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And Angels’ Arms Stretch Wide

October 6, 2011

I never met my grandfather.  It’s one of the only great losses I have endured in my life, and it happened before I was born.  Other people in my family have memories of him, real memories, and I only got to hear the stories.  I heard stories of his humor, quick wit, and tragic hair cut.  I heard medical stories from his life as a cardiologist, stories of how he used to swim across the lake at summer camp to meet my grandmother, and stories of him sailing his beloved boat.  I’ve clung onto my stories of him and guarded them tight.  I’ve collected them from my family, and on some rare occasions, from my grandfather’s friends.

Several summers ago, while I was in college, I was vacationing at my grandmother’s beach house.  For whatever reason, she begged me to walk a few doors down and meet her dear friend Bill.  Bill was my grandparents’ age, and used to be in practice with my granddad.  Our families were good friends, so I considered it an honor and privilege to meet this man who was so intimately connected to the grandfather I never got to know.

I remember walking into Bill’s house.  His lovely wife poured me ice tea.  We sat on the couch and I stared at Bill in his suspenders.  He had a cane next to him, and he wore big glasses.

“I hear you fear the Lord,” he said to me in a thick southern drawl.  He didn’t smile at me.  He stared into my eyes.  My reputation had preceded me, and I had no idea whether this was a good or a bad thing.

“You heard correct,” I responded.  I smiled and raised my eyebrows, as if to communicate my doubts through my facial features.  The room was quiet.  I could hear the condensation from my ice tea glass drip onto the table.  Bill just stared.

“Well praise be to the Lord!” he yelled, “you are an answer to my prayers!”  He stood up and hugged me.  Tight and close and securely.  He hugged me like we’d known each other for years, like we shared a kinship, like we were family.  Strangely enough, I hugged him back.  I wrapped my arms around him like I imagined I always would with my own grandfather.  I felt comfortable.  I felt loved.

I spent the afternoon talking with Bill about God and faith and mistakes and rebounds.  I talked with him about missions trips and the poor and caring for the least of these.  I laughed as he told me stories about my granddad and got quiet as he recounted the days of his illness.  Bill gave me a book to read and told me he’d follow up with me about it later.  I left his house grateful for having met this man who my grandfather had so clearly enjoyed.

Over the next few years, I would go on to see Bill a handful of times.  He always hugged me.  He always asked me questions.  He always seemed to remember points of my life I never would have expected him to recall.  One year he met my soon-to-be husband.  One year we finally discussed the book he had given me. One year he introduced me to his grandchildren.  One year, the last year I would see Bill, we sat and talked about Jim Elliot, and the hope that he found in his story as a missionary.  The last time I would see Bill, he was sitting on a chair on the porch talking medicine with my father.  The sun was setting and they were laughing.  I would see Bill smile before he went back to his own home for dinner.

Bill died a few days ago.  It’s funny how he made such an impact on me.  Bill was a man I rarely saw in person, but always felt I knew so intimately.  I will miss him, but I will rejoice in his finally finding peace.

Sometimes I close my eyes and picture heaven.  Sometimes I hold onto images of stunning white and shimmering gold and a God so beautiful that I ache to consider him.  But sometimes I see people.  Sometimes there are figures and forms and familiar faces that stand waiting for our arrival.  They are singing when I see them, singing praises to God most high, but they are waiting for all of us.  The heavenly hosts wait for friends, for loved ones, for family.  They stretch out their hands as the newcomers make their way inside God’s Holy Place.  They hold out a palm, grasp finger tip to finger tip with long lost friends, and lift them up into a world of inexplicable grace and gentility and truth.

I close my eyes and see my grandfather.  I see his hand reaching out, his hand stretched wide.  It’s open and waiting and welcoming.  He waits for his friend Bill.  He is happy to welcome him.  The two link hands as if no time has passed at all.  They are reunited.  And the two friends go forward together, completely lost in the abundance of all that is beautiful and magical and whole and pure.  They go forward together, talking and laughing, until their voices become song.

If I’m quiet, I think I can hear the angels singing.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark Holland permalink
    October 13, 2011 9:35 pm

    My brother Gary and I very much enjoyed your blog; we were very touched by your recollections of our Dad. We were both blessed to know your Grandfather. Thank you.

    God Bless, Mark

    • November 3, 2011 8:45 pm

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment Mark. It means more than you know. Your dad will be missed by so many, and yet, he is Home. I’m grateful for that peace, and am keeping you all in my prayers.

  2. October 14, 2011 7:24 am

    Your dad, my golfing buddy, shared this with me. Very touching. You are quite the writer! Keep it up, and give glory to God!

    • November 3, 2011 8:46 pm

      Thank you so much for stopping by, John! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment, and also glad you’re keeping my dad company on the golf course. Blessings to you as you serve and minister to others.

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