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By Mark Thompson
Special to The PREVIEW
That is the word most used about my uncle, Dick. I wish you could have known him. He was one of my younger uncles; only about 15 years older than me and my brothers. He was one of those guys that still had enough energy to wrestle with us when we were younger (all three at once), enough grace to laugh at our jokes and enough love to make each of us feel special.
He was a gentle soul. This is probably the main reason the Vietnam War did such a number on him. It was unclear why he would join a conflict like that, but it may have had something to do with escaping a dark and tyrannical father.
After he returned from the war, he was still a wonderful person, but it seemed like he was maintaining a fragile layer of gentleness over a vacuous hole of disappointment, resentment and pain. We continued to have great times with Dick.
Another uncle, Doug, had a restaurant in our small town, and used Dick as one of his cooks. In a spectacularly poor business move, but a wonderful act of charity, Doug hired me and one of my brothers to work for him, bussing tables, filling water glasses, spilling coffee on customers and the like. I have clear memories of this time; Dick was still the loving and kind person we expected him to be, however, he finally got tired of maintaining the façade.
We have beautiful Pysanky eggs; lovely, artistic, hand-painted creations with raw, rotting egg inside. You admire them as art, but when they fall off the display on the bookshelf, their inner nature is revealed. I believe Uncle Dick was somewhat like those Pysanky’s. He was able to maintain for several years, but eventually he cracked and disappeared from our lives.
We don’t know a lot about the ten years that Dick was battling demons. We picked up bits and pieces from him later, but, for the most part, it didn’t sound great. After a decade of his disappearing act, he reappeared in a startling way. He called my dad and let him know that the doctors told him he had two months left to live. This was what motivated him to get back in touch with his family.
As it happened, my parents were living in Denver and Dick was only a short distance away in Boulder. My parents, being the wild-eyed fanatics that they were, more-or-less drug him onto the Gospel bus, and, before you knew it, he was “all in.” Then the most miraculous thing occurred. His illness, a very serious cancer, was advancing through his body steadily and results could be measured.
First he had a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair. After he “found the Lord” (an inaccurate phrase when you consider the Lord’s constant gentle drawing and search for us), Dick began to experience healing in the exact reverse order: first, he got out of the wheelchair, then he left off the walker, and, finally, he was walking perfectly. His only symptom was stiffness in his neck; the surgeon had inserted titanium rods because the cancer had made his bones so soft, they would literally break if he fell down.
The cancer doctors pronounced him clear of cancer. There were some awkward moments, like what Dick should do with his disabilities card that said “terminal” under the diagnosis, but those were easily solved.
It was like the ugly, festering core had been opened up to a giant cleaner. He was fresh, clean and healed, inside and out. There was never a more grateful, appreciative and serving soul. Dick took his new-found lease on life and lived life to the full.
He became a leader in the church where he received the prayers of healing. He brought out all his culinary skills and made sure that the weekly men’s meetings were delightful — and tasty — events. He served the pastor and his wife, becoming the church administrator, watching over all the people like they were his own children.
For my family, the greatest thing was that we reconnected and he was able to hold my babies, joke with the older ones and let them know he still had it in him to be the favorite uncle. He was marvelously and truly free.
Joel 2:25 makes an astonishing declaration, “I’ll make up for the years of the locust, the great locust devastation.” This is a picture of redemption. I never saw a person that experienced that level of redemption like Uncle Dick.
There was a funeral not too long ago. After twelve years of freedom, another form of cancer occurred, and Dick was taken.
People bore witness for an hour. I remember clearly one young lady’s testimony. Apparently, she did not like herself, could not see any redemptive characteristic in herself. Her story was that every Sunday Uncle Dick told her how remarkable she was, and special. After years, she began believing him, and realized she did have something to offer to God and others. As she told this story at the funeral, all I could think was, “I wish we could all be the people Uncle Dick believed us to be.”
It is not often we see God’s redemption so clearly. This is why it is called a life of “faith.” But occasionally, we see an example, like getting a peek behind the curtain into what lies ahead. Thank you, God, for redeeming my uncle Dick.