He was also a good teacher, principal, and real estate agent.
He wasn’t just a good, hard worker.
He was a good member of his church and community.
I could go on and on for my dad was strong and good in many, many ways.
Yet, as true as my words are and as proud as I am to be his daughter, my dad wasn’t perfect. He was just a regular man, complete with his own share of character flaws and personal failings.
And that’s important to know because last year, on this day, when my dad met Jesus face-to-face, it wasn’t all those good things about him that mattered.
The only thing that mattered was his personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
You see, my father understood his sins could not be made up with good deeds. He believed the words of the Bible, which clearly tell that the wages of sin is death, and no amount of human effort can pay that fine in full.
But the Bible is also clear that the fine has been waived and a way has been made through Jesus Christ. All that a person must do is admit their sinful state, repent and seek after God, allowing Him to be Lord of their life.
My father believed those words too, He accepted that free offer and developed a personal relationship with Jesus through prayer and Bible reading.
This is the only thing that mattered on the morning of September 17, 2014.
Today, marks one year since my father’s death. And even though I am away on a vacation with my husband, I will miss my father. I will think about him and thank the Lord that He blessed me with a really good father.
But mostly, I will be taking comfort in knowing that my dad is in heaven … not because my father was a good man, but because my father knew Jesus.
In Memory of James Malcolm Terry
November 9, 1947 ~ September 17, 2014
The righteous man will be remembered forever. ~Psalm 112:6
Last year my brother Reid preached a sermon at my father’s funeral based on the thoughts presented in this blog post. While I am not quoting him directly, I have written based on my brother’s original ideas. I appreciated his thoughts then, as I do now, for they bring me a measure of comfort as I recall the man my father was in this life and who he is in the light of eternity.
When my Aunt DeDe’s number came up on my caller ID, I was happily surprised.
Not only is she one of my favorite people in the world, but I hadn’t spoken with her personally since my dad died a year ago. Phone calls to Africa, where she was serving as a Southern Baptist missionary, weren’t something I made or received. My only contact with her for two and a half long years had been a blog and Facebook updates.
Late in the summer, Aunt DeDe had returned to the states. It seemed that everyone in the family had gotten to see her except for me. And now she was calling me … and was about to make me an offer that would be just as pleasantly surprising as the phone call itself.
“Paige, I don’t know if you were aware that when I moved back, I got Mama’s dishes. I’ve been unpacking them in my new house … and well, there are just too many of them for me and Curt. I just don’t need 16 place settings of china!” Aunt DeDe laughed, and for a moment she sounded just exactly like my grandmother. “Anyway, when I was thinking about what to do, you came to my mind. I wonder if you might like to have a portion of the dishes. I know it would have pleased Mama so to know that you had gotten some of them.“
Tears sprang to my eyes. From the time I was a little girl, I had thought my grandmother’s Blue Danube china was the most beautiful set of dishes I had ever seen.
For as long as I could remember, my grandmother, whom I called Mammie, kept her china in a massive antique display cabinet that had once been part of an old drugstore. Back at the turn of the twentieth century, the old cabinet with sliding glass doors had neatly displayed ladies’ gloves and men’s handkerchiefs; now it overflowed with my grandmother’s trinkets and treasures … and all of that beautiful blue and white china.
There were dinner plates, salad plates, coffee cups and saucers. Each year, my grandfather bought her some new piece of her beloved china, accessories like platters of various sizes, vegetable bowls and covered casserole dishes. Perhaps most intriguing to me was the large soup tureen, with a matching china ladle. Though I never remember her using it, I always hoped someday she would. I suppose there were just far too many of us in the family to make it practical to serve soup out of that soup tureen.
Mammie didn’t use her china on a daily basis. Rather, it was reserved for special occasions and holidays … Christmas mainly. Oh, how I loved her Christmas table! Each seat had a perfectly arranged place setting directly in front of it. One year, perhaps when I was 8 or 9, my grandmother invited me to come up and help her lay out the table a few days before Christmas. I remember the enormous weight of responsibility I felt as I gingerly carried the delicate dishes from the large cabinet to the long dining table. The last thing I wanted to do was break one of those beautiful plates!
One year, maybe when I was in high school or college, some of my aunts decided that it was too much work to pull out the china for our Christmas dinner. They claimed it was nothing more than a hassle to set the table only to have all those dishes to wash afterwards, and really no one wanted to be stuck in the kitchen, carefully hand washing all those china plates and cups, when they could be out enjoying the holiday with the rest of the family. I certainly understood the reasoning behind the decision to forego using the fancy china in favor of the large oval Chinet paper plates. Yet, after that, Christmas never felt quite as magical as it did when the table was so beautifully set with my grandmother’s best dishes.
Now, as I talked with my beloved aunt, flashes of all those moments popped into my head. “What I have boxed up does not contain a full place setting of everything, Paige. I think you’ll have nearly eight pieces of almost everything, but not coffee cups and saucers. I can give you a few of the extra pieces to make up for that … and maybe you could buy a few replacement pieces if you wanted.”
I assured her that whatever she gave me would be more than fine. After all, I never expected to have even the first piece of that china.
That was early August. It wasn’t until the Saturday before Labor Day that I managed to go visit Aunt DeDe and pick up the boxes. And another week passed before I had a chance to unpack and sort through the contents. Seven china plates, eight salad plates, three coffee cups with saucers, one medium-sized platter, a vegetable bowl and a small casserole dish with a lid. Most surprising of all, the large soup tureen with the matching china ladle.
“Where will you put it all?” Jon asked incredulously. This wasn’t the first time he had asked me where I intended to store all of my grandmother’s dishes.
“I don’t know.” The kitchen looked like it had exploded plastic shopping bags, the packing material my aunt had liberally used to cushion the dishes. Countertops were covered with dishes. My kitchen cabinets were already full, and I didn’t own a china cabinet.
As I pulled the final pieces from the boxes, it occurred to me that I had space in the large floor-to-ceiling storage cabinets that were in our back entry way, next to our second refrigerator.
“I’ll put them in there,” I finally said, answering my husband’s question. Then I added, “I probably won’t use these often …”
Just for special occasions and Christmas.
This week marks a year since my father’s unexpected death.
The last few weeks, my emotions have been all over the map. I probably have cried more in the past month than I did in the first month following his passing. In many ways, the pain feels heavier now than it did initially.
Part of me is surprised by that.
But, perhaps what startles me most about these delayed emotions is how much I find myself missing my grandmother, as well as my father.
Up until a day or two ago, I didn’t even realize how much I had been missing my grandmother. She’s been gone eight years now, nearly nine now … though Alzheimer’s took her long before that. I know it’s been longer than a dozen years since I heard her laugh. Perhaps it’s even been 15 years. I can no longer remember when she slipped away. All I know is that Alzheimer’s is the great stealer, taking a person away long before their death. By the time my grandmother actually stepped through the gates of splendor, all my tears had long been cried.
At least I thought there were no more tears left.
But this past weekend, as I put the last of her blue and white dishes in my hallway cabinet, I found myself wiping away tears. Later, in the shower, I cried hot tears of grief … a grief so intense I wasn’t quite sure where it was coming from. Was I crying because I missed my dad? My grandmother? I couldn’t tell anymore. All I knew was the deep ache in my heart from a longing to see these people I had loved so dearly.
When someone you love dies, people will tell you to give yourself a year. “The first year is the hardest. Once you get through all the firsts without your loved one, things will begin to get easier,” they say in hushed tones, as if somehow this is a comforting thought.
Maybe that’s true. I can’t exactly argue the point. But personally, I am more inclined to think that grief is much more unpredictable.
In my experience, waves of grief come and go, like tides moving in and out along the ocean’s shore. It doesn’t ever stop, though at times the tides of sorrow are lower and calmer while other days it feels like a wild hurricane threatening to drown everything in its path.
Thursday marks one year since my father passed away.
I suppose, it makes sense that this week would be one of intense emotions. In fact, I’ve been anticipating the tide would shift and the waves of grief would begin to roll in higher as the year of firsts without my father drew to a close. And it’s proven to be true, as dreams of my father have been more frequent and tears have fallen from my eyes more freely during these last few weeks.
Thursday is also my 43rd birthday.
Last year, at my father’s funeral, someone commented to me, “My heart hurts for you especially, Paige. Not only did you lose your father, but now you will never again have another happy birthday!” Those words stung, like a slap in the face. It’s wasn’t just the thought have living with such lifelong sadness , but also knowing that my father would have never wanted me to grieve over him like that either. After all, he is now more alive with the Lord in heaven than he ever was when he walked upon the earth.
Still in those first days and weeks following my dad’s death, as I mulled over how I would handle my future birthdays without succumbing to overwhelming feelings of sadness, the Holy Spirit gave me an answer that I never expect. And idea to solve my predicament that I certainly could never have come up with on my own.
From now on, my father and I will share a birthday …
My birthday on earth and his birthday into heaven.
In the past year, time and again God has proven the words of the psalmist are true:
The Lord is near to the broken-hearted. ~Psalm 34:18
From tangible blessings, like my grandmother’s dishes and a birthday vacation to Virginia to visit old friends, to comforting thoughts like sharing birthdays on earth with a loved one’s birthday in heave, my precious Jesus meets me in my grief and is my strong anchor whether the tides of emotion are high or low.
The reminder of this truth has been my greatest blessing during this past year.
Quite possibly it was the last weekend of June 2014. Jon and I had gone up with his girls to visit my parents for a weekend.
On Saturday morning, the little village where my parents lived was having a 4th of July children’s parade. That evening, the church I grew up attending (and where my father still served as a deacon) was hosting a 100th anniversary celebration, complete with a fish fry, outdoor carnival games for the kids, and a fireworks show. On Sunday morning, there was a special church service followed by the elaborate potluck lunch, the very sort that Baptists do best.
It was a really wonderful weekend, spent telling stories and laughing and just enjoying being together. But all good things come to an end. So, on Sunday afternoon, with our hearts (and stomachs) full, Jon and the kids and I all hugged my parents’ necks before we began the journey back our Cajun Country home.
Perhaps that was the last time I saw my father. But I’m not at all sure.
You see, my children were still in Germany visiting with their father during the month of June. So they weren’t able to go with us to visit my parents that weekend. It seems likely that my parents would have wanted to visit with their world-traveling grandchildren upon their return to the states.
And that certainly could have easily happened. During the summer months, Mom and Dad often made trips to Texas to visit with my mother’s mother. Their habit was to swing through Lafayette for a short visit on their way home. As soon as their car pulled into our drive, I’d put on some coffee. We would visit (and dad would nap in the recliner) until it was time for them to get back on the road. Everyone in our family looked forward to these short, but frequent, visits.
Some of my kids are convinced that KayTee and Poppa visited us on at least one afternoon during July. However, others members of our family, like me, have no memory of such a visit.
But perhaps they did come for an afternoon cup of coffee. If so, that would have definitely been the last time I gave my father a hug.
What I can remember is the last time I didn’t see my father.
During the late summer months of 2014, Jon and I were gearing up to become fully certified foster parents. One of the many things we needed to do was get a baby/toddler bedroom set up. I had a toddler bed, but needed a crib. So I started looking around for someone wanting to sell (cheap) or give away a used crib.
Thankfully, a friend from back home had a crib that she offered to give to me. Since she lived near my parents, she took the crib to their house. My father agreed to work out a time to get the crib to us. However, he was busy and didn’t have time to bring the crib all the way to our house. So he asked us if we could meet him halfway, and exchange the crib on Labor Day. Jon and I agreed that this plan would work for us.
I don’t remember exactly how the details all played out now, but I do recall that only Jon and Joel went to meet my father and pick up the crib. For some reason, I stayed at home with the other kids.
What we did during on that lazy Monday, I can no longer remember. It’s likely there were other things I needed to do around the house, perhaps continuing to clean out the bedroom where the crib would be set up or maybe write lesson plans for our five children for the upcoming school week. It could have been that I planned to grocery shop. Chances are that whatever I did, it was a chore I felt was somewhat pressing.
I only know that I could have gone, but I chose not to go.
Of course, I had no way of knowing it would be my last opportunity to give my dad a hug, to see his happy smile, hear his cheerful laugh, or see his sparkly eyes. I could not have guessed he only had a little more than two weeks left to live. Certainly, had I known, I would have made a different choice.
Unfortunately, I can’t go back and remake that decision. Oh, I would if I could, but in this world the past can not be undone. Somehow we have to learn to live with our mistakes and choices while moving forward in life. If we don’t, we will stay stuck in a rut of misery… one that is mostly of our own making.
Over the past twelve months, I’ve thought quite a bit about that final opportunity, the chance I didn’t take and missed. I’ve shed more than a few tears over it, and many nights I’ve dreamed dreams about it. Over and over, I’ve questioned the Good Lord as to why He let me miss out on that one last chance to see my Daddy.
If you can’t tell, forgiving myself for not seeing my dad last Labor Day hasn’t been easy. Perhaps the silliest part (even to me) is the fact that my father wasn’t upset with me for sending only Jon and Joel to meet him that day. Deep in my heart, I know he wouldn’t be upset about that even today.
So why is it that am I so hard on myself?
Perhaps you have seen the movie Courageous. If so, you will recall the scene below:
When Sheriff’s deputy Adam Mitchell’s nine year old daughter, Emily, hears a song on the radio, she asks her father to dance with her. But he refuses because he is too embarrassed to be seen dancing in public. Days later, Emily is killed tragically by a drunk driver. Later in the movie, Adam goes back to same location where his daughter had asked him to dance with her … and there, by himself, he dances for Emily. It’s a tender moment as this father forgives himself for the missed moment to connect with his child.
In my grief, I long to know why my father died so suddenly, why he had to pass away on my birthday, why I missed the chance to see him one last time. The longing for answers to each of my why’s burns deep in my heart.
But the answers to those questions aren’t as important to God as other things. Over and over during the past year, God has gently reminded me that the mysteries of life are not always mine to know … not on this side of heaven and maybe not even on the other. Instead of knowing why, He just wants me to rest in the fact that He knows. The simple truth is that He is far more concerned about my complete trust in Him than He is in whether or not I understand all the reasons.
Today when I woke up, the first thing I thought about was the missed chance last Labor Day … and I felt in my soul the whisperings of the Holy Spirit saying softly, “It’s time, Paige … time to forgive yourself of the thing no one else holds against you.“
This verse came to mind:
Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 3:13-14
I can’t keep hanging on to the past, beating myself up for a decision I now regret. What happened last year can’t be undone. All I can do is to look forward … and trust that God will take even the things I don’t understand and use them for my good. (Jeremiah 29:11)
So on this Labor Day, I’m choosing to finally forgive the daughter who didn’t know she was choosing to miss out on the very last chance.
How about you? Do you find it harder to forgive yourself than to forgive others? Do you have decisions or actions in your past that you need to forgive yourself?
Yesterday, I went shopping in a department store. I only planned to quickly run in to pick up a gift for a young lady I know who is getting married this fall. Literally, within five minutes of walking into the store, I had the gift in my hands. I immediately headed back to the front of the store to pay and leave.
However, as I made my way to the register to check out, I passed by a large group of picture frames. Almost instantly, one of them caught my eye.
I did a double take, blinked hard and stared. I might have even rubbed my eyes, trying to ensure I wasn’t seeing things. Reaching up to the top shelf, I gingerly picked up a frame, one that was obviously intended for Father’s Day gifting.
At the top of the frame were the words “Me & Papa.” My father’s grandchildren all called him “Poppa” … we spelled it differently but pronounced it the same way. Still, it wasn’t the wording that had caught my attention. It was the sample photo that was displayed in the frame itself, a picture of a young boy and his grandfather.
The man in the photo looked remarkably like my own Dad.
In fact, it looked so much like him that it took me a minute to realize it wasn’t actually my father. For several long minutes, I stood there debating with myself about whether or not I should include the frame with my purchases.
Seven dollars wasn’t that much money, yet I didn’t really have a picture I knew would be the perfect fit for the frame. The wording wasn’t quite right with Poppa not being spelled the way our family always spelled it. I continued arguing with the more frugal side of myself, pointing out that though the man in the frame looked like my father, he wasn’t really my dad.
However, eventually emotions and sentimentality overruled frugality. I bought the frame. It’s sitting on my kitchen counter, still in the box with the price tag attached.
I’ve never been a person to keep lots of framed photos around the house.
There’s one of Jon and me at the top of Pike’s Peak sitting on the shelf above my kitchen sink.
I have framed photo of my parents, an old black and white photo from when they were in college and dating. That one sits on the top of my piano, along with a couple of photos of my parents when they were children.
And then there is the framed photo I pull out each Christmas, a snapshot of my dad holding me on my first Christmas. I’m barely 3 months old, and I’ve got a Santa hat on my head. I love that particular picture, and for years have always kept it displayed between Thanksgiving and New Year’s … although this past year I kept the photo out straight through Valentine’s Day. Somehow I couldn’t bear to pack it away again.
Since Daddy died, photos of him mean a lot more to me.
I don’t suppose that’s a unique feeling, as I imagine many people would say that photos become more cherished after a loved one passes. I’m grateful that I live in a day and age where we have photos to remind us of loved ones or special moments.
In a sense, photographs are like connectors bringing the past forward into the present, capable of evoking a flood of emotions. At least that’s the way it’s been for me these past nine months.
In fact, immediately following my father’s death, my emotions became extremely charged over photos … or rather, the lack of photos.
When my Daddy died suddenly last September, I hastily packed to go be with my family. In just over four hours, I managed to get our two dogs ready to be boarded, found respite care for two foster babies, as well as got them packed and delivered to the respite provider, supervised the packing of my five teens and tweens, and still managed to pack suitcases for me and my husband.
I never thought to bring along my box of childhood photos. Looking back, perhaps I should have though. It might have saved me some emotional pain.
The next day at my father’s visitation, a photo slideshow was running continuously in the background. It was played again prior to the beginning of the funeral. Initially, as I watched the slideshow, I appreciated the sentimentality of the photos. But soon, I noticed something was amiss.
There was not a single photo of me with my father.
I couldn’t understand why I was missing from the slide show. The day before, someone had asked me if I had any photos of Dad with me or the kids on among my Facebook photos or saved on my cell phone. I found a couple of the kids with their grandfather, but none with me. I didn’t think much of it at the time. After all, I had no reason to suspect that no one else in the family would not have a single photo of me with my father?
I tried not to let it get to me, yet the longer I watched, the more upset I became. It seemed like everyone else in the world was represented in the slide show, except for me. I was nowhere to be seen.
There were photos of my father as a child, with both of his parents, and with all of his siblings. There were pictures of him doing a variety of activities from showing his 4-H lambs to posing with his basketball team to teaching school and coaching my brother’s baseball team. Naturally, there were many photographs of Daddy with my mother, from their dating days to their wedding day to a vacation they took to Hawaii before any of us children were born. The most recent photo was a picture of my parents taken just a week before his death. Both of my siblings were represented in the slide show, as were all of ten of the grandkids. There were photos of my dad with his nieces and nephews, several of his cousins, quite a few with church friends and even some of the students who had gone to the high school where he had been principal for many years.
But not a single photo of me with Daddy.
At the time, even though I felt forgotten, I knew the oversight wasn’t intentional. No one meant for me to be left out. But knowing that fact didn’t really take away the sting of being overlooked. Even now as I type this blog post, the memory of it causes tears to well up in the corners of my eyes and a lump to form in my throat.
There are plenty of photos of me and my father together. These days I often pull them out and sift through them, looking at them to recall my Dad’s smile or eyes. The photos remind me of stories, events that took place long ago that I thought I’d all but forgotten until a picture reminds me and suddenly I am transported back in time.
But I think perhaps there is more to my longing for photos than just wanting to see his face or remember the times we shared together. I think I want to recapture for myself what wasn’t honored at my father’s funeral. I want to remind myself that I was loved by my father, that I mattered to him, that I am not forgotten.
I had a wonderful Daddy here on earth. He loved me, taught me, supported me, and encouraged me for 42 wonderful years. Even though he wasn’t perfect, I couldn’t have asked for a better father.
But how much more wonderful is my Heavenly Father? How much more amazing is His love for me?
Christian author and pastor Max Lucado once wrote:
If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it.
Whenever I am reminded of that quote, I can’t help but smile. It’s something I definitely relate to as my own fridge is covered in photos and drawings made over the years by children I love. The faces held there by magnets are important to me, and whenever I pass by my refrigerator and see the smiles of the people I love, I am reminded to pray for them.
You know, even though the sentiment about my photo being on God’s fridge is really sweet, it’s not exactly a truth I can hang my heart on when I’m feeling overlooked, forgotten or unseen. However, the Bible actually says something even better than God having my photo on his refrigerator.
In Isaiah 49:16, you can find these words:
Look, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.
God has me pictured on his hands! Not just my name … but my likeness. Doesn’t the thought of that just blow your mind? Think about it. I might not be on a heavenly refrigerator, but my very face is permanently inscribed on the hands of God. He always remembers me because my face is ever before Him.
No photo in a frame or snapshot posted by magnet to the fridge or picture presented in a slide show of memories can begin to compare to that.
About that frame I bought yesterday …
I have been wondering if I should return it and get my money back. After all, what use to me is this frame? The image of the man in the frame isn’t my dad, and his name is spelled wrong. Certainly I could find a better way to display a photo of me with my father.
But somehow, I think I’m going to keep this frame … as a reminder of my father’s love and that I am not forgotten. Because God always remembers me.
My image in permanently imprinted on His Holy Hands.
This past week, I made a trip up to my mother’s home. From the highway, before the I turned onto the driveway and pulled up the hillside, I saw my father’s white truck. It was parked up past the house, near the gate that leads into the pasture. He often parked his white Ford F150 there.
Before I know what was happening, I felt my heart skipped a beat, as a half-formed thought bounced around in my head.
Oh, good! Dad’s here …
And then, like a deflating balloon, I remembered. Dad’s not here. My father is gone. I won’t see him on this side of heaven again.
I suppose the tears have been building all month. June is the month for celebrating fathers. This year, I don’t have a dad to celebrate. I’m thankful we aren’t a TV watching family. I didn’t need any sentimental commercials to add to the emotions I’m already feeling.
The past few days I’ve had these traces of conversations in my head, as I imagined the two of us chatting in the living room of his home. There is so much to tell him, it would take several cups of coffee to catch him up on all that has happened in the past nine months!
Let’s see … I’d have to share about how Joel had major surgery and shocked us all with his miraculously quick recovery. Of course, there’s all the adventures of life with our foster kids (who we only had for five days when Dad passed away). I would also have to share the saga of the renter leaving my house in such a terrible state, and then how we managed to fix it all up. Of course, Dad would never believe how much Nathan has grown in a short period of time … going from a 140 lb, 5’4″ to 185 lbs, 5’8″. The amount of clothes I’ve had to buy for him is ridiculous.
I’d talk to him about how parenting teens is harder than I ever imagined and apologize for every time I ever rolled my eyes at him. He would agree that teens are hard people to love, and that I indeed deserve ever eye roll or exasperated huff I get from my five teens.
I’d have to tell him what an amazing dad he truly was … how I loved having him for my father. He wasn’t perfect, but he had so very many things right. He loved God, my mother and his children in the right order. He lived his faith at home and work, not just at church on Sunday mornings.
My dad was so funny. I liked to send him puns and tell him silly jokes, just because I wanted to hear his laugh. He really did have a great laugh. If I had an hour to sit and talk with him, I’d want to tell him at least one joke just so I could hear him laugh again.
I could go on and on. Actually, for several days, I have had these running conversations with Dad going on in the back of my brain. (I’m sure admitting that makes me seem as if I have some sort of mental issue. Hopefully though, I don’t … at least not yet.)
Eventually, I came to the end of my chatter. To my surprise, I found I didn’t have anything left to say. But I didn’t want the conversation (as one-sided as it was) to come to an end. And there, in the quiet, my brain asked a question I wasn’t expecting:
So, Dad … what about you? Tell me everything from the past nine months.
That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks. My dad’s been face-to-face with Jesus, worshipping at the feet of the King of Kings. What would he have to tell me??? Oh, I can only imagine!
What would he say? I’ve thought about that a little bit as well. I don’t know, but maybe he would tell me not to worry or to be afraid. After all, he knows I have a tendency to feel both worried and afraid quite a bit. Anxiety is definitely my typical mode of operation.
Perhaps he would remind me to be fully surrendered to the love and care of God, who watches over sparrows and clothes the lilies of the field. God has got whatever is going on in my life. All I need to do is simply trust that His plans for me are good.
And I know that my dad would tell me that I should hang onto my faith because in the end it’s all going to be worth it. Forever with God is amazing.
It’s my first Father’s Day without my Dad. I’m missing him terribly … but I’m grateful that I am not fatherless. Not only was I given the blessing of being raised by an amazing earthly father, I am also a part of God’s family. I have a Heavenly Father who watches over me, guides me and is ever leading me closer to Him.
And someday, I’ll celebrate with my Daddy around the throne of the Heavenly Father. What a Father’s Day that will be!
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. ~ 1 John 3:1
For as long as I can remember, there have been Tia, Cindi, & Ginger.
My three childhood friends. There were more of course, but only these three are a part of my life prior to where my memories begin. For as much as my brain and heart know, these three have always been around, moving in and out and about the circles of my existence.
Tia was the beautiful ballerina, an artsy and free-range child. Life at her riverbank home was as wild and unpredictable as my own home was scheduled and sedate. Tia and I dipped our toes into the murky waters of the meandering river and danced in the rain and hosted tea parties for fairies with pecan shell cups on driftwood tables. With Tia, imagination trumped everything, coloring my world with vivid hues of possibilities I never could fathom anywhere else. When she moved on the eve of our transition into Jr. high, I felt like I had lost my left arm … left because she was left-handed while I was right.
Cindi was my Sunday School friend, the only other girl my age at church.
She was only a few months my senior, yet next to Cindi, I always felt more like the little sister. While I was the oldest of three, she was the baby of her parents’ trio. Thanks to the influence of her older sisters, Cindi was always more aware of the bigger world around us, whether it was music, fashion or which teacher rumors were true and which ones were tales blown out of proportion. There was warmth in our friendship, a certain sort of safety that wrapped around me, almost like curling up in a cozy quilt on a cold winter’s night.
And then there was Ginger.
As much as I loved Tia and Cindi, it was Ginger who fascinated me. She was everything I wasn’t. Tiny and petite, with dark hair and eyes while I was always chubbier and taller than all the other girls, with my dingy blonde hair. Ginger’s personality was as big as she was little. A feisty fireball ready to take on the world. Daring and full of eagerness to try everything. In comparison, I felt intimated by the world at large, unsure and uncertain about anything untested or untried.
From the time I knew her, I wished I could be more like Ginger. I wanted just a little of her spunk …
I spent my childhood among the cotton and soybean fields of north Louisiana, in a tiny village where the population barely topped 500 human souls. At the tiny elementary school there was only one classroom for pupils in each grade. Classmates, who were often related by blood anyway, grew as close as siblings as they marched year by year through the grades together.
My class was small, even by our town’s standards, hovering most years at about 18 students, give or take a child or two. We were also light on girls, just six or seven in the entire class. Perhaps this banded us together, though the girls in the grade ahead of us were just as close if not closer. We came from a tight-knit community and one thing we all learned was how to love each other in spite of our flaws.
Our formal education came to a close in the spring of 1990. We said goodbye, young and unaware of how life would take us all in a thousand different directions. That was twenty-five years ago, though it doesn’t seem like that many years have passed us by.
In the meantime, life goes on.
Tia moved the summer before 6th grade. I still saw her from time to time during jr. high and high school, though my adolescent insecurities caused me to feel awkward around my old friend. But thanks to our small-town roots and the glories of social media, Tia and I have rekindled our old friendship, and enjoy exchanging Christmas cards every year. When my father passed away last fall, I looked out into the sea of faces at his funeral and saw Tia’s in the crowd. Words cannot describe a friendship like that.
Cindi and I graduated as the top two in our high school class, not a tremendously hard feat considering how few of us there actually were wearing the caps and gowns. We followed each other to college, rooming together and serving as bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. We even gave birth to our boys within a few months of each other. Though we don’t see each other face-to-face very often, we do enjoy visiting with each other anytime we both managed to get back to our small town on the same day. I spoke to her the day my dad died, knowing that she would speak words of comfort the way only a close friend can do.
And then there was Ginger.
I may have seen her half a dozen times since high school, a dozen at most. Our paths rarely crossed. The last time I saw Ginger, perhaps 4 or 5 years ago at a basketball game, she hugged me. Her smile as bright as ever. We chatted and caught up and hugged again as we parted ways. We never had been extremely close friends … and yet Ginger had always been there since before I could even remember. We were the sort of friends who had a connection with each other that would always be there no matter what happened in our lives.
Ginger died two days ago, unexpectedly and tragically. I’m reeling. She is the first of my friends to die. I might not have been as close to Ginger as I was to other friends … but I loved her. My heart hurts and feels so heavy over the death of my friend.
Not one of us has unlimited days to live. The Bible tells us that our days are numbered before we ever take our first breath. So while I wasn’t prepared to learn about Ginger’s death, God Himself was eager and ready to welcome my friend into Heaven’s gates.
I will miss sweet Ginger on this earth … but I am glad for her life, grateful for her impact on me, and thankful that she was one of three special friends I had the privilege of knowing longer than I can remember.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. ~ Psalms 116:15
This is Joel. He’s my oldest biological child, and the oldest son in our home. A few days ago, I shared this open letter to Joel, writing about how proud I am of him and what a joy it has been to be his mom. It probably describes him better than anything else I could say.
Joel is my high achiever with the big life dreams. He is my hard and diligent worker, who gives everything he does 110%. He is either utterly serious or the biggest clown you’ll ever meet. Tall, lanky, and tenderly sweet … he’s the boy that made me a mom, and I treasure the gift that he is to me.
Today I am proud to share Joel’s essay about his memories of his grandfather. He is my fourth of my five children to guest post for me during the month of April. Next week, I’ll share Megan’s story. But until then, please enjoy …
In Memoriam of Poppa
Wednesday, September 17, 2014. 7:30 am. My mother’s 42nd birthday. Typically my siblings and I would have woken her up, but today I was the one being shaken awake. Bleary-eyed and fuzzy-headed, I tried to comprehend her words. “Joel, your grandfather has passed away.”
Poppa? Dead? How could that even be possible? Just last night I had talked to him on the phone. Lying back down, I pulled the covers over my head. Maybe it was just a nightmare.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t a bad dream. My family spent the morning, throwing clothes into bags and boarding our two dogs at a local kennel. My mother, who was close to her father, seemed strangely calm as she double-checked our suitcases. She wanted to be sure everyone had packed dress shoes, and that my brother and I had both packed a tie to wear to the funeral. Shortly after 12 pm, everyone piled into the mini-van to drive the two and a half hours up to my grandparents’ home in north Louisiana.
Soon the flat swamp lands of southern Louisiana turned into rolling hills covered with pine trees. As the car sped along the highway, I began to recall the many road trips I had taken with Poppa. I enjoyed nothing more than traveling with him in his white Ford F-150. It didn’t matter to me where we went for I just enjoyed being on the road. Poppa and I both shared a love for just taking a long drive, no particular destination or schedule in mind.
I watched the trees pass by in a blur, and thought about the previous Christmas holiday. As it turned out, I had the opportunity to spend the week prior to Christmas with my grandparents. None of my cousins were there, so I got completely spoiled by my grandmother’s amazing cooking. During the day, Poppa and I drove around the back roads of Catahoula Parish together, making Christmas deliveries of jars of cane syrup to friends. . Sometimes we would go in for a short visit. Other times I would just jump out to leave the jar of cane syrup next to the door. Now I felt sad, knowing it was Poppa’s last Christmas, and yet at the same time glad because I had gotten to spend so much of it with him.
Before I knew it, we were pulling up the hill to my grandparents’ home. Cars were parked everywhere. Inside, there was a small crowd, talking in hushed whispers. Yet, even with all those people, the house felt empty and lonely. Poppa wasn’t there, and suddenly the house I always loved to visit didn’t feel comforting or familiar.
The following day we went to the church for the time of visitation. Slowly, I walked up to the open casket and stared at my grandfather’s body. I realized, as I stood there gazing at the man laid out in the casket, that a part of me still held on to the hope that perhaps everyone was just wrong. My grandfather was still alive and we weren’t about to bury him in the ground after all. Now, that hope was gone. I had seen for myself and I knew it was true. Poppa was dead.
I sat down in one of the empty pews, watching as the pictures of my grandfather’s life scroll by slowly across the screen. Photos of his boyhood, college years, and of the years when my mother was just a child. I didn’t recognize this younger man, though I could see the resemblance he had to the Poppa I knew and loved. Same twinkling eyes. Same happy smile.
Then there were photos of Poppa I clearly remembered, like the one of us standing outside in the yard with the white house on the riverbank behind us in the background. Poppa and Kaytee, my grandmother, had lived there for 15 years. My mother and my siblings and I had lived there with them for two years, after my parents were divorced. I learned to ride a bike down that old gravel drive, Poppa and Mama cheering me on as I pedaled faster and faster. One spring, Kaytee and Poppa planted a garden. I can still remember the feeling of the warm sun on my back as we planted the seeds. And I don’t know who was more excited, Poppa or me, when we started finding ripe tomatoes and cucumbers ready to be picked.
Another photo showed my grandfather at his retirement party, just four years earlier. Poppa had been a high school principal. I used to love to go visit him at “his school.” I really did think he owned it, too. Many afternoons, my mother would bring my brother and sister and me to visit him at his office. We would walk in, and Poppa would beam with delight. The first thing he wanted to do was walk us around the school, proudly showing off his grandchildren to his staff of teachers and to the students. If the gym were not being used for a P.E. class, Poppa would take us there so that we could run up and down the court. Later, before we left, Poppa would walk us to the candy machines. He would pull a key from his pocket and open up the door to reveal all the candy hidden within. “Choose whatever you like,” he would say. I always got the green bag of Skittles. My brother Nathan used to believe that we could have all the candy we wanted for free, but I knew better. I knew because I saw that before Poppa shut the door to the machine, he slipped a five-dollar bill into the coin box, payment for our snack and then some.
That night, we returned to my grandfather’s house. We were quiet and somber, everyone lost in thoughts and memories. How odd it seemed that a person could be so full of life one day and then dead the next! I had been hearing people around me talk. “Why just last Sunday, Malcolm was elected to be the chairman of the deacons at church!” Another mentioned how he was president of the town civic club, and was present at the club’s Monday night meeting. One lady shared how she had carried on a long conversation with my grandfather at the post office on Tuesday morning. I thought about all of this, and pondered proudly that my grandfather had lived right up until he died.
Lying in my bed, I thought of all the things Poppa had taught me: how to shoot a gun; to bait a hook and catch a fish; to drive a truck. Mostly though, he taught me by example how to live for God. Early in the mornings I would get up to see him sitting with his Bible in front of him, reading God’s word. He was a man of prayer, too. No doubt I am a Christian because of my grandfather’s prayers for my salvation. I feel asleep comforted by these thoughts.
The funeral the next day was crowded, the sanctuary of the Baptist church where my grandfather served as a deacon filled to overflowing. I felt honored that he was loved by so many. As I sat there during the funeral, in my heart I came to an understanding that to this day has helped me process my grandfather’s death.
While Poppa may have not lived as long as I would have liked, he left behind memories that I will never forget, a legacy for me to cherish, and a love that I will carry with me until the day that I die. Death may be able separate me from my grandfather, but the one thing it cannot do is put an end to the truths of who he was in Christ or the love that I hold dear for him in my heart.
On my grandfather’s tombstone are engraved the following words: “The righteous will be remembered forever. ~Psalm 112:6”
Truer words have never been written.
This post is part of the 2015 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. If you are visiting due to that, thanks so much for popping in to read today’s post. I hope you will leave me a comment so that I can return the visit to your blog. I love to connect with other bloggers and readers. If you are a regular reader, I hope you’ll stick with me during April when I blog about the stories of my faith.
Nathan: Mom, can I call Poppa? I want to tell him how we discovered I am allergic to dirt.
It sounds crazy, but Nathan was speaking the truth. Earlier that day he had gone through some extensive allergy testing. One of the things the allergist reported was that my almost thirteen year old son was allergic to nearly all grasses and weeds. “Just to be safe, he should probably stay out of the dirt as well,” she said, winking at me and my son.
Now I looked up from my seat in the rocker, where I sat feeding the last bottle of the day to our new foster baby. I smiled at Nathan. “Yes, you can give him a call. I’m sure Poppa would love to hear all about your allergy testing. But here … use my cell phone instead of the house phone to make the call.”
Minutes later, I heard Nathan giggling into the phone as he relayed the funny results of his allergy tests to his grandfather.
It wasn’t long before Nathan came walking out, my cell phone in hand. “Mama, Poppa says he wants to talk to you now.”
I took the phone and said, “Hi, Dad! What’s going on with you tonight?”
“Not much. Just talking to you on the phone.” His reply was something of a familiar routine Dad and I went through at the beginning of our near daily phone calls. It might seem like nothing more than a silly little tradition, but there was something comforting to me about our habitual custom.
I smiled. “Same here, Dad. Same here.”
“Look, Paige … I told Nathan I wanted to talk to you mainly because I wanted to go ahead and wish you a happy birthday tonight. I know your birthday isn’t until tomorrow, but I think I might be too busy to call you then. I figured you wouldn’t mind me saying it a day early.”
I laughed. “Not at all! Just spreads the birthday celebration out a little longer. Besides, it always better to be early with birthday wishes instead of late because you forgot.”
Now it was my dad’s turn to laugh. “No, I didn’t forget. I remember all about the day you were born. Now, remind me … how long has that been? Forty-two years?”
“Alright, Dad,” I huffed, pretending to be put out with him. “I don’t see any need for us to establish exactly how many years ago I was born. Let’s just say I turned another year older and leave it at that.”
“Okay,” he agreed, the teasing tone still there. “Just as long as you know that you probably won’t get another birthday phone call from me. I’ll be thinking about you tomorrow though. By the way, I assume y’all are still coming up for your grandfather’s birthday celebration this weekend. He’s turning 91 and you are turning … oh, wait, I forgot. We aren’t talking about how old you are.”
“Yes, we are still coming. But I’m sure I will talk to you before then.”
“Probably so,” Dad replied. “Just not tomorrow. I’ll be too busy.”
“Okay,” I replied. “You’ve convinced me. I won’t expect you to call tomorrow. But I’ll touch base with you before Friday. Love you, Dad.”
“I love you, too, Paige. Good night.”
As I hung up the phone, I had no idea that would be the last conversation I would have with my father.
At 7:15 am the following morning, I received another phone call. This time it was my brother, who was not calling to wish me a happy birthday, but rather to let me know that our father had quietly passed away in his sleep.
My father was right when he suggested he wouldn’t be able to call and wish me a happy birthday. He was, in fact, too busy.
He was busy meeting Jesus face-to-face.
I’ve done a lot of grieving these past six months. Some days I think all the tears have been cried, only to find out the very next day there buckets more still to fall from my eyes.
But as deep as my sorrow goes, there is an unexpected peace I’ve discovered here in this shadowy valley of grief. I have learned the words of the psalmist are true.
Jesus is near to the broken-hearted. ~Psalm 34:18
This post is part of the 2015 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. If you are visiting due to that, thanks so much for popping in to read today’s post. I hope you will leave me a comment so that I can return the visit to your blog. I love to connect with other bloggers and readers. If you are a regular reader, I hope you’ll stick with me during April when I blog about the stories of my faith.
I had never really seen the likes of it … dog feces smeared over the wood floors, evidence of roaches littering the bottoms of every kitchen cabinet and drawer, holes in the walls, mold in the bathroom, thick layers of dirt and grime and dust coated everything with a surface.
My husband and children had just spent the weekend helping me clean up my North Louisiana rent home. We carted out piles upon piles of trash, raked up two years worth of leaves, swept and mopped and scoured every surface we could easily reach. And still at the end of those two days of hard work, there was still so very much more to do.
The bathroom leak had been fixed, but now came the work of ripping out all of the molded sheetrock and putting up new. There were several broken ceiling fans and light fixtures which needed to be replaced. One room had several large holes in the walls, which meant I needed to get new paneling. Throughout the remainder of the house, the walls and trim desperately need new paint. And then there was the question of the roof. Did it leak as my former tenant indicated, even though I couldn’t see physical evidence of the leaks? If so, could it be patched, or was I looking at the expense of a brand-new roof?
As I stood and looked around my, I saw the fragmented beauty of what once was. But the charming old home that I had bought for myself just five years earlier was no long charming or beautiful. My brother, who had come by to help for a couple of hours, shook his head in disbelief and said, “Well, Paige … this definitely isn’t the home you left 4 years ago, is it?” Sadly, all I could do was nod my head in agreement.
Hours later, I stood on the front lawn with Jon next to me, holding my hand. I sighed, but he leaned in and said, “Maybe, with a little hard work, together we can get this old home back to its former glory. I know it will be time and money … but I think if we just take it one step at a time, we will be able to take care of each thing that needs to be done.”
I smiled at him, for the first time feeling that all wasn’t lost. Even through the discouragement, I knew deep down that the old home could become like new again.
This house could be restored.
It’s been almost a month since they left us. I still miss their sweet little smiles, their precious hugs and kisses, the way their chubby hands felt in mine. I miss rocking and singing and reading books.
I knew from the beginning that being a foster parent would require me to love children as my own and then be willing to give them back to their parents. After all, that is (at least initially) the ultimate goal for every foster child.
But knowing isn’t quite the same thing as experiencing.
I didn’t know how it would feel to buckle their car seats for the last time knowing this was our goodbye. How could I have prepared myself for the tears that streamed down my cheeks as I washed the last of the baby bottles, sobbing because that sweet little girl who wouldn’t be snuggling with me at night any more? For two weeks after they left, I kept coming across stray baby socks, chunky legos and matchbox cars, evidence that two small people who used to live with us don’t live here anymore. Every time it made me cry.
It’s been hard on my heart, and yet if I am fully truthful then I must also say that there is lots of joy and hope in my heart for those two precious children. They are back with their mama. Isn’t that where every child wants to be? Held in their mother’s arms? Loved by the parent who brought them into this world?
God called me and my family out, asked us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We learned to love children who weren’t ours as if they were our very own, and then in the end we had to give them back with nothing left but the memories. But oh, what a privilege to be witness what came as a result!
A family has been restored.
Not quite six months ago, my father died. Unexpectedly. On my birthday. I’ve not nearly gotten over it yet. Most days, I wonder if I ever will.
It’s been a surreal sort of experience, learning to go throughout my days without talking to my dad. I used to pick up the phone without thinking. I wanted to talk to him, tell him something funny one of the kids said or ask for some advice. I would be halfway through dialing before I would remember that he no longer was around to answer phone calls.
Other times the phone would ring, and I would answer expecting to hear his voice on the other end of the line. Of course, it always turned out to be someone else and I would spend about half of that conversation trying not to cry because I wasn’t talking with my father.
Once I was at my home church and thought I saw my father walking at the other end of the hallway, his back to me. I raced ahead without thinking, only to feel surprised when it turned out to be my uncle. While I was glad to give him a hug, I wished it had been my dad instead.
Just last week, my grandfather passed away. Now not only is my father gone, but my father’s father as well. Though it wasn’t nearly the shock of my father’s passing as my grandfather was ninety-one and had been ill for most of the last six weeks of his life, his death has left a what feels like a large raw, ragged hole in my heart.
Two patriarchs gone in less than six months. The two deaths feel so entangled, I am not sure I even know how to process through the grief.
At my grandfather’s funeral, it felt all too familiar. Weren’t we just here, reading the cards attached to the flower arrangements, accepting casseroles and cakes from well-meaning church members, and receiving condolences from a long line of friends at the church? Now we must do this again?
Tears ran down my cheeks as I watched the photo slide show during the visitation for my grandfather, yet I wasn’t sure who the tears were for … Daddy or Papaw.
Maybe the tears were mostly for me.
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. ~1 Peter 5:10
Until the last six months, I never thought about Heaven much at all.
If I am truthful, I must admit that actually going to Heaven is something I have never really anticipated. I’ve always expected that some day in the future I will go there and see it for myself, mainly because it is what God promises will happen when I die as a result of putting my faith in Him. But I haven’t really ever spent time looking forward to that day.
Furthermore, lately I’ve realized that for most of my life my thoughts about Heaven have frequently conflicted with Biblical teachings.
I’ve always imagined Heaven as this great white expanse, trimmed in a rich gold. Pristine, quiet, and ethereal. Everyone there wears a white robe and a completely serene expression upon their face. As Heaven knows no anger, no tears, no worry, no sickness, it is a place of complete peace. But I also came to realize that I also never imagined heaven being a place of joy or laughter or even of love. Just eternal rest from this current earthly life.
No wonder I wasn’t eager to think about it or to anticipate going there myself! If dying means never laughing or feeling excitement again, then why would I care about Heaven?
Of course, since Dad’s death, I’ve thought quite a bit more about Heaven. I’ve never doubted that my father (and now grandfather) is now experiencing Heaven, but I have wondered if the things I miss most about them are still a part of them. Oh, I hope so! I miss their laughter, story-telling, and curious minds. How I would love, just one more time, to hear my father and grandfather engaged in one of their friendly Biblical debates, as they happily studied their Sunday school lesson together. I can’t tell you how many Sunday lunches I spent listening to them discuss exactly who Melchizedek was and the mysteries surrounding his priesthood. Are these parts of them buried in the grave?
And what of other things about this earthly life that I enjoy now. I know this planet is a flawed place to live, so far from perfection, but there is still so much to love about the world God created. Beautiful sunsets. Stars against a dark night sky. Cool breezes. The kiss of warm sunshine against my skin on a spring day. Brilliant fall leaves. Laughing with a friend. Hugs from my family. Chocolate. So many things I cherish about life … When this life is over, must these end as well?
But, as it is written,“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” ~1 Corinthians 2:9
Not long ago, Jon had a dream about the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. In his dream, he was this large banquet hall where huge tables, covered in white clothes, were filled with large platters of delicious food. The smell was intoxicating. As Jon sat down to eat, he noticed a group of dancers enter the hall, performing an intricate dance to this amazing music. Jon said he started to dance along. Next there were singers. Again, Jon knew the words to all the songs and enjoyed clapping and dancing and singing. Then later on, he noticed several groups of people, each one seemed to be captivated by an engaging story-teller. Jon said it was the most wonderful party he had ever attended, and that when he woke up he was actually sad that it had to end.
Heaven? A party that never ends?
Now that sounds like something to get excited about!
I’ve been reading Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven, which is perhaps the most definitive book about the subject (after the Bible, of course). In his book, Alcorn writes,
“Satan need not convince us that Heaven doesn’t exist. He need only convince us that Heaven is a boring, unearthly existence.”
This particular quote resonated deeply with me, obviously because it was so true of my own beliefs regarding Heaven. My imaginings of Heaven aren’t accurate at all, for it is far from being a place of mundane existence.
Earth is just a prelude to heaven. So magnificent sunsets, majestic mountains, delicious meals in the company of friends, the joy of laughter … all of these things are just a delightful preview of what is to come.
God declared His original creation as “good.” His plan all along has been to redeem and restore it.
Religion professor Albert Wolters writes, “God hangs on to his fallen original creation and salvages it. He refuses to abandon the work of His hands—in fact, He sacrifices His own Son to save His original project. Humankind, which has botched its original mandate and the whole creation along with it, is given another chance in Christ; we are reinstated as God’s managers on earth. The original good creation is to be restored.”
It’s not just for old houses or dysfunctional families or broken relationships.
It’s for all of Creation. For me. For you.
All it takes is trusting Jesus Christ to redeem us from our sinful selves. And when we do, we can anticipate the day we die, knowing we will be restored to all we were originally created to be, perfect in every way. We will not be sent to some place of eternal rest, but rather will be reinstated on a new earth, as real and as physical as the first, but without all the sin and shame and sorrow and sickness.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away … And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” ~from Revelation 21
This morning, at about 4 am, my grandfather left this earth and entered the gates of heaven.
I’m sad. He is my father’s father, so in a way the grief from my father’s death feels fresh all over again. And yet, there is also peace and even joy. My grandfather knew the Lord personally and the comfort of that is a precious gift in the middle of the pain of losing our family patriarch.
In memory of my grandfather, I am sharing an essay written nearly two years ago by my daughter Maddie. It was a school assignment to interview someone and then write up the interview. I’ve always cherished that she chose my grandfather and the words she wrote about him.
All That Really Matters
written by Maddie Hamilton
On the surface, the life of James Herbert Terry, my great-grandfather, seems to be very ordinary. Known to his family as Papaw, he was born on September 19, 1923 at his grandparents’ home, located in the hills of Catahoula Parish in north Louisiana. He grew up as an only child splitting his boyhood days between living in the small town of Harrisonburg (population 3,500 at that time) and staying at his grandparents’ rural farm eighteen miles away.
As an adult, he did all of the typical things expected for men of his generation — married, raised five children, served as a leader in both the local church and community. Papaw worked hard to provide for his family, working as a teacher, banker and real estate agent. He even became a small-business owner with his wife. Even though he just celebrated his 90th birthday, Papaw still goes to work at his office each weekday because he wouldn’t know what to do if he just stayed home all day.
While his life may appear to be typical to someone of my generation, Papaw actually lived through many big events of the 20th century. He can recall his boyhood years during The Great Depression. He remembers what it was like to fight for the freedoms of others as a soldier during the Second World War. Perhaps most importantly, Papaw lived his entire adult life with his personal foundation built upon faith in Jesus Christ. Because of all these reasons, Papaw has many things to teach me about how to have a life worth living.
Papaw’s earliest memory is of The Great Flood of 1927, which was so devastating it actually changed the course of the Mississippi River. During the spring of 1927, most people had between six and eight feet of water inside their homes, so they slept in attics and somehow survived until the flood waters receded. Even though he was only three years old at the time, Papaw can still recall taking a boat ride through the flood water inside of a hardware store owned by his uncle.
Life in rural Louisiana was hard even before the stock market crash of 1929. Papaw, who was just six years old at the start of The Great Depression, recalls that his life didn’t change tremendously as a result of the stock market crash because his family was already poor. His father was a carpenter. His mother didn’t work outside of the home, but she did help provide during those hard times by taking in ironing and babysitting for a family friend who taught school.
Papaw recalls everyone had a vegetable garden, mended their clothes, and learned how to “make do” with whatever they already had on hand. “Every little thing was used,” Papaw told me. To illustrate the point, Papaw told me the story of how he once asked his mother for pet dog. “What will we feed it?” she asked him. Papaw told her that the dog could eat the table scraps. His mother said, “No, Herbert. We use the scraps to make a pudding.” And Papaw said that’s exactly what she did — leftover rice became rice pudding, leftover bread became bread pudding and leftover corn became a corn pudding.
Looking back, Papaw doesn’t recall that he had many toys as children do today, but he remembers getting presents like oranges, apples and candy at Christmas. And once, when he was in the 5th grade, he got a dictionary, a gift he was especially proud to have received. Papaw told me that living through the Depression taught him many lifelong lessons, such as saving as much as possible, living on as little as you could, and never letting anything go to waste.
As the Depression came to an end, Papaw had grown up into a young man, eager to begin life on his own. Unfortunately, life did not get easier because shortly after Papaw’s 18th birthday America entered World War II. It wasn’t long before he was drafted into the army.
For his first assignment after basic training, Papaw was sent to Vail, Colorado, where he trained to be a medic in the ski patrol. It was a strange job for a young man who had never seen snow or mountains! Somehow, he managed to learn to ski and was soon ready to head to the war front in Europe.
Once he had finished all of his training, Papaw boarded a ship and set sail for Naples, Italy. It was a miserable boat ride! For eighteen days straight, Papaw and all of the other soldiers were allowed to eat only one box of K-rations a day. Each box of K- rations contained a package of stone-hard crackers, a tin of rancid cheese, a bullion cube, and a piece of chocolate. A soldier was to mix the bullion cube into some water, which he would heat for a soup. The crackers could be soaked in the soup before eating them. Papaw said no matter what you did to those K-rations, it still tasted terrible.
In May of 1945, the war in Europe ended. Even though Papaw was glad about that, he was still concerned because his ship was about to leave Italy and head straight over for the Pacific to help win the war there. Needless to say, Papaw was very relieved when the Japanese finally surrendered before his ship departed. By this time, he had been in the army for three years. Papaw was eager to go back home.
Once Papaw was back in the United States, he earned a college degree, married, and began his family. I wondered if perhaps all of the most exciting, interesting, and important parts of his life were over. However, Papaw told me that actually the most important part of his life is something he had all along — his faith in Jesus Christ.
Outside of his mother, who was perhaps the greatest influence upon his decision to become a Christian, two other people encouraged Papaw to grow in his Christian faith. The first was a preacher named Brother Miley. When Papaw was a young teen, Brother Miley would often ask him to go fishing. Papaw said, “I think he mostly wanted to take me because I would always dig the up the worms for our bait.” While he enjoyed those afternoons fishing with Brother Miley, Papaw also said, “I felt uncomfortable about going on those fishing trips because I knew at some point he was going to start talking to me about Jesus. Between him and my mother, I didn’t have a chance!” Finally, when he was 14 years old, Papaw asked Jesus into his heart. As Brother Miley baptized him in the water of Bird’s Creek, the crowd stood on the bank singing the old hymn “Shall We Gather at the River.”
The other person who greatly influenced his faith in God was his wife, Juanita. They were married for 60 years, most of which they spent working together in their family business six days a week. According to Papaw, she didn’t work with him for free. He chuckled, “I paid her in dimes. She literally took every single dime that came through our store!” Papaw laughed and then continued with a smile, “Some folks would come in just to pay their whole bill in dimes because they knew that way Juanita would get her spending money.” Describing her as his better half, Papaw said, “I never knew her to get angry or to say a cross word to anyone. She had a sweet spirit through and through. She’s been gone almost seven years, but not a day goes by that I don’t miss her being here with me.”
This past September, Papaw celebrated his 90th birthday with a luncheon party. The party menu was filled with many of his favorite treats, including “The Gospel Bird” — Papaw’s special name for fried chicken. Surrounded by his five children and their spouses, ten of his twelve grandchildren and their spouses, and a myriad of great-grandchildren, Papaw shared with everyone how he had very few regrets about his life. “I am happy. I am blessed. God is good.”
Lovingly, Papaw admonished his family to cultivate relationships with others. “Doing so,” he said, “will allow you to have more opportunities to talk about spiritual matters. When chances come along to talk about these things, do not be fearful to tell other people who do not know Jesus about the free gift of salvation found through Him. After all,” Papaw concluded, “at the end of your life, that’s all that really matters.”