Posted by Dale Cramer on June 2, 2012

When I was young I never had the slightest intention of being an obedient child.  The only thing my father and I had in common was that we were both prodigal sons.  I could never live up to his expectations, and it seemed the only thing we knew how to do was make each other angry.  I packed up that anger and took it with me when I left home, carried it for years like a backpack full of rocks. I can say these things now because I know that an awful lot of men out there can relate, and because, in my case, it’s not the end of the story.  My father and I eventually became friends.  I grew to love the man, and I know that he loved me.  In time, he even came to be proud of me, and he let me know it.  The change in our relationship was something only God could have accomplished.  I know this was true in my father’s case because I could see God’s fingerprints on his life.

Mine was not the only fence he mended.  Over the years I watched my father go back and rebuild every relationship that he’d torn down in his youth— every last one of them.  I don’t know many people who can say that.  When he died he had no debts, no regrets and, as far as I know, not an enemy in the world.

There’s no doubt in my mind about where my father is now.  The Bible tells us— Jesus tells us, in his own words— about the final test, about how, in the end, he decides which of us belongs to him.

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink of water.  I was hungry and you fed me.”

For many years my parents worked with a mission organization, traveling all over the country at their own expense.  Sometimes they helped build churches, and sometimes they did disaster relief.  They handed out cups of water to thirsty people, sandwiches to the hungry.  One year they made a trip to the border of Mexico with a team of doctors, crossing over every day to bring medical care and clothing to the destitute.  But the officials at the border wouldn’t allow them to bring boxes of donated clothing into the country, so my parents would get up every morning and dress in fifteen or sixteen layers of clothes, then drive across the border, take them off and give them away.

I was naked and you clothed me.”

As for me, I can remember exactly when my relationship with my father changed, and it’s a moment I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.  In my early thirties I had an accident that put me in the hospital for five or six weeks, and every day when my father got off work he would stop by and visit for an hour or two.  He’d sit at the foot of my bed and we would talk.   We just talked baseball and fishing and work, nothing important.  The important thing is that we talked.  We’d never done that before.  We began to see each other as human beings.

I was sick, and you visited me.”

He was there one afternoon, just the two of us in my hospital room, talking about nothing, and it was almost time for him to go.  My feet stuck out from underneath the sheet, and sitting at the foot of the bed he noticed that the bottoms of my feet were dirty from walking around barefoot in the burn unit.  He didn’t say a word about what he was doing, he just got up and went over to the sink, wet a wash-rag, squeezed it out, then came over to the foot of the bed and washed my feet.  It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but something in the back of my head said, “Remember this.  This is important.”  I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment marked not only a turnaround in my relationship with my father, but with my heavenly father as well.

Not long after that I remembered Jesus washing his disciples’ feet at the last supper, the master washing the feet of the slave.  He told them to remember this, that it was important, and that if they didn’t get this they didn’t get anything.  He was trying to tell us that being Jesus isn’t about following all the rules, it’s about humility and love and forgiveness.  It’s about having a servant’s heart.

My feet were dirty, and you washed them.

Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel all the time; if necessary, use words.”  My father was never a talkative man, but he preached.  He preached with a hammer and saw, a cup of water, a sandwich.  A wash-rag.

In his twilight years my father poured out the last ounces of his life taking care of my mother.  He was there for her all day and all night, every day, caring for her, keeping up with her medications and answering her endless questions.  He had no life of his own, he just served her, out of love.  He did this right up until the day he went into the hospital.  I’ve never seen a more complete life.  He had restored every broken thing in his life.  His work was done, his bags were packed and he knew where he was going.  He breathed his last with a loving family standing around his bed, singing him into eternity.

I’ll miss him.  I’ll never watch another baseball game without thinking about my dad.  I’ll never catch another fish, or plane a piece of lumber, or work on the plumbing underneath my house without thinking about my dad.  But I am comforted by this one thought:  last Sunday, at about eleven o’clock in the morning, God was watching for my dad, and saw him coming from a long way off.   Somewhere in heaven a fatted calf died, and the feast began.

Because there is nothing God loves more than a prodigal son, coming home.

Howard Cramer

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30 Comment(s)

  1. I just wanted you to know that my friend Creston Mapes asked for this to be read. What great, wonderful memories you have! I hope you have many more years of writing books, for I’ve read your books and I absolutely love them! Keep up the good work and the honoring of God, and I will pray for your work as often as the Spirit brings it to mind.

    Sheri Wann

    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  2. What AWESOME memories you have of your father to Treasure the rest of your life, and I am sorry for your loss, May God be with you and your Family. God Bless

    Rose Goddard

    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  3. Thank you so much for sharing your memories with us. As I read, I had memories of my own as a prodigal daughter. I am so very thankful that we have the assurance of our eternal homegoing that so many fear today. One day I will meet your Dad, shake his hand and tell him what a fine example of a son he has left for his (your) readers to enjoy. Blessings, peace and comfort to you and yours.

    Linda Binkley

    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  4. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your heritage. Your lessons learned have become my own as I follow your writing journey. I reference your written words in my daily living more often than you’d imagine.

    Leah C. Morgan

    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  5. Your Dad was a wonderful man, and I believe you’re a lot like him…the things you have in common are many as I see it. You have helped us add a room onto our house, redo our kitchen and numerous other things and would not take any compensation whatsoever; you volunteer to mop the floors at our church, you put up with me wanting to read the next manuscript before you’re ready to release it. I am so proud to be your neighbor and your friend. We know we can count on you and Pam. And I get your outrageous sense of humor and appreciate it!


    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  6. The perfect mending. Touching tribute. Blessed recollections. So sorry for your loss but heaven’s gain.


    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  7. Thank you for posting your wonderful memories of your Dad. While there will be a piece of you missing as you travel this Earth, you have peace knowing that your Dad is in Heaven, his final resting place.


    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  8. What an amazing story, and an amazing message of hope.

    Arlen Miller

    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  9. Dale, thank you for telling us about your dad and your relationship with him. I know you miss him. My father died in 1984 at the age of 73. I still miss him and wish that I could ask him the myriad of questions that I didn’t even know to ask. God bless you, Dale.


    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  10. That last line got me. That you so much.

    We have all had that child who couldn’t connect, but one day does. That’s how God is with us. He is waiting for some of us prodigals to come home.

    Betty Slade

    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  11. Dale.
    I love you. I love the man you are. I love the brother you are. I never want to face this world without you; when our time comes, please let me go first.


    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  12. Dale, What a great story! I had heard bits and pieces of your dad’s story for years from his brothers and nephews and when I finally got to meet him, it was like meeting a legend. One of the pleasant by-products of our meeting was to get to know you! May God continue to comfort you and your family in this time of loss. And may his story inspire all of us to mend our fences while there is still time.

    John Schmid

    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  13. This is so beautiful,Do not know you or your dad, but have heard so much about you all from your neighbor,Barbara Winkelman. She is my sister and has given me every book you have written.I really enjoy reading them. So sorry for your loss,but glad all of your dad’s fences were mended. That is something we all should do. Then there are no regrets.Keep on writing and I shall keep on reading

    Katherine I Johnson

    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  14. John, I’ve been meaning to call you and thank you for being there, mainly because you didn’t know you were there. They asked me to put together a CD of appropriate music for the time before the funeral began and the conclusion, so I did my best to gather things Dad would have liked, especially from people he knew. I used a couple hymns from Pillar of Truth, the Amish a capella choir, a couple from the daughter of my best friend, and a couple from you. Turns out, when the preaching was over and they started up the music for us to file out, we walked out of the church to the sound of John Schmid singing Never Grow Old. It was perfect. Must have been upwards of fifty people there who recognized your voice and smiled.

    Dale Cramer
    Dale Cramer

    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  15. Dale, Thanks for sharing your memories of your Dad. This was Beautiful. This was so touching. Mary V. 6,2,2012

    Mary V. Crowe

    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  16. Dale,

    I am so sorry for your loss! It sounds like you have a real peace with it….until you meet again.


    Jenay Williams

    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  17. Thank you all for your prayers and wishes and heartfelt condolences. We’re all fine. Even my mother is taking it surprisingly well, considering they were married for 63 years. We all have my father to thank for giving us the tools to deal with this.

    Dale Cramer
    Dale Cramer

    Jun 2, 2012 | Reply
  18. Dale, Such beautiful memories you have of your dad. Reading this brought tears to my eyes. You are blessed to have such wonderful parents! God bless you and your family!

    Doris Reedy

    Jun 3, 2012 | Reply
  19. Dale,

    Thanks for your story about your Dad and the relationship you were able to have with him. I am so grateful for your ability to put words to feelings and allow us to see the picture you are painting. May God continue to bless you and guide your steps. Sometimes it takes someone’s sorrow to see the blessing that our own parents were.


    Jun 3, 2012 | Reply
  20. sorry ya lost your Dad,


    Jun 4, 2012 | Reply
  21. I knew your Dad- a more humble man I’ve never known. Other than intelligence, good common sense, an extraordinary work ethic, the utmost convictions for God and country, a dedication and loyalty to your friends whom you’ve never forsaken (and which I have the honor to be among ), you are nothing like him. God bless Howard Cramer and his son.


    Jun 5, 2012 | Reply
  22. Don’t know if you saw the many folks who shed tears at the funeral when you shared this beautiful story? I noticed because I was one of them. I hope when my time comes I will be as “ready and packed to go” as my favorite Uncle was. Thank you Dale and God Bless.


    Jun 5, 2012 | Reply
  23. Thank you Dale. Once again, your gift with words touches the heart. Grace and peace be yours.

    Rick Paashaus

    Jun 5, 2012 | Reply
  24. This story is a magnum opus. A beautiful testimony of redemption, the love and grace of God in action, and a good reminder that…
    …”God is love, love is the proof of God, and forgiveness is the proof of love”. – Levi’s Will
    Thank you for sharing.


    Jun 6, 2012 | Reply
  25. Hello Dale,
    Thank you for opening your heart and being willing to share such an intimate, important, life-giving reality about your Father’s life with us. What a miracle and message of hope, obedience and blessing. You didn’t have to share such a private thing with others and yet you chose to. What a gift and loving way to honor your Father’s memory by sharing his life and your life with us. Thank you for blessing me Dale. You’re still my favorite author (I mean that, & not just because I’m married to your editor :-) )


    Jun 14, 2012 | Reply
  26. I just read your book Paradise Valley, then your blog. I am sorry you lost such a wonderful Dad. I am sure he is happily watching over you. You have encouraged me to go ahead and write my memoir and tell my Mother’s story .

    I am buying your next book in the Bender series. Thank you for writing it. Can’t wait to see what happens next to the Bender family. JoySue.

    JoySue Ruterman

    Jun 17, 2012 | Reply
  27. Mr. Cramer,
    I am so very sorry for this loss. May you be confident of God’s everlasting presence as you grieve.

    This is a beautiful tribute you offer. You and your dad may never know how his story (and your story) of faith and forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation have blessed others and encouraged them to take courageous steps toward healing.

    With appreciation and prayers,


    Rochelle Palmer

    Jun 18, 2012 | Reply
  28. @Joy Sue. Read Levi’s Will. That’s the Cramer book I thought of as I read this–a beautiful picture of hurt and the cost of reconciliation.

    @Dale. I haven’t read your blog in a while. When I started reading this, I thought it was a Father’s Day tribute. So sorry for your loss, but rejoicing in your gain from being the son of such a man.

    LeAnne Hardy

    Jun 27, 2012 | Reply
  29. Dale,
    I haven’t read your blog in several months, I am sorry for your loss.
    Thank you for sharing your life and your relationship with your father. Having grown up Amish and being a prodigal son, I feel many paralells in our lives. I do not have the gift of words you have, so all I can say is “Thank You”!
    I have read all your books, can’t wait for the next one.
    Keep up the good work, God Bless
    Floyd Hershberger

    Floyd Hershberger

    Jul 5, 2012 | Reply
  30. Wow, Dale. Where was I when this blog entry happened? Has it really been 4 months? I am so sorry. Whereas I grieve with you in your loss, I celebrate with you your dad’s life. What an incredibly beautiful memorial you penned.

    By the way, the resemblance of your dad and Fannie is amazing. Know they are rejoicing together as well. Blessings to you, my friend.

    Nancy McLendon

    Oct 7, 2012 | Reply

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