Yesterday was my father’s 84th birthday. Today is my parents 62nd wedding anniversary.
This is the last celebration of both.
They met senior year at Wheaton College outside of Chicago. They were engaged and married within a year. Football, seminary, farm churches, West Point. They lived an extraordinary life.
There is something very powerful in “lasts.” The last kiss, the last good-bye, the last hug before catching a plane, the last episode of your favorite series, the last burst of light as the sun sets. We tolerate the lasts because we have hope for more firsts. We accept the last Christmas knowing there will be another one. We pack up from the last vacation with hopeful anticipation another is to come.
But what if that’s it? What if that really is all there is?
In my early 40’s, moderately successful in life and work, I uprooted myself and my 8 year old daughter and headed to the Florida keys to be with my parents as my father, sidelined and bedridden with Parkinson’s Disease, runs his last lap on earth. There are days when I think, “this is it. This is his last breath.” Then he rallies another breath, another night, another day. This is not a sprint for him. It is a long, slow marathon. In dark places of my mind, I wonder why he’s holding on. Is there someone he needs to see? To talk to? Am I supposed to learn something? Humbleness? Servitude? Selflessness?
Maybe this is my father’s legacy – running the race to the end. “You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
When you believe in something greater than yourself, when you struggle and persevere, the end result is hope.
“…suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.” Romans 5:4
I’ve felt hopelessness once in my life and I never want to feel that again. We all need to be seen and heard and we all need – every single one of us – something to hope for.
Last night my brother, mother, nephew and daughter sang “happy birthday” to my father and shared a piece of carrot cake – all fully aware that this would be the last time we would sing it to him. How sobering.
It took the joy out of the occasion, the cake less sweet, the candle, dimmer.
Today two dozen long stemmed red roses adorn the table – a traditional anniversary present from my father to my mother for 62 years of marriage. I arranged the order and delivery on my father’s behalf, something we had discussed a month ago while he was still able to speak. The card is inscribed with a bible verse that my father engraved inside his wedding ring six decades ago.
I hate goodbyes. I’m well versed in them. Growing up at West Point, I’ve said goodbye to cadets that I’ve come to love as family upon graduation, year after year after year, knowing it would most likely be for the last time. This is different. This is final.
This is the last Hoorah.
As my father prepares to cross the finish line, there are three things my father taught me about living a good life. He has lived them.
Give grace. “Grace is not a blue eyed blonde… ” dad once said in a sermon. Grace is love and forgiveness that comes from God. It is the greatest gift He gives to us and the greatest gift we can give to each other. Grace heals all.
2. Love abundantly. Love unceasingly. Love without ceasing.
3. Have hope. Never lose sight of it. My father ended every church service with Romans 15:13 which says: “May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in your faith, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, your whole life and outlook may be radiant with hope.”
For my father, for my parents, for our family nucleus as we know it, this is the last Hoorah.
For you, for me, for our relationship, this is the beginning. Every day is a new day – fresh – with no mistakes in it.
Wherever you are in your race, no matter what you’re facing, the sun will rise in the morning. No matter what is happening in the world, in your life, in your faith, God is good, all the time.
I can promise you that.
Find your Joy. Practice Thanksgiving. Have and give Hope. Celebrate every day.
And Run to Win.