Monday, March 5, 2012

Legacy...For better or worse

Someone who impacted my life in a tremendous way died this week. Monday morning, my biological father passed from this life into eternity. He was in his eighties and had not been in good health for several years, but this last year he had been in especially poor health...going back and forth between the nursing home and hospital.

I had gotten a call from my step brother a month or so ago saying that the end was closer, and it probably wouldn't be long. So, the call that came Monday afternoon was no surprise. I was in fact, thankful. I had been praying for mercy for him, and I believe that is what God showed Monday morning. He went quickly and now his suffering is over.

I was not close with my father. He left when I was quite small. He was an alcoholic and abusive and when I was probably 3 or 4 he and my Mom were divorced. I have memories from around the time I was 2 or 3, and they are not good memories. For many, many years I hated him. The few memories I had were horrible, and then to build on that he would promise to come see us and then never show up. I can remember him calling and wanting to talk to me, and me refusing.

The first opportunity I had to really exercise forgiveness as a young Christian was my father. About the time I got into Jr. High, I began to realize that while we are all sinners, we are not our sin. Our sin does not, or rather, should not define us. And, I was able to begin to see my father in a new light. I knew that I needed to forgive him and move forward. For years, I had gone by my Dad's (step-dad...but he's my Dad) name, and had desperately wanted him to adopt me, but that had never come to fruition. Finally along about 7th grade, I began to use my legal maiden name. My Dad was hurt, I know, but for me it was an Ebenezer of sorts...signifying what God was doing in my heart and of me coming to a point of forgiveness toward my father.

My father and step-mom lived in Alaska for most of my growing up years...and into my adulthood, so I never saw much of them. My step-mom would write, sending birthday and Christmas cards, and the occasional letter. I began to write to them as well, trying in some way to include them in my life. If it had not been for my step-mom's efforts, I don't think any of us kids would have ever had contact with my father.

When Mike and I got married, my Dad walked me down the aisle. I never even considered contacting my father to see if he would be interested, because he was not a real part of my life. As grandbabies began to arrive, I would send announcements and pictures, but sometimes not until Christmas.

Several years ago, they moved down from Alaska to Washington, within a couple or three hours from us. My father's health was beginning to deteriorate, and it was getting difficult for my step-mom to care for him on her own. They moved to where they could be close to her kids and she would have help. We made it up to their place once with all the kids to visit. When we would get a call that one or the other was in the hospital, I always made an effort to go and see them. In the last few years, I really went more for my step-mom. My father was getting very difficult to understand, and, he had never really been much for talking...not to me anyway. My step-mom had devoted her life to him. What a precious example of 'for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health'. When he was in the hospital, or the nursing home, she would have her son bring her to be by his side each morning, staying all day, until he came in the evening to bring her home.

As I have received condolences this week, I have thought a lot about the impact we have on our children and the legacy we leave. I did love him. I tried to honor him, although I know that I often failed. With his passing, I have not shed a tear. I feel no sorrow. He was, at best, on the periphery of my life. His choice, not necessarily mine, although somewhat by default, it was mine as well. I mourned the absence of his presence a long time ago, and so there is really nothing to mourn now. It was more like losing a distant relative that I had seen now and then but had no relationship with, rather than losing a parent. I have a Dad, and he is still alive and well.

My father had been sober for many, many years. He had wonderful relationships with his wife's family. So, he had kids and grandkids and great-grandkids that all were a part of his life and who thought the world of him. I am glad. There are 4 pretty terrific families that he missed out on, because he walked away from them a long time ago, and that is sad, but we have all come to various points of peace over it and it is what it is.

God has used my brother's childhoods to shape us into the people we are. He gave us a great Dad, and I am so very thankful for that. He took four children who lived through a lot of hurt and drew each of them to Himself and we are each serving the Lord in various ways, and raising our children to love the Lord.

My cousin wrote a note telling about the good memories she has of my father, wishing my kids could have known the man he once was. I appreciated that. I wish they could have known him too, especially who he once was. 
This is somewhat disjointed. I apologize. But...I wanted to acknowledge his passing. He is part of the reason I am who I am today. He's the reason that promises are so important to me...don't make a promise you can't keep. He's the reason I was never tempted to be a partier when I was a teen. He's the first 'lesson' God gave me in extending grace and forgiveness. He's part of the reason I'm here. Period. I am thankful that he was my father, even if he never was a Daddy to me. I am thankful that he accepted the Lord several years ago. I am thankful that he is no longer suffering. And I am thankful that when I think of him, I think of a man. A man who struggled and sinned and had faults, but a man. I don't think of him and think of his sin. We are not our sin...we are not our struggles...
And I am so very thankful that I have a Heavenly Father who has loved me in spite of my sins and struggles and shown me that truth.

Someday, I will see my father again, and I am thankful for that, too.