Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Today I did something I have never done...

I have never listened to one of my own sermons in entirety (no wise cracks about how you haven't either, Redeemer people!). It feels weird listening to myself, so I just have never gotten much past 5 minutes- until tonight. I'll explain.

The past few weeks have been spent dealing with my father's death and all the transitional affairs that must happen when a person dies. My father didn't have too much in the way of earthly possessions- his house, his "Sweet 16" Browning Shotgun, a modest coin collection, various trinkets, quite a few 20-dollar bills stashed in various places (you had to know my father to appreciate this), and his 2002 Olds Alero.

Mom is having me sell Dad's car, so being my day off, I worked on getting it ready. I didn't foresee cleaning up his car as a difficult thing emotionally. I was wrong. Taking off his various "I Remember Korea" type bumper stickers took quite a while and the tears flowed off and on the whole day. Cleaning out the car brought me in to contact with various little items that kept reminding me of Dad. It just wouldn't stop. I found myself breaking down multiple times, something I'm sadly uncomfortable doing. I took the car to get the oil changed and the AC charged at the place he usually got the car serviced. When I gave the keys to the guy at the desk, he recognized my name and asked where my father was (we have the same name). I told him Dad had passed a couple weeks ago. This big ole' bearded redneck-looking mechanic seemed genuinely sad. He said, "Aw man..I'm so sorry...we loved it when your Dad came in here." I knew what he meant. Dad loved to yuck it up with anyone. He would joke and banter and make you remember him. That was Dad. I left the car there and walked home...again, the tears flowed. It just doesn't seem to stop.

When I got the car back from the shop later in the evening, my boys helped me clean out the trunk where Dad kept quite a bit of...shall we say...OK, what my mother says- JUNK. Being from Buffalo and the driver of many crappy cars, my father always kept a change (or three) of warm clothes and boots in the trunk in case he got stranded. The boys also found all sorts of other fun keepsakes- a flashlight, his old Buffalo News I.D. badge, a map of Buffalo (why would he keep a map of a place he knew like the back of his hand?), three umbrellas, and a blanket my Aunt Mary (his sister) made for me when I was a baby. More sniffles, that's for sure.

So I had all the stickers off the car, the interior cleaned, and the trunk emptied. I didn't think there was anything else left, so off to the do it yourself car wash place to give it a good washing and vacuum. I spent the better part of an hour cleaning the Alero up. I remembered when I helped Dad buy it at Fuccillo's on Grand Island, NY back in 2003. I went with Dad to buy the car because he hated car dealerships and making a decision on something that would require lots of money. It was a year-old program car with 27,000 miles on it in. We got a pretty good deal, he enjoyed the car for 8 years. He didn't drive much the last couple of years, it only has 71,253 miles on it now-not bad for what is essentially a 10-year old car. He also has receipts and records for everything he had done with the vehicle while he owned it. It seemed strange returning the car to the bland condition it was in when we bought it 8 years ago. It was like I stripped my father's personality from it. My eyes have been pretty puffy today.

I was all done cleaning outside and in. I got in and started to drive back home when I saw the little "CD" symbol lit up on the stereo indicating there was a CD in the player. I wondered what would be the last CD Dad left in his player? When a person you love dies and you miss him, you look for any undisturbed affect of his life. I wondered if "old blue eyes" would be the CD in the player? Maybe Leon Redbone or Dad's favorite of all- Louie Prima? So I hit the power button and the CD started.

The last CD in Dad's player was me preaching a sermon on Titus 2:11-16.

I was overwhelmed. I cried like a baby (and am doing so again as I type this). It was a CD Redeemer mass produced to give visitors. It is a sermon that captures the essence of the gospel of God's sovereign grace through Christ and the effect it will have on our lives. I don't know if it's my "best" sermon, but it's one of my favorite passages in Scripture. I'm just so blessed to have found that CD was the last one Dad listened to in his car. When someone is recently gone, you scramble to find last "messages" or hints at things he did before leaving- because you know such evidences will soon disappear and memories will fade. Let's be honest- when people say "it'll get better with time", what they mean is you'll start to forget all the little details that make you miss the person so much. It doesn't get easier when grieving the loss of a loved one, it just gets harder to remember them in full, so the pain seems to lessen. That's the truth.

Today was a much harder day than I had anticipated, but once again, God manifested Himself as utterly gracious. It's true that many memories of Dad will fade over the years. But knowing the last CD he listened to in his car was my sermon about God's grace in Christ cements one thing for sure in my life- Jesus Christ is the hero of all our relationships. I may not be able to remember all the special details as time goes on- but I will remember that Christ was (and is)Dad's Savior and because of that, I will have fellowship with my father again.

Oh...yeah...I actually listened to the whole sermon, something I have never done during my almost 20 years of regular preaching. It felt weird.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. - Titus 2:11-16


KY ICU NURSE said...

Beautifully written Tony.....

Ray and Janell said...

Tony, I can totally relate to you. Immediately after my father's fatal accident on the farm in the summer of 1992 I was forced to deal with the reality of his passing while shutting down his farming operation. The cattle had to be sold first. Within two weeks the all the livestock were gone. The following spring we prepared to make sale of all his equipment. Tractor by tractor, piece by piece, tool by tool, I worked for two weeks straight to get everything ready for the March 1993 auction. At one point I found myself taking hyper-tightly twisted barbed wire off dozens of fence posts and I had the thought; "Who in the world tied these wires so stinkin' tight?!" That's went it really hit me hard. My father had tied all these wires so tight. And now, I was undoing EVERYTHING my father had done during his entire farming career. Dad was the first to go. Then my sister Lynda, then mom and this year my brother Ron passed. I'm all alone as far as my immediate family is concerned. Days before Ron passed I asked him to do one of the perhaps oddest things I have asked anyone to do. I said; "Ron, when you get there, would you tell everyone hi from me? Tell them that I miss them." I know the pain you are feeling right now. I loved what you said your first Sunday back at RPC. "We don't mourn as those who have no hope. But we are sad because we miss someone we lost very much." Thanks for pastoring us even in your own grief.

Reepicheep said...

Wow, thanks for sharing that Ray. Double wow.

Woody Woodward said...

Wow, when Cheri and I saw you last evening, Cheri discerned that this was indeed a very difficult task. Glad you had the boys with you to help.
On a couple of side notes, if his browning sweet sixteen, was manufactures before 1968, it was made in Belgium. In 69 they started building them in Japan. I happen to have the 67 same model with the gold trigger with the ventilated rib barrel. If his has a vent rib, it’s worth a bunch more. Quite a treasure and the 16 guage is really coming back in popularity. During the 80-90’s they had all but quit making 16 guage.

On another very moving note; at the last HFG, I had ask Tony about taking one of your CD on our trip to visit Tate. Providentially, he loaned me that same CD. Wow, God is good! He placed it back in this very special car so he could tell you how much he loved you and how proud he was to call you son.
Don’t apologize for the tears, I got them now myself.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing brother. Sons and their dads...what can I say. Glad you have so many good memories, and the willingness to share. One of the things about losing someone to death is that you want to somehow scream out to the world "they lived, and this is who they were, what they looked like, and what they said". We want to help preserve memories of them, not just for ourselves but for others. You are doing great introducing or reintrocuding the world to your dad.

christianlady said...

Most awesome memorial post I've ever read. I thank God for you that He blessed you with the relationship with your father, with the love and connection, with the time you had with your sons to share the memories through the painful work of getting things in order, and through finding his choice of listening was you. It's like hearing someone say, "your father always talks well of you, he's so proud of you." May God continue to bless your family and may your children grow to have such wonderful memories of you. Leave them nuggets to show your pride and love for them, I'm sure you do everywhere. God is so wonderful!