My mother came into my room on May 2nd, 2000. She gently touched my shoulder to wake me from a nap. As I rolled over and caught a glimpse of her face, I immediately knew what had happened. “Big Grandpa died, didn’t he?” I watched a tear roll down her face as she said, “Yes. He’s gone.” Big Grandpa Earl’s passing started me on a course I never expected, wanted, or realized I would have to walk. The day of his funeral, my cousin Chelsea and I stood by our parents alongside his casket and greeted the hundreds of visitors flowing in to say goodbye to their friend. For me, that was the day my mind started to turn towards the reality of life on this earth.
Cinnamon Rolls, grilled cheese sandwiches, pie crust rolled out with cereal bags and endless games of marbles. Nana died in 1988, but our family was given a great gift four years later: Grandma Edith. Gram. She loved us as her own and we loved her back. She was always willing to be silly and never said no to, “Grandma, can you make me a grilled cheese?”, even IF it was 10:00pm! We had 20 years with Gram. On November 1st, 2011, I stood by her bed, held her hand, told her it was ok to go, and watched her leave this place of pain. It wasn’t an easy passing, to say the least, but that is all behind her now. She will never suffer, mourn, or cry again.
Every morning was the same. As he drew back the covers and slid his legs off the bed so his feet were firmly planted on the ground, he started his prayers. We heard and listened every morning. His words were muffled so that only God could understand him, but we could hear his voice rise in his bedroom as he praised the Lord for another day. When his prayers were finished, he would shower and usually put on the same jeans and pearled button farm shirt he wore the day before. It was probably a slow fade we knew was coming, but his passing still felt so fast. I called his sons on Wednesday and he was gone by the weekend. I sat by his bed as much as I could. He was frail and confused. The last word out of his mouth was my name. I had stepped away for a reason I can’t remember today, but was immediately drawn back as he yelled, “Megan?!” The family sat down for the eldest grandson’s birthday, but my heart knew he was leaving. I stood at the counter, watching him. In the blink of an eye his breathing changed and as I got closer I could hear the dreaded “death rattle”. I held his hand, the family gathered around his bed, and we sang some of his and our favorite songs. Before he left us, we watched him see Angels, Jesus, wives, and friends. On March 10th 2012, he breathed his last as we sang, “sweet Beulah land”. We had him for 55 of his 80 years, but my heart broke feeling as though it wasn’t enough. Grandpa Paul changed my life in ways I can never explain and while I know I will see him again, hug him again, kiss him again, the pain remains……until we meet again on the far side banks of Jordan.
His whole body shook as he laughed when I said, “Grandpa, you have hair up your nose.” He was kind, smart, inquisitive, brilliant, and funny. He loved deeply and almost always spoke in kindness. Grandpa Sharp’s final days weren’t easy on anyone, but as we held his hand, sang his favorite song, and assured him it was ok to go, he exhaled into the arms of Jesus. We kissed his cheeks and whispered we would see him again. He was a carpenter, just like The God he worshipped. The spice rack he made me is hanging in my kitchen with the roosters that hold recipes cards on top, waiting to be used. The polished lazy susan sits on my table holding succulents, napkins, and salt&pepper. The oval, velvet lined keepsake box sits on my dresser, and his tulips are scattered around the house- a reminder of his love for the craft, Jesus, and me. And his final collection of funds for missions sits on my dresser, taped shut so that his gifts would remain the same as the day he died, August 13th, 2012.
Dishpan cookies, a giant amount of quail, Pepsi, and the lake. Before “Big Earl” died, Great-Grandma Catherine was the queen of cookies, comfort, fun, and learning in the garden. I will forever remember those summer days with her in the garden snapping green beans. Such a simple task that meant so much to me. Even after she left the farm, she remained family. I am so thankful I was able to see her many times before she died. My father and I sang, “One Day At A Time” at her funeral while we mourned our loss and celebrated her gain. As we all laid her to rest, we asked Jesus to give us the strength to press on, one day at a time, just as she had until November 18th, 2012.
The children were rescued from the brothels, the ladies were, too, and the teenagers carried the weight of rape and loss every minute they breathed. There was neglect. Abuse. Anger. Violence. Pain. Investigations. But there was also joy, laughter, music, dancing, acceptance of Jesus, fun, beauty, and peace. October 7th, 2014 changed my life forever. In the shadows of the valley, we had to leave behind the women and children we loved and lost. And to this day, we grieve of the great loss we are not permitted to share. We said our final goodbyes in May 2015, but the stories and smiles hang on the walls of our home so that we will never, ever forget.
For the majority of her life, she wasn’t the greatest mother nor always the kindest of women. We learned too late in life why she was the way she was. She had an undiagnosed and completely untreated mental health disease. Once identified and continually treated she still had moments of anger, but for the most part, she was the grandmother I had always hoped she would be. We talked, we laughed, we cried, we cuddled, and we said our goodbyes every time I left. It hurts to think about how her life could have been if Mental Healthcare had not been such a taboo in her generation. She could be so cruel, but she was also so very loving in the end. Grandma Nora “Lottie” met Jesus face to face on June 27th, 2015. We wore our black dresses and southern hats the day we laid her to rest in a Veteran’s cemetery with the husband she adored.
She was the one everyone admired; the one who understood more than most. The one who seemed serious but in reality she was hilarious, adventurous, down to earth. This friend was deeply grounded in Christ. With her surgical skills, awards and accommodations, she could have had ANY job in the country. She could’ve been a real life, Meredith Grey. But instead of taking a high-paying surgical attending position, she moved to Zambia and filled an empty spot around an operating table in a place that really needed her. She was incredible and everyone loved her. A few days after I moved to Charlotte, we all got the news. Cancer. She fought so hard and continued to encourage the people who loved her. Even as her body began to shut down, she sent updates that went all over the world. Her heart for Jesus as she performed surgeries and then as she laid in bed waiting for eternal healing, saved hundreds if not thousands, of lives. People ran to Jesus because she did. After 6 months of her battle, Jesus took her Home in January of 2016. We all cried and we all mourned, but we also rejoiced that she wasn’t in pain and she never would be again. We knew Sweet Sarah was still singing, smiling, and at total peace with the God she faithfully served for so many years.
It started with terrible exhaustion. She had to be careful at every red light or she would fall asleep. From there the symptoms started to pile up. Her legs stopped working, her body began shutting down, and her quality of life was quickly rolling towards her grave. Lyme disease came like a thief in the night. It came. It attacked. It stayed. It ruined. It almost won. In some ways it did…..She used to be organized and the one with the reminders stored in her brain, but now information slips from her grasp and she’s left with questions she knows she already asked. She used to sing. She used to sing really well. She was highly trained in vocal performance, but music was more than that for her. It was the way she processed, expressed emotions, grieved, rejoiced, and felt peace. Now her lungs won’t allow a full song. Her throat rebukes the range she used to have. Her eyes can barely see the music and her brain forgets the lyrics. Many believe it will come back, but she knows the truth… *
A friend described him as wildly inappropriate, but wise and kind. He was the tallest man in the department and maybe the whole campus. He seemed to rarely be at his desk, but that usually meant he was off gisting with colleagues- encouraging them to press on. We talked here and there about our desire to come together and help usher in a new approach of racial reconciliation. We shared notes and emails of articles we had found and the things we took away from it. He asked for my thoughts of the continuing divide between white Americans and black Americans and the apathy many churches have settled into. Although we still had so much more to talk about, we both knew we wanted to be in the fight towards reconciliation. An older black man and a young-ish white woman. When I came into the office on Monday, July 17th, 2017 he came over to me, said we still had so much to talk about and kissed me on the cheek. The following Friday he died in his sleep. We never got to finish our conversations, but even in his dying and the service his family planned, my dear friend showed us how the African/Black American community shows up in death. One week of mourning followed by a day of pure celebration. While we wore black, his family wore white. I will never forget that stark contrast of black and white- skin and clothes- all crying, singing, and worshipping together as the body of Christ- the Church in Her perfectly designed colorful form.
*Sepsis came faster than any of us could understand. First Malaria came to kill, but she survived. Next, her lungs developed an unidentified infection, but she survived. Then Chronic Lyme Disease came out of remission, Late-Stage, but she survived. And finally, sepsis came. But again, she survived. She survived it all, but she never felt lucky or blessed or “needed more than others”. How could she when someone she loved died every time she survived….*
Blonde hair, a trampoline, pop-up camper, races across the parking lot between my house and Aunt Betty’s, countless sleepovers, Ace of Base, Dixie Chicks, TLC, Destiny Child, Mariah Carey, and Space Jam’s, “I believe I can fly!”. It was 1996 when I gained not only a best friend but a sister. We went through so much together; holding on to promises, rescuing one another from the clutches of bad men, keeping sisterly secrets, like most teenagers do with their best friends. Love, honor, respect, empathy, laughter, and heroism. Twenty-two years together. Twenty-two years of “defending” our sisterhood. Only twenty-two years. And then in a flash, she was gone; taken from us in the worst way on March 26th, 2018- just a few days after my battle with sepsis and my 32nd birthday. Now we live with our memories of her and the lives she changed. Her laugh still rings in my ear almost every hour of the day. But if I remember that she is still laughing and eternally at peace, a smile will form across my face instead of tears down my cheeks. She was the love of my life and I was the love of hers. It may sound strange to some, but we didn’t care. There was a bond between us that could never be broken. I’ve heard it said, “When you’ve lost the love of your life, you love life, less”. Thankfully, joy can be found even in sorrow. My sister taught me that.
A cowboy, rancher, son, brother, husband, father, uncle, and friend. He and Uncle L were my father’s best friends for 43 years. So he was always Uncle to me. He smoked like he drank and he smiled like he didn’t have a care in the world. Every November he would help run the Junior Collegiate Livestock Judging Contest alongside a team of men and women he loved and trusted; my father, uncle L, and I included. All three of these men helped me navigate the world of livestock, contest rules, reasons for the rankings, and cowboys who had a few too many. Some of my favorite memories with him will only be shared with those who were there or those I know he’d tell anyway. Mint Juleps, Ponies, Angus Cattle, Elvis, Christmas Tree girl, late-night Meyers runs and jokes that I either smacked him for or laughed till I almost peed. He was a very curious man, but it wasn’t until his deathbed that he gave his life to Christ. So many of us breathed a sigh of relief when we heard the news. It meant this wasn’t our final goodbye. Uncle T died just a short while later, June 21st, 2018, but because of Christ, it isn’t final. On a Wednesday afternoon, a man showed up to visit Uncle Tom. As he walked into the hospital room, Uncle T raised his hand so he could speak before the visitor did. “You’re too late. It’s done”, he said. The visitor told my father this story about a month after the funeral. He said, “You don’t know me, but I knew Tom. You got done what I had come to do.” The man was there to share the gospel with his old friend one last time, but by the time he got to the hospital, Uncle T had already asked for and accepted forgiveness in Christ that very morning after one last “spiritual” meeting with my father.
*…While she was in the throes of treatment and continued uncertainty of her future, she never had the capacity to hold on to hope. So others carried it for her. Although she still feels completely alone most days, she knows she now has the ability to reach for hope. She’s recovering, in fact, she’s on her way to remission, but she isn’t the same woman she once was. Trauma and tragedy change everyone, but there has been too much loss in the last 6 years of her life to ever fully be the woman others remember.
A few days ago I read the passage below for what was probably the 500th time I recited the verse, I absorbed something from it I had never noticed before.
“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.“
So many times in my life, especially the last 6 years, hope has been too heavy to carry. So heavy in fact I couldn’t even bear to think about hope. But in this passage from Romans 5, we are shown HOW to hope when our hope is gone. We rejoice, boast, turn, look to the hope of GOD while we suffer, so that hope will be formed into our personal character. In other words, we cannot find hope or be hopeful people in times of trauma, tragedy, or crisis, if we do not FIRST simply turn towards the hope God promises we will see in Him. Hoping in Him, or even acknowledging that He Himself holds out hope for us, is the only way we will ever be able to carry the weight of hope while living in a world that feels hopeless.
For the first time in 6 years, hope doesn’t feel as heavy as it once did. Because now I understand, in order to press on, we must turn towards the One who GIVES hope so that we might find it.
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” -John 10:10