Monday, August 26, 2013

My Dad

Tomorrow I'll be headed to South Carolina to wrap up things with my dad's possessions there. As a result, I've been thinking about my dad a lot once again. Its actually been difficult to do that with everything else that has happened since his death - leaving our home, leaving our church, my grandmother's death. These are all things that need to be grieved in their own right. As a result, they have made it difficult to grieve the loss of my father the way I need to. As difficult as I know this trip will be, there is part of me that welcomes it as an entry point back into the grieving process that has been stunted but remains just as necessary. The words below are what I shared at my dad's funeral back in June. 

I’ve thought a lot about what I wanted to say about my dad here today. I’ve pondered how to put into words who he was. What was his defining quality? What am I most thankful for about him? What will I remember most? I’m sure that many of you would think of his warmth and friendliness, his ability to strike up a conversation with absolutely anyone about anything, his free and joyous laughter. These are things I will remember as well.

But as I thought about what it was I would remember the most about him, I realized it was one very simple but profound thing: his love for me. My dad loved me with a tremendous and unconditional love. Whatever I did, he was proud of it and he made sure he told me he was proud of it. And not just as a kid either. Even as an adult, my dad was always telling me how much he loved me and how proud he was of me as a husband, a father, and a pastor. He was always there for me, always rooting for me, always hoping for the best for me even if it wasn’t what was best for him.

In some ways, that may seem a small thing and I confess that at times I may have even taken it for granted. After all, these are the kinds of things that good fathers are supposed to do. But then I remember that we live in a world where good fathers are in short supply. In this world where fathers are often absent or distant, mine was always present. In this world where children often strive for their father’s love and approval, mine lavished his willingly and graciously. In this world where a man might choose to do all kinds of other things, where he might choose to pour his energies and passions into a million other “more important” tasks, my father willfully and joyfully chose the humble task of loving his one and only son, of pouring everything he had into me.

By doing that, he gave me what may be the greatest gift of all. He gave me an earthly image of our heavenly Father: a Father who is always present with us and one who is always lavishing his love upon us. In his love for me, my dad embodied the love of a God who could have quite literally poured his energy and his passion into a million other things but who willfully and joyfully chooses the humble task of loving his sons and daughters.

If that is who God is, if we are right to call God “Father” as we Christians do, then I am tempted to believe that perhaps the way my dad spent his life was no small thing at all. Perhaps it was a far greater accomplishment than our world usually acknowledges. Mother Theresa is often quoted as saying something along the lines of “Don’t aspire to do great things. Only aspire to do small things with great love.” My dad isn’t one who will be remembered for any great accomplishments. He’s just another guy who loved his son and brought joy to the people around him but I believe it is in those very things that he has given us a glimpse into the very heart of God. I, for one, will be forever grateful that my dad did small things with great love.

Friday, August 9, 2013

My Grandmother

I imagine that most people who knew my grandmother knew of the immense time and care she put into her garden. I eventually came to learn that if I was arriving for a visit and the weather was nice, there was little point in ringing the doorbell or knocking on the front door. I knew I might as well head toward the backyard where I would almost certainly find my grandmother bent over her garden, removing what didn’t belong and caring for what did. The love she poured into these plants even extended to our own home in Illinois where we planted what she had shared with us from her own garden.

It seems to me that my grandmother’s gardening was more than a mere hobby. In many ways, it was representative of who she was. It is remarkable to think that even the most beautiful plants have the simplest of beginnings as small and unremarkable, plain and ordinary seeds. But when those seeds are sown and properly cared for, they can blossom into extraordinary expressions of life. Gathered together and ordered into a garden, they can become a place of peace and tranquility; a small reminder of the creative power that God has sown into the fabric of our world.

Such was my grandmother’s life. By the standards of many, my grandmother’s life could be seen as quite plain and unremarkable. She spent much of her days doing small and ordinary things like gardening, cooking, and talking with friends and family; hardly anything that would cause the world to take notice. But in these small and unremarkable acts, my grandmother sowed seeds of grace and peace and hospitality, the very kinds of seeds that blossomed into extraordinary expressions of life in so many of us who knew her.

I think especially of the few times in my adult life when my grandmother and I had the opportunity to sit down and talk together, just her and I, and how those conversations were grace filled occasions. I think of how she was always welcoming people into her home, including me and my friends from seminary, or even the youth group from our church. Teenagers from the church where I pastored still speak to this day of what a kind and gracious person my grandmother was and how glad they were to have had the opportunity to meet her.

I also think of the seeds of faith my grandmother sowed in my own life. She handed down a legacy of faith that came through my mom to me and now continues on in my own three children. As the only grandparent I had the opportunity to know beyond my childhood years, she also continued to be a formative example of faith and holiness for me even into my own adulthood.

My grandmother’s life was like a well ordered and cared for garden. Her presence became a place of peace of and tranquility for so many who came to know her. Her grace and hospitality were small reminders of the creative power that God has sown into the fabric of our world and our humanity. Her life was not unlike the garden described in Genesis as the original act of God’s creation; a place where one might walk with God in the cool of the day. We mourn because the body of that first creation has failed her but we look forward to the day when God’s new creation will fully take root in our world. I imagine that when it does we will once again find her sowing seeds of grace and peace and hospitality for the kingdom of God