A cantankerous lot of crusty settlers and refugees from the Lower 48 make up Immanuel Church in Anchorage, Alaska. Perhaps fiercely Libertarian more than Progressive, I was called as Pastor by this small group of free-thinking Christians in the summer of 2001 and began what I hoped/expected to be a long â€œmarriageâ€? to these delightfully funny, creative, incredibly diverse Alaskans.
And then two and one half years later, my seventy-six year old Dad, 4500 miles away in Buffalo, NY, was diagnosed with a form of dementia. Dad, a pole-climbing telephone repairman, epitomized blue-collar Buffalo in his love for sports — particularly the hapless Buffalo Bills– his fierce pride in this now rusting former Queen of the Great Lakes, his undying loyalty to lifelong friends, both people and places. His plan for world peace was simple: Live in a diverse neighborhood and truly know your neighbors.
The father of two daughters, for fifteen years Dad coached pee-wee football and youth baseball in the public playground at the end of our urban, dead-end street. He fixed endless bicycle tires and deflated basketballs, mowed lawns and shoveled snow for elderly neighbors, jumped car batteries, gave rides, bought food, made home repairs, attended block meetings. Truth to tell, despite Dadâ€™s stated incomprehension of his daughterâ€™s choice of profession â€“in 1980 he hadnâ€™t met many ordained clergywomenâ€“ he is the human source of my call to ministry.
One trip â€œhomeâ€? from Alaska introduced me to a man quickly becoming a stranger. It was clear our time left together was limited and I struggled to discern right action amidst competing values: loving my Dad and loving the church family. I precipitously submitted my resignation. My family relocated to Cleveland, three hours from Buffalo.
Twenty-six road trips down US Route 90 ensued over the next twelve months– through torrential downpours and fierce blizzards, the soul-softening reawakening of spring greening and soul-burning awe of autumn tree painting. 26 trips watching him frown and listening to him rail at the female residents who constantly invaded his room. 26 trips approached with deep emotion, never knowing if this would be the one where I could no longer goad him into arguing with me like old times, or convince him that a trip to the creek to see the turtles was worth the intense fatigue that would follow, or whether this would be the time he no longer knew his fifty-year-old daughter.
One year to the day of our move â€œdownâ€?, Dadâ€™s soul returned to the fullness of God, leaving behind the still vital, lean, wiry body I had known as my father.
This I believe: Difficult decisions made with discernment, no matter how complicated and unpredictable their consequences, contribute to the wellspring of love and thanksgiving with which the Holy seeks to heal the world.
I believe Dadâ€™s calling me home â€“ something he could never have accomplished through careful reasoning or rational eloquence â€“ poured a small measure of holy water into that well. And sometimes that is enough.
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