By some miracle, we managed to keep the surprise even with 8 grandkids in on the secret. They helped blindfold him and drove him over to the party location with gma, giggling at the number of passing cars who pointed and smiled.
My dad, at his core, is a humble man. He will bristle and even argue if you ever mention this directly to him but it is the one constant description that friends and family will give. As guest of honor at his own party, he was no different.
When asked to share a few words, this is what he said:
"I stand before you an ignorant man who has received abundantly of God's great mercy."
I've heard others say what a marvelous treat it would be to hear the eulogy at your own funeral. Loved ones gushing with emotion, waxing eloquent on your better qualities, laughing away your gaffs and flaws as though those were precisely what made you so loveable in the first place.
But who among us would want that single statement, "an ignorant man", offered up as full compilation of our entire life and character?
My dad would.
Perhaps because so many of his struggles have been public, his years of debilitating depression that took it's toll on his business, his marriage, his family and finances. Perhaps because of his final admission that he could not fix himself on his own, even with days filled with prayer and self-abasement. Perhaps because he knew that many, so many within that room had been his lifeline, his literal line back to life and figuratively too, helping him figure things out once he was back.
Or maybe it's because he used to have it all. A successful business, beautiful dream home, and loving family. But once lost and then re-found he discovered that his hands were not meant for building only his own plans but instead found immeasurable joy in giving away any gifts (and often to my mother's chagrin, any and all spare cash) His Creator had bestowed to him.
In brokenness, he found healing. In service, he has found great reward.
My dad's greatest investment was not in building for himself a lasting legacy but instead in building within others a hope that would last. Whether by offering manual labor to those who couldn't pay, inviting stranded servicemen to our home for the holiday, or (again to my mother's wise chagrin) picking up disturbed and deranged homeless men to sleep in the same house as his four teenage daughters, his life choices were never measured by how they might lead to his success but rather how his life lessons might lead to success in others.
While his choice of words may not have been spoken by his adoring wife or proud children, they truly are all any of us can really offer as explanation for where we are in life. Apart from the great mercy and grace of God, where would I, where would you be?
Dad, I promise that my eulogy some far away day for you will be far more eloquent and, I can only hope, much more humorous. But for now, your words speak adequately to the journey of your life, my life even for those eighteen years we shared our every day. Your life and example are worth far more than you know, it is measured in the lives that you already have and still continue to touch.
Because of God's great mercy to me, I am blessed to be called your daughter.