Tag Archives: Heaven

The Phone Call I Never Wanted

Oh Glenys… this is the phone call you never wanted.

I hear the tremor in my brother’s voice. He’s 4000 long miles away, and I say a prayer in my head.

God, whatever this is, give me strength.

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Dad is dying. 

I can hear those three words like it was yesterday. My heart is beating fast and I kneel by my front window like I always do when I don’t know what else to do.

That was one year ago today.

My little grandsons are running around the house. There’s Christmas music playing. I’m setting the table with a cheery red cloth, preparing for a party. And then the next day, I’m on a plane, England bound, where I get to kiss my dad for the last time as he lies with his eyes closed and his hands folded in that quiet, quiet room, with a stuffed dog at his feet and an acorn tucked in his pocket.

Please, God, let me know you are real.

Let my dad be living in heaven.

Let my faith not be in vain.

Let my words, let my words that I write for children, be true.

Because sometimes, just sometimes, there’s this little nagging doubt that creeps up inside me and I wonder what life is all about, and if I really will get to see my dad again, like I told him with absolute certainty on my knees that day in front of my window.

I love you Dad, and I WILL see you again.

I could hear his breathing.

My voice was strong, and in that moment, I was convinced, just like Paul, that NOTHING, not even death itself, can ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But today, I’m not strong. I’m not convinced. And I’m trying hard to hold on to my faith, my God, like I’m drowning in the ocean and it’s my only life-line, my only hope and it’s slipping fast through my fingers.

But what is faith? What is hope, the writer of Romans said, if it can be seen?

The day after I kissed my dad goodbye, as he lay in that simple wooden box, I stood in the street just a few doors down the road, while my sister and nieces played Christmas carols in the brass band. The icy wind blew my sister’s hair, and the rain in Wigan was cold. I wondered if my dad could hear them play his favorite carol, as he lay there, all alone.

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

I know my dad has been raised. I know my dad has gained that second birth. I just miss him terribly, and there’s this big, empty hole in my heart that no one can fill.

And so as my family gather in England today to celebrate and remember the life of the most Christ-like man I have ever known, the one I was utterly, utterly privileged to call Dad, I will take a walk in these Michigan wintry woods, and I’ll admire the splendid trees, all covered in soft snow, and I’ll listen for the birds he loved so much, and I’ll thank God that my dad, my wonderful dad, is in heaven.

I Wish You Knew. (A Tribute to My Mum)

Her name was Isabella. She hated it, and preferred to be called Isabel. But she hated that too. She thought it old-fashioned.

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I wish she knew now how popular that sweet name is, and how, when I meet that little girl called Bella, she always makes me think of her. But there’s a lot I wish she knew now.

I wish she knew that I married David, whom she adored.

I wish she knew that he became a pastor…how surprised and thrilled she would have been!

I wish she knew that I had four wonderful sons, that my family has grown to welcome three daughters-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren.

I wish she knew that I went into teaching, and eventually became a children’s book author.

Because it’s really due to her.

Those who know me well would never, ever believe that I was a naughty girl at school. But I was. My poor parents were constantly hauled into the headmaster’s office, as he tried to rein in my unruly behavior.

I remember one of those occasions more than most.

I’m sitting in his office, while he glowers at me from behind his big important desk. His black gown is as dark as his mood. I’m sure I deserve to be there. I probably deserve to be shouted at too, but I can’t remember what I’ve done. Perhaps I got caught smoking again, or perhaps it was the time when I nicked someone’s bike from the bike shed and rode off down the road with my best friend. But we had only sneaked away from boring science class to get some fish and chips… what’s wrong with that?

Whatever it was, I’m upset. And that’s unusual too… because I’m a bit of a rebel, and I have a hard exterior. But the headmaster in the black cloak has no hope at all for my future; in fact, he thinks I’m heading for failure.

And perhaps I was.

But that’s when I hear Mum come to my defense. To be honest, I can’t remember her exact words, but they went something like this:

But did you know, Mr Ellis, that she is SO very good and patient with children? I wish you could see Glenys at home. She takes her little niece, stands her on a chair, and they bake dozens of wonderful fairy cakes together. They line them all up on the kitchen table, and fill them with custard and jam. Glenys is so good with her! I just know she’s meant to work with children.

Mum didn’t know that she had just sowed a seed in my heart, that I would one day become a teacher, and out of that, my love for writing for children would grow.

She didn’t know because she took her last breath the day I sat my final exam at college. She never saw me wear the cap and gown, or pick up the pen to write Love Letters from God.

Mum has been walking those gold-paved streets for thirty-five long years. This month, I will turn fifty-seven, the age she was when that cruel illness stole her from us.

I wish she knew how thankful I am, what a privilege it was to be raised in that wonderful home, a place full of laughter, and busyness, and song.

A place where a hard-working lady called Isabel did her best to raise eight children, and saw the good in them when others couldn’t.

I wish she knew.

That Quiet Cave…

Jesus was dead.

Joseph and Nicodemus were sad. They carefully took his body down from the cross. They cleaned him. They made him smell nice. They wrapped his body in strips of white linen and carried him to a quiet cave on the hillside. They laid Jesus down inside the cave. Then they said goodbye. And before they left, they rolled a big stone over the entrance.

Jesus was dead.

Outside the cave, two guards kept watch. The big heavy stone was sealed in place. Around the cave, leaves fluttered silently in the wind. Above the cave, the skies were gray. Rain fell softly from heaven and pitter-pattered on the hillside. And for three whole days, all was still.

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But inside that quiet cave something was happening.

God was working.

God was doing a new thing.

If you tried to peep inside, you couldn’t see anything. No eye could see it.

If you stood outside and put your ear to the big stone, you couldn’t hear anything. No ear could hear it.

If you tried to imagine what was happening, you couldn’t. No mind could imagine it.

But inside, God was doing something new—something utterly amazing. Something only God could do.

Jesus waited.

And the world held its breath and waited with him.

No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, Never so much as imagined anything quite like it— What God has arranged for those who love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9

My Dad’s Battered Bible

This is my dad’s Bible.

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The cover is not patterned, as my son first thought, and it’s definitely not pretty. The leather is terribly cracked, and wrinkled, and dry –  so much so that the words ‘Holy Bible’ are almost obscured.

I don’t know how long my dad owned this 1957 King James edition, or where he got it from, but I do know that he read it every day, that his hands turned the well-worn pages, that this was the most important book he ever owned.

As a Methodist local preacher, my dad preached every single Sunday, and like a faithful companion, this battered Bible accompanied him. It must have traveled for miles.

Whether lying on the front seat of his car, being carried under his arm as he walked, or riding in the panniers of his bicycle as he rode to his appointments, this book was at his side. It was, for my dad, the only text from which to preach.

As a young girl, I can remember coming downstairs early in the morning to find him sitting at the kitchen table, his head pored over this book.

This is a great text, Glenys. I just need three good points to preach on, he would say.

I don’t know how many pulpits my dad climbed, how many sermons he preached, or how many lives were changed because of his words, but I know mine was.

I found his bookmark, tucked, appropriately, in Romans 8:28towards the end of the New Testament. My four-year old grandson, when he saw it, said, in his wonderful, innocent way,

Oh Grandma, your dad nearly got to the end of his book. You’ll have to finish it for him.

There’s nothing I can do to finish what my dad began. But I can carry it on.

I can continue what he started, what he pursued so passionately in life. I can spread the Gospel – from the pulpit, or the page. I can try to put others before myself, be in love with the splendid world God made, always look for the good in everything, and live like Jesus lives in me. Because that’s what Dad did.

I hope I’ve inherited more from my dad than his Bible.

My dad died as he had lived – quietly, and humbly. He left this world like a whisper, without any fuss, or ceremony, or great reproach.

And it’s really no wonder that the heavens literally opened as we lowered him into the grave.

They were opening to let a great man step in.

The Last Time I Saw my Dad…

The last time I saw my dad he was sitting under a magnolia tree.

It was the last time we would smile for the camera together; the last time we would laugh together; the last time we would sing hymns together under its leafy shade. But I didn’t know it then.

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It’s a splendid tree, this love, he said, with that wonderful twinkle in his eye that characterized my dad so perfectly. Just look at it! It’s really at its best. 

It wasn’t quite the truth. I knew it, and he knew it. The tree’s best days were certainly behind it. The tell-tale carpet of pink blossoms on the ground beneath our feet gave it away. But my dad was always one to look up, never to look down. It was the reason he saw the best in everything and everyone.

And so we smiled, and nodded together, and admired the splendid tree.

Now then, said my dad, as he looked up into its leafy boughs. Is that Mr Blackbird? He’s always here love, and he’s always singing. Well then, give us a tune.

And Mr Blackbird did. Perched high up on the branch as it swayed in the wind, the blackbird opened his beak and sang at the top of his voice. It was a beautiful tune, shrill and clear, a morning song that carried on the breeze and brought sunshine to the grey skies overhead.

My dad chuckled.

What about this one then? he asked, as he pursed his lips together and began to whistle a tune. The blackbird cocked his head to one side and listened. We waited. And sure enough, there came the obligatory reply. And so it went on: my dad whistling a tune and the blackbird copying.

That was in May, before summer gave way to fall, and autumn gave way to winter.

And on a December afternoon, I found myself kneeling at my front window, saying good-bye to my dad.

Dad, it’s Glenys, I say, very deliberately and very slowly. It’s really important to me that my dad hear these words.

I have something very important to tell you. I can hear his breathing.

I love you Dad. And I WILL see you again. 

I can’t bring myself to say the word goodbye, and so I don’t. I save it for the moment I see him again, lying very still, and peaceful, and quiet.

I slip an acorn into his pocket as he’s lying there and kiss his head.

And on the morning of his funeral, I’m in front of the mirror, getting ready, when I hear something right outside my window. It’s a blackbird, perched high in the treetops, swaying back and forth in the wind, and singing for all it’s worth.

It’s so very loud. And it’s so very lovely. You’d never guess it was singing in the rain that morning, or that the sky above was so grey.

It’s just singing for all it’s worth, that little blackbird…

singing its song for a man who truly taught me how to live, whose legacy of love will last forever, who saw the best in everything, who sat with me under a splendid magnolia tree in May as blossoms of pink covered the ground.

Why We Should Look Up at the Stars

Picture the scene….

It’s night-time. A young boy is lying on his back in the fields, staring up into the darkness. Electricity hasn’t been invented yet, so the light display above his head is nothing less than spectacular. He gazes at a million twinkling stars. Some are huge, some are tiny. They make patterns against black, and the boy traces them with his finger. An enormous, white, round moon shines down. The boy squints and tries to make out the images he can see on its mysterious surface.

This is how the boy falls to sleep…it’s the same ritual for David night after night. It’s what caused him to ask the universal human question Who am I? It’s what would prompt him to pen these words:

When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them? Psalm 8

And think about it… a tiny boy, under a myriad of stars, and the vastness in between. Wouldn’t you be prompted to ask that question too?

Who am I?

But the trouble is, I don’t fall asleep under the stars. I fall asleep in front of the TV. I don’t have time to contemplate the mysteries of mankind or the greatness of God, because I’m too busy contemplating the Christmas catalogs or the cyber specials.

But if I did have time, perhaps I’d find that I’m far from insignificant. As small as I am in the grand scheme of things, maybe I am part of something bigger… a tiny thread in a complex tapestry; a thin, invisible brush stroke on a colossal canvas; one inaudible note in a grand symphony; one single letter in God’s autobiography.

Maybe you are too.

And so I keep looking up, like David did long ago, like the magi who came from the east or the shepherds of Bethlehem. Because it’s always when we look up that we are led to God; that we realize how a far-away star can somehow connect us to the One who made it…

despite the vastness, or the darkness, or the emptiness in between.

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What Happened When the Angels Came for Iris

You just never know when or how this one beautiful life may end.

It was summer… a warm, lazy, ordinary day, when my husband called with the news. Would I like to go with him? One of our wonderful church members, a lady we all loved, was lying unexpectedly in a hospital bed. They would soon turn off life support.

Would I like to go with him? I wasn’t sure. I was afraid. But I said yes.

No one met Iris without falling in love with her. Unique, bubbly, funny, compassionate, thoughtful. A lady with a great sense of style, humor, and a heart full of love. She was special.

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Iris lay quietly in the bed. We gathered around her and held hands as David prayed. I didn’t know what would happen next. So I sat next to her husband and held his hand…because what else could I do?

It was then that they drew the curtain back and came in. Two ladies – quiet, unassuming, carrying fold-up chairs and harps.

Would you like some comfort in here? They said.

Who doesn’t need comfort at a time like this?

And as the nurses quietly began their work, those ladies began to sing and play.

Peace around you; Peace upon you; Peace above you; Peace beneath you.

It’s hard to describe what happened next.

The whole room filled with the sweet sound of their music, and a peace that I have truly never felt before. And although we all watched as the monitor screen went blank, and although we all saw the soft rise and fall of her last breath, it was as if the song of the harpists summoned in the very angels of heaven, who flew down, lifted our sweet Iris gently in their arms, and winged her safely home. I could almost hear the beat of their silvery wings as they soared upwards with her soul.

And if I didn’t believe in heaven before that day, I would have to believe in it now.

Iris left this earth. Iris left us. But she lives, she laughs, she loves, somewhere else, somewhere where angels gather, waiting on hovering wings, waiting to take us home.