Man of Stories

My dad was a man of stories. If you ever met him, you would agree. I think if you spent maybe a half of hour with him you would know that he was a man of stories.

I took this picture as my dad was telling one of his stories. For the life of me I can’t remember what it was about. I’m sure I had heard it before. In fact, I’m sure I had heard it at least fifteen times or more. You see, my dad had a tendency to tell me the same stories over and over again. It use to drive me nuts and so often I just wanted to say, “Dad, you’ve told me this one before…do you have anything new?” But I never did. I always felt if I did I would be interrupting him and that would be rude…I wonder if it is rude to share the same story over and over again…

My dad grew up in Arkansas in the Ozark Mountains. He would tell me stories about growing up there in the 20’s and 30’s. It seemed like an odd  place and an odd time to me. One time he told me that when he graduated 8th grade his parents had to send him off to high school. That seemed odd to me. I always got on a bus to go to high school or caught a ride with my friend Bruce. We rode his motorcycle once and one time we decided to stop at McDonald’s instead of going to some of our morning classes.

I guess my dad wasn’t able to do things like that because they sent him away to high school. He had to live there because there weren’t any high schools in the area. If you wanted to go to high school, you had to leave the area.

He was proud of his school. It is still around although it has gone through some transformations. It is now the College of the Ozarks. Whenever we would go down to see dad he would take me and my family and drive around the campus. It was a tour of stories. He told us about what the campus looked like when he was there and then tell us which buildings were new and which ones were old. He showed us the buildings he had worked on. Yes, while he was there he helped build the campus.

My sister when there for one or two semesters, but later transferred. Sometimes you can’t get your kids to do what you really want them to do I guess. As for me, it wasn’t even an option for some reason. I’m sure he would have been proud if I would have went there. Even as he grew older he kept connections to the school.

To be honest, I grew weary of my dad’s stories. I couldn’t understand why he kept telling me these stories. I wanted to talk with him. I wanted to know him.

I’m beginning to realize that we really live our lives in stories. I’m starting to understand that dad, by sharing his stories, was really sharing more than stories. He was sharing himself. I wish I could have realized that a few years ago. As much as I wanted him to stop telling his stories, I’m sure he was hoping I would ask to hear them again.

The Last Goodbye Revisited

Grief is a funny thing. As a pastor, I’ve read about grief, I’ve studied it and I’ve watched people go through it. Yet, I am still surprised. I was surprised this morning to find myself in tears after a dream I had about my father. My father died in September. Here it is in May and I thought I was finished with grief. I was wrong.

One of the principles of Adrian van Kaam’s Formative Spirituality is appraisal. Van Kaam’s science maintains that everything is important. Even the most mundane and boring moments in our lives are pregnant with God’s formative potential. So, whenever an event happens, we pause and ask ourselves “what is going on here?” Living out a Formation Theology means not allowing events to pass through our fingers without appraising it in light of formation journey.

I did that this morning. After the dream and the tears I asked myself, “Why?” Why now? What’s going on that I would dream about my father who died in September? I thought I was over my grief. I thought it was all in my past. Why would I have such a dream now?

I’m not sure I fully have the answers to that, but what I have realized is that since my father’s death I have been extremely busy. That explains why the last post on this site is from January. I began wondering if my grief and my busyness were related. Could it be that I have been trying to numb real pain and feelings of loss by filling my schedule with important, but time consuming, activities? Could this explain why I have been struggling with spending time in silence?

Even though I wouldn’t call the relationship I had with my dad “close” or “nurturing” he was still an important (although at times neglected) part of my life. As Formative Science would point out, he was an integral part of my “formation field” which has a great impact on who I become as a person. He had been placed in my life to help me become who I was created to be. God used both the positive and negative aspects of our relationship to form me into….me.

I’m still appraising this event and I’m sure there is more depth here than what I realize at this point. Nevertheless, if you are reading this, I encourage you to spend time appraising the events in your life. Don’t allow the events of your life to slip through your fingers. You are always being formed by those events. They affect you and effect you in both positive and negative ways. All of these events are gifts and are provided so you might become who you were meant to be. That is your journey and your task.

The Last Goodbye

It was the last goodbye. The only thing was, I didn’t know it at the time. My father seemed like he was feeling better. It had been a week since we learned the news that he had cancer. Before that, he simply wasn’t feeling right. After a couple of weeks of feeling bad he decided to go to the hospital. There he received medical attention and started feeling better.

Then there was the surgery. They needed to remove fluid buildup. After that, he said he felt much better. In fact, he wanted to go back home, but not eating much in the previous three weeks left him weak. This meant he would go to a nursing home/rehab facility until he could get his strength back.

When I saw him he was in good spirits. He talked about going home on Friday, but since he wasn’t able to get in to see the oncologist the trip home would have to wait. They needed to hear from the doctor before they would release him from rehabilitation.

My time in Forsyth was mostly spent sitting in his room talking with him, well, actually he did most of the talking, but I sat and listened. I realized that was the best thing I could do at the time. I heard stories that I knew and a few that I didn’t.

It was Wednesday when I saw him last. We had made a trip to the doctor’s office to see his surgery doctor. It was there dad learned that he would be staying in the rehab center a bit longer. He took the news in stride. He wanted to go home, but he knew that he would have to wait. He said it was fine. He said at least at the rehab center he had people bringing him his food and washing his clothes.

Wednesday night we sat together and watched a children’s choir from a local church. It looked like they had all ages from kindergarten to middle school. In total, there were seven children. Not a big group, but from the looks on the faces of those sitting in the dining hall it didn’t matter. My dad enjoyed it immensely.

After the children finished singing we sat and talked with a couple of friends of his who came to visit. Dad had been on a couple of mission trips with them (my dad went on mission trips even though he was in his mid 80s). It was a good visit.

After the festivities I said my goodbyes. I was getting up the next morning and traveling home. I had no idea it would be the last goodbye. I had no idea that three days later he would no longer be with us, but rather he would be in the hands of God who loved him and who he loved.

I want to thank all of you for the cards, the words, the prayers, the help and the hugs you have given to my family and me these past few weeks. Many of you have walked this road. Some of you are walking it right now. Not knowing when that last goodbye will come. I have felt your prayers and love. It makes a huge difference. Thank you!!!

I guess I’m learning that sometimes it is good to put things on hold. Sometimes the best thing that we can do is take the time to be with those we love because none of us know when the goodbye will be the last.

Nothing Tougher…

We sat there each knowing what the report would bring but unable to bring ourselves to deal with the realities. We wanted to hang on to hope even though all hope was gone. She had been in ICU for two days. The pressure on her brain was at 120, it was suppose to be 20-30. We all knew what was going on, but we kept praying just the same.

She was so young with so much potential. It was an accident. She wasn’t practicing dangerous behavior. No one knows what happened….perhaps she simply ran off the side of the road and over corrected, but it is all speculation. Yet, the accident was so bad, she was lifelined to a trama center. It was there we waited and prayed.

Ministry brings you into various situations. Many times you have entry to some of the most holiest times in people’s lives. Many times you have entry into some of the darkest times in people’s lives. I can’t think of anything darker than hearing the doctor say there is nothing that can be done for your 16 year old daughter…your only child.

There was nothing in my training that would prepare someone for such times. Perhaps that is because sometimes words just fail and the less that you say is the most healing. They say at times like this, silence and presence are the most healing balms.

Sometimes “getting over it” isn’t an option. Sometimes the prayer is to just get through it. Moment by moment becomes the only plan that you have for the future. Please remember this family in your prayers as they walk through this valley.

Also, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, check out Compassionate Friends. And if you have lost a child, you might be able to hook up with a local chapter and help a family in the healing process.