As I watch his earthly life slip away, I’ve been thinking about everything Rachelle’s dad has given his daughter. Here are just some of the ways that Don will live on through Rachelle:
Food: This family expresses love through food and over food. Love is their food. Food is their love. The bestselling book, “Eat, Pray, Love” describes the heartbeat of the Long family—they love and they eat, the synergy of which rises up as a sort of prayer, a holy fellowship around these two essentials. Conversation over breakfast inevitably reaches back to recipes of the past and forward at least as far as dinner. Don has been speaking love via gastronomy most of his life, putting more than anyone could imagine into his recipes—growing and grinding ingredients than others would barely think to even purchase. “Taste o’ this,” he’d say, handing over a forkful of his latest creation. Rachelle, too, loves the world through her food, which, like her love, is always more abundant than necessary, more delightful than expected. Tonight when we gather to remember Don’s life together, Rachelle will be making pizza, her dad’s favorite. You can bet it will be better than anyone would guess pizza could be. You can also bet there will be leftovers.
Music: Don exults in good music—jazz, Celine Dion, the Four Tenors, and most recently, the Celtic Woman. He would record his favorites from PBS and play them for anyone who would listen when they came over. “You’ve got to hear this,” he would say, sinking into his recliner. Often he’ll be in tears minutes later, fully at the mercy of the music. He likes to get our girls dancing around the room as they listen, fancying themselves to be the singers. Of course, he loves to hear Rachelle sing. His daughter is music herself, with an essence that puts life to a melody, makes it a thing of beauty. Like her dad, Rachelle finds hope, energy, peace—God—in music.
Affection: Don is a hugger, a snuggler, a lover of cuddly animals. He gives backrubs, which must have been the family sport as a child judging by the spontaneous massages that break out at Long family get-togethers. His wife, daughter and granddaughters have always been, “Darlin’” or “Sweets.” Yet his affection is more than a family thing. He has space in his heart for all kinds of people, knowing not a stranger—only friends not yet met. Likewise, Rachelle is the kind of soul who, coming upon a row of five chairs with a single person sitting in a chair on one end, will select the chair next to that person over the other three vacant ones. Space between souls is not a good thing for her. Rachelle’s random back and foot rubbing qualifies her as a true Long, and even the roughest character may qualify as “Sweetie” in her generous language. The world will not sink into loneliness and despair while people like Don and daughter are on the loose, because they will snuggle up, give a hug, work on that knot in the shoulder and let people know that they are not as solitary as they had supposed.
Acknowledgement: Don—whether wearing the hat of pastor, innkeeper, friend, brother or dad—is an encourager. He has a prophetic eye for the best in people and a prophetic voice that puts that vision into words. He speaks to the best part of a soul, with conviction that makes believers of the people he builds up. Best of all, he listens to that best part, relishing opportunities to hear and celebrate people’s stories. Rachelle never needed that rule about saying seven nice things for every criticism; her verbal recipe pours in gallons of sincere compliments for every ounce of censure. She is the best fan I could dream of to bring to speaking engagements, showering heartfelt praise on me after every sermon or presentation I’ve given. Even in times of famine, when my character is a scorched, fruitless wasteland, she finds the one thriving plant in my soul and holds it up as the hallmark of who I am. I think I know where she learned this.
Spiritual Hunger: Don has a voracious appetite for God. He devours reading not only on biblical scholarship and archaeology, but on spirituality as described by yogis, emergent church leaders, scientists and others outside the traditional church in which his faith was forged. He is open to anything that might grow his understanding and experience of the divine. Some ten years ago he ended his employment as a minister, but he never stopped seeing and participating in the work of God. One of the first things that drew me to Rachelle was her genuine interest in things spiritual. Her heart beats to the rhythm of simple, solid faith—the lifeblood of a mind open to ideas that stretch the traditional boxes into which God has been stuffed. She works to create opportunities to learn more about relating with God and to talk about this learning with others. For Rachelle, authentic encounters with God and His people are pretty much the point of being alive.
The irony is this: I find it so easy to love her, while for him I have often found in myself as much criticism as love. How can this be when so much of who she is she learned from him? Dad, forgive me for failing so regularly to connect these dots, to see your goodness spilling over in the woman I love.
Thank you, Dad, for teaching your daughter so much of what matters. I pray for the grace to pass on as much to my little girls. We miss you already. But thank God, the best of you lives on in the people lucky enough to have known your love.