it’s been a year

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12.31.2012
Dear Dad,
One year ago today, God took you Home. The days leading up to that day were difficult yet, special days. I saw God’s Loving Hand in so many ways. There were people who stood beside us with words and actions of comfort and strength. I have already written about those days on my blog in hopes that our family won’t forget as the days go by.

What I haven’t written publicly about is what took place as you took your last breath and began breathing celestial air. I have tried, but I think the memory was too painful. Not painful in a bad way, but painful because we miss you so and sometime… well most of the time life grabs us and throws us into this crazy chaos and we fail to stop and think. We fail to lean into life and all it’s hurts and joys. We don’t really live life. I have attempted to do that over the past few weeks, knowing that this anniversary was quickly approaching.

Since you left, life has had many challenges. Life has been plain hard, if I may speak honestly.

Five weeks after you left Uncle Sonny died. I am sure you greeted him at the gate. Mom traveled alone to be with his wife, her sister Elva. I could not go because I was welcoming your third great-grandchild into the world. Her name is Evelyn, named of course after Mom. Isn’t that wonderful! Three and a half months later Aunt Elva joined you and Uncle Sonny. This time I was able to travel with Mom to her funeral and enjoyed spending time with Aunt Janet and her family. In spite of the sadness of yet another loss, Mom and I were able to visit some of your old stompin’ grounds… where you and Mom met and fell in love. It was very special to experience this with Mom. Mom also lost her last living Aunt this year. It has been challenging to say the least for Mom, but as you well know, she relies on the Lord for her strength and He does not disappoint her. She continues to be such a rock for our family… “living Jesus” as you would say. Over the summer we helped Mom spruce up your home. New carpet, fresh paint, etc. But your desk is still yours… a memory of you and the lives you touched. Mom has also reached out to her neighbors, helping any way she can. She is enjoying seeing Joshua each week and Jaxson and Evelyn a few times this year. What a joy!

The economy has really slowed business down for Mark. Things have been very challenging for him. To be honest it is really hard not to get discouraged about this because Mark is such a good guy, to put it simply. He works hard. He is amazing at what he does. He treats everyone, clients and sub-contractors, fairly and with their best interest in mind. He doesn’t cut corners and runs his business with godly principles and integrity. He gives away more than he keeps. Seeks and trusts God in all things. And so there are days when I don’t understand. I know God tells us the wicked will prosper, but what about blessing someone who does things “right”. Proves the health and wealth philosophy to be bogus I would say. Just being honest about some of what I have wrestled with this year. But we “keep on keeping on” as you would say and we believe He is Our Provider and that He will give us everything that we need. We are open and willing to follow whatever path God has for us. Hoping that in 2013 we will begin to see that plan unfold.

One of the most difficult things I have had to walk through this year is being churchless. It was a long hard traumatic experience. One I did not want. But after more than a year of wrestling, we just could not ignore God’s prompting that we needed a change. I went kicking and screaming… sometimes literally. Following God’s prompting took us to a place of deep discouragement and questioning. Questioning just about everything that has to do with “church” as we know it… even questioning what does being a Christ-follower really look like. Slowly the wounds are beginning to heal. Mark and I spent time alone and together praying and seeking. Not a bad thing, wouldn’t you agree? I learned that church had become more about my community, my friends than it was about my relationship with Jesus Christ. I see things differently now. We are learning about misunderstandings, feeling marginalized, giving and receiving forgiveness, being trustworthy, living in true community. We are grateful that God is all about forgiveness and reconciliation and that He sees both sides of the coin, when we can’t. One benefit of this journey has been listening to your teachings on tape. God gave you the gift of being able to share God’s Truth in a way that was rich and practical, convicting and encouraging. And your sense of humor will always be good medicine. Thanks Dad, for being you and continuing to minister to us.

So if I had to pick a word to describe 2012 it would be LOSS. Loss of you, loss of income, loss of relationships, loss of dreams, loss of church. But on the other hand it has been a year of GIFTS. The gift of new life… Evelyn, the gift of time with Mom, the gift of time with our children and grandchildren, the gift of lessons only learned through pain, the gift of having enough, the gift of a new perspective, the gift of increased faith, the gift of faithful friends. Who could ask for anything more? Mark reminds me of a truth we heard recently at a church we visited… it was challenging and convicting. Basically asking if we were willing to allow, in fact embrace, the grain of sand in our life like an oyster, from which God will create a pearl of great value or do we seek to expel it leaving us comfortable but of lesser value. We are learning to allow and embrace how God works, seeing His divine will in all that comes into our life, understand or at least accept that He is God and Sovereign. A tough lesson to learn. Some would say “don’t receive that” grain of sand, but we believe by choosing to embrace whatever God allows in my life, good will come from it.  By the time we are done we should have a string of pearls!

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So today, we celebrated the memory of you. Mike, Veronica, Joshua, Mom, Mark and I visited the cemetery and planted a hibiscus tree by your grave. We had thought of planting your favorite bird of paradise but thought it might get too big and out of control. Mom knew that you had always wanted one of those pink hibiscus trees like they have at Crowders, so we found one and planted it. Joshua had fun watching Papa dig dirt with a big shovel.

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Mom read aloud to us all from 2 Corinthians 4.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

So fitting wouldn’t you say. You are proud of her I know.

mom reading bible

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We went back to our house and had soup together. Your dear friend (and ours) Jackie Chappell stopped by. So fitting since she was there with you and us during your last days. At 4 o’clock we recalled what transpired in your final moments. Here’s what I wrote in my journal one year ago…

Long sleepless night last night sitting with Dad… watching him breathe… witnessing the process of death.   Mom went home for the night to try to rest. Jackie Chappell stayed with me. I Just could not sleep. Mom came back around 6:30 a.m. So glad she got some sleep and takes care of herself. I went home but only slept soundly for an hour. Then I just couldn’t get back to sleep.   This is the hard part… seeing Dad waste away. He is skin and bones, but other than his labored breathing he does not have other signs…   I start to get upset about the timing of things… holiday weekend and all that means as far as staff. But I just talked to mom and Denise is the nurse and Tammy is his aide! Thank you Jesus!!! Harry Bell also came to sit with him and visit with Mom… must be hard for him to see his best friend leave.   Byron and Alyse, our neighbors have been such a help taking care of Max… they take him on 2-3 walks a day. He is going to be spoiled!   Sweet email from Amber last night wishing she could help and thanking me for writing the blog… also from Jamelle and one from Marilyn Irmeger this morning.  God is good and faithful and will carry us through this day!

Mom and I had a good hot lunch from the dining room, then she read today’s blog post and comments on FB before she went home for an hour or so.  Mom told me about her mother’s death… she had been sick and went into the Army hospital diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Mom was 19. The hospital was short staffed so they asked that a family member tend to their needs. Mom would work and then go take care of her mom. She died in the hospital within a week. She compared the unexpected death of her mother to our long good bye with dad. Said she thinks the unexpected good bye is harder because there can be things unsaid or unresolved and you are unprepared.

Mom ran back home around 1:30 and came back about 2:30. Jackie Chappell came back shortly after that. Dad’s breathing was labored but he was not gasping for air. They had given him a patch behind his ear of medicine for the bit of raspyness due to fluid in his chest. Around 1:30 I noticed his breathing more labored (like I remembered Lou’s) and his coloring had changed. We sat in the room with Dad just talking together. I decided that I would go and give Janet, the hospice nurse, a call just to touch base. I walked down the hall thinking I would go downstairs and outside to get some fresh air and make the call. At the nurses’ station I stopped and talked to nurses Sharon and Denise (so happy they were working). I had my back to Dad’s room and Sharon motioned for me to look back down the hall. I turned and saw Jackie standing there motioning for me to come. I ran down the hall and when I arrived in the room, Dad had his eyes open! I hugged him and said I love you Dad! And then he took his last breath and in an instant He was dancing on the streets of gold. We were all crying tears of joy and sadness. Wilza, his aide was also in the room. I remember saying Thank you Jesus! He answered our prayers by letting Mom and I both be there when he took his last breath… and what a gift to have him open his eyes. They were looking elsewhere… to things unseen is the best way I can explain it. Wow! So amazing. So blessed to have Jackie there. Sharon and Matthew (floor nurses) both came in to proclaim him deceased at 4 p.m. The next hour is somewhat of a blur, as so many nurses, aides and staff members came in. They loved Dad so much. One that stands out is Austin… she was really broken up and hugged me for a long time. Mom and Dad were greatly loved there on the third floor of the Towers. They will be greatly missed. Donna D called in and said she had a strong sense about Dad around 3:30… she loved him so and cried on the phone with me, but was so happy that it all unfolded like it did. We then made phone calls to family….
{taken from my journal, written 12.31.11}

I had not read that entry since I wrote it a year ago, until now. I thought it would be too hard. But in reality, it has been good for my soul. It shows me God’s faithfulness in the middle of hard times. This gives me encouragement and hope that God has a plan and a purpose for me in 2013. He will be Faithful and True. He will Provide and Heal and Redeem.

It’s been good talking to you Dad. “Glad you got to see me again” like you always said… One of your many “Yohnerisms” as the Bernards say. Which reminds me of what you wanted engraved on your headstone…

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Sometimes I wish that your grave was not so close to the road. Sometimes there is loud music and rowdiness going on at the house across the street. But Mark made the comment to me that it was your heart to reach out to people in need of a Savior. So now I pray that one day they may need to “walk it off” and will walk past your headstone, read your words and know that Jesus is all they need. You are still touching lives Dad. You and God are still partners in loving people.

Before I go, thought you might like to see your great-grands, cool dude Jaxson, prince charming Joshua, and sweet pea Evelyn…

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with love from your favorite daughter who misses you, but is learning that Jesus is enough and who is hoping to be a pearl in the making,
Ruthi

P.S. will you put in a good word for us down here… I was sick with a cold today and I really don’t want Mom or Joshua or anyone to catch it. Thanks 🙂 Oh! and while your at it. I could use some loss this year in the form of pounds… any will power available will be appreciated.

{while this is a letter to my Dad, it is my prayer in sharing it here in this public space,
that you might find a touch of hope and encouragement as you embrace that grain of sand in your life.}

23 thoughts on “it’s been a year

  1. Dear Ruthi, You have painted a verbal picture of our year 2012 and illustrated it beautifully with your photos (except for my wind blown hair!). Your letter to your Dad says it all. You have so openly shared your heart and it has touched me deeply. What can I say further?

    We must press on in God’s strength and His faithfulness. Remembering what we have been through can make us stronger. As your Dad would say, “trials will either make us better or bitter.” We have chosen to trust the Lord in good times and bad.

    Thanks for sharing your heart. Dad was and is proud of you, his favorite daughter and a precious pearl on his crown!
    Love, Mom

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  2. Ruthi, I’m sitting here with tears. What a beautiful piece of writing! Thank you for sharing your heart and for sharing your journal of that last day. Your raw honesty moves me……makes me long for heaven with you. And I agree with your mom – your dad has to be proud of you!

    Today is my dad’s birthday. I still don’t have answers for why he had to suffer like he did before he died. But I am so very, very thankful that he is with His Savior in perfect peace now. I hope he and Caleb have met your dad. I just know that both would like him!

    One more thing…..if you ever think about making copies of your dad’s tapes, I would love to hear him preach!

    Love and hugs!
    Trish

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    1. Trish, thank you. You my friend, understand more than most. Your strength and grace have been an example to me even though I only spent time with you once. Mom is working on having copies made of Dad’s tapes. When we have them available I will let you know. So sweet of you to want to hear him. Hope we can connect again some day.

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  3. Ruthi this is beautiful. Your parents meant a lot to me while attending BL. They always opened up their home to us and your Dads sense of humor always made me feel at home. I remember the time he took me to get my drivers license because I had failed the first time. That was a big deal to me. Scared little MK that I was. 🙂 and he always called us “Tiger” …too cute. Love you and hug your mom for me. Thank you for sharing your heart. It means a lot and is encouraging especially with the ongoing cancer battle my mom is going through right now.

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  4. Ruthie thank you so much for sharing your beautiful words! Even though we have not seen each other, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of your dad, your mom and you and your beautiful family. I feel terrible that I did not get a card to your mom for her birthday and the anniversary of your dad, I didn’t forget, I just procrastinated. I will never forget those two days. Please let’s set a date that I can see your mom and you…I miss you both soooo much. My day off now is Friday. Can we meet for breakfast or lunch near you…maybe Peaches or somewhere else if like. I just want to see you both. I can’t believe the year went by and we never got together…I am so sorry. So either e-mail me, text or call and we will set a date ASAP. Looking forward to hearing from you. Love Donna

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  5. Ruthi, I cannot express how touched I was by this…lots of tears, too. Thank you for sharing your heart with all of us. Your words are what we wish we were able to put on paper but cannot do. Your dad would have been so pleased as I know your mom is. Thank you, too, for the beautiful pictures. It’s so nice to see how your family has evolved from the time we first knew of you so many years ago when your dad first came to stay with us for a week. Love, Barb

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  6. Ruthi, thank you for sharing from the deep recesses of your heart with us. This very personal story took me right back to my Paw Paw’s room in ICU the final days of January, 2011. He went to be with Jesus on Feb. 1, 2011, and I was so blessed to hold his hand, and talk to him about his communing with Jesus before he got moved to a room on the regular floor. The days before his passing were such a roller coaster, but his daughters and 3 out of 5 of his grandchildren and his wife got to be with him. God chose to take him in quiet moments when we were all gone, but it was such a gift for God to let us see him awake & alert, eating & talking with us the day before he passed. He brings us to a place where we pray for our loved who are dying, where our heart and deep concern is more for their welfare than our own selfishness of keeping them. That is the greatest gift- to be able to seek Jesus’ gracious hand over their lives, to take them to be with Him and out of their suffering. You shared that deep desire of yours so beautifully here, mixed with the extreme sadness we feel knowing they can’t be here with us any longer. May the Lord continue to give you peace this year, and hope for the day we will be united with those we love so deeply… for eternity! Thank you for sharing. It was a blessing to read your heart.

    In Christ, Keisha Culbreth, Grace Community Church, Angier, NC

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    1. Keisha, thank YOU for sharing your story. Isn’t it wonderful that God gave you those precious days with your Paw Paw. Even the hard days/moments are a gift from His hand. And yes we long for heaven a bit more these days.

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  7. Thanks Ruthi for your heart-felt words and for the pictures. I so miss your Dad in a far different way. Heaven will surely be wonderful place. Bless you and all the family. Charlie & Norma Jean

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