Five Years

At 8:32 a.m., on October 11, 2015, a slow Sunday morning at our home in Tennessee, my iPhone rang. The screen read LIBBY CHINN, our daughter-in-law.

         When I answered, I only heard an anguished moan. No discernable words or syllables. But I knew. Just as crowd sounds tell PGA tour golfers where their ball lies on the green, I knew Libby’s husband, our son Paul, was dead. Nothing else would have produced that sound.

         “We’re on the way.”

         As we drove the two miles, I called our closest friends, Glen and Roberta Roachelle. I do not remember any other words spoken during the short drive. Something in the simple severity of the moment made words inoperable and inappropriate.

         When we rounded the corner to Paul and Libby’s home, the police cars and an EMT vehicle confirmed what we knew. As we walked across the yard in the cool autumn air, a Sheriff’s deputy walked out the front door.

         I said, “We’re Paul’s parents. Is he dead?”

         “Yes.”

         The impeccable word. I needed clarity; no agency-speak, no “I regret to inform you…” With that word, solid ground formed under my feet.

         We went on into the house to our sweet and broken Libby. Soon, David Roachelle, a local law enforcement officer and one of Paul’s oldest and closest friends, arrived. Moments later, David’s parents, Glen and Roberta, walked in. They brought strength and love like the tide.

         I stepped outside to call our other two children, Eddie in Atlanta, and Amy, who lived nearby. Then I called my brothers; Vernon and Carl loved Paul like their own kids. In each call, I knew where the ball landed.

Message from Home

But I remember the day more for what happened a few hours later.

         After lunch, I went to my office to plan a funeral. As I worked, my cell phone beeped a new email. At 1:51 pm, I glanced at the screen to see PAUL HAS ARRIVED HOME. I froze in silent wonder.

         O, my great Lord, You are right here, as near as breath and heartbeat.

         The technology behind a location tracker app partially, but not fully, explains the message delivery. But the larger and inescapable truth was that God, the Eternal Father, the thoughtful Parent, let us know Paul got home just fine. That remains the most cherished message of my life.

         Five years later, I see more; I don’t see everything. And I don’t claim what I do see is right. You, especially if you’ve lost a child, may see further and better. But I do understand some things I didn’t fully realize earlier:

  1. Life never belongs to us. It comes as a force, a gift, from its Creator. It enters our space in the form of a spouse, child, friend, or—come on—a pet. Although that life may complement ours, we cannot own it any more than we can possess a hurricane or the northern lights.

  2. Just as Paul’s arrival in our lives was timely and blessed, so was his exit. His death was painful, but not catastrophic. It conformed to the pattern of every life. Everyone dies; it never comes at a good time.

  3. No life gets cut short. At 43, Paul’s heart attack didn’t steal anything; he had filled his days on earth. It was time to move on.

  4. Grief is proper. Until it isn’t. There’s “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) Each is appropriate in its time. And each becomes harsh and immoderate when that time has passed.

  5. By placing one foot in front of the other, the road yields. It reclines. The climb gets easier. Civilization couldn’t continue if it didn’t.

  6. Paul came from his true Father and simply passed through our lives on his great circle back to God. His life didn’t end; he just moved on out to a longer, higher, and richer orbit.

The Higher View

Finally, I’ve learned that everything reflects the glory of God. All miles and moments. Every win, every gain. Each loss and pain. In His Hands, they all—in equal measure—become gates to the high and wild country.

         Scientists say the universe stretches 47 billion light years in diameter and holds ten trillion galaxies. So, do you think the One Who created and sustains all that might hold something more resplendent for each life than just giving us a comfortable, painless, and self-designed existence during our brief time on earth?

From where he now sits, I can almost hear Paul answer that.

19 thoughts on “Five Years”

  1. Ed, as you have read in my memoir, my cherished aunt answered the telephone when we received the grim message of my father’s early homegoing at age 35. Her simple words, “Children, your father is dead” brought an explosion of the only world I knew. But, then, her question to my mother, “Flora, was he right with God?”

    It was her response to this one-sided conversation I was overhearing that would, in time, bring the comfort I needed to move forward in my 12-year-old life, “Oh, thank God!” “Dead” plummeted me into a pit of quicksand; “O thank God” brought me back to solid ground. Grief in various stages would go on another 37 years, but finally the joy of the morning would return.

    Thank you for sharing this gripping message of hope with us.

    1. Thanks, Beverly. That’s a good summary of our whole lives, from the despair of “Dead” to the higher “Thank God.” It sweeps from Ephesians 2:1 to verse 4…”you were dead…But God…”

  2. I remember that morning, 5 years ago as though it was yesterday. It was a difficult day for so many of us.

    Isaiah spoke about the Lord sending His Word to accomplish a purpose. I think I can say that our Lord gave Paul to us for a sweet purpose before Paul returned to our Lord, the Giver of all good things.

    As God spoke through Isaiah:

    “Just as rain and snow descend from the skies and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth, doing their work of making things grow and blossom, producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry, so will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They’ll do the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.”

    The Lord sent Paul to bless so many of us and to enhance our lives. His vibrance and stimulating humor watered so many dry souls. From how God breathed though him to so many, things grew that wouldn’t have otherwise. Paul “seeded” soil in the gardens of people’s lives in so many places. And when the purpose for which God first sent him was finished, Paul returned to our Father, and Creator of all things. We have to assume his journey accomplished what he came to do.

    Because of all that, we can go on with more joy because of Paul’s visit. So we must now offer thanks, instead of sorrow, to our Lord for how Paul blessed our lives.

    Thank you, Lord, for bringing Paul into all our lives.

    1. You brought so much to us that day, Glen. And you bring so much here. Thank you for your rich and upward-call-of-God perspectives. And I appreciate the view of things that are different because of Paul.

  3. Wow Ed. As usual this was rich and seasoned. I read it to Deana. It hit us both just where it needed to — with good truth and sound perspective. It was from you that I first heard of men who could go through the fire without the smell of smoke. You have modeled that before me through life many times, none of which are as profound as this time. I am honored to be your little brother.

    1. Thanks, Carl. I have always appreciated the way both my brothers have loved our kids. And those kids sure love/loved you and Vernon.

  4. This really touched me deeply. I’ve had my share of losses in this life. I love the idea of “the full circle.” God is the Father who creates us and takes us back to Himself. Love you Ed!!!

    1. Thanks, Joel. Yes, I love John 13: 3…”Jesus, knowing…He had come forth from God, and was going back to God, rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel…began to wash the disciples’ feet…”

  5. Thanks for sharing this very personal message. You have us something that all of us will need at sometime or another. Your strength and resolve in this situation is exactly what I want when the time comes. Bless you Ed.

  6. Ed,
    That is a beautiful tribute to your son and to the Lord. I wept as I read your memories of that day. There is no substitute for a word from God. It sets us free from the weight of grief that is too heavy for us.

    1. Thank you, John. Your own journey gives greater weight to your words. And I so agree about freedom in the midst of grief.

  7. My goodness, how moving Ed. I was sitting on a mountain side watching a bull elk, when I got the call. My life has not been the same. While I cannot know the hole he left in his parent’s, brother’s, and sister’s life, I know the hole he left in mine! Goodness I miss him and am so blessed for the time the Lord shared him with us! Love you all.

  8. Thank you Ed for this piece about Paul. It brings to mind for me the important people in my life that have passed on, and what I’ve learned in the process about grief, and cherishing loved ones while they are here.
    Your writing is eloquent and insightful as always.
    Casey

    1. Yes. You and I have known some great people. And that reminds me of Tennyson’s line, “I am a part of all that I have met.” Thanks, Casey.

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