the music tells the story – old rugged cross…

My dad used to tell me about how his own father had sung this song once when he was young, “Old Rugged Cross,” and how he loved it from that moment on.  It was his favorite hymn.  Although, it is no secret that my dad was not a deeply religious man throughout most of his life and that he struggled with his spirituality.  I feel pretty certain that he believed in God, but was so challenged to let go of the control over his own life and trust God to lead that he often made poor choices.

I always hesitate to write such things about my father.  Because we all make poor choices, we all don’t trust God enough, we all make mistakes, sin and loose faith.  At least I know I do all the time.  So his lack of Bible knowledge, his absence from church, his inability to take those leaps of faith with God… it is our human condition and it doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person or any of us for that matter.  It simply makes him, and all of us, human.  Imperfect as we are.

To ignore my dad’s imperfections would be to discount his humanity, his character.  It would sell him short, sabotage the beautiful journey I watched him walk in his last few years he was with us, and it would take away from God’s unending and amazing grace.

Over the last 18 years of his life his heart and body gradually weakened and he became more sick.  We, as a family, spent more time at the hospital than any other place.  In and out for surgeries and procedures, observations and tests.  The amount of physical pain and damage that my dad’s body endured is simply incredible.  He was literally operated on from head to toe and had the scars and staples, bypassed arteries and stents to prove it.  He was the bionic man.  Impressive.  I know of no other person who took such pain and hid it so well from the world.

But he was not a very good patient.  He was stubborn and frustrated with his inability to function completely on his own during these times.  His masculinity stripped from him and the anger that came from that was not pleasant.  His family, those closest to him who loved him no matter what, often were subjected to the worst of it.  But anger is usually only a symptom of something else and in this case, I think all of his came from the fear of losing control, of losing the ability to provide for his family, and fear of the illness itself and what it meant for him.  His lack of faith created an uneasiness like the crash of the ocean’s waves against the sand along the shore during a storm.  There was no peace for him.

And then, in the last couple of years of his life, he decided to visit the church where my mother and I attended.  My mom, never pushy about church or God was the quiet faith keeper of our household.  She led by example with her unfailing devotion and unconditional love to this difficult and complicated man.  So he came one day and sat next to her in the pew.  And then he came the next Sunday and the next.  As his body weakened a great deal more in those last couple of years, I could see God taking hold of his sick heart and calming those stormy seas inside.

He started reaching for the Bible a little more and being angry a little less.  He made some church friends that were a tremendous influence on him and he was changed.  Still imperfect, still making mistakes, but there was peace and hope and faith there like I’d never seen before.  It made me glad.  The time I was given with him like this is absolutely the most cherished and precious time I have ever known.  And I am beyond blessed to have been allowed to witness it.

I remember sitting in the hospital room with him after his final surgery, which was a particular rough surgery.  Just he and I chatting and all of a sudden he took my hand and he said, “I can’t go through this again, no more surgeries.” It was out of character for him.  To not fight.  His words at the time though I just let roll off my back and I said something corny like, “oh, don’t talk like that, it’s all good and you can do this.”  But I know now that he was really telling me that he was done.  That his work was done and that he was ready whenever God was to take him Home.  He passed just a little over 6 months later.

My dad was a stubborn man, he not only worked hard but he fought hard to keep his independence, not wanting to rely on anyone or anything or any god.  He was fueled by fear.  He was quick to anger.  His temper short. He was complicated in that he wanted love, but he didn’t know how to show it in return.  These difficult moments are why I cling to our musical memories so much.  Because it was a peaceful time for us.  Sharing and laughing over this one common thread that bound us together.

God had a plan for him.  He knew exactly who my dad was.  He knew that it would be a long battle to win his heart and soul completely.  But He knew how to break him down, piece by piece, artery by artery, until he surrendered fully to the grace and majesty and power of Him.

I feel so incredibly blessed to have endured this challenging journey with him.  It taught me more about that “Old Rugged Cross” than if I were to just sing the lyrics on any Sunday morning.  I lived it instead.  Because of my dad, I know what God is capable of.  I know that He is our strength always, even when we refuse to let Him be.  God used my dad’s long years of suffering and sacrifice, his mistakes and choices, to be the living example to teach me, to shape me for my own journey.  All the good and bad, He uses everything for His good.

On June 3, 2006, we held his funeral and we played his favorite hymn.  The one he’d heard his own father sing as a young boy and loved from that point on, but we knew it was only in the last year of his life that he truly understood the lyrics. However, because of this, I am so joyful that I’ll be with my dad again one day.

“Then He’ll call me someday to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down,
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.”



LYRICS – Courtesy,

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best,
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down,
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.

Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above,
To bear it to dark Calvary.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down,
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.

In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine
Such a wonderful beauty I see
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died
To pardon and sanctify me.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down,
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true,
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me someday to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down,
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.

29 thoughts on “the music tells the story – old rugged cross…

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