Author’s Note: Dad died this morning. Miss and love you Dad. See you one day.
James Lanning October 11, 1938 – May 21, 2020
My dad had a heart attack three days ago. As I write this, he’s on life support in the ICU. By the time you read this, it’s likely my family will either be celebrating the miraculous healing power of God with Dad at our side, or we will be mourning and celebrating the life of a man who is finally experiencing the joy of being in the presence of his Savior.
Because life is often painful and always imperfect, I don’t know God’s plan for my dad…all I really know is that His will is perfect. And even in the midst of this painful uncertainty, desperately praying for God to spare his life, I find myself thinking a lot about Dad and I am reminded of all the lessons I’ve learned as I’ve watched the greatest man I’ve ever known live out his life. He’s taught me things like:
Believe it or not, in my whole life, I don’t remember seeing Dad being unkind to another person… even when they deserved it. I’ve seen him forgive, even when the offender didn’t ask for forgiveness. I’ve watched him love people who have wronged him and pray for people who are working against him. As a leader, he’s spent his life modeling what it means to be a servant. He’s taught me that no job is beneath me and that the greatest thing I could ever do with my life is elevate and serve others with every breath that God gives me in this life.
My dad has worked hard every day of his life since he was 12. That seems impressive until you realize he’s 81 years old and then it’s just plain AMAZING. He’s delivered newspapers, been a waiter, teacher, bus driver, basketball and football coach, Sunday School teacher, Assistant Principal, Principal, Superintendent, pastor, custodian, maintenance man, groundskeeper, magician (I know cool!) and puppet master (yep). Not long ago, I asked my Dad why he hadn’t retired (he’s worked at the same school for over 56 years). His answer: “I still love it! I’ll work until God makes it clear he has something else for me to do.” His love for young people and his single-minded pursuit to build up the next generation of Christ-followers has brought true joy and purpose to his life. My dad is the biggest reason I left a career in law enforcement with a cushy retirement to become a pastor of a start-up church plant with no retirement plan. He taught me that true joy and fulfillment only comes from working hard doing something you love as you follow God’s plan for your life.
If I had to sum up my Dad’s life in one word, it would be LOVE. Don’t get me wrong, as I grew up, my Dad was not a pushover. In fact, he was strict and he believed in discipline. I received more than my fair share of “correction” (that’s spankings for those of you born after 2000 :). But as often as I got in trouble with Dad, he made sure to show and tell me even more often how much he loved me. He was not afraid to hug me, kiss me, and say, “I love you,” no matter how old I got. He still does it to this day. Dad has shown me that real men aren’t afraid to tell and show people how much they love them. He’s done it everyday of his life with my mom (a love story almost 59 years in the making), his family, his friends, and even people he barely knows. His entire life has been a love letter to the God he has given his life to.
My dad has taught me many more lessons than these and to say I’ve learned these things from him isn’t to say I have perfected these things in my life. If you know me, you know I haven’t. But I have tried to become even half the man my Dad is and I will spend the rest of my life, trying like heck to live up to the amazing legacy of the greatest man I’ve ever known.
It is said of King David that “after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he died and was buried with his ancestors.” I don’t know if God is done with Dad yet. I hope with everything in me that He isn’t. In this crazy world, we need more people like Dad, not less. But this I do know: Dad has served God’s purpose in his generation like few ever do and I know whether it’s tomorrow or years from now, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” are the first words Dad’s gonna hear when he finally meets the One he’s given his life to.
Love you, Dad. Thanks for everything you’ve taught me.