Saturday, March 15, 2014

to live is Christ, to die is gain

Dad, Ronald Douglas Cleveland, 1950-'13. Click photo for Slideshow.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Phil 1:21

Like a lens that sees wide, my dad saw life in lue of eternity, fitting every person he could in that frame.

That confession of the apostle Paul quoted above, written on many hearts who believe, now appears etched in marble alongside Ronald Douglas Cleveland, at Fort Sam Houston Cemetery. 

His life pointed to another age, saying: "Let's Go Together."

Together, let us go to Him. Let's bear the sufferings of others. Let's endure reproach for Christ. Let's give ourselves for the sake of ones who cannot speak or don't know. Let's die to ourselves, and rise again. Let's live forever in Him.

Death, where is your sting?

My father lives. He led not by his talents, resources or what he could do, but by the measure of his heart. He touched many by his gifts of generosity, love, childlike joy and passion. 

This was my dad. He gave himself for the needy and the broken, a nurse to the crippled and the lame. He paused much in the midst of life's busyness, to befriend the stranger, the homeless, the lifeless, and refused to carry-on without carrying others with him. 

His own weaknesses and "disability" of ADD actually allowed him to experience a unique measure of grace and freedom. The Lord could inhabit and display his nature in this one, who thought little of self-preservation, sought little of man's wisdom, and brought little but an open, sensitive heart.

Pops embodied the Proverbs 31 example of the church, the Bride:

Open your mouth for the mute, For the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy. (8-9)

"He didn't come to find a friend. He came to be a friend," said Pastor Clint Ward of Westover Hills Assemblies of God, during a memorial Jan 4.

Nephew Ethan Wimberly, 3, after the 21-gun salute at Fort Sam Houston Cemetery. 

I found myself asking the question many of us do at some point: How could a loving God allow suffering in the world? Amid my seeking of the gifts, witnessing healing and knowing His will that all would be well, I wrestled for understanding. 

Suffering is a result of our fallen world, the repercussion of rebellion. And yet it counts for the redeemed, as we allow it to form humility in us. Like Christ scorned the shame of the cross for the joy set before Him, so do we consider it joy to share in His sufferings.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. John 15:13

By laying down his rights, becoming a man to die for the world of sinners and bearing our shame, Christ displayed the gravity of His glory. He came so low, with all humility and love, so we might be raised up with Him. 

He is so patient with us. Imagine, all that God endures in all of history, in order to bring as many of His children possible to the knowledge of Him. 

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

We have a Bridegroom who is Judge. That reality, that for all injustice, we have a God who will avenge us and others, allows us to forgive. We cannot know mercy without knowing judgement. As a former atheist, I once denied this, as do those who see and perform healings apart from the name of Christ. Unless we recognize everything spoken in scripture alone, by the prophets about God that He is Bridegroom, King and Judge, we will not know Him. 

He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' Luke 16:31

I was able to care for my Dad for the two months he battled stage-4 pancreatic cancer. God was so good through it all, though, and opened the door for an (unknown to us then) essential procedure, a celiac plexis block, which curbed nearly all the pain. 

Yet the pain in my heart grew. It changed me, just to be at his feet (literally, massaging out the major swelling from chemo), and to experience what he did for a living, caring for the destitute. I've never felt so broken, humbled under his love. He never uttered a harsh word. 

Dad understood my need to take pictures, and the importance of bearing witness. I pray that my photos portray the testimony of the Lord, as difficult as some were to make. 

We have a living hope (click photo to view a slideshow). Just as I came into town, hugging him as he asked me, "Do you think I can make this one?" "You're strong," I said.

There was a parallel occurring in my relationship to my earthly father, and my heavenly One

Together, we grew poor in spirit, and drew nearer to Him. Psalm 73:21-28 portrayed:

When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast before you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

I felt like I was just coming into my sonship, as I only recently began embracing and celebrating sonship to my heavenly Father. To be able to minister to my dad and seek the Lord with him...this was the greatest gift. 

The Lord gave me a dream a few days after dad passed, addressing that parallel. Dad came back from heaven in his eternal glory, a golden aura around him, and I was embarrassed to see him, as I so often was as a child. He was unlike other dads; cornier and quirkier than most, greeting everyone, dancing and singing. 

"Go back to heaven," I said sheepishly, as if resisting those pure affections of one who just wants to bear hug you, despite everything you ever did.

Suddenly, I began to wrestle him! He was smiling, almost egging me on. It was good for me to wrestle with him.

Then, I stopped; I turned, and bolted running toward my old bedroom window, becoming a child. Through the window I saw my dad, holding a blanket over his head, waiting for me to come inside so he could tell me the stories of his life, and of the ages.

I waved, and ran back to wrestle him, until he went back to heaven. I woke up. 

It is how he wants us to relate to Him: sons; adopted; inheritors. To love Him, wrestle with Him, turn, and become like children again. He's inviting us to come underneath the covers, his wings, that we could hear his story and make it our own. That we would become stewards of the mystery. 

This is the two-fold attitude I must have: spiritual violence and vigilance of heart, in tandem with childlikeness - the posture of heart my dad carried his entire life - in order to inherit the Kingdom and experience the quality of unperishable life to come, even now.

And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matt 18:3

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. Matt 11:12

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. Romans 8:19

We become by beholding; His meekness, gentleness, and sacrifice making us great. Let us go to Him. Now my dad sees Him, face to face. 

So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Hebrews 13:13

On December 18, two days after deciding to forgo chemo, we worshiped Pop into glory; my two older sisters, my mom, (and a few angels).

My dad began his 36-year military career in the Air Force as a medic, serving in Operation Desert Storm & Shield as a nurse. He transitioned to the Army, and later retired in the National Guard. Below is a slideshow of pictures (click photo) from yesterday's 21-gun salute. 

1 comment:

Monica Ruckstuhl said...

This was beautiful to read. Thank you for sharing such a powerful and inspiring testimony. Blessings to you and your family. Shalom.