Jul 29, 2011

Thank You, God, for My Dad

He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

In yesterday’s reflection, we considered a story in Luke 17, in which Jesus healed ten lepers and only one returned to thank him. I encouraged you to take time to thank God for his gifts to you.

Today, I want to share with you one of my prayers of thanksgiving. It concerns my dad. He died twenty-five years ago today, after a long battle with cancer. Ironically, I was sitting in a memorial service for the father of one of my best friends when I received a note to call a family friend. When I did, he informed me that my father had just died. I returned to the service, where all of my immediate family members were present. It felt surreal yet somehow wonderful to be celebrating God’s gift of eternal life when I had just learned about the death of my father. After a while, though, I collected my family and told them what I had learned. I’m glad we were together at that moment, with many other friends and loved ones nearby.

My dad died of colon/liver cancer when he was 54 years and three months old (almost exactly my age today, in fact). He lived a full, rich life, though his last year was very hard, both on him and on my family. My dad was a deeply loving man, who loved his wife and children most of all, though he struggled to express his love in words. Yet I have vivid memories of sitting on the living room floor when I was a boy, endlessly playing board games with my dad: Star Reporter, Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders. My dad gave up many opportunities for career advancement because of his commitment to his family, to be present with us and to provide a stable, loving home for us.

My dad was also a man of solid Christian faith. He grew up in a nominally religious, New England Congregational, family. But in 1963, he went forward at a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles to receive Christ as his Lord and Savior. That happened on the same night I became a Christian. I did not know for years that my dad went to the field with me, not only to accompany his six-year-old son, but also to give his life to Jesus. In the years following my dad’s conversion, he became a Sunday School teacher, an adult Bible teacher, and an elder in our church.

Around the family, my dad was not very talkative. One time, when I was about twelve, he planned to make a speech in a congregational meeting of our church. I was afraid that he would do a terrible job. In fact, he shocked me by giving an articulate, persuasive speech. It was only after his death that we discovered among his things a whole stack of Toastmasters speaking awards. I wish my dad were around to explain his “secret life” as an acclaimed public speaker.

But, honestly, there is so much more I wish I could ask my dad. And I have so much I wish I could share with him. Most of all, I wish he could know my children and they could know him. He would have loved being a grandfather more than just about anything in life.

Today, I am deeply thankful for my dad. He wasn’t perfect. But which parent is perfect? He was a man of honesty and integrity, of good humor and humility. He was always faithful to his wife and lovingly present for his children. He lived his life of faith in such a way that I was encouraged both to believe in Christ and to live my life in his service. The man who helped to give me life also helped me to discover life abundant, life eternal.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Does anything in my sharing about my dad stir up things in you? Perhaps you might offer thanks for your parents, even though I expect they weren’t perfect, either.

PRAYER: Gracious God, today I thank you for my dad. It’s hard to think he has been gone for twenty-five years. In some ways it feels as if he’s been gone forever, and in some ways it seems as if he was with us just a few days ago.

Thank you, Lord, for the man who helped give me physical life. Thank you for the many ways he helped me to thrive physically, by working to support our family, by protecting me, by playing ball with me.

Thank you for the time my dad spent with me, especially when I was young. Now that I’ve been a parent, I realize that he probably didn’t particular enjoy endless games of Candy Land, yet he played and played and played with me to be with me. I didn’t know that then, but I felt it. Now I know it. Thank you, God, for giving me such a dad.

Thanks for drawing my dad to you on that hot night in September 1963. Thank you that the faith that began that night flourished in him. Thank you for the way he modeled genuine discipleship, for his leadership in church, for his rock-solid integrity. Thank you that he never gave me any reason to question my faith because “my dad’s a hypocrite.”

Though I miss my dad and still wish he were here, I thank you that he is with you. I thank you that he is whole in your presence. I thank you for loving my dad and never letting go of him. Amen.

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