Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4 TNIV, emphasis mine).
November is a month full of memories. Autumn blows in with a growl, winter's chill shows its face, and Thanksgiving beckons us home. For our family, one November morning is especially memorable. On this Monday before Thanksgiving, I was awakened early by an awful stench. As I rolled out of bed and my feet hit the floor, I suddenly realized what I smelled. Argh ... it was awful!
Somewhere down the line, 26 feet of the sewer pipe had collapsed in the hills of northwest Austin. All that awful stuff was backing up and coming out of our tub and sink drains as well as toilets. This flood was quickly invading our bedroom. I hurriedly found towels, wet them down, and then threw them in front of the doorway to our closet. All our picture albums, yearbooks, and special keepsakes were piled on the closet floor. I was desperate to keep the yuck from getting to them. I threw Donna her shoes, some clothes, and helped her get past the muck. She woke up our kids, got them out of the house, in the minivan and down the road as quickly as possible — the irony is, they were actually run off the road by the fire truck sent to help us, but that is a whole other story.
Fortunately, we only lost a few of our precious treasures. Sure, we lived in a hotel for 17 days and it took four weeks more for our house to be completely fixed ... and sure, we lost a bunch of furniture, clothes, and other items ... and yes, I had to get shots and checkups because of my exposure to raw sewage. But all that we lost could be replaced with money. The main thing is that we were all safe and we didn't lose our pictures and our special memory treasures. We had saved nearly every one of them. NEARLY every one them ... but one item, an old American Standard New Testament, had to be thrown away. It broke my heart.
You see, we didn't have a choice. Furniture, carpet, clothes, linens, shoes ... anything that was soaked by this raw sewage had to be sealed in plastic and hauled to a hazardous waste disposal site. This New Testament apparently went into one of the bags of ruined items and unceremoniously hauled away. The edges of this small, black, hardback Bible were frayed. Some of the pages were stained and others were marked and underlined. I can still remember how it smelled before it was ruined. And inside the front cover of this Bible was the following message:
Merry X-mas 1959
To Phillip Dixon Ware, our grandson
Mama Faye and Daddy Gordon
Less than one year after he had given me the Bible, shortly before Thanksgiving, my Daddy Gordon was supposed to take me fishing in the Gulf. We had gone many times. So this morning, we got up early and the weather was good. We would go pick up shrimp and get in his wonderful wood boat. We would catch specks and maybe even a red fish or flounder. And even though I wasn't quite 6 years old, I would bait my own hook and take off my own fish today because my brother, who was not quite 3, would be going with us for the first time. I was so excited.
But when we awoke that morning, Daddy Gordon wasn't feeling well. Some friends in Baytown picked up Byron and me and took us to their house to play with their boys. I was disappointed because we weren't going fishing, but we always loved playing with the Martin boys.
We had a fun day, but I was surprised when we stayed for supper. I was even more surprised when my dad pulled up a little after dark with mom in the car — neither had been in town that morning. Dad had driven to Baytown from Conroe, where we lived. This really seemed strange to me, because my mom had been in a town far away visiting friends and I had no idea how mom had gotten here. We jumped into the car and no one really talked much at first. The whole situation felt weird.
Then we pulled up into the driveway of Daddy Gordon's house. There were cars everywhere. It was then that it was my mom who told us. "Boys, I am very sorry but your Daddy Gordon had a heart attack today." I don't know if she was trying to recover her emotions or if I don't remember things correctly.
My Daddy Gordon was only 51 at the time, and my mom was his only child. She adored him, as did I. Anyway, I just remember being confused about the words, "heart attack." I don't know if I asked questions or what else was said. I just remember that somewhere in all of my confusion, I heard the words, "Daddy Gordon died."
Died? Nobody I knew died! Not my Daddy Gordon. No! He couldn't have died. Died? What does that really mean anyway? We are supposed to going fishing together. He is my buddy and my granddad. I am just a little kid. Died?
A million thoughts rushed through my head as my heart burst and a hint of a tear started to pool in the corner of my eye. "I have to be strong for Byron," I thought to myself. And I tried. I stoically walked into my grandparents' crowded house. People were everywhere, talking in muddled, hushed tones with long sad faces.
I relive all of these emotions still to this day when I remember the flood of sewage that claimed my precious "X-mas" Bible — the Bible I received from my Daddy Gordon his last Christmas with me here on earth. Each time I remember again, I still feel so small and helpless. I am reminded all over again that I can't protect my children from life's worst floods. I'm not big enough. I'm not strong enough. I'm not smart enough. I'm not anything enough to protect them from the flood of life's sewage or the power of death or the deep wounds of the heart.
I can't fix what is broken and what can't be mended in their world. No matter what I buy them or give them or sacrifice for them, I can't prevent the flood or the tears or the day they feel so small in the face of it all. My cherished physical tie to my Daddy Gordon was swept away by the awful flood just like he had been stolen from me so many years earlier.
I guess at some level, I have always resented not getting to go to Daddy Gordon's funeral. Maybe it was better for me that I didn't. Maybe I was too young, and kids under 12 just didn't go to funerals in those days. But even as a little kid, I felt like I missed out on something that might help the hurt and help me not feel so small.
So for me, there was no real closure on my Daddy Gordon's death until I stood looking at my own dad's graveside — dead at 51 just like my Daddy Gordon. And as I grappled with what words I should say, once again feeling small with tears pooling in my eyes while trying to be strong, I knew I had no words for this new flood. But deep inside, I also knew that I really believed that Dad's life, and Daddy Gordon's life, and even my life, are hidden with Christ in God. And in that moment, I knew that I really believed that when Christ, the one Who is my very life, appears, I am going to join those I love and we will all share in His glory.
There are some things life's floods can't sweep away. There is a place where all hurts are mended. There is a moment when all tears will be dried. And when we feel the brush of our Savior's tender touch on our tear-stained cheeks, we will hear Him say, "Welcome home! We've been waiting for you, and we can't wait to show you glory!"
Share your Thanksgiving joy with those who could use a little! Check out Phil's articles and blog posts on Sagrada Familia, the Community by going to http://bit.ly/HL-gOJKmf