Notes from Jan

Home of the Brave and the Scared

February 15, 2022

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.”

Dan’s Home.

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  • Reply Maggie Rowe February 15, 2022 at 5:32 pm

    Jan, I assume Dan was your brother. (I have a brother Dan as well.) Thank you for this transparently honest reflection of how complicated families can be, but how we love one another anyway. ANY WAY, as you put it. I’m so glad your last words to one another were an expression of love. I didn’t know Dan, but I do know Jan and would expect nothing less. Hugs to you as you process this deep loss.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 15, 2022 at 6:28 pm

      Yes, Dan was the elder of my two younger brothers. I miss him but am so grateful for the last almost 7 years we shared almost daily by phone or email. I know better, yet keep expecting his name to pop up with a joke, song or movie suggestion. It gives me joy thinking how happy my folks are. For sure they’re praying for the rest of us, reminding us to be faithful to the finish line. Then,”all will be well.”

  • Reply Anne Kirby February 15, 2022 at 6:31 pm

    Thank you, Precious Lord, for the blessed bookends to Dan’s life! He was brave. You as a family were wise. I know there us rejoicing in Heaven with Mama and Daddy. But oh, the lost years to everyones’ hearts! I am in the midst of prodigal sisters. I understand and send my love.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 15, 2022 at 9:25 pm

      Thank you, dear Anne. Everybody has a story. All of us need Grace. And the more chairs around the table, the better.

  • Reply Rita Smith Dovr February 15, 2022 at 7:26 pm

    Sending you love and hugs, Jan. I rejoice with you that Dan spent the last seven years with his family. So grateful he was able to give and receive such love.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 15, 2022 at 9:30 pm

      Well, it did my heart good to see your name appear, dear Rita. I miss seeing your beautiful face. Yes, I am so grateful we had these years with Dan. I think of an old song,”Come and dine…you can feast at Jesus table any time.” We need to add more leaves to our tables.

  • Reply Evelyñ Morgan February 15, 2022 at 10:18 pm

    As I read this with mixed emotions, I reflected on the Christmas I spent with your family. I enjoyed getting to know Dan back then. I remembered him being a very kind teenager and enjoyed his company. I remember how disappointed I was when I learned he distanced himself from the family. Your mama grieved over him and never saw him again in this life. Imagine what a reunion they are having now.
    I would like to see Sarah’s blog. How do I find her on FB? Sarah is such a common name. I last saw her as a child with your mom and dad at my son’s wedding over 30 years ago.
    This brought back so many great memories. Thankful this 84 year old can enjoy good times from so long ago. Thank you for your friendship. I read recently that someone who knows all about you and still calls you friend, is indeed a true friend.

  • Reply Jill MacCully February 16, 2022 at 9:32 am

    So sorry to hear that your brother has gone on, Jan. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story of love, grace and restored relationships. I’m so happy to hear that he’s reunited with your folks on the other side. We have a couple of those prodigals and how joyous it would be if they joined us, too.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 16, 2022 at 12:02 pm

      Prodigals are all around, sometimes within us, as well. Thanks, dear Jill, for taking the time to read and respond to this blog. I’m always grateful to hear from you. Never give up. The struggle to believe and carry on does something good in us. Nothing we entrust to God is wasted.

  • Reply Marilyn Bullock February 16, 2022 at 9:40 am

    Jan SO glad to hear Dan is home. I remember your mom writing about him in one of her books and I wondered if he had ever come home. Thanks for sharing that I di and that He is at peace and you know He loved you.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 16, 2022 at 12:12 pm

      Thank you, dear Marilyn. Yes, for us, we saw some prayers answered. But we learned to trust from our parents who kept on when nothing changed. This is part of why we need each other. Church and our families need to be welcoming places for folks that are on their way, but not there yet. Some come as prodigals, fresh from the pig sty, ashamed, peering in. Others, like the elder brother, wrapped in self-righteousness and wrong notions about the father’s love. And then there’s the father, waiting and longing to welcome both with love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace from his heart. Love thinking of you and all our years together at JOY Bible study at Grace Chapel, a welcoming place that grew me. Still does when I connect sometimes on-line.

  • Reply Jan Carlberg February 16, 2022 at 10:01 am

    Thank you, dear Evie. As my college roommate, you do know a lot about me and I love that we are still friends. True friends. Dan, like all of us, was complex. At his core he was kind, generous and brave. Vietnam impacted him in ways we’ll never know. And for each of us there are layers to our story. But I am grateful that through Jesus, whether here or there, God makes possible a “happily ever after.” Some might think its a mark of faith to toss back our shoulders and proclaim,”All IS well” or “everything works together for good.” I suppose, there is some truth in both, especially when put into a larger biblical context. But over the years I’ve come to believe it is a mark of trust in the One we cannot see to continue to hang on by fingernail faith. It is a leap of faith to laugh and live life as fully as possible when our prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling. And, in so doing, we live out, however flimsy our faith, that someday “all WILL be well.” We keep on entrusting a situation, a person and ourselves into God’s Grace-full hands.

    As for Sarah’s post, I’ll see what I can find out.

  • Reply Toni Lovingood February 16, 2022 at 1:43 pm

    This post was so beautifully written. So many glimpses of Dan in your mom’s books. As a little boy, “But mama don’t you know sunsets never wait”. “I saw Dan praying for his brother in a far country- and Ralph came home.” All the conversations with Lena when he had returned from Vietnam and had dreams of building the Shalom Valley Farm in Stoneville, NC. Truly we all knew nothing about the possible impact of Vietnam that those soldiers brought home with them. I think your niece is right that it has to be hard to stay away and also hard to come back. As Monroe once said about your grandfather, “I loved him too much to remember that part” and Uncle Barney said in Papa’s Place, “hold to the good”. Aren’t we thankful that the blood covers our sins? Reconciliation is such a beautiful thing and kudos to you and Ralph for being the loving people that you are. Just like your mom has welcomed Dan home now, you both extended that same loving welcome. Makes me think of the song “Come Home, Come Home, ….ye who are weary come home”. We all have needed reconciliation. Condolences to Virginia and his family. Please share his obituary if you can. Prayers for all of you. Love, Toni

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 16, 2022 at 4:09 pm

      Well, there’s no doubt you’ve read Mama’s books, dear Toni. No obituary yet. But I’ll see what I can do when it comes out. I’ll be sure to share your kind words with the family. We’re gathering via Zoom tomorrow evening. Thank you for your prayers. And I love that old hymn, “Softly and Tenderly…Jesus is calling, “Come Home.”

  • Reply Marty Lefever February 16, 2022 at 4:59 pm

    Oh my goodness, Jan! This is the next to the best story ever….God’s restoration of the years the locusts had eaten! Precious redeeming love! Only Jesus! Dan came home and he’s truly Home now! What a story shared in the only beautiful way a loving and very creative sister could! Thank you, dear friend!
    We send our love, deepest sympathy and praises for God’s restoring power and love!!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 17, 2022 at 11:51 am

      Oh, dear Marty, as a long-time friend, (the faithful Phil in my book, The Welcome Song) you followed the story for years, with so many blank pages. Thank you for your friendship, love, prayers and now, for celebrating with us God’s “happily ever after.” Love always to you, Dale, and your family.

  • Reply Anna iltis February 16, 2022 at 8:29 pm

    Beautiful story of reconciliation- brought tears to my eyes!! How amazing God is!! ❤️

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 17, 2022 at 11:52 am

      Yes, God’s Grace is amazing. And I’m grateful you and Peter have been part of Jud’s story and mine through our Gordon years.

  • Reply Laura February 16, 2022 at 10:23 pm

    My deepest sympathy Jan. Beautiful tribute and I know he knew of your genuine love despite any years in between. May we rejoice he’s home. Xo

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 17, 2022 at 12:10 pm

      Thank you, dear Laura, always one of my favorite Gordon “girls.” Families, like the individuals who make up such organisms, are complex. Eyes, ears, hearts and minds process life and words as uniquely as the individual doing the interpreting. It’s mostly encouraging to rest in the truth that ‘God looks at the heart”, unless I take a deep dive into my own heart and motives, on some occasions. Christ’s command to love each other, much less our enemies, is often impossible, unless infused with God’s Spirit. Over the years of loving and being loved, I’ve found that often the doing love comes before feeling love. I’m so grateful to have been the recipient of such love and one who tried to respond in kind to others. It sounds so simple but as my Grandmother taught me, “Simple’s not easy.”

  • Reply Dale February 17, 2022 at 6:45 am

    Love is patient and kind and does not bring up past hurts – these don’t need reminders. This made me think about Peter’s encounter with Jesus after His resurrection. Jesus never reminded Peter about his earlier denial. Instead, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him and, if so, to feed His sheep. Love is indeed kind or it likely is not love.

    Blessings dear sister, Dale

    • Reply Jan Carlberg February 17, 2022 at 12:23 pm

      What a good reminder, my brother Dale. Most of us are acutely aware when we’ve done wrong, hurt someone, ourselves, gone off on the wrong road. Once we’ve walked away, it’s hard to find our way back, sometimes. And “home” is not always a safe place for some. I can only imagine how ashamed Peter felt, dreading what Jesus would say, how he’d look at him. And if Peter would have the courage to lift his head and come face to face with Jesus. Jesus knew Peter’s heart, but Peter needed the question to hear himself say out loud what he believed. “Peter, do you love me?” And Peter did and we have many accounts in the New Testament of just how much Peter loved Jesus and the sheep Jesus commissioned him to feed. You and I, Dale, have been fed by those words, Peter’s example and the Love that would not let Peter go, nor us.

  • Reply Linda Moore March 2, 2022 at 4:44 pm

    Oh Jan…..I remember you talking about these lost years. How wonderful to see how that gap was closed at last!! And now your parents, who longed to see him, are welcoming him truly home. Together they are praising the Lord ” all the day long!”

    • Reply Jan Carlberg March 5, 2022 at 4:48 pm

      Yes, very dear Linda, they’re catching up on Dan’s latest jokes. Nobody knows better than Jesus how to find lost sheep and redeem lost years.

  • Reply Wendy March 9, 2022 at 6:33 pm

    Oh how I loved reading this – I’m kind of glad I’m a little delayed as I also loved reading all the comments. So very happy to hear about Dan coming home. And so sorry for your loss.
    Here are some of my favorites that hit home to me in a meaningful way:
    Sometimes love doesn’t insist on answers. It just loves anyway. Any way.
    Grace is more than a prayer over a meal. Grace is at its best when it simply acts as the last word.
    Church and our families need to be welcoming places for folks that are on their way, but not there yet.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg March 10, 2022 at 9:06 am

      Yes, dear Wendy. It starts in our hearts.

      • Reply Wendy March 13, 2022 at 1:02 pm


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