Below are the words I recently shared at my dad's memorial service.
I've slightly altered and added to them for this piece.
While still living here on earth in these mortal bodies; while living in the here and now of all we know or have experienced; while waiting and longing for Jesus to return and usher in his eternal kingdom, death seems so final, doesn’t it? At least this is how it sometimes feels in the day to day, even though we know it’s not, because of Jesus Christ.
Many of you reading this have experienced the death of a loved one, and so I know you genuinely understand my words. It's in the intimately knowing the true person, knowing the history, knowing the idiosyncrasies—the unique personality, the likes and dislikes, the mannerisms and ways—that the absence of his or her presence here on earth is tremendously felt. For the family who knew him best—my mom, my brothers, our spouses, the dearly loved grandchildren, and myself—the absence of his presence here on earth is so tremendously felt.
Oh, how I miss my dad.
Many years ago, when my children were little, I wrote something for my dad. I titled it "If You Know My Dad," and I printed it on nice paper and put it in a simple wooden frame. If I remember correctly, I believe I gave it to him for Christmas. It read:
If you know my dad—I mean really know my dad—then there are many things that you would know.
He’s a Cleveland steelworker and a Marsh Fork Bulldog—always will be.
He’s a mathematician, a craftsman, and a perfectionist.
He loves his cut-offs, his ball-caps, and his paint-spattered white t-shirts.
He loves his truck, his sports page, George Jones, and Judge Judy.
He loves the wonders of nature and the comforts of his home.
He has the strong yet gentle hands of a master masseuse.
He has the gift of helping, as all well know who have been blessed to be his neighbor and his friend.
He is a cautious protector of his wife and is a man of passionate opinion.
He finds the greatest humor in his grandchildren, especially in the things they do and the things they say.
His grown children know his fatherly love knows no boundaries.
He is strong and proud, determined and hard-working.
And, he is mine. Because of this, I have been incredibly blessed.
As I sat at my kitchen table for many hours over several weeks, putting together a video presentation that began my dad's early June memorial service (included at the end of this blog), I was once again reminded of the core distinctions of who my dad was. However, I wasn’t thinking about the more superficial things, like his love for Judge Judy or that he thought there was no one better than George Jones. I wasn’t thinking of his attachment to his 1995 black Ford F-150 or his affinity for his white t-shirts, cut-offs, and ball caps. I wasn't thinking about his growing up in West Virginia or that LTV Steel was his place of employment for almost forty years. Though these were things that surely characterized him, this is not what I was reflecting on.
These two realities were the primary contemplations of my thoughts:
my dad’s great love for his family, but most importantly, God’s great love for my dad.
In early February, days after my dad passed away, my family had a graveside service for immediate family and a handful of our closest friends, and I was able to share a few words about my dad, while standing next to his navy blue casket, on a frigid cold Ohio morning:
Growing up with Stanton Sifers as my dad, despite his imperfections. . .his weaknesses. . .his sins, as his daughter, I knew these truths—verbally and experientially—to be reliably and enduringly true:
In him was protection and provision.
I was his dearly loved and deeply cherished daughter.
No matter what—even in times when I hurt his heart—he was always my faithful father.
I’ve told different individuals and have even shared on social media a time or two, that I know it was because my dad was who he was with me that it laid a strong, rock-solid foundation for my relationship with my Heavenly Father: The One who is my Ultimate Protector and Great Provider; The One who loves and cherishes me more than any other has or ever will; The One who—even when I deeply grieve his heart—will always be my Faithful Father.
Stanton Sifers, my imperfect earthly father—whose "second home" was Gaisor’s Pub during my growing up years—daily pointed me to my perfect Heavenly Father, without even knowing that’s what he was doing.
He was just being my good dad.
And my perfect, good Heavenly Father never stopped pursuing my imperfect, good earthly father, just as he never stops pursuing each of us. Despite our sinful condition and despite our absolute unworthiness, through Jesus Christ, our loving, merciful Creator invites and he woos. He targets and persists.
To our blindness, he brings sight. To our darkness, he brings light.
And he transforms our heart. He makes us new.
On January 28th, 2022, my beloved daddy, at 82 years of age, was born again, just thirteen days prior to his passing away. His salvation had been specifically, intentionally, and fervently prayed about for well over fifty years, and not just by our family, but by so many in the body of Christ. What a beautiful testimony of God's long-suffering nature, his mercy, and his grace! What a beautiful testimony of the power of persevering prayer through the long stretches of life, in order to experience the salvation breakthrough so desperately longed for.
The morning of my dad's born-again experience, he was taken by Cleveland EMS to the hospital, where he lay very sick for days, and then a week later was finally released to in-home hospice care; and in those precious final days, in spite of his weakened condition, God allowed us to witness—to see and hear for ourselves—a truly transformed heart, a life made new. Clearly evidenced was an old man being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit who had taken up residence within him, just as God's Word declares the Spirit does for the one who opens his heart to Jesus. Clear testimonies, though maybe small and insignificant to those who didn't know my dad intimately, were unmistakable in his speech and behaviors, and in our interactions with him.
One such testimony happened one evening when I telephoned my dad. He had already been in the hospital for five days, and because he had been so ill and because my mom had Covid at home and had not been doing well, she had not been able to talk to him until earlier that evening, finally having the strength to call him.
My dad and I talked for a few minutes, and my heart was so encouraged because he was sounding stronger, due to the multiple blood transfusions that he had received over the course of the previous four days. Our brief conversation turned to just how sick Mom had been that week, and my dad said, “Sherry, I’ve been laying her thinking about all the mean things I’ve ever said to your mom, and I feel bad.” And then, in a humble tone (so uncharacteristic of my dad, especially when referring to my mom), he told me just how much he loved my mom and that when he had talked to her on the phone earlier, he had told her just that.
A heart transformed. An old life made new.
On January 21, 2022, just seven days before my dad finally allowed the light of Jesus to break through his darkness, I began penning something in my journal. I didn’t know it in that specific moment, though now I do, that it was about my dad.
I had just read a verse in the book of Micah, which says, "The One who breaks open the way will go before them (2:13),” and in that moment, this description of my powerful God struck me so personally, so very profoundly.
Our God, the Creator of this vast universe—my perfect Heavenly Father, and yours if you've placed your trust in his perfect Son—is THE ONE WHO BREAKS OPEN THE WAY.
And so I began writing. . .
The Way. . .
tightly sealed shut
barred by an
and lies from hell;
a dense veil
THE ONE. . .
is too firmly fixed
for His inexhaustible love.
is too indomitable
for His lavish mercy.
No impenetrable wall
His unstoppable might.
No generational fortress
His incomprehensible grace.
is too great for
His blood-stained cross to conquer.
No lie from the Enemy
His unfailing Word.
is too heavy
that it cannot be
His overwhelming light.
HALLELUJAH! WHAT A SAVIOR!
Fellow Sojourner, I don't know who you are presently praying for. And I have no way of knowing how long you've been interceding, or who you have enlisted throughout the years to help you petition God on behalf of the soul-burden that weighs so heavy on your heart.
And maybe, just maybe, right now as you're reading these words, you're feeling discouraged, feeling like throwing in the towel, feeling like giving up because your intercessor's journey has been so long. As I presently type these words, I have no way of knowing if this is your earthly reality, your present-day mindset.
But these realities I do know, because God's Word says they're so:
God is faithful. God is good. He always knows best. He's sovereign.
He is perfectly precise in his timing, and he's impeccable in his ways.
His Word is always true, always trustworthy, always worth waiting on.
And he is always about a much bigger picture than you or I could ever imagine, one that encompasses way more than your small life or mine.
So, like the saints of old, throughout century after century, have done, you and I must keep lifting our "eyes toward the hills" and keep calling out to THE ONE WHO BREAKS OPEN THE WAY, on behalf of that soul we so long to see saved.
Though the fight is long and the weariness is real.
Though the discouragement is tempting and the defeat seems inevitable.
Still, we must just keep praying.
Must keep petitioning. Must keep interceding.
Must keep trusting. Must keep worshiping. Must keep praising.
Because the Great Magistrate is hearing.
The High Priest of Heaven is sympathizing.
The Savior who's suffered is now advocating at God's right hand.
His Holy Spirit is groaning, and most assuredly working, though we may not presently see the evidence or fully understand how.
And even when the burden feels undeniably great and even when the day is unquestionably long, still, we must choose—daily, hourly, momentarily—to rest in the fact that our perfect Heavenly Father, the Everlasting God, is, most assuredly, carrying forth his high, holy purposes, even in the midst of sin's death grip, pride's blindness, and man's free will.
Yesterday. Today. Always.