Originally published Tuesday, 17 December 2013.
I've been pretty quiet over the last few weeks...not because life slowed down, but because the pace was faster than I could keep up with. I was spinning in the crazy mix of holiday plans, applying to transfer grad programs, prepping for the GRE, meeting article deadlines, and life married to a man who works in a church (Christmas + church staff = see you on Dec 26!), when time quite literally stopped. Ten days ago, my dad texted my sister and me to let us know that our grandfather, who had been sick, was having difficulty breathing and it was only a matter of time. They were making him comfortable and now we should be with him and say goodbye.
Over the next three days, we sat by his bed. Crying, holding his hands, telling stories, laughing at wonderful memories, and reconnecting as a family around our patriarch. Today marks one week since Papa's death.
As we gathered together and recalled moments that had left us doubled-over laughing, brimming with confidence and refreshed with inspiration, two themes seemed to emerge from the tales of his life. The first was something I always knew about Papa. He loved God with fierce passion and that love spilled over onto everyone he met. It was the catalyst for every breath he took over the last forty years. The second theme was something that I suppose I always knew, but never realized until I heard it said over and over in the stories we were sharing. He was a man without fear.
I imagine that Papa was always a brave man...joining the army after college, marrying a beautiful Italian woman while stationed oversees, bringing his new bride and soon-to-be firstborn son back to the states, beginning his own law firm with two friends, and possessing a riveting spirit of adventure. He was strong and confident by nature, but I'm talking about something deeper than courage. Something more.
Courage and bravery are rooted in our ability to stand up in the face of fear. When I say that Papa was a man without fear, it had nothing to do with his ability to be strong. It was because of his sincere, powerful trust in God. Courage says, "I'm afraid, but I'm moving forward anyway." Trust says, "I'm moving forward and I will not be afraid, for I know that God is with me and God is good." This is the confidence that Papa woke up with every day.
Fear is something with which I am well-accustomed. As soon as I was old enough to understand the darker realities of the world, I began to worry. Less that ten years old and I worried about death, failure, and loss to the point of tears and sometimes panic. Papa heard about this through my loving father and it broke his heart.
As children, we often laughed because of Papa's sleep habits. He went to bed around 7:30 every night and he got up between 4:00 and 4:30 in the morning. A successful lawyer with a long day of work ahead of him, he knew that in order to care for his soul...and his mind...he had to start early. I can remember being a little girl asleep in the guest bed and hearing him walk upstairs to his office in those pre-dawn hours. Occasionally, I would wander up to find him sitting at his desk with a single lamp on, reading scripture and praying. During those final days of Papa's life, we read to him out of his Bible and there was not one page I turned to which wasn't marked thoroughly with notes and underlined passages. When Jesus calls us to "abide" in Him, I am pretty sure this is what it looks like.
On one of those mornings, after hearing about the way fear had gripped me, Papa sat at his desk and wrote out a list of scripture related to fear, as well as a note of encouragement, and gave it to my dad to give to me. As a child, I could not appreciate this gift in the way that I do today. I also could not appreciate the care and compassion involved when a busy, highly respected attorney takes time out of his day to pen such a note for a little girl. It speaks not only to the love he had for his grand-daughters, but also to his conviction about what really mattered and why we can live a life without fear.
In his book The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning quoted Charles de Foucauld as saying, "The one thing we owe absolutely to God is never to be afraid of anything." Manning went on to describe this faith, writing..."His unflinching trust in the love of God morphed into humble confidence that the grace for the next step in the dance of life was already there, given. Without anxiety, Abba's children move forward, knowing that the next and the next steps will take care of themselves. Abba's children don't worry about tomorrow or even late this afternoon."
My Papa lived his life with this "humble confidence" and expectation of God's provision. My prayer is that I would carry on his legacy in this way, believing God fully when He says, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
Papa was unable to move for the last couple days of his life, until he took his final breath. In that moment, after days of unresponsiveness and complete stillness, he pulled his arm out from under his blanket and stretched it straight up towards Heaven, as if he was taking the hand of another. I wish I could have seen his face in the moment he heard his Savior say, "well done, my good and faithful servant!"