Thursday, December 25, 2008

Good-bye, Dad

This afternoon, on this bright and mild Christmas day, my father left this world behind and went to be with the Lord. While he was struggling with ever-increasing weakness in his limbs, his heart continued to beat strongly, giving us no indication that the end was so near. Then on Tuesday evening, sudden and severe pain had my sister dialing 911. He was rushed to the hospital and in 48 hours was dead from a blood clot in his lung. Losing him so quickly and in the midst of holiday celebrations has been numbing. I miss him already.

My dad was a wonderful man, a good husband, and one terrific dad. He had a great laugh. One of my favorite childhood memories is of each night when he would come home from work and open the Hartford Times to the funnies and roar right out loud at the jokes. He loved to laugh. You could tell him the same story over and over, and he would still laugh heartily over the punch line.

Our little family went on a vacation every year. We didn’t have too many where things didn’t go wrong at some time or another. At night, we would lay in bed, roaring at our misery. The more miserable we were, the harder we laughed. In retrospect, my best vacation memories are of the worst vacations. Like when we went camping at Virginia Beach and it did nothing but rain the entire time. Two years in a row.

One thing my family taught me was that laughter can get you through a whole lot. I will miss laughing with my dad.

I have many fond memories of spending time with my dad from my younger days. We sailed together, mostly on Bolton Lake, but down at the Connecticut shoreline as well. Every year he took me along to help him shop for my mom’s Christmas present. I loved singing next to him in church, him belting out the bass line while I sang alto. (Dad taught me how to sing parts from a hymn book when I was in fifth grade.) He taught me to ride a bike, plant a garden, and how to wash dishes. We shared a love for music; when I heard a good piece of music I could hardly wait to get home to share it with him. We had great talks about the Lord. His firm conviction in his salvation and the presence of God in our lives was a great influence on me.

Dad was a giver. When my mom died, there were quite a few people that came to me with stories of how my dad sent money to them when it was needed. He was always ready to lend a helping hand or some good advice. He felt responsible for those people he knew. And even for those he didn’t.

One rainy afternoon, as he crept along in traffic on route 84 west, he spotted the reason for the backup. A lady was on the median with a blown out tire. He stopped and changed it for her. Her spare was also flat. So he told her to drive slowly off the highway, and he would follow her to the nearest gas station. The grateful husband called dad the next day and offered to send he and mom out to dinner (he looked Dad up because of the ZINE license plate). My dad was only embarrassed to be recognized for his good deed.

Dad was a happy man. I’ve never known someone to be more content than him. He enjoyed a good meal and always remembered to compliment the cook. We used to sit on the front porch together on summer evenings, enjoying the sunset or watching an approaching storm. He noticed things in nature and enjoyed them. Dad taught me how to smell the roses. Even in his last months, when he was basically bedridden, he told me, “You know, as discouraging as my condition gets, I have never been in pain. I’m so grateful for that.” He was not a complainer.

I am a lucky girl to have had such a great dad. The world is a sadder place without him. But while I grieve my loss, I know he is in a better place. He saw my mom today after a nine year separation. I have been imagining their reunion all day-- how joyful it all must have been. To picture him finally face to face with Jesus, the Lord he loved, brings tears to my eyes. This is not good-bye forever. I will see him again.

“Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” 1 Peter 1:3-4

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Rearview Mirror

It was dark, and I was late. I was on my way last night to speak at a Christmas Tea just north of Lancaster, PA. Sitting in stop and go traffic in Baltimore had used up all of my smoodge time. There was no time for mistakes. I took a wrong turn.

I didn’t panic until I ran out of civilization and realized something was very wrong. So I stopped at a convenience store to get help. Eight kind people gathered around my set of Google directions, trying to figure out where I was supposed to be headed. No one had heard of the cross street I was seeking. Finally one man in the crowd recognized my destination. He pointed me in the correct direction. I left the store amid warm wishes of good luck.

I found where I made my mistake, and gratefully resumed my course. The tea started at 7:00. It was now 7:10. Turning on to an even smaller rural road, I heard a clunk. My rear view mirror had just fallen off the windshield. Oh, come on.

Once I arrived at the church, my time with the ladies at Cocalico Community Chapel was well worth the trip. They were warm, friendly, and ready for a good time. While in the ladies room I met up with Suzy, who graduated from WBC with my husband and remembered him well. At my table, I sat with Esther, whom we also discovered had an interesting connection with me. Her best friend, Barb, lived with us for six months back in Lanham. I eventually shared with the women about the Light of the World, Jesus, who had come to bring light into a world walking in darkness. I even won a door prize! It was a very nice evening.

But now I faced the long trip home. In the dark. Without a rear view mirror.

Suburban girls like me get a little shook riding on dark country roads. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the scenery immensely if it had been daytime. But at night, the isolation and darkness seemed a little scary. And how would I ever make it home without a rear view mirror??

Yet as I drove my way south, to my surprise I discovered I hardly missed my rear view mirror at all. I really didn’t need it to drive safely. I remembered how much I depended on that mirror in normal circumstances. I began to wonder if I have spent a little too much time looking into my rear view mirror.

The Apostle Paul wasn’t guilty of looking backwards, at least not too often. He wrote the Philippians: “I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus… forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul indicates the two directions he has trained his eye toward: forward and upward. Forward to what God has called him to do. Upward toward his power source and promise of reward.

Note the two directions Paul does not allow himself to gaze. Downward, at his own two feet and obvious fallibility. Backward, at his past mistakes and regrets.

If we are to fulfill the purpose God has for our lives, we need to be careful at where we aim our gaze. I have the tendency to gaze into the rear view mirror. I should have done things differently, better than I did. I worry over past conversations and how I might have been offensive, or worse, sounded foolish in what I said. I also like to gaze at my own two feet. How could God use such a faulty individual? Who am I to stand in front of women like I have it all together?

The problem with both directions is that they are all about me. What I did. What I said. What I can do.

Yet what I need to do is continue forward, with arms outstretched, step by purposeful step moving toward the prize which has been promised me. My gaze must remain on Jesus, who has already walked on my path and now sits at the right hand of the throne of God. Resting in Him will provide the power to keep moving. The mistakes and regrets of my past are water under the bridge. Jesus died to release me from the burden of sin. He’s got it covered-- washing me clean in His precious blood.

I really don’t need that rearview mirror as much as I thought.