Thursday, September 19, 2013

Perhaps Patricia

At the beginning of 1959, just before my Dad was to set sail from Port Arthur, Texas, for Bombay, India, he stopped for a few days with his elder sister, Mary, who lived in Texas at the time.

And he got to meet and know Mary's eldest child, Patricia. Patty.

Dad forged a bond with Patty in that short time that remains to this day. As a matter of fact it's flitted through my mind, like a breeze through sheets hanging on a clothes line on a fragrant summer afternoon, that the warmth of Dad's affection for his little Patty predisposed him - a stranger in a strange land - to look toward a familiar name when he heard it, to look in the direction of another girl named Patricia, a girl with brown eyes and an enormous heart who would become his wife a couple of years later.

My eldest cousin, Patty stayed with Dad for the last few days and was with us yesterday, the sixth anniversary of Mum's death.

Eight yellow flowers growing on one stem ...

Both our Patricias know what it is to suffer. Like Mum, Patty has undergone brutal treatment for cancer - and, also like Mum, her indomitable spirit and her deep strength of character have carried her through.

Like Mum, Patty is warm and loving.

She's quick and funny.

She connects with people.

She came along with Dad to the Manor on Tuesday and to our Wednesday TH Bible study yesterday - the actual anniversary of Mum's death. 

Dad is guiding us through Paul's tiny letter to Philemon on Wednesday evenings - you'd think that it would take one study, right?! But Dad is revealing a wealth of meaning and such a source of challenge and comfort through this little book.

This Wednesday he addressed three topics: Prayer, Human Nature, and The Providence of God, all as seen in the letter to Philemon.

The providence of God has been defined by Henry C. Thiessen in his book Lectures in Systematic Theology:

Etymologically, the word “providence” means foreseeing. From this basic
idea has developed the meaning of providing for the future. But in theology
the word has received a more specialized meaning. In this field, “providence”
means that continuous activity of God whereby he makes all the events of
the physical, mental, and moral realms work out his purpose, and this
purpose is nothing short of the original design of God in creation. To be sure,
evil has entered the universe, but it is not allowed to thwart God’s original,
benevolent, wise, and holy purpose. [Emphasis added is the part Dad quoted.]

(1989: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 122 ff)

Dad asked the question "If God is not the author of sin, how do we explain the horrible acts of sin if God is ruling over all? How is God related to [humankind's] sinful acts?"

Providence, Dad went on to say, is manifest in four ways:

Preventative Providence, where God restrains a person from the sin he or she is intending to commit: Genesis chapter 20 verse 6 is an example of this.

Permissive Providence is where God sometimes permits sin to take its course: the book of Acts chapter 1 and verse 16, and Psalm 81 verse 12 is God telling how He let people go their own way.

Directive Providence is where God allows evil to occur, but He directs the way it goes in order to accomplish His will: John 13:21-27 is the tragic vignette where Jesus tells Judas Iscariot to "do quickly" what he intends to do.

Restrictive Providence reveals God determining the limits to which evil and its effects may go: the book of Job chapter 1 verse 12, and chapter 2 verse 6 shows God saying to Satan, "So far, but no further."

In the letter to Philemon Paul is pleading with his friend for mercy to be extended to the latter's runaway slave, Onesimus. In the 15th verse Paul says, with great gentleness and insight, Perhaps he left you for a while so that he would return to you forever ...

The word perhaps in Philemon opens the door to the doctrine of Providence, Dad commented.

The other notable occasion the sense of this word is used is in the little book telling the story of Queen Esther: Esther chapter 4 and verse 14 gives us Mordecai, Esther's uncle, speaking to her fairly sternly regarding her responsibility to her people. "Who knows whether [Perhaps] you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

There is more written in the Bible about the providence of God than about creation, Dad observed; and yet the word itself is never used. God cares about every aspect of our lives - if it's big enough for you to be concerned about, it's big enough for God to be concerned about. He has known us and cared about us from before we were born.

As I sat across the room from my beautiful cousin, who had no idea when she planned her itinerary that she would be here on such a significant date to our part of the family, I thought of her and my arms entwined as we shed tears and supported each other in remembering our mothers at Mum's graveside. I thought of the songs we sang, BA, Dad, Patty and I, into the sting of cold air that held no victory that day. 

For each one of us who has watched helplessly while a dream dies and we are left with a yawning hole stretched out before us, perhaps there is more to this story as we trace the providence of God working its mysterious way through our life? I think of my own life, of dreams that shattered or shifted last year and this one. Now, in hindsight, I can see the hand of God smoothing the way for me, guiding me in a new way, restoring my soul in ways I could not have imagined at the time.

And I thought to myself, Perhaps Patty was with us on this particularly hard anniversary, both for us and for her?

"Praise the Lord for the word perhaps ..." Dad ended.



  1. Your blog on providence is amazing. Thanks to Uncle for such a heart warming message.
    Love to Uncle and you all.

  2. When I went thro your blog about the Providence there were literally tears in my eyes and the pictures makes me cry more. We still misses aunt alot. Praying continuously for dad's good health n long life.Please do write a Biography about them.It'll be a blessing for many. And if you could come up with a book on Dad's Sermons because nobody Preach and Teach Theological Doctrine better than Dr.Ironside. You are a good writer. It's a humble request from me. Thank you. Convey our love and Prayers to all esp. Dad.xoxo


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