The Day Love Arrived

Christmas 1954 marked ten years since my dad’s ship, the USS Princeton, was destroyed in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. That horrific explosion caused sea and sky to trade places. In the vortex of fire and water and hot metal falling from the sky, Dad ended up in a life raft. He was alive but more battle-scarred than anyone could have seen in those days.

My brother Vernon and I grew up in the shadow of the Princeton (Carl was born later). Jack Chinn, a young husband and father of two boys, was a good man caught in a death struggle with a psychological python. A doctor today would surely write “PTSD” on Dad’s chart. During that time, Dad began to wrestle with God, praying long and loudly in our little house. Dad and his God scared me, especially when his physical correction turned dark and violent.

In 1954, he and Mom bought a small farm at the edge of town. The morning after the closing, Dad hated the place. His prayers got longer, louder, and scarier. As a little boy, I slowly realized that my parents had spent all they had on that farm. In fact, I later learned, they only had $9.00 to spend for Christmas. So, they decided to skip gifts for each other and spend that meager amount on gifts for their sons.

Then, on Christmas morning, a pickup from a big lumber yard in town pulled into our driveway. The driver ran up on the porch and knocked. When Dad opened the door, the man handed him a small gift.

“Merry Christmas, Jack.”

Dad thanked the man and opened the box to find a beautiful pocketknife. Although the gift was merely business, he dropped into a dining room chair and began to sob. That was the first time I ever saw Dad cry. Then he looked up at Mom and said, “Now, you’re the only one who didn’t get a Christmas present.”

He couldn’t take it. That apparent injustice pushed his emotions up over the river banks in his heart.

What Mom, Vernon, and I saw that day was probably the collective force of stress. A rough financial period (which didn’t last very long), deep regrets about a major purchase, unrelenting turmoil over buddies who died in the Pacific, and a too-long-too-silent God finally blew him apart.

But the emotional scene in the dining room carried something entirely different to me. I saw the depth of Dad’s love for his family. My parents were always in love with each other, but before that day I hadn’t seen Dad’s love for me. Then, in a raw, spontaneous moment, on Christmas, his love flooded that little farmhouse.

That’s why 1954 remains my favorite childhood Christmas.

Looking back over six decades, I think that day probably caught the first sonar pings of faith for me. I came face-to-face with the magnificent love of my father and my Father.

Like a bead of water holding the image of a mountain, what happened that day caught the elemental character and purpose of God. His Love is His Light, a dominion, invading the dark. I’ve long seen our family as among “those who sat in darkness saw a great light. And for those who lived in the shadow of death, a light has shined.” (Matthew 4:12)

That great Light of God came into the dark. And the Light won. Even Dad’s dark night of the soul was no match for what entered our home that day. That dawning Light slowly drove the darkness from his mind. And, for two little boys, that Light began swallowing the terrible shadow of the Princeton.

That Light was and is a jurisdictional issue. It carries authority and recognizes no boundaries. The darkness has no light and no dominion. As John described so elegantly: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5).

That simple verse is the best summary of Christmas ever written. I first saw it in action 63 years ago. I still see it every day.

27 thoughts on “The Day Love Arrived”

  1. Dear Ed, thank you for sharing a drop of brilliant Light with us. Divinely expressed and written… I am changed permantly for the better.

  2. Thank you Ed!
    I see my dad so clearly here and my childhood and my home today. The light shines and drives the dark away. And we live, we flourish as our fathers intended.

    The legacy of men seeking God is not faultless but overcomes dark in light.

  3. David L. Oxley Sr.

    Thank you Ed for sharing this ephamany. It warmed my soul because of our parents roots that were intertwined from those days of my dad praying for your dad during your dad’s days in the war and my dad praying for your dad’s safety and safe return. I’m blessed on today as read this because Love still walks in. Love walked into me “again” as I read this. Merry CHRISTmas my dear friend of life-long and eternity!

  4. Unmerited favor
    I had played football since pee wee football. We were very poor. Football gave me status , focus in my life and hope in something other than being poor. I did not attend church , knew nothing of God or the Bible. First year of high school ball 10th grade I had cut my hand real bad on broken glass. That injury limited my playing time the first weeks of the season. My goal was to get enough played quarters to earn a team jacket . I could see me wearing that jacket around campus giving me a sense of worth and status beyond poverty. At the end of the season as coach passed out the jackets. As I watched I knew I had not earned a Jacket which was ok. He threw me a Jacket with my name on it. I felt Gods approval and knew it was undeserved. I told him i did not know him or follow him. Why me? I sat on that bench for a long time thinking about that question. Still dont know why.

  5. Ed, what a great story. Though I am MUCH younger than you and Vernon, I had heard of Christmas 1954 many times and know what a tough year it was for mom & dad. This fills in some holes for me.

    1. So glad to know that the story served you too. I so often think that you and Vernon and I have the very same memories. Not at all true. We have 3 distinct vantage points from which we view our somewhat common past.

  6. Ed, I don’t read your work as often as I should, but I always come away with something tangible. “Like a bead of water holding the image of a mountain” – wow, what great imagery. Thanks for the nuggets.

  7. Ed, you and I share a common history of studying the hardships, reactions, dedications, and wisdom of our fathers. Their maturity, endurance, and devotion to God made them giants in our eyes and shaped our characters significantly. We are what we are because of them!

    1. Thank you, Wayne. That is all so very true. A child’s view of God is shaped by his or her view of “Dad.” And God doesn’t make that process easy. It’s often difficult, even harrowing, but ultimately refining and maturing.

  8. Ed, this story adds to the legendary account my mother would share as she pointed to the picture of the sailor-boy, Jack Chinn. Her story provides details behind your statement, “Dad ended up in a life raft.” His swimming that night in the water, almost giving up from time to time, but motivated by the image of his mother to keep swimming until dawn’s light exposed the raft, is made even more heroic to me. Your story shows a continued ‘swimming’ (possible PTSDs and all) of a genuine hero.

  9. Thank you. That Christmas in 1954 gave us an amazing family of Godly men. Thank you for sharing. The light indeed shines in the darkness, and shines, and shines, and shines. Merry Christmas.

  10. Thank you for sharing this story Ed. And more important for me breaking the bread of your life for me to feast upon that has been part of the life that has sustained me since the early 1970’s when we first met.

  11. Thank you for that story Ed. I never knew the Jack you are describing. He was always jovial and joyful. I remember as a boy hearing your dad recount his experiences on the Princeton at great length. I’ve often though that at the time I didn’t realize what an amazing piece of history I was hearing. Now I can see I was also seeing the evidence of a man who had found peace with an awful experience, and that telling his nephew, and anyone else in earshot, was a probably a healing thing for him. It was so unusual and extraordinary for a veteran to recount in such detail his experiences. I’m grateful to have had him in my life. Thank you for giving me a fuller sense of who he was the journey he went through to get to that point.

  12. Beautiful piece, Ed! I enjoyed it. In fact, I read it several times and it brought back memories. I knew your Dad and your family during this time in 1954, and remember going to that little farmhouse and having dinner with you. Your Mother served us Fried chicken if I remember correctly. I am better with numbers than with words, but let me plainly just say this: Your Dad was a giving, caring and charitable man. A fine example of a human being. What I witnessed was this: He gave to his family, his church, his community and clearly gave to his country. He was a hero in many ways, and I loved hearing him play the guitar and harmonica at the same time!!!

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