I originally wrote this post in 2015, the year my dad turned 93. Little did I know at that time it would be my dad’s last birthday. As the years pass without him, the life-lessons and principles he taught me are as relevant as ever. Here are fifteen things I learned from my dad.
1. Commit your heart to Jesus. My dad’s faith began forming when he was a young farm boy searching for a lost cow. As he went from field to field looking for the wayward beast, he eventually became disoriented and panicked. In that moment, dad asked God to help him, and he instantaneously remembered that he could tell the direction home by looking at the sun. The seeds of faith sown that day on the prairie came to fruition at age 15 when a traveling evangelist came to town. When the altar call came, dad felt a burning in his heart to respond. “I practically ran to the front,” dad recalled. He says he knew that it was time to “get off the fence” and make a commitment to Christ. My father called it the most important decision he ever made—and one he never regretted to his final breath.
2. Worrying is worthless. One of the hallmarks of my dad’s faith was how it dissolved fear. As a soldier in WWII, his fellow Army buddies asked him why he didn’t share their fear of dying on the battlefield. He responded, “My life is in God’s hands, and I know that if I die, I will go to heaven.” My dad consistently turned to prayer during trying times, leaving the matters in God’s hands. He was famous for saying, “we’ll take it one day at a time,” a philosophy that focused on the present rather than fearing the future. As the frailties and challenges of old age crept in, dad often said, “I’ll sleep well tonight; I don’t have anything to worry about. What good would it do, anyway?”
3. Focus on the positive. Instead of grumbling or dwelling on what he didn’t have, my dad focused on his blessings. He maintained a thankful spirit, and often said, “I have everything I need.” One of the phrases he frequently prayed was “Thank you for your many blessings in Jesus.” He acknowledged that not everything in life was easy, but chose to look at the positive in every situation. Instead of griping about the chronic pain he lived with, he proclaimed, “I’ve had many good years. What do I expect at my age?” When he became a widower at age 86, he could have easily become depressed and reclusive. Instead, he asked a friend to join him in a visitation ministry to shut-ins. When it was no longer safe for him to drive and he became confined to home himself, he adapted without resistance or a cross word.
4. Tell others you appreciate them. Over the years, as dad’s needs increased, he never failed to express his gratefulness for my help. Many times he said, “What would I do without you?” “How can I ever repay you?” “I appreciate all that you are doing for me.” “You take such good care of me.” As I received these blessings of appreciation from my dad, I realized the importance of passing on affirmation to others.
5. Any job worth doing is worth doing right. This statement by dad has rung in my ears as I have approached jobs assignments, large and small. My dad gave his best to his work, whether it was planting perfectly straight rows of corn or working the graveyard shift at an electronics manufacturing plant. He could be counted on to put in a full day’s work, never cutting corners or shortchanging his employer. Dad’s work ethic was formed at an early age, when he and his siblings labored in sugar beet fields. He recalled a German saying they would shout back and forth as their sweat dripped: “Arbeit macht Leben süß.” Translated, it means “Work makes life sweet.”
6.Live with integrity. Dad’s integrity extended beyond the workplace to every area of his life. If he said he was going to do something, he did it. His word could be trusted, and he fulfilled his promises. One of the greatest promises kept was to my mom when he said, “in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part.” My dad faithfully loved my mom over the course of almost 61 years of marriage. When she suffered a debilitating health condition and was confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home, dad visited her virtually every day for three years before death separated them.
7. Be willing to take risks. Though overall conservative in nature, my dad took significant risks when necessary. The greatest example was when he chose to pursue an entirely new career in his late forties. Farming had proven detrimental to my dad’s health, and the only way for him to feel better was to change occupations and relocate to a new climate. Dad left everything that was familiar and started from the ground up in Oregon with mom and me. Initially we lived in a tiny, dark apartment and dad went off to work at a low-paying job with a farm equipment company. Eventually the move paid off, as he was hired by a thriving technology company, was able to buy a home, and enjoyed two decades in the Pacific Northwest. I look back now and realize what a bold move that was.
8. Remember the Lord knows the way. I’m sure one of the reasons my dad was willing to take risks is because he knew God would show him the way. One of his favorite choruses was “The Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow.” Watching my dad trust God served as an example for me during times of uncertainty. A number of years ago I was feeling anxious about a job interview. Dad took time to pray with me, asking God to lead me. He closed by quoting Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”
9. Wish the best for everyone. My dad frequently ended conversations with “The best to you”. (Or with me, he said, “The best to you, honey”. ) Sometimes he added the phrase, “I hope you have a good day, today, and every day”. My dad genuinely desired that everyone experience the best life possible. In a world where it’s easy to cut others down and focus on faults, my dad modeled how to wish good things for his fellow man.
10. Remember that “this, too, shall pass”. When my dad ended up in the ER with a severe nosebleed, the doctor had to insert an inflatable “rhino rocket” into his nose. The device caused significant pain and discomfort, and had to be left in for many hours. As he endured, dad said several times, “this, too, shall pass.” In the months leading up to his death, he experienced a great deal of physical suffering, yet his faith never wavered. I am quite sure the principles of 2 Corinthians 4:17 helped shape dad’s view of earthly suffering: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (NIV). He realized that suffering, while difficult, does not last forever.
11. Be gentle and kind. My dad’s gentle and kind spirit was one of his trademark qualities. In a society rampant with harshness and bad behavior, my dad’s sweetness stood out. One of my friends described him as a “true gentleman.” His words, tone, and intentions conveyed a heart that drew people to him. His gentleness only increased over the years.
12. Don’t let others get you down. There were moments in my life when I went to dad filled with anguish because people were being unreasonable or saying false things. Dad’s typical response was, “Don’t let them get to you – they are the ones with the problems”! This perspective has helped me to “consider the source” when processing the comments and actions of people, and has reminded me to anchor my self-worth in the truth.
13. Let music awaken your soul. If dad could have had just two books, he would have chosen The Bible and a hymnal. Singing songs of faith and praise was always a source of joy and spiritual comfort to him. He grew up singing hymns in German out of “gesang buchs,” which contained only words. As a young man, he joined a male quartet at church, singing locally and regionally for many years. He also shared his strong baritone voice with many church choirs over the decades. In his final years, he kept a red hymnal near his recliner, which had little “x’s” penciled in the upper right corners of the pages containing the songs he knew. In those rare moments when he felt a bit low, one of his best antidotes was to sing.
14. Trust your Heavenly Father. Some people have a hard time relating to God as a “Father” because they struggle with their relationship with their earthly dad. My experience was exactly the opposite. My dad’s unconditional love, sacrifice, protection, provision, and encouragement modeled for me what my Heavenly Father’s love is like. Because of my dad’s example, I trust God’s love even more.
15. Wait on God’s Timing. As dad entered his sunset years, I often caught him humming the old chorus, “In His time, In His time, He makes all things beautiful, in His time . . .” Throughout his life, dad trusted God’s timing, and this was even more evident as he awaited his final call to heaven. When that day came on November 24, 2015, it was truly earth’s loss and heaven’s gain.
Thank you, Dad, for being the best father a daughter could ever have. I will love you always!