Nineteen years ago this day, my family was at a funeral home.More mourners than we expected came to say good-bye to my father, Harlan Stratton. The mourners spent long minutes studying the photographs that chronicled his life.
“That’s the way I remember him,” each one said, pointing at the photograph that encapsulated the years when they had shared life together.
Some chose his high school graduation picture.
Others lingered by the snapshot of him standing by his prize steer, Snowball.
The flower girls from my parents’ wedding pointed to a picture of a grinning groom.
Former 4-Hers smiled at the studio portrait taken when he became a county extension agent.
To be honest, I was jealous of those people who remembered my dad in his prime, when he could still walk into rooms. When his voice boomed above the crowd and took control. When he laughed and traded jokes long into the night. When he drove and Mom sat in the passenger seat. I was jealous because they knew my father in ways I never did and never will.
But now, 19 years after we celebrated Dad’s life my photo pick is one that didn’t get much attention on March 7, 1997. My favorite is his college graduation picture. The one where his flat top is a bit unruly, his eyes a little squinty, his smile crooked, and his chin on the jowly side.
That less-than-perfect face is my favorite because looking at his hair, his eyes, his smile, and his chin, I see where I came from. The envy I once felt toward those who knew the man I didn’t has disappeared. How can I be jealous of people who knew Dad in ways I never will when the imprint of him is on my heart and face?
Oh, Dad, I miss you.
In memory of Harlan John Stratton: May 11, 1929 – March 4, 1997. Dearly loved husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather, uncle, cousin, and friend.
We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day;
night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.
Hiram and I are back from visiting family in Arizona. The weather was perfect, and knowing we’d escaped the sub-zero temperatures in Iowa made it feel even better. Part way through the week, my sister and I road-tripped to southern California to visit an elderly relative. I’ll spare you the description of our barefoot walk on a sunny beach in January the morning after we arrived, and skip straight to Muriel, the elderly relative.
She’s 87, sharp as a tack, and an amateur historian who has researched and compiled the story of her grandfather (my great-great-grandfather) during the Civil War. But, her sight is failing rapidly, as is her stamina and mobility. All three of us knew this might be our last visit together, so our hugs were extra long and hard when we said good-bye. Muriel was still waving when our car turned the corner. Leaving her was hard, but she is a woman of deep faith, not afraid of walking through the door from this life into the next.
The Monday after Hiram and I returned to cold and snowy Iowa, an email arrived from a friend in a nearby town. She’s also a writer, and I thought she was confirming the let’s-talk-about-writing coffee date we’d scheduled. Instead, this active, fit mom of three boys (ages 8–13) wrote to cancel because she had just been diagnosed with cancer. She and her husband hoped to know more after meeting with the doctor later in the week. Her note ended with these words. “We’re trying to just do the normal life things, and trust that God knows what he’s doing. I don’t doubt him. I really don’t. I don’t like what he’s doing, but I don’t doubt him.”
The tears that never came while saying good-bye to Muriel fell hard and fast after hearing from my young, talented, and very dear friend. My heart broke for her husband, for her sons, for the fight she faces, and for the words she will not be writing during her treatment. Even though my friend and I are certain of the glory waiting for her if she loses her fight, I am praying she will live to see her boys become men and husbands and fathers, and to experience the joy of being a grandma before she walks through that door.
Like Muriel and my young friend, I don’t doubt what God is doing. I know that though his thoughts are not my thoughts and his ways are not my ways, he can be trusted. I know we pay more attention to God’s voice when health fails and life grows short. We better understand his truths when we realize our days on this earth are numbered. The work he has for us to do on this side of death’s door will end.
When death draws near for those we love, we finally comprehend the truth God whispers into the ears of all his children. “Work as long as it is day. Night is coming when no man can work.” As we cry out to him in our grief and through our tears, we realize that our time on earth is precious and finite. And we redouble our efforts and redeem the time by doing his work with passion and purpose. Until the day he calls each of us to walk through the door of this world into the next.
This Fantastic Friday remembers my Uncle Marvin who died four years ago this week. The legacy of hope he left his family and the hope his descendants carry into the future remain a source of hope today.
Sadness kept me company on this morning’s walk. No matter how hard I tried to steer my thoughts to smoother ground, they continually strayed to the uneven place where we stood and buried Uncle Marvin yesterday.
All I could think about were his grandchildren, the honorary pallbearers, gathered from Minnesota and Iowa, North Dakota and Illinois, and one recently returned from Egypt. They stood tall and straight and lovely, in the tiny country cemetery where their grandfather joined his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, only a few miles from where he’d been born and lived all his years.
These sweet carriers of our family’s future stood guard over the coffin, grave and composed during the pastor’s committal service, through the military gun salute, the folding of the flag, and it’s presentation to their grandmother. But when haunting notes of Taps filled the air, they began to cry, realizing for perhaps the first time in their young lives, that there is an end to every good thing.
Will this be the end of their connection to the family farm? I wondered, as they placed flowers on their grandpa’s coffin and said good-by. Will they return to their homes far away and forget their family’s long history in this place, the connection to the land that binds their parents together?
Sadness weighed heavy on me, and my head drooped lower. It’s over, I thought, and tears came to my eyes. For a moment, the sky wept, too, and raindrops wet my shoulders and hair. Maybe I should just give up and go home, I thought, too sad to fight life’s changes or the weather anymore. I looked up to check the sky.
And there against the grey clouds in the east was the beginning of a rainbow. A small, faded streak at first, it grew brighter and brighter the longer I looked up. Slowly, my sad weight lifted, and when I turned the corner I walked beside the rainbow. The further I went, the brighter the rainbow grew, until finally it stretched across the sky, bold against the grey clouds.
When those sweet grandchildren and their far-flung adventures came to mind again, the rainbow whispered to me.
Hope, it said so softly I had to strain to hear the word.
Dr. Lorna Bradley is the mother of an adult son with Asperger syndrome.and she’s an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. If that short description rings a bell, perhaps you read her Different Dream guest post about beauty in brokenness. Now she’s combined her personal and professional expertise to write an invaluable new book for parents of kids with special needs. I’m excited about how much this book will help families, the book and am eager to tell you more about it.
Special Needs Parenting: From Coping to Thriving Addresses Issues
Special Needs Parenting: From Coping to Thriving addresses many spiritual questions parents ask when their children are diagnosed with special needs. It discusses difficult issues like dealing with grief and guilt with compassion and candor. And it also offers practical advice to makes life easier for parents. A sneak peek at the table of contents to see what it covers:
- God and Special Needs
- Understanding Chronic Grief
- Breaking Free from Guilt
- Tools to Increase Patience
- Self-care for Caregivers
- Building Healthy Relationships
- Hope and Healing
Notes for Small Group Leaders
Blessing of the Parents Liturgy
About the Author
As you can see, Special Needs Parenting: From Coping to Thriving has something for every parent of a child with special needs. Each chapter ends with a list of questions for personal reflection, prayer helps, and Scripture references. The questions can also be used for small group discussion, which makes Bradley’s book a natural for Bible study or support groups.
To read the rest of this post and enter the give away, please visit Down the Gravel Road’s sister site at DifferentDream.com.
- The mark of a gifted teacher: Upon hearing of his death 40 years after last seeing him, you spend days mourning his passing and thanking God for using one man to impact your life in profound and positive ways.
- The pleasure of sleeping in your own bed can not be too highly rated.
- Louise Penny’s latest novel, The Long Way Home, is absolutely delicious. How long can I make the reading of it last?
What are you reading these days? Leave a comment.