My dad caught a cold this week. For most of us this would not be a game changer, but it can be for someone like him diagnosed with a "progressive neurodegenerative disorder" such as multiple system atrophy (MSA.) He is uncomfortable and tired but thankfully, that seems to be the extent of its seriousness right now. Nonetheless for me a sudden bump in the road like this one stirred up the troubling "what ifs" of my mind. Perhaps, too, because I have heard of many earthly goodbyes this week as seems often to be the case around the holidays.
Today I read the news of the homegoing of theologian and pastor R.C. Sproul. Immediately I began to see articles and posts expressing sorrow over his death and appreciation for his years of faithful ministry. Many, especially one tribute written by John Piper, were thoughtful and inspiring. There is no doubt God used R.C. Sproul in a wonderful way during his years on earth, and widespread recognition of this fact is well deserved.
As I considered these tributes, several thoughts came to mind. The first was that we shouldn't wait until someone is gone to share how they've touched our lives. The second was the realization that for every well-known Christian minister whose death is publicly mourned, there are many more whose lives and work for Christ will go mostly unnoticed and unsung in this world. And the third was that I should write something for my dad while these reflections were on my heart.
This evening I read a blog written by a husband whose wife also battled MSA. His blog was entitled "Living with a Snow(wo)man" because in his words: "I liken this disease to a 'melting' of the individual. Trying to hang on to the loved one you knew is akin to trying to keep a snowman (or snowwoman in our case) whole. The disease is insidious. Watching the progress is like watching a snowman melt."
Perhaps reading that description while living in the dry desert of Iquique would not have struck me as it did today, having awoken to a beautiful dusting of white winter snow in Pennsylvania. But it many ways it is an apt description. My big strong bear of a dad - who with a sense of adventure crossed the borders of multiple countries during his years of ministry in South America - now shuffles within a shrinking circle of people and places due to his inability to stand for long periods and the constant weariness that is his companion. Looking through pictures today I found one from just over a year ago with a glimpse of his old smile and sparkle in his eye, and I realized that his laughter is something that by and large has "melted away." In the day to day of living, it isn't something we hear much anymore.
How important it is to treasure, then, those fleeting moments when it does reappear - and recently, we had two of those! One was on the evening of Thanksgiving when Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop stayed to watched a children's movie with the grandkids and afterwards my mom in a playful mood twirled around the living room to one of the songs. This brought a smile to my dad's face. And something that has brought laughter to him of late is thanks to some dear friends, the Mullins, who present my parents with a box of gifts to open one daily through the month of December. A lighthearted toy called "Talking Tom" repeats back what anyone says in a high-pitched voice and has created quite a stir among the grandkids and adults alike! When Mom and Dad introduced it to me without prior warning, peals of laughter burst across the living room and my dad was even wiping away tears of delight.
The best lessons I have learned in life have been from my dad and mom. Their example has not been perfect, but powerful. Their faithfulness has not been without heartache and struggle, but by the grace of God they have endured. I didn't always appreciate the lessons at the time, but many have stayed with me throughout the years. Some are almost humorous now such as, "If you say "No" to the first person who asked you to the school banquet, you cannot say "Yes" to someone else. That would be an unkindness. So if you choose to say "No," you choose to go alone." Others clamped down on the fickleness of the teenage years; for example, when tempted to renege on a youth event I was told, "You will not back out of this commitment because you'd rather do something else now. You gave your word; you keep your word." Even as a mother with over a dozen years of marriage under my belt, my dad's words could speak reason to me. I remember writing a searing post in response to a conversation with a pastor in which he shared a highly insensitive story with my husband and me. My dad promptly called down to Chile to say, "I understand how you feel. But I really don't think this is something you want to say publicly in this way." He was wise and he was right, and I deleted that post.
There is so much more to say than I could fit in a single post, and the hour is late. I will write again in more detail another time but I want to end by saying this. One of the most powerful lessons I learned came not from my dad's words but his example. Children see the most "real" side of their parents, the one that is not always picture perfect. (How well I know this now with six of my own!) Growing up, as a young girl I remember times when my dad struggled with his temper. He never lost control but it was there. Yet over the years he became the peacemaker, the mediator, the one whom others sought when problems needed to be solved and differences resolved.
I witnessed this change in his character and know it came from submitting his earthly clay to the Heavenly Potter. How much of a battle it was, only he and God know. And now, only they two truly know how much of a battle it is for him to live with MSA. But I am still watching his example, and it is still changing my life. I love you, Dad, more than you'll ever know.