Saying Goodbye to Dad
We had Dad's memorial service on Saturday. It was a beautiful day and over 200 people came to celebrate "Fletch," and many of them, at our request, showed up wearing cowboy hats and/or boots. So great!!! His friends hugged us, told stories, and made us laugh. I get weepy just thinking about it; I have a feeling "emotional Joy" is going to be close to the surface in the days ahead! I thought since so many of you followed my Dad posts (a few are here, here, and here), I would also share the talk I gave during the service.
You'll have to imagine some of the visuals - I was wearing the smallest of Dad's hats (which was still huge on my head), I showed up with one of his ropes, and my eyes were a tad bloodshot...but these were the words.
This is my Dad’s rope – a layman would call it a “lasso” - it’s precise name is “lariat” but COWBOYS just call it a rope. Dad called it a rope – I mean, he wouldn’t want to be confused as some sort of rookie...
Which invites the question…
Why would a man living in Rancho Cucamonga need a rope?
Even before suburban sprawl arrived along the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, there were no cattle. Fletch never rustled cows across the plains or anywhere else. In terms of a vocation, he’s more closely aligned with a farmer.
And yet, when you think about it and apply just a wee bit of Fletcher logic, you’ll see this rope is the perfect article to describe my father.
This rope is unabashedly Texas… and while you can take the man out of Texas, you will never take Texas out of the man.
Dad’s Texas roots are deep. – his grandfather drove cattle from San Antonio, TX to Abeline, KS – and my Dad admired his Grandad almost as much as he loved Jesus (just to give you a perspective).
Texas is where he discovered his love of animals, plants, and wide-open spaces. It’s where he was raised by my grandma Berta and his 8 aunts (Ada, Althie, Alice, Emma, Ola, Bertha, Bill, Hattie…… such Texas names ), and Texas is where he had the time of his life with his cousin/brother Kenny.
Sure, Dad transplanted to California soil well, but his sensibilities were from the Lone Star State and his personality was Texas-sized.
It’s no wonder in High School his fellow students named him “Best Personality.” You don’t win an award like that unless you connect with all kinds of people.
One of my favorite stories is from a family wedding where the photographer was a young, oh-so-hip, creative guy… a guy named Daley. Here’s a picture of Daley.
Daley instantly loved Fletch. He took countless pictures of him and you can easily imagine why a photographer would love Dad. Dad is a character.. a visually interesting subject. This is one of my favorites.
But even MORE remarkable is how Fletch took a liking to Daley. Forget the family! Every time I looked around Dad was yammering with Daley. Pretty early in the evening Daley complemented Dad on his hat and don’t you know, by the end of the night Fletch gave Daley his hat.
Who does that? A cowboy gives a bunch of things away – his shirt, his hand, his life… well, you don’t give the hat… unless you’re Fletch.
Daley’s knew the specialness of this gift and his professional portfolio includes this shot… making Fletch proud!
But allow me to rope you back into the regular story…The rope…A rope also has a practical side…it catches things. Dad definitely knew how to catch what he wanted. He caught my mom after all.
They met when she was in just the 6th grade …. He waited 6 years to start the courting process, but he was definitely going to rope her in. They were married when she was only 19 and he was 26 and were married 58 years. FIVETY. EIGHT. YEARS.
Wow! Just Wow! But you have to know how hard it is to lose your person after 58 years. So many of you have asked how you can help and I want to encourage you to help her find a new normal. As her kids, we wish we could just give her that, but we can't. It's going be you, her church family who helps her find new routines and places to belong. So I challenge you to call her up to take a walk, to ask her out to dinner or to see a movie...to catch her in the beauty of God's love.
But this rope also symbolizes something else to me – something playful, something ornery, something mischievous, and perhaps a little dangerous, which was also part of my Dad.
A quick story... When the first set of grandkids came around (we call them the “A Team” – Sean, Courtney, Westley & Carley) Dad would like to catch them with this rope. It was a “harmless” game because they would run away from Dad and he would try to lasso them. He was really a terrible shot… but one day he surprised himself and his oldest grandson, Sean, by catching him. As the rope flew around Sean’s arm, Dad instinctively pulled back, felling Sean as if he were a steer.
Like I said, you can take the boy out of Texas…
Unfortunately, Sean landed not on the sandy plains, but on a suburban concrete driveway. A root canal and two front teeth later, Sean was back to normal, and Dad never played the lasso game again…
A rope is a persuasive, yet an inelegant way to engage with people. And to be honest… that feels like my dad too.
I won’t make you raise your hands, but think about how many of you were talked into doing things you weren’t really sure you wanted to do?
How many of you listened to a song he loved or story he insisted on telling? How many of you just HAD to hear his latest harmonica riff? Maybe you designed flyers? Or joined the choir…
Dad even talked 30 people from the Duetts class into driving to Arizona to build a greenhouse for Rainbow Acres…Some of you may have held political signs at freeway off ramps…and you’re not entirely sure you’re even a Republican.
For people like Dominic, John, Jay, and other men I can’t name… you were persuaded to meet him at 6 am on Monday mornings in a parking lot to pray and study God’s word. And you did it for 15 YEARS!!! If you hadn’t done your study, he persuaded you to do pushups.
(Aside – Dad had a thing with pushups – he was always making his ag students do pushups for classroom failures!)
And for many of you, Dad simply persuaded you to read your Bible. THIS is the biggest feedback we have received this past week. “Fletch was always urging me to read my Bible!”
He didn’t care if you felt badgered. He didn’t care that you weren’t interested in ever looking at Numbers or Leviticus. He wanted you in God’s word. The reading plan was his rope… a somewhat inelegant, not always welcomed lasso… but for a bigger purpose
Dad wanted to catch your heart to know the peace God offers. He wanted you to feel unconditional love. He wanted you to experience grace.
He wanted you to know the transforming power of a relationship with Jesus because it had transformed HIS life.
As a kid, a Dad, who shares his faith with every waiter, who passes out Bible reading plans to people who have zero interest in Jesus, who wears crazy sunglasses and cowboy hats EVERYwhere - - well, you spend a fair amount of time being mortified.
Sometimes (especially when you’re a kid) you miss the message of grace because you see the brokenness of the messenger.
And that is one of the ironies of death. It is in our final brokenness that we really know who we are and WHOSE we are. It was in Dad’s final moments where everything crystalized…
I understood Dad’s brokenness allowed God’s strength to shine. Dad’s weakness revealed the sustaining grace of Jesus. How else can you account for Dad’s tortured battle with scoliosis that he endured WITHOUT complaint?
Even now by being here with all of you… by seeing how Dad has touched so many lives, we can see God’s mercy and grace.
I wish I could have bottled up the final moments we had with Dad and pour them out on all of you. I wish you could have experienced the laughter and the tears and the holiness of it all.
Dad was ornery with poking and prodding (when Jay Walden came to visit he tried to talk Jay into freeing him from his oxygen mask!) –and he was sweet – he connected to us as my brother read scripture, as we sang hymns (raising his arm in praise, and keeping his eyebrows moving in time with the music), and always, ALWAYS to my mom’s voice.
In his final lucid moments we gathered around his bed and he prayed for us. It felt like Jacob offering a blessing for his children…it was a simple prayer ending with…
“Bless us exceedingly abundantly. Grace & peace in the name of Jesus.”
Before he went to sleep for his final day on earth he found a new strength in his voice. He was, what could only be called YELLING, the names of the Almighty…
The beginning and the end!!
The Holy One!
On and on he went. He would ask “DO YOU KNOW JESUS??” (We assured him we did). Jesus tells us in Matthew, “out of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Dad has spoken what was in his heart for years now. I hope we are all absorbing the message.
I want to end by quoting one of the most memorable prayers I ever heard my Dad pray.
It was almost 15 years ago. I was in the car when Dad called and he asked how I was doing. I told him I was sad because my friend Sue (who Dad knew and who is here today) had just lost her dad to cancer. My empathetic Dad started crying and said, can I pray with you for Sue? (did I mention I was in the car?)
Sure Dad.. Of course…and this is the prayer he prayed…
“Jesus, meet Sue’s needs. Amen.”
That's it. A perfect prayer. So today, I simply pray for all of us…
Jesus, meet our needs. Amen
Thank you all for loving us well! The Fletcher Family...