The Man of Maps; A Eulogy
by Mari A Gomez
This is Part III of the eulogy read for a father and friend on January 6, 2018 at Trinity First United Methodist Church. To read in order click here or scroll below.
January 6, 2018
The view on paper would show that he lived eighty six years, was a proud Navy Commander, had two wives, raised eight children, adopted two others, had 14 grandchildren (with one on the way), and 13 great grandchildren.
A satellite view would show that he was born when the economic effects of the 1929 stock market crash were gripping the nation, when a pound of eggs was eighteen cents, that he saw the world at war and his country in the midst of it. It would show a young man enlisting in the Navy, serving in Korea, one who later saw man land on the moon, sat next to a "dirty hippie" on an airplane, witnessed the fall of the Soviet Union, and went on to see a new century and the technological revolution that has so deeply impacted our modern day. From above, we'd see that he frequented email, rode Uber's, binged on YouTube on occasion, and though shaky was somewhat proficient with his Iphone6.
A blood sample would show a man composed of rare ingredients: a man of principle, faith, and unafraid of duty and responsibility. He was one to never lose his temper at petty things, one that did not wallow in regret but rejoiced in opportunity, and one who laughed even in the darkest hours. It would show a man that suffered his own pain and illness silently and intimately within his body, behind the vibrant veil of his eyes that to the world transmitted only joy and out of range of a voice that to the world projected only strength.
Close up views of his life would all show that Chris (known as Papa to many) was not just one thing; he contained multitudes.
There are many close up views and I can only offer one. He was my boss at the Regency of El Paso, where at sixteen I had my first job. I can see still see him singing and doing a little jig near the coffee machine before going back to work.
Chris married my mother in 2005, an unlikely pair, perhaps, but one based on love, mutual respect, and admiration. My mother remembers the moment she first caught a glance of her future husband: a handsome man, she recalls, with poise, presence, and well ironed clothes.
For half of my life he’s inhabited a fatherly role. He became an essential part of all of our lives, sharing Christmas', birthdays, New Years and being a lovely companion and confidant to my mother. Chris understood my mother’s strength and intelligence and the embattled road she’d fought. They recognized strength in each other; for, at that time Chris himself had just recently emerged from his great spiritual trials, which he navigated with unfaltering grace.
The family in Mexico welcomed him with open arms although they communicated using mostly signs and body language. To them, he provided a whole new perspective on The Gringo. They came to know him as the family man he was, a loving husband, intelligent and apt in all things, and a man with a sense of humor so sincere that it didn’t need a shared language to be understood.
So he often found himself in Ciudad Juarez, surrounded by the siblings, laughing and joking then watching in horror as they all neglected the knife and fork and proceeded to eat steak with their hands.
And despite the language barrier, my mother and him understood each other for a time, enjoying life, going on bike rides, traveling, introducing one another to a different world. Chris showed my mother the United States in a way only someone so in tune with its landscape, in love with its history, and familiar with its geography could show her. He took her to Michigan, the place he loved the most and showed her the lands of his childhood, as if he were showing her paradise itself.
A man who had traveled all over the world had never quite looked just south of the border. He grew to love Mexico in his own way, as he and my mother traveled to her favorite place, San Luis Potosi. Chris, always an apt navigator, a man of maps, ended up driving all over Mexico without once getting lost. My mother remembers him saying that he never thought Mexico could be so beautiful. He came to see the country and its people, their resilience and liveliness, in a way he perhaps had never before considered.
And through these places, they saw each other in a different, perhaps more profound way, than language itself could communicate. Their view of one another tied to the landscapes that shaped them.
One thing he could never bring himself to understand was soccer and the Mexicans’ affinity for it. He was baffled by a game that could end with a zero-zero score card and have people at the edge of their seats. Yet, he was so willing to participate and engage in all things that he once attended a Mexico vs. U.S soccer match with my mother’s family. In the middle of the game, surrounded in the stands by die hard Mexican soccer fans (who have an international reputation of being rowdy, if not barbaric at times) stood up, with full confidence and no concern for his own safety and as if he were the world’s biggest soccer fan, waved the stars and stripes amidst a sea of green jerseys yelling at the top of his lungs ‘U-S-A, U-S-A!’
While I never knew the young Chris he talked about in his stories, the sanguine spirit of that young man was always there. He told me he was once referred to as a bon vi veur, from the French “one who lives well.” And boy did he. He had a brimming jubilation for life and relentlessly positive outlook to any and all circumstances; one undeterred by tragedy or unfortunate events; a man that accepted fate, if that in fact was his word for it, as it came. And he showed all of us, as he etched himself into the soul of our family, how in love he was with the world, how curious and eager to know everything, to the slightest detail, enthusiastic to understand what to others might seem like simple minutiae.
My close up view ends in the final months, when he lived his life quietly, engaged to the very end with the state of his country, tuned in to worldly matters, faithful to his Church, reading of his beloved Michigan, sitting with the dogs at his feet, and recounting his youth, telling and re-telling me stories of the young Chris Christensen. Everyday he walked around the house singing along with his radio, or drank coffee to the voice of Rush Limbaugh, and of course, following football and the happenings in the lives of his ever growing family.
One final memory in those last months was our trip to the movies to see Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk. It was my last official date with him. He went all dressed up, ironed khakis, tucked in shirt, his leather newsboy hat. Always a gentlemen, he paid the movie and offered popcorn. After the film, we had coffee and donuts, talking about the incredible feats of the pilots, the war, and the bravery of men.
After his many journeys, the winding roads of eighty six years, the trials and tribulations, the Commander put on his Navy uniform and boarded his final ship, ready to sail into that eternal ocean where God awaits.
Knowing Chris he already had a map of heaven and a list of people he wanted to visit.
So, inevitably he goes out of view. He drifts into the distance of time, touched by the light of the sun and the moon’s glow as they pull him forward. A slight change in the earth’s gravity might have been felt as Chris traversed onto the other world, moving through the holy waters, passing all of God’s creatures, where angels of the past help steer him onward and the holy spirit guides through the night. There he catches the planets in their orbit, rides the tails of the comets, until he takes his eternal place among the front-lines of millions of stars tasked with illuminating a suffering world.
The view is different from there. He might just see how much his mortal stay on earth stirred up because, while he might go out of view, the ripple effects and the waves his life created are still crashing on the shores. A man like that creates worlds, patterns in the fabric of the universe, impressions and memories that surface in a myriad of ways through the living. Everyone in this room and the many he affected, form part of his perpetual tide.
by J. B. (#1)
by J. C. (#7)
Thank you to everyone so very much for being here to celebrate the life of our Father today. I am Jim, the seventh child and second twin. Today, there are ten siblings in our family; and though I represent a second chapter -- and second set of four kids in the family -- each of us would emphasize that we have never been a “blended” family. We have always defined ourselves as just “Family”. Growing up, we always counted heads from one to eight, and were privileged to add nine and ten, Art and Mari in 2005.
I was going to share about Dad’s love of music and dancing, about his overwhelming joy each morning – when all of us kids were night owls (excepting Steve); about how Dad would rouse us individually out of bed and the repertoire of songs he would sing to us.
He was a Good, Good Father.
Instead I’ll emphasize his thoughtfulness, compassion, and spiritual support for his family.
Because Fathers, especially good ones, are a sacred and holy gift.
Of all the kids, Karin came closest to the having as many children as Mom and Dad – but she fell short by half, having only four. Karin asked me to share this memory: No matter the number of siblings, kids, or grandkids we might have, there is always a desire to know where each family member is through the day and what they’re up to. I can’t say that all of us siblings were very good at staying in touch as the years passed, but we can blame that on the one-stop shop we could go to for knowing all family happenings: That was our Dad – our Papa. No matter where he was…at home, or visiting his kids (and grandkids):
Joe, David, Betsy, Art, and Mari in Texas;
Steve in Nevada;
Karin in Washington;
Bob in New York;
Jane in New Mexico;
or me in Hawaii;
He knew where everybody was and what they were doing. He was the Hub, the Center of Gravity, the Store of Knowledge for all things important and not important, even after Google tried to take over the role. He always tracked the direction of our individual lives – giving advice and rudder when needed, and sometimes when it wasn’t.
Dad could remember stories. He told stories to illustrate, educate, and entertain. While I’m not very good at telling stories, my brother Robert is; so please talk to him later to fill in details with much more color and comment. Bob asked me to share a story from our time growing up in Colorado, where Dad showed the depth of his patience and compassion. Bob was riding mountain bikes with a neighborhood friend who sold him on the good idea that they should ride their bicycles across a frozen lake. As they got most of the way across the lake, the ice began to fail – and both boys pedaled right into the icy, cold water. His friend did not let go of the bike, knowing his life was less scary to drown with the bike than to survive without it. Bob, having confidence screamed, “Let go of the bike!” Miraculously, his friend let go of his bike and they scrambled back onto the ice to take a drenched walk of shame in the cold back home without their rides. His friend was immediately paddled for losing the bike, but both survived because Bob knew the love and compassion of his father would not care about a lost bicycle. On that day, there was no paddle for Bob – Dad only got on his knees and thanked God for the life of his son. He even fished the bike out of the lake for Bob when it unfroze in the Spring.
His covering and prayers of blessing were constant and continual for all his children.
To illustrate, I highlight Dad’s father, our grandfather Charles, who would daily sit on his front porch in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and pen a note to his sons away at college each day. and everyday Dad would receive a letter from home – the notes included very simple things: who was walking down the street, or that the train was late coming in – whatever was happening in the town of Champion where the most exciting thing each day was usually that train’s arrival.
Our dad over time found a way to do the same thing. Dad didn’t write to us all every day with a pen, but he would by email. He was quite thankful to Al Gore for his invention of the internet. A very savvy computer user, Dad knew how to make an email distribution list, and he used email to the best of his ability. Each of us found in our inbox our own daily dose of what was happening on our sidewalks, as long as it reinforced the goodness of Ronald Reagan or the principals of conservatism. He also read the paper each day, and would clip out articles to send to us with a little note in his very distinctive handwriting about how important these articles should be to us. Aside – that reminds me of his stories of trouble as a kid with both penmanship and music – he was designated the page turner in the school choir so that he wouldn’t sing – and his Mom was the music teacher! The same teacher also told him his penmanship was worse than his music, but we all grew to love his songs, his singing, and the lilt in both his voice and his pen.
Back here in El Paso, I had the privilege of attending a Men’s Prayer Breakfast with Dad a few years ago, and as I visited with him just over two weeks ago I came to discover that while his condition may have prevented him from getting to Sunday services, he rarely missed the very early morning prayer breakfasts to intercede for his family and friends. At the viewing last Thursday, men we had never met – came up and knew his kids by name – they knew the desires of our hearts and knew God’s hand in our lives – and told us that they had been praying for us -- all because of Dad.
We were his joy.
Psalm 73 includes a prayer we share today with our Dad -- a Good, Good Father:
“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; You hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me to glory. Whom have I in Heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:23-26
Finally, I want to share a note from family in Las Vegas: our Aunt Toni, and cousins Dawn and Drew who couldn’t be here today. Uncle Lowell, Dad’s younger brother and only sibling, preceded Dad to Heaven almost a month to the day. Dad got the chance to visit Uncle Lowell last February in Las Vegas. Uncle Claude strengthened the Christensen family connections over the last year as he would call Las Vegas regularly to speak to his little brother -- our cousin Dawn holding the phone up to Uncle Lowell’s ear. In every call, Claude gave Lowell a pep talk. He would tell Lowell to hurry up and get better and get out of the hospital so they could have a cup of coffee and donut together in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan this summer, 2018.
Well, they are having that cup of coffee now…
Saying to each other…
“Heaven isn’t quite as beautiful as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.”
We celebrate Dad, our Papa, today. We also mourn the loss – but only on Earth. Dad has relinquished the spiritual covering of each of us to our Heavenly Father. And he reminds us:
Fathers, especially good ones, are a sacred and holy gift.