A Missed Chance: Some Thoughts on Forgiving Myself

I don’t remember the last time I saw my Daddy.

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:

Adam Mitchell dances with his daughter. Image from the movie
Adam Mitchell dances with his daughter. Image from the movie “Courageous.”

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? 

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Framed Photographs

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Father’s Day … without a Dad

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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.

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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

Birthday: A Final Conversation

September 16, 2014; 7:15 pm

Nathan: Mom, can I call Poppa? I want to tell him how we discovered I am allergic to dirt.

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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. 

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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

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BaptistGirlConfessionThis 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.

Restoration

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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.

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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.

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Me and my dad, Easter 1973

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.

I celebrate my first birthday while Papaw celebrates his 50th ... the first of many birthdays we have celebrated together.
I celebrate my first birthday while Papaw celebrates his 50th … the first of many birthdays we  celebrated together.

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.

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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?

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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.”

Restoration.

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