It's 11 am and these remarks were just delivered at the c elebration of my son's life today.
The wonderful image was specifically created for us by the gifted international artist, Robin Hanley, whom I have featured in previous postings here on my blog. Her gifting of capturing the heart of God is amazing. In this case, her image(s) of my son, Nate, in Christ's able care are remarkable.
Today we celebrate Nate's life. Our grief will be channeled in a different direction. Up to now, I found any political discussion or comment on the culture, as inappropriate. We simply had to make our way through this grief. We still are.
Thank you for being interested enough in our lives to visit this blog and to find out about Nate Mansfield...and us. He was a good man. I look forward to embracing him once again, as scripture assures us we will, if we are followers of Jesus.
Here are my comments:
“Sending a Sofa on Ahead”
By Dennis Mansfield
March 20th, 2009
Good morning. Thank you for honoring Nate today.
Susan, Meg, Caleb, Colin and I are grateful, as is Ginny.
In this part of the program, I get to tell his story from the perspective that only his dad could deliver. As our friend Chad Estes recently phrased it, Nate Mansfield was an evangelist of other people’s lives. He really was.
He loved films and the tales movies told. He was a searcher of other people’s stories, listening intently to them, only selectively sharing his own personal stories, struggles and successes with others - he spoke little of himself and wanted even less about himself in print or on TV. Nate was a sports nut, a political fan and an accidental change-agent.
And this is my story about him. I’m calling it “Sending a sofa on ahead.”
Hmmm… you’ll get it.
After I greeted Nate for the first time - at his birth - and saw that mommy and baby were fine, I tiredly left the hospital and fell exhausted, into my car. As I turned on the ignition key, the radio also came on… and the opening lines of Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle met me.
My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin' 'fore I knew it, and as he grew
He'd say "I'm gonna be like you dad
You know I'm gonna be like you"
And I wept.
I wept for what I didn’t want to happen in his life and in our lives together. In tears, I drove the 4 or so minutes to my house, sobbing as the song continued.
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home dad?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then
It was at that point, I determined to live my life, as a purposeful father for Nate (and any other kids that could - and did - come along) – to NOT be swept away by my career and the foolish things that so tend to occupy our precious minutes on this earth.
Looking in advance to years, not possibly known nor even yet expected, I vowed that the concluding words of that song would definitely NOT apply to either Nate’s life or mine, should we be blessed to both advance in age.
The final lyrics read:
“I've long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind"
He said, "I'd love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job's a hassle and kids have the flu
But it's sure nice talking to you, Dad
It's been sure nice talking to you"
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me
My boy was just like me”
Just 6 weeks ago in Kansas City, Nate and I had our last time together. It was an accidental visit, of sorts – planned by God, unplanned by Nate or me.
I was travelling.
A connecting flight was missed; I was rerouted to Kansas City Airport. I called Nate and at midnight, he immediately picked me up at the airport and (…since Nate LOVED films…) we were off on “Nate and Den’s Most Excellent Adventure”.
And during that road trip we talked - from KC to Branson, MO.
We talked and talked. During that road trip, we discussed “Cats in the Cradle”. We came to the full conclusion that Harry Chapins’ words did NOT define our life, as father and son. His story, as penned, was not our story….and we both rejoiced.
Back to his childhood.
And Nater grew. His birthdays gave us reasons to celebrate life out loud. Sue and I were California kids with a California baby.
All things were new and we loved life with the VanderWendes and the Switzers, the Raynauds and the Rampenthals, the Woods and the Gozdecks - with our 10 siblings, many cousins and friends. We built small businesses and we even built a church. One day at that church in San Bernardino, a six-year-old version of Nate looked at me, paused and then dramatically told me: “Dad, I’m gonna send a sofa on ahead.”
Puzzled, I asked what he meant.
He said, “Daddy, the Bible says we have mansions in heaven and that Jesus went ahead to make ‘em ready for us. So…(he continued) whenever we show love, in Jesus’ name, it’s like we send a sofa on ahead…. You know, to fix up our mansion, one thing at a time…for when we get there.”
I couldn’t argue with his theology.
And we began sending sofas on ahead…supporting people in need, mentoring families, giving from our hearts, purposefully living our lives out loud. Nate initiated it.
Where most families’ calendars align on the 1st of January, each year, the now-famous birthday parties of Nate...and then Meg and then Colin…seemed to inadvertently identify the REAL start of each new year for us.
And with each year, new adventures unfolded.
Campus by the Sea on Catalina Island was his family favorite, he often told me. CBS, as it is called, is a Christ-centered family camp that was Nate’s anchor to consistency, for it has continued to be a priority to annually camp there for over 2 decades.
Nate reached the full stature of his young-manhood, under the palm trees and in the sound of surf, splashing against the rocks of that island’s shoreline, learning about Christ and helping people grow in life. Sending sofas on ahead.
On one of our other adventures, we visited Boise, Idaho…and I knew, somehow by God’s whisper, that we were to move here. So, in time, California became Idaho to Nate. Home became Boise and birthdays eventually gave us candles arranged in teen-digits.
Mission trips also occurred. We joined the teen-ager-version of Nate as he played soccer in Europe for a Christian outreach club, called the Charlotte Eagles.
As a family, we travelled to Scandinavia to support Nate, as he played soccer during the day and then have him join us as we ministered at night or on unscheduled days of play to the street people, drug addicts and prostitutes of Gothenburg, Sweden. It wasn’t a perfect time, but we did it as a family and we continued sending sofas on ahead.
On that trip, Nate visited Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany, France and England. He walked the city streets of Hilerod, Amsterdam, Heidelberg, Freiberg, Paris and London…and he was only 16 years old.
Nate’s adolescence continued to unfold and the typical “tearing apart” for independence sake seemed to naturally and painfully occur. It was the semi-open door to adulthood, standing slightly ajar. And Nate seemed uber-anxious to move towards that door and ultimately through it.
Nate was fearless with fairness. And teen years are often just not fair. As a family we’ve had certain sayings that were not quite proverbs, but we kinda felt they should have been! “Life’s not fair”, we would tell Nate. “Food tastes better when you share it.”, “Let’s pray before we go on vacation” and on and on…small sayings that stay with a family.
Politics happened for Nate. He worked on several campaigns as a teen, some of the legislators he helped, now hold high office and they remember Nate.
But believe it or not, Nate was a shy boy. He hated our family’s visibility in the community, hated what he felt were the “attacks” on his dad in the media, hated the sycophantic nods to us by hangers-on, because we were a part of Focus on the Family, hated going to restaurants and having our time as a family interrupted by someone of questionable intentions approaching the table to talk politics.
He loved Steve Switzer, Woody Wood, Henri Raynaud, Stewart McLaurin and Brandon McKey in his early years. He loved Michael Boerner, Bill Proctor and Russ Fulcher in his Idaho years. All were the most significant adult men of his life.
He adored his aunts and uncles – all 10 of them. Loved all of his grandparents, including his beloved, Mutti – my mother.
But he worshipped his Grandpa, my dad, CMSgt (ret) Bill Mansfield. Theirs was a strangely understood and mutually appreciated relationship. An odd couple…of like minds and spirits. I wear both their rings on my right ring-finger as a daily reminder of their friendship and my love for them.
And Nate loved us.
He loved his sister, Meg. Three years and 2 months separate Nate and Meg. Sibling rivalry was the order of the day. And so was love. They fought and hugged. They disagreed and made up. There was no accident that Nate and Meg are brother and sister. Without Nate, Meg would not be the incredible woman of sensitivity and caring that she is. Without Meg, Nate would never have known sharing and leadership.
He loved his brother, Colin. Almost 11 years separate Nate and Colin. And those early years of the two of them together were so precious. Nate taught Colin to walk, to run, to laugh and to lead. When Colin could only say his own name as “ Lue-Lue”, Nate eventually put a brotherly end to that….”Dude, Lue-Lue, is a girl’s name. From now on you will be called “Lue”…and Lue it was, to Nate and to many of us.
He loved his mom, Susan. His years of being home-schooled brought about a special bond between mother and son, teacher and student. Nate had reading difficulties and he had the right teacher to help him through that. Susan taught Nate about life and love and commitment.
As he left homeschooling in 4th grade, his teachers at Cole Christian School, Mrs. Janet Schultz and Mrs. Joan Oster, took the baton and led him on. Susan remained his teacher in life and it was an honor for me to watch him with her. I saw that relationship blossom into adulthood. How blessed I was to be a participant, but also to just be an observer, at times.
Susan’s last visit, in person, with Nate was actually on his 27th birthday, this past July. How fitting for that to have occurred. It would be our final birthday celebration with our son, Nate. Susan and he kissed and said goodbye to each other, unknowingly, for the last time.
He loved his fiancée, Ginny. And she was with him until the end. Ginny, Thank you for the three-plus years of love, care and support you gave to Nate. He was never abandoned after prison, because he had you… and he had his precious dogs, Satchel and Clarice. Your “family” with him lives on…through Meg’s dog, Stella. May your future be bright because of your brilliant memories of Nate.
He loved his best friend, Mark Smit, and awaits him in Heaven. Nate was loyal to his other friends – those men who carry him today in his casket. He was loyal to all his other friends – both to those who helped and to those who hurt him.
Nate’s adult years had pain but were not defined by pain. Few sofas were sent ahead during these years. Nate’s disease of substance abuse held him in its grip, but he was not an addict. He was a believer in Jesus Christ who desperately struggled with drug abuse. He wanted a way out but found no clear open doors.
That truth and subsequent pain encouraged us 5 years ago to birth a simple little Bible Study in Ada County jail that has now led over 3900 men to Christ.
Which in turn lead Susan and me to invite Mac and Diane Mayer to help us, help others, who like Nate, want to overcome their struggle with substance abuse but need help.
We do it through faith and hope in Jesus. Addiction affects the whole community. We call our efforts New Hope Community Health for a reason. We’re sending a sofa on ahead, aren’t we Nate?
You are already sitting on it, aren’t you, son?
Nate lives. In heaven, he is alive, sitting on his sofa, waiting for us – smiling that teasing smile.
And in the lives of men and women overcoming addiction, Nate Mansfield rejoices in eternity.