(A Tribute to Tim DeBoer by Justin Colanese. October 24th, 2020)
Let me start out by saying that I absolutely love and adore this man. I married his oldest daughter, Jessica, so technically he was my father-in-law. But, truth be told, it would be more accurate to call him my best friend. I treasured his thoughts and constantly sought his advice. Eleven years ago, when Jess called him up and told him that an agnostic, unchurched medical student repented of his sins and placed his faith in Jesus Christ, he broke down crying on the spot. Though he didn’t even know me, he loved me already. More than anyone else, he taught me how to be a Christian. I’m going to miss him so much.
Everyone who knew Dad knew that he loved telling stories. At the viewing last night, that’s what every single person mentioned, was the stories. They usually started, “Well, if you go back to the garden of Eden…”. Mark VanderMolen used to diagram his stories out, and they would have all these points and subpoints, and would make this tremendous loop, but if you waited long enough they would always come around to his point. I remember this story he told about how he was out hunting, and saw this large buck looking right at him. A twenty pointer or something. He had him in range, and shot his arrow, and it hit a little twig and spun out of control. It just skimmed off the buck’s head. The deer just looked at him, snorted and walked away. That was basically the whole story, but it took at least fifteen minutes for Dad to tell it. Most of his hunting stories were how he had big bucks in his sight that somehow got away. At the viewing yesterday, meeting friends from his youth, like Dale Jansma and Larry Ruiter, for me and the rest of his children it was kind of like meeting King David. They grew up with these stories of all of their antics, and they all seemed more like legends than men.
I’ve never met anyone with a mind quite like his. He could discuss with literally any person about literally every topic. Politics, history, insects: he had this bug book about all these little creatures that God created, and it fascinated him to no end. If you wanted to know reason for the difference in wave frequency between saltwater and freshwater lakes, he was there for you. He spent some time digging wells, so he knew all about that. He knew all about machines, and took apart and put together our lawnmower when someone poured diesel in it. He was an aviator, but it wasn’t enough for him to be able to fly an airplane. No, he needed to know the whole history of aviation. And the amount of knowledge he amassed about the human eye was just mind-boggling. He loved knowledge for knowledge’s sake. If he heard a good sermon or read a good book he would read it over and over again, “until I have it down”, he would say.
Dad was so rigid with his little routines. I’m a foot and ankle surgeon, and I examined his ankles and couldn’t find anything wrong with them, but he had these ankle braces that he wore for years. He didn’t like the way the braces felt on his skin so he wore a dress sock, and put the brace over the sock. Then he thought that looked silly so he wore a second pair of socks over the brace. At his office little kids would point at this skinny man with huge ankles and ask what was wrong with them. Every morning he would squirt nasal spray up his nose and lie back reclined on a chair playing an electronic Yahtzee game. He did things like this all the time just to get through a day. And he loved food. Everything was always the best. I remember when we were in Germany, he had a chicken sandwich at a gas station. The rest of the trip, he went on and on about how it was the best sandwich he ever had. “Oh, it was so good. The best sandwich!”
I could go on and on about Dad like this for hours. And we will all miss these things dearly, his smile, his humor, the sound of his voice. But one thing I want to make clear is that the last thing that he would want—and Mom can back me up on this—is for me to stand here and spend this time telling you what a wonderful guy he was. Because that is not how he saw himself. That’s not who he was, at heart. No, what Dad would want me to do is to tell you how Jesus Christ obtained glory through the life of a wretched, undeserving sinner.
Dad had no illusions about himself. God granted him insight, and he knew the deceitfulness of his heart. And he was so open about it. He was completely frank and open about his sins, which is an example that we as Christians can all learn from. He confided with me things he had done in his youth, the debauchery, the worst of the worst. As Uncle Dan told me last night, “he had to drive his motorcycle the fastest, drink more beer than anyone else, and when he smoked cigarettes, they had to be unfiltered.” Later, when he had aged and settled down, he still struggled with his pride. He was angry with God that he was accepted to medical school, but the Lord had closed that door for him, and he was “just” an optometrist. Dad was a flesh and blood man. He could be covetous, and was fascinated by money and expensive houses and those with bigger boats and bigger planes.
And that’s where the tribute could have ended. But Tim DeBoer found grace in the sight of God. This man believed—rightly believed—that God knew him and loved him, personally, before he even created the world. He was crucified with Christ. He possessed a true and living faith. How do I know this? Jesus Christ said, “You shall know them by their fruit.” And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Dad possessed them all, but I am just going to focus on the first, and greatest fruit—love. The greatest commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength.” Dad loved God. He really did. Not perfectly. No one loves God perfectly. He battled with sin until the day he died. But he really loved Him. In Jesus’ parable, He implies that those who are forgiven much love much. He understood how much God had forgiven him. Dad referred to the Bible as a “love letter” from God. He had piles and piles of theological books where nearly every word is underlined. It was all important to him. He absolutely loved Reformed theology, and the doctrines of grace, and the hymns we are singing today. And he loved the church. He used to say, “No matter what is going on in the world, every Sunday you get to go to church, and just worship God.” He loved the preaching of the word. He loved the Lord his God. He told Mom just a few weeks ago, before going to bed just how excited he was to meet Jesus. “I just can’t wait to meet him,” he said, “I just love him so much.”
He had an incredible capacity to love. And that love extended to us. To his children, his patients, his office staff, his church members, his family. And he absolutely adored his grandchildren. He was such a wonderful grandfather, and one of the saddest things about his death to me is that he wasn’t a grandfather for longer. He would call them, “you precious little image-bearer.” And when he watched them play, he would say, “Pure seraphic joy”.
He loved us all. But I think that there was no clearer picture of the Holy Spirit’s work in his life than looking at his marriage. When they had four little toddlers in five years, but they were tough years for him. He had depression, and little money, and little sleep, and was dissatisfied with his wife and his marriage. Soon after I met him, I remember Dad was wearing flip-flops, and he said to me, “I wore the strapped sandals and she complained I look like an old man, now I wear these and the snapping sound drives her nuts. I can’t win!” So they still had a ways to go.
But he continued repenting and praying and staying faithful. And as time went on, particularly in the past few years, their marriage became something truly beautiful. They read the Bible and prayed together in bed each night. He truly learned to love and cherish his wife, in a way he couldn’t have imagined when he was younger. It was as Christ loved the church. Coming out of anesthesia after one of his hip replacements, I remember him saying, “She is an amazing woman. I remember her giving birth: the screaming, the blood, it was the most horrible thing I had ever seen. And as soon as the baby’s out, she says to me, ‘when can we have another one?’ She’s an amazing woman. An incredible woman.” And she really is. In the wake of his sudden and unexpected death, her faith has been rock solid. She knows where Tim is, and that this state of affairs is temporary. When Jesus returns this lifeless body will be raised incorruptible.
And so the lasting image I will have of Dad—and I cry every time I even think about it—is from this past summer. The sun was setting, and he was out there in his favorite place in the entire world: Lake Maxinkuckee in Culver, floating in the water on a raft next to Mom, his long lanky arms splashing the water. It is the image of a man at total peace—at peace with God, with full assurance that all of his sins—every last one of them—are atoned for, nailed to the cross. He was a man completely free to love: to love God, to love his wife, to love His creation, and to love us. I will miss him so much.