Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Father's Day

This year, Father's Day falls on the 19th of June. The 20th will be the 3 year anniversary of my Dad's passing. I miss him so. I know that we often magnify people in death, beyond what they really were in life, but, in my Dad's case, it just isn't true. He was some kinda wonderful. I'm thankful that I told him so regularly, when he was alive.

When he was alive, I spoke to him nearly every morning. As I drove to work, I'd dial him up and talk to him, about various things. When I made a sale, he was the first person I'd want to call, because I knew he genuinely shared my joy. He loved to hear stories about my work. Somedays we talked tomatoes- how many we'd each picked the night before, how big and how beautiful and tasty they were. He taught me how to grow tomatoes, you see. He was the master. Sometimes we'd talk about what was on his agenda for the day, or how I was doing at work. Other times he'd tell me how far he'd ridden on his stationary bike that morning. Before his ankles went bad, he used to take morning walks in his neighborhood and he'd tell me how that went.

He touched people wherever he went. Earlier this month, I received a letter in the mail from Angela. She was his waitress at the Early Bird Cafe, where he often went for breakfast. Three years later, out of the blue, she sends me a letter, telling me how blessed she was to have known him and how thankful she was that she did. Who does that? Someone who knew greatness, that's who.

He was a hard worker all of my life. He worked multiple jobs, seven days a week for most of my life. He never complained about not having a day off. Really. I cannot ever remember him complaining. He was up at the crack of dawn and didn't get home until long after dark. But, he did not complain. His first job was helping his dad in the corn fields of Iowa, picking corn and throwing it in a horse drawn wagon.

He had a variety of jobs throughout his life. He worked on the railroad as a brakeman. He collected scrap iron for pay, worked in a lumber mill, as a school janitor, owned his own janitorial service, drove a trash truck and ultimately became the head of maintenance for the Redondo Beach City School District before his retirement.

He was a happy man-a man content with his lot in life, with the blessings he'd been given. He was generous, sometimes to a fault. With his time, his money and his help. He was a helping hand to more people than I can count. Probably to far more than I even know. He was gentle and kind, and long suffering. He didn't expect much from people. He just cared for them and gave himself to them. He was, as a friend would say, "a soft place to land". He was the one who baked a pie for a neighbor, or fried and delivered chicken for his friend who had Alzheimer's and lived in an assisted living community where the food wasn't so good.

He was soft hearted. He loved babies. Loved his kids. Loved my mom. He could easily be brought to tears by simple kindness. The last time he visited my home, he walked into my kitchen, and upon seeing the new room we had built, his eyes filled with tears and his chin wobbled. I'll never forget that. I knew why. He was overwhelmed with pride and happiness for us. That's how he was-always wanting the best for us, and willing to sacrifice to help us get it.

When he was in the hospital, he knew what was coming. He talked to me about cleaning out his shed, and taking care of my mom and even about me getting a new car. He always thought I needed a new car, because I drive my cars for a decade or more, generally. He offered to help. I assured him my car was good and that there's was already money budgeted for a new one before long. It was important for him to know we'd all be taken care of. After he was gone, the shed got emptied. We bought a new car. And-as promised, I'm doing my best to take care of my mom, too. It was the last promise I made to him and I intend to keep it.

For more than half a century, I was blessed with a wonderful dad. I don't wallow in sadness because he is gone. I revel in my "good luck" to have had him for so long. I am grateful for the foundation he provided, the kindness he modeled, the work ethic he instilled and the tenacity he gave to every effort. He molded me. He blessed me. He loved me. Far more than I deserved. I am grateful. But-I still miss him--everyday.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Walking through the valley of the shadow of death...

Loss. Sorrow. Grief. In the last week or so, there have been numerous implosions of sadness around me. A high school friend sat at the bedside of her dying daughter who was buried today. A long time friend said goodbye to her father for the last time. Another friend, in Oregon, received a call this week notifying him that his mother had suddenly passed following a hip fracture. At this moment, my oldest and dearest friend's father lies in a hospital in Ohio, demanding to go home. When he does, hospice workers will accompany him in order to provide comfort measures for however much time he has left. I have two dear friends awaiting test results, knowing well the results could bring their worst fears or their greatest hopes. Another friend suffers a different kind of loss. The failure of hope, because someone she loves has disappointed her, again. Sadness comes in all shapes and sizes. One size does not fit all.

We cling so tightly to this life. Most likely when mine comes to an end, I too, will struggle to hold on in order to stay just a little bit longer. We have lives we love, people we don't want to leave behind. I am no exception, but, I do believe, in my heart of hearts, that when I have crossed over to my heavenly home, all the concerns that made me want to stay--the unfinished business, the hopes not yet realized, the goals not achieved, they will all pale in comparison to what I will know there as I sit at the feet of Jesus. We who walk this earth hold so tightly to dreams we want to see fulfilled. A child grown into a man. An education completed. A baby born. A wedding ceremony performed. A family at peace. These are the dreams we live for. They are worthy pursuits and when realized may bring unspeakable happiness. But they are imperfect dreams, and we who travel this planet, cannot conceive of dreams more precious, dreams more exquisite; dreams of heaven, perfect dreams realized.

When my own father was dying in a hospital, I, long before my siblings and my mother were able to acknowledge it, knew that the end was most assuredly near. I knew too much. It's not that sorrow didn't apply to me. It surely rocked my heart to the core. But, I didn't ask why. I know that the same God who gives, takes away. I know that there's never a good or right time. I acknowledge that it's easier to let go when a life has been long and well lived and more difficult when it's early- in what we see as an unfinished life. Still. I cling to the belief that life here is not life in it's entirety. There is more. I believe that as surely as I believe the sun will rise and fall everyday. I honestly don't believe anyone who has prepared for eternity by accepting Jesus' gift of salvation, has ever arrived in heaven and wanted to come back to this life. Heaven is richer, more beautiful and more joyous than our finite minds can grasp. One does not move from the ghetto to the palace and then ask to return the utter poverty they were rescued from.

The greatest sadness for me is not the loss of one's presence here on earth. That, because, I believe there is a life beyond. The greater sorrow is if that one has not prepared for the life beyond earth's borders. One's eternal destiny is the most important goal of all and one that requires our attention now, while we still have time to determine where we will spend it. A life lived only for pleasure and temporal things is a life ignorant of true meaning, a life cut short too soon, whether 16 or 96 years long. To share that truth with those who don't know, is a sacred and critical responsibility. The gift of God is eternal life, available to all who will believe. As one who has gratefully received that gift, I am responsible to share it with others as the Lord provides opportunity.

If you, dear reader, long to know what it is that gives me this hope--the hope that takes away death's sting, I long to share it with you. I cannot tell you you will not face sorrow. I cannot promise that. I still cry bitter tears. I still have a dread of life without those I love most. I still pray for healing and reconciliation and the end of pain. But, in the end, I know. I know that one day, on the other side, the pain will end, the tears will be wiped away and death will be no more. Because Jesus said so. And I believe it.

I do love this life I've been given. I truly do. I am blessed beyond anything I ever imagined. But, when my time comes, don't grieve for me. Don't call me back. I'll wait for you. Be there.