LIVING LIFE REVERSED
If I haven’t said it before, I’m saying it now. I think about dying a lot. Not in a morbid way. Just a matter of fact, this-can-happen-to-me, sort of way. Cancer does that. I know this experience has both defined, & refined me. It’s closed some doors but also opened new ones. People are afraid of unknowns. I now have new “knowns” to share with others in their uncertainty. That’s God’s purpose in all of our lives.
The other day I was exploring another used book store option, online. A previous discussion with my daughter, Jess, prompted me to check out an older title. The memories flooded in. Here’s the story that goes with it, & illustrates the point of this entry.
Back in 1994, my parents had flown to Arizona for their annual 3 week visit. Their time with us always included Thanksgiving & 2 birthdays, one of which was my Dad’s. He was a man who took great pleasure in celebrating little things. It went without saying that he took the girls out for an ice cream cone. He came with his M&M container full, ready to shake as he walked down the hall so they’d come running. He & I always had coffee together in a corner booth at the Target concessions. We’d catch up on details. Amazing how the man remembered & was interested! He & Steve had a longstanding mealtime joke. Whoever remembered first, would set the other’s place at the table with a platter, cooking utensils for silverware, & a pitcher in place of the glass. Dad would haul out our yardstick to measure the cutting of dessert portions. (I have pictures!) Goofy? Sure. But it knit their hearts. It went without saying that I would bake him a pan of apple pie bars for his birthday. Along with his cup of black coffee, he would savor every piece and s-t-r-e-t-c-h out his enjoyment of them, as many days as he could.
My dad hated goodbyes. But he always handled them the same way. In those days, you could still accompany people to the gate in airports. So the girls would be all over their grandparents, sitting on, & hugging them until the last minute. When boarding was announced, Dad would pull me into a hug, plant a sloppy kiss on my cheek, and say, “This is the hard part.” We would stand & watch them walk down the hall into the plane. Just before going in, he would turn & wave, without fail. This was my Dad, sure & steady in his quiet manner. And always holding dear the traditions that marked his life. We were excited with the knowledge that we had finally convinced Dad & Mom to become “snowbirds,” & stay with us for 2 months, in the years ahead.
At this particular time, I was reading Amy George’s autobiography, written that year and, loaned to me by a friend. GOODBYE IS NOT FOREVER is her story of being separated from her father, from infancy through early adulthood, because of the ravages of WWII. When I got home from dropping my parents off at the airport, I picked up the book since I was nearing its end & had time before preparing dinner. I won’t blow the whole story in case you’ve never read it. But let’s just say I was in tears as she described her farewell to her father. She never saw him, alive, again.
I never saw my Dad alive again, either. He passed away unexpectedly on April 1, 1995 when he got up to use the bathroom. My Mom heard a loud thump. And he was gone. No health issues. No forewarnings. The paramedics said one minute he was alive, the next he wasn’t. He had no pain. God was gracious even in death. He didn’t have to say his goodbyes. The blessing in all this is two-fold: First & foremost, our goodbyes that cold December day weren’t forever either. I will see him again. And secondly, we parted with no regrets between us. There was no pretense, no unresolved “elephants in the room” as they say. Job 14:5 was my mainstay at that time. ”Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with Thee, and his limits Thou hast set so that he cannot pass.” Nothing I could’ve said or done would have changed God’s timing in bringing dad to Himself. But I was thankful to be free in my memories &, therefore, free in my grieving.
In my recent discussion with Jess, we talked about the irony of how we eulogize people after they’re gone. We tend to remember what we loved about them & overlook their fleshy foibles. Only, they never hear it. We can’t assume people know what we think. What would happen if we lived life reversed, & spoke these eulogies while people were still alive? What difference would it make in our relationships? How would it make you feel as the giver? Or the receiver?
The only thing that can stop us is unforgiveness. And if that festers long enough, it will produce a stronghold of bitterness that will eat you alive, on the inside. You can’t profess to love God if you don’t love. It is the evidence of your relationship with Him, or not. God loved us first & gave us the life of Christ to prove that, even when we didn’t give a hoot about Him. So we have no natural ability on our own to love. He loves through us as we die to selfish “me first” responses. Dying doesn’t always FEEL good, but it IS good, as part of being daily sanctified.
The book of I John reads like a training manual on this topic. He doesn’t mince words in chapter 3, verses 14 & 15. “…He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Simply stated, you can’t have a pattern of hate in your life, & know Christ at the same time. God said it. I didn’t. Sometimes we don’t want be honest with ourselves. Like the old saying goes, when you point the finger at someone else, there’s 4 pointing back at you. God is ALWAYS after our heart first. Before we focus on the other person. He loves you & wants your life to be His conduit of that love. He lives reversed too.