At church this past Sunday, our youth pastor, Jon Annin, gave a remarkable lesson on the the two ways we can view TIME. CHRONOS or chronological is the typical way we view time. In chronos time, one uses words like “second to second”, “minute to minute”, “hour to hour”, “day to day”, “year to year”, etc. to explain the passage of time. Another view of time is called KAIROS. Jon describes kairos time as “… when God infuses meaning into a moment”. Jon further explains that “…If you are just trying to get through time, you may miss the moment.” I’m sure we’ve all had the experience from time to time stopping our busy day long enough to reflect on something that was said to us. Or perhaps it was something we just read that had some poignant truth to it. Or maybe it was just a meaningful song that evokes tears or a joyful memory. Maybe it happens when we have a spiritually touching experience walking in the great outdoors. On the occasion of Christmas day, I thought I’d share with you a KAIROS moment from my life.
This story goes back over seventeen years ago to the summer of 1996. I had just turned 30 and was about 3 years into my second career working as an engineering manager for Stryker Endoscopy, a medical device manufacturing company in the Silicon Valley. Leah and I had been married nearly 5 years, but as yet had no children. I wasn’t really conscious of this at the time, but this was something that I learned was starting to become bothersome for my Dad. He so wanted to have grandkids, my Mom would share later. He particularly wanted grand-daughters and told Mom that whoever of his three sons did that first would get his “inheritance”. I didn’t quite get why he wanted that so much at the time. I was in the ‘zone’ at work and found what I was doing there more engaging then the thought of starting a family of our own. Leah and I seemed to have the ideal work-personal life balance so there didn’t seem to be an rush to have children. My role had recently changed from supervising in the production area of the facility to some more exciting career opportunities in research and development. I had the trust and respect of the VP who oversaw R&D and he was not shy about loading me up with increasing responsibility as I took on the supervision and management of the technical staff who supported the rest of his engineers. I was also just getting to work more regularly on software automation projects which was where my passion was at the time.
With this as a background to this story, I remember spending some time with my Dad one dusk weekend in the summer of 1996 in the backyard at his home in Fresno. Seeing that I had been working pretty hard on my career aspirations, Dad thought he needed to share his thoughts on making work such a high priority. He said, “Son, I see you working real hard. I know you think that will make a lot of difference in your life, but I think there is something you should know…” My dad had a glass of ice water which he lifted up with one hand and said, “Son, if this glass of water represents your job…” He then put his index finger on his other hand into the air and said, “… and if this finger represents you…”. He then put that finger into the glass of water and then pulled it out and said, “… you’ll notice when you leave work, there is no ‘hole’ left behind.”
He paused after that illustration for effect. He continued, “… you know they won’t miss you when you are gone, right?” I reflected on what he said knowing the question was rhetorical. Now, I would like to say at that moment, the sun parted the clouds and I had a moment of clarity that changed my life, but that isn’t what happened. In fact, I felt quite the opposite. I felt my father was trying to tell me something he himself never practiced. I remember thinking (but not saying out loud), “How hypocritical!…” For you see, making work a primary focus is exactly what my Dad had done most of his life (and most of us Dads do if we were honest). Further, I admired him for being as industrious as he had once been. I would regularly describe to others that my Dad was a ‘self-made man’ and, in that dimension of life at least, I wanted to be just like him.
Some quick history on my father may help explain this view. Dad quit school in the 8th grade, then joined the Navy in 1956 at the age of 17. He was VERY driven to succeed despite all the challenges that not having a high school education makes for someone. Despite this constraint, I truly believe he became a greater success than many those who did have such an education. Eventually, he would go back and get his GED and later do some college level work in business to train for his role in managing a district of retail stores that sold auto parts. Along with working hard, he also played hard. Dad smoked 2-3 packs of cigarettes a day for most of his life. He also had a taste for beer and a habit for having a few to several each day. Having his first heart attack at age 38 didn’t change that lifestyle. He ended up having two more minor heart attacks each weakening his heart a bit more than the last. A year before I went to the Naval Academy, he got a triple bypass and that seemed to help for a time. Finally after having a stroke about 10 years later when I was 27, he finally figured out that he needed to quit smoking which he did as he also became forcibly retired. For the next 3 years, he actually began to live what I would call a well balanced healthy life. He took up the game of golf and played several times a week. He truly seemed to be enjoying retirement.
Which brings me back to that fateful conversation in his backyard. For what I didn’t know was that Dad must have been feeling regular pains in his chest because he said things that were uncharacteristic of him. One conversation was about how I had better take care of Mom when he was gone or else, “… I’ll come back and haunt you”, he emphasized. I dismissed this talk as just ‘passing time’ that warm summer evening but in retrospect I think these were premonitions of things to come. A month or so after that conversation, Dad tried to call me at home. In the middle of that call, I received another and told Dad to hold on as second as I clicked over to the other caller. I don’t remember who I was talking to but apparently it was more important to me at the time, as I forgot Dad was on the other line. Eventually Dad gave up and hung up telling my Mom I later found out that he was really hurt by my forgetting about him. Clicking off my Dad on the phone was the last time I spoke to him. For you see… (forgive me as I wipe away the tears as I write this…)… he would have his fourth and final heart attack later that month, a day before his 58th birthday.
The next several days were a blur. I rushed home from our Bay Area home when I got word of his heart attack. He didn’t die immediately, but because too much time had passed before the EMT’s from the ambulance arrived and got his heart beating again, he was in ICU with what was most certainly permanent brain damage. He was being kept alive through apparatus that breathed for him. Seeing him like that remains a very difficult memory for me to share. Unlike the last conversation I had with him, he had nothing but my attention from the moment I walked into his hospital room. As the rest of my family needed to get some rest, I told them I would like to stay with him overnight and would call them if anything changed. I sat there besides his ICU bed on a chair until 8am the next morning. I don’t remember sleeping much that night. When my Mom came back in the morning, she forced me to go back to her home to get some sleep promising me they would call if something happened. On the way back to the house, they called and said I needed to come back right away. By the time I got back, Dad had passed away. Despite knowing this was inevitable, I was still absolutely devastated that, again, I wasn’t there when it happened.
Not having Dad around became a very difficult void to fill in my life. I did my best to ‘work my way’ through it, by owning all the preparations for Dad’s funeral and follow up memorial service. I guess I thought If I was busy no one would ask how I was doing or handling all of this. I remember at the funeral/memorial service several people came up to me and said things that worked against this strategy. One person said, “… you know he so wanted you to have some grandchildren for him”. “Really?! Do I need to have that guilt right now?!”, I thought to myself. Another said, “you know your Dad told me he learned a lot raising you kids…” Again, I thought, “Really?? I never remember having that conversation with him. That sure would have been nice had Dad said that to ME instead of just his friends…” My memory of learning things with Dad was that it was more one-sided meaning I was the one getting all the learning. That is a lesson I have tried to carry over to my own kids and that is to tell them when I learn things from them so they hear it from me directly.
The biggest lesson from my Dad passing away become a KAIROS moment several years later. I have come to the realization that Dad was really reaching out to me in a way only his passing shortly after that last conversation could teach me. If you wait too long to be “in the moment” while you put in “your time” into your job, you risk missing out on the blessings God intended for you. These blessings can be shared between any two people for a time, but ultimately is ONLY sustainable if BOTH people are committed to the relationship. My personal experience has been that adding additional loved ones into the mix makes this exponentially more difficult. My faith tells me that ultimately my capacity to love another can only be sustained if I first have a committed a relationship with Jesus Christ. Until my Dad died, I would never understand that work would never give back to me in the measure I gave it. In contrast, Jesus death on the cross gives back to all who believe in Him consistently and immeasurably regardless of their past efforts or their transgressions. A belief in Jesus then permits me the capacity to love others as He loves me while putting work into its proper place in a well balanced life. As the apostle Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)
Jon closed his sermon on Sunday with this thought, “Jesus invites you to take this time and make it a moment”. Being conscious of being in the moment is a discipline one can hone through prayer and thoughtful reflection on the promises God’s makes to each of us in his Word. My own father’s passing began the process that has taught me discipline as you have read in “My First Story” in this blog. I am so grateful to both Our Father in heaven and my biological father for making the sacrifices that made my life redemption possible. It brings a smile to my face to think my Dad is with the Lord and they are having a nice chuckle together as I share this story with you. He can’t but be beaming with joy as he too sees the grand-daughters he had so hoped for be the appropriate priority in my life. I prayerfully work on ensuring my children continue to witness my actions and not just my words alone honors that my Dad’s early passing was not in vain. I invite you, my dear friends, to hold me accountable to do the same.
I pray this Christmas day that my story may also help some of you find your own KAIROS moment this holiday season…