TRIBUTE TO ROBERT JOYCE, MY FATHER, By Sabrina Joyce McDonald
Tribute to Robert Joyce from his daughter, Sabrina:
The three of us drove down the highway in your rickety work truck, with me in the middle and Matt near the window. We kids had the rare privilege to accompany Daddy to work that day. We loved traveling on the highway because we could watch the trees and sky fly by as we drove—a lovely site, but more fearful than we realized.
Matt reached for the door handle, but I wasn't quick enough to stop him. He was so little he didn't realize the danger, just the curiosity of mechanics. Faster and with more force than I could imagine, the door flew open with Matt attached to it. I instinctively reached for my brother's life, grabbing his arm, but I was too weak to pull him in. I felt myself sliding across the seat as the weight of gravity and Matt's mass pulled me down toward the rolling asphalt, the painted lines swooshing below my suspended body.
Moments were ages until a large, powerful hand firmly grabbed my arm and pulled with such force that my brother and I flew safely inside, followed by the slamming of the door behind us.
I don't remember what you said; I'm sure it was some well-deserved chastisement. But I do remember one thing—I finished the ride in awe that my Daddy was the strongest man in the world. No matter what, I knew I was safe as long as I was with him.
A man of many strengths
In our house, you were the image of might. Your grip was a vice; your fists hammers; your voice thunder. Nothing was stronger than Daddy. And at the same time nothing was sweeter than your smile, your hugs, and your tender heart. Just like our Heavenly Father, we feared your wrath, but we reveled in your love.
You are not only a father of great physical strength, but you are also a man of passion, principle, and spiritual strength, as well. And you have shaped my life with your character and teaching.
I had a beautiful childhood. It was full of dreams, following in my Daddy's footsteps—singing and writing and painting, just like you.
My earliest memory of appreciation for your artistry took place one evening inside a crowded bedroom in our Texas home. You were leaning over the bed, sharing a Bugs Bunny coloring book with me. You carefully colored the characters using dark and light shading. I couldn't figure out how your page looked so much better than mine, which was full of scribbles. You patiently showed me little by little how to stay in the lines, laughing and smiling all along. "Outline the edges like this, see," you said. That was the beginning of my love of the arts.
Later in my high school years, it meant the world to me that you attended my singing performances. I remember the time I entered my first contest and didn't place. Afterwards you put your arm around me and said, "Those judges didn't know what they were talking about. You were the best one up there." Even if it wasn't true, I was glad you said it. I didn't care how everyone else saw me—if Daddy was proud, I was proud.
You have an eye for beauty that is rarely found in others. You see the hand of God in creation—radiant sunsets, majestic mountains, stars, flowers, and simple every day things like cats and dogs and bugs and leaves on a tree, never taking God's handiwork for granted.
Growing up, you taught me to love history, poetry, painting, music, stories of humanity. You taught me to read deeply and unpack the layers found in the lyrics of songs, thesis of books, themes in a screenplay. You've always loved a good story. Even now you'll say, "Did you know …" or "I heard about this man …" But you taught me that a good story is only good when we find the deeper meaning within it that points to truth.
All of these gifts have given my life its depth and color—the creation of art, and the ability to see the breadth of ordinary life. But the greatest influence you've had on me—and the most important—has been in my spiritual growth.
A spiritual legacy
I will never forget the dozens of spiritual conversations around that crowded dinner table on Neeley Street. No matter who came over (or who we visited), it seemed the conversation always ended up about Christ. I never knew how rare that was until I discovered that other Christian families didn't have conversations like that … not even at church!
You modeled what it looks like for a man to know Jesus—not just to study His word, but to love His word and to commune with Him. You would lay across the bed with your Bible and Strong's Concordance, seeking to know God's will, like King David—a man after God's own heart.
To you, the Bible isn't just a collection of stories or good advice, but a sword, and you wield it in the spiritual battles of life. You know God's Word like no one I've ever seen. You never graduated from seminary or even went to college, but your hunger to know God drives you deeply into the Word. You taught me to read and analyze and to be open to our Father's teaching, not to depend solely on traditions and not to read what I want it to say but what it actually says.
Probably the most powerful and life-changing experience of my life came when you learned the real essence of God's grace. I watched your soul come to a turning point—with humility and a fresh revelation. You even took the time to explain it to me one-on-one. We sat at the kitchen table together, just you and me, and, using salt and pepper shakers, you explained how God chooses His people. I resisted, saying that it wasn't fair. But you persisted. Then I finally blurted out, "But why me? I don't understand why God would choose me!" To which you replied, "Exactly. Now you've got it."
Then I knew, and for the first time, I understood God's amazing grace. How my heart was changed forever!
That conversation showed me that there was more to the Bible than I knew, and I decided then that my faith should be my own. I wanted to know God for myself like you did, and I started reading the Bible and learning and growing on my own. As a parent, you led me to the pathways of truth and righteousness, and it was time for me to take the steps on the journey.
You taught me to hold my beliefs wholeheartedly and with passion—to believe in anything half-hearted is not to believe at all. Yet, you cautioned me to stay down-to-earth, not to think more highly of myself than I ought. I once told you I wanted to memorize the whole Bible so I could know everything in it. I thought you would be very impressed, but instead you said, "That's fine, Sabrina, but remember that the Bible tells us that knowledge puffs up." I've never forgotten that.
You taught me to stand up for what I believe and live a life counter to the culture. Your stubborn rebelliousness made me realize that I could stand strong against evil and those who try to force their ways on me. You showed me that it's good to be rebellious for the right reasons.
Your spiritual life isn't just a philosophical one, but it could be seen in everyday life, as well. One lesson has become most meaningful in marriage. Many times after an argument with David I have thought about the moments I saw you come to Mama and say, "I'm so sorry. Will you forgive me?" There was a genuine humility in those words. It has proven to be a powerful tool not only in spiritual growth but also in healing the hurts of our marriage and strengthening our relationship. It's one of the key elements I put in the marital advice of my articles and in talking to others.
At times, you even asked us kids for forgiveness. As our Daddy, you didn't have to do that, but as our brother in Christ, you wanted to. That's something I hope to carry out with my children, as well.
Any good father provides for his children, but not all fathers are willing to give them something beyond this world "where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal." Out of all the ways you provided for us and loved us and passed down your gifts and traits, I am most grateful for a father who shared his heart and his passion for the things of God. That is something that can never be taken away. That is something I can truly cherish forever.
The image of our heavenly Father
I always knew I had a wonderful father, but until a few years ago, I had no idea how blessed I was. I came to realize it one day when I was consoling a friend who was struggling. I reminded her that God was a loving Father, only chastising us as any good father would, yet loving us with an everlasting love. "Just think of your own father," I said. "It's the same way with God." But that only frustrated her. "That doesn't make any sense to me," she said. "I didn't have the kind of relationship with my father that you did. My father was never here for me. To hear that God is like a father only makes me angry with Him."
Many of my friends have the same problem. Either their fathers weren't around because of divorce or there just wasn't a loving relationship. But I had a father that was involved in my life—one who took the time to teach me about our Heavenly Father, one who loved my mother enough to stay married, one who chose to love me. I took your presence and your love for granted in a world where having a good father is rare.
Even though you're not perfect, you have reflected the image or our Heavenly Father, making it easy for me to understand that basic relationship in which God refers to Himself—our Father who art in Heaven. I pity those who can't understand this beautiful relationship.
For as long as I live, when I tell of my father, I'll speak of your fiery truth-filled sermons, passionate heart, your hunger and thirst for God's Word. I'll tell them how you jump up and down and shout "Glory!" because your soul just cannot contain the excitement you feel when you teach the promises of God. I'll tell them how you honored your covenant to stay married to my mother, and how you sometimes sneak up behind her in the kitchen to give her a squeeze and whisper, "I love you." I'll tell them how much you love me, how just your smile can say that you're proud of me. And most of all, I'll tell them how much I love you.
I'm so grateful that you are my Daddy.
With all my love,
Copyright © 2004 by Sabrina Joyce Beasley. All rights reserved. Used with permission.