My father’s shoes were big—huge in fact. My dad, Burdett Wakeman, wore size 15AAA shoes—a size so large and unique that every pair of shoes he purchased had to be specially ordered. And even then, they were known to arrive in two separate boxes!
Dad was a preacher, and I am certain no other minister was ever introduced by Romans 10:15 more than he was. “And how can they preach unless they are sent? . . . ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” But Dad was a great sport and just as quick to give a witty retort. Dad loved people, and humor was often his way to connect with them, opening the door to talk about Christ with them.
Graciousness in enduring foot jokes was but one of countless lessons I learned from Dad. From my earliest years, I witnessed the living example of a man who walked daily with the Lord he loved beyond compare. And Dad’s love for the Lord extended to a passion for winning souls that revealed itself in virtually everything he did.
His ministry was not a job. It was a precious calling to share God’s wonderful plan for man’s redemption, and it became both his vocation and avocation. I learned at a young age that a true Christian behaves no differently on Sunday than any other day of the week. Dad taught me by example that some of the most lasting and dynamically impacting sermons are not preached from the pulpit but from the life one lives and the testimony his actions reveal to others.
The importance of integrity and Christian character were also lessons I learned from Dad. His integrity surfaced in numerous ways throughout my childhood, with Dad always making certain he was honest in everything he did and everything he said. It was a powerful example, and I remember correlating this kind of behavior with how a true Christian should act. I was learning the lessons he was teaching by watching the lessons being lived.
Some preachers’ kids resent living in a proverbial fish bowl. I never felt that way. The expectations my father had for his children’s conduct would have been no different had he not been a minister. But Dad was not naïve. He knew his family’s example could impact Christians as well as those looking at them.
I was very young the first time I heard my father cautiously warn, “If my children ever live a life contrary to what the Bible teaches, I will step down from the ministry immediately.” Some might say this was too heavy a burden for children to carry. But I disagree. Dad was telling us he expected the same from us that God expects—lives changed by the blood of Christ.
I suspect some of the disgruntled and disillusioned PK’s lived in fractured families because their preacher fathers spent all of their time and attention on the needs of the congregation, rather than on their families. I can honestly say that was never the case in our household. Because our entire family was actively involved in the Lord’s work, we never felt as though Dad had more time for others than he did for us. We were working right beside him, laboring for the Lord of our lives, too.
Dad taught me a good work ethic by the way he multitasked and made the most of every minute of the day. Dad’s days were full, always starting with a very early morning personal time of Bible study and prayer. After that, he called on people he wanted to win to the Lord and those who were hospitalized or confined to their homes.
Each week he would write and prepare two different sermons, two different adult Bible studies, and a Tuesday evening Bible class for the Campus Bible Study Club at the local university. There were also numerous ongoing counseling sessions with people troubled by marriage problems, financial crises, or addiction.
And as if Dad’s week was not full enough already, before going to church each Sunday morning, he hosted a one-hour live radio broadcast, using Christian music, Scripture, and human interest stories to spark the interest of nonbelievers. And somehow, somewhere, Dad managed to squeeze in time for writing a monthly column and articles for Christian publications.
Dad was always busy—but he never once missed his daughters’ concerts, awards programs, teacher conferences, or daily conversations about our days. Dad was never too busy to keep connected with his family and to listen to our problems and to hear about our everyday lives. I learned from watching Dad that a full life is a productive life if one’s priorities are correctly aligned.
I learned from Dad that compromising what Scripture says is never acceptable. He would often quote 1 Peter 1:24, 25: “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” In a day when so many seem to appease listeners by preaching only part of Scripture, Dad always taught the full message of God’s Word. He did so lovingly, but always boldly and persistently, desiring for all to hear the full truth and to respond to its teachings.
As an adult with graying hair, I continued to learn lessons from my Dad up to his final breath. His last lesson was how a man of God walks through the valley of death.
The last two weeks of his life, my two sisters and I joined Mom in a 24-hour vigil at Dad’s side. What a blessing it was to see Dad live out his testimony for Christ right up to his last conscious moments. As he grew weaker, he always whispered thank you for anything we did for him. As his mind drifted between the past and the present, in and out of reality, he was always concerned about reaching souls for Christ. He would awaken and want to know who was going to teach his Bible class. Often we could see his lips move and hear his soft whispers as he tenderly and fervently prayed.
On April 27, 2009, Dad finished the race he had run so well. He had always said that when he died, he wanted a celebration, not a funeral. And he also said he wanted God’s Word preached as a challenge for all present to be ready for the day they would stand before the Lord.
And that is exactly what happened. The oldest of his three grandsons, all of whom are ordained ministers as a result of their grandpa’s influence, preached the challenge, “Just As Grandpa Would Have Said It.”
Yes, Dad had mighty big shoes to fill. And although I feel I could never really fill them, I have the assurance of knowing where my steps are headed and where I will go when my life here is over. Someday I will see Dad again in glory. I know this because the man I am proud to have called my father taught me by his life and example about my heavenly Father and the plan he has provided that promises a heavenly reward.
The man with the mighty big shoes was far more than a parent. He was my teacher, my mentor, my living example of what being a Christian really means.
And he has left behind a legacy that continues to have a far-reaching effect in touching souls for Christ.
(Burdett W. Wakeman preached for more than 60 years, with most of his ministry to congregations in La Crosse, Wisconsin.)
Cheryl A. Moen is a retired high school English teacher living in La Crescent, Minnesota.