Sunday, June 19, 2016

Eulogy for Dad; Thomas Stromberg

I’m always fascinated to hear stories about my father from before I was born. Dad grew up in Upper Darby, just as I did. He was the oldest of six children, five brothers and one sister. In the last week, as our family was crowded into my parent’s Upper Darby row home, I heard many of those stories. My Uncle Bernie was just a boy when my dad was still at home. He remembers when he and Uncle Leo used to have to share a bed with my Dad, their older brother. He also related to me how he immediately took a shining to my Dad’s girlfriend at the time, my mom, Suzy, because she would make him coke floats. He told her she looked like a movie star.

The sibling closest to my Dad in age is my Aunt Bernadette. They are practically “Irish twins,” just 15 months apart. She was my father’s confidante. “He was often sad in those days” she told me, “He would get so discouraged, but meeting your Mom-Mom changed all that. She made him very happy.”

When I was struggling through my own time of youthful angst and restlessness, my dad often told me about those difficult times he went through. He told me that he used to pretend that he was a visitor from outer space, a stranger in a strange land, and that soon he would return to his home world. Perhaps people who knew my father as the affable person he often was would be surprised to know just how alienated he sometimes felt. At one point, he told me, he was so desperate for some direction that he decided to begin seeing a psychotherapist. He lay down on the couch and poured his soul out, only to find that the doctor had dosed off and was sleeping! He stormed out offended and never returned.
For all his searching, I believe that my Dad did find the peace and happiness he longed for. From all I know of my father’s life—and I think those who knew him best would agree—there were at least two major turning points in his life. The first, as we have already mentioned, was meeting my Mom and beginning their family together. Family was always of essential importance to my father. The second turning point was a great spiritual awakening that he experienced later in life.

My father was the first person I ever knew who was, “born again.” In the world of Evangelicalism, that term is used to signify the change of heart and personal transformation that happens when one encounters Jesus in a personal way and accepts him as one’s savior. It is based on Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in the Gospel of John. Many Americans first heard the term as it was coming into public prominence during the late 70’s and early 80’s. It was the title of Watergate conspirator, Chuck Colson’s best selling book published in 76 in which he recounted his own repentance and spiritual transformation. Counter culture icons like Bob Dylan were getting saved, and even the president of United States, Jimmy Carter, proclaimed himself a “Born-Again Christian.” Dad’s own conversion was a part of that great movement of God’s spirit across this country. My father had always been a believer, being raised in a Christian home, but for the first time he really experienced what it meant to personally have a relationship with Jesus Christ. It changed everything for him.

He was on fire for Jesus and he had a new found evangelical zeal. He wanted everyone to know the good news and to experience the same joy and freedom he found in Chirst. Early on, it must be said, he could be a little over bearing. I worked with many of the same guys that my Dad worked with in the Upper Darby School District. They referred to him a bit sarcastically, but also affectionately, as the Preacher. It was clear to me that they admired him. He would outdo all of them in working hard, even though many of them were considerably younger. Whenever they needed a break they told me, all they would need to do is bait my dad in a discussion of religion and he would be more than willing to indulge them at length!

My brother and I were born around the same time that Dad was born again. I grew up in the shadow of that remarkable transformation. It was the major theme through which I understood my own growing faith. I grew up knowing that God was real and that faith in Jesus transforms people’s lives.

 My father did more than talk about his faith, he lived it. The lights would always be on downstairs in the living room, long before anyone else was awake. If you went down stairs you would find him with his Bible open in his lap and his heart in flames as he meditated on God’s word.  Also, our home was always open to widows, widowers, and single people, people who needed help. My father was a true servant always running errands for people and driving them to their appointments. He also served in many ways here at Crossroads.

When I was a baby, my father told me, he prayed that I would become a great evangelist like Billy Graham and reach many people with the gospel. For much of my life I laughed at this idea. That was certainly not what I had planned for my life. My own faith felt much more conflicted and complicated than my father’s. I went through my own period of agonized searching, but eventually I experienced my own spiritual awakening in which the faith my father passed unto me, the one I received in Baptism, began to touch my life in a deeper and more personal way. I knew that my life was not mine to live as I chose, but that I had been bought with a price, and set aside for a work that God had prepared for me.

To be sure, I am no Billy Graham, and my faith looks different in many ways from my Father’s faith, but I know that he was proud of me. He told me so. If I received no other commendation from human beings but that, I would consider myself blessed. Thank you Dad, for teaching me the greatest lesson a man could teach his son, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

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