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Volume 8, Issue 4: Cultura

A Father's Legacy

Roy Atwood

The days of my father's life were, by reason of strength and God's grace, 80 years (Psalm 90:10). He died a year ago. We still grieve his death, of course, but as the pain of his passing fades, we struggle with a new pain: the realization of how swiftly the memory of someone as close as a husband, a father, and a friend can fly away. If each day dims the memory of the contours of his face and the sound of his voice, what will we remember of him ten or twenty years distant? What will his children's children know of him, his life, his hopes and fears, his failures and successes, or his view of God's world? What will be the legacy of his life?

Over time, we will forget the things he enjoyed. He loved the company of his well-oiled tools and rifles. He loved the rhythmic pulse of waves against the hull of his sailboat running ahead of a fresh breeze. He felt at home in his shop with his tools, his guns, and his daydreams, and he was at peace in, on, or near the water. However, over time, the waves will not reflect his image, and his precious tools and guns will be recycled into someone else's rusty barbecue or dented wheel barrow.
We'll forget the work of his hands. Like many, he was a man defined largely by his work. He really loved to work, even though he often grumbled about it like a farmer complains about the weather. He loved to go hunting and fishing, but he really preferred attending to the details of his house and yard. He took great pride in keeping them looking their best. His yard was not just landscaped; it was a work of art. His cars weren't just clean; they sparkled in mint condition. He'd carefully wipe the dust off them everyday whether he took them out of the garage or not. But his house now belongs to strangers, his cars sit dull and dirty in someone else's driveway or in pieces in a junkyard, and the grass and flowers he planted rise and fall with the seasons without him.
We'll forget his strengths and weaknesses. He was thoughtful and caring, but for most of his life, he had a very short fuse on his anger. His lifelong battle with back pain didn't help. He was driven by principles of thrift and stewardship, but he could be impatient and downright intolerant. He cared deeply about the future of his country, but was often frustrated by his inability to speak with clarity and power, especially when advocating or defending his views. He was a proud and independent man, and he disliked depending on anyone else for anything. He had high standards, but by his own admission he could be a hard man.
We'll even forget how his illusions of independence and self-sufficiency were shattered in 1988, when he fell off the roof of his home while cleaning out the gutters in the rain, landed on the corner of a concrete sidewalk, and broke his spine between his shoulder blades. The fall almost killed him. In a split second, his pride and dreams and many of the things he loved most were gone. He never walked or worked in his shop or sailed again. He struggled with depression and mentioned suicide many times. He never wanted to be a burden to his wife or his children, but his self-sufficiency was--in an instant--gone forever.
In his state of almost complete physical and spiritual dependency, God turned him to Christ and His sufficiency. The words of Romans 10:9 became liberating words for my father, and I remember well him saying, "I believe it!" He confessed his own inadequacy and declared Christ his Lord in 1992.
We will not soon forget how dramatic and obvious was the change in his life: his anger was replaced by joy; his bitterness by tenderness; and his hardness by a gentleness of spirit. His final years as a faithful Christian man, husband, father and grandfather were his finest. But even these fond memories will fade with time.
So if all that my father was and did in this life will vanish over the years, what will be his legacy? All that can endure is the work of someone else who does not forget or fade with time. Only the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ--not my father's own good and bad deeds--will be his legacy to his family and friends. The only legacy he could leave us is the simple testimony that he has triumphed over death through Christ's gracious work of redemption--plus nothing.
My father's legacy to his children's children will be that God's grace and covenant faithfulness were sufficient even for a man whose face and voice many will soon forget. And because Christ's person and work endure, I can't be pained about forgetting the details of my father's life: I'll see him face-to-face when Christ returns and puts an end to all forgetting.

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