I’d like to honor my father by remembering the seasons of his life. To do that I have to start with a childhood that seemed to be littered with every illness known to man at that time. Remarkably through God’s grace he survived those weakened moments of his early life.
My father was blessed to be only one generation away from farmers. Because of this, though growing up in the Hunting Park section of Philadelphia, he grew up spending his weekends and summers on the family farm in Doylestown, PA. Though the time away created a little distance between him and his father, it enabled him to grow a deeper bond with his two uncles. At eleven years of age he was driving the tractor and by fifteen was making the milk and egg deliveries. The farm was also a blessing in that it always provided food for the table during the depression years.
My father missed his high school graduation as he had enlisted in the Navy towards the end of World War II. He served his time on a fire boat in and around the sea of Japan. Upon arriving home after the war the government had a program that enabled veterans to receive a small stipend of money each week for one year as a way to ease back into daily life. My father wrote that he became bored after a couple of months and looked for a job.
What followed was a forty plus year career with General Electric, which started in a warehouse and ended with a private office atop 3 Penn Center by Philadelphia’s City Hall. He had managed to rise to a level where he was the only one without a college degree.
It was during his early years at GE where he and my mother decided to spend a lifetime together.
My father until his last days always spoke of my mother as being one of, if not his greatest earthly gift from God.
My sister and I were brought into this world in a row home in the Olney section of Philly. My grandfather was politically involved and knew someone who helped my parents find the home during the post war housing shortage. We lived there until 1962 when we moved to Bustleton, and my parent’s dream home, in the then suburbs of Philadelphia.
As I was at an age where I was becoming more aware of my parent’s lives, I can recall the endless hours my father spent working on our church’s financial issues.
His passion, and gift, for finances was a way for him to serve God through those years.
I know that the news of my sister Lynn’s condition was a tough time for both of my parents. But as the years have passed, our lives have been so much fuller by having her blessing as part of them. We have grown in so many different ways by having her remind us what’s important, and what isn’t. My father was especially touched and grateful by the enlightenment she brought to his journey.
I can’t overlook my father the musician.
My father spent the first year of his piano lessons without ever touching a key.
That would never fly in today’s world where parents want to hear a song played by week two. He spent a year writing out chord inversions and learning harmony and theory. He was remarkably talented at creating different harmonic beds for melodies. I have a lasting memory of him yelling out the chord changes of a swing tune in real time as they were flying by as we sat by the beach one afternoon. He loved to play a supportive role to the other musicians in his band, always allowing them the freedom to express themselves. That supportive role was evident in most, if not all of his life.
In his later years he was really honored to be a lay minister. He loved to visit the homebound and hospitalized, to talk with them, and mostly to just be there for them. Administering communion was never something he took for granted. Even in this latter season, he was blessed to serve God.
Looking back as we do on these occasions, I’ve found a journey that’s connected with faith dots. My father’s life was peppered with moments of preparing, moments of providing, and moments of protecting. In short, a life of servanthood. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but we enjoyed our last twenty plus years together as best of friends. There was never a time in my life when I couldn’t go to my father for help… and a few times I know it must have been hard for him.
But if there’s a message here, it’s about living a life that is not centered on you, but on others.
My mother, my sister, the church, GE, friends and family can all attest to that fact.
In closing as I was going through some papers a week or so ago I found a small sheet that laid out my father’s wishes for this day. At the bottom of the sheet there was a section that read, ‘any last comments you’d like to make?’ My father wrote, ‘be happy, I am!’
You want to remember my father? Be happy, he is!
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
During my father’s recent home hospice journey, I, the sole caregiver, found myself driven to my breaking point. Push anything to its limits, and it will break down. My ’69 Volkswagen Beetle will attest to that. Proud as she was, there was a limit to what she could withstand, and over time she too fell to the demands that were put on her.
Sleep deprived, I found myself wandering away from some of my basic daily necessities. I know some who will find this unbelievable, but days passed without me picking up a guitar… or writing,,, or even reading. Irritable, cranky, and certainly tired were all honest descriptive words that could have been attached to my behavior and or mood. Think twenty-eight days with only intermittent sleep.
Serving wasn’t the issue, but seeing clearly was. In my attempt to be all things at all times to my father, I neglected my own health and well being.
“Six days you shall work, but on the seventhly you shall rest.” (Exodus 34:21 ESV)
So as God would have it, eighteen hours before his last breath, I woke from an hour nap to find myself broken health wise. I was unable to think clearly, my throat was sore, and my body was an aching mess.
Now tired I could do, but broken I couldn’t.
Yes, God found a way to school me even in my father’s last waking hours.
Guilty I am for not leaning enough on Him; guilty I am of not heeding His words concerning rest, and guilty I am of not trusting in His love.
“For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” (Jeremiah31:25 ESV)
I went to bed the night after his passing to rest. I went to bed repeating God’s words of wisdom. I went to bed to satisfy my weary soul, and to be replenished.