The last words you said to my brother were “What day is it?”
You were asking because your fight was over and you knew you were going Home.
It was July 17th.
The last day anyone would see your warm smile, or look into your kind, brown eyes.
It was the last day that Mom would hold your hand and laugh with you over a joke between the two of you.
It was the day for which we’ve been preparing for several years, but that caught us all completely by surprise.
It was the day that I saw more strength in my mother than I knew one woman could have.
It was the day she held up the rest of us as we grieved.
It was the day I held your hand one last time.
It was the day you shed the earthly body that had held you back from what you love for so long.
It was the day we looked through 73 years of your full life, laughing, crying and marveling at the man you were.
Today is July 23rd.
It is the day that everyone who loved you so deeply will celebrate who you were, even while our hearts break.
It’s the last day we’ll look on your sweet face.
It’s the day we will put your earthly body in the ground in the cemetery that has so much meaning, and even more so now.
It’s the day we will cherish each kind word, each sympathetic tear and each memory of the most wonderful man we knew.
It’s the day we’ll remember, for the 1000th time, that you are in Heaven this very minute, and our hearts will strengthen at the thought of it.
It’s the day we will say goodbye, if we’re ready to or not. We’re not. We never will be.
It leaves every piece of my heart asking “Lord, what day is it? What day will you call us Home to be with Dad and the others who went before him?” As much as my heart longs to see my earthly father again, it pales in comparison to the thought of seeing my Heavenly Father. He, after all, is the One who made a way for us to see those we’ve lost and to spend eternity with them–and Him. All because He loves us so. He grieves with us as we grieve, but is in Heaven rejoicing at the arrival of my Dad, His good and faithful servant. When I think of how Jesus must have felt, knowing the fight my Dad fought on this earth, when he walked into Heaven in a perfect body—I can’t help but smile through my tears.
Dad, we all wanted so badly to make you proud of us in this life. It’s my turn to tell you how proud I am of you. You fought well and you were dearly loved. Your life was authentic and touched everyone who had the honor of meeting you. I will miss you fiercely until I ask one more time “Lord, what day is it?” and the answer is “Today.”
But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:
Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?
I Corinthians 15:52-55 (The Message)
“You are your father’s daughter.”
I’ve heard that phrase more times than I can count. I never tire of it. As a child, I would nearly burst from pride when someone would notice my dimple, or my brown eyes, or the way I walk, and say “You are your father’s daughter.” I would look at his face when he smiled his gentle smile at me and then touch the dimple in my own cheek, to make sure it was still there—so proud to bear a physical resemblance to a man I loved so dearly. Over time, I’ve even come to terms with having my father’s horrific feet. Recently, as I tried to ease his compression socks onto his legs without hurting him, he said “You know, these feet are your destiny” with a wide smile, and we would laugh conspiratorially at our shared misfortune.
There is a gaping hole in my heart right now that feels impossibly deep, but the love of our friends and family, and especially our Savior, is carrying us through. I profess to be a writer, but the words to convey the lovely person my father was escape me. I couldn’t do it justice with all the words and all the time in the world. I loved him so, and he loved me. So much of who I am is because of who he was.
While my thumb is a much paler shade of green than his, I’ve grown to love watching seeds that I planted sprout up from the earth. Never mind that they have about a 50% chance of survival–at most. The last several visits we had together, he would say “now tell me again what you’ve planted and where you’ve planted it” while I took him on a virtual tour of my yard and garden and he assured me I’d done everything right—whether I really did or not.
I love gardening because of him.
Some of my earliest memories (before they raised those pesky height requirements!) are of him tightly buckling me in beside him in a rollercoaster car, putting his arm around me and giving me that raised-eyebrow grin of his, as we took off up the steep grade, only to plummet back down again, me giggling, and him clutching his Ohio State hat in one hand and my tiny arm in the other.
I love rollercoasters because of him.
I love the smell of a campfire, and the way a hot dog tastes when it’s straight from the roasting stick, charred from the open flames. And there is nothing sweeter than a marshmallow, roasted on a fire that my Daddy built with his trusty National Guard shovel and a few rolled up Bryan Times newspapers.
I love campfires because of him.
He loved being our dad. Both of my parents valued experience over possessions and I thank God that they did. We traveled, went camping, ziplined, tubed down rivers, took road trips and climbed sand dunes. We were professional adventurers. Even when we weren’t exactly looking for adventure, it somehow found us. 🙂
I love adventure because of him.
More than anything, my father taught me what it means to be a Christian. When I imagine what Jesus must be like, I imagine him to have many of the same characteristics of my Dad. A soft-spoken strength, and a love for his children that feels safe and strong. In the middle of the hypocrisy and cruelty of this world, my parents showed us what genuine faith looks like. The last time I saw Dad, we were talking about my husband and I said “He reminds me a lot of you, Dad.” He smiled and said “You sure got a good one and so did he.” He called me his “sweet daughter” when I left, and my heart caught in my throat. I mentally held onto those two words, desperate to remember that moment, knowing my moments with him were growing few. In the three days since he left this earth, Jesus has whispered that comfort to me over and over. I am his “sweet daughter” and my beloved Daddy is with him this very minute. I don’t know how any of us could do this without that knowledge, and if one person’s faith is made stronger by the legacy my Dad is leaving, I can’t think of anything that would make him happier. I’m so thankful for an earthly father who quietly demonstrated the love of Jesus.
I am my father’s daughter, and I am my Father’s daughter because of him.
Thank you, Dad.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. II Tim. 4:7
My seven year-old daughter wears her heart on her sleeve. Unfortunately, wearing your heart in such a vulnerable place leaves it open for getting damaged, broken, or lost. In most pockets of my life, I keep my heart safely tucked away, where no one can find it and hurt it. Not my girl. She puts it right out there, showing it to and sharing it with anyone who needs it.
She’s the girl who cries when cartoon animals are mistreated.
She cries at the thought of squirrels being cold in the winter.
She cries at funerals for people she doesn’t know.
She cries when she hears an ambulance, for fear that a stranger is terribly hurt.
She cries when she thinks of Jesus’ love for her.
But, with all of those tears, and all of those feelings, she is not deterred.
This past weekend, we celebrated my youngest stepson’s birthday. My daughter is crazy about birthdays. She plans and obsesses over them, wanting each detail to be perfect for the birthday boy or girl.
She labored over which decorations to buy, and which gift he wanted most. She spent her money on two very thoughtful gifts and wrapped them with love and the great delight of one who loves to give more than receive.
She meticulously hung streamers and filled balloons, all the while, chiding him like a mother hen to “not come out until it’s ready.” She asked me a dozen times “do you think he’ll like it, Mommy?” with her eyes shining at the thought of making his day special.
When it was perfect, and she was ready to reveal her hard work, she led him by the hand, begging him to keep his eyes closed tightly until she told him to open them. When he did, she exclaimed “Happy birthday!”
He looked up, surveyed her work and said: “Can we go play now?” Now, you have to understand—he is seven, and he is a little boy. He wasn’t trying to be rude or hurt her feelings. He was just in the middle of something and was annoyed at being pulled away from it. Not an unnatural response—and not a response I haven’t had myself, more than once.
I gasped a little and looked at my daughter, expecting the tears to come. Instead, she hopped from foot to foot, grinning widely and said “I knew you would love it! We wanted it to be perfect!” The gift of her heart and her love for her brother didn’t leave any room for hurt feelings, or bitterness or feeling unappreciated.
When he unwrapped his gifts later, she could hardly wait for him to unwrap hers. He thanked her, and it was as if he had handed her the keys to a brand new car. Here I am, sitting there wondering why he isn’t more aware of how much thought she put into his birthday, feeling offended on her behalf, and there she is—fearlessly putting her heart out there.
As a parent, I worry about what I am teaching my kids. Am I teaching them to grow in their faith? To learn the value of hard work? To be kind? In my worrying, I completely miss what they teach me. I’m envious of my daughter’s heart. While I work so hard to protect it for her, she just opens it more and more. It scares me to know how deeply she could be hurt with such a tender heart. How quickly I forget that Jesus is watching over her and blessing her sweet love for others. When her heart does get broken, He gently picks it up, as only He can, and makes it new again.
I want a heart like that. Covered in the scars of loving people. No room for feeling unappreciated or rejected or misunderstood. Consumed by love for others, no matter how much it hurts.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26