Saturday evening the water was calling me. I packed up the boys and we drove south to a private street lined with gentle waving palms and tropical flowers that fired the air with sweetness. We followed the scent of salt and found the ocean, surprised by the height of the waves and the calm purple hues of the sky. The boys dug and laughed, I stood with my toe-tips in. The sun goes fast here and it dropped down through the cloud layers throwing out beams to dance upon the waves. Masses of elegant black birds from nowhere took flight on the breeze, effortless and free they were carried higher than I have ever seen such birds fly. The vast expanse before me was so powerful I could only lift my arms in response and twirl around with our three year-old Anders in my arms. I whispered to him, “Look at all the birds! When I go Home I want to fly up like that and look down on all I held dear and feel the wind in my face and say farewell.” I put him down and he ran off and in that instant I felt a sense of loss, like a wind blowing through my soul, as if something strong and long-standing had been lifted out from under me.
I would learn the next evening, just hours after telling Larsen, our eight-year old, the memories of one of my greatest teachers, that this very teacher had gone Home the night we stood before the water. The night the birds were carried up by the wind and the beauty. The night I felt the sadness of loss, the poignancy of God’s grandeur and our small lives.
He was always Pastor to me. Like Jesus was probably always teacher and rabbi to his disciples. I first spied Pastor from the top of a fence-post walking up our driveway for dinner at about the age of twelve. I shook his hand and told him I was expecting his preaching to be good, inquiring where he went to school.
His preaching was good. So good I hated to miss a single message, even though all the girls my age wanted to be down in the nursery helping with the babies. I still have most of those notes tucked away in my closet and in my mind. He proved to me what I had always known must be true: the Word of God was rich and exquisite, its truths powerful and endless. When he broke out in song in the midst of his sermon, it was like an angel. When he told a story to illustrate his point, he became a poet. When he explained the details of creation or biblical prophecy, a learned scholar was in our midst. When he prayed, God came down among us as natural as the air we were breathing. We all thought this was normal. We had no idea. His shared his hunger with me and his thirst had the ability to make me more thirsty. I was fulfilled in my desperation for sustenance.
I soon grew old enough to be in his class, every Wednesday afternoon for two years. I listened, filled in my notes, asked every question that came to me, choose the hardest topics to write on and did my homework the very next day. He always wrote at the head of my papers that I had a gift of writing and studying and needed to follow where it might lead.
Pastor’s teaching was depth in the midst of typical youth ministry at the time. It was a slice in my life that meant something to me, carrying me through the angst of adolescence. I often kept him after class and borrowed books from his study, reading them even if I could not grasp their meaning.
I never knew Pastor as a father, a husband, a peer, a man puttering about the yard and or chopping onions in his kitchen. I knew him only as my teacher, my rabbi, my sage in the element of his greatest passion–the very Word of God and the very Word made flesh. There is something about the indelible influence made on one whose spirit connects with another, invited to follow in the pilgrimage towards Christ-likeness. I have no recollection of his imperfections and if I saw any of them, they did not matter to me at the time in light of his Great Pursuit. My discipleship under him was not a lofty thing; just a careful and diligent hand plowing the soil of my open heart and dropping in seed by seed.
It has been almost twenty-two years since I lept off that fence post and placed upon him my hope and question. He married Ben and I nearly eleven years ago. It was a hot June day and I was barefoot and in a halo of flowers. I insisted that despite the fact of no air-conditioning, he give at least a fourty-minute sermon and exigate Philippians 2. On a later visit, he held my first-born and there were a few emails, but then life went forward and we each kept moving with it. I imagine in many ways he was not the same man these last days that I knew him to be, for he was never stagnant and certainly must have had many times when the Spirit blessed him with the re-orientation of his mind. I hear it in his recent sermons–there are things he grasped as of late that I did not hear from him back in those days. This is the way of a true Christ follower.
My first book will be released this fall. In the writing, after all these years, I saw emerge out of the words the growth of the seeds he planted. No one would know that but me, but now that I can more clearly see, I wanted him to know. Wanted him to hold that book in his hands and know that he was holding a bit of his harvest. I’ll send a copy to his dear wife when it comes out.
Pastor and I had many discussions about heaven and he often told me that he was going to visit the stars and the planets in eternity. That true Home would be a place of continual learning and I might find him in the great library.
Someday I’ll go look for him there. For now, he is with his teacher, his rabbi, the one true sage and Saviour of humanity, Jesus. I can’t imagine his delight. And we are still here to carry on the work of making disciples.
One Reply to “In Memory of My Teacher, Pastor Danhof.”
I became friends with Jim during our youth years at Church of the Open Door In Muskegon, Michigan. We were both musicians, at Mona Shores, and me at Reeths-Pufer. He was a wonderful Baritone player, and we both enjoyed being involved in the church music ministry under the leadership of Rev. Jim Smoke. Perhaps my favorite memory of Jim is when he and I would join together vocally. Our favorite song to sing was Drinking At The Springs of Living Water. I still have a recording of us singing that song over the air at a Sunday evening service at our Church. I also remember fondly his Youth For Christ days as a song leader.
I just learned of his passing, and will always remember him as a dear friend and dedicated servant to the Lord.
I will miss you Jim!