Ralph texted, “Dan’s home.” Just a few days ago, Dan and I talked on the phone, laughed about crazy stuff from our growing up days. Life long ago. Good, but not perfect. Never is. Until a few days ago, Dan called North Carolina home. Now, heaven’s Home.
Somewhere between long ago and recent years, Dan disconnected from us. California became home and we became anything but a people or place he wanted to visit. Maybe he needed the distance to learn who he was apart from us and the familiar. Maybe to heal from invisible wounds, parental mistakes. Life’s complicated. So are families. A lot of years piled up. The only cross-country trippers were mail and packages marked: Return to Sender. So Mama and Daddy stowed unopened gifts, birthday and Christmas cards in a well named piece of furniture: a Hope Chest. And we all hoped and prayed. But especially, Mama and Daddy who ended their prayers with an exclamation point of faith: “Someday, all will be well!”
But about seven years ago, long after Mama and Daddy took their prayers and hopes for Dan with them to heaven, Dan moved from California back to North Carolina, a couple of hours away from Ralph. No small miracle. And we slowly reconnected, doing our best to pick up where life left off. Sometimes love doesn’t insist on answers. It just loves anyway. Any way.
Dan liked to send us links to jokes, special songs and movies he thought we’d like. Just ten days ago he sent Ralph, me and other family and friends a song from a church in Belfast, Ireland. They were singing, “Blessed Assurance.” Ralph and I laughed about how Daddy used to lead the singing at our church and on that song, draw it out, like Cliff Barrows did at a Billy Graham Crusade. You know, ” THIS IS MY STO- RY, THIS IS MY SONG. Praising my Savior, ALL THE DAY L O N G!”
A few days later, Ralph sang it at Dan’s bedside. This IS our story, our song. Though, unless Ralph’s singing’s improved, I told him he probably made Dan eager to get on his way. It felt good to laugh. Faith enables us to toss back our heads and laugh, especially in the face of death.
Just hours after Dan died, Sarah Jensen, our niece, posted a reflection about her Uncle Dan on Facebook. As you already know, I’m not on Facebook but for those of you who are, you may want to look up her thoughtful, loving reflection. Sarah shared how Dan and her Daddy, Ralph, usually ended their calls with, “Over and out!” I’d end our calls with, “I love you, Dan.” He’d mutter something or laugh a little then say, “Over and out!” The last time we talked, I said my usual, “I love you, Dan.” And he said, “I love you, too.” Those were our last words to each other.
So, I keep reflecting on something Sarah wrote about how brave her Uncle Dan was to come back home. I hadn’t considered that, more into how ready to forgive we were. Thank you, Sarah, for that insight. Dan was so very brave to risk rejection, rebukes, reminders of all he’d missed from almost forty years of keeping more than his distance. We could’ve all lined up like a row of miffed, self-righteous elder brothers. You know, like in the story of The Prodigal Son.(Luke 15) Scowls on our faces, arms crossed, words ready to fire like verbal semi-automatics, loaded with shame, guilt and blame. Smug variations on “How could you? “Why did you?”
But none of us went that route. I guess growing older, if willing, one starts to learn that there’s a prodigal in all of us, an elder brother, too. And as Henri Nouwen reminded me in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, “There’s a father in us, too.” So we welcomed Dan home and took our probing, angry questions off the table. Then we set a place for Dan instead, pulled up a chair and let the feast begin. Which turned out to be fresh shrimp, around a picnic table on a screened porch at Wrightsville Beach. A place where scared turned sacred, for all of us.
Grace is more than a prayer over a meal. Grace is at its best when it simply acts as the last word.
This is our sto ry. This is our song. Prais ing our Savior. All the day long.
Mama and Daddy were right.
“All will be well.”
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