Back in 2012, in a Special Edition ministry newsletter entitled, Mission Accomplished, I shared how my dad was treading that thin place where heaven and earth meet, and how his ministry on earth was coming to a close. My dad had played an instrumental role in the mission of Sixteen:Fifteen, not only in the sacrificial giving of his resources, but more importantly in his prayers. Therefore, I wanted our partners to know about his imminent home going. On October 29, only six months after my mother flew to Jesus, my dad followed his beloved into the presence of the Savior.
Though a eulogy hardly seems like the type of thing to send in a Christmas greeting, I am compelled to share with you, our precious partners, what I said at his memorial. After all, Christ vested Himself in baby flesh in order to die, so that in his dying he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14,15)
My dad knew that Good Friday was the reason for Christmas — and so he was no slave to the fear of death. We, who are in Christ, need not fear death either. And if we do not fear death, we do not need to fear anything. We are free: We are free for joy. We are free for others. What an amazing Christmas present from God to us and from us to the world!
[My Dad’s Memorial]
“To say that my dad had a difficult childhood is an understatement. In fact, I almost feel like some of the things that I’m going to say should be better left as family secrets, but to truly appreciate who my dad was you need to know the truth about his journey.
As a child and as a teen he, along with his siblings, received regular humiliation and underserved punishment at the hands of an alcoholic father. He was no stranger to beatings, verbal abuse and threats. He once came home to find his drunken father yelling and hitting his mom — my dad could take it no longer, and he went for his dad’s hunting rifle, pointed it at his dad, and yelled, “If you ever hit her again, I’ll kill you.”
My dad never returned home for fear of his own safety, but his dad never again hit his mom. He was only 15 years old, and much too young to be on his own. Imagine being totally on your own at the age of 15.
Knowing about my dad’s childhood has helped me and my siblings understand why there was such a disconnection with him when we were growing up. He was never shown how to be a dad. He never knew the embrace of a loving father. This is probably why he left all the child-rearing to my mom while he buried himself in his work. Providing for us was his way of demonstrating love. But that provision usually meant just the necessities. He was always hesitant to spend for the purpose of enjoyment. In fact, he was kind of a Grinch when we were kids.
But many years ago something miraculous began to happen in my dad…he began to change. His heart of stone gradually became a heart of clay. I don’t know exactly when the change started but I am certain that it was the result of my mom’s patient, persistent Gospel witness – her life was a sermon and eventually this sermon compelled my dad to come to Christ.
The crescendo of his change came with my mom’s illness. For seven years he laid down his life daily to care for her as she succumbed to the ravages of dementia. It was a painful, yet precious thing to observe.
2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. My dad had undergone a metamorphosis – he was a new creation. God had gentled him, made him generous, loving, tender-hearted, and compassionate.
During the couple of weeks before my dad’s death my brother and sisters gathered on several occasions to remember dad, to talk, to cry, to pray … I was amazed that the stories we shared were mostly of our “new” dad, and the not the “old” one. The “new” dad had overshadowed our “old” dad, so much so, that the painful memories of childhood seemed to be little more than a faint echo. Two days before my dad lost consciousness, we all gathered at his bedside to tell him how thankful we were that he was our dad, how much we loved him, to tell him that there was nothing between us… we decided not to say “good-bye” but instead to say, “see you later.” My dad wept as he expressed his love for all of us and so did we. It was a time of great sorrow mingled with profound joy that I will never forget.
My brother and I were recently reflecting on the change that had occurred in my dad and I told him that it reminded me of one of my favorite childhood stores, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. He agreed.
In Seuss’s classic, The Grinch is grinchy, precisely because his heart it too small:
Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville – did not. The Grinch hated Christmas – the whole Christmas season. Now, please don’t ask why; no one quite knows the reason. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. Or it could be that his head wasn’t screwed on just right. But I think that the most likely reason of all… may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.
So the Grinch attempts to steal Christmas by taking all the presents, food, trees and decorations from Whoville. But when Christmas morning arrives, the Whos gather in the center of town and sing their Christmas songs anyway. When the Grinch learns that Christmas is more than exchanging presents, his heart is transformed:
And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.
So dad, your heart was once hard – But, the gospel had its way, and your stony old heart became as squishy as clay.
Dad you finished well, we are so proud of you. We will miss you, but we take comfort knowing that we will see you again, but not yet…not yet…”