Fill it with laughter...

In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God. —Aeschylus

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time talking and writing about my father. Most of the people in my life never knew him, but a lot of them probably feel like they did by virtue of my stories. If I'm being truly honest, though, I don’t know if I actually remember him.

It was 16 days before my 16th birthday when he went to heaven. July 11. 29 years ago. That sounds like a long time when I say it out loud, but that day — the day he died — still seems like it was this week. I remember what I was wearing when I found him. I remember what I did as soon as I knew: I ran out the back door of the house and into the back yard, screaming obscenities, trying to make myself cry. I remember not being able to cry.

I don’t recall a whole lot after that; the days that followed, or even the funeral.

Those memories play back like scenes from television reruns. Bits and pieces seem clear, but most of the dialogue is paraphrased, muffled, or blurred.

My dad had a great, Tom Selleck mustache. I remember how it would disappear into his coffee cup and how it stung my face when he kissed me goodnight or gave me a “zerbert” before school. I remember his laugh. And I remember his eyes. He had happy eyes.

I remember throwing the football with him. Once, maybe. We played a lot of football when I was a kid, but I only really remember that one time in the front yard. There was a Willow Tree that indicated a touchdown. Maybe it was a Dogwood.

I remember that my dad ran a lot. He was a marathon runner. But I don’t have a clear memory of him actually running. Not a single one.

My dad loved Jesus, and he loved to tell people about how God had changed his life. After he got sick, he was even more excited and vocal about God’s love and grace. I remember getting frustrated with that. I was a healthy, confused, and pissed off teenager. And he was about to die — with those happy eyes.

My story is full of major and minor characters who have impacted me in one way or another. 

Like the lady I saw in the checkout line at Wal-Mart this weekend. She was a minor character. True, I will not soon forget the chain that she had connected to rings in her ear and her nose, but she simply made a temporary impression. 

My father, on the other hand, was a major character. Someone around whom the plot of my story has been cast. He helped shape me, mold me, guide me, and direct me to where my story will ultimately lead.

I guess we all have opportunities to help shape the people around us. Every day we’re here, and long after we’re gone. The things we do and the memories we create – no matter how faded or heightened they become over time – can make a real, meaningful, and forever-difference in the stories of folks we love.

And here’s the really great part: We don’t have to do great, big things to make a difference.

I got cut from my school’s basketball team in eighth grade, and I was devastated. Truth be told, I should have been cut because I wasn’t very good. But my dad knew I was upset, and he ached with me. Later on that day, he proceeded to give me one of the the single, greatest gifts he ever gave me. That night, after I had gone to bed, he wrote me a note. It was scribbled, and hard to make out because he had to write it with his left hand.

He was born right-handed, but his disease had rendered his right arm useless. So, he sat down at the kitchen table that night and wrote this note with his left hand:

Hey Buddy:

Today is going to be a great day.
It’s your day. No one and nothing can make your day anything other than what you want it to be. If the weather calls for rain, decide now that you will enjoy being wet. If the test score is low, work hard to make sure the next one is higher. If treated unfairly for something, smile and be thankful for the many things you’ve not been caught for.

Attitude is everything. Today is not yet anything. Fill it with laughter.

—Dad

I kept that note for a long time. Somewhere along the way, I lost the original, but the idea of that note – and the words he wrote – have stuck with me. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t think about him and what he must’ve been going through when he took the time to encourage me and reveal some truth about what really matters. It was such a simple act. But the mark it made on me is indelible.

I may not remember all the details of my relationship with the man I called “Dad,” but I hope the life he helped shape can become a meaningful, major character in the story of others. 

Today is July 11. Fill it with laughter.