I’ve often heard it said that “growing old isn’t for sissies.” And as my dear Dad’s health has declined over the last decade, I definitely agree with the expression. The only trouble with the phrase is that we don’t really get to choose whether we grow old or not. Yes, there are things we can do to dramatically impact our odds of living a long time, but ultimately it’s not up to us. For many people, this is a very unnerving thought and they don’t want to contemplate it. Especially if they take the next step in the thought process and ponder spending their final years like my Dad is, completely reliant on others for his daily existence.
As humans, we crave to be in control of our own destinies, and most of us would say we want to live a long time. But in most cases, to use another famous expression, we “can’t have our cake and eat it too.” That’s because when anyone of us gets to the point where my father is, we won’t have any control over anything. And when control is taken away, we humans don’t react well. After all, we spend our whole lives trying to find it… display it … exert it. Sometimes control brings us great things and rewards. Sometimes control destroys what we love. It’s a double-edged sword that none of us realizes the addicting power of… until we are totally robbed of it.
As I’ve observed my Dad on his journey, I have witnessed some of the most profound moments of quiet courage in the face of what appears to be complete powerlessness. What these moments have taught me most is the value of a well-built life over time. On the day my father checked into the veterans home, suddenly none of his material possessions mattered anymore. What continues to matter, more every day, is his unique hard-earned and carefully nurtured collection of relationships, beliefs, and character traits. These, no one and no illness can ever take from my Dad. Yes, my Dad is a veteran, but these are the things that make him my hero. When I see my Dad in his wheelchair, I don’t see an old soldier. I don’t see a worsening invalid. I don’t even see him as a shadow of his former self. I see a man of quiet courage, who was never a big talker, and now can say hardly anything at all. But he doesn’t need to be able to speak to communicate volumes. A life well-lived and well-built says it all for him. And it’s what makes him stand tall in my eyes, even now. He stands resolutely on a lifetime of building genuine friendships, raising his children to love and respect others, honoring his marriage in good times and bad, offering a kind word and a helping hand to neighbors and strangers alike, and most importantly, living every day humbly walking in trust of God. My Dad is the kind of man willing to recognize that God is in control, and while that knowledge has made him nervous from time to time, he has rarely complained and has always been quick to smile.
Today, my Dad can’t smile like most people do. But his faded eyes still gleam with his unquenchable spirit. He still loves Christmas. His eyes literally grin when he sees his infant grandson. He still craves to hear God’s Word read to him. He sinks into peaceful moments when music plays. My Dad is in his last battle, but he is valiantly waging it with integrity and selflessness, not wanting those he loves to suffer even one moment because of his suffering. In this, my Dad is showing his family the love described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. This act of courage will forever speak volumes to my heart: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Random musings, heartfelt confessions, and occasionally inspirational thoughts from a hungry soul in pursuit of the One who set the stars in place yet calls me by name.
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