Blessing Between the Check-Out Line & Parking Lot

He was sitting in a wheelchair, people-watching from the front corner of the grocery store’s entry way. I was thinking only of the tasks ahead of me in the afternoon…getting Kailey and the groceries into the car, remembering when to pick up the boys from their after-school activities, getting dinner ready…little to-do items raced their relay-races around my brain. I smiled at him as we neared the door, reaching for sunglasses from the depths of my bag.

He waved at me. “Can you come here?” he asked.

I nodded, pulling the cart out of the way of other people. “Yes, sir?” I asked, wondering what he needed…wondering if he was here with anyone…wondering if Kailey would or would not make a huge mess with the lollipop I’d bought her if I let her have it in the car.

“Can you tell me if today is the twenty-fifth?”

I had to think about it. “Yes, it is,” I answered. “Tuesday, the twenty-fifth.”

He pulled his glasses off. “I’m having surgery on the twenty-seventh. Getting my eye-lids fixed.” He pointed at his eye. “This one has the lashes growing inward now. Real painful on my eye.” His wrinkled hands shook as he put the glasses on again.

“Sounds like it,” I said. Kailey suddenly spotted the lollipop in a bag and managed an acrobatic twist in her seat to reach it, pouting when I grabbed it from her hands. “I hope the surgery goes well and they get you all fixed up.” I wanted him to know that I meant the well-wishing, so I added – “My kids and I will say a prayer for you tonight.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I should see better after it.” He went on. “You know, my wife died last year, two days before Christmas.” His voice quavered. “Nobody could do anything to make me feel any better. No way I could enjoy anything about that Christmas. I loved that woman with all my heart.”

Grief was visible on his face. Letting go of my pre-planned minutes, I pulled the cart a little closer to his corner. I unwrapped Kailey’s candy and handed it to her. “I am so sorry,” I said, feeling – as usual – the total inadequacy of language in a moment like that.

“We were married for fifty-five years. Met her when I was twenty-four. Only went together for three weeks before I proposed. I knew I wanted that woman for my wife. When I told her so, she said I was crazy. Said her daddy would never agree. But she said if he did, she’d be my wife. So I told her I’d take care of him and I did. Called him right up and told him I wanted to marry Beulah.”

I smiled, thinking of that scene.

“What did he say?” I asked.

“Oh, I said he had two options. He could agree and sign the papers, ‘cause she was still seventeen, or I’d have to run off with her. ‘Cause I wanted to marry her. So he said he’d do the signing.”

He went on to tell me how one week later, his mother took Beulah shopping for a wedding dress.  She was so pretty, he explained, his parents were happy for him to marry her.  The preacher, too, was just fine with doing a quick ceremony.  So, after only four weeks of courtship, they were married. “And I’ve loved her ever since,” he said. “I tell you, I loved that woman as much as a man can love a woman. I tell you, I loved her.”

The passion in his words made my heart ache. It was clear that this woman had meant the world to him.  “She was blessed to be loved like that,” I said. “I’m sure you made her so happy.”

“She made me happy, too. We loved each other. Fifty-five years, we loved each other. We loved our children. Had a good home together.” He paused, looked around. “I miss her so much. You can’t understand how deep it hurts. I loved her for fifty-five years. I still love her. You can’t just turn it off.”

The raw emotion in his voice brought tears to my eyes. I looked over at Kailey, happily eating her candy, and back at him. I tried to think of a way to offer him comfort.

Then he spoke again and his voice was strong this time. “But I do know where she is,” he said. “And I plan on meeting her there one day.”

Oh, for we do not grieve as those who have no hope…my heart filled with gratitude to have such a promise…that I didn’t have to come up with some encouragement that would only feel empty, because he already had true comfort in a Savior who does not end our stories in despair.

“And when you meet her there,” I said, “you’ll never have to leave her again.”

His face crumpled – probably, so did mine – his voice was shaking but full of joy when he spoke again. “You’re right,” he said. “That’s right. And I’m going to love her there just like I loved her here.”

And I felt astounded, standing there in the presence of this faithful husband, this man who so loved his wife on this earth that eternity, to him, meant more time to cherish her.

Kailey was content (by content, I mean thrilled) with her sugar-treat, so we kept talking. He asked about my family. He told Kailey how pretty she was. He was pleased to hear that I had two sons and ten years of marriage behind me. “You can make it,” he told me. “The important thing is to keep loving.”

“People don’t love each other like they used to,” he said. He was adamant about this, sitting forward in his chair and raising his voice a few notches. “People just don’t love each other like they should.”

He sat back and told me another story about Beulah and the way she spoke up when another young woman tried to pull a loose string from his shirt-sleeve at a prayer meeting. He chuckled. “She did not want that girl to touch me. She made sure to pull that string herself.” He grinned and I could see his delight in a wife who protected him, who wanted him only for herself. “Oh, I loved that woman. I mean I loved her.”

He talked about the daughters and the son he cherishes. I heard about his granddaughters and their husbands. I heard about a good friend and a church-home. I heard about the times he would go out and visit rest homes as a young man, singing while his nephew shared the gospel. Again and again, he declared his unrivaled love for Beulah.

Beneath the words, I heard the meaning and the blessing of his life — his relationships.

At first, I admit that I felt a little pleased with myself for stopping, for taking time out of the day to listen to his story. But by the end of the conversation, I only felt honored. I felt blessed to have been beckoned over…because he sat there, this gentleman with such a story to share, and I could have missed it. I could have missed hearing from someone who has gone before me, shaking down life until what remains is all that matters.

Love.

Love and trust in the Giver of those good and perfect gifts..faith in the Author who is with us through our stories from beginning through the forever that we can’t yet see…

These words of Thessalonians — But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus — yes, these are words that I have heard so many times…but I could see these words clearly in his face. The missing and the mourning. The hope and anticipation. The yearning for a better place, a better day. One without end…the day of no more goodbyes.

I felt the power of a love that does not have an ending, a love that crosses the boundary of time. I felt the power of such paradox – a heart that can at once hold joy over what has been while mourning separation…and over the depths of both, the unspeakable wonder of the Some-Day that will bring reunion…the Some-Day that will bring wholeness to every broken place.

I shook his hand, his grip strong, and thanked him for talking to me. I told him I’d look for him the next time I was there.

And as I left to pick up my boys from school, marveling at the faithfulness and love that can carry hearts in unity through fifty-five years of all that life brings, I was awe-struck at this thought:

If a man’s love can hold such passion for his wife and he is only a flawed human, a work-in-progress like all of us, learning how to love from the Father…how much more does our Savior love His bride? How much more does He long for us?

His Bride, this family of God here on earth, we have been given the blessing of His presence through His gift of the Holy Spirit…and yet…we are still separated from His full glory. We are still in a place of faith instead of sight, and the consequences of sin require this waiting period, this unfolding of all things, before He can bring us completely into perfect communion with Him… into unhindered Love, sacred and glorious.

The lovely gentleman sits day by day, yearning for the day he’ll see his Beulah again…and his love is beautiful to behold. But it cannot come close to the love that Paul says “surpasses knowledge”.  We cannot “grasp how wide and long and high and deepis the love of Christ”! If a man can so long to cherish a woman forever, how much more does He, in such fathomless and faithful love, anticipate the day when we will dwell as one with Him?

But, for now, we wait — as He waits — for our Some-Day with Him. “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as He knows us!”

“But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.”(1 Cor. 13:12-13)

Know this: you are cherished by a Savior who gave everything to invite you into forever-love with Him…and He will return for His bride. A day will dawn with no more goodbyes, no more pain, no more grief, no more separation, no more of sin’s consequences holding us back from His presence.

And almost as if the Lord wanted to make sure I couldn’t miss this extravagant message of hope I’d been sent through this stranger in a grocery store, I looked up the familiar name of his wife, his Beulah – to find that, in the Hebrew, it means bride. In Isaiah 62:4, God’s people are promised this:

You’ll get a brand-new name
    straight from the mouth of God.
You’ll be a stunning crown in the palm of God’s hand,
    a jeweled gold cup held high in the hand of your God.
No more will anyone call you Rejected,
    and your country will no more be called Ruined.
You’ll be called Hephzibah (My Delight),
    and your land Beulah (Married),
Because God delights in you
    and your land will be like a wedding celebration.
For as a young man marries his virgin bride,
    so your builder marries you,
And as a bridegroom is happy in his bride,
    so your God is happy with you.

How can anything in this world compare to Him? What grace, that God Himself delights in us…and what unimaginable promise, to be re-named by the mouth of God, a crown in His hand! The more I rest in His love and His hope, the more my soul wakes into longing for this day…

We will reunite with the ones we have been given to love here on this earth and we will reunite in holy communion with the Father. It is the day He has been preparing for since Adam and Eve hid from Him in the cool of the evening…this Morning in which we will stand with Him, made whole, rejoicing in what remains after all: love.

For He is love, and we will dwell in Him.

Jerusalem will be told:
“Don’t be afraid.
Dear Zion,
don’t despair.
Your God is present among you,
a strong Warrior there to save you.
Happy to have you back, he’ll calm you with his love
and delight you with his songs.

“The accumulated sorrows of your exile
will dissipate.
I, your God, will get rid of them for you.
You’ve carried those burdens long enough.
At the same time, I’ll get rid of all those
who’ve made your life miserable.
I’ll heal the maimed;
I’ll bring home the homeless.
In the very countries where they were hated
they will be venerated.
On Judgment Day
I’ll bring you back home—a great family gathering!
You’ll be famous and honored
all over the world.
You’ll see it with your own eyes—
all those painful partings turned into reunions!”
God’s Promise.
~Zephaniah 3:16-20

“And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master’s word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they’ll be ahead of us. The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God’s trumpet blast! He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master…

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”  (from 1st Thess. 4)

Even so – come, Lord Jesus! 

{This post is dedicated to my parents and their parents – my Nanny and Papa, my Mamaw and Papaw – in gratitude…for they are my life-long examples of lasting love-stories and the First Love that never fails…and to the kind stranger, who shared his heart. I sure do hope I get to see him dancing with his Beulah on that great Some-Day.}

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4 thoughts on “Blessing Between the Check-Out Line & Parking Lot

  1. Thank you for sharing your heart! I was so touched as I read this, thinking of all the “little things” that we too often take for granted in this short life. I truly think this was a God-appointment for you to meet this man, so you could share his story. Keep on writing and sharing! So proud of you!

  2. Thank you so much, Denise…I can’t tell you how much this gentleman made my week! I feel so blessed to have met him…I do think that God re-routed me for that conversation! Thanks again for your encouragement…I hope you and your family are doing well. Love you!

  3. What a wonderful story. Thanks so much for sharing. My grandparents were married for 63 years when my grandfather died. Five years later my grandmother joined him in Heaven. Less than 3 years after grandmother died, I lost my mom to pancreatic cancer. It was an unimagineable loss for our family. My parents had been together for 48 years. My dad was so lost – he was living without the love of his life (they were college sweethearts). For the first time in his life, my dad turned to God and started going to church. Although my mom is missed, I believe both my father and I are comforted knowing that she is at peace. One day my parents will be together again, and I will also get to see my mom again. Great story…you made my day.

    1. Kathy, thank you so much for coming by and for commenting. Your story has so touched my heart this morning…I am so sorry for the losses you’ve faced but I rejoice with you in knowing that you will be with your mom again and that your dad has found hope in the Lord…and I have to tell you that I think your blog is wonderful. It is amazing how you are using your experience to reach out to other people who have gone through the same thing. I pray that God will continue to comfort you and your dad…and that your words will comfort others who are hurting. ~Christie

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