April 05, 2019 Shannon L. Newsome

Our Father's Smile

Our Father's Smile

"I'm sitting beside you!"


At the time, I was standing in line to buy blueberry chocolate truffles from the Vosges Haut-Chocolat candy store in the O'Hare airport in Chicago. I looked up to see an unfamiliar woman who, as she gestured to my chocolates, repeated, "I'm sitting beside you."


I thought to myself, "Lady, this is one of the busiest airports in the world. Almost 225,000 people fly in and out of here every single day. (Okay, I didn't actually think those numbers, but I have since done the research on Google.) Odds are that we're probably not even going to be on the same plane, much less sitting together."


Those were my initial thoughts. What I said, instead, was, "Well, even if you do, we can't eat these chocolates. My wife and son would kill me if I got home with any of 'em missing!"


She laughed, and that was it... or so I thought.


I didn't think about it again until I boarded my plane bound for Greensboro, found my seat, got situated, and then looked up to see saw her walking down the aisle toward me... only to stop at my row and take the seat right next to me.


"Told you so."


Now normally, I am all about trying to have as little conversation as possible with the people sitting near me on a plane, but I was so struck by the circumstances that I had to ask, "Do you live in Greensboro?"


"No, I live in Chicago."


"What brings you to Greensboro?"


"My brother and I are presenting at the U.S. Figure Skating Championship there tomorrow night."


"Really? Do you skate?" (Trust me, you have to get up pretty early in the morning to slip something by me. I am the master of the obvious!)


"I used to. Ronnie and I skated pairs. In 1965, we finished first in the U.S. and second in the world."


Okay, this conversation was headed in a direction that I had not been expecting.


I said, "You know, I'm sorry, but I really don't know too much about pairs skating."


(Now, I specifically said "pairs" because I just didn't figure that, at this point, she had any business knowing about my crush on Kristi Yamaguchi.)


I continued, "I can only think of one skater from around that time. Wasn't Peggy Fleming skating then?"


"Yes, she was. She and I were roommates."


"Did you and your brother skate in the Olympics?"


"We did... in 1964."


"Did you medal?"


She paused and said, "Um, that's complicated."


And then she began to tell me her story.


Her name is Vivian Joseph and she and her brother, Ronald were the second-ranked American pairs team at the 1964 Olympic Games in Innsbruck. They exceeded all expectations by finishing fourth.


However, at the time, there were numerous rumors that the West German silver medalists had signed a contract with the professional ice show, Holiday on Ice, thus violating their amateur status. After a three-year investigation, the I.O.C. stripped the West Germans of their silver medals, elevating the Canadians from third to second and the Josephs from fourth to the bronze medal position.


And that's where the story gets really strange.


As we sat on the plane, Ms. Joseph told me a part of her story that I ended up reading more about in the New York Times after I returned home.


She said the she was at a party and was introduced to someone as an "Olympic medalist." A week or so later, he called and disputed that claim, saying, "You may have a medal, but that's not what the record books say." 


After much digging, her brother and she discovered that twenty years after they had originally been awarded their medals, the I.O.C. had re-awarded the silver medals to the West Germans, returning the Josephs to fourth place.


Now, while she had told me the entire story to this point in a very matter-of-fact way, when she began to talk about her parents, her voice started to break. She talked about their sacrifice, and how excited and proud they had been when their children won their Olympic medals... but then how hurt they were when they learned that the standings had been changed.


When she concluded her story by telling me how she and her brother had officially been re-awarded their bronze medals just a couple months earlier, she said, "I just wish that my parents had still been alive to see it. I wish they could have known how things worked out."


We never get too old to want that validation from our parents, do we? We never get to a place in our lives - or at least I haven't yet - when we don't want to bring that smile to their face.


After challenging us to "set aside" the things in our life that keep us from running the race like Jesus, the writer of Hebrews then tells us how that is even possible: 


"We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross..." (Hebrews 12:2 NLT)


What exactly was the "joy awaiting him?" Well, that's above my pay-grade, but I've got to believe that it included the Father's smile.


We all want our Father's smile, which may be one reason why Jesus says what He says in Matthew chapter 6 three different times:


"... And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:4 ESV)


"... And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:6 ESV)


"... And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:18 ESV)


One of the keys to interpreting God's Word (Biblical Hermeneutics, for those of you who want the "big" word) is to look for words or phrases that are repeated in the text. If it's repeated, then it's important.


Obviously, this is important. Jesus wants us to know that God sees and knows.


It doesn't matter who else sees or knows.


It doesn't matter if everybody sees and knows.


It doesn't matter if nobody sees and knows.


God sees and know. And He will reward us.


Now, what exactly that reward is... again, way above my pay-grade. However, I think, at the very least, part of our reward is our Father's smile.


He sees and knows it all. He is the One Who is always sitting beside us (with or without the chocolates)...


And hopefully smiling!