Last Saturday we had breakfast.
I wondered if it were possible that he was getting younger. My Pa, nearing 90-years-old, was all smiles, loving on his waffle.
We caught up on life, laughed. He joked about how restaurant syrup containers are dangerous because they will always get you gooey.
On Sunday he was dressed in his finest. I had bought a new dress. My place of honor was next to him in a church pew, where we sang to Jesus together. I wanted to remember everything. Sometimes you know the moments you need to cling to.
We journeyed home and my whole family gathered. I served him snacks. We sat and watched golf. I held his hand as we prayed for our Easter meal. I sat beside him as we ate, and I watched him laugh until he cried watching his great-grandson’s three-year-old antics. Surely he was getting younger. The cane was just a prop. I can’t recall when I’d seen him smile so much.
Five years prior, I was in California when I got a call from my sister, I needed to come quick. Pa might not make it. With tears sprinkling my keyboard, I booked my flight to Texas. All I could think of is what I wanted to say – before I said good-bye. I had been on a journey of writing stories for my family. He couldn’t leave before he got his. I just hadn’t written it yet. And my flight was leaving the next day. I gathered myself in front of my computer and stared at the screen. What do I want to say? What do You want to say, Lord? What should be said at a time like this? And suddenly, all I could see was Pa, as a kid, playing jacks with God.
Destined thought he might as well sit on the floor and occupy himself while he waited. He pulled out of his pocket a small pouch filled with jacks. He scattered them on the hardwood floor. The floor chimed delicately as Destined bounced the ball.
Bounce. Scoop. Bounce. Scoop. Bounce.
“Scoop.” said Papa, swishing His hand down to grab up the jacks. Destined looked up at him with an amused grin.
“When’d you get here, Papa?”
“Sneaky, aren’t I?” Papa winked and playfully patted Destined’s arm.
“Yes, Papa. And I’ll have you know I was doing really well in that round of jacks before you showed up and stole my turn!”
Papa began to chuckle and the two playfully batted each other.
“I’m glad you came, Destined. It’s always good to spend time with you like this.” Papa lovingly stroked his little head.”
I walked into his hospital room in Texas with a mask and robe on. His skin was ashen. I imagined Death sitting in a chair by the wall, legs crossed, foot swinging, waiting for its chance to speak. Not yet. Ignoring its presumptions, I took a seat. He looked so weak. I don’t remember what I said, but I handed him the story, and watched him read it. His eyes teared, he said “Thank you.” And Legacy was placed on his side table.
“Did you forget to hang some pictures or something, Papa?” Destined kidded as he watched Papa meander around the room. It was obvious He was thinking about something, though Destined hadn’t the foggiest idea what.
“No,” Papa smiled, as he continued to walk around the room by the walls, “No, this room is quite perfect.” Papa finally stopped, looking up at one of the large blank walls surrounding the room.
“I have wanted to show you this room for a long time, Destined. I want you to see something very special.” Papa walked to the wall in front of Destined and placed his hands on it. Something was happening.
Over the course of the next few days, more and more family began to arrive at Pa’s bedside. Doctor’s seemed hopeful about his improving condition. Death began to look bored sitting in his room.
At first, Destined could not determine any purpose to this little game. Then, suddenly, something caught his eye. Destined began to see something at the very top of the wall. Names. And more names. Names began to fade in, as if an invisible artist was now at work on the giant blank canvas. As more and more names began to appear, Destined could see it was a chart of sorts. Names were spreading all around the room, creating a waterfall as they cascaded down the walls.
Wait, he knew what it was. The names multiplied, lines joining them, down, down…until he saw it. “Destined”. His own name. His name had appeared in the vast family tree now adorning the previously blank cream walls.
“My family tree?” Destined looked at Papa.
Papa nodded and smiled, His eyes beginning to tear. Papa placed His hands on the wall again and slowly dropped His head until His forehead kissed the family tree, “So beautiful.” He seemed to drink in the thought of this family.
His color returned to his face. Along with his smile. And his humor. Death had left the room.
Destined approached the wall, drawing near to his name. He saw the familiar names of those who came before and those who came after. He looked above and all around the room, overwhelmed with the sight of so many names. So many lives leading to his own. So many questions of those who had come before, and those who would come after. The magnitude of life, the abundance of family. It simply left him with a bewildered look offered to Papa.
With Pa on the miraculous mend, I ventured back to California. He was transferred to a rehab hospital, where the family would gather once again to celebrate Christmas with Pa.
Suddenly a name near the top of the wall began to glow again. Destined instinctively clung close to Papa.
Papa stroked his head as if to reassure him, this time he wouldn’t be so affected by what was about to happen. Destined could hear a voice. A voice that came from the glowing name. He could understand the words. It was a prayer. It was the sound of that person praying. As their prayer ended a glowing orb would form out of the glowing name and bounce to another name on the family tree. Then, a few more names began to glow, and Destined heard more prayers and the orbs flew through the room like shooting stars. Within moments the room was a chatter with prayers and shooting stars buzzing from one name to another, from one side of the room to the other, from the top to the bottom and back again.
“I hear their prayers, Destined, you see? But sometimes the answer comes to another in the family. Look.” Papa pointed down to Destined’s name. As Destined fixed his eyes he saw a barrage of glowing orbs hit his name, time and time again. They came from every which way around the room. And orbs were released from his name, and they bounced around and trickled down.
“It’s like a fireworks show, Papa.”
Papa smiled, “My favorite kind. I hear them all, Destined, every prayer. And I am not slow to answer as some consider slow. Rather, I am strategic, working on a canvas that expands through time. My son, your prayers have been greatly effective. You have put on quite a show there.” Papa patted Destined’s shoulder. Destined marveled at the sight of prayers being lifted up and answered throughout the generations.
This Easter Sunday, five years and lots of laughter and hugs later, Pa gave me a hug and told me he loved me. I told him I loved him and I’d see him later. I hugged him, and lingered. Sometimes you know when you need to linger. We waved good-bye, and my smiling, youthful Pa rode home.
Earlier that day he had mentioned how he always wanted to go to the Holy Land, but teared up as he added, but I probably won’t get to. I instantly thought of the incredible trip that would be – to go with him.
The next day I flew back to California, thankful for my family time. And a few nights later, Pa went to sleep.
Jesus woke him up, and took him home.
Perhaps He was too excited to show Pa the Promise Land.
Papa knelt down beside Destined and whispered in his ear, “Look, my child, beyond the names.” Destined at first wasn’t sure what Papa could mean, but as he gazed as best he could beyond the names, the names themselves began to blur and the walls became like a soft veil, and all he could see for miles and miles was a beautiful great expanse of hills and mountains and a pristine Kingdom nestled within them. He could see lights on all over the stunning buildings and the distinct aura of life.
“It’s what I’m building.” Papa whispered, “through these names.” Papa looked back at Destined to make sure he was following “I have drawn up my plans since before the beginning of time and I have hidden pieces of them here and there, throughout the hearts of men, throughout the ages. For we are all meant to be together. And someday we will be.”
Papa took Destined’s small hand and walked towards the veil to get a closer look. “You and your family, Destined, you are colaborers with me for this Kingdom, and someday it will be on earth as it is in heaven. This is the restoration of the promise. That the dwelling place of Papa would be with man. And all you have said, and done, and prayed I have used to this purpose. Clever, aren’t I?”
Destined looked up with a sly grin, “Yes, Papa, very clever.” they exchanged smiles and a lighthearted laugh.
“Each of you are building a legacy, passing down tools of the trade, that the Kingdom would expand. And we are getting closer, Destined. I long for it. “
“Me too.” Destined finally said trying to take it all in.
“Thank you for loving Me, Destined. Thank you for trusting Me.” Papa turned to Destined and hugged him. Destined embraced Papa, filled with the thoughts of legacy and purpose Papa had interwoven through the ages, which had finally trickled down to him. What a joy to partner with Papa, what a privilege to be His own.
Pa with great-grandsons Simon and Noah. Easter Sunday, 2014.
Love you Paw. Miss you dearly. Oh, how precious the legacy.
Excerpts taken from the short story, Legacy, from The Invitation,