Every time I hear “Sweet Caroline,” I think about my dad’s dogged, fan-boy assertion that Neil Diamond is hands-down the most under-appreciated artist of our time. Possibly since the dawn of time.
I kind of secretly agree a little bit, although I’d never say so out loud in a zillion-and-a-half years.
Growing up, I didn’t always concur with my dad’s opinions. Like his stand on women pastors, which was, “Are you kidding? Who would cook for their families and take care of their kids?”
On the other hand, there are ways I’ve tried to emulate him but failed spectacularly: He didn’t hold grudges and always gave others the benefit of the doubt — even those who would never do the same for him — while I’m a walking nerve ending with a mercilessly long memory.
The Holy Spirit alive in us continually calls us to what’s warm, secure and true: our identity in Christ.
There’s a ton of stuff I learned from him; some things he taught on purpose, others I gleaned by watching him. For example:
Soap operas including “All My Children” or “General Hospital” (my favorites) are trash. They cannot, in any way, be compared to “Dallas” (his favorite), which is most definitely not a soap opera, of course, because it comes on at night. Soap operas only come on during the daytime. Everybody knows that.
Riding motorcycles is FUN!!! Honda for President!!!
Breakfast, which must never be skipped, must consist of Certified Breakfast Food. Unless you’re going fishing — then you should always have Twinkies and Mountain Dew from the bait shop for breakfast in the car on the way.
Also, on a day that’s hot as the hinges of Hell, if you expect a 5-year-old to quietly sit still for several hours in a fishing boat in the middle of Stinking Bay and not get on your nerves, don’t give her Twinkies and Mountain Dew for breakfast.
It’s fun to talk about football, if you understand the game. If you don’t understand it, you should ask questions until you do. Except during a Razorback game. Opening kickoff = time to SHUT YOUR PIE-HOLE.
Having multiples of anything open at the same time in your pantry or refrigerator is lazy and ridiculous. There’s no excuse for it. Period. #onejaratatimesweetjesus
Actions speak louder than words. If you nuke a saucer full of milk every morning for your children’s beloved, nearly-fossilized old cat because you noticed she prefers it served warm, no matter how much you say you don’t like cats, nobody will believe you.
If you're not attending Ouachita Baptist University, you might as well not even go to college.
It’s gross to pick your nose. So don’t pick your nose. And when you pick your nose, make sure no one sees you. And when someone sees you, just pretend they’re not there. They’ll probably be so grossed out that they’ll go away.
A faith that fizzles at the finish was faulty from the first, because alliteration.
Some of the most powerful opportunities to serve others come along quietly. And they're sacred. If you’re tempted to talk about it every time you act on one, check your spiritual compass.
Depression is a debilitating and potentially deadly clinical illness, not a spiritual one — as much a matter of genetic makeup as the predisposition for green eyes or curly hair. If you have it, for God’s sake: Find a doctor and get help.
Alzheimer's sucks. It really, really, really, really sucks.
And finally …
At the end of his life, my dad sometimes couldn’t even remember how to swallow. But he teared up when he heard old hymns that he probably hadn’t sung since the 1940 Broadman Hymnal. Something holy and elemental penetrated the sludge and the tangled labyrinth of useless nerve cells in his shriveled brain, passing straight into his soul.
And he responded. He showed us that he wasn’t alone in his terminal free-fall down the rabbit hole. God was in it with him. Not causing it or blessing it, just abiding.
This is the promise, right? God is with us in our illness, inadequacy, brokenness, pain, complication and hopeless confusion. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, nor Alzheimer’s. The Holy Spirit alive in us continually calls us to what’s warm, secure and true: our identity in Christ.
My dad didn’t know much, but somehow he knew that.
For most of my life I heard him preach it regularly and intentionally. Sermons tend to run together, though, in one big “Open your Bible to … blah blah blah … bow your head while the choir sings all four stanzas of” whatever. Now in those tearful moments, without even knowing it, he offered a visual that taught me in the most powerful way possible.
One last lesson. And I'll never forget it.