WHY HE NEEDS TO BE REMEMBERED
By Miranda Shisler
Few memories from childhood find him absent, though he remained quiet, though he listened more than he spoke. His face almost always bore a smile, or a contented contemplation. Corny jokes were the bread and butter of our conversations, and the teasing and sarcasm that themed his words strangely yet clearly translated into our minds only love. Acceptance. Pride.
I don’t know if I’ve ever met someone like my dad. I don’t know if I ever will again. I am like him in many ways. So is my mother, so are my sisters. I see certain attributes retained in his grandchildren. A preferred way of sitting, a facial expression, a favorite taste, a beloved phrase spoken as a mantra until it became ingrained in our brains and now slips as easily from our tongues as it did from his.
Dad had a tremendous capacity for feeling. He could feel the rush of passion over a sunset or a tiny flower by the path. He saw and zealously loved things that no one else noticed. Words flowed from his fingers, tumbling one over the other in a mad rush to find the page, displaying his every thought, every emotion, every color and shade of his person. Before digital photography made everyone good at taking pictures, he could capture emotion on whatever camera he could afford. He made art. He was genuine, letting his honest, quiet nature flow naturally into everything he created.
Dad never had anything to prove. He was more outspoken online in his last years, and may have engaged in debates or voiced opinions, but when you knew him up close, when you were paying attention, you became convinced that he was exceptionally humble. His faith never wavered. He knew that people can sharpen one another by being honest and real, but he was always able to separate the person from the opinion and love them because they were beautiful creations, no matter the disagreement. He saw beauty in everyone. He believed the best about everyone. He never worried over what people thought or took it personally when he was overlooked or disregarded. He knew where he stood with God, and it was enough.
Dad was a dream-follower. He believed we are each gifted with a measure of greatness and profound ability, ready to be used up for the glory of God if we can stay humble and willing to work. His interests as a child were the things he was good at as an adult. He didn’t give up on ideas. If it could be proven to his sometimes skeptical nature, he would change his mind.
My dad would change his mind.
How rare is it to find someone who is willing to change their opinion? Someone who is humble enough to admit they are not always right, that they make errors in judgment or give in to stubbornness, and they are willing to retrace their steps and admit “This is where I went wrong. I’m going a different direction now.”
When you have lost someone you loved and respected, you tend to forget the negative aspects of their character. “Forget” may be the wrong word. I still remember well that my dad could be stubborn, that he could overdo the teasing, that he was sometimes too timid in person and too outspoken online. He was a bit of a pack rat and sometimes he was a little antisocial. But now, looking back on his life and the obvious hole he left in mine … those things don’t matter anymore.
So be assured of this: that annoying trait in your loved one that drives you crazy … if they were gone tomorrow, it wouldn’t matter.
Dreamers come from Dreamers …
Dad didn’t just believe in his dreams. He believed in ours. You may have heard him talking about our skills. It didn’t start there, when we began to accomplish things as adults. When I was four years old, I sang in church. I am told I talked a lot about singing in church when I was little. And I got right up on that stage and sang the heart out of Away in a Manger. There’s a picture of me, most likely taken by him. I wish there was a picture of him holding that camera. I can see in my mind the look on my dad’s face. “That’s my girl. She wanted to express herself by singing, and there she is, doing it.”
He still had the same look on his face when I was singing on the stage at the age of thirty on any given Sunday morning. (I remember my eyes catching on him from my place on the stage—when he came into the service the Sunday before the Wednesday morning he died.) He didn’t wear a pride so much, that HIS daughters were good at things, but that we were willing to put ourselves on notice with our talents. We were willing to be used. We were willing to put the hard work in and let God develop us for whatever purposes he had in mind. And no matter where our interests led us at the time, if it was doing puppet shows in VBS or cheerleading or getting a job or playing piano or writing a story or getting a part in the spring play … he had that look on his face. That look of satisfaction. Approval. He said “good job” and “I’m proud of you,” but what I remember is the look on his face. That expression that housed more feeling than any trite phrase a parent feels compelled to say. He spoke infinitely larger with his expression. You are my treasure. You are loved by God and the interests and abilities he’s given you are important to him and to me. You will be used if you surrender your ambitions to him. You are my greatest offering to this world. You are my hope for the future, for my descendants, for the cause of Christ.
Dad loved. He loved people with a passion that exceeded his timid nature. He loved people so much he became a pastor instead of a journalist. And he could have been a successful journalist. But way back in his twenties he could sense the measure of his days, and he didn’t want to end them with awards and credits. He wanted people to know God, and thus be changed. He wanted the comfort and peace Jesus brings to broken lives and hurting people more than he wanted personal achievement and accolades. To me, that’s love.
Perhaps you were a recipient of Dad’s love. If you were a member of his flock or a friend or one of his students or a family member, rest assured—he loved you. He prayed for you. He agonized over the best way to teach you God’s Word. He strove to be a good example to you. Even if you had a few healthy debates with him, you can rest assured he never held a grudge. Trust me. I was his daughter, and not once in all my thirty-six years of knowing my father did I see him lose his temper. Ever. I can’t even imagine it. So I can be positive he never harbored any grievances. He probably respected you more for being willing to discuss whatever matter came up, whether you ended up agreeing with him or not. He probably loved you much more than he ever told you, and you might be surprised how much he thought of you.
My dad went to his home with Jesus long before he expected to, long before we expected him to, long before it made sense. He flew away in the breaking dawn of another normal Wednesday when he was scheduled to work at church and take care of responsibilities. He was about fifty pages into writing a new novel. He was in the middle of teaching an adult Sunday School class. He had stacks of other people’s manuscripts all over his office he was helping them to edit. You may be one of those people, and I know if he were able, he would sincerely apologize for not being able to finish those projects with you.
Dad flew away not when we expected, but at the perfect time. Even though my heart strains against the truth, he went when his days, numbered before he had been born, were through. After all, I have no way of knowing whether this very day is the final one allotted to my life from before creation. And I could not change it if I did know, nor would I want to had I all the information. Though our view of death—the view marred by sin—is dark, disturbing and ever-jarring, now Dad’s version is sweet, filled with reunions. Precious people he laid to rest over the years. Seeing his parents again. Seeing some of the mysterious ancestors he studied, as well as the people of the Bible. Being present with Jesus the moment he was no longer present in his body. I would never claim to comprehend the logistics of those who exist without their earthly bodies for a time, but I know that God says no one is dead to him, and that the death of his saints is precious to him. My dad is with Jesus. His faith has become sight, in that mysterious and inconceivable way that almost scares us this side of the veil, we who have yet to walk across that dark river.
Grief … a Year Later
What does it feel like a year past the time one loses the father they loved? After all, you have probably heard it said: that it never gets easier, and that time heals all wounds. Both are true. Though grief does not continually overwhelm your senses as it does in those first days and weeks, it leaves a scar that will continue to occasionally trouble a soul, just as a physical wound might. Wounds can harden if they do not heal right, wounds can leave scar tissue and mar permanently, and grief does the same thing to the soul.
As many times as I say that I believe Dad flew away at exactly the right time, and as much as I believe it, it is a truth I have to contend with on occasion. Unexpected grief leaves you gasping for air, reeling and trying to make sense of your life in its new version. That sense of panic can easily take hold if allowed a place. But I will answer to the unspoken question—if I could go back and rewrite time, if I could translate myself to Tuesday night, March 4th, 2014, what would I do differently?
I would tell my dad I loved him. I would tell him he was the best dad a girl could hope for. I would tell him that I’m thankful for him, for his tender affection and guidance, for his example and his quiet spirit and his passion for life. I would tell him I was going to run on in his honor.
“Wait a minute,” you say. “Wouldn’t you tell him not to go to sleep? Wouldn’t you wait up all night with him, until the clock had sounded six chimes and he was still breathing; his heart still beating? Wouldn’t you try to change it?”
Honestly, if I were given that choice, I probably would try to stop him from going to bed. Who wouldn’t? It wouldn’t matter, though, because the moment I told him I was from the future and he couldn’t go to bed because he was going to die, that would be the moment he laughed at me and said “Nice try, goodnight.”
But do I regret my father’s passing?
I try to squirm away from the question, because the answer will seem odd. In every sense you would expect I do regret it, but at the same time, I cannot deny that his death formed me and created a deeper, more resilient character. His death made me see him and appreciate him in every way I had ever taken him for granted. I can see how I am more mature in Christ for having gone through this valley. I am closer to my mother and sisters than ever before, and we have always been close. I am less fearful of the worst, because I now have absolute trust that God is there with unexplained peace when life is suddenly darker than you thought possible. I have learned so much about my father from all the people that came rushing to our side the moment you all discovered he was gone. You have been gentle, and I have learned that my family is larger than I ever understood before it happened. I have become tender to grief in others, more apt to reach out to someone who has been knocked over by the cruel force of loss, rather than be awkwardly afraid to say the wrong thing.
So, no, I do not regret his passing.
I feel it as the mark of a traitor as I say it, but then I hear Dad’s voice in my head. Telling me it’s okay to think that way, because that’s the way he sees it, the way God sees it. To regret it would mean I would willingly turn over all that has been done in me to change a plan that God saw fit to create before time began. It’s not worth it.
Dad would agree.
Today I ask you to mark the one year anniversary of Dad’s last day on earth in two ways. First, I ask you to give testimony to something he taught you, something he wrote, some way that he made your life different. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little thing and you only met him once or you only knew him online. We crave more of the ones we lose, and my mother and sisters and I have all but exhausted our resources of Dad from his office and boxes and journals. Any morsel you can think of will be welcomed.
I also ask you to mark this day by telling someone what they mean to you. Maybe you’re afraid to be mushy, maybe you just haven’t had the time, maybe something has come between you and a loved one that has wounded your relationship. Today would be a good day, in Dad’s honor, to heal that wound, to say those words, to offer that hug or that promise. Dad would count it all joy if you would be willing to do it on his behalf, and on my behalf, because I realized it was time to say it one day too late.
May his memory go on, and may we who knew him live lives that honor what he taught us and more importantly, the God he loved and served with every last breath of life and strength he was given. May we approach our own time of passing, whenever it may come, with joy and hope, knowing our eternity has been secured through Jesus’ work on our behalf, and living with abandon and determination until we stand at the edge of that dark river … and see the brightness of Christ’s beautiful face shining in the distance.
“I do not believe in accidents. I do not believe in happenstance.
I do not believe in coincidence, or chance. I believe in the plan of God for
“That is comforting to know… God is always in control.”
-Thomas M. Parsons
June 5, 1941 — March 5, 2014