Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Time for Every Matter Under Heaven

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2; 4)  
Of course we all understand that the seasons are inevitable. It is a simple fact about planet Earth that we are taught at a very young age:  Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall will all come upon us without our prompting the planet to do so. It is part of the balance that God created, and we have learned through several thousands of years to adapt to these seasons and make preparations and accommodations for them.
Its 2016 and I live in a first-world country, so my preparations for fall and winter are fairly easy. I go up to my attic, I retrieve the fall wreath for my front door, I sift through the bins of the boy’s clothes to find their pants and light jackets, and I move the pool bag filled with bathing suits to the back of the hall closet (I want to keep it within reach because, well, we live in Florida and there is always a chance that swimming could happen no matter what month it is).  I don’t have to make sure our freezer is stocked or that there is enough fire wood. These things are of course nice to have on hand, but for the most part, we are not living in fear of the chance of not surviving the upcoming season change. We take for granted that our basic needs can be meet with a simple trip to the big box store. The farmer and I have a saying whenever we leave on a trip, “Whatever we forgot we can go to Wal-Mart and get!” Life has become pretty easy for Americans.
Most people’s livelihood no longer depends on the seasons of weather and daylight change. For most, the promise of fall is simply a welcome breeze after a long hot summer. The seasons changing on a farm, however, are a different concept all together. When your livelihood and your income depend on a real harvest of real crops that are affected by the real weather that happened during the preceding months, you learn that the seasons are more important that the smell of a new candle or changing the wreath on your door.  Sometimes harvest time is exciting and promising when the farmer knows his crop yields are high. Other times, the opposite is true, and the crop has to be brought in anyway, but there is disappointment. The cycle will pick up again, always with hope and anticipation of what will come of the new work that is done. 
As I get further and deeper into a brand new season that I’ve never experienced before, the season of grief over the loss of my Dad, I am seeing a new meaning to the cycle of seasons. When the appointed time of my Dad’s death happened to our family, the sharp change in our emotional climate was brand new.  Within grief, there are many conflicting feelings that sometimes happen alongside each other. There are times when all at once, I can feel extreme surprise that my Dad is in fact dead; happiness that I really knew my Dad for the complex and amazing person he was; sadness that my Dad is no longer here to be with us on my son’s 11th birthday; wishing he could read this and all my future writings and then hear him tell me how much he enjoyed them; and also laughter and happiness remembering Dad’s jokes and sense of humor at random times; and finally, slight hope that maybe Dad is really still here..... it's a completely new set of seasons. I didn’t know my calendar for 2016 would hold these types of changes in weather, but I trust they are a cycle. I do trust that they have “a time” and they will change. I will change with them and I will learn to adapt and grow through them. 

So many people have told me their own story of losing their parent, and it’s been such an encouragement to me to see that these seasons of grief behave like the seasons of Earth. There is ebb and flow, joy and pain, times to be happy, and times to mourn. I can’t thank all of you enough for your words of kindness and support to our family during our new season. Dad has entered a new season as well, and as I type that, I’m smiling…because I know the weather there is fabulous. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

On June 29, 2016 my Dad began an 8 week journey toward his home-going. At the onset of it, we thought we had more time. We were told we had more time. We definitely prayed for more time. But God’s ways are not our ways, and most of the time that concept is fine with me. In this case, it’s a one-day-at-a-time lesson I’m learning as I realize the finality of my father’s death.   On August 29, at 4:30 in the morning, Dad passed from the ordinary, natural world as we know it, into the extraordinary, supernatural realm where there is no more pain, no more bondage, no more need. 

I’ve spent so much time over the past two months driving back and forth from the farm to Palm Bay, where my parents live. Each trip was different, each trip meant a further decline for Dad, and looking back on it I see now that it was very obvious that we didn’t have much time left with him. Each time I would come home to Monticello, I felt like I could exhale and process what I had just experienced with my parents and my sister. Coming back home meant peace for me. It meant that I was safe, back in a place where I could take a long walk at night and pray.  It was when I returned to the farm, after spending the last week of Dad’s life at his side, that I was able to put part of the puzzle together of one of the biggest lessons I learned from Dad the last 8 weeks.  I decided to share it at his funeral.

Here is what I told the crowd of 350 people who came to Dad’s service:

You can tell what is deep inside of a person, at their very core, when they experience circumstances in which every ounce of control is taken from them. I have worked with the elderly for 16 years as an occupational Therapist in nursing homes. I have been watching people in this phase of life deal with the harsh reality that they have no way to be in control over most of their life any more. And what comes out in those situations is what is deep inside a person, the traits about yourself that you cannot hide.

9 weeks ago, my Dad walked into the hospital with dehydration. He left 5 days later with a devastating diagnosis of stage 4 sarcoma that was possibly treatable, but definitely incurable.  He was told he could not drive, he could no longer work, he needed someone else to manage his medications, and that he could not be left alone. Everything was taken from my Dad that day, and within a matter of days, Tom Babington had his mantra set for this new journey: “Glorify God. Stay in the Game” For my Dad, what rose up in him when everything was taken from him, was relentless optimism, fierce faith, and an even deeper love for God and his family.

4 weeks ago, when we were told that there would not be any more treatment options for Dad because his body was not responding well, he was once again in a situation that was beyond our control. We wanted the treatment to work and give us more time, but it seemed that wasn’t our reality. He took it all in stride, did not miss a beat, and kept on encouraging others around him, kept on staying in the game, glorifying God.

2 weeks ago, he entered the hospital with blood clots and we once again faced another setback. It was clear at that time that we had reached a point where Dad was facing the final lap of his race. Every day of his last week on Earth he spent blessing his family with advice, words of encouragement, and love. He even continued to thank the doctors, nurses, and all staff for their hard work and devotion to his care.

Dad is one of a kind. He impacted others every day. He proved that what you say to others, how you treat others, and how you focus on others truly matters. It impacts people. It touches people. It shows them the love of God.

We talk so much about living well….. but I want to tell you today there is such a thing as dying well. And my Dad did BOTH.