Nevertheless, Laugh: An Unlikely Lesson From The Shirts of Dad

Dad wearing funny shirt
My bagpiping dad in his kilt-skirt-shirt.

Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.
-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Gravitas is not an issue for Dad and me. Actually, having a tad too much of it—as my deeply etched brow lines betray—might be, at least for me. Dad has a serious bent and this daughter does too. He taught me how to think and showed me how faith works in love.

But I’m light years behind Dad in this: my dad knows how to laugh.

So while others wax poetic this Father’s Day about how their dads taught them about the sacrificial and abiding love of Father God—and I’ve done that too— this time I’ll share something else Dad taught me.

Don’t Take Yourself (Or Your Shirts) So Seriously

Funny T-Shirt

What did I learn—who am I kidding? What am I still learning—from my dad?

Don’t take yourself so seriously. That people who laugh at themselves are refreshing. That a cheerful heart is good medicine. And that sometimes the medicine takes the form of a T-shirt.

For the record, this seems to be a choice prescription from the Good Physician for me. I have some shirt stories of my own. One involved a chocolate spot I sported for a night of parent-teacher conferences and the other about a breezy new blouse that wasn’t actually a blouse.

They both reinforce Dad’s lesson. God teaches me, and heals me, through shirts. Maybe we could even call them “garments of praise.”

Lighten Up & Laugh

Laughing Jesus
THE LAUGHING JESUS, Willis Wheatley

Oh sure, Proverbs 14:13 is true, “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.” But, Jesus said, laughter is a sign of well-being and blessing in Luke 6:21, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”

Which reminds me of another proverb Dad quotes: “The cheerful heart has a continual feast.”

For years, he had a picture of the Laughing Jesus posted on the fridge.

Our words are the fruit of our hearts. Kind hearts speak kind words, grateful hearts speak thankful words, hearts at rest give words of peace. And humble hearts simply laugh.

But they might cover up with funny shirts.

Nevertheless

Just because Dad wears a Wiley Coyote T-shirt and laughs so loud at Laurel and Hardy or What About Bob? that you can hear him a mile away doesn’t mean he’s carefree and never provoked or pricked in heart. Not at all.

What it does mean that Dad is able to add the “nevertheless” like the Psalmist Asaph did. After he recounted in bitter detail the envy-inducing prosperity of the wicked, Asaph got to this near the end of Psalm 73.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory

Dad holding funny shirt Wiley Coyote

Nevertheless. In other words, all that bad stuff is still true. Asaph didn’t retract all the all the ways the bad guys were winning. For now, the wicked might get away with murder.

But Asaph shifted his focus.

I studied those verses with my girlfriends today and I love what English pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote about them. He didn’t say that Asaph wore funny tunics and laughed a lot. He has an entire chapter titled, “Nevertheless” in his book Faith Tried & Triumphant he writes (p. 168),

“A very good way of testing whether we are truly Christian or not is just to ask ourselves whether we can say this ‘nevertheless.’ Do we know this blessed ‘but’? Do we go on, or do we stop where we were…?”

I’ve told you before about the wicked-mean chrome dome comment that mortified this sensitive seventh grader and how Dad just laughed.

Not a mean laugh, a nevertheless laugh. A good-medicine laugh. A “But God’s got this, Ab,” laugh.

So lighten up.

Life Is Good Again

Dad can laugh. To be sure, like Sarah the mother of Laughter, Dad recognizes the “wild incongruity of life.” Dad knows that things are not always what they seem.

A few days ago, I plodded up the sidewalk to Mom and Dad’s, heavy-hearted for hefty conflict at home compounded by, say, the weight of the wicked world, myself soundly included in it.

Then I lift my eyes and see Dad rinsing lettuce and not in any old T-shirt, but in his “WHO SAID SKIRT?” T-shirt.

Suddenly life was good. Nevertheless. A cheerful heart is good medicine.

And one of Dad’s choice drugs is a funny shirt.

A [humble] man must sacrifice himself to the God of Laughter, who has stricken him with a sacred madness. As a woman can make a fool of a man, so a joke makes a fool of  a man. And a man must love a joke more than himself, or he will not surrender his pride for it. A man must take what is called a leap in the dark, as he does when he is married or when he dies, or when he is born, or when he does almost anything else that is important. 

-G.K. Chesterton, in “W.W. Jacobs”, an article which appeared in The Tribune in 1906
Collected in A Handful of Authors  (1953)

The Infamous Stanley Park Incident

Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC- 6/19/04
 

Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can; all of them make me laugh.

W. H. Auden

Hurry Hon! I think we can catch it if we run.

So we cinched up our backpacks and off we ran to the free summer Stanley Park shuttle bus that offered “free shuttle service around the park stopping at 14 popular locations.” Oh, and “The shuttle stops are easily identified.” And sure enough, right on cue, as we raced into the Rose Garden, the bus squealed to a stop. We looked , smiled at the driver and climbed on. And took off our packs and sat down. Because after a few hours hiking the Park’s walkway and seawall and North Creek and Beaver Lake and South Creek Path, our feet were sore. So we caught our breath and enjoyed the view. First, Rhodendron Garden, and the Rowing Club. Then the Salmon Stream and Lost Lagoon. Isn’t this great? Jim asked.

And it’s free, I sighed, sinking into my window seat, about halfway back, driver’s side, admiring the totem poles.

Hey- there’s our car! Jim said. And sure enough, it was. And seconds later this sign, “Leaving Stanley Park.” Little did we know.  

 

Leaving Stanley Park

Next stop, the driver piped, Vanier Park. Then Granville Island. Enjoy three of the city’s best attractions all in scenic Vanier Park. What? Vanier Park? What happened to Stanley Park? I whispered to Jim. Maybe he’s giving us a little bonus ride, he said with that grin. I was none too sure. And as riders got on at the Vanier stop, the driver started asking for tickets. That’s funny, I whispered again. We didn’t show any ticket when we got on. Maybe that’s because we raced right on, Jim said, his eyes growing wide. Riders piled in at Granville Island and my anxiety was rising mile high.  No, you’re not in Kansas anymore. Or Stanley Park. We were probably only 5 miles away, but it felt 500 miles away. I slumped deeper into my seat and resisted looking up for fear of meeting the driver’s eyes. Sure enough, at each stop the driver- or his assistant- punched tickets. But he hadn’t punched ours. Or, by the matchless grace of God, even asked to see them.  

 

The Radio

We didn’t have tickets. We were free riders. And with each stop, my misery grew. Then the bus driver looked back, ominously, I thought. I avoided his gaze and trembled slightly as he grabbed his radio. By now the din of the riders drowned out the driver’s voice.  But I thought I knew why he made that call. Jim, do you think he knows? I felt like a mouse hiding on top of a carpet cat tower. He might. Maybe he was calling the authorities. Then, Be prepared to show your tickets at the next stop in Gastown. A new driver will be stepping on board. I squirmed. And tried to look invisible. What are we going to do, Hon? I almost cried. We have no money. Should we just go up and confess? Nah. Just pray it goes back to Stanley Park, Jim assured.   I did. And the bus filled and a new very crisp, capable looking driver stepped in at the Starbucks in Gastown. I curled into a ball and heard nothing whatsoever about the sights in Gastown. The driver took his place and the old driver got off. I exhaled, Now our secret was safe.  

 

Don’t Look Now

Abigail, whatever you do, don’t look up, Jim said staring down into his book. The new driver’s looking our way. I grimaced, and slunk a little lower. I could barely see out the window.  Oh no! He just picked up his radio. He’s talking and he just looked at us again. This was unbearable. I think I’d have preferred a night in the Vancouver clink to this. I heard something about Grouse Mountain off to the right but I dared not lift my head to peek. Abigail, I think they might get us at the next stop. Get ready to run. I turned my head the slightest inch to see another grin. But despite myself, his grin made me grin. Then, the driver’s voice broke in.  

 

Next Stop, Stanley Park

And after our nearly 90 minute (free) tour of Vancouver proper, the loop had closed. We spotted our car again. Then the Rose Garden. Now the bus slowed.  As soon as it stops, just run as fast as you can, Jim whispered. I almost laughed as we grabbed our packs and rose. And with the most grateful and innocent smile I could muster, but without eye contact,  I said, Thanks for the tour. I couldn’t, and didn’t, say then that I enjoyed the tour.  But 15 years and plenty of retellings of the Infamous Stanley Park Incident hence, I realize that I did. I did enjoy that undercover, high-stress Vancouver loop. I enjoyed it because of Jim. 

 

Joy, Because Of Jim

He makes me sweat and makes me laugh. He knows me pretty well and still loves me. Jim  knows I don’t laugh enough and I’m prone to introspection.  So Jim makes me laugh. Moral of the story: Marry someone who makes you laugh. And if you can’t do that, find a friend who makes you smile. Because life is full of inconvenience. And, after all, adventures are only inconveniences rightly considered. And rightly considered the Vancouver loop was edge-of-my-seat, or slink-deep-in-my seat adventure. Because I was with my husband, my friend Jim.  

 

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” 
William Shakespeare

My New Shirt

I’ve got a shirt story. It’s nothing like my other clothing posts.

It’s not about how l’il Abigail preferred to play farmer girl over princess and how it still feels more fake than fun to dress up up all fancy like. It’s not bittersweet like the day I gave the dress away or a smug take on my husband’s none too GQ sense of style .

The Find

Then last Thursday, I landed at Goodwill on the hunt for polos and khakis for sprouting up boys. It didn’t take long to find those. Which left time me some time in the ladies’ tips. So I rifled through the color lines. Through purple, cream, black, blue and green- and came up dry. 

But then I saw it. Across a crowded aisle, on a rack jammed with a hundred styles, one alone caught my eye. It was a peachy-pink floral print with undertones of goldenrod and hints of forest green, with the delicate cut neckline and flouncy cap sleeves.

Not quite princess, I thought, but still feminine and pretty and casual enough to wear with my jean capris. 

The Fineprint

And so I did. I wore it to work the very next day- my new floral shirt with the just right neckline and the flouncy cap sleeves. And, wouldn’t you know, my new shirt garnered some praise. So I donned it again for church that Sunday.

I like your top, Hon, Jim said at breakfast. I smiled, demure. And that pretty little shirt got more shout-outs at church. I don’t think I owned a more fetching garment than that frilly floral find acquired from the pink shirt rack for just $1.99.

Then I washed my new shirt Sunday night. I paused before tossing it into the dryer long enough to locate the special shirt’s brand name: Gilligan and O’Malley.  

But there was another word too, in fine print on the far side of the tag. What was it? I scrunched up my eyes to read it:

Sleepwear

Yes. It was. My fine new shirt was a Target brand pajama top. And I’d felt so smart at work and at church in that pretty pink shirt.

Soon my face matched my shirt and I laughed and laughed.  And I shook my head and I laughed.

The Finale

That could- maybe should- be the end. But I’m an inveterate meaning  seeker; I’m ever on the hunt for a moral to the story and lesson in the mess. 

So what do you think of these three? 

  1. Laughter is good medicine. It just is. Replaying my days in the delicate floral garment and the unwitting compliments on it was just what the doctor ordered in the midst of some extra stressful days. It was exactly the “don’t take yourself so seriously” tonic I needed.  “A joyful heart is good for the soul,” (Psalm 17:22). It just is.
  2. Associations matter. I bought my flouncy, cap sleeved, pretty floral top because it was hanging with the real shirt, on the pink shirt rack. I wasn’t shopping for jammies. But associations are powerful.  “He who walks with wise will be wise,” (Proverbs 13:20a). And so  my PJ  top was sanctified.
  3. Never say never.  Poetic justice. You see, I’m the Grinch on every school spirit “PJ Day.”  I don’t participate.  And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it ten times:  I never wear PJ’s out of bed. Never. Wearing pajamas during the day makes me feel lazy. I like to get up and go and I don’t like to feel lazy. No PJ’s in the day. Truly, “with God all things are possible,” (Matthew 19:25). His ways are higher.

Oh, yeah- and a fourth.

Read the fine print.