Todd and I were returning home from an out-of-town trip when my mom called on March 2, 2010 to say that she was taking my dad to the emergency room for a possible blood clot in his leg. Dad's health had been rapidly deteriorating since last fall, after he fell and broke his hip and had a hospital stay of 38 days. However, he had rallied enough to go home by Christmas Eve, and was making a little progress in his walking and overall recovery day by day.
Dad, 81, was admitted to the hospital that day, and seemed to be doing fine until I got a phone call the next morning from my mom saying that Dad's health was failing fast and that I needed to come to the hospital immediately. When I arrived, he has been revived by a "code" team and was very unstable, yet he was alert enough to say "Hey Bonnie, How was your trip?". Mom had to make some big decisions that day about his future health care, and because she and Dad had already discussed not doing any life extending measures, the medical staff let him slip into a coma and die peacefully that evening.
You get pretty reflective about life when you watch someone die, and lots of memories also come flooding back about your relationship with that person. Here are a few of my favorite childhood memories with Dad:
-Playing "Edelweiss" on the piano over and over for Dad. I took years of piano lessons, and my dad enjoyed hearing me play probably more than anyone in our family. He was extremely proud of his German heritage and this song was his favorite. . It's from the movie "Sound of Music".
-Going to the big livestock shows in Texas. . Dad was very competitive. During our 4-H years, we showed Hereford heifers and steers, and he took great pride in us (my brother and I) showing prize winning animals. He loved going to the livestock shows- -Abilene, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Houston and San Angelo to compete and also visit with rural families from all over the state. These families were some of our closest family friends while growing up. Doing 4-H and going to livestock shows are probably my best memories involving our family being together.
- Going to the Mereta Co-op Gin office. Dad worked at this same cotton gin and grain elevator for about 40 years. During cotton harvest, I would often go to the gin office to see my dad, as he would often have very late nights and I would not see for several days in a row. The gin office was often full of coffee-drinking farmers who gathered once and sometimes twice a day for a break and to catch up on the community news. These guys were solid rock kind of men- usually weathered, tough looking guys who often had good sense of humors and were great story tellers. These were some of my dad's closest friends.
-Studying maps at the dining room table. Dad loved to travel, both outside and inside the state of Texas. Sometimes at night, he would drag out a Texas or United States map and name a city for me to look up, and then have me plot the best route to get there. It was a great exercise in geography and it caused us to dream about places where we wanted to visit someday.
- Long wild car rides to Montana for vacations. During my years at home, I think we made 3 trips to Whitefish, Montana to visit my mom's aunts, uncles, and cousins who lived there. Dad would sometimes drive 800+ miles in a day to get there and he NEVER drove slow. I remember driving up to Aunt Annie's house in July and she was standing at the door, waving at us to hurry and come watch the TV. . .she said "They are landing on the moon right now. " Going to Montana gave me my first taste of what it's like to experience a cool summer. I didn't know cool weather in the summer time existed till we visited there. And I fell in love with the Rocky Mountains on those trips.
-Working on the farm together. When my brother left for college, I became Dad's farm hand, and in the summer, almost every evening when I was home, we would go and move 40 ft. irrigation joints by hand down on the river bottom where cotton and milo were growing. It was often at least 95 degrees in the evenings while we were doing this. . .no wonder he had a heart attack when he was 52. I was teased at school often in the fall about having the strongest biceps in the school, but working on the farm really shaped my work ethic for the rest of my life. Doing farm work taught me that there is great value in manual labor, and you will always survive if you are willing to work. . .work hard. . .and do a job right.
As with most children, there are many things I wish I could have changed about our relationship through the years. It was not perfect, and all of us have faults. . . .but he did all that he knew how to do to raise my brother and I to be high achievers and good citizens in our communities. I am thankful that Dad's mind was sharp until the day he died, and that he was always reading and studying.
The Bible says in James 4:14 "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." Watching my dad pass from this life into another really made me think about the purpose and value of each day of our lives. I have learned that one's health is really a gift, that we have one shot to use our time for something of worth and purpose , and that life is not about us, it's about Jesus. . .if we really are sincere about calling ourselves Christians. Treasure this day . . .there is no promise of another one.
When I met Tommy during our first trip to Ghana, I felt like I was talking to an old family friend. He was just like the men I had grown up with . . Tommy is from a rural community in Alabama, was a part-time farmer and had owned a auto mechanic shop . He is a salt-of-the-earth, blue-collar kind of guy. Kind of weathered and tough looking, he loves Jesus as much as anyone I know, . . .and it shows. . .
Now in his mid-seventies, he has lived full-time in Ghana for around 10 years as a missionary in the village of Nalerigu and the surrounding communities. He had done short-term missions with his wife to Ghana, and following her death from cancer, he moved to Ghana to live with and love the people there. He is amazing. He is completely fluent in the native local language, and as I watched him interact with the local folks, he is truly loved and respected by the people. And he has a toughness and sparkle in his eye that keeps him young way beyond his years. . .I loved watching him zip around the compound on his little motorcycle. He has the same grin while he is riding it as my 20-year old son.
Tommy has built a home in the village and has a farm outside of town. He has a preaching and teaching ministry to the nearby communities, and he works with the farmers on improving their farming techniques. Tommy had a small tractor shipped to Ghana, so he could help the local farmers plow their fields, which are typically worked by hand. Our culture so exalts book knowledge and brains, but Tommy’s giftedness with his hands was beyond compare. He can fix anything.
As Todd and I enter the “empty nest” and approach the retirement stage of life, the discussion of what to do with the rest of our lives comes up often. . .I am asking the Lord that I just want to be like Tommy, living and loving people with a Gospel kind of love for the rest of my life. And if the Lord sends us to another part of the world to serve, so be it. . .but there are also tons of folks right here in our community who are crying out for someone to love them in Jesus’ name.
In our culture, retirement has been so exalted and lifted up as one of the ultimate goals as we grow older, that we often think we are “entitled” to years of hobbies, trips and social outings. . .but retirement is mentioned nowhere in the Bible. We may “retire” from our daily jobs, but where do we get the idea that we can rotate hunting, fishing, golfing, crafting and other time-consuming hobbies for the rest of our days here on earth? A majority of Moses’ ministry didn’t get started till he was 40 years old. . .and he led the people daily till he simply went up on a mountain and “was gathered to his fathers”. . .
When we chose to serve Jesus all of our days as Tommy has done, there is often a cost. . . he has given up years of living near his grown children and their families, and he struggles with not being near his grandchildren and being part of their daily lives. . ..Tommy goes home about once a year, but his love for the people of Ghana keeps drawing him back. He knows there will be a day when he will need to go home for good, and that day may be sooner than later. . .but in the mean time, he is serving and showing Jesus to folks who need all the hope they can get.
I wanted to write about Tommy because I don't ever want to forget him and the impression he made on me during my two visits to Ghana this past year. . He reminded me so much of Dorothy Mazuk (for those of you who knew her) . .. They both have taught me that life is all about serving Jesus by loving people . . .and there's really nothing else that compares.
Shortly before Christmas 2009, Cindi Dauphin, our pastor’s wife and good friend for over 10 years now, asked if I wanted to go to Ghana in February to help Hollie Dickens with the children while her husband Joel (physician/ medical missionary) attended a physician’s conference in Kenya for two weeks. Never in a million years could I have imagined returning to Ghana for another visit in the same year. Only God could orchestrate that. So I returned to Ghana with Cindi and while the location was familiar, the experiences were different.
-Long walks in the cool of the mornings with Abigail (2yrs) and AnnaLeigh (6 mo.) in their stroller. Each morning, we would go and feed the pet monkey on the Compound, say hello to the head cook in the guest lodge, and greet all the workers, visiting doctors and missionaries who were finishing breakfast and beginning to start their day. It was a wonderful social time for all three of us. The Ghana natives even have greeting they use each day, loosely translated “Cool of the morning to you.” The mornings were my favorite time of day there.
-Helping Colt (age8) with his homeschooling each morning. As much as I would love to be a nurse, or artist, I know that God has given me a gift and love to teach, no matter what age the person is. Helping Colt was a blessing and fun for me, and he and I formed a special friendship from spending that much time together.
- Interacting with the visiting physicians. Because both of the resident doctors were gone to the conference in Kenya, a group of physicians came to fill in, mainly retired guys and a few still practicing. . .It was the retired guys that so impressed me. . One of the 80-year old surgeons would perform 8-9 surgeries a day, and by end of the day, he could hardly stand up from being on his feet all day. . .but he didn’t complain and had a wonderful countenance about him. . Another doctor had Cindi and I help him take notes while he examined patients. . .He was constantly teaching us about the diseases and ailments he was seeing. He prayed with each patient, no matter if the patient was a believer or not, and led a couple of people to the Lord in his examining room. . .he too understood that he was being Jesus’ hands and feet to a group of people who so desperately needed his skill and expertise.
-The fragility of Life. Since I spent more time at the clinic this visit, I was more aware of the devastating effects of preventable disease on families, especially the children. . One of the retired visiting pediatricians said during a devotion time one night,” I have signed more death certificates this week than I have my entire career.” Death is such a part of daily life there, that it made me realize that each day is truly a gift from the Lord.
-Visits with Hollie, of course. I came to realize the importance of face-to-face visits with foreign missionaries. It’s important to pray for them and support them financially, but to go and spend time with them is incredibly valuable. The foreign mission field can be lonely and isolating, and a familiar face from home can be spiritually and mentally rejuvenating. I have learned to never underestimate that.
-Sharing an adventure with my friend Cindi. . .There is nothing quite like traveling to the other side of the world with someone to deepen a friendship. The long plane rides, the hours of waiting at airports, traveling to and from the remote village of Nalerigu, shopping in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and discussions about books, our children, life and the Lord are very special memories to me. All I can do is thank Jesus for the opportunity to share this journey with her.
I never want to forget what I learned in Ghana, the 9th poorest country in the world. I still struggle with what I saw, and I pray that the Lord will continue to convict my soul with caring for the hungry and needy in our world, as described in Isaiah 58.
I can’t believe that nearly 6 months have flown by since I have sat down to write a few words on the blog. I can safely say that this has been one of the busiest years of our lives. . .with lots of big memorable events that have shaped our winter, spring and now summer . I am going to go back in time and write about some of these events not only to share with you, but to help me remember what God has let me experience and taught me through these events. If I believe Romans 8:28, then all things that have happened this year “will work together for good for those who are called in Christ Jesus.”