We laid my father to rest today.
He was dressed in his favorite jeans and the ever-ready, starched white shirt and fitted black blazer. Mama made sure everyone knew the dress code: Jeans and boots welcomed…and slightly preferred. No ties, please.
He was buried in an Amish-made casket of reclaimed barn wood. Saw marks, nail holes and years of rugged character were the only fitting way to enclose the remains of a man like my Daddy.
What follows are the words I spoke at his service…
He cast an epic shadow.
He was a gentleman. Taught us to open doors for others, stand to greet people and make sure everyone in your care was protected as best as you could.
He was tough. When kids at school would taunt, “My dad can beat up your dad.” I would always smile and say, “Well, you don’t know my dad.” He absorbed injuries that would have likely ended, or in the least, greatly deterred, a lesser person. Whether a bull goring him, to falling off high things, to assortments of cuts and breaks, he would just pick himself up and keep going, even if with a limp. I always though it was because George’s have hard bones, but I believe now that our hardest bone may just be our heads.
He was tender. He cried during the National Anthem, loved puppies and taught us to catch bugs trapped inside and release them rather than kill them. And when a person made a mistake and apologized, all was set square again. Just this morning, I read some words he wrote, “Father, give us a greater spirit of forgiveness toward our fellow man.” Takes quite a man to pray such a thing, a man who wants to love more.
Daddy was both an idealist and a realist. He knew things were supposed to be a certain way, but he also knew that a person had to deal with how things were when things didn’t turn out quite like you had hoped, no matter the disappointment. He always had a plan, but adjusted that plan where he needed, sometimes right in the middle of things.
Being in the middle of one of Daddy’s plans and wondering just how it was going to turn out could be a grand adventure. Sometimes you wondered if you were going to even live through it.
When you were with him, and plans turned sideways, he would let you know to “cowboy up,” shake the kinks from the rope, and keep going. And sometimes, if you were patient, reality could take a big step past your expectations.
So, in that spirit, let me offer a few things about Daddy that are realities that we, as a family, have thought about over the last few days.
His mother, Macie, died when he was three days old. And today, his body rests at the foot of her grave. But yesterday, he got to spend his very first Mother’s Day with his mama. That is not wishful thinking; that is the reality.
In the last bit, he wrestled with forgetfulness and fears, but Friday morning, all in an instant, his mind became clearer than anyone else’s alive. He no longer sees through a glass darkly, but now he sees face-to-face. He is experiencing true reality. His mind isn’t restored, not at all…
One more thing to consider…
As my mother, brother and his girlfriend stood in the graveyard a couple of days ago, my brother reminded us that most of Daddy’s life was spent in the one area on and surrounding that hill that overlooks where his body now lies.
He lived most of his life there. In fact, he was born on that hill.
This morning, as the sun was coming up, I walked over the hilltop to the old home place where he was born, to the place a midwife visited many years ago and helped bring a boy-child into the world. A few foundation stones and a sunken spot where the well once was are the only things left of the old house. I sat down on one of those worn stones and, as the morning birds sang, I thought through how the lives of my family are interlaced with Daddy’s.
With Daddy, we chased, and were chased by, bulls, walked fence rows, climbed trees, ate blackberries, learned to shoot, fished the pond, followed him without a light through stands of pitch-black pine, and swung from grapevines until our hands were raw from the swinging and bellies sore from the laughter.
All on that old hill.
He was connected to that hill.
But Daddy is connected to another hill. One with a greater history still.
And on that hill, a Man wasn’t born…He died.
A Man bore sin, tasted death and endured the wrath of His own Father. A Roman hammer swung, a cross raised, and a Jewish carpenter died and offered a way to defeat Daddy’s sin, my sin and your sin.
A sacrifice offered, one received by faith. The greatest cosmic battle for the eternities of all people was settled on that dusty, blood-soaked hill.
That is the hill Daddy would say matters most because that is the hill our Heavenly Father says matters most.
It’s that hill that gives us hope. Hope in life, and hope in death. Listen to Paul’s words about what a difference that hill makes in our mourning…
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:13-18)
My Daddy had that hope. The other night, as we went through some of his belongings, we found a bunch of his handwritten prayers in his briefcase. It only seems fitting that his own words from long ago should close this tribute to a man of great faith…
Father, it is so comforting to know that if we put our trust and faith in You and accept You as our personal Savior, when our road here on earth comes to an end, our reward will be an eternal home in heaven with Thee. Father, we thank Thee for this blessing and know that the price has already been paid through the blood of Jesus Christ. Amen.