Two weeks ago today, I sat with my family in a pew at Union Congregational Church in Rockville, Connecticut. We had just watched a video about the current adoption process of my soon-to-be cousin, a little girl from China, who will be the tenth child in her family, the twenty-fourth grandchild on my mom’s side, and my thirty-fourth cousin.
As we watched Bible verses flash on the screen, my father leaned over and asked me, “What does it really mean to take care of the orphan and the widow?”
I shrugged, and mumbled something about most people always sitting around asking questions like that, but then failing to go out and actually accomplish the objective.
This past Tuesday was the most normal day of my life, until it became a blur of shouting and 911-calls and flashing lights and policemen and neighbors and EMTs pounding up and down the basement stairs. Then, half-an-hour of a quiet house, full of tears and prayers and Psalms. Finally, a phone call, and a deep, sickening finality.
My dad died from a heart attack. I don’t even completely know how that feels, or what it means yet. But I am certain that my dad now knows the perfect and complete love of his true Father, and my mother and siblings and I are experiencing the love of Christ’s church as believers all around us faithfully and selflessly and lovingly obey the commands of Scripture. The question that my dad asked has been answered more thoroughly than I could have imagined, not through consideration or study or discussion, but through the real, tangible love of the Lord and His people.
Here is the brief eulogy that I wrote for the funeral:
Seventeen years ago, my father wrote these words in a journal to me: "This morning, after dragging myself out of bed at 6:00 a.m. to read the Bible and pray, and taking a shower, I sat in the chair in our bedroom while your mom took a shower. As I sat there I thought I heard you making some sounds in your bed as you slept. Before I knew it you were stumbling into our room, rubbing your eyes, half asleep. You were so cute. Then, you climbed into my lap and put your arms around my neck and put your head on my shoulder. I was honored that you saw me as a person to receive comfort from. I hope you do that again soon."
My dad's own words here, describing a situation that isn't particularly remarkable, are a simple glimpse into his character and his love for his family. My dad was an extremely diligent and consistent man, who sought after the Lord and the interests of others before his own interests. He was always faithful in the little things--setting out his clothes every night before work, getting up early, reading His Bible and praying, and spending most of his weeknights and weekends bringing all of us kids to and from work or activities. As hard as he worked, he never made work itself a priority. He never saw life as a competition.
My dad never looked past people. He was always very aware of different people and their personalities and different interests. Whenever someone was upset about something, no matter how subtle the signs, he noticed and was quick to offer consolation in whatever way he knew would serve them best. When someone was excited about something, he was ready and willing to listen to them ramble on to their heart's content. He always encouraged us--his children--in our interests and taught us not become distracted by fleeting passions, but to work hard in tedious tasks and in every opportunity we were given.
My dad truly was a comforter. He was compassionate, and he always took our worries and concerns seriously. Through his sense of humor, he brought laughter and relief to stressful situations, and showed us that our worries were unnecessary when we considered them in light of the goodness of God.
My dad was faithful in teaching us the importance of diligence and discipline and continually pointed all of us to the Lord's steadfast love. He reminded us that God is sovereign, and whatever He ordains is what is good for us. Our circumstances today, which seem so shocking and strange, are really not strange in light of eternity, when we consider that a week ago, our time and breath and circumstances were coming from the same good hand of our heavenly Father.
What was my dad's only comfort in life and death? I know that his answer was--and is now, much more fully than we can imagine--that he is not his own, but belongs, body and soul, in life and in death, to his faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, I'll share a part of the letter he wrote to me on my seventeenth birthday, which I know is not only to me, but to all of you. He wrote, "My final words to you are from a story Aunt Catherine told me years ago. She was on a train traveling back to New Jersey from California. She was near a group of African-American women who were talking about things of God. She sat with them and one of the women said something like, "Hold onto the Lord...whatever happens...hold onto the Lord." Now I know God holds us in His hand and nothing can snatch us out of his hand, but I always remind myself to seek, pursue, study about, pray to, go to, hold-on to, depend on, trust in, and rest in God. Would you please do the same?"
Please, I plead with you. Hold onto the Lord.