My father died two weeks ago. It was not a tragic death, except as all death in our broken world can feel tragic; his life was rich and full, lived across oceans and continents. He was a veteran missionary and pastor who loved God, his family, the Church, and people in general.
As I think about our community at A Life Overseas, the often mundane tasks that we are called to, the never-ending support raising, the time it takes to do simple things, the lows and discouragement that can pierce the heart and make us feel like Elijah, I think about my dad’s life. Because for 35 years, he did all those things and more. His was the life of a faithful servant.
If he were sitting with any one of you today, he would encourage you – because that was who he was. He would listen to your tears, he would tell you to keep on fighting for what is good and true and real; he would tell you stories of times in his life where he was deeply discouraged and where friends walked by his side through the discouragement. The he would smile his famous smile and ask you if you had any ice cream.
I said this at my dad’s funeral and I share it today as an offering and salute to faithfulness and showing up.
When I was 9 years old Lizzie Hover’s dad, Peter, died. He died in a head-on collision on a dusty desert road in the Sindh area of Pakistan. The night before he died, he had been at my parents home with his lovely wife Carol. They had talked, laughed, and discussed furlough plans as both were heading to a home leave in their passport countries in the summer. Just after midnight the following day they received the tragic news of Peter’s death.
I heard the news along with twenty other little girls in a boarding school dormitory. The collective trauma was immense. If Lizzie Hover’s daddy could die, that meant our daddies could die. Suddenly we were no longer safe from death, we were vulnerable, our jugular veins exposed.
Ever since I can remember my father has been there for me. As the only girl in a house full of boys, I enjoyed a special place in his heart. Somehow I knew this without even being told. Knowing myself and my “Princess” tendencies, it would have been a travesty to have to share that princess status with anyone else. My father was this strong force against a world that could change in an instant, in an instant like the one that took Lizzy Hover’s father.
They say that your earliest connections with your father affect your view of God. As a little girl I guess I thought God had a huge smile, knew everyone’s name, talked to everybody after church, loved a good curry, and told jokes, laughing so hard that you sometimes missed the punch line. More than that, I viewed God as completely trustworthy, he too was a strong force against a fickle world that could change in an instant.
Early memories make me smile. Dad holding me by the ocean, letting the waves come onto my good leg while I perched my broken leg on his lap; driving along treacherous roads in the Kaghan Valley and other long trips in our trusty brown Landrover across Pakistan; camping in the apple orchard at Bach Hospital; my mom and dad meeting us at the train station after boarding school – us a bit shy from being so long away from them, my dad with his bear hug so excited to see us; Dad taking me to a famous restaurant in Massachusetts, eating a delicious dinner as he tried so hard to find ways to communicate with me, a stone-faced teenager. And then later when my dad walked me down the aisle to say vows that he had already learned are impossible to keep without God.
My dad is one of those people who will never have a building named after him, nor a book written about him. But he has done something so much greater. My dad changed the world by showing up.
Early in life he showed up to villages and towns in Pakistan; to the grueling work of Bible translation; to the important job of consistent parenting. Later in life he showed up to graduations and weddings; to preaching at small New England churches; to visiting his children and grand children all over the world. His love for the world and his smile from the heart was like the warmth of the sun, radiating to all he met.
And every single day of his life he showed up as a husband, a father, and a Christ-follower. The prayers he sent up daily on our behalf are uncountable.
The last conversation I had with my dad he said this to me “It’s a strange thing, this going from death to life, you don’t know when the Lord will take you.” I said to him “Dad you taught us how to live well. Now you’re teaching us how to die well.”
I learned from my dad that the world is not just turned upside down by huge victorious acts. We change the world by showing up. My dad always showed up.
O blessed are the patient meek
Who quietly suffer wrong;
How glorious are the foolish weak
By God made greatly strong;
So strong they take the conqueror’s crown,
And turn the whole world upside down.
by Hannah Hurnardt
My dad turned the world upside down.