By Patricia P
The phone rang early that morning in our Japanese hotel room. My husband said a few words to the caller and then handed the phone to me. Who could be calling so early? Who could be calling at all? We were halfway between our temporary home in Asia and our permanent home in the US, on our way to a wedding, and our first reunion with Dad in almost five years. And then the phone conversation filtered in to my confused brain, “Your father has died.”
My father died? That can’t be, I thought. We will be seeing him within 24 hours. We haven’t seen him in such a long time—we’re always living somewhere new and far from him—and we’re going to finally have a great visit. Mom couldn’t make it to the wedding by about 15 years, but we knew that Dad would be there, to represent both of them.
Dad had been the first in our family to question the purpose of mortality, at least that’s what Mom had us think. One hot summer vacation day five decades ago, as we were driving across Route 66 and on to Disneyland, Dad was the one that wanted to take a detour and see what this thing called “Temple Square” was all about in Utah. He went alone on that dry, desert afternoon. He had a casual interest in the story the young guide was telling him until they got to the Seagull Monument, the landmark of a miracle. Perhaps it was the actual story of how the pioneers, who had been driven out of America and into Ute Indian territory, had planted crops that first year in the desert only to have them consumed by crickets at the harvest. These people, who had been tarred and feathered or even worse and driven out of places across the continent, knelt down and pleaded to God. He sent them seagulls that ate the crickets and saved the crops and saved them from starvation. Yes, the story was compelling.
But Dad said that what really touched him that day were the words and the demeanor and the faith of the guide. Here was a young man, probably less than age 20, who stood up in front of a large crowd of strangers and told them that he knew that God was real, that He loved each of the people in that crowd, and that He had a message for them. Some people became embarrassed or uninterested or even rude, but this young man had an earnestness and message of and faith in Jesus Christ that deeply affected my father through the rest of the trip, into the Magic Kingdom, and back again to the East Coast. My father read, studied and prayed to see if what this man had told him was true. And then he shared his belief with us. And then our Father in Heaven, or God, provided answers.
Dad learned that the purpose of life is to have joy. Really? Then why are so many people joy-less? Maybe joy means more than having fun. Job understood that joy is more than fun! Peter and the other apostles of the New Testament had joy, but they also suffered much. We are here on earth to be tested, to grow, and to live by truth.
Dad also learned that God’s work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Our Father in Heaven’s whole purpose and plan is for us. Isn’t that great?! Isn’t that the opposite of most earthly ventures? He loves us. He is our Father. No matter what kind of family we have now, He is letting us know that He is our Heavenly Father and that He wants us to return to Him. And it can be a very happy reunion. Great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers, distant cousins and other family that we have never met can be united with us in an eternal chain of family happiness. Dad learned these things as he studied, then I learned them. I learned to love my relatives even more deeply. I look forward to that day when I can be reunited with them. And I learned to deeply love the author of eternal life, Jesus Christ.
Losing one parent is sad. But when both parents are gone you can feel adrift, even rudderless. So, yes, I was upset that I missed seeing my father by 24 hours. But I learned years ago that God has a plan of happiness for us. Yes, it includes death. And yes, it includes eternal life if we so choose.
Dad taught me that there is someone that loved me even more than he did: Jesus Christ. Because of Him, I can be with loved ones again one day. And this I know for myself: Jesus loves us and wants us to live with Him and with our families forever. No one can feel rudderless with that kind of love.