I’m not sure why I’m addressing this to you, since I believe that right now you are with the saints on high. Perhaps I think that the Father could pass the note on to you, if He in His sovereignty desired; of course, I know that right now you have far better things to do than think on earth. Perhaps I hope that others who see this will know the depths of sin I feel in my heart, so as not to paint so bright a picture of me. Or maybe I just want to write a final letter to you, selfishly feeling in my heart that you will see these words just as if you were here on earth with me now. To tell you everything I want to say would be impossible. I know that, in some way, this is my testimony, both to my wickedness and to God’s grace. And, it is also a prayer.
Growing up, I recall times of playing with you. In more recent years, such as high school, you would get out--even in the snow--just to play basketball with me. You loved playing tennis with your friends. But, once I gained an appreciation for the sport, I became your new favorite tennis buddy. You showed me how to play my first chord on the guitar. And, from that point, you essentially gave up, because you only wanted to see me play in your stead. You were okay with the fact that I could care less about building something or tinkering around in the shop, because, even though that’s what you loved, you loved me more. When college came, you wanted me to go wherever I wanted to go. I chose an expensive school in California (The Master’s College). And although I would deem such an expense unwise now, you didn’t care. You had a plan, as you always did, and you wanted the best for me. So I went. My many hidden sins kept me from being the student I could’ve been, but I still wound up with decent grades. And you were proud. I was the greatest sinner I knew. But, I was your pride and joy, just as your daughter was. Through the years, you fought through open heart surgery, kidney and colon cancer, sometimes high blood pressure, and finally a tumor on your spine. Really, none of the above took your life. You got through them, and you still provided for your family all the same.
Back home these past few years, you would tell me often, “Hey bud, I really love you. I’m not just saying that.” I would give a slight smile and say, “I love you, too,” in that wow-you’re-being-very-sappy tone. Sometimes you might try to get close to me, either at the table or standing, and it would bother me. When you wanted so badly to show me something in the shop or pass your skills on to me, despite all my intentions of learning those things, I would usually express a desire to be doing something else. But, you never cared. Still, all you talked about was how proud of me you were, and how much you loved me.
I can remember you saying some garbled things on the couch days before the tragic event, and I, always assuming you weren’t exercising enough or eating right, merely said, “You’re mumbling.” I believe the last time we spoke was when I came into your room one night looking for a disc. You raised your eyes and said, “What time is it? Am I awake?” I said, “8:10.” You asked, “In the morning?” I said, somewhat annoyed and somewhat humored, “No, at night.” I can even remember being upstairs one day trying to record a guitar session and thinking, “I hope Dad doesn’t open the door right in the middle of this.”
I didn’t realize, at times, who it was I had with me on earth at the time.
Of course, I remember our good times, too. I remember all the days of playing competitive tennis. When hitting the balls back to me for my serve, you would purposefully hit them on both sides of me to try to upset me, thereby throwing off my game. We both loved playing the sport with one another, and we were both competitive. One time I hit the ball so far out of the court that it bounced into the streets; a car passed by and clunked so loudly we thought the whole city would hear. Of course, the ball was gone for good, lodged in the front of someone’s car, so we assumed. We held onto that story. I remember all of our fights, when Mom wasn’t looking, of course. One time you threw me into the chair so hard that it put a dent in the kitchen drywall. We laughed. But, of course, we also had to hide it for a time; there was no way we could risk Mom seeing it. We used to pull out the chess set I bought from Mexico at a discounted price. No one else really played that game. It was just you and I. And, as usual, we were even competitive with that. We loved each other; but, we loved wins, too. I remember only a few heart to hearts we would have in the car on the drive home from church. There weren’t that many of those, but there were a few, and I will remember them. Sometimes, when we knew Mom and Amber wouldn’t be at the house, we would rent karate movies and throw away one or two hours of our lives that we could never get back. Once or twice, we even went out and saw a basketball game together. It just so happened that our beloved inmates--the Pacers--were playing the Rockets, a Texan team. Who else but us, Dad, would sit in the midst of a crazy Pacer audience and quietly root for the away team? And, of course, there was your favorite story to tell (and you loved telling embellished stories in your Texan accent): the Adam and Gordon “Prank War.” You set a second alarm clock I had in my room to wake me up in the middle of the night. From there, it was on. Your toilet seat was buttered. Marshmallows spelled “DORK” on your windshield one morning, and it was a cold morning (I believe you needed a scraper?). Jell-o clogged your showerhead (Sorry, I was shooting for Kool-Aid). We would turn the inside, plastic walking mats upside down to expose the hundreds of straight, pointed, cleat-like prongs designed to hold the mat to the carpet (not to be walked on). When Mom became collateral damage and walked across two separate ones that had both been set for you, a peacekeeper was officially inaugurated and the war was finally ended.
I remember our good times. And, I will remember them all the remaining days of my life on earth.
When Mom called me at work last Tuesday, January 3rd, to tell me you were having trouble breathing, I never thought for a moment that within one or two hours I would hear the doctor declare, “I’m sorry to say that Gordon has died today.” It came so fast. I’m still in shock, over a week later.
When it was all said and done, I wasn’t sure if I was just emotionless or in shock. I began searching the depths of my heart, which is never good. I asked, “Was I wanting this kind of attention and care from others at the expense of you, Dad? Was I looking forward to this?” Of course, what I was really asking was, “Was my heart capable of reaching such wicked depths?” Because although I know that of course I never would have asked for this, and I would have shunned such a thought had it presented itself to me before your passing, it was still weighing on me now. I cried in my own time, usually at night, wondering what was going on and what God was doing (I still do). But, on good days, I felt and still feel guilty. At the memorial, people came to me with tears in their eyes, but I was doing okay. Had they only just really realized you were gone? Was I heartless? When I sang the song, “It Is Not Death to Die,” I hit some bad notes. I began to think afterwards, “I’m feeling fine. Did I fake emotion to cover for bad notes? Do I even know what words I just sang?” (Not that you wouldn’t be proud of me for being clever, if I did actually use emotion as a cover up for really bad notes.) I question everything I think and everything I do now.
You see, Dad, before God took you, I was beginning to see how sinful I was. So, I started making an effort to treat you better. Right before you died, I gladly let you teach me how to fix the drain in the bathroom. We even went out the Saturday before and had breakfast together, something we hadn’t done in a long time. You told me you were looking forward to doing that every Saturday, and I think I can truly say I was looking forward to it as well. We had plans; the ball was rolling. Then, you went home.
So, Dad, we were normal. We had our good times and our bad times. I imagine that right now I’m focusing too much on the deep and evil recesses of my heart. Right now, I know I love you. I hugged you one last time on your deathbed because I never did it enough. Now, I would go back and spend all day with you in the shop if I could. I would make sure to put my arm around you every time you were close, and I would have deeper conversations with you, listening to your advice and learning from the wellspring of knowledge you had gleaned through years of hard work and providing for us. In the past, I would dream and be ever so happy when I finally awoke to reality. Now, I wake up and question whether or not this dark place can really be reality. I don’t enjoy the radio and singing loudly in my car right now. You left your Kindle behind that we had gotten you for Christmas. It’s mine now, but I don’t care to use it yet. I’m trying to be strong and go through your garage, but everything I see I want to keep, because I don’t want to “throw Dad away.” I see tools that look like Greek torture devices to me, and I wish I could go back and simply ask you what they do. The first thing I saw when I turned your computer on was an email you left unsent before your journey to heaven. By myself, I find myself thinking of responsibilities I am powerless to fulfill, combined with a deep desire to have you back. While you were the greatest man I’ve known, all I can do is sit and cry. I also see now that you were the only person in the world who loved me as unconditionally as you did. You were always on my side, for better or for worse. That was the side you loved to be on. Without you, my family is left to be discerning, shrewd, and wise concerning whom we trust and how far we trust them. We are in survival mode. Because, the provider and guardian we had has now been called to the Grand Provider, the Supreme Shepherd. And if ever I questioned your faith, either because you sometimes made excuses for not being at church or because you weren’t as smooth in prayer, I now look back and see that such unconditional love for a worm like me could surely only be founded in Christ the Savior.
The Lord began to convict me. He then began to grow our relationship. Then, he suddenly called you home.
I am still confused. But I’ve learned many things. Maybe that’s why this letter has so many short, choppy, grammatically unpleasant sentences. I want to say too much. But, Dad, I look back and see times in my life when vile sins cut into my time with you. I now see more clearly than ever how crucial it is to put them to death. But, in the course of sinning so often and perhaps also being the church figure I’ve been, I soon discovered that perhaps hypocrisy is another gift of mine. One sin reveals yet another, and all I can do is groan until the time of renewal and restoration comes.
I now long to love those around me unconditionally. I desire to set aside my personal wants, although I still fail, and regard others as more important than myself, just like you did. I want to say to people all the things I want to say. I used to hear the song, “I wasn’t there that morning, when my father passed away; and I didn’t get to tell him, all the things I had to say”, but it was just a song. Now it’s my story. I want to love and protect Mom as you did, until the day death separates one of us yet again. If our sovereign Lord should choose to fill the emptiness I often feel by providing a godly and beautiful girl, I want to be intentional with her. I want to put her first, and love her more than anything and anyone until the day the Lord split apart our marriage and join us to the true Bridegroom. When friends come into my life, I want to be there for them, just as you were here for me and for all the people who are mourning your supposed death. You knew and touched so many.
But, more than a clearer understanding of the wickedness of my heart or simple life lessons, your death also brought to me something else: an uneasiness and unrest concerning this present world. Nothing here--even the good things--lasts. Your death has paved the way to mine, and made the acceptance of it so much easier. For in a very short time, I’ll join you. This world is not my home. Even marriage doesn’t last, but is only a picture of the true church and the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. This world is only a shadow. And even though you won’t be there to hand my sister off in marriage, you’ll be there in our hearts, and your passing to eternal life will have given my sister and my future brother-in-law an understanding and appreciation of life they never would have had otherwise. We now have an eternal perspective, just as we should have had from the beginning. Without sin, we would never know grace; without darkness, there would be no light; and without death, we could not truly understand life. As a certain Puritan somewhere once prayed:
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
Where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
Hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox
That the way down is the way up,
That to be low is to be high,
That the broken heart is the healed heart,
That the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
That the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
That to have nothing is to possess all,
That to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
That to give is to receive,
That the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
And the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty,
Thy glory in my valley.
You departed this world and left a void that cannot be filled. The days are more tense now, and the nights much quieter. And while you died, life goes on here on earth. Car payments are made. People are laughing on the streets. Facebook status updates have funny pictures and silly banter. But, the man I lived with twenty five years is now here only in pictures.
However, you have given us an eternal perspective that brings hope. God our Father has chosen to take away our earthly father, so that we might depend more on our heavenly Father. And although you were a great provider and the strength of this family, don’t worry, Dad. Our Father God is even better at it than you were. We’re in good hands. In a way, we are experiencing a trial that will bring more joy than we could ever know, until the day when we don’t see temporal things that remind us of you and bring tears, when people don’t speak of you in the past tense or act as if you’re not alive right now in heaven with Christ, when robbers and thieves are no longer able to try to take advantage of the loving mother you’ve left me to protect, when fragments of an incredible marriage of 29 years pale in comparison to an eternal marriage to Jesus Christ, when life as we know it here will give way to life as you know it there, when your Blue Bell ice cream is replaced by an eternal land of milk and honey, when your Texas flag is replaced by the flag of New Jerusalem, whose walls are far more sturdy than the Alamo.
We have but a short time left on earth, Dad, and we plan to use it wisely and to enjoy it. We will laugh, though we mourn now. We will know times of joy. We will experience things we wish you could be here to see, not realizing that whatever we are experiencing here is much more boring than whatever you are experiencing in heaven.
We are afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing. And though our outer man is decaying, “yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” Dad, when people congratulate me on how well I’ve done or what a good kid I am, I only wish I could have you back so you would tell them the truth.
So I am left with two perplexities: first, my regrets concerning our relationship, things I didn’t get to say or things I said badly; secondly, I miss you, more than I ever realized was possible. My perplexities, however, cannot bring despair. Because Christ has come to me, He has washed all my filth and hypocrisy away, and He has declared me a new creature. Even while I am utterly vile now, I look forward to a day when I am conformed to the image of my Master. You and I will have a perfect relationship, the one we never had here. My first and my second perplexity are both covered in Christ Jesus, for He brings forgiveness of sins now and hope for the future.
I love you, Dad. We all do. Mom had a faithful husband for a very long time, and she could probably write books on what she is feeling right now. The loss I feel must pale in comparison to her grieving heart. But, you left us in a wonderful church family. They are taking care of us. And I plan to watch over Mom with my life as you did with yours. One day, we will all see the same vision before our very eyes, and the most magnificent experience will present itself to us. We will again be a family, a perfect one. And that family will never experience any separation... ever again:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He *said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5)
Until that Wonderful Day,