Last year’s joint birthday celebration, Dad turning 94 and Mom a young 38!
Psalm 106:1-5; Psalm 71
I visited my parents today. My mom is 93, my dad 95, and they are both wheelchair-bound and exhausted. To say they have slowed down is a vast understatement. Our times together these days are filled with more quiet spaces than words; it’s hard to have real conversations with those who can’t remember where they were going with a sentence about ten words into it. I feel like I am a little girl again visiting my grandparents and not my once vibrant parents.
Just before this visit today, I was with a dear friend as she laid to rest her step-dad, also 95. The refrain I heard several times at his viewing was, “He lived a happy life.” A comforting epithet for his family to remember as they mourn his loss.
As I was driving home from these two events, my mind saturated with thoughts of life and death, I realized that my dad has his own constant refrain, one which he repeated several times to me again today. “The Lord has been very good to me. He has blessed me and our family tremendously.”
And it struck me afresh that my father never dwells on the adversity he has experienced, but rather, like the psalmist, declares, “Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to Him for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
My parents are no strangers to heartache and adversity. Childhood and adolescence for them was not a carefree time, but a time of poverty as my father’s father endured years of unemployment during the Great Depression and my mother’s immigrant family struggled to provide her with basic necessities like shoes. Both experienced great loss in World War 2—my dad in Patton’s army losing many friends and witnessing atrocities no young man should ever be exposed to, and my mom suffering the death of her younger brother while he was serving in Italy. But by far their greatest loss was the death of their firstborn and only son to type 1 diabetes at age 8.
And still, my father’s refrain is, “The Lord has been very good to me.” I want to be more like my father.
My father has learned that the goodness of God is not dependent on the condition of his life. And he has learned that God’s blessings don’t always look like “good things” in human eyes.
Like the psalmist, my father can declare that God is his rock and his fortress. It’s not that he has been spared his share of troubles and distresses, but through the hard times he has found God to be faithful.
Like the psalmist, from the time of his youth, my father has made a practice of continually coming to God for shelter in the storms of life. And so he can declare that God is his hope, his confidence, his rock of refuge. There is no storm so great that God will not be for him a rock of refuge, nor any situation so grave that he will cease to praise the Lord and tell of His righteousness.
Oswald Chambers asserts, “Unless we can look the darkest, blackest fact full in the face without damaging God’s character, we do not yet know Him.”
If I’m honest with my response to Chambers’ statement, some days I think I barely know God at all. Isn’t it all too easy to tangle up our pain, adversity, and disappointments with what we think about God’s character?
My father knows his Father. He has looked many dark, black facts full in the face and lived through many dark, black seasons, and none of it has damaged my father’s view of his Father.
Today I visited my parents and my father struggled to put a children’s puzzle together. The man living in the shell of an aging body is brilliant and overwhelmingly kind. Valedictorian of his high school, he was top of his class at Penn’s Wharton School, where he had a full scholarship. He led men in battle, and led organizations to growth and success. He knows full well what his mind has lost and he lives daily with that frustration.
And yet, through it all, his constant refrain is this: “God has been so good to me, and has blessed me exceeding abundantly.”
Oh how I long to be more like my father; I have so much more to learn from him.