It’s truly hard for us to believe that 15 years now we’ve been making Christmas tree videos, but here we are. Bethany and I have both been pretty sick with something lately, but we still found the energy to walk over to our local nursery and have the kids carry back the Christmas tree! So from our family to yours, merry Christmas!
It’s Father’s Day–the first one without my (Shay) dad. I felt it more keenly this week because it was also my birthday a few days ago and I didn’t get his annual phone call. It’s always strange how the smallest things can hurt. But while playing with my kids this weekend I realized I had a few things on my mind about Father’s Day.
Back in January I wrote about missing my dad who died in December. At the time I didn’t have the emotional space to speak of my father-in-law, but there was a whole lot more going on with our family than just the loss of my dad.
It was a Wednesday, December 21 when my dad passed away in Kentucky. In the middle of trying to figure out funeral arrangements and flights back to Kentucky to bury my dad, two days later on the 23rd we got a phone call from Bethany’s parents…her dad, Daryl, was taken to the hospital by ambulance. He had fainted multiple times during the night and they weren’t sure what was going on or even what was wrong. Multiple tests were done and it looked like his kidneys weren’t functioning right. But one of the tests showed something else: cancer. When we heard we actually tried to jump in our car and make the normally easy two-hour drive to their town, but the mountain passes were closed due to snow. My kids still still remember us sitting in The Habit Burger waiting to see if the roads would open. They didn’t. We couldn’t get there before having to fly back to Kentucky for the funeral the day after Christmas, all the while waiting for text message or phone calls on Daryl’s health.
It wasn’t super clear back in December what kind of cancer or just how bad it was, but six months later we now know he has multiple myeloma. Without going into too much detail here, this kind of cancer attacks the plasma cells in the bones. It produces a high level of M proteins which is really rough on the kidneys, weakens your immune system, and makes it easy to break a bone. Daryl has been receiving treatments in multiple cities in Washington, some of which have taken place in Seattle just fifteen minutes from where we live. While the circumstances aren’t our favorite, it’s been incredible to live close and be able to help when and where we can.
Tomorrow is a big day for Daryl (we would covet your prayers). After all the cancer treatments he’s technically in remission, but they are going to begin a stem cell transplant at 8:00 am on Father’s Day (of all days). We went tonight to visit him one last time as this next phase will force him into a quarantine since his immune system will be wiped out completely. Until that returns, our contact will be limited as infection risks are really high during this time. Looks like it’s going to be at least 5 weeks, maybe longer, we just don’t know. We had fun bringing Father’s Day cards from the kids and a little dessert that we enjoyed out on the street since we can’t go inside the medical facility. We also walked over to a local Starbucks and grabbed tea and coffee. I got the photo below of Daryl (aka: “Papa”) with my boys.
I asked Daryl tonight about the state of his soul. I’ve asked this a number of tons over the past few months and we’ve wept, prayed, and wept some more as we’ve talked about how’s he’s processing this trial. Tonight he said, “It is well with my soul… but there are ups and downs.” He went on to say that this has truly caused him to understand the brevity of life. While he once thought about his own genes and the length of the lives of his family, this has changed that for him. Facing cancer has forced him to see that life is momentary, but worth living.
I’m sure this hasn’t been an easy realization, but I am grateful for those words tonight because that’s what father’s do. Fathers don’t shy away from hard truths and hard realities. In fact, good fathers, like good leaders, help define reality for us. They teach us what the world is like and how we are to respond to it. They teach us about the God who made it and the God who rules it. They understand that hard things happen, totally under the control of God, but still hard.
Papa continues to help my kids understand the world. Every time he and Nana are here he’s helping build a Lego set, or studying Math, or reading, or working in the yard. There’s always something to learn from Papa. I too continue to be blessed by his skill and wisdom. But tonight I realized that he’s also teaching me how to live while we die. I don’t mean to say that I think he’s going to die soon, only the Lord knows that, but rather to say that I know we are all going to. The wise will number their days and live them out with joy (see Psalm 90). Papa is doing that. His ups and down are just part of life, but he’s still living. And I don’t just mean breathing, I mean continuing to show us what it means to enjoy life even when it’s hard. He’s still kissing my daughters and hugging them. He’s still talking with Titus about Indiana Jones, and listening to Micah share how he got a scar on his chest when he fell down today. He’s still giving them Starbursts every single time we see him. He’s still living… truly living. Or in the words of John Piper, he hasn’t wasted his cancer by retreating into himself. He continues to have a deeply affectionate heart, caring for people.
So thanks, Papa. While we both don’t know what the future holds, I know that you have shown us what it means to enjoy life while you hurt. You continue to show us what it means to live by faith and not by sight. You have shown us the character of our God, our loving Father, by being a loving father. Thank you for that. Happy Father’s Day.
It’s almost poetic that my dad would die on the day of the winter solstice, or sometimes called “the longest night of the year.” Only he and I would likely find it so. Because for years he has called me, almost without fail, to remind me that the days are either getting longer or shorter. I’ve come to expect the calls from him telling me that “from now on the sun will stay up a little longer every day” or “well, now the days are getting shorter.” He always like the longer days. I’m gonna miss those phone calls.
December 21–that is the date in which the winter solstice usually lands–will now be for me not only the day when I can cast my longest shadow of the year because of the sun’s low height in the sky, but a day that casts a longer shadow in my mind because it’s the day my dad died.
I shared at his funeral a few weeks ago that I had thought about that day often. For some reason, especially over the last few years, I’ve thought a lot about my dad’s death. Part of the reason, I suppose, is that I’ve been trying to prepare myself for it. But anyone who’s lost a loved one knows that’s pretty tough to do. Yet I still tried. Sometimes I found myself just sitting at my desk imagining myself speaking in front of my family with eloquent words, sharing how much my dad impacted me, and why I thought he and I had a special relationship–even different than his many other children. And while I did get to speak at his funeral, it wasn’t what I imagined. Is it ever?
My dad used to call me his shadow. He commuted to Los Angeles every day when I was a kid and often this meant long hours of which I didn’t get to see him. That’s why he would sometimes take me to work with him, just so we could spend time together. Those were some of my favorite days growing up. I loved the Big City. I loved the hustle and bustle, the traffic on the freeways (I usually slept through it), and watching the sun rise as we came into the San Fernando Valley. Almost always people at my dad’s “buildings” as we called them (he was a maintenance engineer on the skyscrapers)–almost always they would ask, “Is this your son?” Without hesitation he would say yes, and add something like, “He’s my little shadow today.”
Shadow him I did. For years I tried to be like him in so many ways, even going so far as asking for a pager (yes, that little thing people used to wear on the belts before cell phones) for my 9th birthday. Somehow I got one. You should’ve seen how proud I was with my lime green see through pager case just like dad’s red one. I would page him and he would page me and man it was the best. We even had a code system: it was 54. It meant, “Car 54 where are you?” Dad said it was from an old show, but I didn’t care. It just meant that I could page dad and ask him where he was. When would he be home from L.A.? Is he coming to my game tonight? Car 54, where are you!?
A farmer friend of mine says the best thing a farmer can do is cast his shadow. All he means is that he’s gotta be on his fields checking things, or looking for problems, and making sure it’s going well. Simply put: he’s gotta show up. My dad always showed up. Often he was late, but he got there as much as he could. I have one distinct memory of pitching from the mound in a Little League game and seeing him walk up probably around the 3rd of 4th inning. Something in me just wanted to throw a little hard and little straighter after he arrived. Then when the inning ended he usually he would slide something through the fence for me–a Gatorade or some seeds from the snack bar. Sometimes he would give me a little scouting report on the next hitters, and always he would encourage me. If it wasn’t at the baseball diamond it was at the soccer field (and even at the bowling alley for a time!). He always cast his shadow. I wish he still could. How am I casting mine?
The Bible compares our lives to shadows. A number of verses talk about life as a shadow, but here’s a few:
Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.Psalm 144:4
For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?Ecclesiastes 6:12
We get the point: our lives are just passing shadows because they pass by so quickly. They are as the Psalmist says, “like a breath.” On January 28 my dad would’ve been 79 years old. But even then, Psalm 90:10 says
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Soon gone. That’s exactly it. Even if we get seventy or eighty years, they are still go by so fast. We know this to be our experience because we often hear people speak like this: “You blink and your kids are graduating college.” “You blink and…[fill in the blank].” Soon gone…like a breath…like a passing shadow. While the Biblical authors didn’t have advanced film technology, it’s as if they understood that life is like a time-lapse video where the shadows pass from one end to the other of the screen. A friend of mine one said he hates time-lapse videos because they remind him of the brevity of life. I think he was on to something.
All I’m really trying to say is that I’m gonna miss my dad. I called him often in recent years to ask how to fix my car, how to install a light in the house, which aisle at Home Depot has the star bit for my drill that I need, or even FaceTimed him just to talk while only seeing the top of his head since he never seemed to know how to hold the phone. He was always so helpful. I see now I was just still tying to be his shadow all these years later, or maybe resting in his shadow? There was a definite ease and comfort in knowing I could call him any time and hear him ask,”What can I help you with now?” I’ll miss those calls too.
Every year I attempt to read at least one book a month on average. This year I had set a goal to read fourteen books, but according to my GoodReads account I finished twenty-five. Now, I must admit that some of these books I started in 2020 and finished in 2021 because they were ones I read in order to help me with my study to preach. However, I do think twenty of them I read and finished within the year.
I have learned to love to read over the years. My preaching professor in college once said, “If you want to be an interesting preacher, you have to be an interesting person. If you want to be an interesting person, you have to read.” Well, I took him seriously. I’ve been reading more and more over the years, and I thought I would post my top ten from this year in hopes that it would encourage you to pick up and read! Here’s my top ten from 2021.
Evidence Not Seen: A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II
By Darlene Deibler Rose
This autobiography was recommended to me by Bethany who heard about while listening to a podcast. I think I read the book in two days because I couldn’t put it down. I would read, weep, read some more, weep some more, and keep reading! It’s a riveting story and one that every Christian should read to grow their faith and watch the hand of God work in miraculous ways!
The Path to Being a Pastor: A Guide for the Aspiring
By Bobby Jamieson
I read this book along with our church staff and found it the most concise and most helpful I’ve ever read on aspiring to be a pastor. Many young men in the church need help understanding what the process to becoming a pastor looks like and this book is the book I will be handing them from now on. It’s Biblical, practical, and doesn’t overwhelm. Give this to the young men in your church!
All The Light We Cannot See
By Anthony Doerr
I’ve only recently discovered how helpful novels can be to add to your reading diet, but this one needs to be on your “to-read” list. I believe they call it a historical novel in that it is set during a real historical period (World War II) but tells a fictional tale of two young people living at the same time. It’s incredibly creative how Anthony Doerr blends these two seemingly different characters’ stories. I loved this book and kept it by my bedside for an easy read before getting some shut eye.
This is a book I bought after listening to a sermon by Patrick Schreiner on the dark nights of the soul that a friend had recommended to me. Through various trials this year, including tearing my calf muscle, throwing out my back, and even getting shingles, I found my own soul hurting and sorrowful. But in God’s kindness this book was a friend to me. Zack Eswine brings part of the life of Spurgeon to the forefront that many don’t know about. Spurgeon was open and honest about his own depression and I would gladly pass this book along to anyone suffering from “dark nights of the soul” or anyone trying to help a friend.
Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture
By David Murray
Following Spurgeon’s Sorrows I felt I needed some practical insight into ministry as I considered ways in my own life that needed course correction. Reset was just the book for that and was an encouragement to me in having balance and consistency in my life, family, and work. One of the major takeaways for me from this book was the focus on taking care of my physical body which I have been able to do more effectively the latter half of this year. I loved this book and while it’s designed for men, there’s a companion book for women called Refresh written by David and his wife Shona which Bethany has also been enjoying.
Raising Men Not Boys: Shepherding Your Sons to Be Men of God
By Mike Fabarez
In the last few months I’ve challenged myself to read a few different books on parenting, especially on raising my oldest son. Of the three books I’ve finished, I found this book to be very practical and helpful and just the one I needed to get my thinking straight and consider how I can be a more intentional father. This book is focused on raising boys (of which I have two), but I do find that some of the principles and concepts would transfer to my daughters as well.
Andrew Peterson is known as a singer/songwriter, especially for his song “Is He Worthy?” and his Christmas album “Behold The Lamb of God.” He’s also known for his children’s novels “The Wingfeather Saga.” But did you know that he has written two non-fiction books as well? Adorning the Dark is the first and you could almost call it a book about songwriting, but that would be way too narrow. Blending his own story while teaching how to be creative this book is a great gift for those in your life who feel like artists. But Andrew would probably argue with me about that because he is quick to proclaim that everyone is creative because we are created in the image of the Creator!
The God of the Garden: Thoughts on Creation, Culture, and the Kingdom
By Andrew Peterson
If I’m going to read one Andrew Peterson book, why not read the follow up? Sometimes I tell people this is a book about trees, but like his first book, it’s way more. This book challenged me to think about place and how we need to “grow where we’re planted” so to speak. Masterfully this book takes the planting of trees and again weaves his own story and love for God’s creation to challenge us to see the world through the lens of God’s creation and His Word. The chapter on “the weeper in the trees” paints an incredible picture of Christ!
Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus
By Paul Miller
I wish I could hang out with Paul Miller. I wish that I could sit at his feet and listen to him talk about the man Jesus. That’s because it seems that in every one of his books I learn more about the man that Paul loves. This book will help you love Jesus more too. It’s one of those books that I probably need to read every other year and just be reminded how loving Jesus is and how I still don’t look like Him. Paul Miller can help us all do that and this book is one of the tools he uses.
It took me all of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 to read this book. Not because it’s a long book, it’s only 176 pages. It took me a while because it was my companion book as I preached through the book of Ecclesiastes. I didn’t want to get too far ahead in it and I wanted to savor it. In fact, in many ways I feel like I’m still reading this book in the same way I’m still reading the book of Ecclesiastes. Few books have had a greater impact on my thinking on a book of the Bible than this one. And few books have had a greater impact on my thinking about life than the book of Ecclesiastes. Buy this book, grab some friends, bring your Bible, and get ready to allow it to open your eyes to one of the most misunderstood books in the Scriptures. When you’re done, enjoy your life. You’ll see what I mean when you finish.