Friday, October 29, 2010

A Father's Legacy

Tomorrow would have been my dad's 98th birthday.  I've been thinking of him quite a bit this week, and I've been anticipating a post in his honor.  It's odd how we so often want to honor our loved ones AFTER they've passed away, and it makes me wish I'd spent more time honoring him while he was with me. 
Ralph R. DeCamp was born on October 30th, 1912 in rural Ohio near the city of Lima.  He was in the middle of a family of ten children.  His father disappeared from the family when he was about ten years old, and subsequently, he and his brothers assumed a great deal of the responsibility of supporting their mother and the other kids.

In the 1930's, during the Great Depression and while in his twenties, he and his closest brother, Earl traveled out west working on farms and ranches, doing odd jobs, and panning for gold.  He made at least two trips; one by car, and the other by train.  No, he didn't buy a ticket and ride coach.  He hopped on rail cars and rode for free!  What an adventure!  I could never imagine doing that!

In the 1940's, during WWII, he joined the Army Air Corps and became a crewman one of the big bomber gunships.  I learned after he died that he flew over 70 missions with his crew and with other crews, filling in for the crewmen on other planes when they were sick or found reasons not to fly.  He wasn't a pilot; rather he was a crewman and manned the guns...dodging flak and praying to survive.  He entered as a simple private and was discharged honorably with six bronze stars along with other medals.  If you want to get an idea of what it was like to fly on one of those planes, watch the episode of Band of Brothers where they are dropping the 101st Airbourne over Normandy.  Wow!  And, he did that kind of thing over 70 times and lived to tell about it...or rather, like so many of his generation, NOT talk about it.  As I said, I learned all this after his death.

Ralph DeCamp is the first guy on the left

After the war, it seems that his adventures came to an end.  He settled in Muncie, Indiana, and got a job at the local Chevrolet plant.  He kept that job until he retired in the mid-1970s.  After coming to Muncie, he met a woman with three small children, and he soon gave his heart to them and married my mother.  I came along a number of years later.  He never traveled out west again, but I suspect he longed to because he often spoke about places like Salmon, Idaho, and I sometimes found real estate books for Colorado sitting on coffee tables in our living room.

But, you know, the the thing that my dad did for me that means the most is that he instilled in me a basic faith in God.  He wasn't a "Bible Thumper."  He didn't even go to church.  In fact, he had an experience as a young person that completely soured him on organized churches.  Even after I grew up and began to focus my own life on spiritual things, he would never visit church with me.  (Perhaps, I'll share the root of that sourness in a future post.)  However, he did believe in God; he loved God.  I often saw him reading his Bible.  He never had an issue with God.  It was people that messed things up for him.

Anyway, back to the story of how he instilled that faith in me.  I was probably only about three years old, and he had me lying on his chest in bed one night.  I can still vividly remember it to this day.  While we were laying there, he said something to me that has ended up being the primary driving influence in my life.

He said:  "Mike, the most important thing that you can ever do in your life is to love God."

That was it.  A simple sentence.  He didn't embed biblical doctrine into my mind.  He didn't make me memorize huge passages of scripture.  All he did was give me a core principal; the most important core principal.  Jesus said that the most important commandment in scripture was to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your soul, and all of your strength.  That was all my dad told me to do, and that has been the thing that has guided my course all these years.  It has kept me on track.  It has pulled me back on track when I've wandered off course.

I have done my best to instill that same core principal in the hearts of my own children.

If you glean anything from this post, let it be this....if you can get your kids to love God, everything else will flow so much easier.  It will guide their decisions.  It will give them a direction.  It will be a beacon calling them home. 

It will change your family.

I don't know for sure what my dad's ultimate destination is any more than any man can truly know another man's fate.  He wasn't an overtly righteous man as folks might define it.  As I said, he didn't go to church.  He smoked.  He cussed.  He had his human weaknesses.  But, what I do know gives me hope.  He loved God, and he cared about his fellow man.  Two things I know about God is that He works for the good of those that love Him, and His first motivation is to save.  He devises ways to bring the estranged back to Him.  I know that my dad loved Him.  I know that my dad shared that love with me.

I wrote the following to be shared at his funeral in February of 2000:

My Dad

How do you describe someone who has molded so much of your life?
Words cannot convey what the heart holds.

How do you honor someone whom you hold in such high esteem?
Live a life that someone else may honor one day.

How do you show respect for someone who does so deeply deserve it?
Imitate him in those aspects that command it.

How do you love someone who displayed his love in so many diverse ways?
Display and magnify this love in your love for others.

How do you replace someone who has meant so much to those whom he has touched?
You cannot.

Goodbye, dear father, my dad.
Your direction, example, and love will live on in those whose lives you have touched.

Written by: Mike DeCamp, February 9, 2000

In honor of: Ralph DeCamp, born 10/30/1912, died 2/6/2000

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mario's Pledge

This morning, as I often do, I watched the first fifteen or twenty minutes of Good Morning America. I guess I have to get my fix of the previous day’s political news, and anything of note that has happened in the wider world before I get going with my own little piece of it. Today, I was touched by the story of Mario Sepulveda, one of the Chilean miners who were rescued just last week after 69 days trapped underground.

Mario is one of 33 men who have a whole new perspective on life today. They were very lucky. Lucky that they survived the mine collapse. Lucky that they were able to be found so far underground. Lucky that they live in a day and time when technology can enable such a difficult rescue. However, I think they are lucky in a whole different sense. They are lucky because they have been given the opportunity to see what the world looks like after you have passed through the curtain of total despair, and have arrived on the other side. My guess is that what was important to each of them today is quite different from what was important to them on the day they arrived for work before the accident.

In the interview with ABC’s John Quinones, Mario said two things that stood out to me. The first he uttered while kneeling on the beach with his son at his side: “I adore you God. I promise I will never leave you just like I promised when I was buried alive.” The other was said to ABC: “Life is short. In one minute, you can lose it. In one minute, it can all be gone. Don’t worry so much about money. Live your life. Live every second of your life.”

If only those of us who have never faced that kind of terror and survived could really grasp that message and hold on to it! Unfortunately, so many of us require some sort of life-shattering experience before we really reach out to God; before we really feel the preciousness of life.

I am a Christian. God has been an important and integral part of my life since I was a young boy. Even so, I am humbled by “Super” Mario’s simple prayer. It has made me consider whether I truly ADORE my God in the same way. What pressures, what temptations would move me to “leave Him” even for a little while? Am I totally devoted the way that I want and need to be? I don’t think so. Thank you Mario for reminding me of how vital the presence God is in my life!

I really see both of Mario’s statements as intertwined; adoring God and living every second of your life because life is short. The younger we are the more we tend to think that we have an unending amount of time ahead of us. As we age, the more it begins to dawn on us that our lives are truly finite. Even as we age, though, we still tend to think that we’ll always have tomorrow. I’m busy today, so I’ll do it tomorrow. I’m tired this morning, so I’ll go to church next week. I know I’m not really focused on spiritual things right now, so I’ll change that after college….or, after I’m married….or, after the kids are grown….or, after I get that promotion….or, after I retire. Ooops….life is gone.

Thirty three men were dragged out of the depths of darkness last week. What will it take to get us to drag ourselves out of the dark depths of spiritual blindness and the shadows of self-indulgence?

I wrote the following poem a few years ago, but today I am dedicating it to Mario Sepulveda. Remember your pledge to God, Mario. I will.

Open the Drapes
By Mike DeCamp

People are born, people die.
In between, they live a lie.

Once in awhile, someone escapes.
They open their lives as opening drapes.

With the future in sight, and without a mask,
They take on a purpose, a mission, a task.

Going through life, we all have a choice.
Live for ourselves, or God and rejoice.

People are reborn, never to die.
What are you waiting for? Give it a try.

To try is to do, when God leads the way.
It is a new life. It is a new day.

The highway is long, and on it we roll.
But remember the Rock, he paid the toll.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Mother's Doubts

I’ve been thinking about my mom and dad recently. I was talking to a friend this week and recounting the fact that my parents moved in with my family and I about eleven years ago; they both lived with us until they passed away. My dad lived a year in our home, and my mom lived with us for almost five years. It was a tough but rewarding period in my life; some of the most difficult of my days, and some of the most encouraging in other ways.

I’ll share more about my dad in coming days because his birthday is at the end of October, but today I want to write about something with my mom that I still find inspiring. I had shared with my friend this week about the difficult days that surrounded her last week here on earth with us, but my focus in this writing backtracks about three months or so.

When my mother passed away, she was 81 years old. She had never been a particularly religious person, and the only time she ever took me to church was for a few short weeks after my brother died when I was seven years old. She was a loyal person toward her family, and loved me deeply. However, she was often rather gruff, and she cussed a great deal in between puffs of cigarette smoke.

I was born when she was nearly 40 years old, and when I became a Christian as a teenager (thanks to a wonderful neighbor—Emma Ogletree—and a persistent youth minister—Mike Runcie), she was pleased but did not show any interest of her own in pursuing spiritual things. Of course, as I grew older I often encouraged her to look to God. Sometimes I was encouraging, and sometimes, as I look back now, I was just plain obnoxious. Thank goodness that wisdom often overtakes the ignorant zeal of youth!

Over the years, despite my encouragement and pleas, she always held back any apparent desire to develop her own relationship with God. She had reasons and excuses…and, she was stubborn.

When she moved in with us in January of 1999, I had become a little numb to the idea that she might really begin to seek God on her own, but still there was a lingering hope. This hope was realized in 2003, after a number of serious health issues, and after she had been surrounded by our family and our friends for several years. She finally began to open up and share her heart…and her doubts.

What became known is that she really did want to know God, but she had doubts. She doubted her own ability to maintain her faith in Him, and she had doubts about God Himself. Lots of “WHYs” and “WHY NOTs.” By this time, she was studying the Bible with an good friend (Jean Keim), but she just couldn’t seem to get past her doubts.

But, then…..I think God did a number on her doubts.

Nope, it wasn’t a miracle. He just sent someone to deliver a message who didn’t know he was being used that day.

Mom was in the hospital, and another one of our friends, Dan Lafever stopped in to visit her. For whatever reason, he and my mother got to talking about her faith and her studies. In essence, she told him that she wanted to believe, but she just had lingering doubts. Dan responded by sharing a passage of scripture that came to his mind. It is found in Mark 9. In the story, a man has a child in need of the help of Jesus. The man said something to the effect of “If you can, please help him.” Jesus responded by saying that to him who believes everything is possible. That is where the key message to my mother is found, because the man responds by saying: “I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”

There it was; a situation where someone expressed their faith, but confessed their doubts and asked for help. Jesus responded by healing the man’s son.

My mom found her doorway to faith. She found that she could admit her doubts, respond to God, and then move forward in the faith that she had. She was baptized a few days later. That was August. She passed on to spend time with her savior in early December.

I often find that situation and that passage very inspiring because we all have doubts. It seems that our society is plagued by people whose mission in life it is to try to create doubt in the minds of believers. However, it isn’t the doubts themselves that are the problem, so much as the fact that Christians often find themselves crippled by the guilt that accompanies them. There are doubts in the back of the mind, so the disciple of Jesus feels inadequate or unworthy to allow his or her faith to become known to others and useful to God.

Let me just say that I’ve learned from my mom that the thing to do is to quote the father from the story. “God, I believe. Help my unbelief!” Do that and move on with the faith you have. Like the story of the talents…those who use what they have will be given more with which to build. Your faith will grow. God reaches out to those who reach out to Him.

Below is a poem I wrote about my mom after she had passed:

Visions of Mom
By Mike DeCamp

Visions of Mom flow through my mind

Memories of home, all mixed and combined

If I entered her kitchen by the open back door,

I’d often be fed and come back for more

Big bubbling pots of potato soup

Big wacky cakes with an ice cream scoop

Then, out in back we’d go for a rest

Sippin’ tea in the shade with mom at her best

We’d laugh, we’d joke, we’d argue and fuss

In the end, we’d smile, ‘cause that’s just us

Now, she’s moved on, and these memories I love

I can take comfort from knowing she’s happy above