For the last 6 months, our family has been dealing with this difficult progression. With each visit and each conversation, we delve deeper into the very real facts and emotions involved. We talk through the pain, and we reminisce over great memories that will never be erased.
I keep remembering little things, like the way dad wrestled with us as kids or his food preferences. We've laughed about his favorite movie (The Princess Bride) and re-told his favorite joke (Duck Food, see footnotes). All kinds of anecdotes were revisited, and we relished the looks on the faces of friends and family who were hearing the stories for the first time.
There was the time he brought the wrong lunch to work. My dad, the least picky eater in the world, was always happy to bring leftovers to work for lunch to save a buck. He never complained about reheated meat loaf or spaghetti, but one day he accidentally grabbed a tupperware full of his least favorite food: lima beans. Rather than making the drive home to trade them in for a real meal, or even eating out for once, he suffered through an entire lunch of lima beans. Lima bean jokes followed him for years, pointing out his sheer commitment to frugality.
We recalled the planning session for my brother's wedding, which was to involve some level of fireworks. We found sparklers and verified their legality within city limits, but a few artillery shells during their walk out of the church would've really made it special. We made calls to the Fire Marshall's office to find out what we needed to do or who we needed to involve to make this happen, but the Fire Marshall wouldn't have it. We sat down, a little dejected, to decide what to do. My dad, the quintessential rule follower, gave the first response: "Let's do it anyway! We can just run away really fast after we shoot them off." This briefly debunked his goody-goody status and earned him the nickname "sparky," and yes, we did shoot off the fireworks in the middle of town (and yes, the Fire Marshall caught us).
There were plenty of funny quips to go around, but the real stories weren't funny at all. While some people weren't in on the inside jokes, we all have clear memories of the great character my dad has displayed.
Everyone talked about his strength during the last few months while his condition deteriorated. We were all impressed that, whether his weak legs forced him into a walker or his pain bound him to the hospital bed, he always tried to make his visitors at home. He would let others choose the TV channel, minimize his own pain to avoid awkward feelings, and keep himself awake to keep conversation going. His constant selflessness was like a shining beacon, and it repeatedly convinced others to pay it forward.
But what I noticed wasn't his selflessness during the last few months. Instead, I thought of the time he spent with our family after a long day's work or a long week of school projects, and I thought of the constant positive energy he gave us no matter how tired he was. I remembered all the times he pursued my interests instead of his own, just because he knew it would bring us closer together. I cherished every time he told me he was proud of me, but more specifically the finish line of my marathon, when he stood by a rail between hundreds of spectators, watched for me to run past, and waited almost 30 minutes in the cold rain just so he could yell "YOU'RE MY HERO!!!" at me as I made my final sprint to the finish line. After 27 years of knowing him, I knew these memories were nothing more or less than the outflow of his selfless character and his drive to be a great father.
Everyone talked about his godly pursuits during the last few months. We heard of discussions over Romans 8, when my dad expressed his desire to find joy in suffering through his symptoms, yet we all saw this joy in his eyes every time his disease progressed. We were told about my dad's laments that, once he was house bound, he might not be able to reach out to people in meaningful ways anymore, yet the fruits of his spiritual labor were never so prevalent as they were during his house bound months.
But what I noticed wasn't his godliness during the last few months. Instead, I remembered the countless mornings I came to the breakfast table to see dad during his morning Bible study, taking notes for his next study group. I pictured the missionaries he supported (by friendship, not only finances), who became lifelong friends in Brazil, and who became such strong friends that they made international calls just to let my dad hear their voice during what seem to be his last days. I felt the ever-steady drive of his faith and morals, never bending to fads or compromising to meet his own desires. I looked back on the 27 years of godly life that I have been blessed to witness, and I knew they were nothing more or less than the outflow of his faith.
Everyone talked about the last few months, and I heard over and over that they were extraordinary. I knew there was more to the story, but they were right. The last 6 months, even the last 4 years of my dad's life have radiated a good, godly, strong, faithful, and loving man, moreso than any other man I've known. He has shown faith in fear, hope in despair, and love in pain. I have been amazed at what I've seen, so I wondered what changed in recent months.
But then I remembered the last 27 years. While the last few months have been extraordinary, they are no more extraordinary than every other month of his life. He has always been faithful in fear, even when his fears involved the future of his kids. He has always been hopeful in despair, even when the future reeked of suffering and loss. He has always loved in the midst of pain, whether the pain of rejection or the pain of his disease. Even more amazingly, he has always been humble, never letting attention to be drawn to his own good works.
Looking back at his amazing life, I want to say that he didn't deserve his disease. I want to say that he didn't deserve the atrophy in his legs, the weakness in his hands and shoulders, or the pain throughout his body. I want to say that the world would be better if great men like him didn't suffer, but I've learned better in the last 24 hours.
Through the suffering of his disease, my dad has been given the opportunity to display the fullest extent of faith, hope, and love. Through his suffering, my dad has shown the light of the Lord. It is truly brighter than he could ever reach by his own strength, more than any flawed person could attain. This light is more brilliant than anything man-made; it is the light of perfect love, made perfect in human weakness.
As I contemplate the life of this great man, I delight in his suffering and the things he would call weakness, because he would tell you that these are the next-to-greatest gifts he has been given. The greatest being the gift of pure love, killed on a cross to cover the cost of our imperfection.
II Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Always moving forward,
A duck walks into a bar. He asks the bartender "got any duck food?" The bartender says "no, of course we don't have any duck food!" The duck leaves, but returns the next day asking "got any duck food?" The bartender says "I told you we don't have any duck food! Get out of here!" The duck leaves again, but returns again the next day asking "got any duck food?" The bartender says "That's it. This is a bar, not a pet shop. If you ask for duck food again, I'm going to nail your feet to the wall!" The duck leaves. He returns yet again the next day, approaches the bar, and asks "got any nails?" The bartender is confused and says "no, we don't have any nails." The duck nods, then asks "got any duck food?"