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Al was my father-in-law. He was an uncomplicated man, easy to like. He was a natural athlete and avid outdoorsman who love to hunt and fish. … Al was the kind of man who didn’t mind what might get said about his wife or daughter, but he never tolerated an insult to his dog.

Al’s ragged edge ran toward the bottle. He was an alcoholic … not the sloppy kind, he didn’t miss work or throw away money, but it made him hard to get to know. Nancy always knew her dad loved her, but it was in his own ragged way. He never said it outright. Sometimes if she told him she loved him, over the phone, he might say, "Me too, punk," but he never volunteered it.

One fall his skin turned yellow - the shade of an overripe banana - and the doctors told him they wanted to test him for pancreatic cancer, which at the time was virtually always terminal. We were waiting at his house for him to come home with the test results. "Got it!" were his first words when he came to the door. He didn’t say much more about it. Sometimes we would see him staring out the window, but it was hard to know what he was thinking.

He had never been very concerned about God one way or the other. He wasn’t particularly hostile, just casually disinterested …

…one day my mother was visiting. She talked to Al… How did it stand between Al and God?

"Fine," he said. "Everything’s fine with God and me, Why shouldn’t it be?"

She pressed further and explained about how "god proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us."

The light dawned, the ice melted, and Al prayed and gave his life to God.

And God began some reconstructive surgery. Al and I began to read together from the gospel of John. He would study some on his own, then we’d talk about it, and generally pray after. Once or twice we even prayed holding hands.

One day when the cancer was quite advanced Al was lying in our bed, too weak and emaciated to sit up, and we’d finished talking about Jesus.

"Now let’s pray," Al said, which was striking because he hadn’t often initiated prayer before.

"Okay."

"And let’s do that hand thing," Al said. He reached over and grabbed my hand.

And it struck me that the hand that had spent a lifetime throwing footballs and swinging golf clubs and casting and...

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