“Abide with us; for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent…” Luke 24:29
It is pouring rain in the Gallatin Valley --- the wildflowers are popping up, scattering purples and reds and yellows along the banks of the still bone-chilling-cold Gallatin River as it courses its way over rocks, swirling and singing around fallen logs, flowing from the peaks that are West Yellowstone to the wider rivers down below and finally to the sea. To the west, the jagged Rocky Mountains are still crowned with thick white majesty winter snow, while the freshly farmed meadows that surround stands of forest are acres of green, promising fields of waving wheat and stands of corn in the months to come. The birds are alive, singing in the rain, calling for more. They stay busy building nests and getting fat for the summer months which the rain promises to bring along behind it. The poplars and aspens and evergreens wave in the breeze, this forest is breathtaking. My sister’s little mobile home sits among the trees, faithfully giving shelter from this thick downpour. Outside the window of the tiny bedroom she has provided to me as one who has come “home” to Montana without a place to land, I see the brilliance of the early-morning spring colors, the wet normally dusty, half-graveled road and an old red truck, made all shiny and seemingly new as the rain brings a shimmer to its finish. Even my 30-year-old Volvo station wagon with her 25,000 miles looks fresh and clean and pretty in the rain as she sits faithfully in the driveway having brought me 1,000s of miles on this trek to come home to Montana from Albuquerque, New Mexico by way of Wyoming and Norfolk, Nebraska. But that is a story for another day.
This morning as the birds sing me awake and my skinny long-legged curly black dog snuggles into my covers with me and the cats and as my Border Collie snoozes away, curled up at the door, I find my heart drenched in tears. As thick at the rain outside, maybe even moreso, my heart cries out for God to make clear the path before me. The words echo in my heart … Thank you, Jesus, for this opportunity to trust you more … And then I see it, from out of no where it seems comes my dad’s smile, and the tears pour out of my heart and down my cheeks, pooling in rivers on my pillow. So stealthy, so furtive, this thing called grief.
Only months ago -- November 3, 2012 -- was that really so very long ago --- on a warm, brilliant day under a clear sapphire sky in the Treasure State of Montana, my daddy laid down his body… and out of the grass where he lay, the Father lifted him up and held him in His arms, welcoming him “Home” at last .. A warrior full done with his earthly duty and made ready for those duties which eternity would not hold… joys and hopes realized, the weariness gone, sadness, suffering and sorrows things of the past. His last words this side of heaven was “Thank you my dear”. They were said to my beautiful mother, who had just brought him a glass of cool water so he would not get overheated as he mowed up the late fallen last leaves of fall from his little lawn of emerald green. Within seconds of his first sip, he was in eternity. The lawn mower still running, the glass carefully set down so that it would not even fall to the ground as he left this time and space for the eternal one.
Fleeting split seconds that are frozen forever in time. All of it is a blur now, my little mom’s first calls to her children; my brother first who lived the closest and then my sister who screamed out of her house, racing 20 miles to find my brother on his knees , sobbing beside my daddy’s body, emergency vehicles swirling around, my little mom inside the house, in her chair, in utter unbelief but swathed in shock which allowed her to continue to breathe as the man who she loved since she was 16 years old lay in the grass outside. Everything was so sudden, so shocking, so overwhelming that the tears and the did not seem to be audible …. But holiness circled my dad’s long, lanky body as he lay there, the EMTs vainly attempting to wake him. He was gone. His green laughing eyes closed on this side of eternity forever. He was with His Father … the One He knew to be faithful and true despite every circumstance, despite the dozens upon dozens of setbacks and disappointments and stabbing doubts that he battled each earthly day for he knew the Pearl of great price, he knew that the peace that can only come from the Father is the True treasure of treasures.
Before that beautiful November day had ended, the calls were made to each of my father’s 10 children, scattered about over the country, and all were engaged, despite the great sorrow and shock, in making their way to Montana, to gather around our precious mom and hold her up as we somehow found solace and comfort in the company of one another, and laid our daddy’s body to rest, celebrating our Scottish champion’s life, and attempting to figure out how to press on through the grief and face the days ahead. How to help our little mama who we knew dad would want us to care for and who needed us now more than ever. The one in whose kitchen one was always welcomed, who plied every visitor with fresh coffee and oftentimes big yeasty cinnamon rolls fresh out of her oven. Who made sure dad, while most often found in his library office, was always provided with a fresh ever-present hot mug of black coffee and who worked through cross-word puzzles with him as they sat in their recliners in the evening hours.
A snowstorm hit the western states the day after my dad left his planet -- it seemed the very earth had gone into mourning and my flight out of New Mexico was delayed time and time again as I attempted to make my way home. But home each of us came …. And to the sound of the Scottish Bagpipes, surrounded by tartan plaid, white roses and heather, to the melodies of “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Shall We Gather At the River” my dad’s children memorialized him. We spoke of his kindness, of his gentle wisdom, the touch of his hand on our shoulders, his sincere listening and presence, of his love of the written word and of his pride for his family, for each of his 10 children, his joy over every grandchild and overwhelmingly his love and devotion for only one woman on this earth. We spoke of his love of God and his longing for right and honor and integrity to overcome the seeming fading of those very things in our culture. We showed pictures of his life, and we told stories of his bravery, and his ability to press on through the pressures, looking unto the Lord Jesus who was the author and finisher of his faith. And even as we spoke, each of us was poignantly aware of the fact that my dad never saw himself even remotely as successful, in fact, he often questioned the very reason for his existence. He longed for wholeness for those he loved and saw so much brokenness, he longed to provide a good living for his family and yet eeked out a living that was often barely substantial enough to keep food in the cupboards. And still, each of us stood, speaking of our Champion -- our Warrior father who knew what the most important things in life were and of those he was rich and faithfully generous. Love, kindness, sincerity and faithfulness, unfaltering in faithfulness, in always learning and in loving our mother and each of us. We remembered that even in the leanest times, our dad made life an adventure --- and read us poetry in the evenings as we gathered around his chair.
This morning, as the tears soak into my pillow, I can hear my dad’s deep voice quoting the poetry of Longfellow, I can see his countenance as he surveyed the beauty of Montana, of the rivers and trees and wilderness areas where he could somehow envision the shadows of history which had passed through the forests and claimed the heights, I remember his deep voice singing The Old Rugged Cross as I stood next to him, a little girl, in one of the pews of the old Church of the Air, or Amazing Grace. He was always amazed at Grace … how can one not be?
And the questions ebb and flow around me… I have come home to Montana, leaving everything behind, determined to find a job and help my little mom … be company and companion to her as much as I can, but Montana has not seemed to open her arms to me. A job has not unfolded for me here, and I thus far have not a place to live other than my generous sister‘s little mobile home bedroom on the banks of the beautiful Gallatin River. But even my sister is struggling to survive in the wiles of Montana. She came from Ontario to be closer to my mom and dad and within weeks, my dad was gone, and she was unable to find employment until finding a job that paid her just enough to struggle.
My belongings, what few I held on to before making this determined move, are sheltered in a rental storage shed in Albuquerque, New Mexico and without the promise of a job or shelter, I am unable to bring them up. Nearly every carefully laid plan has sifted into sand and from sand into dust.
And I pray, and I wait, and I wonder what my dad’s wisdom would offer … and suddenly, as morning breaks, my heart whispers… “The Father’s Wisdom is here, waiting for you -- for He is your Champion ---- listen intently and you will hear.” …. And then I realize, that IS my dad’s wisdom speaking through my heart -- he would point me to the One who has the true wisdom … who knows every sorrow, every suffering, every moment of desperation, and who feels every one of our pains and losses and griefs and who is one with us in our suffering.
My heart explodes in the reality of wonder as I remember the words, as I long for heaven -- as I long to see my beautiful dad standing strong and true, his flashing green eyes, knowing he waits there to welcome each of us to our true HOME causes me to truly long for Home … where this world‘s needs and questions fall off and fade away to true dust --- I am again reminded that my job is to trust in Him and to do as He says … and the sword we who Love Him are called to brandish is well equipped to face whatever may come…. And peace comes, the tears change their flow as daisies burst once again in my soul of souls … and the whispers enter hard upon my heart, “It will be well…. Worry not little one, it will be Well…I AM all you need --- persist in praising me --- persist in trusting Me -- persist in Loving -- rest your head in the hollow of My hand, Your heart is safe here, in My keeping…”
“How lovely is Your tabernacle O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes even faints, for the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God….Blessed is the one whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage, as they pass through the Valley…..they go from strength to strength. For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked for the Lord God is a sun and shield and the Lord with give grace and glory, no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly, blessed is one who trusts in you. (Psalm 84)
Sun of my soul, Thou Savior dear, It is not night if Thou be near; O may no earthborn cloud arise, To hide Thee from Thy servant’s eyes. When the soft dews of kindly sleep, my wearied eyelids gently steep, Be my last thought, how sweet to rest, Forever on my Savior’s breast. Abide with me from morn till eve, For without Thee I cannot live; Abide with me when night is nigh, for without Thee I dare not die. If some poor wandering child of Thine, has spurned today the voice divine, Now, Lord, the gracious work begin; Let him no more lie down in sin. Watch by the sick, enrich the poor, With blessing from Thy boundless store; Be every mourner’s sleep tonight, Like infant’s slumbers, pure and right. Come near and bless us when we wake, Ere through the world our way we take, Till in the ocean of Thy Love, we lose ourselves in Heaven above. ‘Tis gone, that bright and orbed blaze, Fast fading from our wistful gaze; Yon mantling cloud has hid from sight The last faint pulse of quivering light. Thou Framer of the Light and Dark, Steer through the tempest Thine own ark; Amid the howling wintry sea We are in port if we have Thee.
(John Keble, 1820)