Father’s Day. It’s complicated. So, I’ll get straight to the point and say Robin was the only Father I really knew. He was my host father. I met Robin and his wife Kathy when I was 18.
I was barely fresh out of high school, heading on a plane to Nova Scotia, Canada, for university. In my so-called young adult mind, I was ready to take on the world. Not an inkling of fear. Rob, as everyone called him, was jovial. He was cool and laid back. He thought I was too serious for my age, so he always tried to make me laugh. I later realized how much I meant to him and Kathy when years after graduating they made sure to visit me wherever I moved. Robin and Kathy’s annual visits taught me the importance of connection and relationship. But it would be Robin who would teach me how to live fully, embracing also the reality of my mortality.
It was tough knowing Robin was dying. Everyone was holding out the candle of hope, praying he would be healed from the cancer that had moved in like a squatter. When Rob died, I decided not to attend his funeral. Instead, I waited when everyone was gone to grieve in love his death with Kathy. I came three weeks after the funeral. It was, then, Kathy gave me Rob’s gift “A Psalm: Oct. 15, 2000”:
My hopes have been dashed
Part of my future has been stripped away
This disease has put me on a new path;
Lord, please show me how to cope.
I have yearned to slip the bondage of work,
To drink in the beauty of your created earth
And not to have to limit myself to week-ends
And brief holidays;
To throw off the pressures of management,
To be part of your landscape—indefinitely—
As long as it takes to become completely full.
Now for the first time,
There is some doubt that I’ll make it to retirement—
I’ve never doubted before.
Imagine Seeing Life With New Eyes
Before I had completed the first three stanzas, my heart was screaming “yes!” in affirmation. That’s me…that’s my song too—that is, to be free of “the bondage of work/ To drink in the beauty” of God’s beautiful earth” and “not to have to limit myself to week-ends and brief holidays.” As I read Rob’s words, right then and there, I made up my mind to live now—to enjoy the beauty of God’s wonderful creation—to see the ocean as if for the first time, to allow my hands to touch the earth and bask in its earthiness all around, and to rest without regret.
But in the next two stanzas Rob’s tone changed…
Sadness has flooded in, depression tries to take over.
I weep when I think of the beauty I would miss;
My wife, my family, friends, sunsets, the rolling ocean, walks in the woods and along the shores.
Lord, please show me how to cope.
In the natural people say how important it is to have a positive attitude, and
Survivors share the good stories of their recovery.
The medical community, in spite of the great stress it is under,
Extends warm, caring hands and hearts.
Dear brothers and sisters, some I don’t even know,
Go into prayer and fasting for me.
My heart overflows with humility and thanksgiving.
Neighbors show true concern and offer help of many types,
My wife stays strong for me—we rarely speak of the downside
And sometimes joke about the hard things.
In the natural how often have I truly said that “none of this matters compared to You”;
That “in your presence Lord, that’s where I belong,”
And that “I love you Lord, more than life”?
Living Intentionally and Purposefully
My heart cried out. Oh my gosh! I say those words too, and not only do I say them, I sing those words from the popular song by Hillsong United as well:
In other words, how many times have we all been unintentional about our words? In church, some of us sing the words of many songs we don’t mean. Not intentionally but simply because everyone in church is singing. But after reading Rob’s words, could I truly say I loved Him (Christ) more than life? Do I really love Christ more than life??? I’m just trying to appreciate life. I’m just trying to enjoy life—to live life! And to love Christ more than life? Yes, I loved him undoubtedly. But honestly, at that point and place in time, I could not say or sing the song as a response to God.
Because your loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise you (Psalm 63:3).
So often we say things that we don’t really mean. What does it take to live life purposefully or intentionally—where we are mindful of ours words and mindful not to speak carelessly? For me, Rob’s Psalm was like a shot of espresso slowly trickling down, drip by drip into my heart. It was time to live intentionally and purposefully, because one day…
Rob’s bluff was called…
Now it seems my bluff has been called
How often have I advised others to “trust only in the Lord,”
And that “our battle is not of the flesh, but against powers and principalities,”
And that “the weapons we fight with have divine power to demolish strongholds?”
Just calling these scriptures already does something spiritual for me—
The negative things in the natural are pushed back and begin to retreat.
Lord, you are showing me how to cope.
You came to me at a low point and I felt you say: “Compare yourself to no man or woman,
Your relationship with me is the only thing that counts.”
With that one sentence you lifted me out of the dangers of the extremes of self-pity
And a hollow, comparative sense of good fortune.
You showed me that by not comparing, we do not judge and therefore we do not covet.
Shortly after that you showed me the need to repent of all my improper and wrong
Relationships with women all through my life.
Then with courage you sent me to elders to confess and seek forgiveness
And restoration in the body.
You cleansed me once again and gave me more grace and strength
To face the obstacles ahead.
O Lord, you are showing me the way to cope.
Too often the seed of our pain or suffering is found in our eyes. We compare, and we judge. Comparison leads to coveting, which steals our joy of living. Judging of others leads to self-condemnation, because we are exposing our own heart. We are all on our journey of life, facing challenges, barriers, obstacles. But the contemplation of our mortality or death breaks the illusion of permanence, for nothing is permanent. Our trials are only temporary and are sent to refine us.
Rob’s last words…
Through my tears I asked: “Lord, what might this be?’
You were not slow to reply.
I felt you say: “It is time to increase in you compassion
For the sick and the afflicted—something that was lacking before.
Empathy and compassion will be major elements of a new ministry
I have for you. And when you mourn for so little time to appreciate
The beauty of My created world,
I say to you: “Make excellent use of your spare time.
I am the way the truth and the life, I am your hiding place and your shield,
Put your hope in my Word.”
Lord, you have shown me the way to cope.
Robin became one of the founding directors of the ministry Open Arms in Kentville, Nova, Scotia—an outreach for people in crisis–an emergency shelter, transitional housing, and training. We are here on this earth to make a difference. Even if we are not sure how to make that difference, we can at least offer empathy and compassion for those who are in pain or are suffering, so “I say to you: Make excellent use of your spare time.”
Rob died March 23, 2014.
Happy Father’s Day, Rob!