Fired by love's urgent longings, I am his rocketman.


My father-in-law is dying.  Even now he is struggling to breathe as family and friends count down the moments of his wonderful life. Memories, thoughts and conversations come in waves as we keep vigil with him.  I have known Dennis now for almost 40 years.  He has witnessed just about every important event of my adult life — for the most part silently standing by.  For the last 28 years, he has gone through a metamorphosis, as one by one, grandchildren have been added to our family.  For the last several years I have come to know him and will ever know him as Grandpa.
Grandpa is many things to many people.  However, to me he has always been a kingdom man.  About four decades ago, he found the pearl of great price and sold everything he had to purchase it.  Grandpa put his hand to the plow and he never looked back.  More than any other person I know, once he understood that the Lord was calling him in a certain direction, he became immovable.  Occasionally, I have compared him to a jack ass.  Just like a donkey, as soon as he smelled the barn you could not turn him.  You could cuss, spit, beat or kick him, but he would not change course once he knew what the Lord required of him.  Grandpa is a man of great fortitude.  He is an hombre given to long obedience in the same direction.
I imagine Grandpa would be flattered to be compared to a jack ass.  He would probably point out that there were a number of famous asses in the Bible.  For example, the ass who carried Mary to Bethlehem; or the ass who carried Mary and Jesus into Egypt.  Perhaps he might remind us of the  foal of an ass who bore Jesus triumphantly into Jerusalem.  However, knowing Grandpa, he would be more inclined to see himself as Balam’s ass (see Numbers 22:28 and 2 Peter 2:16 or for those who prefer look it up on Google) since he used to be a man of a few thousand words.  I suppose to Grandpa, it wouldn’t matter which ass you associated him with, he would likely think he didn’t belong in such grand company.
When I consider the chances of Grandpa being plucked off of a Texas range and planted among Georgia pines, I am overcome by the mystery of God’s will and power.  Like Abraham of old, the Lord took a man out of the land of his fathers and brought him to a new land where he took root and flourished.  And we flourished right along with him.  Like a mustard seed the Lord planted Grandpa, in a land where nothing was growing, and we watched him grow.  The seed grew and became a great tree and the birds of the air made their nests in it.  Like the stem of Jesse, “[t]here shall come forth a rod … and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”  (Is. 10:33-34) We are that branch.
Grandpa loves Jesus.  Whenever, I think about Grandpa, I remember the story of Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in Jericho.  He was very rich but short of stature.  One day Jesus came to Jericho.  Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus but could not because of the crowds.  So he ran ahead and climbed into the sycamore tree.  When Jesus passed by, he called out to Zacchaeus “make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”  (Luke 19:5) After meeting Jesus, Zacchaeus promised to give half of his goods to the poor and to return fourfold to all the people he had defrauded.  (Luke 19:8)  This story reminds me of Grandpa because (like Zacchaeus) he is a man who will not let his short comings keep him from seeing the Lord.  Grandpa could have made excuses, as so many of us do, but he refused.  He was determined to be faithful notwithstanding his limitations.
Grandpa also loves the body of Christ, especially the Alleluia Community.  Grandpa could easily have written the verses of Psalm 16:  “As for the saints in the land, they are noble, in whom is all my delight … The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.  The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yes, I have a goodly heritage.”  (Verses 3,5-6)  Grandpa loves his family, but the Lord is the pearl of great price and the Community is where his treasure lies.  This may seem out of kilter at first blush, but no offense should be taken.  Grandpa is simply living the Gospel.  
Grandpa has a well trained ear and he knows how to speak a word to the weary.  (Is 50)  Grandpa couldn’t hear any better than the rest of us — he just listened better.  When the Word of God spoke to him, he obeyed.  He didn’t always get it right but he was always listening.  For Grandpa, the Word of God is not something just to be heard, but rather something to act on, to live.  He is a man of faith and always encouraged us to seek the hidden things of God.
Grandpa’s time here is quickly drawing to a close and soon the thin veil between mortality and immortality will pass for him.  Yet he has some things still to say to us.  He would remind us that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  (John 12:24) Although a paradox, it is nonetheless true, that his passing may produce abundant fruit in our lives  — that part is up to us who remain behind.  He would also tell us that we can accomplish great things, despite our small stature, if we believe and cling to the Lord with the same tenacity he modeled for us.  Finally, he reminds us to love God with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves, and, in doing so, we will find that lines have fallen for us in pleasant places, that in his presence there is fullness of joy and in his right hand are pleasures for evermore and, that we too may end our lives with a goodly heritage.  (see Psalm 16:6,11)

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  1. Mark, this is an awesome tribute to Dennis. Thanks so much for putting into words, such a real sense of what Dennis’ life has been for you and for so many. Dan

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have great memories of Uncle Dennis. I am honored and grateful he is my Godfather. Simone

  3. Anonymous says:

    What a wonderful tribute to Dennis. He truly was a great man of God. His passing will leave a great void in the life of the Alleluia community. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Bob N

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