I remember my dad smelled like a mixture of Certs and greasy flannel, with a hint of cigarette smoke that lingered, but mostly tried to remain unnoticed. I realize that this probably sounds revolting, but in my memory, it is simply the scent that continues to represent my father, and if I could smell it once more, I would probably try not to complain so much about the smoke. Or perhaps, knowing what I know now, I would be even more vocal in my contempt for his smoking habit.
My dad was mistaken for a homeless person more than once in his life. Someone once gave him a cash donation outside a grocery store. On the contrary, he was actually a fairly successful, self-employed machinist whose job necessitated that he, well, dress like a homeless person. Each night, when he headed off to work at a friend’s machine shop, he’d don a grungy flannel shirt that would return home even grungier the next morning, leaving a trail of sharp metal chips across the living room floor that my three younger siblings and I had to pull out of our bare feet on more than one occasion.
Lest it sound like I am complaining about my father, it needs to be stated that I was a daddy’s girl. He worked a lot—too much, in fact—but, I longed to spend time with him. I learned to love some of the things he loved and then we would share them—like Krystal’s hamburgers, the local oldie’s station, fishing, and talk radio. Occasionally, I was allowed to go to work with him, late at night, where I learned to de-burr and sandblast metal machine parts and made photocopies of my hand.
I was barely a senior in high school when Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. I literally wanted to die the night my parent’s told me. I couldn’t imagine life without him. I couldn’t imagine what it would do to my family. But I also couldn’t foresee what God would do in my life. Like the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, he was creating new life even through my dad’s sickness and subsequent death just nine months later.
I believe that it was only because of my desperation (and ultimately God’s sovereign plan, of course) that I began to cry out to God at all, and thankfully he had already placed in my life a good friend who had previously placed his faith in Jesus as his Savior. He had found hope and life in him years before, even as I was running in the opposite direction. He began to pray with me as I prayed that God would heal my father. He led me to the Bible for answers and to his church, which eventually became my church. He prayed with me one night after a youth conference, nearly 12 years ago, as I received Jesus for my own. Much later, he made me his bride and together we set out on an adventure that continues to this very moment.
Last week, an old friend’s younger sister (who was only 26) entered eternity after losing a three-month battle with cancer (although it can be argued that she did not lose in that she also knew Christ during her life, and, in fact, knows him much more fully now). At first, I found myself solely sympathizing with her family, but then I also began to relive some of my own pain in losing my dad. It has been a difficult week of reflection as old wounds were reopened. I can say, however, that I no longer expect that I will ever know why I had to lose my dad, especially at such a crucial time in my life. And I don’t think that I will ever become comfortable with the pain of losing someone so close to me. What I can see, perhaps more easily now than ever, is God’s incredible grace and love for me in what were the darkest days of my life. I can say with Old Testament Joseph, that what Satan “meant [for] evil against me . . . God meant it for good,” (Gen. 50:20). It was because of his goodness towards me that I had the strength to face my dad’s funeral and the difficult days that followed, as an infant follower of Jesus—embarrassingly immature in my faith, but beginning to recognize through tears the face of the Father who would never leave, who would always be with me.
And all these years later, I’m still learning to love the things he loves.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1