The nurse asked if I had a Medical Power of Attorney from my dad, and I nodded my head. “In fact, I’m using it. We’ve already started selling his stuff.”
She couldn’t stop laughing, even though we were in the emergency room, and even though my dad was lying between us on a stretcher with various hospital machines attached to him. He had been cracking jokes at the expense of the nurse since arriving and I just added to the mix.
I give my dad full credit for showing me how to find the joke in any situation, to be funny without hurting other people, and to let the other guys get the punch lines and the big laugh. It’s one of the most important things he gave me.
Dad came home from the hospital that very same day with a diagnosis for vertigo. One of his best friends says, “We’ve all had that one. It’s really a diagnosis of being old.” Everyone has a joke.
In all our years together, I don’t know if my dad gave much thought to passing along the good things he learned. What I mean is, I’m sure it was important to him, but he’s not from a generation or personality as introspective as mine, so it wasn’t something he talked about.
Me, I think about it all the time. I seldom have a thought that doesn’t run home to the idea of how do I share what I’ve learned. How do I speak to the hearts of the young couples, and the young men, God has placed in front of me? How do I give away, in the 21st century, what was invested in me in the 1970s?
The Apostle Paul was concerned about the same thing when he wrote to his young protégé, Timothy: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you - guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14)
In the margin of my Daily Bible I have a succession of notes scribbled on different years that show my growing relationship with these verses:
(1998) “It’s scary to say: Do what I do.”
(2001) “The longer I teach, the more comfortable I am to say this (do what I do).”
(2005) “In fact, this has become the heart of my ministry as a teacher and writer.”
(2011) “I should not teach anything unless I believe this.”
(2013) “Teaching isn’t about providing information, but about sharing life.”
There is a progressive deepening of ownership on this. First, we hear something. Then, because what we heard is important, we decide to keep it. At some point, keeping it isn’t enough, but we need to guard it, and make sure to follow it. Finally, once we realize the information came to us not because we were lucky or fortunate, but because it was entrusted to us, we are obligated to give it away.
Back in 2008 I took my dad hiking on Guadalupe Peak in celebration of his 80th birthday. It was not an easy day. The National Park Service website describes this trail as strenuous, and very steep, with exposed cliff edges.
But we had a great time. The day was clear and sunny and never hot – a perfect day for hiking in Texas. We had fun on the trail, telling jokes and wisecracks.
It took us about two hours to hike up to Lookout Point. My first goal of the day was to get past this point so Dad could experience the tall pine trees and oaks and junipers. I wanted him to know there was more to this hike than the harsh rocky switchbacks you see from the parking lot.
We hiked another one-and-a-half hours before stopping for lunch, just around the bend from the wooden bridge. Dad said, “This is it for me today. I think we should go back down.”
I said, “You’re right. It would be the wise thing to do.”
“I’m having a great day, and I would love to make it to the top and phone my friends from the summit, but I don’t want to be foolish about this.”
Even though I was the trail guide that day, my dad was still teaching me. You don’t have to fight all the way to the end to have a good day.
There are so many things I give my Dad credit for – things that have turned out to be fundamental characteristics of my life.
Besides humor, there was music. My Dad was a church worship leader (back then we called them choir directors, later music ministers) as far back as I can remember. Not only did I learn to love and play church music, but I also learned from his example that music was something men could do. It was a manly activity, as much as hunting or carpentry. I don’t know if I would’ve picked that up from anyone else.
Another thing I learned from my Dad was that being a consistent man of faith for an entire lifetime is a noble, worthy, and courageous way to live.
Back in my university days, in the late 1970s, I remember hearing one of my spiritual leaders, Chuck Madden, describe how he was mentored by Leroy Eims, of the Navigators. He said they lifted weights together every morning, went running, worked on writing books, and like that. There was no structure or step-by-step plan, just the rubbing off of personality and spiritual depth from constant exposure. That’s how I learned from my dad. He rubbed off on me.
And so, as I work on my next book, exploring how to give away what was invested in me, I ask you to come sit beside me and absorb what God has given me.
It’s hard to say “Follow me” without feeling arrogant, but we have to get over that if we want to change the world. We’re not in positions of influence because we reached some superior level of spirituality, but because God, in His grace, put us there. How dare we waste what God has entrusted to us.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32