memories of my father
As many of our readers already know, my father, William “Bill” Gjertsen, died in the early morning of March 23.
It was not an unexpected death; he had been in gradual decline for the past two years following a stroke. For most of that time he was unable to walk or speak, and he was expertly cared for by his wife Betsy, aka the Supergrand known as Nurse Nana. She has been a blessing to our family from the moment we met her, and her assistance with James many years ago was only a foretaste of the patient and compassionate long term care she would provide for my father.
Percy never knew—and Valor cannot remember—a Papa Bill who was able to walk and talk and laugh and read. That’s the part that actually bothers me the most, that the memory of a man’s full life ends up colored by the dysfunction of disease in the last days. So I write down some memories for the benefit of my children.
Valor and Percy, if you grow up to be interested in math or science, you should know that your Papa Bill was one of the top minds in his high school, who later taught differential equations when he served in Turkey with the Peace Corps. As I write this, I’m looking over at the canvas on the wall with our family’s motto: Love Nations. Serve Humbly. Interesting.
My boys, if you ever, maybe someday in your 20s, beat me at chess, you will know what I felt when I finally beat my dad. Although I think it might not have been until my 30s.
Valor and Percy, if I ever propose that we trade a “taste for taste” of our ice cream cones (or whatever we’re eating) and yours comes back to you with a bite out of it bigger than you could possibly reciprocate, this is what your Papa Bill did to Daddy when Daddy was your age. If you love winning, it’s not just because your father loves to win.
The most important story that I want you to remember about Papa Bill was something that happened when I was in college, a couple years after I had started my walk with Jesus. Dad came to Providence Baptist Church with me, and since I went to a college-aged Sunday School class, I let him see the menu of other offerings and pick one himself. He chose a class studying the Gospel of John. Since then it’s been my observation that of the two books that begin “In the beginning,” it’s the Gospel of John that seems the best way to discover the big picture of the Bible. It certainly was for my dad. He would later give me some kind of credit for playing a role in his rebirth, but I simply had a front row seat to what the Holy Spirit was doing to rescue another sinner like myself. Somewhere in proximity to studying John 15—whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing—I saw the birth of a new creation.
And since that summer my dad became a voracious student of the Bible. I remember well how God would give him such pleasure and satisfaction in the most pedestrian of verses; what would seem plain to most of us would be alive with so much meaning and depth of insight to him. It made him want only to uncover more of it. Follow Jesus. Learn Joyfully.
Although my dad was a brilliant man, and treasured by everyone who knew him well, I guess what I’ve been reflecting on the most since his passing is the amazing the love of Christ—the perfect One who faced a cruel death so that far-from-perfect humans could gain his righteousness for all eternity.
Death has no sting to those who trust and glory in his provision.
It’s the most basic Christian doctrine, but it’s not every day I marvel at it with the freshness that I do today. So on this Good Friday, a day where the brutality of the crucifixion of Christ is remembered all over the world, I feel like I understand a little better than I did a month ago why the faithful call it “good.”
Happy Good Friday, Dad. You are missed, but it gives me great joy to remember that you’re in the presence of your Savior right now!