Note to readers: This is the speech I gave at my father’s memorial service.
I want to speak to everyone today about miracles. Miracles are those unexpected, joyous occurrences in life that happen when two people take risks to reconcile a broken relationship. The two people I’m going to be speaking about are me and my father, James Leroy Woods Jr. I believe these miracles will honor and celebrate my father because you will know what type of man he became, and I hope these miracles will inspire you. So, please, listen carefully. The first miracle I want to talk about is the miracle of truth.
THE MIRACLE OF TRUTH
Truth is so miraculous because it gives human beings absolute clarity to what their problems are. So many people in life let disappointment turn into anger, then bitterness, and than over time it turns into hate. This is exactly what I did with my father; I was very disappointed in his words and actions, and over time I allowed this disappointment to turn into hate. I am ashamed to say that I hated my father. Let me be clear: my problem wasn’t the way my father treated me; my real problem was I allowed hate to enter and live within me. Once I realized my truth, I wanted desperately to get rid of this ugliness. The miracle of my truth led me to the miracle of forgiveness.
THE MIRACLE OF FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness allows human beings to try to make right out of what they have done wrong. This is exactly what I wanted to do with my father. Over two conversations with my father, I asked my father to forgive me for hating him, and I asked him to do three things: to encourage me to take full responsibility for my choices; to encourage me to do better than he and my mother; and to encourage me to be a good person. Before forgiveness, I knew he felt guilty, and I manipulated him to get what I wanted. On the other side of forgiveness, I only wanted encouragement from him. I started the process with him in trying to make right out of what I did wrong. This miracle led to the miracle of compassion and courage.
THE MIRACLE OF COMPASSION AND COURAGE
In my opinion, compassion is not feeling sorry for someone, but it’s about wanting people to heal, and it often takes the miracle of courage to help a person heal. Asking the right question is the courageous act that allows someone to start the healing process. This question is often difficult to ask, and it is very, very difficult to answer. Several months had passed since I apologized to my father, and I noticed he hadn’t encouraged me to do anything of the three things I requested. I only knew too well how hate can control a person, and I knew what was within me was in him, and I wanted him to heal. I set up a time to meet with him, and I knew the right question to ask him to release his guilt. When I met with him I told him this meeting has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with him. I continued to say that I saw him distant from his children and that he seemed to be stuck in his guilt; I added that I wanted him to heal. I finally had the courage to ask him the right question; I asked him, “Why did you hate us?” As you can imagine, he was shocked. He told me that this question seemed extreme, and I said I know. But the great thing about my father that night was he didn’t avoid the question; he struggled to answer it. I watched him squirm and turn a little pale. He said, “Geoff, this is really difficult.” And I said, “Dad, I know.” And finally, he answered the question, and there was his truth that had been buried for so many decades. I didn’t judge his truth, but I accepted it. And now he was free; he was free to choose to act upon his truth. Let me tell you exactly what my dad did with his truth. When I saw him the next time, he said to me, “Geoff, I did it.” I said, “Dad, what did you do?” He said, “I wrote to your mother and I apologized to her for mistreating her and our children.” I said, “Dad, I’m very proud of you. I know that was difficult and took a lot of courage.”
THE MIRACLE OF KIND GESTURES
It is the very act of kind gestures that renew, grow, and mature a broken relationship. Let me tell you what my dad did next. He gave me a Christmas card, and inside it he wrote that I was a blessing to him. This was the greatest gift I had ever received from him; I accepted this as true because I believed I had been a blessing to him. And, after all these years, I finally felt like my father’s son. This kind gesture deserved another kind gesture in return. So, I called him up and asked to get together with him, and when we met, all we did was talk and listen to each other. There was no pointing of fingers and no blame. His kind gesture showed me that I needed to thank him for something I had neglected to do for many years. When I was a young boy, my father had stomach cancer surgery and his recuperation process was very, very difficult. I watched him get up every morning and go to work despite his health difficulties. I told my dad I was very grateful for this act; he told me he appreciated my gratitude. Kind gestures can really renew a broken relationship. This miracle led to the miracle of healing.
THE MIRACLE OF HEALING
True healing occurs when you desire the very person that hurt you to heal, and this is why healing is an incredible miracle. This past March, my dad had another cancer surgery, and the surgery was successful. After his surgery some friends and I went to his condo to pray for him. We gathered around him and placed our hands on him; I remember placing my left hand on his very slight right shoulder, and I thought to myself that I am now praying for healing for a man who I use to be so angry with. However, I didn’t feel any anger or hatred towards him at all; these feelings were gone. And, please hear this, these feelings were a big waste of my time since nothing good came from them. This was a God given miracle. And as we continued to pray I heard my dad crying, and when he had a chance to speak, he said this was one of the best experiences of his life. What I know to be true is that hate is very powerful, but love based upon the truth, forgiveness, and healing is way more powerful. This was a profound moment of healing for both of us. I next want to speak about the miracle of facing the fear of death.
THE MIRACLE OF FACING THE FEAR OF DEATH
Since my father had his first cancer surgery over thirty years ago, I have been afraid that he was going to die, and because of this, I distanced myself from him. Little did I know I would come face to face with his death on Wednesday, June 28th. My youngest sister, Mary, and I went to his condo to check on him; he had been sick that day and hadn’t answered his phone. I expected to find him asleep, but as we entered his condo and I peered around the corner into his bedroom, I saw he had fallen on the foot of his bed. He looked so lonely and frail, and I went into shock. I yelled out Dad and went running towards him; I shook him to see if he was actually asleep, but his eyes didn’t open. I ran back to my sister and told her to call 911, and then I ran back to him. I shook him again to try and wake him up; I checked for a pulse, but there was none. I realized then that he was dead. And with tears in my eyes, I then ran to my sister and asked her if she knew his street number, and she said no. I ran outside to get his street number, and then I ran back to him. I noticed this time that he was naked, and the last thing I did for my father was to cover his nakedness.
This to me was a real miracle. How was it that I was able to keep running towards my dad in his death since I have been so afraid of this for many decades? Many people have helped me to gain insight to this miracle. I think I was able to do this because I moved forward towards him in life, which gave me the strength to do this in his death. I believe God gave me the strength to do this from all the previous miracles that had occurred between me and my father.
I believe my sister and I were there to perform one last act of service for my father, and that act of service was to care for his body. My sister took care of all of the administrative things such as calling 911 and calling the mortuary. She lived in that moment out of her strength and giftedness, and she did it beautifully. This was her last act of service for my father, and my last act of service for him was to cover his nakedness.
Even though this was very difficult for me and continues to be, it was really an honor and privilege to do this for our father. My brother Craig, and my sisters Carol and Mary have been very concerned about me. They gave me wise advice, and for once, I followed it. In turn, I want to say to the three of you, I am glad I found dad so that you didn’t have to. You are now free to heal yourselves and your families. Please accept this as a loving and benevolent gift from God. God strengthened me to do this, and I know God will give me the strength and wisdom to heal. I thank the three of you very much for your concern. This was truly a miracle, which led to the next miracle of peace.
THE MIRACLE OF PEACE
To have peace amongst shock and trauma is truly a miracle. This is a peace that surpasses all understanding, and is a direct gift from God. Even though it was shocking to find my dad, I have peace. I was at peace with our relationship before he died, and I am at peace with our relationship in his death. This peace came from both of us reconciling with each other; this peace took work to achieve. I am also at peace with the way he died. He didn’t die of cancer, which is a miracle. He didn’t have to do chemotherapy or radiation; he wasn’t in a hospital. He died at his house, and he lived independently up until his last breath; I believe he died quickly and without pain. This was a blessing to him, and a blessing to his children that he didn’t suffer. I am at peace. This leads to the next miracle, which is the miracle of faith in God.
THE MIRACLE OF FAITH IN GOD
The purpose of faith in God is transformation. Faith has the ability to transform human beings from the inside out; to move them from bitterness, anger, resentment, and hate into truth, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and peace. Truth, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and peace are all tenets of my Christian faith. I believe it was the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit that led me and my dad to reconcile. And to experience all these miracles, all I had to do is submit and obey the tenets of my faith. I know for myself, I would not have done these acts of my own volition. And who do I have to thank for introducing me to faith in God? I thank my parents Alice Parker, my mother, and especially my father, James Leroy Woods Jr. My dad was a man of great faith. I give all thanks to my earthly father as well as my heavenly father.
I thank God for being my creator who wants to recreate me; I thank him for sending his son, Jesus Christ, who is my savior, and who was a great example of a man who told the truth. I believe he actually died because he told the truth. And I am so very grateful for God’s profound love for me; I know God loves me because he requires me to be more than my anger, more than my bitterness, and more than my hatred. Thanks be to God! This leads me to talk about the last miracle, the miracle of gratitude.
THE MIRACLE OF GRATITUDE
Offering people thanks for their kindness is at the least acknowledging and encouraging kind gestures, and at the most, is acknowledging and encouraging people’s experiences, wisdom, and giftedness. It is a very important act. There have been so many people that have helped me and my family through this difficult ordeal. I appreciate your words of wisdom, your phone calls, your e-mails, your prayers, your presence, and your help. They have truly been a blessing to me and my family.
I really want to thank everyone who is here today; I know this isn’t a very comfortable situation, but your presence is greatly appreciated, and I am so humbled it. Your kind, thoughtful gesture deserves another kind gesture. I offer to all of you who are here the miracles and lessons I have described to you today; I humbly and freely give them as gifts to you. Accept them, use them wisely, and use them often. I again encourage you to honor my father by emulating the incredible miracles that he did in his life. I hope these miracles have inspired you to believe differently, to love differently, and to use your faith differently. I hope they have raised important questions in your minds, such as have you faced the reality of death so you can freely live? Are you at peace with your past and present relationships? Are you living with hope or are you living out of despair? Are you willing to experience the miracle of truth and forgiveness like my father?
I encourage you to take these miracles and make them your own. I also want to encourage you to share your miracles with others; you never know who might need them for inspiration. I thank you very much for listening to me, and I thank you very much for your presence here today.