The last word…
On Sunday, November 6, 2011, Stan Hopton left his earthly vessel to join our Lord in Heaven. He lost a battle with lung cancer that no one even knew he was fighting. Stan was only 65 years old. He had a true love affair with words, most especially The Word. He had a hunger for knowledge that rivaled that of a starving man walking through a pizza factory. So, in his honor, I post this final message here, a eulogy to a man who will forever live on in so many hearts.
2 Timothy 1:7
“For God hath not give us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” This is one of Dad’s personal favorites, and he lived it daily. In all the years I’ve known him, I can honestly say I’ve never known my dad to be afraid. I’m sure there were times he was deeply concerned and even worried, but he faced life without fear. He faced death the same way. He was ready to meet the Lord, and he didn’t want any of his family or friends to fear his dying.
Cleared for take off
Hanging on the wall of my childhood bedroom is a red safety check banner, one that crews would remove before an airplane can be cleared for take off. The words on the banner read "Remove before flight." After walking into my room last night, I noticed the banner on the ground, and it struck me. All the safety checks had been made, and Dad was clear for take off. One final flight into the wild blue yonder.
Dad had been in the United States Air Force, stationed at R.A.F. Bentwaters, UK, and how he admired his planes. Especially the now retired F-4 Phantom.
Even to the end, Dad did all within his power to take care of those he loved, most especially my mother Judy. His protection was always gentle, his guidance strong and sure. His made it his job to methodically and thoroughly ensure every measure of precaution was followed, and he did so with the kind, patient spirit of a Shepard guarding his flock. Much the way an airplane crew would check every aspect of the plane, ensuring safe and complete functionality before taking flight.
God’s love is like an umbrella…
When I first met Stan he was the children’s pastor at the church my mom took my brother and I to. He seemed like such a kind man, even to a scared little girl, always willing to answer my questions or offer encouragement. Each Sunday, us kids would walk to the front pew for our special “Children’s Sermon” before being dismissed downstairs for Sunday School. One particular Sunday, I was feeling inspired; an idea for a sermon came to me… “God’s love is like an umbrella…” I pulled Stan aside after the service, this timid little teenager who was still trying to understand her place in the world, and offered him my thoughts. With a warm smile, he nodded his head and told me “It’s a good idea. Build on it, then we’ll have you give the sermon some Sunday.” I won’t ever forget that day because in my heart of hearts, after he walked away, I remember thinking how truly blessed my step sister was to have such a loving man like Stan for her Dad. God heard my heart’s desire that day and granted the wish I didn’t even realize I had. Only a few short months after that he and my mom were married…. And I’d never finished the children’s sermon. It wasn’t until very recently that the rest of it came to me. So, here goes.
God’s love is like an umbrella. It’s our protection from the rain. It helps us to weather the storm, without fear. Though, the umbrella doesn’t block our view. We can still see the storm around us, despite the cover above our head. Now, you may ask yourself “Why would a loving God want us to see the rain?” Wouldn’t it be better to hide our view as well? No. If we never saw the storm, we’d never see the rainbow. We’d never fully appreciate the umbrella, and how it kept us safe and dry. There is one other neat thing about umbrellas… They’re meant for sharing. When we come upon someone who’s traveling through the storm, we can help shelter them too… with God’s love.
So what’s at the end of everything?
The letter “g” of course. Dad loved laughter and his sense of humor was one of his greatest assets. He was intelligent and quick witted, and always had a ready quip to bring a smile or chuckle. These past few days have been filled with as many laughs as they have tears as we remember Dad’s life, Dad’s love and the special role he played in all our lives. I know in my heart Dad would have it no other way. He would be deeply honored to know he brought so much joy and happiness to those he loved.
As I look towards the future, I can’t help but smile. We’ve traveled this road of life together for so long, I almost don’t remember what it was like to walk without Dad. Yet, in my mind, I can clearly see him holding out his hand and saying to me “I’ve taught you all I can. You keep going, and I’ll be waiting for you at the foot of the bridge.”
Stan… I know you know this, because I’ve made sure to tell you, but I love you. I hold my head high and proudly call you my dad, and I am truly the lucky one. My dad wasn’t just any dad. He was hand picked by God Himself to be my dad. I could’ve had no better. You taught me to look beyond what my eyes see, to find the meaning, to never accept something at face value, just because the world says I should. You taught me that without laughter life is really boring, and when things get too serious, well, even trees need hugs now and again. But most importantly, you’ve taught me by your words and your actions that love is unconditional. Life is full of conditions, but love overcomes them all. Though I shed many selfish tears now, my heart is full of joy. I celebrate your life and your return home. But most of all, I’m grateful… to you and to God for the gift of you. It’s a gift I promise I will cherish all the days of my life and I will do all I can to honor that gift as it was meant to be.