Well, we both know that “on his birthday” part was kind of pushing the definition of “on” and “birthday.” Sorry this is late, but I feel like a large chunk of my brain was held captive for those couple months the kids were out of school and I’m just now getting it back. Or maybe, I just wanted to stretch out your birthday celebration as long as possible! Yes! That’s it.
It has come to my attention that I am bad at gifts. This was made especially obvious on Mother’s Day when my sisters gave Mom sweet, thoughtful gifts and I gave her a pack of gum because I was feeling sentimental about how she used to buy us that giant bubble gum at the grocery store if we were good. In my mind it seemed like a sweet gift and a reminder of the lessons Mom taught me about self-care (we all knew the bubble gum was secretly for her, just like the ice-cream cones she would buy us and then say, “It tastes better when you share.” until we gave her some.), but in the end, it was just a pack of gum. I say all this as a warning. Don’t get your hopes up.
I got you a sign. I know what you’re thinking– A sign! I always wanted a sign! Okay, probably not what you were thinking. But I wanted to get something that embodied a lesson I’ve learned from you and this seemed like the best way to do it. (I’m putting a picture of it here so I don’t forget what it looked like.)
Have you ever mentioned wanting to go to Australia? No. So maybe this is a weird gift. But follow me here. I pulled the quote from “Support Your Local Sheriff” since it’s a family favorite and the idea here seems to embody part of how I think about you. (I also considered going with an alternate “Support Your Local Sheriff” quote but “Pooberty hit her hard” didn’t look as nice.)
Jason McCullough: Well, gentlemen, I think it’s only fair to tell you that I’d only be interested in this job on a temporary basis.
Henry Jackson: Oh?
Jason McCullough: Well, you see, actually I was on my way to Australia when I heard about your gold strike and I decided to, uh, travel through here and see if I couldn’t pick myself up a little stake.
Thomas Devery: What do you want to go to Australia for?
Jason McCullough: Well, it’s the last of the frontier country. Thought I might like to do a little pioneering.
Fred Johnson: I thought this was frontier country and we was pioneers.
Henry Jackson: So did I.
Dad, you are my Sheriff McCullough. You are a man with big ideas and a restless heart, always dreaming about the next adventure. You read and research and plan and prepare for what might be out in the future, always ready to pick up and leave town if the right opportunity came along. And yet, you are a man with deep roots. In spite of maybe your intentions to the contrary, you’ve formed real and lasting relationships and a connection to a place you call home.
I know I got that restless heart from you. Or as Brian calls it my “blaze of glory” since I’m always ready to leave and burn bridges behind me. I like to dream about what might be out there and plan how I’m going to get to it. But do I ever leave home, burn bridges, or run to Australia? Nope. Because that’s the other part of what I’ve learned from you.
When I look at your life, I see a life lived in faithfulness. Faithfulness to your God, your wife, your kids, and your job. You never made much of a secret about the fact that your job wasn’t your passion. Your passion was following Jesus in all things, which meant being faithful to a career that provided for your family and over the years also provided for your many employees. You invested your life in just doing the next thing, making the next decision, solving the next problem.
But along the way, I love to see how you’ve followed your adventurous spirit. Your year of high school in Ecuador. The summer long RV trip you took with Mom and five kids (that’s either admirable or slightly insane and having lived through it I’m still not sure which). A major midlife cross-country move. The trips to Israel where I think you left some of your heart. You’ve made room for discovery and new experiences while also remaining faithful to keeping the main thing the main thing– serving God, providing for your family and being committed to your community.
I think, Dad, I’ve come to see your restlessness (and mine, too) as something more. I’m thankful that you’ve always pointed me in a better direction than just the next earthly adventure. You’ve always pointed me to heaven. I’ll never forget sitting silently next to you in the car as you tried to find something to say to your sullen teenage daughter. You told me that life is kind of like a college dorm room. You can spend a lot of time and money fixing it up, but it’s just temporary. Real life is on the other side. Everything we do here, we’re doing it with heaven in mind. Whatever we suffer here, it’s with a purpose and it won’t be for long. And then you said what has become your tagline in my mind, “Life is hard. Then you die.” And instead of it sounding like some pessimistic, defeatist statement, to your grumpy teenage daughter, it sounded like hope.
I know ultimately we aren’t on our way to Australia. We’re on our way to heaven. Thank you for all you’ve done to make that seem like a reality to me, to help me live a life pointed in that direction. We feel that restless call in our hearts to something bigger and greater than what we can accomplish here. So we stay faithful to the small things that need our attention, always planning something big for the future, always knowing heaven is the only adventure that will matter.
I love you, Dad. Happy birthday.
Jake: Now the way this story ends… is that they get married and he goes on to become governor of the state. Never gets to Australia, but he keeps readin’ a lot of books about it. I get to be sheriff of this town… and then I go on to become one of the most beloved characters in Western folklore.