My dad was a commanding individual…
…both in size (he was 6’4”) and in personality. Whether instructing the groups of men he oversaw as an officer in the US Navy, or teaching his children to be productive members of society, there was no doubt he was a leader with a definite vision and high expectations. Over the years, I heard personal testimonies from men and women who–-while under the command of “CWO3 Foster”—resented him until they began to understand that his toughness stemmed from a desire to make them into more disciplined and productive sailors. His attention to detail spilled over into our home, where doing things halfway or with a bad attitude was met with swift correction. The quarterly report cards my siblings and I received from school were expected to reflect the grades earned from diligence to study; excuses for laziness were not accepted. Oh, how I loved hearing his inevitable, “Ya done good, kid! Your mom and I are proud of you!” when I brought home good grades! There was no doubting the vision he and my mom had to mold respectful, hardworking, and selfless children, and although irrefutably tough, my dad had an undeniable tenderness and love first and foremost for his wife, followed closely by his children. He unequivocally invested himself into forming our character, but not to the neglect of investing in our relationship, too. We spent hours playing backgammon, acey-deucy, and occasionally my siblings and I would collaborate in efforts to defeat dad in towel-snapping battles. Ooooo….I can still feel the sting of dad-snaps on my backside! Yes, indeed…my dad was larger than life in my eyes, and nothing could hold him back!
Until, that is, at the age of 42, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Life for my family changed dramatically as second opinions were sought and plans were implemented for chemo and radiation treatments at the VA hospital 3 hours from our home. Days turned into weeks and then months, yielding false hopes and then more devastating news that the cancer had spread from his lungs to his brain; there was nothing more the doctors could do for him. It was an incredibly difficult time for our family, yet hindsight has revealed that a more genuine picture of Romans 2:4b would be hard pressed to be found: “…the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance…” It was because of God’s goodness that he allowed cancer to develop in my dad. I know how crazy that sentence might sound…until you know the missing piece of my dad’s story: you see, though my dad was a good leader, invested himself into our character and upbringing, loved us unconditionally and had a definite vision for his family, he was not a Christian. This man who was so accustomed to relying on himself to meet his needs and the needs of his family, needed to be faced in a very real way with his own mortality–his own helplessness—before he would turn his eyes off himself and onto his Creator, his Judge, and his very real need of a Saviour. By my dad’s own admission—and in his own words—“sometimes the Good Lord has to kick the more stubborn mules a bit harder. And I’m one of those stubborn mules.” Terminal cancer was the final kick (in a series of more gentle, subtle ones the Lord—in accordance to II Peter 3:9—issued to my dad) that sent my dad humbly to his knees to confess and accept the gift of forgiveness and eternal life. By the time he bowed, very little counsel was necessary; he knew the Truth—it had been shared by my mom, my pastor, and others over the years. What was lacking was that terminal cancer that would cause him to become truly humbled, helpless, and willing to present a broken spirit and a contrite heart before the Lord. I clearly remember the day I returned home from a babysitting job to find my dad in the backyard, standing at the BBQ with a spatula in his hand and a huge grin on his face. “Guess what I did today?” he asked as soon as I was within earshot. I didn’t even need to ask. My dad had become a believer.
It was because of God’s goodness that He allowed cancer to develop in my dad.
The time that I knew my dad as a saved individual was far too brief, but the changes I saw him make in his life for the Lord made a tremendous impact in my adolescent life. His priorities began to change as God, His Word, and His Church grew in importance—and value—to dad’s life. Though he physically grew sicker, I witnessed a spiritual strength that grew right up until the days he entered into a coma he would never come out of. In my young mind, it took several years before I could fully comprehend that God’s love for all mankind (John 3:16) and his willingness that none would enter into eternity without salvation (II Peter 3:9) would motivate God—who is rich in mercy and love—to lovingly deliver this physical blow to my dad. But it wasn’t until just recently that the Lord helped me to understand another aspect of His deep love for yet another member of my family: my mom. You see, during my formative years, I remember her invitations for dad to attend church with us. I remember her encouraging us to pray for him, for his salvation. I remember her quietly taking on the role of “spiritual leader” to my brother, sister, and me, all the while praying for his soul. Her greatest desire was for her husband—who was dead in trespasses and sin—to be quickened through the blood of Christ; and her loving Father gave her the desire of her heart in a way that was not anticipated, but necessary to accomplish this task. It was because of the Lord’s love for His daughter that He allowed her husband to develop the terminal cancer that would bring him to the point of repentance. I still marvel over His display of love both for my dad and for my mom, though the means of this deep love would not by many—at first glance—be considered a very loving move towards either of them.
I often wonder how life would be if my dad were still alive; I wonder about his interaction and influence in the life of my daughter and his other grandchildren. I wonder how our relationship would have grown as I matured into an adult and we moved from a strictly “father-daughter relationship” into a friendship. I wonder about the relationship he would have with my husband and the other “in-laws” who have married into his family. Such wondering doesn’t create a sadness, so much as a reminder to be thankful for the interaction, influence, and relationship the Lord allowed between me and my dad during my growing up years. Dad is 21 years into his “eternity”, yet as we strive to teach our daughter a hard work ethic, a respect for authority, and cheerful obedience—as well as raise her in the nurture and admonition of the Lord–I’m happy to say that the legacy that my dad left in my own life, lives on.
About Shannon Sargent
Shannon lives in Lubbock, Texas with her husband, Jeremiah and daughter, Danielle. One of her main passions is teaching! She enjoys doing discipleship lessons with ladies, homeschooling her daughter and visiting with elderly people and shut-ins. Shannon loves her God-given role as Pastor’s wife to the dear folks in her church at Tabernacle Baptist Church.
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