Saturday, May 12, 2012

I Remember My Dad

I remember my Dad teaching me to mow the grass at four years old. Well, maybe I was five or six. Not much older than seven. But he taught me how to check the gas and oil, how to start it, how to mow around the edges of the yard and house and garden, and then how to mow straight lines.

I remember the neighbor boy Jason saying his dad would only let him mow if he was wearing a suit of armor. I was glad my dad wasn't that paranoid.

I remember my Dad attending our high school soccer games, pacing back and forth behind the goal net, advising the goalie, encouraging the defense, and rallying our team to never give up.

Considering we didn't win a single game my senior year, my Dad's presence and belief in us became ever more valuable.

I remember my Dad coming in at night when I was in grade school, I slept in the top bunk, and he would lean over to give me a good night kiss. Except that it was more of a good night whisker rub. Which, as a boy, I kind of appreciated.

I remember Saturday nights with my Dad as a kid, watching Hockey Night in Canada on the TV, and us relaxing together a bit before bedtime. I remember Sunday nights with Mum and Dad and the family snuggled up on the coach watching the Wonderful World of Disney: Davey Crockett, Shaggy Dog D.A., and Herbie the Love Bug.

I remember going through a real dark period as a man, a husband, a pastor; my Dad and I started meeting for breakfast every Friday at Kahganns Korner, a little gas station restaurant on the corner of 69 and Highway 6. We'd walk out of that dingy place smelling like a smoke stack! But I cherished those times with my Dad, talking about gardening, the news, politics, ministry, marriage, life.

I remember dinner time, Dad at the head of the table, Mum at the other end, and us boys on both sides. Mum would have us help set the table, and then we'd sit down, Dad would pray, and then we would feast. It wasn't long before things got loud and obnoxious. Ben would sing a silly song he heard on a commercial - usually the most annoying one. Matt would be making odd sounds and comments. Jerm would be telling funny jokes, the punchline timed to when I would slurp up some soup or take a swig of milk.

I'm still impressed that Dad managed to grin even as I spewed the contents of my mouth all over the supper table. Every once in awhile, Dad would say, "Enough!" We'd quite down real quick, but then, as Ben would say, we were starting to get on our own nerves anyway.

I remember, soon after we moved to Montgomery Michigan, Dad was given an opportunity to start a second garden at the Ferrier's farm down the road. Dad dragged us boys along to help weed a large plot of neglected dirt. Dad set about his work with determination and diligence. It's almost as if he enjoyed transforming this unused piece of land into something productive and nourishing.

Though at the time we didn't quite appreciate the scope of Dad's vision, nor the hardiness of his work ethic, we did have fun trying to yank out weeds that were taller than us! It'd take three of us to pull them out of the ground! We wondered about what kind of country we had moved to that had weeds like this! Dad was undaunted, and by the end of the summer we were savoring sweet strawberries, feasting on fresh corn on the cob, harvesting cucumbers, potatoes, green beans, peas and watermelon. It was always impressive to me what Dad was able to grow.

I remember when we were real little, we went to go visit Grandpa and Grandma Hallman on the farm. It was a cold, snowy, blustery Canadian day. Thus, the four grown ups bundled up us four kids and shoved us outside into the blizzard to play while they sat around the fireplace sipping hot tea. We trudged over to the barn for shelter.

While huddled there we tried to think of something fun to do. We noticed that the snow drifts were so high and solid that we could walk right up onto the barn roof. Which is what we did. We then noticed that there was enough packed snow on the roof that if we climbed high enough, we could slide down the barn roof and land in the snow drift. Which is what we did. Now we were having some fun in the blizzard!

After awhile we noticed that the bottoms of our snow pants were shredded to pieces. We couldn't figure out why. Then we noticed little nail heads sticking up out of the roof. It was then that we realized that we were busted. We doubted that our parents would have approved us in climbing up a barn roof in the middle of a snow storm to use as a slide, and now we would have to tell them about it. It was a somber moment. So we decided to keep sliding, if we were going to get in trouble anyway.

After awhile, when we got really cold and there was nothing left on the bottom of our snow pants, we single-file headed back to the farmhouse, prepared for doom. You can imagine my mom's shock when we entered the kitchen with shredded snow pants. We timidly awaited my father's follow up comment of "You what?" But instead it was if the heavens openend, the angels started singing, and my father responded with a laugh, a huge grin, and: "Yeah, that's what I used to do when I was a kid!"

Oh, we were so happy, I had never been more thankful for my dad then in that moment.

So now, when I mow the yard, I remember my dad. When I cheer my kids on at soccer, I remember my dad. When I kiss my daughter and sons goodnight, and every once in awhile give them a whisker rub, I remember my dad. Sometimes I'll turn a hockey game on just as a way to remember being with my dad as a little kid. I doubt I'll every eat another meal at Kaghanns Korner, but every time we drive by on our way up to the Lake, I remember my dad.

Every time my kids get loud and obnoxious at the dinner table, I remember my dad. Every time I plant a bearded iris or marigolds, I think of my dad. When I plant huckleberries and asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries and pole beans, I think of my dad. And when my kids do something crazy dangerous, like climb to the tops of thirty foot trees, I remember my dad.

I remember my dad studying the Bible. I remember my dad preaching Scripture. But mostly what I remember is my dad living out his faith - as a dad, as a husband, as a friend. The first sermon of my dad's that I remember being interested in was about 1 Corinthians 13. Like my father, I've preached through that text many times. Like my father, I've meditated on those words of God for many hours.

Like the Apostle Paul, when reflecting on all the words of the Gospel, on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, here was the conclusion that we have come to: without love, anything we attain is worth nothing. In imitating the life of Christ, we would, like Paul, describe love by first saying that love is patient, and that love is kind. And when I read those words, I remember my Dad.

And when I remember my Dad, I will remember his faith in Jesus, I will remember his hope in God, and most of all, I will always remember his love.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Fare Well, Dad, and God Speed

Off you go, Dad, on your next adventure.

You've had your share of unexpectedness, unasked for odysseys. And with grace, class, and quiet determination you would step through the opened door. That's how I see it, anyway, even if I wasn't there to observe the questioning conversations and pondering thoughts.

There was the adventure of becoming a pastor. You didn't see that one coming. Yes, you were a leader in your Roseville church, you served in Christian Endeavor, impacting a province for Christ. But when the invitation to consider serving God as a pastor was presented, that changed everything. You resisted it. You doubted it. You didn't believe you could do it. But you set off on the journey to do it.

There was the adventure of going to college in a different country. You didn't think it was possible. Sure, your younger sister had gone and done it - but could you? She believed in you, helped convince you it was possible. Your life of farming had it's routines and setbacks, predictability and dangers - should you leave it all behind? Would you succeed? There was only one way to find out.

You went, you worked, you studied, you got married, you graduated, then worked and studied more and graduated again, got ordained, got your first son, then your first church.... Almost 40, with a Master's degree, starting life over again, achieving what you didn't think was in your future, in ways that you didn't see coming.

There was the adventure of taking Rozanne Stucky as your beloved wife. Two quiet but kindred spirits, coming together from two different countries, two very different families, yet together facing a new future as one. She drove a Mustang, you drove tractors; you ate head cheese, she ate tenderloins. You the farming Canadian man, she the small-town American girl, but together you gave each other a new beginning, a new family, a new way to serve wherever God would send you.

There was the adventure of becoming a father to Tim, Jeremy, Matt, Ben. And Mike. And Willie. And Don. And other boys, other men who have flourished under your steady gaze, strong hands, gentle heart, wise words, nourishing convictions, hope-full faith, thought-full love. The seven of us boys are proud to have called you Dad.

There was the delightful adventures of welcoming Tara into the family, of welcoming Maria into the family, of welcoming Jana into the family. And more wonderful adventures with becoming a Grandpa! Savoring summers at Lake Pleasant, celebrating with birthday cakes and Christmas feasts with the chatter and laughter of all those adventurous grandkids: Emma, Levi, Isaac, Eli, Eva, Lydia, Cameron, Mia, Avery, Brooklyn.

We are your gifts to the world, adding more goodness and grace to the family and friends God has brought around us. As a Dad you made much possible for us, taking us along on your adventures to new places, new people, new experiences. You believed in us. You were proud of us. You served us. You sent us off on our adventures. You gave us your blessing. And then you continued to be a blessing to us.

And there were the adventures you had as a pastor in Toronto, North Bruce and Shiloh, Montgomery, and Fort Wayne. Also, the adventures you had in all the other jobs you worked to help provide for your family. Like being a bus driver. Or renting out the cottages at Lake Pleasant. Or, after you retired from pastoring, the adventure of working in Angola at the local Wal-mart as a bike-assembler. You assembled to the glory of God, serving every customer and fellow co-worker with dignity, kindness, extraordinary patience, and a joy-full attitude. What you poured into your pastoring - whether at a church or amongst the bike-racks, at the Lake, on the bus or in the garden - you took what God surprised you with and still served faithfully.

You also had to endure the unwanted, the heart-wrenching adventure of saying good-bye to Ben, and to Matt. Oh the fear, the weeping, the bewilderment, the crushing grief. These unexpected travails were thrust on your shoulders, shoulders that shuddered with weeping, shoulders that sagged under the weight of sorrow, but shoulders that we all leaned against, strong shoulders that led us through, shoulders that carried us along - in faith, in hope, and in love.

We can't stop the adventures from coming. But what we do with the adventures that God sends to us, that's the story of our life. And your life, your story, it inspires me, us, to keep believing in God, to keep loving one another, to be a servant to many, to stay a student, a follower of Jesus, until the last breath.

You were the kind of leader who led quietly, you were the kind of man who served behind the scenes. You were a hard worker, you were reliable and trustworthy, a man of your word, diligent in what you set your hand to. With the doubts and insecurities you carried around, with the fears and envy that every working man has to wrestle with, you did so such that you chose contentment and diligence. With where God called you, you went trusting, and teaching through your life. Thank you.

Fare well, Dad, and God speed. You fared well here, Dad. You provided for your wife well, for your children and grandchildren and future generations. You provided for your church, for other ministers and missionaries, other charities and good works. You fared well and paid attention to the welfare of many. Thank you.

Along your journey, you inspired many to trust God, to follow Jesus, to listen to the Spirit. May what you inspired in us be continued, may God continue what he started in you- through me, through us, through all your family, through my children, through all those you baptized and ministered to - for generations to come.

"What matters most to me is to finish what God started: the job the Master Jesus gave me of letting everyone I meet know all about this incredibly extravagant generosity of God. And so this is good-bye.

You're not going to see me again, nor I you, you whom I have gone among for so long proclaiming the news of God's inaugurated kingdom. I've done my best for you, given you my all, held back nothing of God's will for you. Now it's up to you.

I'm turning you over to God, our marvelous God whose gracious Word can make you into what he wants you to be and give you everything you could possibly need in this community of holy friends. I've never, as you so well know, had any taste for wealth or fashion. With these bare hands I took care of my own basic needs and those who worked with me.

In everything I've done, I have demonstrated to you how necessary it is to work on behalf of the weak and not exploit them. You'll not likely go wrong here if you keep remembering that our Master said, 'You're far happier giving than getting.'"

So: God speed on your next adventure, may you fare well there too. May it be full of the unexpected, may it be an odyssey of more happiness than what we could ever ask for or imagine. We turn you over to our marvelous God who is now making you into what he wants you to be...

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Death after Life

Last night we kept vigil with Dad. We waited with him, praying our way through the darkness. Listening to his labored breathing, to the raspy silence. St. Paul poetically maps out the way of love: love is patient, love is kind. And thus it is in the coming death of Dad, we all are given moment after moment to extend loving patience and loving kindness. As we wait, so we love. 

Our life is put on hold, routine is disturbed, schedules are thrown into disarray as Dad dies. It's not a matter of resentment, but a reality to embrace. The capacity to rely on friends and family, to weather the mourning storm, it reveals the wisdom of how we've been trying to live. Death is a form of judgment, an unmasking of reality. Because it comes after life, death is the period which prompts us to look back on the sentence of our life.

The chaos of death can either be fueled by how we've been living, or it can be embraced. 

Dad's pending death has been prompting thankfulness. And perspective. How much grace is required to die well? The one that is dying, the ones that are mourning - we can give and receive grace, or resist it. I'm thankful for our family and friends who have poured out so much grace. Though we are sad, we are grateful. And it prompts me to consider: how much of life is preparation to die well? If I want to be well-loved as I die, if I want to be remembered for loving-well, then what must I sow now?

In sorting out what I think are my Dad's successes and failures, because I add grace to his life, I get a new understanding of his death and his life. The grace magnifies the successes and it transforms the failures. All that is good about Dad, I've tried to imitate; what I've judged in him, I've seek to overcome in myself. Death after life provides space to revisit my memories, to reconsider the gift I was given. Death after life is a moment to fill with grace and gratitude, or to sow it full of weedy bitterness and regrets.

My Dad is not dead yet. But we've been fully aware that he's been dying since a few days before Christmas Eve. As our life as ebbed and flowed these many weeks, we've thought a lot about the tides of dying. So fragile life is, so much is unguaranteed. How useless it is to rage against God at the unfairness of life. Death is what adds meaning to life. 

Ignorance of death prompts the wasting of life. Contemplation of death after life can add wisdom to your limited days and decades. Our reaction to death after life is often a paradox: we hate the death but savor the importance it adds to our life. It's often in death that we realize what we truly value, who we really are.

Death after life. Is a funeral something to avoid, for you? Is a death a tragedy to ignore or swiftly pass by? Or is the death of one you care about an opportunity for you to reinvest in your one life? What have I done with all the deaths of the ones I love? I'd like to think I've gained wisdom, wrestled with cynicism, struggled with despair, and embraced the uncertainty. And there is more yet to experience. I don't want to waste my Dad's death, or his life. Death after life, it's how our world works. So what work must I do now, and in the coming moments, to help my Dad die well-loved?

Why all this writing about my Dad, about death, life, love? Well, it's a way to sort out what's in my head and heart. And maybe a way to encourage others who have felt the sting of death. As one who follows in the way of Jesus, I work to live and love and prepare to die from a Gospel point of view. Jesus was a master wisdom-teacher, not only in his teachings but also in his life. To me, for my Dad, Jesus is believable, a trustworthy guide through reality. Death after life becomes good news.

In believing him, the crucified and resurrected Jesus, it plants new ideas about death after life. Death is to prompt mourning. But the promise of resurrection sparks hope. So it is with glad obedience to Jesus that I work to love my Dad well, both in living and dying. To choose love, in the way of Jesus, fuels my faith and hope in the resurrection, in the restoration of all things. Death after life: for me it has prompted and planted grace.

Thank you, Dad, for introducing me to Jesus, to living, and now dying.