Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Holy laughter

Just a day after my dad’s funeral, I sat listening to my husband, Jerry, speak at a Christian conference. He told the story of the last moments of my dad’s life, just as he had at my dad’s funeral. A friend beside me, visibly moved by Jerry’s words, turned to me and said, “I haven’t read about this.” She thought she’d missed a blog post along the way.

“I haven’t written about it,” I responded.

Jerry had asked if he could share the story. He hadn’t been there at the moment of my dad’s passing though he had spent many days in the hospital room with me. He relied on the accounts my sister and I had passed along.

Why hadn’t I written about it myself?

I alluded to it in my last post.  For weeks, we had watched my dad’s decline. Hard. He had been seemingly comatose for a couple of days with his eyes partially open in a fixed stare. At the moment of his passing, he closed them, and laughed, not audibly, but his expression was that of laughter, and then with one last breath, his spirit left him. I told my husband, that I felt I was looking into the face of someone who was looking at Jesus.

After all the heart wrenching sorrow of the preceding days, at the very end God gave us what the psalmist called, “a sign of his goodness,” a sacred moment to hold close to our hearts until we ourselves see Him face to face. He gave us holy laughter.

Remember what happened after the shepherd’s visit to Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus? The shepherds went off telling everyone about what had happened, but Luke writes, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

That’s what I’ve been doing, pondering in my heart those last moments with my dad, how he left this earth laughing.

I lacked the words to describe the event. I looked up the synonyms for the word sacred, which include, venerable, divine, consecrated, inviolate, sacrosanct, blessed, consecrated, and hallowed.

I didn’t want to diminish the holiness of what I witnessed by using inappropriate words. But what I’ve come to realize is that the experience transcended words. It is the same thing I felt when I saw my children’s faces for the first time. The joy went beyond explanation―an experience in this life, which has the stamp of the eternal. Many would describe their salvation experience this way. About what C.S. Lewis wrote in his autobiography, "Surprised by Joy," it is written that, "This Joy was so intense for something so good and so high up it could not be explained with words."

So, like Mary, we are left to ponder these things in our hearts.

In these last few days, as I have written thank you cards and rehearsed all that has happened in the past week, I have been in continual wonder at the precious gift God gave us at 7:25 in the evening Saturday before last.

Friends, perhaps you, too, can recall times when heaven and earth intersected, when you caught a glimpse beyond the mist. And I’m sure if you do, like me, what you  feel more than anything is gratitude not to have missed it.

“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us” (ICorinthians 13:12 The Message).

Sunday, July 19, 2015

9:00 Phone Calls

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Psalm 116:15).
"We have sung "Unclouded Day," "Amazing Grace," and "Just a Little Talk with Jesus." We have read Psalm 121, 100, 91, and 46. We’ve prayed, cried, told him we’d be all right, and made sure he knew what a great father and grandfather he was. Last night when we noticed his breathing had slowed, we moved to my dad’s side and had the great privilege of witnessing his departure from this life. He closed his eyes and almost laughed as he slipped into the arms of Jesus.

He died within sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains he had loved all his life.
In our family, my dad was known for his 9:00 phone calls. Maybe they began when I moved out of town decades ago, a single woman, alone. He wanted to make sure I was home safe. To tell me he loved me. As the years went on, he called to hear about our children, our jobs; still just making sure his brood was okay. In the last years as memory eroded, his calls became more scripted. “Is the family well? Aaron enjoying his job? How much more school does Bethany have?” And occasionally, an oft repeated story like how his family used to drive to church every Sunday in a Model T which his dad had to hand crank. It had curtains over the windows instead of glass.

And then when we said good bye. “Love you, dad.”

“Love you, too.”

It’s around 4:30 in the morning as I write this only a few hours after his death. l can’t sleep. I’m thinking about those 9:00 phone calls. It’s been twenty-two days since I received one. He called the night just before he had the stroke.  I won’t be getting a phone call tonight, either.

But I can make one. And I will. I’ll text both of my kids, and see those words come back to me. “Love you, too. “

Friends, tonight, in honor of my dad, will you call or text someone to see if they’re okay and tell them you love them. Maybe someone you haven’t spoken with in a long time. Maybe start a new tradition in your family or with a friend.

Nothing would make my dad prouder.

Dear Dad, enjoy your first day in heaven. Thanks for everything. Love you always, Bev

My dad's obit.

Related: Holy Laughter

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Comin’ for to carry me home

In recent days, I had opportunity to sing that great American Spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and have always assumed it arose from the cotton fields of the Deep South. And its call did resonate across those white expanses, but it did not originate there.

A USA Today article indicates a couple of slaves, Wallace and Minerva Willis, who were working at a Native American boys school in Oklahoma authored the song mid-nineteenth century. The headmaster of the school saw such merit in the song, he sent it to the Fisk Jubilee Singers in Nashville. Eventually the Fisk singers took the song on tour and performed it before Queen Victoria, whose affirmation propelled the song into music history.

Music historians say the song was also used as a cryptic way of communicating a slave’s escaping to Canada, sometimes even changing chariot to Harriet indicating Harriet Tubman and her Underground Railroad.

According to the USA Today article, “Sweet Chariot ‘was a sign of hope that someone was coming to help’ says James Martin, a spirituals expert and Julliard graduate. ‘So it has always been not just an inspirational hope but a real hope.’”

Not to argue with a Julliard graduate, but the hope of heaven is "not just an inspirational hope," it IS a real hope. Someone, capital S, is coming to help.

While pregnant with my third child, we also had a big family wedding planned at Christmas in which our entire family played a part. I had a dream one night in November, in which a friend came to me and said, “Do you see that?” I looked in the direction she pointed and could see through a haze a team of white horses and a chariot. She said, “It’s going to be right there until you need it.” I awoke from the dream a little scared. All I could think of was “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and though I was ready to go be with the Lord, I had small children and wanted to stay with my family. So, I prayed and relinquished the whole thing to the Lord. I didn’t want to live in fear.

Weeks later, I began to have problems with the pregnancy. I went to the doctor, and we saw the baby’s heartbeat. He told me the chances of miscarriage were miniscule after that, but, later in the early hours of morning, I miscarried and held that tiny baby in my hand. I had to have an emergency DNC and no one knew but my husband and sister until days later, because of the immediacy of the wedding.

I left the hospital and went home to change sheets for out of town family arriving, feeling very sorry for myself. Then I remembered the dream―the horses and chariot, and knew God had prepared me for what happened. He had sent his royal escort to pick up my baby that morning. Someone came to help, and I sensed God’s presence in such a powerful way in those days.

In the same way, Someone is coming to help as my dad lies in a hospital bed near the last moments of his life this morning. God has a royal escort for him, too, waiting for just the right time to arrive.

My friends, that is a REAL hope, indeed.

Swing low, sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry Steve home.

 “What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole” (I Peter 1:3 The Message).

Take a moment and listen to an original recording here from 1909 of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and their rendition of "'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Thank you, Dad

My dad has suffered a second stroke and is almost totally debilitated. He is constantly on my mind these days, even when I’m not with him. So many memories come flooding back―all the wonderful ways he has touched my life. So I decided to make a list, very stream of consciousness, in no way complete, or in any kind of order.

My tribute to my dad today.

Thank you Dad for:

Ice cream after Sunday night service

Paying for umpteen piano lessons

Attending every game I cheered at in high school

Letting me cry on your knee after a heartbreak

Changing my oil and checking my tires

Providing a college education

Calling every evening at 9:00 right up until the night you had the stroke

Staying up until the wee hours waiting for my son to be born, driving an hour home, and driving back again a few hours later to see him

Being there to help take that baby home a day later

Crying when I sang

Buying my books

The look in your eyes when I read the dedication of Home to Currahee to you

Running for county commissioner at age 72 and winning

Encouraging me to keep learning by reading physics books in your spare time

Sharing your stories

Passing on your love for birds

Inspiring me with real change when you took that Dale Carnegie course

Teaching Sunday school for a hundred years

Putting salt on your watermelon

Hugs in the driveway when you got home from work

Being a constant when things were scary

Dusting playground dirt from my socks when I arrived at your office

Giving me dimes to go to Harper’s Five and Ten after school

Picking us up from the airport

Teaching us the value of education because of your GI bill experience and that “You can’t get too much school housing.”

Passing that on to my children

Being at my children’s high school graduations

Sharing all those weeks on St. Simons Island

Being so stubborn

Crying in relief when I told you there was no cancer in my lymph nodes

Being with me through trials of many kinds

Being proud of your grandchildren

Teaching me the value of hard work and persistence

Giving me Currahee

Helping my cocker spaniel give birth to her puppies

Letting us keep George and Georgette, those Easter ducks, in the backyard

Teaching me how to drive my straight shift Mustang, even though the experience made you never want to teach anyone else

And especially for being my dad

“I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3).


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Maybe tattoo this?

If I had only known what was ahead in a myriad of situations when she told me this, I would have had her words tattooed on my forehead.

She said it over and over.

“You just have to bite your tongue.”


My grandmother was way up in her eighties and passing on her wisdom. For a time, I let those pearls of insight glide right over me, but then as the years went by, more and more, I saw what she was getting at.

When in preparation for a trumpet-piano duet a few days ago, my nephew picked “Are You Able Said the Master.”

I opened the book, and scanned the first line. “’Are you able,’ said the Master, ‘to be crucified with me?’”

Even before my fingers could strike the keys, those words from my childhood struck my heart. I thought of a tense relationship, where I struggled to reign in my tongue.

Sometimes it’s easier to get on an airplane and fly to Timbuktu in service to God than keep your mouth shut, to nail those words that want to fly out of your mouth right to the cross.

To bite your tongue.

That practical James said it, “Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger (James 1:19-20 The Message).

Maybe that’s what I should have tattooed on my forehead.

To lead with ears not mouth.


But God, by His grace has given us the power. When I think of my grandmother, I think of a woman who epitomized grace and peace under pressure, a woman whom I never heard utter a cross word.

She set the bar high, and she’s up ahead now calling back, “You can do it, too.”

And by God’s grace, I can.

With or without a tattoo.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


I'm late posting this week, because days ago, my father suffered a stroke, and our family has been caring for him round the clock. It is an honor to be able to do this for him during this time. I reached the final word count for my newest novel just hours before I received the phone call about his condition, but since then, family demands have limited my writing. To that end, I repost a piece I wrote a couple of years ago. Sweet memories.

We gather to celebrate the years.

We hope for more of them. And even though he still fights the insidious cancer monster, he remains pain free, and we give thanks.

The family drifts in from scattered places, and we fill our plates with the roast beef, the green beans, and the stuffed eggs. We are stuffed with joy.

He doesn’t say much, but we hear a familiar story or two.

And then, this patriarch leans back, and surveys these ones he calls family.

Reaching past the cobwebs of lupron induced memory loss, he gathers the words and says, “Back when I was a barefoot boy plowing with a mule feeling the fresh turned earth under my feet, I never dreamed so many years later I’d be sitting here at this table with all of you. I’m about the luckiest man in the world.”

We fight back the tears.

He rises from his chair and comes to where I’m sitting, and leans over me and hugs tight. “Thank you,” he says. “Thank you for all of this.”

Then he makes his way to the other side of the table and wraps my sister in his arms.

And my sister and I, we want to press pause on the moment. Keep it close. Look at it again and again. It passes, but we witness it for each other, and we will testify to this Father’s love.

And from this moment on, if we need an earthly reminder of our heavenly Father’s love, we can point to moments around a cake ablaze with years, a daddy bent over his girls, and see we are held and protected and cherished.

“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are” (1 John 3:1 The Message).

Though many may not have experienced such a love in an earthly Father, the truth remains that the Heavenly Father extends a love beyond our imagination. And we are the stuff of his dreams.

See him now bent over you, delighting in you, a child of God.

That’s who you really are.


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