My dad had a plan for everything and a chart for most things. He had charts for the miles he walked, his weight and the glasses of water he drank. He did not have a chart, but he did have a plan for when he wanted to die.
He walked those miles, watched his weight and drank so much water, because he didn’t want to leave my mom alone. He wanted to be around as long as she needed him. Dying before my mother is not how my father planned it, but he would insist that, for the most part, his life did go according to plan.
My dad loved to tell the story of standing at a second-story window at San Antonio College, looking out and hearing another student walking across campus singing, “This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.”
A few days later, he saw the young man in a science class and asked to go to church with him. Dad became a Christian, joined the church, and 11 months later was the pastor of a church. He went to seminary and found the courage to speak to a woman far more attractive than he was. She also was a better student.
“Dad became a Christian, joined the church, and 11 months later was the pastor of a church.”
After my mom went home to Mississippi for the summer, my dad sent a letter in which he proposed. She wrote back quoting the book of Ruth: “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee. For whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”
They kept that promise. Dad and mom served nine churches. At First Baptist, Union Gap, Wash., they cared for impoverished children at a farm labor camp. At Temple Baptist, Rapid City, S.D., my mom taught school and my dad was a stay-at-home dad, as well as a minister. At Benton Baptist, Mississippi, our neighbors had a chihuahua named Disaster and gave us one named Catastrophe.
At Ridgeland Baptist, Mississippi, my dad started walking the Natchez Trace five miles a day, five days a week. At Calvary Baptist, West Point, Miss., my dad helped build a family life center. First Baptist, Saltillo, Miss., tested my father’s relentless optimism. When he needed to go somewhere different, we went somewhere completely different, Cleveland, Ohio.
At Willoughby Baptist, dad worked 15 years with evangelism programs, a bus ministry and haunted houses. He knew how to tell a ghost story. At First Baptist, South Lebanon, Ohio, the pace was slower when he first got there, but he sped it up. He started leading community events like he was the bishop.
“The ambulance came and picked him up from behind the pulpit and took him to the hospital. He preached the next Sunday.”
When dad was 65, he retired to Mississippi and took an interim pastorate at Providence Baptist in Tremont, where Tammy Wynette started her career and dad finished his. He was the church’s interim minister for 15 years. One Sunday when he was 80, he had a stroke while preaching. The ambulance came and picked him up from behind the pulpit and took him to the hospital. He preached the next Sunday.
After his second retirement, mom and dad loved being part of Lakeland Southern Baptist in Mantachie. Dad thought of himself as an encourager, but, on a few occasions, his strong opinions got in the way.
The last year has been hard, because my parents were meant to be busy doing good. Poor health doesn’t fit who they are. My mother’s dementia is painful for everyone. My brother and sister-in-law made a place for mom and dad with them in Colorado.
A couple of years ago my father wrote: “Clarice and I are convinced that God has given us the best life we could have had. He has made it possible for us to taste the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. What could be a greater treasure than that? This has truly been a life worth living.”
My father and I disagreed on a thousand things that don’t seem to matter so much right now. At his funeral, I got to say: “My dad was a true believer. He knew who he was and the one in whom he lived. My dad understood that our hope is in God, who has welcomed my father home.”
Brett Younger serves as senior minister at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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