I spent some time over Christmas back in my hometown of Bremen, Indiana, visiting my mom, our son and his family, and my sister. The emphasis on family made me think of my dad, John Snyder Jr., who died fourteen years ago at age 76.
This photo from 1985 is how I best remember him. He was kind, loved to joke, and active. Although I can’t say I bonded with him as a teenager (how seldom does that happen?), I always respected him and knew I could depend on him.
He was a good father.
I wish I had spent more time with him in those years and gotten to know his heart. He disliked working in a factory, worked his way up to an office job instead, then in an economic downturn, had to return to the factory floor. It almost crushed his spirit, from what I heard (I was busy starting a career and family far from my hometown, so my contact was limited).
Yet I do recall some early talks that led me to think he had a longing for God. He realized a need in his life.
His early years of smoking, which he gave up about the time I went away to college, took their toll: emphysema and heart problems. For the last few years of his life, he needed oxygen tanks to help him breathe better. Then he started to develop the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, forgetting how to button his shirt, etc.
In June 2004, I visited him for the last time, although I didn’t know it would be the last. We had some time alone. He shared his fear that he wasn’t forgiven by God for things he had done earlier in life. We talked, prayed together, and cried together. I had never felt so close to him as I did in those few days. Apparently, he felt the same. When we hugged as I was set to leave, he told me that this had been a God-ordained time for him, and knowing he didn’t have much time left on this earth, asked me to speak at his funeral.
When I got home, I began a weekly routine of sending him scriptures, along with a little commentary. I wanted to encourage him in the faith as much as I could, and his Alzheimer’s limited how much he could read and comprehend.
My dad died in October of that same year, and I fulfilled his request to speak at his funeral. It was hard, but part of my message to those gathered there was to tell them about our final time together and my dad’s assurance of his relationship with the Lord. I pointed to the casket behind me and said that my dad was not in that casket; rather, he was now experiencing the joy of being in the presence of Jesus Christ.
Last week, that portion of the family that was at my mom’s house went to his gravesite.
At the grave, I retold the story of my talk with dad and about how God’s mercy reaches out to all of us if we allow it to touch our lives. Then I prayed to the One who seeks to give eternal life to all of us. It was a good Christmas.