Paul Belding, my dad, started life with almost everything stacked against him. When he was a small boy those who should have loved him and cared for him either abandoned him or threw him away. His father was a drunkard, his step-father was an abusive bully, and his mother had to give him and two of his brothers to an orphanage at the age of seven. He endured severe poverty, real hunger, abandonment, and severe physical and emotional abuse. But as he grew into a man and started his own family, he rose above his upbringing. He refused to allow the sins of his fathers to be passed down upon the heads of his children. My siblings and I never knew physical abuse at the hand of our parents. We never saw our mother beaten and our father as never a drunkard or bully. We never went without anything we truly needed. Dad vowed that his children would never dread the sound of his car pulling into the driveway; far from it, we were delighted to hear him open the front door.
Dad invested himself in his family; in his wife and children; in his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. More than that, he invested a part of himself in many other people.
In his final weeks I asked him what his favorite bible verses were. Matthew 25:34-40 was one of them:
34, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (NIV)
This was one of the passages of scripture that Dad used to guide him on how to live life as a Christian. When he shared this with me he mentioned a few specific times when he thought he had missed the opportunity to live this passage out. I know of many times when his actions mirrored this parable perfectly. In recent months many people have shared their stories with us about times when Dad did something for them or helped them in some way that they considered special. How he had a positive impact on them and inspired them to live better lives. And I know for a fact that he touched the lives of people even in his final few months of life. We saw the evidence first hand. All these things are part of Dad’s legacy.
Dad was surprised and literally amazed by the outpouring of love and concern from so many people both to him and his family. He didn’t understand it and he was deeply moved by it. This man who was abandoned and abused as a child was getting a small glimpse of how many lives he had touched throughout his life. And we could see that his investment in others was returned pressed down, shaken together and running over. In those final few days his room was busting at the seams with people who loved him dearly. He said, “All I see are beautiful faces. I am a rich man, and my family is my treasure”.
Dad passed away on February 2, 2012 after fighting multiple pulmonary diseases for months. What I would say to our family and anyone who knew him well is this: Take the best parts of Dad and make them a part of you and how you live your life. Realize that terrible circumstances can be overcome and you are not enslaved by the mistakes or sins of those who came before you. By doing so we pass a small part of Dad’s legacy forward and we honor him.