Celebrities get right in.

There were no suburban shopping malls when I was a kid. Young teens rode cheap, safe elevated trains to downtown Chicago, where they found big department stores and double feature movies. Best of all for me was knowing that Dad was downtown, too, officing at 111 W. Washington Street. His architectural and engineering firm, employing more than 200 draftsmen, occupied half of the 8th floor.

Dad was a successful businessman with many demands on his time, but none of that impressed me at 14. Instead, I loved the thick glass double doors with his name on them, his polished oak desk and his wall of windows overlooking the city.

After a day of shopping, I’d inevitably end up in Dad’s office, hoping for a hand-out. Scruffy-looking that I might be, once the receptionist recognized me, she’d quickly usher me through the secretarial pool and right into his office, even if he was conducting a meeting. Dad always smiled when he saw me. Walking through his door, I felt like somebody special.

Many girls grow up without this kind of father-love. God knew that would happen and made a special effort to fill the gap. The Bible often refers to him as our Father and even as our Daddy, inviting us into this parent-child relationship. All are welcome, and the best part is that his skills as a father supercede those of even the best earthly dad.

My father was committed to many people. His time was spread thin, and he didn’t always know the best way to solve every problem, especially when I became a big one at 17. Dad was also a worrier, and he often met with exhaustion. Though he smiled when I came to his office, he wasn’t always glad to be disturbed, for example, during the night.

Father-God, on the other hand, runs the whole world without becoming worn out or spread thin. He knows the answer to every question and is never confused. Best of all, the heavenly Father is always glad to see me coming, even during the night. Maybe especially during the night. I’ve never gotten the vibe, “Oh no, not you again.”

When my dad died, he left me. He couldn’t help it. Since then, my longing to talk to him and get his counsel has sometimes made me cry, because I know I can’t get to him. No amount of wishing will make it so.

But Father-God says he’ll never step away from me. He is always available and repeatedly says, “I love you with an everlasting love. If you’re fatherless, I’ll be your Father, welcoming you, comforting you, advising you.” He says that to me and also to you. He has said it to all of his children, throughout the ages, and what he says he’ll do, he always does.

Finding Another Way

Once we took our house off the market, I could focus on Mom, who had cancer. It was a great blessing to be able to spend extra time with her, walking through every stage of uncertainty, testing, trauma and pain as her life narrowed. In one of our many bedside chats, Mom said, “You know, Honey, you and Nate could probably sell your house without a realtor. We’ve done that four times. Why don’t you try it?”

Mom died in April, 2005. In May we needed to get the house back on the market and so followed her advice. We knew shoving a sign into the ground that said “For Sale By Owner” wouldn’t do much, since we were on a cul-de-sac, absent of drive-by value.

So we bought “Fizz-bo” (FSBO) signs and posted them at every nearby corner with arrows directing traffic flow to our address. We also made five-page packets describing our house and all its stats, complete with a dozen pictures. Once people turned onto our short street, they could see the clear plastic box of info next to the sign, beckoning them to take one.

Something else we did was lower the price of our home by 5%. After all, there would be no real estate commission when we sold it ourselves. Maybe a lower price would attract a new category of house hunters.

Over the next few weeks, as I worked in the kitchen keeping one eye out the window, an encouraging parade of drive-by vehicles moved past our house, stopping at the box of descriptive packets. As each person took one, I waved, smiled and thought, “Mom was right. This time it’s going to work.”

Quite a few families called and then toured our de-cluttered, squeaky-clean home. To go the extra mile, we held an open house every Sunday afternoon, locking the dog in the car and chatting with lookers by the hour. But an unproductive trend emerged. Most of those potential buyers had no potential. They fell into two categories: 1) “tire-kickers” wanting a peek, and 2) families visiting open houses as free entertainment.

About this time, Nate began clipping articles from newspapers that detailed a slight negative downturn in the real estate bubble. Several columnists predicted real estate doom as pie-in-the-sky prices were forced back “to reality.” Little did we know how far we still were from reality.

As the downward trend continued, we made the difficult decision to lower our price another 4%, spending hours discussing the issue. As a matter of fact, the sale of our house was all we ever talked about.

Falling into the “if only” trap produced days of hopelessness in both of us. Our kids begged to talk about something else, anything else, at the dinner table. And finally we declared a moratorium on talk of house and financial problems, at least while we ate. It was difficult to comply with the new rule, probably because it’s hard to fight fear.

When we lowered the price on the house for the second time, we printed new info sheets, noticing that we’d topped the one-thousand mark in our copies. One thousand people had removed packets from the plastic box on our front lawn, and still we hadn’t had a bite.

Even subtracting the months we’d been off the market when Mom was ill, the house had been for sale well over a year. Most of that time our suburb was, as the realtor put it, “Hot, hot, hot!” But by this time, our hope had grown cold, cold, cold.

Let’s play “Cut the Cake!”

My family spent a great deal of time at the beach when I was growing up, a sandy, dunes-style beach on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. Mom was untiring in her efforts to make sure we had fun there. “The more the merrier” was a motto she embraced, which meant we could invite all the friends we wanted, whether for a day or a week. She never complained about youthful crowds. To the contrary, she was energized by them.

After we arrived at the beach with our big, black, truck inner-tubes (the kind that rubbed black onto our bathing suits), Mom was always first into the water, teaching visitors to stand on their heads by going under without holding their noses. She made her shoulders available for kids nearly as big as she was to jump from. She raced us all to the anchored raft “out deep” where no one could touch bottom.

Mom never brought a magazine or a book to the beach. Her first choice was to play with children. One of the beach games Mom loved was “Cut the Cake.” Using a bucket for a mold, she turned out a cake of wet sand that was perfectly round. “Go find stones to decorate it,” she directed, “and bring something for the middle, a feather, a stick, whatever you want to make it pretty.”

We “sugared it” with the soft, dry sand and then stood back to admire our work. “Now,” she said, “we’re going to cut the cake.” With a thin stick found in the dunes nearby, she demonstrated what she meant by slicing a piece of sand-cake thin enough not to disturb the rest of it.

Handing the stick-knife to the nearest child, she said, “Your turn. If the cake falls when you slice it, you have to run up and down the dunes five times (or run into the water and stay under 30 seconds, or carry someone on your back anywhere they want to go, etc).

Each person took turns slicing a tiny bit more of the cake while the sun slowly dried the wet sand, increasing the threat of “a fall.”  At long last, someone’s slice caused the remaining cake to crumble, causing hoots and hollers from those who hadn’t lost1 the game. Mom always laughed the hardest.

The sands of time ran out for Mom, but she left behind her spirit of fun for our grandkids to enjoy. Last week I taught a child how to make a bucket cake. (Use only wet sand, pack it tight at the bottom, pile sand slightly above the rim, flip it fast). As I watched him struggle to master this “baking” task, I thought of Mom. She left a lofty heritage in many categories, and surely one of them was how to experience joy among children by playing “Cut the Cake.”