September 8, 2011

Thoughts from Son-In-Law Willem Bouma

My father-in-law is dying.  That thought is with me, it seems, every waking moment of every single day.  I wake up thinking about it.  I fall asleep thinking about it.  It wakes me up in the middle of the night sometimes.  I'd like to think that this profound sense of melancholy is well managed but I've learned it is not far beneath the surface and that it comes out sometimes.  I must say that I've wept like I've never wept before in my life over the past few months.  But I don't think that's wrong.  I'm not railing against God.  I don't think my father-in-law's dying is against God's will.  I don't even question God's will.  I still pray for a miracle and teach my kids to do the same.  Let's face it, the God who with a word put the stars in the sky could easily take this specter of "amyotrophic lateral sclerosis" away.  But, I see great things happening in peoples lives because of what Jack's experiencing right now.  I'm just going to miss him ... until I see him again.  The Ephesian Elders wept over Paul to the point that he said they were going to break his heart.  It is difficult to say good bye.  It is difficult to face life without someone who has had such a dramatic impact on who I am and how I think.

I met Jack in April of 1997 to ask him if I could date his daughter.  He was working out back.  (He always works.  He doesn’t sit still.  I don't think he can.  I think that's the hardest part of this disease for him.  It's learning to not do things because he can't.  He's learning to "be still and know that I am God".)  He was cleaning up his yard burning brush at the back of the property.  We had a few minutes alone.  I asked him if I could "see" his daughter.  His response was a story about a car - if he had a valuable car and some stranger walked up asking if he could borrow it he'd have reservations understandably and the point was that he valued his daughter much more than any car.  I had to laugh as I'd heard that from another father a while before.  That broke the ice and started our relationship.  It was a great weekend.  What made it great was God's presence in the home.  I'd never been in a house before where God and Christ and being saved and needing to be saved and trusting in God were just a part of life and regular conversation.  Jack said later that when Joni told them she was going to Grand Rapids, Michigan to see some guy he prayed about it and he said he knew, he just knew that that guy was going to be his son-in-law.  I never heard anyone talk like that before.  I grew up in a much more private Christian home.  I almost thought they were putting it on.  But they weren't.  I found myself desperately wanting to live in a home like that.  I'm trying to build one.

That's the essence of my father-in-law.  He strives to be obedient to the upward call of Christ Jesus and to show it to others.  I was talking about that with a friend the other day.  He was just at a conference where one of the talks was from a gentleman who wanted to be remembered for obedience.  He didn't want to be remembered as a great orator, or pastor, or teacher, or husband or father.  He wanted to be remembered for obedience.  Obedience to God and to His Word.

Jack is the ultimate teacher.  He is always trying to point out a better way.  He never quit teaching when he left the classroom.  He is always taking young men under his wing and directing them to Christ.  I remember the first time that my name was up for church council as a deacon.  The next time I saw him, he immediately started counseling me on what the best way was to handle different cases of needful people in the church.

It seems that I'm losing all the fathers in my life.  My own dad passed away eight years ago in an accident on the farm.  I've left others who have mentored me by moving back to Ontario from Michigan.  I remember Joel.  He was an optometrist I worked with when I first got out of school.  An excellent Christian and a loving mentor.  He considered me his son in the faith.  I remember Stan.  I worked for Stan for four years and he really stood in the gap when my father was killed.  But five years after moving back to Ontario the phone calls become less frequent.  We have our own lives.  Behind them all has been Joni's dad since I've met him.  He taught me in many ways to love my own father.

Fathers and sons.  Our relationship can be so complicated.  My wife says that that's because a father feels responsible to make a man out of his son.  It's his job.  That's true.  Once we are fathers we don't have a choice anymore about being one or not.  Our only choice is whether or not we are going to be a good one or not.  That drive to make our sons men makes our relationship with them complicated.  That's what makes a good father-in-law so important and such a blessing.  They can talk to us in one-on-one ways that our own dads can't and make us see the things our fathers were trying to accomplish in our lives that we misunderstood and made us angry.  Up until recently, I'd only ever seen my dad-in-law cry once.  That was at my dad's funeral when I thanked him for teaching me how to love my father.  I think that Jack's emotions are closer to the surface now.  It's another one of those tent pegs being pulled out that's he's talked about previously.

I was sitting up too late talking to a friend of mine a few days ago and we were mourning the passing of mentors in our lives.  God brings them into our lives and He takes them out again when He deems it's His time.  We were talking about how much we would like other younger men to talk about us that way some day.

I think the key is obedience.  We have to obey God and His Word.  And, when God puts people in our lives who model Him for us I think we can feel free to imitate them even as they imitate Christ.

I hope this doesn't sound like a eulogy.  I want it to be an encouragement.  Thinking through some of these things has put some of this in perspective and given me direction.  Think about what it would be like to be greeted in heaven with the words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant.  Come, enter into the Joy of your Lord."


  1. Beautiful Willem!
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Very heartfelt writing. The love for your father-in-law and your Father in heaven shine through.

  3. Willem, that was beautifully written and heartfelt. I know that your dad would be so proud of the man that you have become and the role model that you are for those around you. Praying for you and your family always. Dorothy