Today is my Dad’s birthday. He’s the rugged one with the mustache in the straw hat.
He would have been sixty-three.
There are so many things I could say about him. So many stories saved up in my heart. But I want to focus on how he lived his life.
He was a farmer and cowboy at heart and if he could have had his own land, he would have worked it happily til the day he died, but instead he worked hard to support us and spent his spare time tilling the land in our backyard, growing peas and tomatoes, and planting fruit trees and grape vines.
When I look back, I am able to see that despite the fact that he had big dreams that wouldn’t come to pass in the way he envisioned them, doors that wouldn’t open, he epitomized the adage of “blooming where you are planted”.
He may not have had forty acres to farm, but he created a mini farm in our backyard.
He loved the outdoors, so we camped and fished and hiked.
He loved Western history, so he read books and took classes and stopped at every monument or fort we passed.
He wanted to write, so he painstakingly hand wrote pages at work during his breaks and brought them home for me to type up.
He worked with leather and wood, teaching my homeschool group and making shelves, and shadow boxes for family.
He followed Jesus and loved well. He gave generously of his time and his money. He was a good friend.
He was the best father.
But that wasn’t the whole story.
When I was six, he was diagnosed with Non Hodgkins cancer. He went through chemo and had five years of remission before he got leukemia.
More chemo and remission and then the doctor calling to say it was back.
More months of hospital stays and a bone marrow transplant with his own bone marrow, and again, the call.
Again the needles and the chemo.
This is an excerpt from his journal in 1997 while he was in Tucson getting the bone marrow transplant.
“I told him (Dave Szenyes) some things God had been showing me. God is like the pilot of my ship and we are heading down a narrow river canyon. Only God knows if that canyon narrows to the point that the water falls off into Heaven or if it opens wide again and I have more life to live in this place.
Jesus has repeatedly asked Peter if he loves Him (Jesus). Then Jesus tells Peter how his old age will be and his death, that his death would glorify God. Peter turned and said what about John? What will happen to him? Jesus said, ‘If I want him to survive until I come again, what concern is that of yours? You follow me.’
We have to remember what King of Kings and Lord of Lord means. It means as it says in the Bible, we are His servants, slaves. Bought with a price, we must do what He tells us. Sometimes we will be asked to dig out the cesspool instead of polish the golden challis and silver. We are not to look at other people who never seem to have a trial and say God is not fair. He’s not our senator or politician but our God, Lord, Father, & King. We serve where He puts us, we follow Him.”
-Kim Lionberger 1997
He wrestled with the depression and all of the “Whys” as he lay in the hospital bed. He walked through the valleys and had his dark moments but he clung to the truth. Even when it wasn’t the truth he wanted to hear.
He submitted his will to the will of the Father.
And two years later in July, the river narrowed and he sailed it into Heaven.
I’ve been listening to this version of “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” this week. Thinking on the lyrics…
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace”
I look back and see him feverish and shaking and yet still joking and making us smile. Tired and sick and yet still choosing joy. Turning his face to Jesus and letting His light eclipse everything else.
I hope that I can live like that. Fully and present and faithfully. Even when life goes down unexpected roads with outcomes we don’t want.
Living life well, as a testimony to the glory and power and love of God is a special kind of beautiful.
Happy Birthday Dad.