From the Rabbi: “Daughters, the doorway to a father’s heart”

Scholars tell us that over thirty percent of the Hebrew Scripture is poetry. 4-006_017Man’s first speech recorded in Genesis 2:23 is an exquisite poem of appreciation and praise, celebrating his wife’s equality.

This one at last, bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh,

This one shall be called Woman

for from man was this one taken. (Gen 2:23[1])

Exuberant lines spill over with exultation. No other form of speech would do, which may suggest that poetry is our highest form of speech––that which elevates us, making us feel wholly human and alive. Stanley Kunitz writes,

Poetry is the most difficult, the most solitary, and the most life-enhancing thing that one can do in the world. The experience of love and the creative act are the supreme expressions of the life force. They do more than express it; they refresh and renew it and give it back, magnified.[2]

For David poetry was not only the vehicle of articulating and processing his lament, but it was also his primary expression of thanksgiving and praise, so much so that he mandated it for future generations in Israel’s liturgy.

Becky and I getting acquainted.

“He (David) appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, even to celebrate (“to lament/petition”) and to thank and praise the Lord God of Israel.” (1 Chron 16:4)

In Israel it was a sin for the king not to offer public thanksgiving when God had answered his prayers. This is what David means by paying his “vows.” Though I did not discover the gift of poetry until I was thirty-seven, I have found to be a supreme delight in articulating my appreciation to God for the incredible gifts of daughters he gave to Emily and me after the death of our first two children, David and Jessica. After Jessica died on December 4, 1976, Emily and I wondered if we would ever experience the joy of being parents.

But the next day a strange sensation came over me. I felt as if God was doing something to intervene on our behalf. I said to Emily, “Let’s not put the baby furniture away like we did last year. Let’s just pray for a baby.” And that is just what we did. I asked Walt McCuistion, one of our pastors, to share the news of Jessica’s death with the congregation and to make our prayer request known. When I mentioned to him the feeling I had experienced, he indicated that he felt that same sensation of faith. Emily and I were too numb from grief to attend the service that night. After the service I received a call from Walt. He said that after he shared the news of Jessica’s death, his wife boldly asked God to intervene give us a baby by Christmas.

At the service was a young girl whose roommate was pregnant and due to deliver a baby the next day. Up to that point in her pregnancy, she had not told her doctor that she was interested in adoption. He had eighty people on a waiting list. After hearing our story, she said she wanted us to have her baby. Hearing the news, I felt an inconsolable stab of joy.

Emily and Becky bonding.

The next evening we drove to an attorney’s house to make legal arrangements for the adoption. I’ll never forget Emily asking, “Do you think it is okay to pray that the baby might look like me?” After we arrived the attorney shared with us notes from the birth mother about her personal background and that of the father. As we listened to her personal profile, it was as if she was mirror image of Emily. We were caught in the amazement of something wonderful, much bigger than ourselves. Legal matters progressed quickly, but the birth was delayed two weeks. Finally, on December 18, one week before Christmas, Becky was born. As the attorney drove us to the hospital he asked us what we were going to name our new little girl. “Rebecca Louise” was our reply. He quickly responded, “Why don’t you name her Noelle, since she is your Christmas gift?” And so her name became Rebecca Noelle, our Christmas joy.

Becky entered our lives like a bundle of joy and dried our tears. As Becky grew, she became bold, audacious, daring to go anywhere, and to try anything. She possessed great social skills that made her comfortable with adults as well as her peers. She also exuded a self-confidence that stretched beyond her means, sometimes got her into trouble, but always kept life interesting. Whenever Becky was around, you were never bored. As parents, she always welcomed us into her world and I was honored to coach her softball team during her high school years. She had a keen love for music and would often play the piano after dinner. She was unashamed to sing. Some of my favorite memories are of her singing scores from Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera at the piano while I dried the dinner dishes. I miss her voice terribly as our piano lies mute since her departure. I dedicated the poem to her on her graduation from High School, June 8, 1995 and re-read it to her on her graduation from nursing school in June of 2013. She is married to Corey and has two daughters, Mary and Emily, and one son, Wesley.

A Shout of Joy Comes in the Morning
Clothed in darkness
shrouded with pain
my soul poured out like water
drenched by heaven’s rain.
Was it not enough to journey to Moriah
to leave our first born, days from his birth
that he might reign above
an angel not destined for earth?
But now death’s dark shadow crushed my chest
to steal again the light of day and with it, dreams
and to stand before an empty crib, silence screams
no daughter to place upon a breast.
Would our home never hear an infant’s cry,
or see a mother’s gaze enfold a child
for whom she feeds,
would I never ever be a dad on earth.
But God,
bent the heavens and came down,
he heard the cry of this poor couple
and considered our low estate.
And did He delay?  Not even for a day!
Before Jessica found her place of rest,
he sent a messenger to pray,
“By Christmas Lord, and do not delay!”
With such strange inward stirrings
we knew, we knew a baby was on the way.
and while we waited expecting you,
he turned our darkness into day.
He bent the heavens and came down
he rode upon a cherub and flew,
he sped upon the wings of wind.
Oh, how my anticipation grew.
This is Rebecca Noelle,
heaven’s gift, Christmas JOY,
first carried, then caressed,
at last one to be laid upon breast.
A gift of grace from God alone,
who delights to repair a broken heart,
by breaking in from without
a New Creation to impart.
O Rebecca, will I ever forget that Day,
when I learned what it means to pray,
and see him touch our lives,
and turn our darkness into day.
And from that day
the void that grew,
that gaping ache,
he has filled with you.
Your vivacious smile,
your spirit bold,
unthwarted, undaunted
living life in ways untold,
To shatter walls,
fearing no place and no one,
but gathering all,
What you have been to me,
from those dark days,
so long ago yet so near,
words cannot tell, except to say,
“Tears may come to stay the night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.”
You have brought me more joy
laughter and song,
than ten sons.
How can I ever forget memories
etched upon the heart, playing ball,
being a dad, a coach, a friend,
even a Swiss comedian.
But what I’ll miss the most,
is that sweet angelic voice
which lighted among us
unashamed to sing and praise.
And now Rebecca, leave our nest,
take off and fly amidst the clouds
touch the sky, see his face,
but most of all, feel his grace.
But as you leave, glance back, and know
that though we shall never be the same,
it will be enough for me, your Dad,
if you take thought from whence you came.
Yes, these were the days
when words of the Ancients came true,
he bent the heavens and came down,
and dried our tears with you. 

Our three daughters, Katie, Jenny & Becky.


[1] Robert Alter, Genesis, Translation and Commentary (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996), 10.

[2] Gary Pacernick, Meaning and Memory, Interviews with Fourteen Jewish Poets (Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2001), 38.

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