My anger seemed to rise with each dig of the shovel. How could people be so rude and selfish? The tree was clearly marked as sold and as such was visibly off limits to other customers. I had received a call a few days earlier telling me the tree I had picked out could not be found for delivery, but I felt sure when I described where it was they would find it and my tree would be waiting for me to plant in a few days. Not so.
Three weeks previously our family had been blessed with a cross-country vacation, the first we were all able to take together with both our sons in eight years. It was truly memorable and special to not only see the beautiful sights as we traversed our way from coast to coast, but the time spent together was a gift I’ll treasure forever.
Upon returning home, however, I found myself faced with a different journey of sorts, the journey of slowly saying “goodbye” to my dad.
The nurses and staff on the hospital floor where my dad was could only be described as angels. Because he was a fall risk combined with a staffing shortage, my mother, my four siblings and myself were allowed to take turns sitting with my father around the clock…moments that were very special to each of us. The only negative was that his grandchildren and other visitors, with the exception of his pastor, were not allowed. There were a few times I was truly concerned that my sons and others would ever be able to see him this side of heaven again. That very real possiblility was almost unthinkable. Meanwhile, I treasured those moments with my dad, knowing these were some of our last, but also not fully able to comprehend that…how could I.
Before one of my scheduled hospital visits, I stopped by our local nursery to pick out a white pine tree. We had planted many evergreens, but now I wanted a white pine, and what a beautiful one I found. It was the largest available, but also had a beautiful large pinecone adorning the top of the tree, almost as if it were an ornament. I fell in love with it and couldn’t wait to have it home. It was paid for and tagged and pick-up or delivery could come later. I went on to the hospital where my full attention was now on my dad, the tree could wait.
As I sat with my dad during those two-plus weeks, he never ceased to amaze me. Though in pain and at times fearful over the very real struggle to breathe with end-stage COPD, he never lost his sense of humor, very quick wit, nor his concern for those around him or his extreme gratitude for those caring for him, whether staff or family. He would break out in songs of praise be it afternoon or 3 a.m. He was headed “home” and he was ready.
As one of my brothers stated, we could not have written a more perfect script. My dad received all the care the hospital could give to prevent further suffering, and then it was time to be transferred home where he would receive end-of-life care and be able to say his earthly goodbyes to the rest of the family. Specific prayers made were that he would not suffer, that he would be able to see others he loved, and that he would have the chance to meet his first great-granddaughter, as he had his first great-grandson earlier in the spring.
Each prayer we prayed was answered, as well as some we had not. God was indeed merciful.
Even when it looked as if he was too far gone to comprehend his great-granddaughter, he rallied to smile at her, hold her little foot and accept a kiss from her as his grandson proudly introduced them. It was the crowning moment of God’s goodness and faithfulness to us all.
The next day we surrounded his bed with songs and love and tearful goodbyes as he stepped from this life into the arms of his waiting Savior.
The tree was planted. Its trunk was crooked. It was at least a foot smaller than the original one I chose, and it was missing not only the beautiful ornamental pinecone, but any pinecone of any size. I was disappointed, angry and hurt. I had decided earlier that the tree I chose would serve as a living memorial to my dad….evergreen as eternal life, with that beautiful pinecone, signifying a new life begun. This other tree delivered fell far short, or had it?
After watering the newly planted tree, I fiddled around in my garden for a bit to simply be alone. At some point in those moments of solitude it hit me. This tree was indeed the perfect tree to honor my dad. I could almost hear my dad, who never held grudges and forgave willingly, urging me to not only forgive the person who took my initial tree but also to pray for them whenever I looked at this crooked little tree that was now ours to nurture. The crookedness at the base of the trunk straightened as it reached upwards, a touching reminder as well of my dad…he would be quick to tell others of his “crookedness” before his new life in Christ, but oh, the beautiful, upright trunk that followed as he reached out with all his heart and life towards the Son.
I will think of you, dad, whenever I look at our little, crooked/straightened pine tree and with gratitude remember the life lessons you taught.
Happy 90th birthday and Father’s day. You are greatly missed, but your legacy lives on.
Until I see you again,
with all my love
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12