A worn and underlined Bible, pages nearly transparent. Two signs that once proudly stood displayed atop a large work desk. These are treasured mementos—gathered from familiar belongings my dad left behind. They’re treasured, because they represent his way of life. Whenever I think of dad, I smile and feel overwhelming gratitude well up from the depths of my soul.
I know I was blessed to have such a dad. I am all too aware that not everyone has or had that experience. I don’t know why I was recipient to this blessing—I only pray I can somehow carry on a portion of the legacy dad left. His love spread well beyond his physical family, as he was a “spiritual dad” to numerous men and women who never had the opportunity to experience a dad, or who experienced a dad who was far from a reflection of God’s love.
My dad’s earthly father was an alcoholic and quite absent in his life. Dad learned to be the kind of dad he was as a result of the love he learned from his Heavenly Father—the one who will never leave us and who treats us not as we deserve, but with grace and truth, gentleness and strength. A God who loves so much he gave everything for us, notwithstanding his only son.
I pray that all who have missing or difficult experiences with an earthly father can know this amazing God—the perfect father.
The presence of God was evident in my dad’s joy, in the words echoing from his booming voice, in his hugs, in his teaching and his expectation, in his humility, compassion, integrity, generosity, and though his faithful outlook. Jesus’ reflection was shown to me through his life as I saw him take time in prayer and in the Word; as I saw him lovingly initiate and interact with others; as I saw his generosity and conviction that “you can never out-give God”; as he led our family in devotional thoughts at the dinner table; as tears welled in his eyes as he sang songs such as “He is My Everything”; and as he dearly loved the church, his spiritual family. Every time the church met together my Dad, along with his wife and four girls were present. And he wasn’t just there…the church was alive and precious to him—he was there to give. He was usually the last to leave the fellowship
While the title of his occupation was Dean of Admissions at the University of Florida and his community leadership was significant—that part of his life paled in comparison to his “preoccupation” of loving and serving the living Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection first changed his life when he was baptized into that death, burial and resurrection at age sixteen—and was given forgiveness, God’s Spirit, and the promise of eternal life. It continued to affect his life every day thereafter in the way he thought and lived. It continues to affect him today, as he has since transferred to “the other side” of eternal life.
Over eleven years ago I received that dreaded call—informing me that my dad, who lived in Florida, was near death. He wanted to talk with me. As he got on the phone he told me that he was going home and wanted to tell me he loved me. Through tears I told him ways I loved and appreciated him and was grateful that we had him as long as we did. I was sure Jesus would be quite eager to take him home. I quickly boarded a plane and made it to him before he passed to the other side of eternity. The scripture became more real to me than ever before:
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:25)
Whatever form paradise takes while waiting for Jesus’ return (that day when the dead in Christ will rise and be rewarded with heaven)…I am grateful for the hope and assurance this resurrection brings. For without it, there is no hope.
As I had the privilege to be with Dad as he passed from life through physical death to “after life” two things in particular grabbed my heart.
First, as my sisters and I were with him at the end, I realized that the bond that united us was our common and deep love for our dad. Anything we could find to do to serve him—giving a backrub, a sip of water, even holding a vomit bucket…felt like an incredible privilege. I realize this is the same unity that springs from our commonality as children of God. When we understand the depth of love we have been given, returning that love in any form is a joy and privilege. Serving together draws us closer to each other.
Is this your current experience as you eagerly “love back” our Father—joyfully serving side by side with your spiritual brothers and sisters?
Secondly, I felt more keenly aware of the shortness of even a long life. Our time here on earth is indeed a mist—and the hope and assurance of eternal life means everything. As my Dad’s physical life slipped away, I kissed him and simply said through tears and smiles, “I love you Daddy… and I’ll see you later.” As my oldest sister, quite the dramatic one, came into the room immediately after his death she ran over to him exclaiming, “You did it Dad! You did it! This is what you lived for and you made it!!”
Truly the scripture, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8) culminated for him right in front of my eyes. That good fight was lived out in front of me and many others throughout the preceding years.
I loved the words my oldest niece, his oldest grandchild, penned about my dad: ”Growing up with a truly grand daddy was to have a taste of God’s love for us in human form. For only such a man who loved God above all else would be able to shower such affection mixed with high standards and expectations in a way to make us feel safe, secure, and adored…”
And as for me, I know all this is possible only because my Jesus not only died for me, but God also raised him from the dead…so that “to live is Christ, to die is gain.”(Php 1:21)