“Maybe Daddy just went to be with Jesus.” Those words spoken by my angelic five year old pierced my heart like an arrow. Not because of the shock of them, but because of their truth. The words spoken so casually and matter of factly by little Heather, as we raced down the icy highway on that January afternoon 23 years ago, my heart somehow had already known.
We had been in Western Pennsylvania staying at my Grandmother’s home. My mom, who had been suffering with Lou Gehrig’s disease for several years, had passed away the week before. My husband, four children and I had traveled to my Grandmother’s for the burial. Unfortunately, January 1994 was one of the snowiest, iciest winters I can remember and the burial was repeatedly delayed due to the icy conditions. Finally, my husband just couldn’t wait any longer and had to return home so he could get back to work.
The kids and I stayed on, planning to travel back with my Dad. But, Pennsylvania weather being what it is, after a couple days wait, there still appeared to be no hope of breaking through the ground. Fearing there could be more bad weather heading our way and not wanting to get stranded, my Dad decided we’d better head for home, as well. My husband had always been a “storm chaser” at heart, so we decided it would be wise if I gave him a call to see what kind of weather we would be heading into, knowing he would be up to date on whatever the latest forecast would be. A quick call to his work and we’d be on the road. Little did I know the direction that “quick call” for the weather was about to take.
I called his work, expecting to speak to Brian and, instead, spoke to his manager, Ann. She said Brian had never come back in to work. I immediately felt a knot form in my stomach. I freely acknowledge Bri could be a goof about a lot of things, but NEVER when it came to his job. He took his work very seriously. Why on earth hadn’t he gone in? Then Ann told me his brother had called looking for him, as well. He’d gone by the house. The car was there. Some lights were on. But, no one was answering the door. Then the final blow. She had spoken to the police. Apparently, my brother-in-law had called them and they had called the office. They needed me to call the station. They couldn’t enter our residence without my permission. How does your head both spin and go numb at the same time? I don’t know, but that’s precisely what happened at that moment!
Things get a little blurry here. I remember calling the police and giving them permission to enter our house, giving them the number at my grandmother’s, but telling them we were going to be getting on the road to head home. Then time became a swirl of trying to get four little kids, ages 17 mo. – 7 yrs., dressed, packed and on the road without letting them know what was going on and the panic that was already building inside of me.
And, so, here we were 3 1/2 hrs. into a 5 1/2 hr. trip when those words suddenly came from little Heather’s mouth, “Maybe Daddy just went to be with Jesus.” I remember how calm she was when she said it. Smiling. Peaceful. No thought whatsoever that this would be an upsetting thought. I smiled back, biting my tongue to hold back the tears, “Maybe sweetie. Maybe he did.”
Two hours later, just as it was turning dark, we pulled up in front of my house. We could see shadows move past the curtain and I recall my father saying, “See, he’s in there!” But, as the shadows moved closer to the light I could see the reflection of my Pastor and in that instant I knew – I knew what my heart had known all along, I knew what somehow Heather had known – Daddy had gone to be with Jesus.
It’s been 23 years and still not a January passes when I don’t think of that day – relive it just a little bit. This year, especially, it has replayed throughout my mind as I’ve watched a dear young friend go through the first year without her husband, mothering her small children. I remember watching her grow up and when she use to babysit my kids when I was by myself.
We never know when we wake up each day just what that day might hold for us. I never suspected when I got up that cold January morning and picked up the phone to check the weather in Eastern, PA that by the end of the day I would find myself a 27 yr. old widowed single mother of 4. My dear friend Rebecca never suspected as she babysat for this young widowed single mom so many years ago that some day she’d walk that same path. But, I’m so thankful that Rebecca and I both serve the God who did know.
I never would have chosen the events of that week – losing my mom and my husband – or even much of the coming years. But, God is a God who gives us beauty from ashes! As I look back now, I see how much I learned about God and his goodness, his provision and mercy through those years alone. And how he brought new blessing by bringing Mr. T into my life and blessing us with a son.
No, I never would have chosen that day, that week, those years… But, I’m so thankful for them. Thankful that I know whatever each new day holds for me God goes before me and his mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 22 – 23) Thankful that whatever each new day holds for me, the God who holds that day is planning a future of hope and not harm for me. (Jeremiah 29:11) Thankful that whatever each new day holds for me, no matter how dark that day may seem, I have a God who knows how to give beauty for ashes!
“and provide for those who grieve…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” – Isaiah 61: 3