Clint and I were inducted into the same club, although he entered first. It's the Father Who Lost a Baby Girl Club. I know, I know - it's not a club anyone in their right mind would ever - EVER want to join, but neither of us had much choice. Clint was actually on a tour of duty in Iraq when his daughter Victoria died. I can't imagine what that flight home must have been like...and how long it was!
He and his wife Reini came to Anna's first birthday party. And while I know a lot of people asked how I was doing, when he asked me, I knew he got it. After all, he had been there before. So when he asked, he asked not only with compassion, but also with first hand knowledge of what it was like to wake up and think "a year ago my baby girl was born and left a short time later." As such, when he asked, I knew he knew, and it gave me a measure of comfort.
After all, what better balm is there than the knowledge that someone's gone before me? If he can live through the death of a daughter and live to tell about it, then so could I.
...Okay, there probably are a lot more better balms, but I submit it's a good one.
Some of you may be asking two things right now. 1) why am I talking about Clint? and 2) why is this post titled what it is? I'll tell you that the answer to both questions are intricately connected. You see, Clint wore shorts and sandals all year round. Hot, cold, rain, snow, didn't matter. Leave the house and put the sandals on. And boy howdy, did those sandals travel.
One thing about Clint was he wore his Christianity on his sleeve. In other words, he lived his faith, and he lived it out loud. You might've noted that I used the past tense to describe Clint. Yes, he passed away a few weeks ago at the too early age of 30 from an aggressive brain tumor. Yuck.
At his celebration service, his family put a few things on a table at the front of the sanctuary. One was his beret, the one that he wore almost as much as his sandals. I say "almost" because he liked to take it off and show people his super long scar from his brain surgery. Yes, he had brain surgery, and yes, he had chemo and radiation when he was first diagnosed. And yes, he went into remission and lived a couple of years longer than he was originally given. And yes, he was a strong and courageous man.
Which brings me back to the sandals. That was one of the other things on the table. Those sandals were well lived in, and you could tell at a glance that the feet that wore them looked about as beat up as they did. During his service, it was mentioned that when he got to heaven, one of the first things he probably did was to compare his sandals to Jesus' own. Here's how I picture it:
"Hey, dude, check these out!" says Clint as he approaches the pearly gates, lifting a foot to show one of his sandals. "I bet I traveled about as far as you did!"
"I'm sure you did, son," Jesus replies with a bemused smile.
"Don't get me wrong!" Clint says defiantly. "I'm talking pure miles, not in the metaphorical sense. There's no way I'd compare the puny things I did on earth to the colossal things you did!"
"I know, Clint," Jesus places his hand on the young man's shoulder and stares him in the eye. "But you did walk a difficult road, and you did well. I'm proud to call you son. Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done."
"Thanks! You wanna see my scar too?" Clint says as he lifts his beret and pulls back his hair to reveal the long and twisting scar. "Hey, can I see yours too? I bet I had more stitches!"
"As a matter of fact you did." Jesus smiles even broader. "You see, I didn't get any. I went straight from the cross to the grave, and from the grave to the sky. I didn't need any."
"Jerk!" Clint smiles too. "I knew that."
And don't think it's sacrilegious for Clint to call Jesus a jerk, because Clint only called people he liked "jerk." And since Jesus is the person Clint liked more than life itself, it would only be proper for him to call Jesus a jerk. And you know the funny thing? I bet Jesus called him "jerk" right back.
I think Clint's wife Reini summed up his entrance into heaven perfectly when she said "when Clint died, heaven got a little bit spicier." Everyone at his service that heard her say that chuckled, because everyone who knew Clint knew that it was a very accurate statement.
Ah, death. It's such a natural part of life, but a pretty yucky part for those of us who are still on this side of it. I just hope my metaphorical sandals can walk as far as Clint's did before I die.
I suppose that's part of why I'm writing this post. After Anna died, our pastor said it's a pity that Anna lived wholeheartedly with only half a heart, while most people live halfheartedly with a whole heart. After he said that, I resolved to live wholeheartedly.
I'm sure I haven't lived nearly as wholeheartedly as I could have since Anna died, but heaven knows I've tried. If I've failed, Clint's early death has served as a reminder to me that I do need to live, and I need to live with a whole heart.
Plus, I need to start working on wearing out my sandals a little bit more...
Reini, this is for you: please accept my sorrow that your husband and father of your daughter Felicity has left us and gone to be with Jesus and Victoria. But take courage that his life has inspired me (among countless others) to re-evaluate my life and resolve to live it fuller. Since his service, I've asked myself time and again "where have my sandals been?" More importantly though, I've followed that question with another question: "where are my sandals going?"
Hopefully towards that pearly gate...