My Dad died on September 14, 2003. He was born on May 12, 1921 and I remember thinking after he died how fitting it was that he was born in the spring, when things are coming to life, and he died in the fall, when things are turning brown and the life is slowly ebbing out of nature.
The easiest thing and the hardest thing I have ever done in my life is speak at my Dad’s funeral, which turned out to be a two and half hour worship service that opened with the congreation singing “When We All Get to Heaven.” We sang it like we believed it. Because we did. And we do.
As I reflect upon my father this Father’s Day, indulge me please. Posted below is the complete text of the eulogy I delivered at my Dad’s funeral on September 19, 2003.
SEPTEMBER 19, 2003
What My Father Taught His Children
“Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.”
Certain places are haunted with the sounds and pictures and the people from the past. You go to those places and a torrent of memories comes rushing in. God encouraged and even commanded His people to mark the significant places in their lives. He implored them not to remove the ancient landmarks set by their fathers. I like to call these God Places.
In the book of Genesis Jacob had a God Place that he discovered on the way to Haran. He fell asleep in that place and had an encounter with God that changed his life. When he woke up he was frightened to discover that God was in that place and he called the name of that place Beth-El. He said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” And in that moment God promised Jacob that He would not only be with him in that place, but in all the places he would ever go.
The word of God makes it clear that God determines our places. And God determined that David Ronald Edwards, Sr. would be born in a place called Central City, in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. And God determined that David would meet a pretty girl named Lil (or Tess) from Greenville and together God would move them to a new place called Detroit and they’d eventually end up in Taylor, Michigan. Dave and Lil would never look back. They would transplant their roots to this little community and create a God Place for six little kids. From this place we would be introduced to people who would make an indelible impression on our lives: people like Jim Weir – the milk man, and Oscar Hacker – our barber. People like Aubrey Henderson, our first pastor at Taylor Center and at Northline, and every pastor after him: Pastor McGinnis, Pastor Barber, Pastor Rice, Pastor Lawrence, and Pastor Jones; and missionaries like Bill Tabor. And neighbors like the Delinkski’s, and Paul and Marie Alshire, and Charles and Pat Warfield from up the street, Conrad and Gail Mesahowski and the Mackowitz’s.
23319 Newcastle in Taylor, the house we grew up in, is a God Place for me. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how significant this place is – when I had a Jacob experience of waking up to the realization that “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.”
One day this week I sat on the backyard swing in that place and the memory of my life and the lives of my brothers and sisters came rushing back to me in a torrent. Sitting in the quiet of that backyard the day after my dad died, the noises and the images from my childhood – our childhood – were all around me. And in those moments of reflection, God reminded me that all I ever really needed to know about life, I learned from my Dad.
The verse that begins the fourth chapter of Proverbs perfectly summarizes everything I want to say about my dad: “Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.”
My dad never went beyond the eighth grade in school, and yet as I have reflected on his life over the last few days, he was the best teacher I ever had. It should be noted that while he taught us these lessons, that doesn’t necessarily mean we actually mastered them. He, along with my mother, taught us the fundamental lessons of life that have made us what we are, for better or worse. For better if we paid attention, for worse if we haven’t.
My father taught us to honor our parents, not so much by what he said as by how he lived. He lived quietly and honorably. If he owed a debt, he honored it. If he offended you, he sought your forgiveness. If you did him a favor, he never forgot it, even though you never let him repay it. It’s difficult not to honor your parents when nearly every day of your life you witnessed so many other people speaking well of them.
My father taught us to honor God by living a life that honored God. I’ll never forget that afternoon when Dad went to Mr. Delinkski’s yard to help him with some minor project. When it was all finished after an hour or so, Mr. Delinkski said, “I’d offer you a beer but I know you wouldn’t take it because you’re a God-fearing man.” From that moment I knew what it meant to have “a testimony.”
My father taught us that after you get passed five kids you have to take a head count before you leave for church because you might go off and leave the youngest one asleep on the couch. Thankfully this lesson applies only to Steve and Lisa and Becki and Tim.
My father taught us that you can take six little kids shopping at Sears if you sit them in a line against a wall and buy them a bag of Spanish peanuts while mom looks for clothes and shoes (never for herself, always for the six kids lined up against the wall).
My father taught us that patience comes from being married to a woman who insists on stopping at Robert Hall even though we just spent four hours at Sears.
My father taught us that the value of money was not in how much of it you have but in what you spend it on or invest it in, even if you don’t have much of it at all; and the first ten cents of every dollar belonged to Jesus. My dad chose to invest all of his money in his children. As far as I know he only bought one new car in his entire life, and that was a station wagon built for hauling around six kids. He never took a vacation except back home to Kentucky, and we always went with him. We never stayed one time in a hotel or motel the entire time we were growing up. To this day I do not know how he and my mother managed to put five kids through private Christian school and a few of us through college. But as I think about it, I have an idea how he might have paid for our education: the basement he always dreamed of finishing is unfinished today. The garage that all the other neighbors had in their backyards was never built in ours. And at one time he was working three jobs, and mom went back to work when we got older.
My father taught us that you can make a lot of friends and solve a lot of conflict simply by being quiet and letting the other person speak, rather than by being loud and opinionated. I never mastered that lesson – because my mother taught me to be loud and opinionated, a trait that has served me well on the radio.
My father taught us that it’s an honorable thing to serve your country, even if you were only a cook in the Army Air Corps…a cook who happened to provide support to the troops fighting the big battles of WWII in the European theatre like Normandy.
My father taught us that you don’t have to go to Disneyland every year to have a wonderful childhood. An annual trip to Fantasyland in Lincoln Park at Christmas time provides enough mystery and wonder to make any childhood a happy one.
My father taught us never to speak ill of anyone, because he never spoke ill of anyone, although he once told me that he thought Rush Limbaugh was obnoxious.
My father taught us that church wasn’t just for Sunday mornings. It was for Sunday nights, too, and Tuesday Morning Ladies Missionary meeting, and Wednesday night Prayer Meeting and Thursday night visitation. And every other day of the week you went to church to clean it. And if you behaved you might get to ride the buffer.
My father taught us all the theology we needed to know, summed up in two words: love church. If you love church, loving Jesus comes naturally. And if you love Jesus and believe on Him with all your heart you will be saved and when you die you will go to live with Him forever in Heaven.
My father taught us that a home is not defined by the size of the house or the fanciness of its furnishings, but by the people who live there and the memories they share, like the memory of…
…Dad coming home on summer afternoons dog tired from the day shift at Great Lakes Steel; and yet not so tired that he couldn’t join all his kids (and half the neighborhood kids) across the street for an impromptu game of baseball;
…being afraid to fall asleep until you knew Dad was home after working the afternoon shift or midnight shift at Great Lakes Steel;
…your oldest brother building a fort with his friends in the backyard with “donated” lumber from the lumber yard behind the house;
…your oldest brother coming home to find out that his hyper-active little brother had torn down the fort he and his friends had built with “donated” lumber from the lumber yard behind the house;
…daily milk deliveries from Mr. Weir and his Sealtest truck;
…Mr. Weir giving us a block of ice from his milk truck on hot summer afternoons;
…spending summer afternoons chipping away at Mr. Weir’s ice block on the backyard picnic table;
…sitting around the backyard picnic table on those same hot summer afternoons with fresh cut watermelon that mom brought out to us after the ice was gone;
…trips to the fruit market to get more watermelon…and mushmelon and grapes, and fresh corn on the cob and string beans;
…trips to Southgate Shopping Center and Montgomery Wards and Howard’s Christian Bookstore. (They didn’t have a “Mars” back then);
…Saturday morning pancakes;
…the smell of a cake in the oven and a roast on the stove all day Saturday;
…Saturday night baths while mom prepared her Sunday School lesson;
…the best Sunday dinners in any home in Taylor where people came from as far away as Costa Rica to enjoy; and weekday meals made up of leftovers from Sunday dinner, or pinto beans and corn bread; or beef stew with homemade biscuits, or better yet, Fried Chicken; or
…homemade molasses with a pat of butter and a broken up homemade biscuit; and
…hot oatmeal steaming from bowls in the kitchen window on cold school mornings; and
…homemade ice cream on hot summer nights; and
…falling asleep on breezy summer nights to the voice of Ernie Harwell coming from the radio on dad’s bedroom dresser; and
…waking up on Sunday mornings to the sound of Gospel music and preaching coming from mom’s radio in the kitchen window; and
…homemade fudge at Christmas time; and
…six wide-eyed kids all in the same bed on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa Claus; and
…six wide-eyed kids on Christmas morning who every year got most, if not all, of what was on their Christmas wish list, now knowing there was no way our parents could afford to do that.
Home is not a house; it’s people and the memories they create.
My father taught us that you can endure incredible suffering gracefully because God’s grace is sufficient and His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
My father taught us that to live is Christ and to die is gain.
My father taught us that we are wealthy beyond calculation because of the life he lived and poured into his children.
These are just some of the lessons I learned in the God Place we called home. Today we all get a new God Place. It’s the little plot of ground where they’ll lower the hull of our Dad in a little while. We’ll go there often until Jesus comes and remember the blessing of having a great man for a Dad. And one day God Himself will return to that place, open that grave, and raise the hull of our Dad back to life and together we will meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.