Last Number of Times

If you read my blog you probably already know through some other channel that my sister went to be with the Lord on February 17. The funeral home website posted her obituary and a video slideshow, and the following are the notes for the talk I gave at the funeral service.


My sister was a gifted crafter. As the many quilts displayed in the sanctuary demonstrate, she had a keen eye and deft touch to put her ideas into incarnated form. Before she was squaring quilts, she was knitting, inventing her own patterns for socks and sweaters and hats and turtles and costumes for pirate turtles such as Captain Knack Sparrow.

For as many projects as she finished, word is, even by her own testimony, that there were dozens more she’d begun. Miles of of yarn and square yards of fabric in her stockpile were waiting for their turn on her needles or craft table respectively. It seems that socks were her particular weakness. She often knit one, that couldn’t truly be called the first, because she never cast on the second.

In some ways it feels as if her life was only half finished, or as if she had started some elaborate quilt that is now sewn short and not so neatly. Switching analogies, not many authors would write a story like this. She gave her life to Christ less than a year ago, so how many more things we might have anticipated for her? How many things did she anticipate doing differently? I believe that God is sovereign, that He writes the story how He wants and that each individual sentence ends for our good and His glory. I’m not questioning His timing. I’m saying it’s different than we would do.

In some ways it’s surprising that she made it this long. That’s partly because one doctor forecast in the middle of August that she might have only three weeks to live, and she lived more than six months longer than that. It’s also surprising she made it this far because, among other things, I tried to teach her how to ride a bike by pushing her down a hill when she was I only four years old, or maybe she was only three. Apparently I forgot to tell her to go toward the side without the car at the bottom; she did ride down the hill…directly into the car.

We shared a variety of memories, including the times when dad and mom required us to put our noses on the windows in the back of the car when we were messing with each other’s stuff, or sneaking over past the halfway mark on the backseat. We often threatened each other in the heat of some sibling argument that when we grew up we wouldn’t give the other one a kidney.

One of our competitions also involved seeing how long we could get mom to respond to us saying goodnight. In one of the houses we lived in, mom would tuck us in and then head down the stairs. Brooke and I would try to see how many ways we could say “Goodnight” and “I love you” until Mom had had enough at the bottom and shut the door. One of our favorite techniques was, “I love you last number of times” because you can’t go any higher than that, right? Then our higher math developed and we loved her last number of times, times infinity, plus one.

As I said earlier she repented and put her faith in Jesus Christ less than a year ago, here at West Hill Baptist Church on Easter Sunday, 2016. She immediately found a church near her apartment in Cincinnati, Truth Community Church, and started worshipping there. I saw her a few weeks after she professed faith and she was so excited to be learning about Ephesians verse-by-verse. Her only disappointment was that Pastor Green was already in chapter 6. She asked me, “Do you think there is any way I could go back and study the first five chapters, too?”

She was already feeding on and being satisfied by the God’s Word. The Bible is like food. It is bread and wine that give joy and peace.

Eleven years ago when I talked at my dad’s funeral service I said he possessed an uncommon diligence and that I wished he had known more Christian joy. My sister had an uncommon ability to make others feel included. She was funny and smart, quick as anyone with witty wisecracks. And I still wish my sister had known more Christian peace. For a variety of reasons, and for many years, she didn’t have the security and stability that only comes from the blessing of the heavenly Father. She had some great friends, she accomplished some stunning projects, but until she submitted to Christ she did not start to have the peace or the firmness of being planted like a tree by living water as Psalm 1 describes.

She knew the gospel. She grew up going to church with the family, she graduated from a Christian college, she taught in a Christian school for a few years. Sadly not everyone in those places treated her well, and she didn’t see the gospel well-adorned by professing believers. Some of the “Christians” were real jerks (“jerk” being the only word dad taught us how to spell in sign-language). Yet if she could tell us something from heaven, I suspect one thing would be: don’t let any of that keep you from the peace of God the Father that comes through Jesus His Son.

The Lord has decided that it is best for her to get her heavenly dose of His peace sooner than later. Though she only began to know His peace on earth for a short time, He has blessed her in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), and she’s there now. She has full redemption through Christ’s blood, the forgiveness of trespasses according to the riches of grace (Ephesians 1:7). She experiences the rich mercy of God, He has raised her in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:6). She knows the breadth and length and height and depth and the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19). And at this point she knows way more about Ephesians than I do!

The gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15) has brought her to her eternal peace, and all of us who believe will get there too.

So I love her last number of times, and I’m glad to get the final word, because I know that she has great peace with our Father.

Why My Night Was Like a Storybook

I spent some time in the hospital last week and my oldest daughter wrote the following story putting together some details from her visit and additional info from her mom. We thought it was funny and, since she doesn’t have her own blog (yet), worth sharing here.

Why My Night Was Like a Storybook
By Maggie Higgins
 It all started when my dad got sick. It wasn’t a normal sickness. It started as a normal cold around Christmas. It got horrible quickly, a bad cough, congestion, so on, and lasted so for about two weeks. After this it died down a bit, but he was obviously still sick. Mom wasn’t worried. It was just a weird virus.
   Two months later, my dad was getting worse. Finally, on February 1, my mom decided that he needed to go to the doctor. That day his best friend, who also was my headmaster, had told Mom that Dad was not doing good, and needed some sort of medical attention. Apparently, at a meeting earlier in the day, he had been white as new pair of tights, and had eaten half a “girl sized pizza, standing up.” This is not normal behavior for a full grown man, even if he has a cold. We went home from school and tried to be quiet while Mom and Dad conversed over his medical fate. In the end they decided that he would go to the doctor that very night and try to figure out what was wrong with him.
   After me and my three siblings got home from swimming, things started to happen. While we were eating dinner and wondering if they had figured anything out by now, Mom showed up with some news. The doctor did not like what he was seeing, and had decided to send Dad to the nearest hospital by ambulance. Of course we were worried, he is the best dad in the world, and always will be. The shock wasn’t unbearable though, seeing as it was not as bad as the time we found out he had cancer. (Different story, different time.) So anyway, Mom went down to spend some time with Dad and hear what the doctors had to say.
   Me and my siblings all slept in the same room. This was for the comfort of the two youngest, because they were sad and did not like the present situation in which they found themselves. After telling them a bedtime story along the lines of, "Three cats lived…then they died," we all fell asleep and stayed so for a few hours.
   My Mom came in around 1:30 in the morning. Dad had low blood pressure and a high heart rate, probably caused by intestinal bleeding. Of course, I only found this out later, because I was sound asleep on the floor.
   The next morning we went to school like normal, except for the fact that Dad didn't come to teach his normal classes because he was still in the hospital. People at school were very understanding. They made cards (21 in all), made us dinner, and gave us hugs. After school we found out that Dad wasn't coming home that night, and they hadn't found where he was bleeding from internally. Mom took us kids to visit him.
   Dad being sick wasn't really what I want you to hear about. I want you to know about the crazy roommate on the other side of the curtain in Dad's room.
   As you walked into the hospital room, my Dad was on the nearest side to the door. This meant that I didn't see the crazy man on the other side very much, but I did get a few glimpses and enough audio and stories from my mom to put together a rather interesting sketch of this man.
   Have you read N.D. Wilson’s Dragon’s Tooth? If you have, you have met the old man named William Skelton, or Billy Bones. The Man Across the Curtain was pretty much the human form of Skelton. I for one, would not have been surprised if the hospital had started burning down because of his old friends, or if he beckoned me and my brother over to tell us that we were his heirs. But alas, all the satisfaction I got was listening to him rant to his phone, and the stories that my mother told me later.
   He was an older man, around the ages of 60-65. His white hair reached to his shoulders, and he had the beginnings of a white beard. He had a pirately face, and looked as if he ought to have a parrot sitting on his shoulder. If he had, the language of that parrot would have been abominable, for the man himself was not the cleanest of mouth. I shall leave out the unclean words for sake of your dignity and clean mind. My mom saw him a little in the many hours that she spent in the crowded room, and she said that his skin was the color of a highlighter, most likely from drinking too much alcohol. Later Dad told us that he had heard the man telling the nurse that on some days he could end up drinking 190 oz. of any alcoholic beverage. Clearly this man had a bad life, and was trying to escape from it for a while when he could.
   He was very proud of his white hair. Mom told us that the nurse had brought him some cleaning essentials including a comb, and he had started brushing it. After a few seconds he made sounds like an angry bull, picked up his phone, called his friend, and yelled, “BRING ME MY BRUSH! This stupid hospital comb is RUINING my hair!” Of course, this is the more digestible version of what he said; there was a little more that was actually said.
   Beside his alcohol problems, he seemed to have a great deal of illegal substances hid away that his friend needed to find for him. Along with his mind, his furniture seemed to be going missing. For instance, his friend didn’t know where the man’s sofa was, and he was selling his tv. This man could definitely have been part of Phoenix's gang of mad men with bone tattoos. I would not have been surprised a bit if he had.
   This man was one part of my story book night, the other was a motel sign and rain. After leaving the hospital and getting a soda and cookie for us all, we stopped at a red light. Me and Mom felt all of a sudden that we were inside of the book by N.D. Wilson. Crazy old men, crazy circumstances. And now there was a heavy rain and broken motel signs were all around on the streets we drove through. All we needed was a lightning bug and old tooth. After all, who says that fiction isn’t true?
P.S. Some poetic license was taken in order to make my interesting night into a story that could convey the "adventure" that I had that night.

Forty-one in Forty-one

Here are lessons I’ve learned or reasons that I’ve got for giving thanks. Also, although I did recently turn 41, I don’t have a 41 point list. Instead, in the spirit of having recently read 1984 which was written in 1948, here are 14 things, numbered but not ordered by importance.

  1. Learned: Line diagramming is great for meditating on God’s Word. It’s my favorite observation tool to beat the meaning out of a passage.

  2. Learned: Christians need to read good fiction. “Good” is key. I’ve really profited from Peace Like a River, the 100 Cupboards series, and Lewis’ Space Trilogy.

  3. Learned: Family is not an obstacle to what a man wants to accomplish, they are what a man is accomplishing. Maggie, Calvin, Hallie, and Keelah are how I’m changing the world. More importantly, they are God’s grace changing me.

  4. Learned: Any doctor’s diagnosis that includes the word “cancer” will probably lead to a lot more conversations.

  5. Thankful: Reading on the treadmill has saved my reading life.

  6. Learned: You can read on the treadmill if you make the font big enough in the Kindle app on your iPad.

  7. Learned: The fact that Christ created everything does more than reveal His wisdom and power, it also reveals His interests. So don’t be a dualist. Also, see anything written by Kuyper. The quote at the end of this post is from a fantastic book that syllogizes worship by way of the world.

  8. Thankful: Dropbox. (As long as you don’t have to explain it to people older than you). You have hundreds of files, dozens of apps, and multiple devices. Have your stuff with you and backed up as an added benefit.

  9. Learned: Scissor skills and penmanship are related. I don’t have either, but I do have hope for the next generation.

  10. Thankful: Fountain pens. There’s one in particular that has written over 4000 pages for me, including the rough draft of this article. The scratch of the nib across the lines on a yellow pad makes me glad.

  11. Thankful: IPAs. I like (intentionally) bitter beer. The New Belgium Ranger is my current favorite.

  12. Thankful: Starbucks French Roast. I like my beer bitter and my coffee burnt. That’s what friends tell me, at least. I’m more than okay with it. There is hardly a more enjoyable aroma than opening a new bag of beans.

  13. Learned: I have a wife who prefers beards. My dad had a beard the entire time I knew him. When I was a kid I never thought about growing-to-keep one for myself. After 15 years of marriage and a lazy week of not-shaving my cheeks, the beginnings of the bush-face became the beginning of being a beard guy.

  14. Thankful: There is no human who I have sinned against more or who helps me so much as Mo. She is the crown I don’t deserve, the reason our kids are cute, and the one who makes me most want to live like the Trinity.


God’s love for God led him to create the world from nothing. Therefore, our love for God, if it is to be an accurate reflection of God’s love, must also lead us to a deep and profound and fitting love for creation. God’s love for God pushes him into creation. So should ours. (Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts, 62)

The Precious Possession of Diligence

Many of you know that my dad passed away early Monday morning, April 17. We travelled to Ohio for his funeral last week and soberly enjoyed the time we were able to spend with my mom and sister as well as other family and friends. I had the privilege to speak for a few moments at his memorial service and the rest of this post is the substance of my message.


Fathers and sons have a special connection, and the relationship between my dad and I was no exception. I absolutely loved my dad and it seemed right for me to honor him today even if for just a few minutes.

There are many things I owe my dad.

Dad taught me to love the game of baseball. He instilled me with a passion for mowing the yard to make it look good. He taught me about generosity, never letting any of my friends pay for lunch when we went out and occasionally sending that $20 for pizza when I knew they didn’t have much to spare. He taught me about the power of respect, gradually increasing both my freedoms and responsibilities which only made me want more to grow up and be a man like him.

But there is one lesson I learned from my dad that excels every other in my mind. In fact he is not just an example to me in this area, he will forever be THE standard. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this lesson is that he never once talked to me about it. This is a lesson I learned entirely by observation, watching him day in and day out.

The biggest thing I owe my dad is the lesson of DILIGENCE.

Everyone has a basic understanding of what diligence is and most of us know how rare it is to find. Diligence is defined as careful, or better yet, persistent, work or effort. We might call it hard work, tenacity, tirelessness, or perseverance. A person like this is often known as a “fighter” or we might say they have “stick-to-it-iveness.” But whatever we call it, that’s what I learned from my dad.

There is not a week of my life that goes by when I don’t think about my dad’s diligence. When I’m tired or just tired of doing something unenjoyable I remember his example.

He was diligent in his work. As a self-employed draftsman he did whatever was necessary to make his clients happy and provide for his family. He worked out of our house most of my life and I could count on him being at his table every morning–listening to his country music–day after day, year after year.

Not only that, he was diligent to be at every one of my sports games. He missed none of my games until I was 16 and traveling with a summer baseball team in Tennessee. Otherwise I could count on him being there. When I moved away he was faithful to support neighborhood kids or Triway teams or family friends. As long as there was even a glimmer of health he was there.

There were other areas of faithfulness too. He was diligent to get our family to church every week. He was diligent to shine his shoes every Saturday night before church. He was diligent to recycle. He was diligent to walk when he could. Diligence was the pattern of his life.

Most of all he was diligent for the last 14 years in his will to live. Since open-heart surgery in the fall of 1992 he battled uphill against heart disease, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, staff infections, broken bones and other problems that racked his body from head to toe. I suppose most of us were surprised God’s grace enabled him fight this long.

I cannot read the following verse without thinking of him:

A slothful man does not roast his prey,
but the precious possession of a man is diligence.
(Proverbs 12:27, NAS)

Diligence was my dad’s precious possession and is the one thing I most hope to inherit from him.

The only regret I have for my dad was also my most consistent prayer request: I wanted him to experience more Christian joy. There’s no doubt that there were seasons of little joys for him. He did have a great smile and a laugh that welcomed you into any story. But in spite of all the difficulties and pains that seemed inescapable to him I kept praying that he would experience sweet, Spirit-produced joy in Christ.

Joy is what he’d talk about if he were back with us. If he were here, knowing what he does now, I’m sure he would love to tell us about the sweet and sovereign happiness to be found in Christ alone.

I think he’d tell us that he missed out on living in this kind of joy, the kind purchased for us by Christ on the cross. He’d express godly sorrow for so much despondency and point us to Christ who died not only to set us free from the wages and eternal penalty of our sin, but also from the dreary, joy-killing power of sin in this life.

I believe my dad would urge us to live in verses like:

Though you have not seen Him (Jesus), you love Him. Though you do not see Him now, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

This is the kind of joy he knows about now. This is the kind of joy he’d want us to live in now.

No matter the trial, if we submit to Jesus we can be freed from the concerns of this life to live in the joy of making much of Christ. Jesus is better than life and He promises eternal joy to anyone who will leave their earthly attachments and love Him with their whole heart.

As I close this morning, I saw a Christmas card I wrote my dad in 1995 that he kept it displayed in his room. Though I used the word perseverance back then it carries the same sentiment as diligence. Here is part of what I wrote:

One word that describes you more than any other is PERSEVERANCE. What an absolute pain in the neck to always be physically less than the best and mentally lacking in desire. Yet you get up every day and press on. Thank you. Your example has not gone unnoticed!

…One day, tomorrow or next week, or at least Heaven, WILL BRING ABOUT THE TURNING OF THE TIDE.

Thank you for not giving up and for always being faithful to God and us.

The tide has finally and gloriously turned for my dad. He no longer needs to fight, persevere, or work with diligence. Instead of indescribable pain he has inexpressible joy in Christ. I pray that each one of you have this experience, and hope, of joy today as well.