed the red button on the pre-set coffee pot and almost immediately heard it begin to spurt out the dark black elixir which we so love in this part of Louisiana, coffee so thick we can use it as a party dip with Fritos scoops. Next I walked to the living room, turned on the big flat-screen 36” Samsung which was purchased from Best Buy for a “good” deal (that’s what the pimple-faced salesman with the starched khakis told me, anyway), and plopped down into my soft Lazy Boy recliner making the springs of the burnt orange cushioned seat go “spoing”. The house is empty and dead quiet except for the whoosh, whoosh sound being made by the Braun brewer in next room, as it kicks out concentrated caffeine in the liquid form to get my heart started on this early Sunday morning in south Louisiana.
The television is still on the Science Channel from the previous night and immediately my interest became elevated by the content of the programming. It was about fossils. To be specific, fossils from the pre-Cambrian period which were found on the coast of Newfoundland by a geologist from Queens’s University in Kingston, Ontario. This particular university professor with a white scraggly beard which makes him look like an out-of-work Santa Claus without the red suit, has pieced together the record which the fossils have left behind in an apparently out-of-place rocky landscape, and demonstrated beyond all doubt that the primitive life-forms which have been imbedded in the rocks are over 500 million years old, and that more importantly, they were once on the floor of a long gone ocean and that the rock onto which they are marked as a geologic fingerprint is not made from the earth’s crust which is a mere 35 million years old, but from the mantle which is much, much older and from way, way down deep beneath the ocean’s floor. Most astoundingly, this ancient fossil record is located currently at 2000 feet above sea level on a red rocky plateau on the western Newfoundland coast where school children run and play and old men sit and remember, a powerfully demonstrative example of “crustal deformation” associated with the collision of tectonic plates.
As I pondered the fossil record information just absorbed from the early morning programming, I was struck by the thought of how the last fifteen or so years of my life have become a spiritual record. From the very beginning of the dealings with my son, Stephen’s social, mental, and physical problems and with my own medical issues, I believe that God has chosen to answer my thousands of prayers for my now-dead offspring and for my personal needs, by precisely not answering them. Or rather, by not answering them in the way I wanted. When in 1998, I pleaded with God to change Stephen with regard to his use of marijuana, He answered, “It’s your heart that I am going to change.” When in 2001, while recovering from cancer surgery in my living room, rather than “healing me” through prayer prior to the surgery, He provided me with the post-surgery answer, “CJ, I love you,” as I sat dazed and exhausted and bewildered by the prospects ahead. Had all of the cancer been removed? Would I be safe from this man-eater? No assurance was there, except that He loved me. When in 2006, upon Stephen’s diagnosis of “mitral valve prolapse with severe regurgitation,” which would require immediate open-heart surgery at the Houston Heart Clinic , rather than clearing the decks for a smooth, seamless surgery and recovery, it was long and the recovery was messy and in the post-surgery aftermath, Stephen became addicted to pain medication. When in 2009, Stephen’s mother Kathy and I bid him farewell and best wishes in his new home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on the Temple University campus, in hopes of a full and bright future ahead as an answer to tear-laden prayers, instead he lay dead eight months later on a morgue table. Time after time and event after event in the previous and intervening years, my prayers uttered in one way were answered in another, almost opposite way. All the while, the spiritual record of these events was imprinted permanently on my heart and in my thoughts, just like the permanent pre-Cambrian fossil record in the rocky plateaus on the Newfoundland coast.
The implantation of this spiritual record into my innermost being has changed me, not unlike the way acorns are changed into mighty oaks after some time or the way once-rotted vegetation is changed into coal after much heat and pressure has been applied over geologic epochs. I am not the same anymore. The pressures of this life have metamorphosed my spiritual inclinations and my understanding of unexplained tragedy.
Nothing of substantial worth is gained without great cost. For this we have only to read of the heroes of old in the Holy Scriptures or of our nation’s forefathers in the history books. What I have gained in this personal struggle is freedom from fear and an urge to speak out and to write and to defend and to help those who need it and to love and to be transparent. I have learned how to let go. I have learned how to drop the reins which were so tightly gripped and cutting deep furrows into the palms of my hands to let God run wild in my life or, at least, to be freed to see His mighty unstoppable hand in all of it. I have learned to listen and cry out and wail and be without solace and also beyond unimagined joy. I have stared at death as it covered the blue-green face of my son, Stephen, and I have walked away more alive than ever. I have come to understand that life is more precious in the here-and-now when death is no longer an enemy in the by-and-by.
Deep grooves have been formed in my soul, resembling the picture-memories of my son’s problems and my remembered feelings of drastic events, some even looking like the stretch marks found on the abdomens of pregnant women, where now spiritual rain from the Spirit can fall freely to be collected for another day, and to be shared with the thirsty who need to drink, the thirsty who now themselves are being hammered and pressured and changed by life’s circumstances and God’s answers or non-answers to their prayers, the thirsty who even now are having their own spiritual records inwardly imprinted. This is perhaps the greatest gain of all, knowing that the clay-made-granite in my soul is being used to encourage and support some hurting people whose foundations are crumbling, as mine once crumbled.
These days my prayers to God are no longer for rescue from harm or for prevention of the next unknown, unnamed, but worrisome calamity, for He surely knows full well what lies in my path, whether good or evil. No. My prayers are no longer requests at all, but merely thankful semi-continuous conversations with the Shaker of Souls. This Divine Mountain-Builder has re-formed my spiritual landscape for His purposes and has most certainly changed its flatlands into mile-high peaks from which I can peer out above the dark clouds and view the events of the past with a clear perspective, present events without fear and with a sure purpose, and future events with a hopeful confidence.
I thank you, Oh Lord My God, through Jesus Christ your precious Son that you have kept me this night from all harm and danger. Keep me also this day from sin and every evil that all my doings and my life may please you. Into your hands I commend my body, my soul, and all things. (adapted from Martin Luther’s Morning Prayer, 1529)