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
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.”