My beloved dad, Frank Sawatzky, will be turning 90 tomorrow, Sept. 21. The family is having a celebration in his honor, and I wrote some reflections to share at the party. I visited my parents yesterday and shared this with them in person, and we had a great time talking about it at a slower pace.
Many years ago, dad began a tradition in our family. Whatever our age was, that was the Psalm that was read to us. I told dad last year that this year, he was going to get an extra good one. We sing Psalm 90 in our church, and it’s one of my favorites.
I’ll read it in a minute but I want to set the stage first. In this Psalm, we hear that God is our dwelling place. Our home. It made me think back to all the places that have been your home dad. I re-read some of your autobiography to do some research, and you lived in at least 5 homes in Russia by the time you were 12 years old, in places like Kondratyevka, Medestovka, Stalino,
Rosenbach, near Chortitza. When you were an adult, and the war came, you lived in many places, like Zaporozhye. For a while you were homeless, then you went to Bavaria, to Munich, and then to a Mennonite Refugee Camp. You became uprooted from your country and had to look for a new home in Canada. Here in Winnipeg, you have lived on Rossmere, McLeod, Arby Bay, Reiny Drive and now Henderson Hwy. Not only that, you have had a summer home at Lester Beach! Of all these homes, you built at least 5 of them!
This is a lot of homes, and you probably aren’t done yet! In the middle of your life, you stayed in some homes for a long time, on Arby Bay for 16 years, and on Reiny Drive for 31 years!
In the Psalm for your birthday, Moses is said to be the speaker. He too had many homes. He started out in a poor Israelite home, then was raised in a palace. But once he became the leader of the Israelites, he led God’s people out of their homes in Egypt and they wandered in the desert for 40 years, searching for their permanent home. Once they finally got there, God told him he would die and never get to live there.
Dad, it would be kind of like you building the cabin at Lester Beach, and then God telling you you will never get to enjoy it once you built it. It was a bitter blow to Moses, but as he was sitting there, looking out into the promised land that would never be his home, he wrote some amazing words:
“Lord you have been our dwelling place [our home], throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Ps. 90:1-2)
So the Psalm says that God is our home. I read about this Psalm a bit, and one writer said it’s as if our lives are like a line. The Hebrew words that say God is our dwelling place mean that as far as we can see from the beginning of the line, to as far as we can see at the end of the line, God is really our home. Remember driving to Lester Beach on the 59, how endless that road sometimes seems to be? The Psalm says that even past the end of the line, that’s where our home is.
Usually we think of a building as being our home. Maybe it’s a house, maybe it’s an apartment, but it’s made of stuff – walls, 2 X 4’s, shingles, rafters, floorboards, insulation… all these things is what a home is. Thankfully, each of us here has a home, and we’re all grateful for these places that shelter us, but later in the Psalm, we’re told that really, these are all like grass that is new in the morning and by evening it fades and withers. Like the old song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.” It’s hard to remember this because the walls seem so solid and permanent, but we are told that they won’t last forever.
The dwelling place we have in God is not a material home. It’s not even a home that we need to or even can build for ourselves. It’s a gift, because God is the builder.
Dad, as I re-read your autobiography, I saw how God has been your home during your whole life. He gave you loving parents. He sheltered you many times during difficult years. God stayed with you as you came to a new home in Canada. He brought you through a difficult time as your daughter Hildi said good-bye to her earthly home. He provided you with many blessings such as a loving family and a community of faith. God also gave you other blessings such as an optimistic personality, a good sense of humor, and a loving wife in mom.
The years ahead are less certain for you as health declines. You will have to give up more things, but you never have to give up God. Dad, God will still be your home as you understand probably better than all of us that this world is not your home.
The home in God is not a place, but a person. God will be with you Dad, for as far ahead as you can see the line. To the best of our ability, we will be here with you, hoping to surround you with the love of God. But God will also be with you during the night when times are sometimes the hardest, guarding your heart.
“Lord you have been our dwelling place, throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You return people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
We are like the new grass of the morning,
in the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.
So teach us to number our days
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.
-Psalm 90 (selected verses)