Marks of a Life Well-Lived

Oct 3, 2014

Eight weeks ago, I wrote a post.

If you missed it, you’ll want to read it. It explains things, the reason for my extended online hiatus.

At the time, I thought I’d be back in a “couple weeks.” Really? Two weeks? I find it laughable now. How naive.

On August 19, 2014, my mom, brother and I said goodbye to our Papa for the last time. We’ve had a tough time of it, enduring these long, empty days without his presence. Losing him extinguished a light. We’re not—I’m not—the same. I realize death is expected, for all of us. I understand we are not alone in suffering. I’m fully aware that these things—illness, loss and grief—are a part of life. But that doesn’t make the losing and crying and aching any less significant or profound.

Nine days after our goodbye, on a sunny August Thursday, my mom, brother and I gathered in a Las Vegas church. The same church Dad attended every Sunday, sitting on the right side, fifth row, aisle seat. I can still picture him standing there, arms raised, voice loud and strong. Boy, how he loved to sing.

But on August 28, his seat remained empty. The rest of the room did not, however. Friends and family gathered from all over the country to honor this man who loved Jesus and knew how to live. My brother and I led the service, something Dad asked us to do in his final weeks. As for my part? I told stories. And through the backdrop of storytelling, I highlighted the marks of a life well-lived.

Relationships: Family comes in different forms, I’ve learned. Sometimes biological. But more often in the forging of relationships that have nothing to do with blood or biology or geneaological charts. It’s the result of doing life together, enduring the losses and savoring the successes and choosing to remain steadfast regardless of the waves of change, emotion and time. This was Dad, in every way. The evidence sat in the chairs of a Las Vegas church, men and women and children from all seventy years of his life. Only a few had biological ties. But every single one knew how deeply he’d loved them.

Faith: The first 27 years of Dad’s life were marked by trauma: divorce, abuse, alcoholism, rebellion. As for faith, it had no place. How could there be a God in the middle of all that pain? Somehow, that little boy survived. College followed, then marriage and a two-year stint in the US Army and Vietnam. After the war, Dad came back determined to build a different life, a different family. But he knew he needed help. So when a co-worker invited him to church, he said “yes.” The rest, as they say, is history. God rescued that boy’s broken life and remade him into a man of rock-solid faith. As a result, my brother and I will never know a life without the love of a real God.

Service: When a group of high school seniors needed a Sunday School teacher, dad volunteered. When a close friend died of cancer, Dad went to the widow’s house and helped her build shelves and make repairs. When Troy and I took in three extra kids, Dad promised to fly to Colorado twice a year so we could have a break. When a young leader needed advice, Dad offered to meet him weekly for mentoring. When Dad found out he had months to live, he wrote a book detailing his journey and passed it on to his pastor, just in case it might help someone else. He could’ve come up with a hundred excuses why he didn’t have the time or energy or skill to meet needs. Instead, he just stepped up and served. Again and again.

Joy: On July 30, the day before my 43rd birthday, Dad entered his oncologist’s office. The chemo didn’t appear to be working. His body showed evidences of shutting down. So he consulted his doctor. What’s next? What new plan would the doctor prescribe? Instead, this: “There’s nothing more we can do.” You’d think he would’ve demanded a different opinion. Perhaps thrown his car keys on the floor or burst into tears. Instead, he started to sing:

On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
And the glory of His resurrection share;
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.

Want your life to count? Want it to matter beyond the next project or to-do or accomplishment? Relationships. Faith. Service. Joy. These are the marks of a life well-lived. The chairs circled in your honor will never be empty when you live thus.

To the imperfect, in-progress man who, above all others, made me the woman I am today, thank you for your well-lived life. I love you, Dad. Always. 

47 Comments

  1. Bruce Cross

    Michele – deeply, deeply touching! It stirred up in my the memories of walking into a doctor’s office with my Mom and Dad in FEB 2001, to have a doctor deliver the same news. We lost my Dad in July of that same year.

    However, as I read your post, he is more than alive in my memories. I pray blessings over you and your family, allow the tears to flow freely, and the joy to overtake you.

    I am reluctant to appear self promoting. However, if you reference my short quote post today it really fits the bill for your situation.

    Thanks for sharing….it made my day!

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      A well-lived life continues to live on, regardless of how long he or she is gone. Thanks for the reminder, Bruce.

      Reply
  2. Wayne Stiles

    Heaven suddenly becomes more real when there’s someone we love dearly waiting there for us. My mom is there too, Michele. Such a challenging experience is this life, but our Lord walks every step with us—including the step of resurrection we will enjoy one day.

    Praying for your and your family, Michele. God bless you and comfort you as only He can.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      So very true, Wayne. Heaven is far more real than ever before.

      Reply
  3. JacQueline Vaughn Roe

    Praising God for your transparency & continuing to pray for the healing work He has begun!

    Reply
  4. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    Michele, you have no idea how much it has meant to me for you to share your dad’s journey with us. You and I share a common experience…waiting to see what is next for us medically. There is fear involved. There is faith, but there is also fear. I often think of your dad when I start to feel more fear than faith. He is a role model for me to end life well, no matter when that end may come. I wanted to tell you that your father is affecting my own life and it’s only because you have been willing to share him with those of us who never had the pleasure of knowing him in this life.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Fear can be a beast, can’t it? Been there, can still slip into it so easily. Watching dad helped me immensely. I found such courage in his honest journey. He wasn’t always strong or happy, but he consistently chose trust and peace in spite of the emotions of the day. THAT is courage. To choose belief in spite of the unknowns.

      Reply
  5. Kim

    Thanks Michelle, for the writings you share. Having known him is to love him. I think each person we come in contact with helps build the power of Jesus in and around us. We may not know how or why or who but it is such. Having Christ with us is to know a life like no other and to be jubilant in our life here after. God bless you and hope Mom is well and strong! XO

    Reply
  6. Renee Swope

    You wear your father’s love and legacy so beautifully my friend. Your Daddy was one-of-a-kind and although I never got to meet him on this side of heaven, my life has been greatly impacted by His. It was such an honor and life-changing gift to be at the celebration of his life ceremony with you and your family. I love you. So much. Praying for you and your family.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      And I will NEVER forget your being there. Love you dearly, friend.

      Reply
  7. Wendy Pope

    this blessed me! your dad’s legacy is lived well through you my friend.

    Reply
  8. Wendy Trunz

    I read today, once again, your beautifully written words from your heart, at exactly the moment I need them. I am about to get ready and go to speak at a friend’s funeral (48 years old) this afternoon. Thank you for sharing this journey with your dad. I wish I had known him, but even the things you share about him inspire me to step out and choose to live a well lived life, trying not to focus on the scary things in my life right now, but to trust and to ask the Lord, “show me where to serve today. Show me your purposes for THIS day….for this is the day that you have made, let me rejoice and be glad in it.”

    Reply
  9. Lily Kreitinger

    Prayers continue for your pain to become life-giving and for his legacy to become multiplied. Thank you for letting us walk along with you. See you in 10 days!!

    Reply
  10. BJ Armstrong

    Michelle,
    As I read your post today, I cannot help but think that your dad’s journey is ongoing, traveling along with us all, in our hearts. I often recall stories of him sitting behind me on Sunday evening’s at Eastivew. He was right to correct an unruly high-schooler with a tap on the shoulder and a stern look. As I reflect, I am humbled and grateful for his rebuke and instruction. Who can say what path I might have taken without his intervention? Truly, he is part of who I am today.
    ~Peace

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Thank you for this, BJ. You and I both know he was far from a perfect man. That “stern” side could wither a person in seconds. 🙂 But I think it was his imperfection—and his absolute dependence on Jesus and Grace—that has taught me most of all. He knew he wouldn’t make it a day without his God.

      Reply
  11. Natalie

    How beautiful… Thank you for sharing your Dad’s story and journey. I now understand why you are such an amazing woman. One of strength, courage, passion and grace. I’m so lucky to have had the chance to meet you. May you continue to share your wisdom and love. You are a true blessing and inspiration!!!!

    Reply
  12. Karen Weekly

    So true Michele and so well said. Let us all pray our lives are well- lived.

    Reply
  13. nancy bouwens

    Michelle- a legacy of love, laughter, faith and a life well lived. Oh that each if us may be found faithful in the same say when we are called “up yonder”

    blessings over you. as you and your family continue your walk with an empty seat at the table… but hearts full of gratitude.

    Reply
  14. Kelly Combs

    Love never dies. I take comfort in that. Be blessed my sweet friend.

    Reply
  15. Stu McLaren

    Thank you for sharing this Michele.

    As a father of a young girl, this was a great reminder for me that the lessons we teach our kids come not necessarily through the words we say, but through our daily actions.

    This was beautiful. I’m so happy that you are writing again because you have an incredible gift for reminding us of what life is really about (and I can see what an incredible influence your Dad was for you).

    Looking forward to seeing you in November 🙂

    Reply
  16. Jackie

    Beautiful – what a truly awesome example. Thank you for inspiring me to be more like him.

    Reply
  17. Doug Tjaden

    Now you are on the journey (at least part of it) in making peace with an imperfect world and the pain that we experience in it. Thankfully your faith in Christ gives you the gift of hope of being in that perfect world with your father. God be with you and your family.

    Reply
  18. Dana Rhodes

    This is beautiful, I know how empty we can be with the loss of someone we cherish. Life will never be the same, but our Lord and only our Lord watches over us in this dark time and we slowly enjoy life again, but always with that emptiness in our soul. I love you

    Reply
  19. Joy

    Glad to have you back to the blog. Love you friend….

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Thanks, joyjoyg. It was more difficult to get back to writing than I thought …

      *sigh*

      Reply
  20. Angela

    I’m so sorry for your loss but rejoicing that your dad left a legacy that you can continue to build on with your family. Praying that God will comfort and sustain you!

    Reply
  21. Rick Theule

    Michele, Thanks for writing. Thanks for writing THIS. Thanks for sharing your dad with me. He’s still teaching. Through you. Keep it up.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Thank you, Rick. Your words mean more than you know.

      Reply
  22. jerolyn

    I wish I had the privilege of meeting him. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of what he was. Thank you for living out his legacy in your own life.

    Reply
  23. Linda Kohlmeier

    Very well said Michele. We have very fond memories of being in a Bible Study with your Mom & Dad when we were first married and you were about 2 years old. God is going to use this very difficult situation in the lives of the people your Dad touched by his love for God. God bless.

    Reply
  24. Deanna

    Michele, I love that your dad wrote his story with this well-lived life and that you are sharing it by your words, relationships and your smile! 🙂

    p.s. I can’t walk into DQ without thinking of your dad.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      LOVE! Don’t even ask me how many times I’ve gone to DQ in the past two months …

      Reply
  25. Megan DiMaria

    Beautiful!

    Reply
  26. spence smith

    Well, i’m on a flight reading this wondering if should ask the flight attendant for some tissue. Watching you walk through this all has been nothing short of encouraging and inspiring. I want to be the kind of dad that makes his kids love him so well. I’m sorry for your loss but what you show us through your process has a huge impact. thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  27. Wravan

    I lost my mom 11 years ago on August 19, when I was 43 years old, too. We got seven months from diagnosis to death. The last three months of caring for her 24/7 were a painful, joyful, intense, holy time for my family. The day after she died, we had to pack up and take our oldest child out of state for her freshman year of college. Returning to real life was surreal!

    Tears still come at unexpected times, just not nearly as often. We mourn for ourselves and rejoice for our loved ones who have gone home. May you be blessed with joy even through the tears!

    Reply
  28. Jeanne Hultgren

    Michele – a blessing to have read this beautiful tribute to the first man in your life…thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  29. Ken Davis

    Michele,
    What a beautiful post. I cannot believe how much you look like your dad. I wish I could have met him. thank you for writing this and sharing you love for your father with us.

    Ken

    Reply
  30. Chery Gegelman

    Michelle,

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Your words paint such a powerful picture I feel like I knew your dad. In the midst of your loss I sense hope and peace. Thank you for sharing his life with us.

    Reply
  31. Joy Overbeck

    What a special gift you have Michele, and what a great gift was your wonderful Dad. God speaks through your words and his life — when he broke into that wonderful hymn upon being told the end was near — incredible moving for me.

    Also this especially touched me because my lovely feisty Christ-loving Mom went to be with her Jesus last Dec. 19 so I understand your tears and suffering all too well. I know she is having a wonderful time but I can’t help wanting her back here with us! Your description of your Dad’s life and service and love for God also remind me so much of her and how she lived for her Lord every day.

    I know they will bump into each other up there and be singing together — she was in her church choir and as a teen had the life ambition to be an opera singer…

    best blessings and big hug — Joy

    Reply
  32. Rachel

    This is beautiful. Over the last 2 years I have had 3 friends lose their fathers. None of my friends were older than 30 at the time and it was a dark and desperate place for all of them. However, I have never been more profoundly moved by the mercies of God than when I watched these women grieve with real and lasting hope. I am so blessed by you and your transparency on this journey. Thank you for sharing your dad with us, he seems like the kind of guy I’m gonna enjoy plopping down next to and getting to know better on the other side. Blessings to you and your family as your grieve. <3

    Reply
  33. Pam

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Your dad sounds like a wonderful man. Thank you for sharing. xo

    Reply
  34. Bonnie

    Michele, I am so sorry for the loss of your dad! I was in the oncologist’s office when the same words were uttered about my mother. November will be three years and I will always remember the moment she met our Lord and Savior face to face. I understand that sacred space. Prayers are with you and your family!!! You are living this life well-lived!

    Reply
  35. Robert

    Hello Michele I can’t say how sorry I am for your loss and my condolences to you and your family.
    It seems as we get older this is something we all experience even tho we don’t really want to.

    I lost my mother many years ago and until today it seems like only yesterday, I know deep down inside she is always with me in my heart. I can only say this, keep all those great memories you have of your father and it will help you greatly and you fill find peace in the days to come.

    God bless you and your family and thank you so much for sharing this with us in your time of saddest

    Reply
  36. Rachel Wojnarowski

    I have to wonder if your dad has met my mama yet. I can imagine they are singing a duet of “When the Roll.” Heart hugs to you.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      That would make my heart sing! Hugs back to you, friend. xo

      Reply
  37. Charles

    Hi Michele!
    I’m sorry for your loss. I lost my Mom in May of this year. It’s tough for all of us, but most of all for my Dad. My wife lost her shortly after we were married. The pain never goes away, but it lessens over time. May God continue to bless you and your family!

    – Charles

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  3. Seeing Beauty in the Everyday {A Guest Post by Kathleen Thompson} | Michele Cushatt - […] from blogging as I’m in Las Vegas, NV with my mom and brother. Today marks one year since my…

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