The Value of a Champion

One year ago tomorrow, I jogged down a hospital hallway to catch up with two attendants pushing a gurney with my father on it on the way back to heart surgery. They stopped as I called out and when I reached them, my dad had already closed his eyes as was beginning to go to sleep. He opened his eyes and I said, “I love you, dad; I’ll see you in a few hours,” while placing my right hand on his upper left chest.

He reached his right hand across his body and put it on top of my hand, saying, “I love you, son,” with a slight grin. That was the last time we talked and, as far as I know, those were the last words he ever spoke. The surgery went poorly, he never woke up and my dad entered heaven three days later.

Anniversaries cause you to reflect and as I reflect at the one year anniversary of my father’s passing, I realize the greatest loss I have suffered as a result of his death. I lost a champion.

My dad wasn’t one to give tons of advice and hardly ever pushed his opinion into my circumstances. He was supportive and available and was unconditional in his love. He let me figure things out and responded if called upon. In figuring it out, there was nobody in this world that celebrated the wins for me and with me more than my dad has.

Over the past year, what I have missed the most is the ability to share the victories with him. Phone calls or visits to talk of how something was working out well were always met with equal joy and satisfaction from him. The times I miss him can be diverse in their origin but some of the most palpable times of grief are when I want to share a win.

My friend, Omar, reminded me not too long ago that while we often talk about the Bible’s call to “mourn with those who mourn,” the rest of that verse is to “rejoice with those who rejoice.” (Romans 12:15) It’s just as important to have relationships that celebrate with us as it is to have those that will allow for the healthy processing of our grief.

I’m so thankful to have a loving bride that celebrates with me and kids as well as other family. I just miss my first champion.

The Never Ending Salute

Seven months later, we ebb and flow in the adjustment to my father’s absence. Following weeks of apparent resolution to the deep, tangible grief, there is a relapse of pain that can be momentary or persistent. Triggers can range from pictures to places to experiences to nothing at all.

I’ve said recently, “I think Dad underestimated the impact of his departure.” It’s because he did. He didn’t understand the power of his presence. He was deferential and humble, especially with family as he served us without any apparent expectations of a quid pro quo return. His investment was into the legacy that his humility wouldn’t allow him to entertain credit for.

His life had changed the last 15 years or so. I didn’t see him cry until he was in his 60’s. You could guarantee his tears in the past decade every time he went to talk about us with any spotlight at all, including something as private as a prayer before a family dinner. My father was transformed.

Increasingly over the past several years, my dad had some health challenges. Sometimes they would limit his ability to do things but mostly they would cause him to feel bad. I didn’t realize the extent of it until after his death as my mother has shared some of the details. He never put it on display or drew attention to himself, and at times he walked further or smiled more than his body would have made easy for him.

The gradual yet evident demise of his capacity wore on his soul, too. He didn’t want to be a burden or burdened; he lived with purpose and with passion. He was mentally sharp and his ideas were weighted with wisdom and vision. That wisdom and vision combined with his selflessness to serve had always put him in motion but as his motion was increasingly limited the frustration would set in.

The value, however, of his place in the room was likely not something he ever completely embraced. As such, he was not overly impressed with the possibility of death. He wasn’t reckless by any means, but he was not afraid either. If he had known with greater certainty, I suspect, that he was a mountain of comfort and confidence in our lives then he might have been a little more hesitant to embrace the glory of eternity.

At his memorial service, the picture above was taken during the playing of taps. He received my first salute when I became a Second Lieutenant and I offered him his final salute (and possibly the final salute I offer) as a gesture which had meant something to both he and I. The gesture, however, is a temporary effort to convey eternal gratitude, honor and love.

Absolutely Abba

It’s only been five months and it’s pretty surreal. The absence of my father is so permanent that the pain of the permanence is the hurt that re-visits most often. It’s also the place where the mirage of the faint and passing thoughts that I am about to see him show up. Those brief and passing moments where I forget the unforgettable give way quickly to the realization of reality.

With that said, I am not an orphan. My father on earth has gone the way of all the earth, but my Father in Heaven is increasingly prominent in my consciousness. The infinity of God co-exists with the intimacy of God and He is Father in the connection of distant to personal.

No matter what the challenge or celebration is, the need for a Dad is real for all of us. We want and need the pivotal relationship with an earthly father and where there are fractures or voids, we hurt and want. The earthly father experience, however, is a flawed and temporal expression of the perfect and eternal identity of who God is for us and through us if we will simply come home to Him.

Coming home to the Father is a daily choice made first and foremost in our will. It’s not a theological debate nor is it complicated set of rules to follow. Our return to the Father through the grace and sacrifice of Jesus is a daily submission of our will and our lives to His goodness and sovereignty.┬áIt’s our will that has to die first.

When we will submit our wants, the return on that investment is freedom. When we die to our drivers and choose to depend wholly on the One who is Holy, the fruit of His life can come through us. We can exchange our anxiety and self-consciousness for His peace and love. He loves His kids and that love is the greatest satisfier of any of the wants, fears or forecasts we entertain when we are driving.

Trust is fostered in the silence. Time spent quietly considering and connecting to God as Abba, or Father, or Daddy is an investment into the satisfaction of things that otherwise unleash my will to have its way. These brief and passing moments where I realize the Absolute give way to temporary distractions of earthly temptations and I am in need of my Abba again. Thankfully, I am not an orphan and He shows up time and time again.

That’s All

I miss my dad. Not every minute of every day, but when I do and I do when I don’t always expect it. I miss his support and comfort and consistency and presence. I miss his ear. I miss his completely reliable willingness to hear me work through things. I miss his humility to not need to know or say the answer, but instead just be willing to be and be willing to let me be me.

This deal is difficult. Life, that is. There is stuff that piles on top of stuff and it comes flying at you faster than seems possible, at times. Sometimes it’s Kingdoms colliding, sometimes it accusations calling to any exposed insecurities, sometimes it’s just gravity. Stuff falls when you drop it.

My dad was in for whatever it might be and always welcomed the thought. There was joy in the silence of his listening and encouragement in his gentle assurances.

I really don’t know what the point of this post is other than to value the time I had with a man who was always there but now isn’t. The unthinkable has become the surreal as the urge to call to talk or listen bubbles up in the unfolding of time and it won’t yield to the finality of death.

There’s no fixing it and faith gives hope but grief has its say, too. Faith and hope are incredible beacons of eternity in the here and now. They occasionally get drowned out by the deja vu of imagination about seeing him or talking to him as I consider calling or turn the corner towards the house where he used to be. Then the punch of the disappointment that comes with the realization.

He couldn’t have fixed it but he did take the sting out of it. Whatever the it was, the him gave it some context. Context that came with being there every day, even if from a distance. I just miss him, that’s all.

Dying to Live

The combination to unlock our potential is found in our willingness to give up. We are invited into a greatness that is sourced by glory, not ability. The posture to realize the Source is humility.

I watched my dad figure it out over 50 years. He went from hard charging army officer to yielded servant. When I was a boy, the rules were firm and the expectation was obedience. As I grew, permission was granted for manhood. His presence never faltered, but his touch lightened and his greatness grew.

As an adult, I watched my dad step fully into his greatness. Not only was he permissive in his allowance for positions and perspectives of others, but he was humble in his service to practically everyone. He didn’t qualify people based on their education, experience or ability, but offered his education, experience and ability for their good.

He increasingly became less. In the laying down of his considerable “more,” the impact of his influence multiplied. He gave his life over to Jesus, the church and the Kingdom of God. He became of no rank again. The promotion was supernatural.

Then, not longer after his death, I realized that he would be stronger in his death than he was in his life. It made me think of the scene in the first Star Wars movie where Obi Wan allowed Darth Vader to strike him down, declaring his own impact would only increase as a result. When the marker of death is a gate along an eternal story, the multiplication of purpose is passed along. Vision for eternity fuels intentional living temporally.

I keep writing about him because God keeps showing me stuff about Him through him. The passing along of a picture of transformative greatness presents a target. It’s good to see what the target looks like. It’s not a target of performance or behaviors as much as it is a target of disposition. A picture of what becoming less looks like to put more on display.

Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. He walked in authority, yet He was humility. He is love and “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Love is less.

More than ever, I am thankful for what Jesus did for my father and I. He saved us and transforms us. I’m not yet where my father ended up, but I know what it looks like. It’s available to anyone willing to lay down their sword.

The Weight, Power and Privilege of Legacy

I felt it right away. I mean, in the hallway in the minutes following my father’s death, I knew something that I didn’t understand. There was a shifting of a mantle that was real. I was no longer simply the son of Tom; I was now one of the carriers of his legacy.

My father’s father struggled. He had an alcohol problem and the life my father knew as a son was drastically different from the life I have known as a son. The benefits of my father’s faithfulness which I have enjoyed were not a product his heritage as much as it was the legacy he began. As a result, I inherited a heritage with benefits that had predominately begun with my parents. They initiated a legacy that was significantly distinct from the heritage they received.

It’s easier for me than it was for my dad. He made a way for me. He created and I get to build on. My sister and I have the benefit of a higher floor than the one which was passed on to our father. Now we get to steward that and our ceiling is higher since the floor was elevated for us.

The mantle of a legacy is a mantle of honor. It has a weight to it, but not a burden as much as a privilege. There is privilege in my position as an heir of the legacy my father passed on. As such, I have an appreciation for its value and want to handle it with intentional care.

My father wasn’t perfect and neither am I. Legacy is not the burden of perfection but the choice to honor. The choice to be intentional is what multiplies what was started before me. Whatever I received, I want to pass on to the best of my ability. I choose to honor my father, his memory and legacy by paying attention to it as displayed through how I serve and care for my family.

That responsibility has a weight to it, but it isn’t burdensome as much as it is empowering. I’ve seen what it looks like and have been equipped to walk in it. Now I lean into the grace of Jesus to realize the fullness of the potential that has been handed off. Multiplication of blessings is available to the thousandth generation by the grace and favor or God, and by agreeing with Him regarding His heart and desire to continue what He started in my dad.