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The following is written by Jared Richardson about his father, Lance Richardson, who passed away when he was 13 years old. The cover image is Jared now with his wife and baby.
Thirteen years may seem like a long time to many, but looking back on the thirteen years that I was blessed to spend with my father; they seem to have passed in a blink of an eye. Although I know that each of my siblings would probably say something similar, I feel that I developed a unique bond with my father that made the time we spent together seem unusually sweet and his death seem exceptionally bitter.
You see, he wasn’t just a father to me, he was the closest of friends. The type of friend that you could go to for help and support when you needed it. The type of friend who brought out the very best in you, even if that meant being hard on you from time to time. He was very much a disciplinarian, but chose to discipline with a thundering velvet hand and his love for me was never a mystery, even when I felt like he was being tough on me.
I was heavily involved in athletics when I was young and I was lucky enough to call him my coach in just about every sport that I played. He inspired confidence in me and I began to excel in athletics primarily because he was there on the sidelines coaching me and infusing me with belief in myself and my abilities. I can remember feeling like I could do literally anything my dad told me I could do simply because he knew I could. This made his death very difficult because of the closeness of our relationship and the bond we shared.
Despite the pain that was inevitable following his death, I was miraculously lifted by the presence of his spirit in my life. It quickly became evident to me that just because he had physically moved on from this world, this did not mean that he had stopped being my dad. Somehow and in some way, he has been as much a part of my life now as he was while he was alive. Sure, it has been difficult. Please don’t misunderstand and think that there haven’t been multiple times when I have cried myself to sleep wondering how my life might be different if he were just here to help me navigate some of the difficult things that any young man might go through. Yet I would be lying if I told you that he wasn’t still deeply involved in my life.
To give an example, I’ll go back to the realm of athletics. Although I have played for many different coaches, he was by far the most impactful coach I ever had.
I will fast forward several years after his death, to my senior year in high school when I was competing in the Idaho state wrestling championships. Up to this point, I had been successful throughout most of the season, but had lost two close matches to an opponent that was highly ranked and very difficult to beat. Before wrestling began that year, I had set the goal to be a state champion wrestler by the end of the season and felt like I had been inspired to do so by my father. He believed in me and in my ability and, despite our physical separation, was still impacting my life and my vision of what I thought possible to accomplish. However, this other wrestler was casting a shadow of doubt over my dream of becoming a state champion, and I knew I was going to have to go through him to achieve this goal.
As the state wrestling tournament advanced, so did I and this other wrestler in each respective side of our bracket as we moved closer to facing each other one final time in the state championship match. After each of us had won our semi-final matches, I retreated up to the top of the arena and sat on a bleacher where I could have some time alone to think.
As I looked down on the tournament that continued below, I began to speak the thoughts that came to my mind in hope that my father would somehow be able to hear me. I expressed to him many things. I told him how nervous I felt as the pinnacle of all my hard work during that wrestling season drew close, and I realized that the moment of truth would soon be here.
I told him the strategy that my coaches had planned for me just before I had climbed up to the top of the bleachers to be alone. My skilled coaches had been very careful to give me the counsel to wrestle smart and wrestle conservatively throughout the upcoming match. They knew if I were to have any chance of winning, I would need to minimize my own mistakes and take full advantage of any mistakes my opponent made. I found this to be wise counsel at the time, but as I expressed all of this to the air, hoping my dad would hear me, I suddenly felt an overwhelming feeling of confidence overcome me, and I somehow knew my father was communicating to me.
However, to my surprise, the message I felt within me was to do exactly the opposite of what my coaches had told me to do. Rather than wrestling conservatively and waiting to capitalize on mistakes made by my opponent, my dad told me to leave it all on the mat. He told me to trust myself and my training up to that point and to wrestle aggressively with every bit of courage that I had, taking the risks and chances necessary to win the match.
Finally, I felt him express his love for me and his confidence and faith in me. This feeling of confidence and a calm assurance came over me as I walked down to take my place by the side of the mat. Having previously felt nervous and anxious for the match, I lost all anxiety over whether I would win or lose and decided that no matter what happened, I would be able to walk away proud of my effort and know that my dad was proud.
As I walked out onto the mat for this final and most important match of my season, I felt fearless because I knew that God and my dad were with me. If they were with me, who could stand against me?
In summary, I stayed true to the strategy that my dad had communicated to me, and although my coaches were a bit shocked to see me wrestling in a way that was completely contrary to what they had instructed, they didn’t complain after they saw the results that were surfacing because of my aggressiveness and courage. Not only did I win the match, but I ended up pinning my opponent who had previously felt like Goliath to me.
I share this story because it quickly became a metaphor for the rest of my life. Not only did it remind me that my father was ever anxious and willing to be with me and to continue to coach me through the most important moments of my life, but also that my Father in Heaven was aware of me and of all the desires of my heart. He was merciful enough to remind me through something as trivial as a wrestling match that if God was with me, then who or what could really stand against me?
I am grateful to God and my earthly father for being there for me and coaching me in a moment when I needed it most.
Excerpt from “The Message From Our Side,” by Lance and Jozet Richardson and their children. Order your copy at www.themessagefromourside.com, or buy it at Seagull Book and Deseret Book.