What would I like all fathers to know on Father’s Day?
I have often challenged dads from stage to do better or to consider their shortcomings. That’s not what I want to do today. Today, I want to encourage and honor all fathers – including you. Fatherhood can be a role easy to feel discouraged about, but every step we take as true fathers – as protectors, encouragers, providers– demonstrates the heart of the Father God to those in your life. One way to encourage you is to share stories of dads who overcame great odds in their lives. Here is one of those stories:
My father-in-law’s name was Virgil Ingwald Erickson. I just led his burial service.
After living independently for 99 years and 4 months, he started to have bouts of confusion which culminated in a massive stroke. My wife, Paula, and her three sisters gave loving care to their dad. It was truly stunning to watch these last days of his life when his girls held his hands, rubbed his head, attended to his every need. Virgil was a real hero to us all – he treated me as a son from the moment we met. One week into my engagement to Paula, he asked if I had an IRA. I said, “A what?!” This thought was overwhelming to me as a young man making $9000/year before taxes and tithe. Virgil began putting money into an account for my old age – even before I was legally his son-in-law!
Virgil chose to be buried next to his beloved Marguerite in the Rural Hill Cemetery in Northville, Michigan. It’s a beautiful old cemetery with big hills and 100-year-old trees. He thought of every detail in life. He cared for his wife for years as she battled rheumatoid arthritis and a type of Parkinson’s that left her fearful and distressed unless she had Virgil within sight. He loved her and served her joyfully and preciously and never expected to outlive her by 26 years.
Virgil didn’t have it easy, but he never let adversity stop him. Even when he slipped up or faltered, he never believed that failure was his fate. He didn’t become bitter or defeated. Like some of you reading this, he had a number of reasons to make a mess of his life, but he chose none of them.
1. At age 10 he lost his beloved brother, Johnny, to meningitis. His mother grieved so deeply and bitterly that she told Virgil she had lost her only son. Can you imagine how crushing that would have been?
2. At age 13, Virgil’s parents divorced –he was the only kid in his Chicago high school of 3000 who was from a divorced home.
3. At age 16, he left his mother and stepfather’s apartment where he didn’t even have a shelf on which to put his clothes. He kept them folded in a corner of the floor. He still managed to finish high school on time.
4. At age 19, he married Marguerite – a girl from a broken home. Like Virgil, she was the only person in her high school in that situation. Her father disappeared when she was a small girl. He reappeared briefly when she was 17 and caused more hurt and disillusionment.
5. Virgil was rejected when he tried to enlist in WW2. He found out years later that it was because he was running a plant that made a special type of tubing using, “heavy water” (H2O2) used in the first atomic bombs. The factory was run by a handful of men and several thousand women. (The beginning of a huge cultural shift for women’s empowerment and he was a part of it. Great training for having four daughters!)
6. Virgil and Marguerite’s first child, Butch, was stillborn. He was carried full-term but detached from the placenta before labor began. This was a heart-breaking loss for them. They had four healthy daughters, raised while Virgil was working long hours, and going to night school. He finally graduated from college at age 40 with an engineering degree, and then a Masters of engineering at 43. He had a very successful career at Johnson Wax.
7. He barely survived a triple-bypass at age 47 at the Cleveland Clinic. But, somehow, he still lived to be 99 years and 5 months– he was a modern medical miracle! One of my favorite memories is finding him walking on his steep second-story roof, stripped to his waist, sweating profusely, cleaning out the gutters at age 85! He also led two Bible studies at Ward Church in Northville until he was 95!
Virgil and Marguerite changed the legacy of their family and together walked with Jesus for their whole lives. Nothing they went through stopped them from believing in the faithfulness of Jesus – even to their last moments on earth. Virgil believed in the abundant life in Christ and he believed in living with energy and passion and discipline – which I desire to imitate but haven’t come close to matching. He made mistakes. And, I’m sure his four girls kept his head spinning, but what a life of beauty he and Marguerite built.
At his private funeral service tears flowed. His 11 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren saw this truth: this ordinary man lived an extraordinary life. That is the biggest thing I want you to know. He was an ordinary man seeking to trust Jesus and love people. I don’t know that any of you would have picked him out of the crowd. No one is writing a book about him. His life is like so many of the dads that I have known at Kensington: men who keep at it, keep trying, keep loving, keep getting up after they stumble, and keep believing that Jesus is going to be faithful to the end. There are phenomenal people all over the world who never make the news, never make a scene, never ask for thanks, but just faithfully live their lives with Jesus making the world a better place.
On this Father’s Day, you may be in a tough situation. Life may have dealt you a load of heartache and trouble, but I really believe with my whole heart that you are the next Virgil. You can break the chains of bad decisions and create new legacies of love and grace with Jesus at the center. Like Virgil, you can live a powerful, grace-filled life by doing the opposite of what you personally experienced growing up. In all things, your True Father loves you with an Everlasting Love! Jesus came to bring you back to His arms and His safety and His strength. If you’ve fallen or given into despair, He is reaching for you. Jesus never gives up on any of us. And, He can do extraordinary things with ordinary people!
– Steve Andrews | Kensington Church, Lead Pastor & Co-founder