My dad has been deteriorating physically for many years and he finally finished his earthly journey the other day. I've been working through the fact that I'll not see him again -- not in this lifetime. I was reminded recently by my daughter of a conversation I had with Dad when we were with my folks during one of our first home assignments, a conversation in which Dad spoke of the day he would die.
"Who's that, Dad?" I asked.
"Yup... I think I know how he must have felt and I'd like to talk with him. Here he is, a good father. And he has a family business. He's raises his boys to know how to fish for a living, he invests in them, teaches them, suffers through their boyhood mistakes, and apparently, their boyhood tempers; patiently waiting for the day they all would grow up and be operating the fishing boats together and eventually he would hand the ownership of it all over to his sons, James and John.
"But, Zebedee was also a man who had placed his faith in the one true God and lived in anticipation of the coming of the promised Messiah. During the long hours spent teaching his sons how to fish, how to mend nets, how to read the weather: 'red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning." He was also teaching them about a God with whom they were in covenant relationship and what that meant; about his promise to send a Messiah to redeem what was lost and how to watch, how to recognize and how to wait for Him.
But what about Zebedee? Who was this man that he had raised his sons to so live in anticipation of the call of the Master that they would recognize Him and without question, drop everything and follow him that day? And what did the rest of Zebedee's days look like?
Dad would say, "I can just picture this old man: One minute he's working on fishing nets with his sons. A stranger says 'follow me' and the next moment he's left standing by the boat, nets dropped carelessly at his feet, and he's alone, a father's heart filled with mixed emotions of pain and joy, thankful for the call on his son's lives and filled with gratitude at their response to the call, but so very aware of the hurt as he whispers 'goodbye.' Jesus calls his sons, they hear the call of the Master, they answer 'yes' and walk away."
Actually, Dad, I believe Zebadee heard the call, too. He heard the call many years earlier -- the call to build up a child's faith, the call to teach godly principles of integrity and patience and faithfulness. And on that day, Zebedee heard the call to send, to give up that which was most precious to him, for the Master's purposes. To stand behind them, to love them, pray for them, believe in them, support them and send.
The other day I stood on a mountain top in New Mexico and I said goodbye to my dad. If I could say something to him, I would say, "Dad, you and Mom, like Zebedee, you heard the call long before your children did. It was a call to send, and you answered it with a resounding YES!"
As our children become adults, leave home and begin their own journeys of answering the Master's call to go, to follow Him wherever He leads them, I find myself now, strangely, on both sides of the call: To go, and at the same time, to send. I am becoming acquainted with the strange blending of joy and pain that is uniquely experienced by the "sender" and I have a new appreciation for those who have sent me -- those who have allowed me the privilege of answering the Master's call to go far away, by first answering the call to send.
So, to all those for whom the call is to send -- the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters whose call is to send their beloved family members far away to some other people, tribe and tongue; to sacrifice days of this life together and memories that will never be made; holidays never to be shared -- we, who go say thank you! We say we desperately need you! We say the calling to go is not complete, nor is it some greater calling than the call to send and we rejoice in knowing that we are all co-laborers with God as He seeks to redeem all that has ever been lost. To the Zebedees, no less than the James and Johns of this world, the calling of the Master is no less!
My dad finished his earthly race on Wednesday, July 17, 2013. I spoke to him within hours of his last breath -- we called him from the southern shores of an island in the South Pacific and I told him thank you for teaching me what I needed to know to find salvation, for modeling what it means to live in obedience to Christ, and then for setting me free to obey and to follow where the Master would lead me.
I find complete peace in knowing that in the moment Dad stepped into eternity, his heart's deepest desire was satisfied as he looked upon the face of his Redeemer and heard the words, "Well done!" But it also brings a smile to my heart to think about Dad, searching along the shores of some heavenly lake until he finds him.
-- Cindy 'Thornton' Schmelzenbach is a missionary to Melanesia, in the South Pacific, with her husband Harmon. Her daughter Danielle 'Schmelzenbach' Stephenson contributed to this article.