Some days mark our lives more than others. Ten years ago today, July 29, 2005, was one of the most terribly memorable days of my life. My dad died suddenly while playing basketball. I and other family members were in the room and saw it happen. He was literally there one moment and gone the next. There have been many moments in the past 3652 days that I’ve had occasion to question God’s wisdom in taking my dad when He did. At the same time, there have been many times when I’ve been moved to prayer, worship, and faith in God’s sovereignty as I’ve reflected on all that God has done (in spite of still not knowing the answers to all of my questions).
There are times when that crystal-clear moment seems like it was yesterday, and there are other days when that instant feels like it was 100 years ago. Grief is a weird cycle of intense/dull/intense/dull/etc. Thankfully the immediately intense grief of that day has lessened, but that’s a pain in and of itself, as it reminds me that he’s been gone long enough for the pain to lessen somewhat—or at least morph into a different kind of pain. Sometimes the cycle is related to important dates (e.g., Father’s Day, birthday, holidays, etc.). But it’s often completely random—driving alone in the car when a memory comes to mind unbidden and unexpected.
Life has been marked with further losses since the passing of my dad, and we’ve grieved with others who have lost loved ones. Sadly, this world will leave all of us carrying burdens of grief and loss. The burdens look different for each person, but they’re real for us all. It’s times like these that teach the children of God what it means for God to be our Shepherd (Psalm 23), our Father (Psalm 103), and our Peace (Ephesians 2).
Even those who experience the same loss feel that loss differently. My mom lost a faithful husband of three decades. My youngest siblings lost a dad for their childhood and formative years. My middle siblings lost a father-figure guide for their terribly difficult adolescent and young adult years. And we older siblings lost a rock, guide, mentor, friend. We all miss him, but we all miss him through the grid of our relationship. Recognizing this allows us to empathize with each other yet also recognize that there are parts of the grief of others that we can never fully understand. The only one who can fully understand is Jesus the Priest who experienced life as we experienced it, who endured much greater grief than we’ll ever experience as he bore the wrath of God in our place. And I thank God for that; I thank God that Jesus is a friend for sinners.
This post is part reflection and part gratitude. And I’d like to thank God here for the dad He gave me:
1. I’m thankful that my dad had a unique combination of high expectations and full acceptance.
There was probably no one in the world harder on me than my dad, yet I also felt fully loved and accepted by him. I’m thankful for the way he pushed me in my work, in my play, and in my walk with Christ. I’m also thankful that I don’t ever remember feeling like failing would change his love for me one bit. My dad knew the worst things about me and still fully accepted me. In this way, he beautifully modeled the love of God for me.
2. I’m thankful that my dad consistently worked to make time for each of his nine kids.
Our house was. full. of. kids. We loved it, and I still love it. At the same time, being a father myself now, I recognize the sacrifice of time and love it took for him to get down on the floor and play “Candyland” with my youngest sister, then get up and hear the relational heartaches of his older children.
3. I’m thankful for the example of my dad and mom in their faithful perseverance in marriage.
A friend once told me, “Marriage is the best and the hardest thing that’s ever happened to me.” And he’s right. It’s awesome, and it’s hard. I’m thankful for my dad’s example of leadership and my mom’s example of commitment that led them to persevere in a loving relationship in good times and bad. I never thought their relationship was perfect (I lived with them, after all—like my kids do with me), but it was awesome to experience a double date with my parents the night before my dad died and see their fresh love in the 30th year of their marriage.
4. I’m thankful for my dad’s work ethic.
I’ve never known anyone who worked harder than my dad. “Work hard; play hard,” he said. And we did. I’m thankful that he passed that legacy to his kids and urged us to fight through and repent of childish laziness.
5. I’m thankful for my dad’s foresight.
My dad worked at a church my entire life and managed a household of nine children. Yet he planned ahead for provision for his family, in case he were ever absent. He didn’t expect to be gone, but he had prepared for that day. When I was twelve or thirteen, my dad had me sit down and write out how many hours I’d need to work at a given wage to pay my way through college. He expected all of us to pay our way, but he helped prepare us for that reality. I graduated college with a car, a computer, and some cash in the bank—thanks to my dad.
6. I’m thankful that my dad loved people.
It was shocking to see some 3000 people show up to my dad’s visitation and to hear story after story of people he had blessed or encouraged. I had no idea. He was just my dad. Yet he somehow made time for us and also managed to touch the lives of thousands of other people. It was an overwhelming moment and is still a legacy I treasure.
7. I’m thankful that my dad loved telling people about Jesus.
He was a faithful, persistent witness who spoke the gospel and lived the gospel. He shared the gospel with two non-Christian men the day he died. His lifestyle of evangelism is convicting and motivating.
8. I’m thankful that my dad loved his local church.
My dad was a businessman with a pastor’s heart. He spent his life serving the church vocationally as a financial administrator, and he made sure his family loved and served the church too. If the doors were open, we were there. And we loved it. He helped me process the flaws of church and of people without turning my back on the church and the people in it. That’s a legacy that is a huge gift to me, a deeply flawed pastor of a congregation of flawed people.
9. I’m thankful that my dad (and mostly my mom, I’ll admit…) gave me eight siblings/friends.
It was awesome growing up, and it’s awesome having a family/team of people that love each other, are pulling the same direction, and think about life roughly through the same grid. I loved working with them and playing with them growing up, and I love talking to them and hearing about their lives now.
10. I’m thankful that my dad was a man of conviction and courage.
I saw my dad take courageous stands in great and small ways. Sometimes it was the courage of relationship—being willing to say a difficult thing—and other times it was courage of integrity. I will never forget the eighteen months he spent graciously pointing out the proud and selfish way I was treating others as I proudly and selfishly ignored him … until one day God’s Spirit opened my eyes and moved me to tearful repentance through my dad’s courageous persistence.
11. I’m thankful I had 24 years with my dad and that I get to see him again.
Some have much less. I’m so thankful. And I’m grateful that my dad knew Jesus and led me to know Him too. It was my dad that led me to Jesus 30 years ago, and because of that we’ll get to sing “Jesus, Thank You” together one day.
Daddy, I (we) miss you, love you, and can’t wait to see you again.
You’re in a better place, I’ve heard a thousand times,
And at least a thousand times I’ve rejoiced for you.
But the reason why I’m broken, the reason why I cry
Is how long must I wait to be with you?
Help me, Lord, cause I don’t understand your ways.
The reason why, I wonder if I’ll ever know.
But, even if you showed me, the hurt would be the same,
Cause I’m still here so far away from home.
In Christ, there are no goodbyes,
And in Christ, there is no end!
So I’ll hold onto Jesus with all that I have,
To see you again,
To see you again.
And I close my eyes, and I see your face.
If home’s where my heart is, then I’m out of place.
Lord, won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow?
I’ve never been more homesick than now.