Why I Celebrate the 4th of July

The photos below depict a large part of why I celebrate the Fourth of July. It is not about the fireworks. It isn’t simply about having a day off as a holiday. It goes far deeper than that. I celebrate the Fourth of July because I love my country. I am proud to be an American, specifically a US American. I am not ashamed to wave the USA flag and sing the old songs of liberty and freedom. When I consider the price that my fellow citizens have paid so that I may worship and live in freedom in this great nation, I am proud. Not in a haughty or arrogant way. No. Not in a condescending way toward other great nations, whether they be affluent or poor. Of course not. I am proud of the USA because this nation has given its sons and daughters over and over again not only to procure and sustain our own freedom, but also to liberate the oppressed all around the world. I am proud of the USA because of our long tradition of opening our arms to the huddled masses teeming at our shores, seeking respite from lives of destitution and tyranny.

On a personal note, I am proud because three of my ancestors on my mother’s side of the family, the Livingstons, signed the Declaration of Independence. Many other ancestors served in the military and also in pioneer ministry and scholarship. I am particularly proud of my grandfather on my dad’s side who fought in the south pacific in WWII and of my Uncle Carl, my mom’s brother, who fought in WWII in the European theater. But most of all, I am proud of my father. He was drafted at the end of the Korean War. He had been given notice to go to Korea, but the military granted him an honorable hardship discharge at the last minute. There is a story behind these events. Someday I might tell it.

Today I simply say, “Thank you, Dad. For your service. For your guidance. For the legacy you have left me and the rest of the family. The tears I shed as I visited your gravesite today were painful, but they were not without hope. They were sad, but they were not without pride in the service you gave the USA and your family. They were poignant, but only because I tarried to remember. Yes, so much to remember. Thank you.”

keeping it real

I miss my Dad today. There are questions I would ask him. There are stories I would request of him to tell once again. The funny stories. The alarming ones. The amazing ones. If I could only share a few more moments of laughter with him. But he is gone now. I know that. I accept it. But it doesn’t salve the pain. It doesn’t fill the silence. It doesn’t take away the longing.

Life is like that. Reality strikes. It disrupts the harmony of my world. And it forces me to take it for what it is. Even so I choose to do so with a positive attitude. But honesty requires that I keep it real. I hurt. And I rejoice. I weep. And I celebrate. I mourn. And I passionately worship the Lord God who created us, who sustains us, who saves us. Rather than allowing my pain to distance me from God, I choose to run to him. It doesn’t really matter what others think. I am going to keep it real.

Of Walks and Remembrance

I walk up the embankment, alone among the elements under the clear blue sky, except for a young couple in the distance. Trees whisper in hushed reverence; grass too, but not here. Here there is simply dirt and then gravel farther above; the grass awaits its turn to provide a blanket of comfort to this newest domain. I look for evidence that I have arrived. Almost there…ah, here it is. Dad’s grave marker. I read it, and I read it again. My eyes blur in recognition, losing focus for the tears which overcome me as I embrace grief’s inevitable hold. And I weep for loss and love; I remember, but do not despair. For a new day awaits us when, in eternity, we are united again with each other and the Lord.

When Day is Done

The activities of the day are done. The sun sets in the west, casting its influence on the clouds which remain, separated though they are by intermittent patches of blue sky. We began our morning by meeting at Willamette National Cemetary in Portland, Oregon. We watched them lower the casket into the grave. We watched and considered a life well-lived.

Then we made our way west into Lafayette, wrestling with two full hours of traffic delays due to road construction in the busy metropolitan area. My twelve year old niece, Jessica, rode along with me. It was a beautiful time of getting to know her, learning more about her interests and encouraging her. We learned that we share a love for writing. She also is writing a fantasy novel, having completed one chapter already. I look forward to reading it soon.

We arrived barely in time for the service to begin. Dad received a military honors tribute from an Army Honor Guard. Two soldiers in full regalia performed the honor, one playing taps, the other saluting Dad’s photo. Then they both unfolded the flag of the USA in their impressive display of disciplined choreography, and refolded it again. The second soldier looked down at the flag, in a sharp salute. The first soldier then turned to Mom and gave the flag to her. He whispered to her, “On behalf of the United States of America and the President of the United States of America, we thank you for your husband’s service to our country.” Then he saluted her. It was an emotional, powerful moment.

The pastor led us in prayer and then opened with one of Dad’s favorite hymns, “Because He Lives.” He shared Dad’s favorite Bible verse, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but shall have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

The pastor then read several brief letters written by members of the family, including a letter and two poems written by me and letters written by some of the grandchildren. Then the floor was opened for people to share their thoughts. Both my brothers and my Mom shared heartfelt thoughts. Others who knew Dad also shared, including Dad’s former supervisor in the Newberg Police and a man who was a truck driver who had been deeply impacted by Dad and Mom just in the last few months.

My niece Jessica sang a lovely rendition of “I Can Only Imagine.” We watched a powerpoint photo presentation with a wide array of family photos, some of which I had never seen. The pastor then led us in singing “Because He Lives,” another of my Dad’s favorite hymns.

Afterward, we shared a family meal along with those who attended the celebration, courtesy of the church. We then made our way to our separate homes.

So the day is done. The nightfall whispers on the breeze. A new day prepares to dawn. There is much that the family must now work through as we prepare for the days to come. I appreciate all who have expressed their sympathies and kept us in prayer. Soon I will be back to writing about children’s ministry. I thank you for giving me latitude to process my thoughts in this way. It allows me to say what I need to say, and to do so in a way that I can remember it in the years ahead. So thank you. And goodnight.

When the Daytime Watch Begins

Morning is here and soon I will gather with my family to observe the burial of Dad. Then this afternoon we will commute to their church for the memorial service.

My waking was greeted with relief that the long night is over for now. It will be a day of being present for Mom and the rest of the family, doing what I can to comfort and simply listen. It will be a day of well-deserved celebration for a life which finished well, a life lived in service to country, to the community, to family, and especially to Mom. I expect to learn things that I did not know about him. There will be tears and a fair share of laughter. There will be hugs and moments of silence. Mostly I will listen. Mostly I will attend to the family, trying to make sure their needs are being met, so far as that is possible. Mostly I will give thanks that he is now in the presence of the Lord, without pain and with a heart full of inexpressible joy, living a life of whole purpose and experiencing the rewards prepared for him by Jesus Christ.

Night will come again soon. Continual meditation and prayer is my solace and source of strength. My faith rests on a foundation fundamentally secure and independent from the shifting winds which attempt to find their way into my heart. So I do not despair even in sadness. I do not pull away even when the world says to give up. No. This is a time for rejoicing and a time for renewal.

The Memorial is Set

Tomorrow at 3 pm the memorial service will take place for Dad. A complete notice is here. I edited the materials to which I referred here. The new version is below.

A special happy homecoming to you, Dad. Over the years you taught me how to shoot a basketball, throw a baseball and drive a car. You taught me how to bait a hook and cast a fishing line, fire a rifle and handle guns and knives safely. You taught me how to treat animals with respect and to work hard with right motives. You taught me to take responsibility for my own actions. You have demonstrated an unquestionable work ethic all the days of your life. You showed me how to treat people with respect, especially those who mistreat me. You taught me how to defend myself and stand up for what is right. You modeled loyalty to family by honoring Mom and providing for us kids, even when it meant having to work three jobs. You managed to pass on your love of reading to me, for which I am thankful.

Each Christmas, long before most people even thought about waking up, Scott would nudge me awake out of a perfectly sound slumber to check what Santa had brought. I now know it was you and Mom. I mean, it was wasn’t it? I mean, Santa didn’t really bring all those gifts did he? Oh nevermind….That was for you, Mom. By the way Mom, I wear pull-me-ups, not huggies. I know. Too much information.

Dad, you went to as many of my sporting events, drama events and choir events as you possibly could. You encouraged me to pursue my dreams wherever they might lead. You told me you love me and are proud of me. You faithfully lived out being our Dad and Mom’s husband.

I love you too, Dad. You are my hero and I am proud of you. Happy homecoming.

Blessings,

Glen

Originally written on 18 June 2006 for Dad on Father’s Day. Adapted for the celebration of his life.

When Grief Presides

Rough night last night. Morning provides the luxury of a new day with responsibilities on which to focus my attention. Grief presides for a moment in the privacy of my thoughts. The tangible reality of biblical hope, however, reminds me that, despite death’s invasive pain, it holds no lasting sting. Despite the harshness of this hour and those that may soon follow, there is an abiding sense of joy which strengthens me in the midst of grief. There is a renewed determination to live my life with authentic purpose which is devoid of the ubiquitous, pointless selfishness that seems to permeate my thinking and actions. There is a clarity refined by the focus of searing pain. It separates what is important from the chaff of selfish enterprise. It doesn’t make it any easier. On one level I wish it would simply go away. But then that would be selfish. My consolation is that Mom is doing remarkably well, woman of faith that she is, knowing that Dad is rejoicing in the presence of the Lord God. Yes, that is a consolation worth embracing, with its focus on the hope of Jesus Christ as an anchor for my soul, no matter what the days to come may bring.