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Monday, February 18, 2008


It was late at night when my wife and I passed the hospital in Mount Vernon, about sixty miles north of Seattle. Dad was in there. He was dying. He had been in intensive care for ten days following a heart attack, and we had been told that only Mom was allowed to see him. Even if we were permitted to see him by now, it was past visiting hours and he would be asleep. But defying reason, we pulled into the empty parking lot and entered the dimly lit lobby.

"Oh, Clarence Lund?" responded the cheerful receptionist, "He's in Room 204. He'll be happy to see you."

The halls seemed like they had grown ten times in length as we made our way to Room 204. Once again I would see my Dad.

Several weeks before, he tried to see me. He drove fifty miles from his dear Camano Island to Bellingham only to find us gone. Upon returning we found a simple message--a printed map on how to find their island home, folded in half and stuck in the door. On the back it said: "Hi Dale, hope you're OK. -Dad."

And we tried to see him; but the weekend we did he was away from home, conducting a funeral. Dad was a retired Methodist minister and a hard worker. Of course ministers don't really retire, and so he was continuing God's work as an associate pastor of the Stanwood United Methodist Church while working on the side as a handyman for an elderly widow. He was cutting wood for her when he suffered a heart attack, and after an excruciating drive home was rushed in an ambulance to the hospital. I was afraid I would never see him again.

But there he was. Room 204 was lighted only by the hall light, and in the dimness I saw the man I had tormented all of my life. I was not a Christian; I worshiped myself. No one could count the heartbreaks I had given this man, who was to be described by another as "a humble man who went about spreading love and joy." There was no limit to his love for me, but I had never returned more than occasional friendliness. I don't remember ever having told him that I loved him. Now he was sleeping, curled up on his side in a simple hospital gown. In his face could be seen the agony he had suffered during the past ten days. He was pale, his eyes were dark. I was afraid to wake him.

For the first years of my life, Dad was an Army chaplain stationed overseas, and ever since his return there had been a void or a barrier in our relationship. I was a "mama's boy," and no matter how hard he tried, Dad was always an interruption and an obstacle to me. He would embrace me, hold me, speak affectionately to me; he would walk with me, play games with me, and go camping alone with me; but he would receive nothing from me but coldness, criticism and even ridicule. More than once, I brought shame upon him before the community, and, more than once, he almost quit the ministry after a confrontation with me, knowing well I Timothy 3:4-5, referring to church leaders: "He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)" All my life my heart had been hardened toward this man.

Hesitantly, I reached over the disheveled sheets, touched his arm and said, "Dad?" In the past even the name "Dad" sounded peculiar to me, but now it was like the password to my own heart. His dark eyes opened to reveal his boundless love for me, and as he threw open his arms I fell into them like a frightened, lost child found by his loving daddy. His voice surrounded me: "Oh Dale, I'm so glad you came!"

We hugged each other for a long time, and whispered encouragement into each other's ears. We apologized and forgave each other, shared our concerns, and listened to each other. But best of all, we loved each other and told each other so. In those fifteen minutes, my whole life was set right. What words failed to say, our eyes said. What our ears failed to hear, our hearts heard. Instead of sadly leaving my dying father's bed, I danced away rejoicing. He wasn't dying at all! For the first time, I had truly received his love and returned it! My Dad had really become my Dad!

It took me some time to realize the importance of what had happened. Dad passed away peacefully in his sleep two days after our visit. We had a small, family funeral during which, despite my new joy, I cried so much that Mom had to pass me the handkerchief. A public memorial service followed a few days later, and the church building was so packed with friends and loved ones that chairs had to be set up in the foyer. It was then that I began to demonstrate my joy, and it was difficult to be consoled by so many sad faces. For the first time, I was able to look back on Dad's life and get some idea of the number of people who had been blessed through him. He lived a blameless life of faith in God; and in spite of many heartbreaks he remained always joyful. His sermons overflowed with the love and wonder of the Lord (he once gave an entire sermon on the word "glorious"), and finally I could hear in my memory the sermons I had ignored years before. Dad's very life was a testimony, and now I treasured those twenty-nine years we had shared on this earth. He faced his death with assurance and gladness, knowing he was soon to see his Lord and Savior. His only sadness was that all his children didn't love the Lord and serve Him. As I thought on these things, I realized that it wasn't only my Dad I accepted in that hospital room, but God! A friend once said about Dad that "no person of any sensitivity could be in his presence without feeling closer to God," and at that time I was surely sensitive. Dad never drew attention to himself but to the Lord; his whole existence had been dedicated to God; and one could not truly accept him without accepting the love of God.

Hesitantly, I had reached over the disheveled sheets of suffering, touched His glory and said, "Father?" In the past even the name "Father" sounded peculiar to me, but now it was like the password to my own heart. His infinite eyes opened to reveal His boundless love for me, and as He threw open His arms I fell into them like a frightened, lost child found by his loving Daddy. His voice surrounded me: "Oh Dale, I'm so glad you came!"

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