It was as perfect a day as you could hope for.
Early October. The foliage was nearing its vibrant peak.
This Saturday morning was unusually clear and crisp.
Maine is beautiful everywhere 24-7. But this day exceeded the exquisite norm.
I came inside and began stuffing my briefcase. The past week had been a blur and I hadn’t had time to prepare for two major public hearings coming up the following Tuesday at the Maine legislature.
As executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine I was not only the statewide group’s chief fundraiser and public spokesman – I was also its only registered lobbyist. I never spoke off the cuff but carefully prepared written testimony which I delivered to the legislative committees.
The press often covered these hearings, especially the controversial ones, and there were plenty of those during a legislative session.
I had to be fully prepared. I had to weigh every word. After all, this was for God.
I wished I could have stayed home on this beautiful Saturday. But duty – and of the most noble kind – called me to defend truth, justice and the American way against the liberal interests that in Maine were never far removed and always persuasive and well-organized.
When you’re in the minority you have to be constantly vigilant.
As I grabbed my loaded briefcase and headed for the door, my four-year old daughter Olivia came running up to me nearly out of breath.
“Daddy, Daddy! Will you go for a walk with me on the trails? The leaves are so pretty!”
Behind our house were several acres of wooded trails that wended their way to the fields near Colby College. On this fall day they would guide a traveler through breathtaking colors, by bubbling streams and scampering wildlife.
“I’m sorry sweetheart,” I gently explained, “Daddy can’t right now. I have to go to work. But when I get home, then we’ll go for a walk on the trails.”
I knew it would likely be dark before I got home. Olivia might be in bed.
Offering such disappointment is easier if the recipient is forty rather than four.
Livy sadly dropped her head and slowly walked away.
I was sad too but knew that someday she would be proud of her dad standing athwart against the world.
There’s a little story tucked away in the Bible in the first verses of the sixth chapter of II Kings.
It’s a cautionary tale.
A group of godly prophets band together to build a new house of worship for God. They are enthusiastic and dedicated. They invite the prophet Elisha to join them on the banks of the muddy Jordan River for the capital campaign.
They work with a holy zeal, cutting down trees. One of the young men, especially ardent, wields his ax with focused determination. This was for God and nothing could be too good for the sovereign Creator.
With each swing of his ax, unbeknown to this worker, the ax head loosened. It was an imperceptible dislocation. Everything seemed fine.
Then suddenly, without warning, the ax head fell into the water.
The man was as alarmed as he was surprised. He had borrowed the ax, it wasn’t his and now what would he tell his neighbor?
The prophet walked up to the distraught laborer. “Where did it fall?” Elisha asked him (II Kings 6:6, NLT). When the man pointed to the place in the river, Elisha cut off a branch and threw it in the muddy water at the very spot where the ax head had fallen.
While the men looked on in amazement, the water quivered and there suddenly was the lost ax head, floating in the river.
When Elisha told the worker to take the ax head, the man obeyed, waded into the muddy current of the mighty Jordan and retrieved the most important part of the ax.
Never again would this godly man permit his zeal to cloud his careful observation.
When I finally made it out to the car and opened the door to get in, I was hit with a sight I’ll never forget. Trying to be as small as she could be, there was Olivia hiding on the floor behind the front seat.
Her big brown eyes were expectant through tears.
“Livy,” I asked, “what are you doing?”
“Daddy, I just want to be with you. I want to go with you. I’ll be good.”
I slowly helped her out of the car and delivered her to her mother in the driveway. I told her I loved her and we’d walk when I got back.
As I drove away, I noticed a lump in my throat.
I sat at the light wondering what had just happened, what it meant and what I was doing.
My ax head had dropped off into the swirling muddy waters of duty, schedules and pride.
I knew where it had fallen.
I turned the car around and headed home.
Years later Olivia told me she never forgot the day I came back and the walk we took on those beautiful trails.
“I love you Dad”.
And I never forgot those big brown eyes hiding in the car.
Dad, keep that ax head tightened.