Archive for March, 2009
I was ordering coffee at Pete’s Sunday morning September 14, 2008, getting ready to get some work done for our alumni magazine. My cell phone rang; it was my brother. He asked me if I was driving and told me he had some bad news. “Dad’s dead.”
That morning, my mom and dad were doing a routine milking at the high school farm in Tulare, Calif., where my dad was an agriculture teacher for more than 30 years. Dad was helping mom get the cows into the milk barn. He was attacked by the one bull on the dairy. I won’t go into more details except to say that my poor mom witnessed the trauma and was helpless to do anything. The police arrived quickly with a gun, but it was too late.
If you had met my dad, your first impression would have been that he was a daunting man at 6’5″. He could usually be found in baggy sweats and a flanel, even at events that at least warranted jeans. When he walked into a room, you just hoped the cow manuer on his shoes was dry. He could be heard at the annual fair yelling at the high school kids to get the pens cleaned out. He was not the warm fuzzy teacher you usually remember with fondness. In all honesty, his gruffness could be downright intimidating. He did not take any bullshit (excuse the language, but sometimes you just have to use the right word in context).
Growing up, my dad, Max Wayne Corbett Jr., was destined to be a dairyman. We were supposed to be part of a cheese dynasty. One night changed everything. My grandfather was driving late one evening to get medicine for a sick bull calf when he was struck head on by a drunk driver and killed instantly. Soon after, the Jersey dairy was sold. At 18 years of age, my dad was at a loss. The thing he was most passionate about had been ripped out from under him.
He joined the Army and went to VietNam. He never talked to us kids about those days. I did find out recently though that my dad met my mom at a fair right before he shipped out. They were showing cows right across from each other. He snuck a peak at her record book to get her address and mailed her a postcard from Japan. The rest was history.
Fast forward to September 14. The thing that struck me most that next week was the stories. One after another, former students of my dad’s came to the house and told stories about how my dad changed the path they were headed down (for the better). “Max made me the man I am today.” “I was headed in the wrong direction, and Max knocked the sense back into me.”
Our family was overwhelmed with support. Over 1,200 people came to the memorial service from all over the state. We did not lift a finger for the service. His former students all jumped in and started planning (and paying for) everything. There was a scholarship fund started, a tree planted – they are even going to build an education center at the fairgrounds in his name. The honors and commendations just keep coming. I could do a totally separate blog post about God’s provisions in times of sorrow.
The first thing I learned from my dad’s passing is that sometimes we don’t know why our well laid plans are thwarted. My dad was downright angry that he did not get to do what he had planned to do with his life. He was supposed to be a dairyman. But he ended up doing “the next best thing.” He taught generations of dairymen (and women), influencing the entire industry in the region. His impact was far broader than had he gotten what he had orignally wanted. Sometimes there is a bigger plan in motion that we can only understand in retrospect.
Lori, a former student, told my mom and I a story over Christmas. Years after she was my dad’s student, she had gone back and was volunteer coaching for the dairy products judging team. Tradgically, she gave birth to a stillborn baby that year. She was sinking into a deep depression. She could not bring herself to leave the house. Sadness had completely enveloped her. My dad showed up one day at the door unannounced. He asked her how she was doing and told her to take her time coming back to coaching. He then proceeded to sit down at the table and go over the latest dairy products stats on the judging team. He asked her for her advice and got her thinking about something else. As he was walking out the door to leave, he said matter of factly, “I’ll see you on Wednesday.” And he walked out the door without giving her a chance to say no.
Lori credits my dad for helping to pull her out of a deep depression. What strikes me is that my dad did it in his own style. His own no-B.S. style. He was not the comforting, emotional type. He was a bit unpolished. But in that moment, he was what Lori needed.
The second thing I learned is that it’s ok to be me. Sometimes I look at my own life and wallow in the fact that I’m not very emapthetic or sensitive. I’m not very outgoing or intuitive. I think I could leave a bigger legacy if I had different traits and characteristics. But then I think about my dad. At face value, who would have known what a legacy he would leave. He was just a simple, no-B.S. guy who was just what a whole lot of people needed. I challenge you to find a way to be the person you are meant to be – to make the impact you are meant to make. Do it in your own style – like my dad.
A few of the news articles about my dad:
Memorial Service TV news story:
“People are waiting for someone to come along and fix their life. Hope is the word of the year. Real hope doesn’t come from Washington; it comes from getting off your butt and fixing your own life.” These words by Dave Ramsey floated through the airwaves the other morning as I was getting ready for work.
I was stopped in my tracks and reminded of where my real hope comes from.
In chapter 3 of Lamentations, Jeremiah is walking through the city of Jerusalem after it has been destroyed by the Babylonians. Despair and destuction were all around him. Everything had fallen apart. In the midst of his lamenting, Jeremiah understands that there is hope in the Lord.
In Lam. 3:22-24, he proclaims, ”Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed. Because His compassion fails not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ’The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’”
More often than I would like to admit, I struggle with pride and place my hope in me. When anxiety creeps into my life because I am trying to get my butt in gear and fix my own life, I can rest in the fact that the Lord is my strength and in Him I can place my hope.
I’m not suggesting we just sit and do nothing and expect everything to get better, but I know a lot of good people being affected by this economy who are putting their best foot forward and coming up empty.
When emptiness seems to define your life, remember the story of Elisha and the widow’s oil in 2 Kings 4. The woman’s husband was dead and the creditor was coming to take her two sons to be his slaves. The woman had nothing in the house but a jar of oil. Elisha told her to go and borrow as many empty bottles as she could find. She was to shut the door behind her and pour the oil into the empty vessels. The oil filled the vessels until she ran out of vessels. Elisha then instructed her to go and sell the oil and pay off her debt.
Only when we are truly in an empty place can God reveal to us His deep provisions. Only when we are no longer dependent on ourselves can we really rely on Him. Only when our own resources have dried up can we draw from His special reserve for us. Our emptiness is a gift from the Lord.
Are you running on empty? Have you lost hope? Are you ridden with fear and anxiety? May the Lord bless you and keep you. May He make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.