“I miss her, but I know she’s in Heaven. I hope I’ll see her someday.”
It always happened when we talked about Mom or my brother who lost his battle with cancer at age 49. Dad was sure they were in Heaven, but he could only “hope” he’d get there, too. He never could seem to wrap his mind around the fact that his fate was sealed the night he’d walked down the aisle at church with Mom and me and placed his faith in Jesus Christ.
I guess it’s to be expected of a man who’d worked for everything since he was a child and couldn’t stop working after retirement. One of nine children, he’d been literally “farmed out” to work when most kids were learning cursive writing. In 1915 there were no child labor laws or welfare assistance. Dad’s formal education ended with eighth grade, but he earned a Doctorate in the proverbial “School of Hard Knocks.”
I suppose the Bible he loved to read was a reminder of his past sins as well as recent shortcomings. Lying about his age, he enlisted in 1921 and served in the Army and the Navy, which provided him with entertaining stories of his days in the Cavalry where he performed trick riding and guarded two U.S. presidents. It also introduced him to smoking and drinking and more.
Dad worked hard and played hard after his honorable discharge, sowing his wild oats through his courtship with Mom and into the early years of marriage. Mom’s strict old-fashioned parents didn’t approve of the marriage and made the young couple live with them the first two years!
When my brother and sister were young they attended church as a family for awhile, but hard times took a toll on that by forcing him to take extra jobs and Mom to start working. By the time I came along, Dad worked three jobs, and my sister often cared for me while Mom worked. When they weren’t working, we had fun times with many friends who were like extended; the downside was that it often included excess alcohol and sometimes ended in rowdy disagreements.
Sometimes I wonder how they kept their fire and ice relationship together. It must’ve had something to do with Mom’s upbringing, the fact that they really loved each other and a lot to do with the hand of God.
I wish I could say things abruptly turned around after that trip we made to the altar, but that didn't happen. It was a legalistic church; Mom embraced the doctrine completely, but Dad could not. I mentally accepted the rules as “law” although my heart questioned most of them; but that’s another story.
In time, the three of us (my brother and sister were on their own) began attending a different church as a family. The two extremes met in the middle where they could focus on God instead of their differences. Mom and Dad became active in choir, church committees, etc. In later years their church was the center of their social life, and their faith grew even stronger.
Frustrated with Dad’s inability to comprehend the gift of salvation, I wondered if he’d ever truly accepted Christ in his heart. I’d seen the man reading his Bible daily and on his knees every night. I’d heard him pray the most beautiful blessings at mealtime addressing God with reverence. He couldn’t be simply going through the motions.
Once I went through the plan of salvation with him, and more than once I referred him to scriptures that give assurance to believers. Later, I found a tract that contained a prayer of repentance which he’d signed. But he never stopped “hoping” right to the end when he entered his well-deserved rest at almost 95.
Then, I began to understand his point of view. In his life there were no “freebies”; you got what you worked for and what you deserved. A lot needed to be forgiven, and the hardest person to forgive is yourself. He couldn’t completely forgive himself, so God’s unconditional love was foreign to him. He accepted the fact that Jesus died for him, but the best he could hope for was to be good enough to deserve it.
I miss him, but I know he’s in Heaven, and I know I’ll see him again. I hope he realizes now that nobody else deserves to be there either.
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