My father endured many setbacks in his life. His sister married a crooked lawyer who stole his inheritance. He nearly died from ulcerative colitis. Though he became a successful real estate developer and businessman, he also knew the difficulties of lean years and the betrayal of embezzlement from trusted employees (more than once). He faced many obstacles in his early years, including an alcoholic mother, a workaholic father, and a broken home. And yet, day after day, year after year, my Dad plugged along with a genuine smile and real joy for the possibilities of that particular day. It would be grossly unfair to say he never felt the pressure and despair of a particularly trying moment, but this was the exception rather than the rule. Most of the time, Dad simply refused to acknowledge the despair at all.
On more than one occasion when I found myself faced with serious life challenges, Dad put his arm around me and reminded me of his favorite character’s line from the movie Shakespeare in Love. “It’ll work out, Dean. I don’t know how. It just always does.” I don’t think I ever saw a turn of events turn him toward bitterness. Tomorrow was a new day. Why? Because the mercies of God were new every morning. That wasn’t a cliche Bible verse for Dad, it was a promise he took seriously—a simple perspective that governed his outlook. Sure, it could be maddening to those around him, who sometimes felt something more should be done! And to be honest, Dad was not the best manager of details, which meant others were basically required to pick up the slack in those areas…and sometimes there was a lot of slack. Even with a team effort, Dad still might take the credit. For Dad, proper attribution for his source material was just another detail. Why bother? It wasn’t his strong suit, anyway.
Was it maddening at times? Of course! But hey, we all have our quirks.
By contrast, the benefit was pretty obvious to everyone who knew him, in that Dad truly enjoyed life. He had fun, and made it fun for others. l laughed with my Dad perhaps more than any other person in my life. If you extend that line of thought just a little deeper, you see that the fun wasn’t based on fluff, it came from something substantial: faith. These invaluable lessons were never sermonized, which meant they molded my outlook without me even knowing it. Dad loved his wife and children. He provided well. He worked hard. He loved the Lord and imparted that love to his kids. He had this ebullient confidence that the thing that was dragging everyone else down—however bad, however large—was really leading to the next good thing. And that thing was probably a better thing. A new day.
One day, in 2009, he fell asleep. He woke, not in the mercies of God, but in His presence. Faith became sight. I suspect, for Dad, it looked quite familiar.
Earl Benton Briggs (1944-2015)