I turned 26 today. Part of me wishes you were here to celebrate with me, but I take comfort and am joyful that you are spending my birthday in the presence of our Savior. You are free of pain and I cannot begin to fathom what you must be seeing right now. I wish I could see some of those sights.
Today has been the hardest since your passing just 6 days ago. Every so often, I wait for you to peek around the corner and wish me a Happy Birthday, but somehow, I know better. I know you are in a much better place and will always be with me in spirit. So why am I so saddened? Why does my heart hurt so much?
I spent most of the day looking at old photos of you. An entire lifetime of your joyful smiles. I also know where I get my goofiness. If didn’t know already, I would surely have figured out by looking at photos of your younger years.
There was mostly laughter and smiles as I was looking at photos of you. Then I came across one of us. I was a toddler and you, I think, were trying to get my nose. You didn’t succeed since I clearly still have one. As I stared at that photo, I saw the love you had for me. I know I brought you joy. You did the same for me.
Oh, Dad. This is all too difficult. Shayla told me the time you told everyone else to gang up on me in our silly string wars. I would give anything to have one more silly string war with you. To laugh with you again. To joke with you again.
My precious cousin, Jasmine visited. You would be so proud of her and the amazing mom she is to Bryson. I know you loved that sweet boy. He loved you too. I wish I could see your face again light up with joy at Bryson’s cute playfulness.
Dad, I’ll be honest. If it wasn’t for everyone wishing me a Happy Birthday, I might not have remembered today was the day. It’s so different without you. My heart aches without you. And yet, I have hope and peace and joy. You are the reason I have these things. Hope. Peace. Joy.
Among the many photographs, I also came across a letter you wrote to your Grandma Cozy around your first Father’s Day as my Dad. You shared with her a devotional you gave. It’s in your handwriting. Do you mind if I share some of it?
“I had my mother ask my grandmother what I should give my devotional on because I wanted my first devotional to be for her.
Ma Ma quickly replied ‘Let the redeemed of the Lord say so! By their living! By their loving… She also told Mom that I had to find it myself… Psalm 107 verse 2. I found it.
This verse means to me that I need to live a good Christian life so others will see me glorifying Jesus. It also tells me to have a love that is patient and forgiving of others.”
It continues, but I’ll save the rest for me for now. You weren’t with me physically to give me a birthday gift, yet you still gave me one. I will cherish this letter and your words for years to come.
You have inspired me so much in life. Even though you are no longer physically with me, you continue to inspire me. Thank you for this faith you taught me to have in Christ Jesus. I miss you more than words can say. I cannot wait to be reunited with you. It will happen before you know it. As Jessy Dixon would sing, “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!” See you later, Superman!
I remember the first time I thought about blogging in early 2015. Dad was excited for me and would always share my posts with others. Now, nearly five years later, I said my earthly goodbyes to my wonderful Superman on Christmas Eve 2019. This is the most difficult blog post I have ever written, not because God isn’t giving me words to say as I type, but because I am still trying to process what life will look like without the physical presence of Dad.
He had been living his last month and a half in my grandparents’ living room. I slept in a bed behind a curtain so I could respond when he called for help. So I could also just simply be near him. I remember sleeping in his bed in my much younger years when I had nightmares. Now I was close to him to respond to his nightmares. Last night, when I accidentally moved the curtains, for a split second, I waited for him to call out to me. He didn’t. I am in pain. I am hurting. I am having so many anxiety attacks. I am not okay. Yet the glorious truth is that in Christ Jesus it is okay to not be okay. As I am weeping, our Savior weeps with me.
I also know that my faith sustains me. My faith in God assures me that Dad is no longer in pain. He is spending eternity with our Heavenly Father. He breathed his last breath with us at 6:50 PM in the presence of family and friends. His next breath was in the presence of Christ. It wasn’t labored. He didn’t have to struggle for that breath. It must have been a joyous and peaceful breath. And oh what he must have seen. I can only imagine. I wish I could for a split second see even one-hundredth of a percent of the glorious splendor in front of him. So much more magnificent than the Grand Canyon Dad and I were blessed to enjoy together in 2016. I take joy in knowing that I will one day join him and see all of the sights with my own eyes.
If you ever want to know who inspired me most on this Earth to pursue ministry and a seminary education, I’ll tell you. My Dad. From an early age, he gave me a love of Scripture by reading to me the stories of the Bible. He used hymnals and Gaither VHS tapes to help me fall in love with music that glorifies our Creator. We even had a game where he would whistle a hymn and I would have to guess which song he was whistling. I never could whistle, so when it was my turn, I would hum a song. What wonderful memories this little game gave us.
In my first semester at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, I was grateful for the support of caring professors who showed me kindness and love in this difficult season. In one of my classes, Dr. Mike Stroope discussed how we might look beyond just the traditional language of mission and share the love of Christ intentionally with everyone we meet in every circumstance. He used a term that has stuck with me since. Pilgrim Witness. As we pilgrim throughout life’s journey, and as we meet people along the way, we are, as Christians, to witness to others through our words and actions. How we treat others is our witness. I have thought about this term quite a bit lately and it came to me that Dad is the best example I can think of as a pilgrim witness.
Everything I saw in Dad was someone who loved others and I have seen his heart break far too often on behalf of others. I cannot imagine a more faithful pilgrim witness. Throughout my life, Dad has loved me, comforted me, encouraged me, fought for me, and has guided me more times than I could ever count. When I fell as a little kid, he would pick me up. When I was sick with chickenpox or hospitalized before my fourth-grade year, he took care of me. When I started having symptoms of Crohn’s Disease in high school, he took me to countless appointments and hospital procedures. When an emergency surgery had me worried that I would miss my high school graduation, he was there to tell jokes and cheer me up. During my UMHB years, we went to so many football games and worship events together. When I gave an academic presentation of my research on William Wilberforce, he was there. There are so many other examples, I can’t count them all.
He was a pilgrim witness to me, but also to others. I have heard from several of his friends who were blessed by his presence during his years working at Channel 25 in Waco in the 90s. For the past two decades, he helped my grandparents care for their foster children and eventually their adopted kids (his brothers and sisters) once they became permanent members of our family. They have so many stories of their own that I have been blessed to enjoy hearing over the past few weeks. Since 2005, he worked in Special Education as either a paraprofessional or as a teacher, and he poured his heart into so many kids. I always felt as if I knew so many of them personally even though I had never met most of them. He loved those kids. I will miss his stories of them and the ideas he shared with me on how to make their lives more fun while at school. He was the kind of person who would help supply kids with food, clothes, and shoes if they needed them. His coworkers over the years have shared with me how much he encouraged them as well. And any time he saw injustice in the world while watching the news, I often saw his heart break for either trafficked kids or victims of hate crime. There are so many other reasons that he was the ultimate pilgrim witness that it seems impossible to name them all.
Dad meant the world to me, and even though his physical presence is no longer with me, he is still with me through the Holy Spirit. Oh, that I might be just a small fraction of the pilgrim witness that was my Dad. For now, I will rejoice that he is no longer in pain. He is celebrating eternity with the Father. So, you will never hear me say that he lost his battle to cancer. No. He beat cancer. Cancer has been defeated. He did that. God did that through him. He had victory over death thanks to the gift of Christ’s victory over death.
I want to see what he is seeing. I want to smell, taste, hear, and feel what he is smelling, tasting, hearing, and feeling. Right now, all I can do is imagine. Honestly, I cannot wait. Even if I live for 70 more years without my Dad, those 7 decades will pale in comparison to the eternity we will spend together. What a day that will be!
“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:15-17 NKJV).
Dad, you have fought the good fight. You have finished the race. You have kept the faith (see 2 Timothy 4:7 NKJV). I love you with all my heart, beyond description. Until that glorious day when we shall see each other once again, see you later Superman!
This Is Just What Heaven Means to Me by Vestal Goodman
Oh Happy Day by Walter Hawkins, Leann Faine, and Angela Spivey
It’s been a while since my last post. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts today. This won’t be a long one, but one I feel important to share.
In my last blog post, I shared with everyone that Dad had recently entered home hospice care as he nears the end of his life here on Earth. When his last day comes, I won’t see that as cancer beating him, but rather him, through the grace of God, beating cancer. When this happens, he will be eternally healed in the presence of a Heavenly Father who watches over each of us. As I am typing this, a YouTube string of videos is playing, and I can hear Jim Hill with the Gaithers singing “What a Day that Will Be.” Let me tell you right now that it will be an awesome day. We’re also listening to Lauren Daigle, MercyMe, and more of the Gaithers.
Since my last post, we are now seeing that he is even closer to entering into the Heavenly Kingdom of God. This journey is a difficult one, and it is one that often leaves me at a loss for words. I have cried more times than I can count. I have had a number of anxiety attacks as I try and cope with this stage of life and a future life without Dad’s physical presence. Notice I said physical presence. He will always be with me in spirit. I have relived, in my mind, so many memories gained over the years. If I thought about them long enough, I could probably write a book containing all of our adventures. Road trips to Arizona and Virginia. Shorter road trips where we decided to take whichever road we felt like taking to see where it leads. Football games. Concerts to see the Gaithers, MercyMe, and Casting Crowns. Looking at Christmas lights. Movies upon movies upon movies. Lighter moments in the midst of him taking me to doctor’s visits and hospital procedures, and more recently, me taking him to appointments, scans, and chemo treatments. We have joked, laughed, cried, teased, and celebrated each other’s company and our shared moments with God.
I recently came across my first study bible given to me years ago. It’s an NIV Bible marketed towards kids. That bible served me for years. There are highlights and writings in the margins letting me know the date of when a pastor preached a sermon on a specific passage in 2005 for example. It also has a sticker page of random stickers, because I was a kid who liked stickers of course. Early on in my life, Dad helped me read the bible and understand some of its most important stories. I credit him more than anyone (plus my grandparents) for instilling in me a faith that has guided me through more trials than I can remember. He is in large part why I am now pursuing ministry and education at Truett Seminary.
A few weeks ago, we gathered around his bed as he told us his goodbyes and that he was ready to go. We sang song after song, but the one that was the most moving was “Because He Lives.” When I played it, he raised his hand to the Heavens. We did the same and he led us in a time of worship. After some time, he told us that maybe God wasn’t ready for him yet. God is with us, even in the midst of these difficult trials. If I ever need a reminder of this, Dad reminds me even when that is not what he is trying to do.
Before I conclude this blog post, I’ll leave you with a song that has meant a lot to us recently. It is a song that Dad loves. Sung by the Gaither Vocal Band, it is titled, “When I Cry.” Here are the lyrics to the chorus (see the video for the full song):
When I cry, You cry
When I hurt, You hurt
When I’ve lost someone
It takes a piece of You, too
And when I fall on my face
You fill me with grace
‘Cause nothin’ breaks Your heart
Or tears You apart
Like when I cry
This song serves as a powerful reminder to me that God understands our emotions, struggles, and pain. He knows exactly what we go through. Our God is so powerful that He created the Heavens and the universe and all of creation. Every. Single. Little. Detail. Yet at the same time, he cares for us so much that when we experience agony, he feels the same and comforts us through the hurt.
On last thing from Scripture. In a letter to the Corinthians, Paul provides the following words (2 Corinthians 1 NIV):
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
Know that whatever you may be going through, God is with you. I pray you to know His presence. He is comforting me on this difficult journey. I know that He can bring comfort to you as well.
I praise God that when I cry, He cries with me too. Praise be to our God of comfort!
Gaither Vocal Band. “When I Cry.” Google Play Lyrics. Web. 3 Dec. 2019.
When I Cry by the Gaither Vocal Band
What a Day that Will Be by Jim Hill and the Gaither Homecoming Friends