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Childhood reflections with a touch of grace: What happens when darkness falls

On Wednesday morning, Sep. 4, 1974, I decided to make an omelet for breakfast. My dad made some pretty good ones and I wanted to try my hand at them. I worked diligently to reproduce his masterpiece, though mine seemed a bit flat.

One look at my plate was all it took for my dad to say, "I think you left out the milk!" He was right. After some more culinary teasing, I was off to school, without a care in the world. I had no idea that this would be my final conversation with my father.

Everyone was acting peculiar when I got home from school, so I took a walk with a friend. Before leaving, I got word that Dad had gotten hurt at work, but they weren't going to operate on him. I took this as a good sign. At 12 years of age, I was certain that operations were only for the desperately ill or folks like me, who went in for unsuccessful repair jobs. (I had a heel cord extension that forgot to extend).

As I was walking with my friend, he kept repeating, "I hope your dad is okay." Apparently, he didn't get the memo about the "no surgery" thing. Then, I looked up just in time see my brother's little yellow Honda approaching a red light across the street. My brother was a student at Florida State University and he never came home on weekdays. No one else had a car as small as his, so it had to be him.

Not being the greatest at math, I still did not add two plus two sufficiently to get to four. When I returned home, the little yellow Honda and an unusually somber brother awaited me. He must have drawn the short straw and was awarded the task of telling me that there would be no more omelet lessons in my future. Those weren't his exact words, but I got the message. It seems a rattlesnake showed up where Dad was working on a barn. He borrowed a shotgun from the sweet old lady that he was helping. He failed to give the gun a safety check, so he never noticed that the barrel of the gun was obstructed with a dirt dobber's nest.

My other brother drew an even shorter straw. He had the job of retrieving my dad's truck from where the shotgun had backfired, sending a piece of metal into his brain. My dad had just enough time to say, "What happened?" Those words and that question have been a part of me ever since.

I'm no doctor, but I'm certain the canvas of blood that covered the ground from which the rattlesnake safely made his exit was not a pretty picture. I always wondered if my dad's blood got to cry out for justice like Abel's did after Cain killed him.

While the ground was busy absorbing the remnants of my father's life, mine seemed to be draining into a similar abyss. I spent the next several days staring at nothing and I developed the optimism of Edgar Allen Poe or Woody Allen. The book of Ecclesiastes was suddenly an incredibly optimistic book.

Yet, even when God seems to have relocated without leaving a forwarding address, He is always working. This, my darkest night, brought the greatest light one can hope for. One of the days just after my dad's funeral, I was moping around on my bed and petting a most comforting cat. Out of nowhere, my heart resounded with the words, "You can get up. He's okay, because I got him." I cannot begin to describe the depth of agony that had befriended me before hearing those words.

The neat thing about when God speaks is that creative power is released with every syllable that leaves His lips. My despair gradually lifted with the realization that God knew my address and His phone line was open. It seems the ground didn't get the last word on my father's life, because God knew what happened and was present on the scene, ready to triumph where mortals cannot tread. I have known people who live their whole lives without recognizing the voice of God and that is the worst death of all.

We were made for communication and communion with God, even when our circumstances suck. He reveals Himself with every word to be life and not just a weekly visitor or an important but impersonal moral lesson. Again, I hear the disciple's wisdom: "You, alone, have the words of live. Where else can we go?"

I've had my share of bitterness find it's poisonous path into my thoughts over the years. Without fail, hearing God's voice has been the only remedy and restoration for its ills. Nothing withstands a conversation with the King. Everything is changed because of it. No matter the depths of hell that you may endure, joy will come in the morning and it will come at the sound of His voice, because He still makes all things new. So, be listening. It may be your turn to get up and move on, because He has got you, too.

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