This Saturday, June 2nd, will be one year since Dad passed away. Even after a year it still feels so strange to say that he is gone. It feels like yesterday, and yet it feels like 10 years. You can’t help but replay the week leading up to the event. Smoking ribs on Memorial Day with family (both Lepiens & Jones’) present before he and Mom flew out to Mexico. I think about the conversation we had out on the patio about what his wishes were if he didn’t make it back home. I think about Ayla hugging her Papa before going to bed that night – holding on to him for so long it’s as if she intuitively knew that it would be her last. I think about our last hug and words we exchanged when I dropped them off at the airport. That voice and tone saying, “Love ya Son” one last time. I think about the letters that family and friends wrote that I gave to Dad before they left to encourage both he and Mom while they were away. I think about that last day getting updates from Mom on Dad’s condition; walking around on the patio holding my phone while the kids played in their pool. And finally that evening when the final phone call came. I don’t know if those memories will fade over the years, but certainly they are very vivid in my mind this year.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss my dad. The talks, the advice, the laughs, the gun-slinging and explosions. lol The taxidermy, the time wasted looking for tools that he never organized only to find he’d bought 3 more already, the silly grin he’d get on his face when talking about a new gun he wanted, the burst of laughter when wrestling around on the floor with the kids and tickling them till they couldn’t get a laugh out anymore. That famous quick way he’d say, “Howdy” when he saw someone and throwing up the iconic two-fingered ‘Peace’ sign when he was driving away.

I think about the wisdom my dad was given. How he always seemed to have the right words to say for the occasion. He wasn’t the greatest public speaker, but was more of a private counselor who was understanding and could recognize when to simply nod along as you talked with him. I think about all the times I’d pick his brain about life and how he was always willing to share his experience (of course he’d always leave out the funny stories of mischief – that was reserved for Thanksgiving meals while my uncles were present lol). 

He wasn’t perfect. But there was always this sense of honor. This sense of traditional manhood, if you will. Love your God, love your bride, love your children, do what is necessary for your family to succeed, spend time outdoors on personal adventures, appreciate the gifts God has given you and don’t worry about what you don’t possess. Material things are fun, but your family and the memories you make are worth more than what any amount of money can buy. I’m deeply challenged by what Dad once wrote:

A man doesn’t have to be a hard speaking, domineering dictator to be a man. That’s not a man. That’s a very hurt and frightened person. A man is understanding, wise, loving and kind to his wife and children. He doesn’t need to use harsh words to get his point across. Must be flexible to take on blindsides that are unexpected, but also to have a life. An adventure! To keep life in focus, that it’s not all about getting ahead of everyone in the office, to have all the ‘things’ we can get. It’s being able to take off on a camping trip, a road trip to go to the mountains and the wilderness to see the rest of God’s creation meant for us to enjoy. Don’t waste the time being booked up in an office where you can’t get to the outdoors, the wilderness. Sometimes it’s right in your back yard. Spend the time with your family. Remember you have to do memorable things to make memories. Replenish the wilderness experience within you. Commune with our Lord when you get the chance to get out there. It’s okay to do that. Heading out to the mall isn’t it…fulfill this adventure in you…Take one. Weekly, daily if possible. You don’t have to go to Alaska to have one either. Don’t try to make everything you do into an adventure. That will take away from the excitement in it. Try something that’s daring, not stupid. Be smart, be dangerous, take a risk trying new things. That’s part of life. Be a wild man from time to time.

My dad was a good man. He was a faithful man that put God first and his family second. Nothing would keep him from being faithful to us. And it challenges me to do the same. Dad was tough, but he wasn’t so tough that he wouldn’t share his hurts and thoughts. There was never a time I felt more honored then when my dad would seek for my advice. When your own father comes to you, it has a way of impacting you. Realizing that he sees you, not just as a child any longer, but as a peer, as a fellow man. 

On the week of Dad’s passing anniversary I think about my family. I think about the difficulties we’ve faced and I think about the difficulties that are yet before us. But I believe my dad set a good example for us to follow: God first, family second – and then everybody else. That is certainly a model I hope to emulate. Because everybody else may come and go, but your family will be yours forever. Love your family, take care of your family, make memories with your family, heed your family’s advice even if you don’t like it, and enjoy every moment with your family. Be present when you are with them. Don’t let work, or worries, or whatever, cause you to be somewhere else while you are with them. Be present. 

I am encouraged today and this week by Dad’s writing and pray for us that I have only recently read that he wrote in February of 2005. I don’t think he’d mind if I shared it with you today. May it be a prayer you pray for your family:

I pray a blessing over my children and Nancy today. That they would be strong in the Lord and have the doors open and the Lord’s Spirit be upon them and anoint them with boldness, strength, and prosperity and long life. They have been honorable to their parents and respectable. Expand their territory, increase their harvest, their wisdom beyond their age, and their discernment. I bless them with joy unspeakable and full of glory. I bless them with a peace that surpasses all understanding. All that they place their hands to shall be blessed and they shall be respected and held in high honor among their peers. May they never end their hunger for our Lord Jesus Christ and live according to His Word. I love you Stephanie, I love you Michael, I love you Nancy my beautiful wife. You all are my greatest gifts the Lord has blessed me with. Let this be a reminder to you, that I love you all very much, I am very proud of what you all have accomplished already in your lives and for the plans you have for the future. I pray God grants me long life to see all this happen. I would do anything for any one of you, I really would die for you. I hope some day that you would find this and read it. That when you do, if memories return of the good days we had, the laughter and the crying, that a tear would form in your eye in a love that you have for me, that I feel even to this day that I am writing. For it is the ending years of life that its the time we spend together, the making of those memories and the retelling of them all, that really matter. The good times will weigh out the bad times and everything will seem as a fleeting moment passed by. But, life goes on. You all will be blessed. I have professed it before Jesus Christ as the head of this family. You will teach it to your children and your grandchildren even to the fourth generations. Let their be a legacy of this kind passed down that will bring encouragement, laughter, joy and peace to you and your families. To my grandchildren: listen, learn and you will grow strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Alpha, the Omega, the First and the Last. The Way, the Truth and the Life. Amen and Amen. I love you all very much.

I am both challenged and warmed by my father’s words and prayer. May you be challenged to pray this way for your own family as I have been. May you be ever present when with your family and make memories that will outlast you. May you grow to appreciate those near you more than you do right now. May you live a life that leaves a legacy that outlasts you, so that when your time comes to leave this world, those that are left will face the future with a challenge in their hearts. And may we all learn to have a bit more adventure in our lives…with, perhaps, a safe explosion here and there. 🙂