The Man

My father died February 13, 2012.

To remember is to heal.
To celebrate.
To anticipate.

—————————–

The Man

This day.
Again.

A requisite cycling of grief.

The remembering is terrifically awful.

In my mind are blood-red carnations
let loose amidst winter’s chill.
In fragrant tribute they softened the dirt of decay,
taunting death with the beauty of Hope.

Your mortality rests in mysterious completion,
enveloped in wood and cement.
Etched in placid formality is your name — our name.
You left us the fruit of integrity.

Immense is the void of you.
A reluctant child, I stand drop-jawed and small,
grateful, afraid — 
and sad.

This is hard, dad.

But you know that.
We all come to know this anguished separation.

Still, I long for more —

For another, “That’s my boy!”
For a glimpse of your wink and nod.
For the warm fullness of your squeeze on my shoulder.

Such are a father’s gifts.
You were generous.

A catalyst to my manliness.

Stability, strength, and tenderness.

The man.

Now it’s my turn.

Sweet Mary

In the dark of my desk drawer is a birthday card.


On the cover, in black and white, is the photo of a crinkle-faced, toothless old man. 
Inside is this salutation: “You had better pray that you are as young as you feel and not as old as you look! – Love, Mary 🙂

Funny Mary.

Mary’s gone. 

At least from here. 

That void aches.

I think of her. And cry.

Separation hurts.

Death’s old cuts are bleeding fresh.



I’m pondering pain and justice.

Coaxing hope from the chaos of grief. 

Cultivating joy in the seedbed of faith.

Still, I long for more of that beautiful life. 

For more of Mary.

More of her laughter and jokes.

Her pranks and her pizza.

Her finely-feathered costume halo and mischievous smile.



I’ll miss her sipping coffee from a Victorian teacup.

Perching tiptoed on a step stool to fetch reams of paper.

Sprinting through the hall to answer a ringing phone.



Hard-working Mary.



I have books on my shelf. 

Books from Mary.
Old books. Wonderful books. 

Her husband’s books. 

Thumbing through their pages, I glean Mary’s love.

I am humbled. Honored. Unworthy. Grateful. 

Wonderful gifts.



Thank you, Mary.



Death is a robber. 

A felonious creep that steals our best treasures. 

He took our Mary – and not very nicely.

Jerk.

But Mary’s just fine.

Better than ever, really.

Rested. Satisfied. Complete.


Alive!  



Her earthly song reverberates.

It is lovely.

And we sing for her, as she renews her precious marital grip.

Basks in faith’s realization.

And meets the gaze of her greatest love.



Well done, Sweet Mary.




Mary’s life verse: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10–11, NIV)

The 40’s Fork

Sparse and random were the small, black plastic discs. Stationed at ground level, most lay out of sight. Quiet. Dormant. Lifeless. They kindled little hope.
  
I summoned that micro-hope into energy to open a tired valve. A surge of pent-up water pushed past a squeaky groan and filled thirsty pipes. The sounds of pressurization and anticipation echoed through the plumbing. Then abruptly, silence. A good silence. Encouraging silence. Hope grew.

With renewed curiosity, I walked to the garage. Stopping at the workbench I directed my gaze upon a dim display recessed within a gray box. After stumbling through a sequence of button pushes, I grabbed the dial – and turned. Hand still firm on the control, I tensed like a cat ready to pounce. I listened. I hoped.
 
My grip lightened as I heard a gurgle. Then a hiss. With cautious optimism I bounded to the front of the garage. Bursts of vapor coughed and spurted from my small piece of suburban ground. It was a mini-Yellowstone landscape (sans the buffalo). From within the vale of vapor I saw silhouettes of small black cylinders worrying their way through crusty soil. They looked like guards at Buckingham Palace – tiny lawn soldiers with grassy bearskins (hats) rising to attention. Without hesitation these sprinklers in disguise began to process through a programmed choreography designed to deliver a dance of water in calculated trajectories.

I laughed. I whooped. I was giddy at this unexpected resurrection. With the joy of a child, I moved gleefully about my yard discovering hidden sprinklers like Easter eggs. I grinned at the platoon that had assembled and stood ready to bring luxuriant green to my scrubby landscape.

The surprise of an unexpectedly functional sprinkling system brings me great joy. Admittedly, my doubts were stacked high. I could see but a few clues that a system existed. Yet when called to action, the sprinklers woke from their subterranean hibernation. What appeared dysfunctional and lifeless was just waiting for activation. A call to be alive – again.

I’m in my early 40’s. Forty was a rough transition. If I’m statistically normal, I’m beyond the halfway point of life. For a guy aligned with the ‘glass half empty’ crowd, that’s tough news. The past few years I’ve thought often about what I’ve done, haven’t done, wish to do, and regret doing. The aches are starting, stamina is fading, and grey hair is blossoming. Cynicism stalks me. The big dreams of my 20’s have been buried by reason and reality. Those that survive are achieved with exceptional effort or remain elusive. This brings waves of disillusionment that pound the shore of my self-talk. It’s decision time as I stand at the fork of the 40’s: do I stay engaged, or check out.

As I reflect upon my strangely euphoric reaction to sprinklers popping-up like Prairie Dogs, I wonder what lies dormant in me? What has God yet to activate in my life? What exciting, unexpected, life-giving adventures await me in my second half? What needed to wait? What might stay dormant if I check out? Am I stealing joy from others, and myself? What fears limit my ability to foster life in my wife, children, neighbors, and co-workers? Will I bury myself and my dreams like an inactive, subterranean sprinkler or move into life’s rich depths that arrive only through passed time and collected experiences?

As I write, it’s not quite 6:30am. In the dark of the office suite my pastor whisks by my open door and exclaims, “It’s a great day, Chris!” Ah, medicine for my tumultuous 40-something soul. Today is great! It’s been sovereignly stuffed with situations and circumstances begging me to engage with courageous trust. Every relationship and task and thought and activity is opportunity to give back to the One who gifted this day.

Some say 40 is the new 30. I’m not buying that (neither is my body). What I am fully embracing is the type of life described by Thomas R. Kelly in his book, “A Testament of Devotion.” It’s the life of an active, vibrant, fully devoted follower of Jesus. Checked-in and ready. I want that life – at 43 and beyond. Here it is:

“The life that intends to be wholly obedient, wholly submissive, wholly listening, is astonishing in its completeness. Its joys are ravishing, its peace profound, its humility the deepest, its power world-shaking, its love enveloping, its simplicity that of a trusting child.”
(p.28)

Join me in asking God for more of Him. Let’s bask in the joy of bringing Him glory as we rest satisfied in all that He is. That’s life – at any age.

Best Seat in the House

My hand glides lightly over its velvety fabric. Many hands – sticky and rough and small and greasy and snotty and delicate and yes, even some clean ones – have traveled a similar path. It beckons for touching. Few can resist the temptation to caress its surface as they round the corner into the open room.

Then a year ago, change came.

I still glide my hand along that fabric and receive a tickling of my palm. But now, I pause my routine. I press my hand down into the softness and squeeze gently. My fingers curl deep into the plush fabric-bound stuffing, releasing strong and savory memories. Memories of lavish Thanksgiving dinners. Of gut-churning U of M football games and associated outbursts. Of a dozen grandchildren whipped into raucous Christmastime excitement. Of casual evenings of take-out pizza and conversation. Of pleasurable bratwurst smokiness wafting in from the grill on the porch.

I release my squeeze on the thing privy to it all. A greyed-blue friend. Unobtrusive, yet alluring. It’s the epicenter of the room and hasn’t moved in years. It rests in quiet readiness. Expectant, with arms spread wide.

Those arms serve mostly as perches for little people these days. And that’s okay. Those little ones should be there, nestled in the warmth of a beautiful legacy. They need to soak in the pages of Scripture read there. They need to feel the wetness of tears that rolled from joy, and sorrow. Their ears must reverberate with the historical echo of petitions poured-forth from an anguished, hopeful, satisfied, pleading soul. The soul of a man who once sat where they now sit. A man who left us, and cannot return.

His leaving was not from offense, or disgust, or something said wrongly. It wasn’t from a relationship that cooled. The leaving was required. Expected, really. But this type of exit is always too soon, and never without horrifying pain. 



Dad is gone.

But his chair stays with us.

It’s seems strange to crave the sweet and bitter emotion that chair evokes. Yet I’m comforted when I see it. Touch it. Smell it. I don’t care to sit in it…much. It was dad’s chair. And when he reclined, all felt settled and right and good.

I long for my dad. My kids miss their grandpa. My mom grieves the pain of a severed oneness. So we pray. And beg for joy – because we can, and should. I’m grateful that God is gracious in his supplying.



Dad left a year ago. Remembering freshens my grief. Tears, again, trickle along familiar paths.

Yet, I smile.

At a chair.

For the memories it holds. And the person it held.
 


“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4, ESV)

*My father died February 13, 2012. Here’s the eulogy I gave at his funeral.

The Crying Man

Graveside.

He’s standing there now. A woman sits crouched at his feet, shaking with sobs. The grave has engulfed her brother, who was precious to her.

Slumped on His shoulder is another woman. Sister to the first, her fingers ebb and flow with constriction upon His shoulder, syncing with erratic bursts of breath that flirt with His neck. His body gently resonates with her waves of sorrow. The woman’s ever-freshening tears have darkened the front of his cloak, bringing a poignant unity between them.

He finds his emotions building as cries from black-clothed mourners continuously loop their cacophonous wail. Closing His eyes, scenes flash across his mind with rapidity – the dead man, these sisters, shared meals, raucous laughter, late-night conversations, confrontations.

His eyes begin to burn as they prime a flow of salty grief. His mouth is dry but he reflexively swallows. Plagued with emotional tightness, His throat resists. Thorns and thistles. Life and death. This is the curse.

Gone is Lazarus.

The man, Jesus, weeps.

A tear pushes through the dust of Palestine that lightly coats His cheek. A second tear chases the first and nestles in His beard. His chest undulates with erratic heaves as He tries to dampen the outburst of grief welling inside. The woman at his shoulder shifts her arms to hold Him, briefly suspending her grief to offer comfort. He loved her brother. Great friends. Death has robbed their joy.

Jesus fully enters this interlude of grief. On His heart rests mankind’s dilemma and the burden of loss. He embraces the deep soul sorrow of separation through death. He doesn’t rescue by cueing the next scene. Instead, He stands there.

Crying.

Unashamed. Feeling the pain of life in His humanity.

Through His tears, Jesus offered uniquely human streams of compassion for his friends. Streams of anguish for our cursed humanity. Streams of love that foreshadow another flow.

Jesus is not above our pain. He is the answer to it.

Read the whole story in John 11.

Mining Fields of Grief

Despite being an introvert, my fondness for conversation is growing.

With the recent passing of my father, these past two weeks have been filled with conversations. Some focused on memories and recollections. Others were teary-eyed offerings of sympathy. And many began with emotion-choked words that quickly slipped into a gentle, silent embrace that communicated more than words ever could.

The day of my dad’s funeral, in the quiet of the church foyer I conversed with a friend. As she held my hand and fixed her eyes on mine, she spoke to me. Her words were purposeful. Piercing. Spirit-filled. Wise. She drew me into a sacred moment—a moment that has stolen my thoughts often in recent days.

Through that simple conversation, I was given a profound perspective on death. With her verbal and non-verbal communicating, my friend led me to an understanding of how we lay the dead to rest. As the sun streamed through the foyer’s glass doors, her soft, careful, intimate words brought life to Ecclesiastes 7:2—“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” (NIV)

As my friend and I talked, music played gently in the auditorium. I watched my mother worry her overly used tissue. One of my children nestled close to my side seeking the comfort of my touch. My father’s body laid an arms-length away. I was in a house of mourning. And it was wonderful.

The words of God, the conversation with my friend and the atmosphere of a small church foyer coalesced for a few surreal moments. My soul was shaken as it kindled the hope that God reveals Himself not just in life, but also in death. For the first time I felt a desire to mine funeral grief for bits of redemptive treasure. Funerals need not be empty goodbyes. They are opportunities to rescue beauty and truth from the grasp of humanity’s most painful, broken inevitability. The death of my father was a slice of history from which I can take something and keep it alive through my own living.

My heart is full. And heavy. Before, during and after dad’s relocation to heaven, my family has been surrounded and sheltered with love. Countless expressions of grace have bolstered our faith through this trying time. All we can do is respond with deepest gratitude.

Through my father’s death, my longing for restoration has intensified. But in the waiting, I rest in our Great Hope, Jesus Christ. And, thanks to a friend, I will engage funerals with expectation. Yes, I will grieve. I will comfort. I will cry. I will love. But I will also beg God to show Himself in fresh ways as I sit in a house of mourning.