“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)
Q: What do you get when you cross a banana peel with the beach?
A: A precious gift of memories of my father that comfort and warm my grieving heart in just the right way by tenderly reminding me that I am deeply loved and cared for by my Heavenly Father who knows my deepest needs.
This new year, 2020, had barely welcomed its very first dawn when I received a call from my brother telling me our father had passed away in his sleep only an hour or so earlier. Although we all knew his passing was on the horizon I don’t think any of us expected it quite so soon. After all, we had just had a family meeting with the hospital staff just the day before in which we discussed possible next steps as to how to proceed for his care over the coming days and weeks. We all also understood that his passing from this life into the next could possibly stretch out to months or perhaps even longer. He’d had a really good day two days before he passed and that certainly colored our thoughts with optimism and hope that perhaps his life here with us still held the promise of more time. It was only after his passing that something the doctor had told us in that family meeting the day before gained its rightful understanding and wisdom in our eyes. Simply put the doctor had told us it’s not at all unusual for people at the end of life to experience what is known as “the last hurrah.” And such was the case with my dad two days prior to his passing when he unexpectedly set up in bed, interacted with those around him, asked for some apple juice to drink, ate some Christmas pear, and followed it all up with a bowl of ice cream.
We live a 10 hours long car drive away from my parent’s home. We had just made the return trip home after having spent several days visiting friends and family over Christmas. Part of that time was spent with my mom and dad. After spending what would be graciously understood later in hindsight as my last hour or so with my dad…a “sweet parting” as my wife later called it…the day before his passing we had driven back home and only been in bed a few hours when we were awakened by my brother’s call on that New Year’s Day morning. That morning then became a fuzzy blur of tear filled telephone calls made to our own children, my dad’s grandchildren. Eventually the morning mercifully gave way to the afternoon and my wife suggested we go and take a walk on the beach. I resisted at first, but fortunately she persisted convincing me it would be good for both of us to “put our toes in the sand the first day of the new year especially with how it all began just a few hours earlier” as she described it. She gently reminded me that my dad would’ve loved going to the beach so off we went. We didn’t have to wait long to realize how right she was with that thought.
My dad, and my mom, loved the beach and everything about it. Each visit was an open ended invitation to adventure to their way of thinking. They began their new life together by spending their honeymoon along the beach at Gulf Shores. They visited the beach whenever and wherever possible afterwards. Later, they were transferred to Jamaica for a few years by the company my dad worked for which gave them access to beaches they’d only dreamed about visiting before. He loved snorkeling along the reefs off the northern shore which was only a relatively short drive from where they lived. Shell hunting while snorkeling was priceless treasure hunting as far as he was concerned. Indeed, even the rocks of the “rock beach” as they named it, were of great fascination and delight to them. Over time they collected hundreds of multi-colored rocks that were transported back to the states for a much anticipated later date with the rock tumbler/polisher. Fresh water lake beaches were sources of great exploration opportunities for my parents, too. Who knows what interesting shaped piece of driftwood awaited them just up ahead? Yes, the beach, any beach, was a heavenly adventure on earth as far as my dad, and my mom, was concerned.
Secondly, although it’s not anything seemingly related to the beach, I can’t begin to tell you how much my dad loved bananas. And not just to eat them either, although he did enjoy eating them, especially if they appeared as a banana split. I guess you could say he was obsessed with them to the point that anything having to do with bananas was always associated with him by our family and friends. Birthday cards were pretty much required to be of the “banana” variety of some sort. The last birthday card we sent him had two bananas on it that danced to music when you opened up the card. He loved it so much he shared it with their friends at the senior center where they lived. At the end of WWII he had a photo taken while overseas showing him eating a banana with the caption on the back simply reading, “Me eating a banana.” I can’t begin to tell you the number of times he serenaded our family with the “Chiquita Banana” song. We still all know that song by heart, by the way. “When they’re flecked with brown and have a golden hue, that’s when ‘nannies’ (his slang) are good for you!” he’d laughingly sing to us all. One of the longtime favorite toys in their grandkid’s toy box at their house is a harmonica shaped like a banana. So, to this day whenever any of us walk by the bananas in the produce section we automatically think of dad, or Paw, as the grandkids called him.
“Do you perceive mere coincidence, or do you discern the hand of God?” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His highest)
My wife and I had been walking along the beach on that New Year’s Day afternoon looking for shells for only a short time when she yelled at me to come quickly to see what she had found. Catching up to her she pointed down to her find, and, yes, there it was. Perhaps by now you may have guessed that what she was excitedly pointing to was a banana peel. The fact that it was mixed in amongst a collection of shells, my dad’s precious jewels, made it even more delightful. Although we’ve walked many a mile on the beach since moving to the area 7 years ago neither my wife nor I could think of another time we’ve come across a banana peel before so this was a definite first for us, and for our friends whom we have shared this story with as well. As you can no doubt imagine the timing of this latest treasure find could not have been any more poignant for us as we both stood there staring at the sight of the old banana peel mingled together with the shells along the water’s edge. We both spontaneously laughed out loud at the sight as tears of sadness gave way to tears of gratitude as we were lovingly embraced by the Lord’s great compassion, tenderness, and kindness towards us in this our time of heartache. Immediately our hearts felt warmer and our spirits were lifted as reassuring waves of memories of my dad enjoying earthly beaches combined with thoughts of him now delighting in heavenly beaches oh so gently caressed us.
“The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (NIV)
And indeed…He is…and does.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NIV)
The promise of His presence. Is there any greater hope than this?
Mercy Me, “I Can Only Imagine”, from the album “Almost There.”