A Tribute To A Father

Have you noticed I've changed? These were the first words Dad spoke to me after I visited him about four years ago in Edmonton. He had just had a heart attack. The fact that he was asking was interesting. He wasn't talking about his appearance. Although I didn't immediately understand what he meant, he was talking about his soul.

I might have seen a certain knowing in the eyes. A softening in his look. What was required was to listen and look at the heart level.

It took a little while for me to catch on that at some level he was a different person. "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." I think that became true for Dad in his old age. I told a childhood friend a few years ago that Dad had become a real Christian. My friend laughed heartily. Not that he wasn't a Christian prior to the last several years. It's just that as he aged the fruits of the Spirit became way more apparent in him. Humility, kindness, grace, love and peace all became more and more visible to those around him. I recently phoned a health care aide from the Chilliwack hospital who had made the extra effort to make Dad feel cared for. He continued visiting Dad after he left the hospital. The aide said that once in a while a special person comes along that you want to do extra for and that Dad was one of those people. Thanks to him for caring for Dad and for noticing the good thing at work in him.

Angela was another of Dad's care workers. Angela had many long talks with Henry that were spiritually edifying and enlightening. She got to know him more deeply and saw that he was a unique soul who had acquired not only knowledge but also wisdom and love. I wanted to publicly thank you Angela for all of the love and care you showed Henry in the past year and a half. He was as much enriched by your presence as you were by his.

I was amazed at the story you told of how you asked Henry why you should consider Christ and how he didn't give you an answer. He suggested some verses to read and for you to think about it. That is a different person than I grew up with who seemed to have all the answers. It's a testament to how he grew in humility and wisdom during his later years.

A number of years back Dad was asked to write an essay on the 19th century religious thinker William James. It was published in a book called A Cloud of Witnesses. I believe that one of the quotes he included in the essay surprisingly came to be true:

Be respectful of the beliefs of others as you are jealous of your own freedom of thought. Treasure your own experience of God but do not imagine that God cannot reveal himself to others in entirely different manners.

Certainly God did work through Henry during his many years of ministry. When we think of him during his working years the first word that comes to mind is enthusiasm. He titled his autobiography Not Without Zeal. Certainly he expressed enthusiasm in his Winkler Bible Institute building projects, his world tours and his many, many church ministries. His enthusiasm did its best work however when it was focused on friendship and relationship. He loved people and people loved him. I remember once visiting Dad's long time friend Jake Suderman with Dad and Mom. Dad prayed at the end of the visit and as he finished praying Jake literally leaped out of his chair into the air with joy. I think that's a testament to the effect their friendship had on him!

The word enthusiasm literally means 'in-goded'. Dad would be happiest to know that other people were in-Goded or in-Spirited and that he could be used by the Spirit to play a part in making that happen.

I wrote a letter a few days after Dad passed away. Here is some of it:

Dad, Thank you for expressing the love of God to me and to a cast of other unlikely characters. It seems that God took your personality, warts and all, and turned it into something for his grace, of which I'm sure you are grateful for, now more than ever. You expressed the suffering nature of God throughout your life and especially in the past few months and weeks to me and others. I'm glad I could tell you that I loved you and that you could say so clearly, so near the end that you loved me. I'm so thankful for that and I will remember that. Thanks for telling me about, but more importantly for showing me, God's endless grace these last couple of years. Your life became an icon of that grace.

Thank you also for introducing me to one other thing that has become central to my life and to Erik - a continued desire for education and learning. You kept reading and learning all of your days. And thank you for buying those film cameras. They became an avenue of creativity for Erik and me.

I will miss the phone calls. I will miss hearing you ask "Winnipeg calling?" Your enthusiasm was remarkable and I'm glad that it was focused more and more on relating to the people in your life. There were so many people that appreciated you and benefited from you. I know you are experiencing God's grace for all your mistakes and character flaws and I am glad for that. I'm glad you could experience grace and love while you were on the earth. I hope I can learn from your example and become a less egocentric person, more yielding to God's will. Pray for me that I will become more open and more gracious. I would appreciate it.

You wanted to go home and now you have. I am glad for you. And I am glad you were looking forward to a grand feast. I had a dream last week that I was with you at a wedding feast.

One day I hope to join you for real at the grand feast. For now, enjoy the company of loved ones and all surrounding warmth and Light that is God's love.

And if you ever want to drop by our place in Winnipeg, the H.R. Baerg Memorial Pool Hall in our basement is always open to you. I think you would enjoy the company of those who hang out there.

And yes, I noticed you changed.

Love,

your son Dave

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