Soon, my dad will go on a journey beyond the stars. Here’s how I’m feeling and thinking about it.

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A couple of weeks ago, my dad broke the news to my sisters and me: His doctors are out of real options for stopping the spread of his cancer.

They offered to try a different kind of chemotherapy (Dad already put himself through two other kinds). They also offered to put him on a waiting list for a trial.

Dad asked my sisters and me for our opinions. Should he keep fighting?

I asked Dad if he felt that he had “run the race” (Second Timothy 4:7-8).

He said that he did.

So we all came to the same place: Dad’s time has come.

He starts hospice care soon.

Dad is one of the most important people in my life. He was there the day I was born and has been there for me every day ever since. Even though he lives about 600 miles away from me, we talk almost every day. He is the first person I call when I need advice or when I have good news.

Let me show you what it will be like for me when Dad is gone.

In the small front yard of the old house where I grew up, there stood a giant old tree. Its trunk was as big around as your kitchen table. It spread like a great green tent over our part of Heltman Avenue, keeping our house (and several others) cool and shady on hot days. It was so tall, I could spot its highest boughs from blocks away and know that home was there.

But one day, we had to cut down that tree.

Just like that, it felt like we lived in a different house on a different street. The land changed. The light changed. The way the air felt changed.

It was still home. Still my neighborhood. Still good.

Just not the same.

That is what it will be like for me when Dad is gone.

These days, I think about our family all the time. The other night on a walk with my dog, I noticed something surprising about my feelings: I anticipate Dad’s departure the way I might anticipate a family member getting a big promotion and moving away to a new city. Or getting married. Or graduating from high school and going off to college.

The feelings that I have about Dad’s last days with us here are a lot like the feelings I would have about those other (happier) occasions.

Someday, God willing, my son will grow up and go off on his own. Maybe he’ll go to college. Maybe the military. Maybe the Peace Corps. Maybe something else. When he finds the trail that God blazes for him, he will go away from me. On one hand, I will be sad because I will remember what it was like to hold him as a baby or hold his hand as we walked to kindergarten together. On the other hand, I will be so happy to let him go live the life that God is making as a gift just for him.

The tears I cry when he leaves will be happy and sad at the same time.

He will leave a space behind, but that space will be full of memories. It will be full of joy and thanksgiving.

That’s how I feel as I think about Dad’s departure.

He is about to set out on a new trail that God blazes for him. A trail that will take him beyond the stars.

How could I not be happy? How could I not be thankful?

One thing that helps is that I feel like Dad’s life is complete. He’s not going to live to do everything he wants to do and see everything he wants to see, but…who does? Mature people are the ones who learn how to choose the best from among countless good options. And life in this world overflows with countless good options. Wise people know how to choose.

Dad knew how and what to choose.

He chose to live by faith in the love of God. He chose to love his family and to love neighbors, strangers, and even enemies, too.

He chose to preach the love of God and teach other people how to live in that love…just as he tried to live in it himself.

The other day, my mom and I had a conversation about how we’re choosing to think about what is coming. Mom brought up something that Jesus said:

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will be my servant also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor (Gospel of John 12:24-26).

I anticipate Dad’s departure with the anticipation a farmer feels when he plants a grain of wheat in the ground. The fruit Dad will bear is already evident in the lives of hundreds or thousands of people around the world who, because of him, are growing in faith, hope, and love. Indeed, these are just a fraction of the fruit that Dad will bear for generations to come, even when his “grain of wheat falls into the earth.”

Dad served Jesus and soon he will follow him. Where the Christ lives and reigns, there will Dad, his servant, be also.

Soon, very soon, the Father will honor my father.

How could I not be happy? How could I not be thankful?

Grace and peace.

 
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