People are almost always better in death than they were in life. The word “eulogy” means “good words” and rarely does one hear difficult words spoken of the dead.
It’s true of my Dad, who went Home earlier this year. But it’s also true that he became better in life as his time went on. It’s Dad’s birthday today. I miss him. This reflection is a commemoration of a man whose life was changed, not just by time but by love.
1 Corinthians 13, “The Love Chapter” in the Bible, is about the transformative power of love as it moves those who experience it, and impart it, from imperfection to perfection; from childishness to maturity. You’re probably familiar with the words from wedding services:
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial [or, the imperfect] will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, [or when I matured] I gave up childish ways. [not childlike ways such as trust or fun or appreciation of beauty but childish ways] 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Love, the love of God and the love of the people around a person, transforms a man.
My Dad was not a perfect man, but he was a more perfect man on March 24 than a year or ten years earlier or ten years before that; because of his experience and interaction with love, both human and Divine.
God’s love is also referred to as God’s grace, the transformative power of God’s love at work in a life.
To understand something of the working of God’s love through grace, we begin at the beginning. In the Gospel of John we read:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things [it doesn’t matter how you try to parse the Greek, it’s “all things”] were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. …
11 He came to his own, and His own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God…
14 … the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. … 16 from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
The words “grace upon grace” are in the continuing tense in the original Greek. Guy Chevrau describes it as something more like waves of “grace upon grace upon grace upon grace…”
This reference by Guy and the apostle John puts me in mind of the waves of the ocean meeting the shore, wave upon wave upon wave, grace upon grace upon grace.
The power of those waves is a power to erode and a power to refresh.
Born in Barbados, Dad grew up with and loved the ocean. He had sailed on it, swam in it, walked in its waves and even used a dip in the salt sea as substitute for sunscreen.
A dairy farmer and foreman at a rum refinery before leaving Barbados, in Canada Dad was Chief Engineer or Property Manager at the King Edward and Royal York hotels in Toronto and farther south the Grand Bahama in Nassau, the Puerto Rico Sheraton in San Juan and the Fountainebleu Hilton in Miami Beach. For a while, he also met the needs of hotel world and other customers through his own business, Rayos del Sol del Caribe.
I was just shy of 55 when I spoke at Dad’s funeral. For those who knew him over an extended period of time we were positioned to assess the evidence of transforming grace in Dad’s life, through our own limited powers of recollection and observation. He was being conformed to the likeness of God’s Son through the transformative power of wave upon wave of grace; eroding the things that had to pass away and refreshing, reinvigorating, giving new life to the things that had to grow so that the image of Jesus could be better seen through his life.
For those who only knew Dad in his final years, they knew the man who was a regular at church services and Bible studies, would help with anything from gardening to small engine or auto repair and more. He was the guy the pastor called when the baptismal tank wasn’t warming. Dad crawled beneath the tank, spending hours on a Saturday night so that those expressing their faith in Christ through baptism the next morning would be left with a pleasant, warm experience. And, he was at the service Sunday morning.
The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Church in Rome, chapter 8:28, 29:
28 … we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son …
What had transpired in Dad’s life was taken hold of by Jesus, when Dad took hold of Jesus; and was being used to conform Dad to a greater expression of the character of Jesus.
Here’s something of my experience of that. I’m not going to lay out the dirty laundry from the past because that’s been cleaned – washed by the blood of Jesus and cleansed through the sharing of words, hugs and tears.
When I was four years old, my Dad left home. One result was that my family left the church. I was raised without Sunday School or Bible lessons. I stayed with my Mum and older sisters in Toronto. Dad moved back to the shores of the ocean he loved. My summer vacation each year started on an airplane headed to him and ended on an airplane headed home.
I was fourteen or fifteen years old when, on that year’s first summer Sunday south, my sleep was interrupted by the question, “Want to go to church with us?” “No.” The question was repeated Sunday after Sunday. The answer remained the same. By my choice, that was my last summer with my Dad, stepmother and little sister.
At age twenty-one, I made my own decision to accept Jesus as my personal Saviour and Lord. In first year law school at the time, I also made the decision to leave school to enter “the ministry.” Law school was my Dad’s dream for me. I would have to tell him; like a man, face-to-face. I bought a plane ticket; and told him in the car on the way from the airport. His words in response made me feel like a little boy, mistaken in my choice and ashamed that I had disappointed him. I did not understand his anger or my reaction. My grandmother was visiting and as Dad entered the house he called out, “Mama, you’ll never guess what this idiot son of mine has gone and done.” When he told her, Gran leapt off the couch, shouting “Hallelujah.” She shared how as a teenager she had felt a similar call but had been forbidden by her father, spending the next 75 years praying that one of her children – then grandchildren – would respond to God’s call and take her place.
If there was one person my Dad listened to, it was his mother!
A week later, he drove me to the airport for my flight home. He had always taken me to the point where only passengers could go further. After going through the translucent doors that divided ticketed passengers from those saying goodbye, for the first time, I turned around and went back. There he was. Standing alone, bawling his eyes out with his face covered by one of his ever present handkerchiefs. I hugged him. Dad told me he had spent a lifetime crying every time his children went through the airport doors. We cried together. We hugged. And, I went through the doors again. This time with tears shared in my own eyes.
Over the years, my Mum told me that Dad faithfully made the support payments to which he had committed, paid for my school clothes every year, sent extra for Christmas and birthdays, and apologized for leaving.
My Dad had been absent at the major events in my life – birthdays, high school graduation, university graduation and marriage – but after a few years in pastoral ministry, I ended up back in law school at the request of my church denomination, The Salvation Army, and was slated to establish their legal department for Canada. Shortly after my twenty-eighth birthday, Dad came to Vancouver for graduation. That same weekend, I had agreed to preach at a retreat centre for addicts called Miracle Valley. After I spoke, and while we were waiting for dinner, Dad and I went for a walk. I was conflicted, but couldn’t help but laugh when he asked, “Why would such a fine preacher leave that behind to practice law?”
It wasn’t until fifteen years ago that we had the conversation that changed our relationship.
Jack Frost (now also gone Home to heaven) had shared some keys to forgiveness and helped me walk through my own needed freedom from the past. As I offered to God my expressions of forgiveness related to the impact of the broken parts of my relationship with Dad, I wrote each one down on paper. This was a record of the things I had held against Dad, my judgements of him. I went to visit him and took the list with me. One afternoon, at my request, the two of us had a private time. I had already forgiven him. I took the list and asked Dad to forgive me for the lengthy list of things I had held against him. He cried. We cried. He forgave. And then, he started to ask for my forgiveness. I shared how I had already forgiven him. We cried some more. And everything was different in our relationship from that point forward.
It was my habit to sleep in while on vacation and visiting. Dad was consistently the one to get me out of bed, whether heading to the golf course, to church or simply because he had prepared hot coffee and breakfast. One morning, I rolled out of bed before he got to me. I opened the door of the guest room and saw Dad sitting in his chair, lamp lit and glasses on with a coffee on the table and a Bible in his hands. Over the years, his Bibles became increasingly marked with thoughts and reflections.
Increasingly, in addition to other topics, our conversations were about God and His amazing love. I was now open to be a witness to love’s transforming power in Dad’s life. He became increasingly tender as he cared for my stepmother, Elba, in her dying days. Remarried, his loving devotion to Mary was that of a very different man than the one I had known as a child. The testimony of family and friends in church and community spoke of a man who had become more patient, kind and expressive of his love; more like Jesus.
Early on a Tuesday morning near the end of March, Dad slipped from the running clothing of this world to join the great cloud of witnesses talked about in the book of Hebrews, chapter 12. I believe he is watching and cheering us on as we each run our own races, with God’s love transforming our own lives with wave upon wave of grace. Somehow, I’m also pretty sure that in his new Home, where neither time nor space constrain, Dad’s also taking a little time to slip in a dip in the ocean’s waves.
In recent days, Dad’s ashes were united with the surf in his beloved Barbados. As they touched the water, I’m told, the water clapped the rocks and sprayed his loved ones on the shore. That would be just like my fun loving, last word getting father.
I miss you, Dad.
Lionel Noel Hutchinson, Dec 8 1924 – Mar 24 2015