Finishing Strong

When I was growing up I had the privilege of having a mom and dad that loved each other. Oh they were normal parents in every way, they had arguments, they made mistakes, but we kids knew that mom and dad were in love. It was evident in the way they looked at each other, the way they spoke, laughed, cried and submitted to each other. We knew they loved us too.
My dad was a pastor and mom was the perfect pastor’s wife. His greatest fan and biggest critic, mom stood by him and also did Children’s church and VBS for as long as I can remember. Countless hours were spent planning events, printing the bulletins, shoveling snow, turning on the heat (building a fire in the old days), and setting up tables and chairs. Countless hours turned into countless years, serving God together was their greatest joy. Dad and mom literally gave their lives for the Lord’s work.
As a child I wanted a dad that had a cool job like a logger, fireman or policeman, a real man’s job! I was kinda embarrassed that dad was a pastor. I didn’t want to be anything like him. All he did was work and do stuff for other people and was, I thought for the most part, unappreciated.
A few years ago, at one of our regular family gatherings at mom and dad’s house, dad and I were visiting and listening to a conversation my mom and sister were having in the kitchen. Suddenly dad burst into laughter. Surprised I said “dad, what’s so funny?” Referring to something my mom had said to my sister he replied “I never knew that about your mother.” He continued to chuckle finding great joy and satisfaction in discovering something new about his bride of 56 years. “I said how could you not know everything about mom after all this time?” With a sparkle in his eyes he said “Son, she still surprises me, I’ll never know everything about your mother!”
All my life I guess I just assumed that mom and dad knew everything about each other. They knew all they could know but yet there was still much, much more to discover.
Having suffered several strokes and various other serious physical aliments dad was now confined to a wheelchair and was living full- time at a nursing home. Mom was there every day, several times a day. They continued to share their life together. They would both tell us “there is joy in this journey.” We experienced it too. We watched them discover how to love and live life with this new challenge of sharing life together but living apart from each other.
Christmas night 2006, they both came over to celebrate Christmas at our house, the whole family and a few friends were there. It was another memorable family celebration. After dinner, dad took a nap on the couch and was wide awake when it was time to go. When he and mom returned to the nursing home that night they were both compelled to share the gospel once again with dad’s roommate. This time, when asked if he wanted to give his life to Christ dad’s roommate said “YES!” The attending nurse who was there also asked if she could accept Christ! Yippee, two for the price of one! A couple of week’s later dad went home to be with his redeemer.
It was a sweet time for our family, great family memories and no regrets. Dad was no longer suffering; his life work here was complete.
My parent’s life and testimony has impacted many. Dad did indeed finish strong; with mom by his side they finished strong together, sharing the gospel of Christ right up to the end. Dad loved my mom and took delight in discovering new things about her; he loved people to the point of personal sacrifice. Dad loved his Savior and took every opportunity to tell others about His love.
Now, as a man, husband and father I would love it if I could be half the man my father was, I want to be just like him. I want a marriage like my parents had.
Gary & Cathy O’Neal own “For Keeps” pre-marriage and marriage coaching in Coeur d’Alene