To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. Isaiah 61:1
Once again, this – my life’s verse, has proven true.
God has a wonderful way of turning things around. Now that I find myself on the other side of the death of my beloved Pippa (see this post), I can see that God had His hand in so many of the events leading up it, and even during it. I am just now making sense of some of the things that happened along the way that I didn’t understand at the time.
For instance, I wondered why my Pippa didn’t die from pneumonia after Thanksgiving. He was hospitalized two different times before being sent to a hospice care facility. However, when he “improved”, he had to leave; too well to stay, yet too sick to return to assisted living. I was upset at the thought of him lingering in a bedridden state, and wondered why God would let him suffer in that way. I see now that I was only focusing on his physical state. A blessing I missed at the time was that because he was too sick to return to the assisted living facility where he and my Neana had been living in for the previous 18 months, he was able to move back to his home. Given the choice of him going to a nursing home or his home where he lived for 50+years, my family chose to take him home with around-the-clock care. We moved him out of hospice and my Neana back home the day before Christmas. His getting to live his last weeks in the comfort of his own home with my grandmother by his side was a huge blessing for him and for for her. The fact that she didn’t have to go back to the assisted living facility alone was another blessing. Thank you, God, for always providing what we need, sometimes even before we need it.
Another blessing I missed at the time was the way that I was prepared for the possibility of not seeing him “one last time” before he died. I got a call around 6:00pm on Thursday, February 9th, telling me I’d better go to Arkansas soon. I knew I couldn’t make the 5 hour-trip until the next morning after I dropped the kids off at school, so I went to bed praying that I’d be able to see him before he died. Looking back, I know that was a very selfish prayer, but it was all I could think of at the time. Later that night, at 3:21am (I know this because I looked at the clock on my phone), I was awakened by what I thought was lightning outside my window. When I kept my eyes open but saw no lightning nor heard any thunder, I closed my eyes to try to go back to sleep. As soon as I closed my eyes, a fantastic light show went off behind my lids. It was like fireworks! Every time I opened my eyes, the lights would disappear. This “show” lasted awhile before I was able to eventually fall back to sleep. The first thought I had the next morning, was, “What if my Pippa died and that was the celebration going off in my mind’s eye?” I told my husband as much, and also said, “I know if he did die, my family wouldn’t tell me because I have to drive 5 hours today.” In a strange way, my heart and mind were prepared for the thing that eventually did happen – I wasn’t there when he died. I had gone to bed desperately hoping I’d make it in time to see him before he died, but I had woken up with an unexpected sense of peace that it would be OK even if I wasn’t able to. Thank you God, for preparing us for the future while we are yet living in the present. Thank you for going before us and planning out the way we should walk in.
The very coolest blessing in disguise is something I didn’t even find out about until a week after it occurred. During my drive to Arkansas that Friday morning, I experienced a myriad of emotions. I made my way through the usual suspects – sadness, guilt, regret, and shock, when out of nowhere a strange emotion hijacked my senses: I was overcome with excitement. It was such an odd thing to be feeling, and I remarked as much to the person with whom I was talking on the phone. She agreed that it was strange and asked me to try to explain. I said, “All I know is that I feel really excited to see someone who is about to see Jesus.”. That is the feeling that carried me through the rest of the trip, and I could hardly stay below the speed limit. When I arrived home around 1:00 and found out that my Pippa had passed away, the first thing I did was run in and take his face in my hands and say, “You’re already there [in heaven]!” I felt more joy than sadness and spent the next few hours holding his hand just feeling very peaceful. I did cry tears of sadness later on, but for that moment in time, I was just happy for him. What I didn’t know until a week later was the timing of that unexpected feeling that overcame me, and I had forgotten who I was on the phone with at the time to ask her more about it. As it turns out, the same friend I had been on the phone with going to Arkansas called me as I was getting back to my home in Texas. She asked me how the week was, and when I was telling her that my Pippa had died at 11:30, and that I wasn’t able to see him until 1:00, she asked me if I remembered being on the phone with her that day and telling her about the strange excitement I felt at seeing him. I said, “Yes I do! That was you?” She said it was, then asked me again what time Pippa died. When I told her, she said that she called me that day when she was leaving an appointment she had gotten out of a little after 11:00. She reminded me that we talked for awhile and were likely on the phone when he died. I got chills when I realized that the feeling of excitement that came over me out of the blue AT THAT EXACT TIME was likely from God. I think that my Pippa was excited to see Jesus – after all, he spent most of his days on earth with his eye on the prize that Paul talked about in Acts and 2 Timothy:
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8 NIV)
My Pippa and I weren’t just physically bound by flesh and blood because of shared genetics, we are bound spiritually because the same God lives in us both. Although I wasn’t physically present when my Pippa died, my soul was there with him. I think that God allowed me a glimpse of something that couldn’t be seen with human eyes. My soul saw and shared the same excitement that I’m certain my Pippa experienced at seeing Jesus face to face. I had never experienced the death of a loved one before he died, and I used to imagine having to actively seek out little spots of joy and happiness in the dark, deep midst of sorrow and loss. What I have found to be true, though, is that I don’t have to find joy – it finds me. Thank You, God, that Your peace truly does pass understanding. Thank You, God, for Your unwavering pursuit of me. I know that You will find me wherever I am and draw me closer to You. Thank You, God, for loving us all the crazy/beautiful way You do. Amen.