On July 28, 2004, I was just a kid. I was a 26 year old child, or so it seems to me now. Whenever a problem came into my life, I knew I had my heavenly Father to lean on, because I was a child of God. I had been a child of God for 11 years in 2004 – emphasis on “child”. I also had a wonderful, understanding, and loving earthly father. I knew that if financial reversal came, or someone got seriously ill, I would have a home on Karen Street in Benton, Arkansas, to run to. I knew the two people there would welcome me with open arms, listen to my heartache with compassion and understanding, and provide me at least a temporary haven in which to recover from any loss. I knew what I would find if I walked into that home on any given day. Dad’s tools would be strewn about his workbench, his change would be in the antique crystal ashtray that had belonged to my Grandfather, his glasses would be in their case, and his Bible in its place. I knew that my Mom would be busy on some project, that usually required my Dad’s help, and while Dad acted like he was annoyed at doing a “honey-do”, I knew the truth. The twinkle in his eye gave it away every time – he would do anything for his “red-headed school teacher”, as he had nicknamed my Mom.
On July 29, 2004, my secure world shattered into millions of pieces. My Dad went to heaven, and I grew up.
I no longer had that same safe “haven” to run to. Oh, my Mom loves me deeply, and I know she would do anything to help me, but after Dad died, part of her died too. She needed time to recover from the loss, a lot of time. My sister and brother, who live far away from me, would also need to recover, as would I, and we would all have to do it our own way, and in our own time. It was a very surreal feeling – I felt like it had to be a dream. When I returned home after his death, I walked around my childhood home, seeing all the marks of my Dad’s life everywhere I turned. It looked as though he were still there, living. He had just stepped out, that’s all. He’d be back. But I remember consciously telling myself that he would never be back. I tried to convince myself that he was gone, forever, but the thought sickened me. My mind flooded with memory after memory of my Dad. I remembered the times he had to punish me, I remembered the times we ate “late, late breakfasts” at McDonald’s when I was four and five years old. I remembered the times I back-talked him, and resented him. Then I struggled to remember if I had apologized to him for being such a rowdy, disobedient girl?? Did I? The thought of his dying and not knowing how sorry I was for everything caused even more pain to my grieving soul. I remembered driving lessons, bike rides, milkshakes, and trips to the orthodontist. I remembered when my husband asked for my hand in marriage. I remembered the tears in his eyes as he saw me in my wedding dress for the first time in our living room. I remember the tears in my eyes that day, as well. So many memories, so many years! I begged God to please let it be a dream! It just couldn’t be over, could it? Was that it? No more Christmases? No hand written message in my birthday cards anymore? I’d never hear his hearty laugh again, or get godly counsel from him? It just couldn’t be real…but it was.
I wept until my mouth was like cotton. I wondered around the house, tearing up at everything I saw that was his. I felt out of place in all the confusion of family and friends who had gathered to comfort us. I just wanted them to go away. I wanted to go away. I couldn’t lean on my family, for they were hurting just as much as I was. I couldn’t lean on my husband, either. He tried to comfort me, but he had no idea what I was facing. I was alone in my own world of sorrow. After hearing some of the remarks at the funeral, I discovered that most people don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving. This made me want to run away even more. My mother wanted us children to speak at Dad’s funeral. While it was a difficult request because I’d been crying so much, there was nothing I wanted to do more! I wanted to tell everyone what a wonderful Dad I had. I didn’t know how to summarize 26 years of life with the world’s best Dad in just a few minutes, but I wanted to try. The Lord showed me what to say. I shared with the audience Deuteronomy 6:6-7 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. That was it! That summed up life in the Courtney house perfectly! I didn’t begin to share memories, because I had so many wonderful ones to share, where would I begin, or a better question, where would I end? The people couldn’t stay there forever.
I returned home to the things familiar to me. I cried. I listened to songs about Heaven and cried. I thought about the future, and cried more. I wrote in my journal, I studied my Bible, and I got to know my Savior like never before. I poured my heart out to my Savior, my Father. Christ knew what it was like to suffer, He understood my broken heart, and He had time to care about me. I suppose I did do some silly things.For instance, I knew I couldn’t talk to my Dad, I mean, I don’t believe my Dad can hear me from Heaven, but Jesus could hear me. So, I asked the Lord nearly every day to please tell my Dad I missed him, and I was so very sorry for being such a terrible kid. I know, looking back now, it was probably a waste of time, but the Lord didn’t mind my silliness, He understands that I’m just dust. (Psalm 103:14)
Here are some lessons that I’ve learned (and am still learning) through this trial in my life:
~ I may not have tomorrow ~
I learned so many things through the sudden and traumatic loss of my Dad. I learned that people die. Yes, I knew that before my Dad died, but now it was very personal. I learned that I could have my husband at breakfast, and not have him at supper. I learned that I might be here for breakfast, but be in Heaven by supper. It could happen, and it could happen quickly. I may not have time to say goodbye or make wrongs right. I may not have another chance to say “I love you! You sure do mean the world to me.” I do say it now, and often. As I lie down each night beside my husband, I thank the Lord that he is there. I kiss the heads of my children and I thank the Lord for another day as their mother. I pray harder than ever for my children’s salvation. I may not have tomorrow.
~ It’s not how you die, but how you live ~
I’d read this quote many times, but now I know what it means. My Dad always felt badly that he couldn’t provide better for us. We never lacked a thing in life – he provided a wonderful home for us, good food, and most of all, a godly example of a husband and Dad, yet he wanted to do more for us. He didn’t think he had many friends, yet, over 300 people were at his funeral, and many couldn’t make it! He would have been shocked at the turnout! The people weren’t there because he died suddenly, but because he lived gloriously. He was compassionate, he was a soul-winner, he stood with his pastor through some thick and a lot of thin, his family was second only to God, and he was faithful. He lived well; he lived right, and in the end, that’s what people remember.
~It’s more than a song ~
You’ve probably heard the song, “Does Jesus Care?”. It’s been a great comfort to me over the years, especially when Dad died. I learned that yes, He really does care. It’s not just words. I felt His embrace, I saw the blessings and comfort that He bestowed upon me. I ran to Him in time of need and He did not let me down.
~ He doesn’t take the pain away ~
I suppose I was pretty naive when I heard my pastor talk about God’s grace getting him through some terrible trial. I thought he meant that because God’s grace was present, you didn’t hurt during the trial. (Yeah, silly, I know.) God’s grace is a wonderful thing. If it weren’t for the Lord, I couldn’t make it through a single day, much less a trial. Yet, I do hurt. I miss dad every day. I think of him every day, sometimes many times a day. I long to see him, and yes, sometimes, I feel resentful that he’s gone. But I just look up, cling to the Lord, and He sees me through. He doesn’t take the pain away, but he helps me to bear it. I’ve often heard people say “God won’t give you more than you can bear.” The truth is, God won’t give you more than HE can bear. I can’t bear much at all on my own.
I’m still learning lessons from the loss of my Dad, my “partner”, as he called me. He had the hearts of all three of his children, and that remains to this day. I want to emulate that with my own children. I desperately want their hearts. I want them to feel as loved by me and my husband as I did by my parents. I want to point them to Christ, like my parents did. I want to talk of the Lord when I sit, rise, or walk, just like Mom and Dad.
I hope I can do these things, now that I’m grown up.