Going Out a Winner

“Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with a promise: (Ephesians 6:2 WEB)

I placed the phone in the cradle and sat staring at the wall. At thirty four I couldn’t make a decision. I couldn’t move! I didn’t know what needed to be done next! My resources were reduced and I lacked the ability to take the next step.

It began seven years earlier. Beth and I were raising support as full time missionaries. Dad had a massive heart attack. After several months of hospital care, bypass surgery, and recovery, he returned home weaker but ready to take on the world. We were uncertain how this would impact our missionary calling. God continued to lead us overseas so we departed a year later.

In the intervening years Dad became the best correspondent and confidant I could want. Regular letters describing family history flowed from his hands. Although he owned an early computer he preferred to bang away, in the basement, at an old Royal typewriter hour after hour. He didn’t work much longer because his medication and the stress disagreed with his delicate condition. With the extra time he indulged his sons with a detailed trip down memory lane.

During these years his health rose and fell. They were good years. Mom and Dad enjoyed their time together. Five years later we returned to the mainland for furlough from our first assignment. Living an hour’s drive from their home we made frequent visits. Dad lavished love and affection on his grandchildren at each visit. He didn’t spoil them but they knew they were special in his heart.

We enjoyed our final furlough days in their home. We relaxed and talked. The children played. When we departed it was the end of a good visit. It was time to resume the ministry from Guam.

The first week of January, 1988, I worked on the island of Chuuk. Repairing a radio station, meeting new people and experiencing a new culture was a mixture of joy and exhaustion. When I returned home I needed rest.

About 2:00 am I received a call. Half awake I answered the telephone. My senses sharpened as the voice informed me he was a police officer! My mind reviewed the day’s events to see if I had broken any laws. Nothing came to mind so I listened carefully. He said, “Your mother called. She cannot reach your telephone. Please call her back.”

I explained the call to Beth, wandered to the living room and began to call my parent’s home. I knew, before I finished dialing, what I would hear. Mom softly answered and informed me of Dad’s death. She told me, “We were playing bridge. Elton (my Dad) was winning. He arose to go into the other room and collapsed in the kitchen. He never woke up.”

Beth sat beside me as I asked about the funeral, about my brother’s and hung up the telephone. I was silent for a while and then began to cry. Beth asked why I was crying now and not when I heard the news. I said, “Dad wanted to be buried in his home back in Tennessee. He just wanted to go home again.” I don’t know why but that touched my heart. I never lived in Dad’s home but the stories of his youth, shared through his series of letters, filled my thoughts.

I wasn’t sure what to do next. This was Dad. This was my best correspondent. This was the one I always counted on for a bit of advice, technical expertise or just a good long talk. He was gone. He couldn’t answer the question or make suggestions on what to do next. But he went out a winner!

The simple fact, that Dad was winning when the Lord called him home, tickled my heart. He didn’t fear death. He knows the Lord. He always enjoyed winning. Why did Mom tell me he was winning? It seemed a strange comment. Sitting 7,000 miles from their home it was the first word God highlighted in my thoughts.

The days ahead were strenuous but the Lord made provision to strengthen my heart. As the mission helped me make emergency flight plans to Quincy I was almost cheerful. It wasn’t my effort, my cheery outlook on life, it was God who lifted me up and helped me step forward one event at a time.

The next two weeks in my parent’s home God worked through me to witness of His grace and love to my brothers, sister in law and other friends of the family. When I heard the news of Dad’s death I was in no mood to be a witness. I was devastated. But God had other plans in mind. He wanted me to be a winner during this time.

God taught me about his grace and love. The Father taught me, one of his children, how to trust in His provision. My own strength failed. God’s strength was all I had left. I needed this. God used this. God made me a winner in my grief. I recalled the Psalmist’s words, “The moment I called out, you stepped in; you made my life large with strength.” (Psalms 138:3 MSG)

I miss my father, his letters, advice and love. However, my heavenly Father is here with me, always in every situation. It took my earthly father’s death to teach me this important lesson. I want to serve the Lord with every ounce of my being. I want to go out winning . . . winning someone to Christ.

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