How I Learned About Unconditional Love

Thirty years ago today, August 16, my Dad died. Every day since that day, I think about him. Sometimes for a long time. Sometimes just a brief flash of memory. Sometimes a wish that he was still here with us.

I know my Dad is with Jesus. That brings more comfort than I can express. 

I know my Dad loved me. That still gives my inner core an extra measure of strength.

By his actions, my Dad taught me what unconditional love truly means. 

When my sister Barb and I were with my Dad, all was right with the world.

When my sister Barb and I were with my Dad, all was right with the world.

When I didn’t want to learn to ride a bike because I was too scared, he pushed the back of the seat and made me push through my fear.

When I wrecked the Buick LeSabre he had worked so hard to purchase, he didn’t yell at me or punish me. Maybe because he saw how hard I was punishing myself.

When I wanted to learn how to dance for my junior prom, he invited all my friends to our house for dancing lessons. 

When I wanted a job, he hired me to work in his real estate office. And he didn’t fire me when I made mistakes, spent too much time talking with my friends who just happened to stop by, or forgot to pass along a message to him.

After 20 years as a coal miner, my Dad began a second career in real estate. He eventually owned his own real estate agency in our hometown, West Frankfort, Illinois.

After 20 years as a coal miner, my Dad began a second career in real estate. He eventually owned his own real estate agency in our hometown, West Frankfort, Illinois.

When I wanted to perform some type of service for my hometown, he invited my friend Mary Ann and me to join him and his friend in placing flags. Before dawn, we got doughnuts. Then we drove around town, planting reminders of America’s freedom along our streets.

When he met a man without a coat, he gave him one of his. Along with some cash in one of the pockets.

When he sold a house, he showed care and concern for both the buyer and the seller. That meant a lot of phone calls at odd hours, some unexpected visitors, and changes of family plans once in a while.

When I wanted to go to a college that was three hours away, he didn’t stand in my way. Dividing our family like that was difficult for him, I know. Even more difficult than the financial sacrifices he made for my education.

When I brought home a guy he barely knew from a city he didn’t have much use for and said I was going to marry him, he didn’t stand in my way.

My Dad, Rex Wasson, before I ever knew him.

My Dad, Rex Wasson, before I ever knew him.

Certain smells and sounds and tastes are instant reminders of my Dad. A baseball game on the radio. Lifebuoy soap. A car driving over gravel. A creaking rocking chair. “In The Sweet By and By.” “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder.” The mealtime prayer “Come, Lord Jesus.” Old Spice aftershave. Warm, ripe tomatoes eaten right off of the vine. The clink of a metal iced tea spoon on the bottom of a large glass.

When my sister Barb and I were little, he worked the night shift at the coal mine, Old Ben No. 9, to provide for our family. Even though he missed a lot of evening activities — attending school programs, helping with homework, laughing at TV programs, reading bedtime stories — he made it up to us on the weekends. Taking my sister and me on trips to Grandma’s house. Listening to Cardinal baseball games on the radio as we spent time together in our yard. And our favorite: taking clinkers from our coal furnace to the city dump. Whatever we did with our Dad was fun!

We didn’t have a lot of material possessions. He and my Mom sacrificed a lot to make sure Barb and I had what we needed. Including pretty dresses from Harris’ and The Rosalie Shop, stores on Main Street in our hometown. Our house was warm and safe with plenty of food on the table every day. 

Rex and Helen Wasson, my Dad and Mom: their honeymoon, 1952; the diamond engagement ring my Mom had wanted for so long, 1966; their three brief years of retirement before my Dad passed away.

Rex and Helen Wasson, my Dad and Mom: their honeymoon, 1952; the diamond engagement ring my Mom had wanted for so long, 1966; their three brief years of retirement before my Dad passed away.

Best of all, our family had love. Lots and lots and lots of love. No matter what squabbles or arguments or rebellions took place, love was the bottom line. Every time. My Dad gave the best hugs! I still miss his hugs. I can still hear him calling me “Laura Babe.”

Our family didn't have a lot of wealth, but we had a wealth of love.

Our family didn't have a lot of wealth, but we had a wealth of love.

Most important of all, I got to witness my Dad renew his faith in God and dedicate his life to serving Jesus. He had accepted Christ and been baptized at a young age. Then through his teen years, the years of World War II, and his adulthood, he had lost his way. 

He and my Mom were married in the church, but that didn’t move him any closer to God. After my sister and I were born, my Mom faithfully took us to church every Sunday. He stayed home alone. That was our reality, although I didn’t understand it.

Then one Sunday morning, he got dressed and went to church with us. I didn’t understand that either, but I liked having him there! 

Soon, he expressed a desire to join the Lutheran church. Pastor Walt Marcis at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church was a big influence on him and his decision. As an adult, he went through Confirmation instruction and was confirmed. After that, he became a leader in the church and served there until he passed away.

My Dad wasn’t a saint. But he was just the Dad I needed him to be. I thank God for that blessing.

I didn’t get to say good-bye to him. He was in intensive care, and I was too afraid to go in and see him there. I let my fear get in the way of my love for him. That is one of the greatest failures in my life. I’ve asked God to forgive me for that so many times. 

My Dad loved his hometown, and his hometown loved him.

My Dad loved his hometown, and his hometown loved him.

There are still so many questions I want to ask my Dad. So much advice I want to get from him. So much I want to tell him about what has happened in my life during the last 30 years.

Many people loved my Dad. But no one loved him more than my Mom, my sister, and me. I miss you, Rex Wasson.

Four things I remember when I think about my Dad: how he was always on time or early; how he enjoyed his first La-Z-Boy recliner; how he documented our lives with his movie camera; how he listened to Cardinal baseball games on the radio while sitting in our backyard.

Four things I remember when I think about my Dad: how he was always on time or early; how he enjoyed his first La-Z-Boy recliner; how he documented our lives with his movie camera; how he listened to Cardinal baseball games on the radio while sitting in our backyard.


Laura Warfel is a widow, writer, and follower of Jesus Christ. Her greatest joy is to bring others along with her on her faith journey. In 2015, because of the encouragement of the Launch Out Conference and Jon Acuff, she launched More Than A Widow on Facebook and Twitter. Today she blogs, tweets, and posts to help widows (and those who know them) find encouragement, hope, and resources for the journey. Her goal is to help all widows live beyond the label and live as more than a widow.
Copyright © 2017 by Laura Warfel