If you knew my Dad or ever sat under his ministry, you most likely know the words: “The Cedars of Lebanon.” It was the title of His signature sermon.
His description of these massive, mighty trees and the way they were used to build the Temple of God and the nation of Israel was earthy and visceral. It always called me toward greatness and challenged me toward excellence.
Based on 2 Chronicles where Solomon sends to Huram and orders the Cedars of Lebanon to build the Temple of the Lord, Dad envisioned our lives to be those cedars–individually and collectively God uses the raw materials of our lives to create something majestic and purposeful from something mundane and ordinary.
These were the Cedars of scripture out of which he teased meaning and coaxed significance. Dad was one of those Cedars.
When he stood in the pulpit he was always larger than life. He was a giant. I remember so clearly as a boy watching him with distinct pride bordering on awe. He was a sharecropper’s son who knew how to work hard; stand strong and persevere unswervingly. He was familiar with the stained fingernails of the blue collar laborer but could stand toe-to-toe with attorneys and bankers as if he was born with blue blood.
His powerful bass voice thundered with authority, his intense gaze radiated purpose and significance and his passionate heart impelled him to pursue His own destined purpose with a single-minded devotion that bordered on obsession.
But most of my memories of Dad are based around church.
Outside of a few fishing trips and vacations to see family, the shadow of the steeple looms high over Dad’s legacy. That is both good and bad. It is good in that my roots go deep in the people of God. It is bad in that too much of my sonship often felt more professional than personal.
Here’s the reality: my Dad was not by any means a perfect man. When he was at his best he was a great man. When he was not at his best, he was a broken man–product of the fractured reality that was his lineage. In short, he was just a man. A hodgepodge of the mixed motives, random weaknesses and myopic vision with which we are all afflicted and by which we are all affected.
I find it both telling and comforting that throughout Scripture, the Cedars of Lebanon he so eloquently preached about, were symbols of both strength and weakness; righteousness and idolatry–the best and worst of raw reality we call life.
- David pictured these trees as plantings of the Lord brimming full with life.
- Ezekiel and Jeremiah extolled as powerful enough for men to build ships and safe enough for birds to build nests.
I believe at his core Dad was all of these things: Powerful; honorable; visionary and protective. But these very same cedars were also symbols of things opposite and opposing to God’s heart and purpose.
- David also saw that the cedars as representative of the arrogant pride at which the voice of the Lord had to thunder and roar.
- Isaiah decried often how men used these cedars to make altars to idols that competed with the true God and thus had to be broken and brought low.
You see…just like me, Dad sometimes reflected these darker traits of his beloved Cedars. In his closing years, these failures introduced pain into our family. We would be less than honest if we didn’t accept, admit and acknowledge that fact.
All of this–the shining beauty and salty bitterness–well, that’s my Dad.
Ravaged by age, declining health and impaired judgments in his later years, Dad was no longer the mighty tree. Like his beloved cedars he aged, weakened and ultimately fell. It leaves my family with memories both of the vibrant tree and the decaying timber.
I will not reduce Dad to a conglomerate of his successes nor distort him as a composite of his failures. Instead I have chosen to accept him as synthesis of his experiences with life and people and God. He may seem fragmented to our eyes; but He is complete in His father’s.
I am left with poignant memories of a life lived the best he could navigate it in the rub and reality of a messy world. Honestly, it is that mix of beauty and bitterness that feeds my deeper hopes. It gives me peace concerning my own legacy. It’s helping me better write my own eulogy.
God does not judge any of us by chapters in our lives. He does not label us by moments.
He refuses to sum us up by any single season. This God who is Alpha and Omega; beginning and end–He is able to see into us and thus see in us what we desperately want to be true of us–even though we too often fall short.
The truth is…we are not the accumulated glory of our successes or the amassed rubble of our failures. We are all hapless victims of a grace that sees us as whole even in the midst of our shattered fragments. We are the unlikely recipients of a divine love that embraces us warts and all yet still says, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.
One great joy for me is that as the best of my mother lives on in my sisters, my daughter and my nieces, so the best of my Father lives on in my brothers, my sons and my nephews.
- His fine craftsmanship carried on by my brother Ron’s skilled hands–and now I get to watch it emerge in my own son, Nathan.
- His power with words and skill in leadership echoes through my brother Hal–and I get to see it unfold in the keen gifts of my son, Caleb.
But mostly, I see my Dad alive every morning when I look in the mirror and see a man who walks every day with a limp. Flawed and weak, but walking on anyhow. Because the experiences along the way and the home at the end are worth the struggle of the journey.