Friday, August 21, 2009

The Longest Blog Post Yet

This past week has been quite a ride. Taking Jordan to college. Losing my father. Being with my mother in the wake of her surgery. A burial. A memorial service. Oh and trying to hire a new admissions counselor, get new publications done and finish up the recruitment cycle as Lincoln Christian College’s welcome weekend started today.

One week ago today, Jeannette and I drove Jordan to Ohio to start college at Cedarville University. Jordan had identified CU early on as one of his top college choices, especially because he was impressed with their Mechanical Engineering program. We had things all figured out, including the fact that he would likely be able to attend there tuition-free because of my job at Taylor University.

Then I lost my job. We didn’t want to give up, though we did start looking at other schools, just in case. Jordan has an interest in the military and so he applied for an Air Force ROTC scholarship. They acted as though he was quite likely to get one and that would be the answer to our financial concerns. But he didn’t get the scholarship. (We found out that only about 15% of applicants are selected.)

So we applied for financial aid and Jordan started working in an automotive repair shop and the pieces slowly fell into place. Because of my period of unemployment, he got a Pell Grant. Because he was the only new student from his high school, he got a $2000 scholarship that had been established specifically for grads from that school. Grandma and Grandpa gave him a big graduation gift. And so it was possible for him to start at Cedarville. We’re not sure how years two, three and four (and beyond) get paid for, but it looks like this one will work out.

Jordan moved into his residence hall on Friday. He is in Rickard Hall, which historically has been for upperclassmen, so there are only five freshmen on his wing. One cool little fact is that Rickard Hall is connected to Younger Commons, the dorm lounge area that is named after Tom Younger, who was president of Western Baptist College when Jeannette and I started there and whose daughter Colleen is one of my best friends. Here’s a photo of Jordan with his RD.

Here’s another one of Jordan with his new roomie, Ethan. Jordan has been trying to figure out how to get his license plate collection (from all the junked cars he worked on the last few months) to stick to cinder block walls with just sticky tac.

They took a photo of all 780 freshmen. You probably can’t find Jordan in the crowd but if you want to try, he is almost exactly in the middle of the fourth row from the back. (Remember, you’re looking for blond hair this time.)

On Saturday, as we went through our paces, my sister’s husband, Jamey, was at Salem Hospital in Oregon, 2500 miles away, sitting with my father as he fought lymphoma and hypercalcemia. The plan was that on Sunday morning I would drive to Chicago and fly out there to see Dad for what almost certainly would be the last time. Around noon, Jamey called to tell me that Dad was struggling. About 1:30, he called to say that Dad was gone, at 10:17 AM Pacific time.

So while we were in the big welcome-to-college time-to-say-goodbye service . . .
. . . I was sitting with my laptop, booking tickets for Jeannette, Phillip, Jameson and Melody to meet me in Oregon for Dad’s memorial service and to spend time with family. I booked four tickets from FWA to PDX for Sunday afternoon. We decided it wasn’t wise for Jordan to come since it would mean missing his first days of class.

As we left campus Saturday afternoon, I told Jeannette that I didn’t know how parents could leave their child at a college they didn’t feel good about. We’re pretty impressed with Cedarville—the facilities, the way they prepared for everyone’s arrival, the academics, and the welcome we received from everyone—and it still was kind of hard to drive away from Jordan.

As I drove to O’Hare on Sunday, I finished listening to Mitch Albom’s book, Tuesdays with Morrie. It was an interesting coincidence that in the days before and after my father’s death, I was listening to a book about the pearls of wisdom laid out by a dying college professor. Later I was talking with my friend, Nelson Zarfas, about the book and we both agreed that Tuesdays with Richard would have contained a great deal more insight.

Sunday evening, Nelson and his wife, Ellen, picked us up at the airport and we went directly to the Sherwood Park Rehab Center, where my mother is recovering from hip surgery just last week. Like I said, it’s been quite a week. Just about the time Mom was moved from the hospital to Sherwood Park following her surgery, Dad went into the hospital because of the pain he was suffering from the hypercalcemia.

Through all of this, Laura and Jamey carried the load. Jamey had been by Dad’s side all day every day while Laura was with Mom or running around town working out details. If it hadn’t been for them, we would certainly have gone crazy 2000 miles away in the Midwest. Instead, I know that I had great peace that everything that could be done for Mom and Dad was being done and that they were being cared for even better than we could have done ourselves.

I should mention, too, that Jeannette’s mother, who is a nurse, and the people from Mom and Dad’s church also were great—and have been for a long time.

So this week has been spent with Mom—who is doing amazingly well and probably will even be allowed to move home this coming week—and working on arrangements for Dad’s memorial service. Fortunately, the folks had already done all the heavy lifting. They had made most of the burial arrangements and Dad had sketched out his memorial service (in great detail). Laura and I had very few big decisions to make.

On Thursday morning the 20th, we gathered for a small graveside service at Cityview Cemetary. Pastor Tim Baker spoke briefly before we went to the church for lunch and then the memorial service.

Someone counted and there were 334 people in attendance at Bethany Baptist Church, which easily overwhelmed the struggling air conditioning system on a warm August day. As I said before, Dad had prepared a detailed outline of what his memorial service should look like, all the way down to the seven points he wanted covered from a passage in the book of Revelation Pastor Tim should preach from and the fact that Rich Holder should pray the closing prayer.

It wasn’t a short service but it was pretty much exactly what Dad wanted, which means it wasn’t about Dad much. One of the professors at Corban College handed me a note afterwards that read, “I came to learn all about the life of J. Richard Muntz at his funeral. Instead I learned more about the Lord Jesus Christ, which is to say that I learned all about the life of J. Richard Muntz.”

The only thing that Dad hadn’t built into the program was an opportunity for anyone in the family to talk but I inserted myself. Here’s what I read:

Thank you for being with us today. I’m Palmer. Laura and I asked for a moment to say a few words of appreciation, but I also needed to say a few other things while I’m standing up here.

First, my son—Phillip Richard, Dad’s namesake—told me that I should tell you all, on behalf of the four grandkids, that they loved their grandfather very much and will miss him, even if he wasn’t the kind of grandpa who got down on the floor and wrestled with them.

I have lots of great memories of Dad, of course.
• I remember making up our own baseball games in the front yard.
• I remember Sunday afternoons sitting on the floor of Dad’s study, listening to Oakland Raiders games on the radio while Dad was at his desk grading papers. NFL home games weren’t televised back then so we had to see George Blanda in our imaginations engineering all those last second victories.
• I remember playing 1-on-1 in our driveway in Denver.
• I remember going on family vacations when we had no money—highlighted by tours of raisin and chocolate factories, probably because they were free, not to mention the fact that we got samples at the end of the tours—but when we would stop at a restaurant, Dad would insist we could order anything we wanted, except for peanut butter and jelly.
• In Salem, I remember walking into the family room and stumbling on Dad kneeling at the couch, praying.
• I remember serving with Dad on the deacon board here, something that was very special to him.
• I remember Dad insisting that he had heard the sermon even though he clearly had slept through it. And he was right.

Lots of people have posted messages on Facebook recently about our father. Reading all the Facebook notes, I realize that there’s also a Dad that I really didn’t know. And that’s okay. It’s just that I’ve been away more or less since 1995 and I realize now that as Dad approached retirement, he kicked things into a whole ‘nother gear.

I don’t know about you, but I often can’t make up my mind as to whether I’m young or old or both. This probably comes from realizing that I can’t read the lyrics on my TobyMac and Hawk Nelson CDs without putting on my bifocals first. On Sunday, as I drove to Chicago to fly here, I started doing the math in my head and realized that Dad and Mom moved to Salem when they were just about the age that I am now. I thought they were pretty old at the time.

Lately, I’ve mostly been feeling kind of old, too, like I should have accomplished more in life by the time I’ve reached this age and like my course has been set. But then I realize that Dad came to Salem 34 years ago at this same stage of life and I see in the pages of Facebook and the faces in this sanctuary the impact that he had from that point forward. And I guess I wanted to say today to myself and everyone else here who isn’t quite sure if they’re young or old or who feels like their course has already been set that it is not too late to make a real investment in the lives of those around us, just as Dad did.

My wife, Jeannette, told me yesterday that she thinks three things really characterized Dad’s life: Mentoring others, prayer and a love for God’s Word. A verse that sums up Dad’s life is Psalm 1:2 “. . . his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”

Moving on to what it was I came up here to say, let me read what might seem like a strange quote. It’s from Flannery O’Conner, who said: “Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don’t have it miss one of God’s mercies.”

Because Dad was sick off and on for so long—sometimes severely so—the people of Bethany Baptist Church had ample opportunity to minister to him and to Mom. I believe this was a blessing to Dad and a blessing to those who served him and these blessings would have been missed otherwise. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve told friends all over this country about how good Bethany has been to our family. I’ve told them that Bethany Baptist Church is an example of how a church is supposed to act. On behalf of everyone in Dad’s family, I just want to say a “thank you” to this church for all it did for Dad, and for all I know you’ll continue to do for Mom in the future. Thanks for your care and concern.

Afterwards, we went to the foyer and got to talk with those who didn’t have to hurry back to work. It was great to meet people who spoke about how Dad had impacted their lives (“Your father saved our marriage.”) and to see old friends and professors from years ago.

One thing that was kind of cool was that of the four guys who I would probably say have been my best friends over the course of my life, three were at the service, including Doug Johnston, who was my closest friend all the way back in junior high when we lived in Denver.

It was a very good day and it got even better when we were able to get a group of our old friends together for dinner at Los Arcos. It was just like old times, before we left Salem back in 1995.

I know it’s hard to believe that the day they put your father in the ground could be a good day, but between hearing so much good about his life and seeing old friends, it really was. A few days before his death, Dad woke up from a nap and told Jamey he had had an odd dream about being on a game show where the question was, “When is the worst day better than a good day?” He then started to go back to sleep but Jamey wouldn’t let him until Dad told him the answer to the question. “Read Ecclesiastes 7:1,” Dad said and went back to sleep.

“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.”


Lita Moser Anderson said...

Thank you for sharing with those of us who were not able to attend your dad's memorial service.

Brian Brunke said...

Thanks for sharing! I was moved just reading this! My prayers on behalf of your family.

Brian & Melissa

Anonymous said...

Hey Palmer. Your Dad will be missed by so many. I really loved taking his Minor Prophets class. We will be praying for your family and especially your Mom. Glad to hear the Muntz-Wallace-Younger connections still remain strong. Forty years ago this last week my Dad (Tom Younger) dropped me off for my first year at Cedarville College...Maddox Hall was BRAND NEW that year. Wow...see you are not so old after all. In 1969 at Cedarville College it cost me $789 for tuition, room & board for one quarter. There were about 500 students TOTAL in the college. My Dad was on the trustee board, and Dr. Jeremiah was the President. The Kent State shootings happened nearby during that time.
Great perspective? No, that's just what we claim to have when we are just old as dirt!
Blessings on you and your family.
Brenda Younger Baranco

Laura and Jamey said...

Thanks for not minding (as if you had a forewarning) that I whacked you while you spoke. You spoke well, as to expected of you, but you just surprised me.

Your Sis