The perfect gift? Your words.

December 12th, 2016

To give an appropriate answer is a joy; how good is a word at the right time! — Proverbs 15:23 

Estimates indicate the average adult vocabulary includes over 40,000 words. From this vast reservoir, we make thousands of combinations to articulate and share thoughts all day every day. Too frequently, though, I’m careless or random — messages flow from me like water spraying from a fractured pipe. Yet, with so many words at my disposal, surely I can do better. In fact, I am determined to do exactly that.

Why do I care so much?

Because even the simplest messages can make really big differences. And while some might seem unimportant and easy, others will remain with us for a very long time. Words can serve as wonderful gifts; they cost nothing but are potentially priceless. Especially for someone close.

My wife’s dad and I shared the same first name, which for many years felt like our only common ground. The rich love he felt for his daughter compelled him to tolerate me. He did it well. My value rose considerably with the arrival of our children, Dave’s grandchildren. As fellow dads, our relationship gelled. Two cancer battles, first mine then his, created an even greater common bond. I won mine (so far). Dave is gone.

And I sure miss him.

When the cancer spread to his esophagus, everyone knew the end drew near. Especially Dave. At the time, I worked on a church staff, so he selected me to officiate his funeral service—an event he insisted on arranging. So for six months, I regularly showed up at his house for lengthy planning sessions that included just the two of us. At some point, our time together turned a corner and he began to share his life’s every detail. Age failed to claim his memory, so we spent hour upon hour discussing dreams, failures, victories, regrets, relationships, and life perspectives polished to a clarity that comes only by eternity’s rapid approach.    

While our relationship began with distance years earlier, we became tight in those concluding months. What a treasure it was to share love while he was still alive.

In what would be our final time together, Dave looked over his bent and torn yellow legal pad on which he made notes about the service and to-do items. Most lines contained names of people we agreed he needed to meet with and say something to before he departed. He updated me on the last of those meetings, we discussed how to work the Purdue University fight song into his funeral service, and he set down his pen. “Looks like we did it all,” he said, signaling that we had reached our planning marathon’s finish line.

“No, there’s one more thing,” I replied.

“The service is done, and I did everything we talked about,” Dave said.

“Well, it’s something I want you to know as the final thing we talk about,” I said. We both knew the inevitable would happen soon.

I took a deep breath and said, “I promise to love your daughter well — and to never stop.”  

A long, quiet, holy moment later, during our unusually lengthy hug farewell, he whispered, “I know you will.”

Words can serve treasured gifts, but only when shared. Who needs a word from you?

*Portions of this article are an excerpt from the book Show Up: Step out of your story and into someone else’s (Dust Jacket Press, 2016) by David Staal.

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