I hugged my Bible today. I picked it up and held it tightly to my chest as I thanked God for the life of the man, and his wife, who gave it to me.
This man is my father-in-law. This man has had a profound impact on my life, and on the lives of so many others. And last Thursday evening, he went home to be with Jesus.
My father-in-law grew up attending Catholic Church, and was the oldest of four. He was a hard worker and led a disciplined life. A teacher. Principal. Grandfather. Father. Husband. He was kind and humble. He gave awesome side hugs, enthusiastically used the word “outstanding” to describe the things he loved, and had a laugh that was both memorable and contagious.
A couple of months ago, my husband met his father in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and they drove around looking at landmarks while Bill told stories of his childhood. They walked the streets and shared coney dogs for lunch. My husband saw parts of his father’s paper route, and the brick wall where he would hit his tennis balls daily, determined to improve his skills.
He loved sailing, sports, Notre Dame football, Irish pubs and good beer – as most who grow up Catholic do.
He was a man of very strong faith, and his faith continued to stretch and grow over the years. He attended an Anglican church in Beaufort, South Carolina, with his loving and devoted wife, Cindy. They began a powerful prayer ministry that touched the lives of many.
Their faith and love of Jesus poured from them and into the lives of all they encountered. Their home has always been welcoming and peaceful, and some of my favorite memories are of our time spent together in their South Carolina home.
A few years ago, they felt called to return home to Fort Wayne. They were faithful to answer God’s call. They found a church where they once again were able to use their gifts of prayer. And over the past couple of years, all of Bill’s siblings ended up back in Fort Wayne together. In his last months, he was able to gather with them regularly.
When I think of my father-in-law, I think of kindness, love, humility, forgiveness, faithfulness and prayer. I think of a man who was devoted to his family and to his church. He would call and sing to each of us every year on our Birthdays without fail, and then declare after the singing had stopped, that the card was in the mail.
He was quick to laugh and was greatly amused by his grandchildren. And when he said I will pray for you, you knew he meant it.
Bill and Cindy’s prayers, love, devotion and steadfastness have impacted my husband and I’s lives in miraculous ways. When we were in our early 20s, both my husband and I went through some wild years. Bill and Cindy were faithful. They did not stop praying, and they did not give up on us. Instead, they purchased my husband a forest green Bible. He was less than thrilled to receive this gift, but he didn’t throw it away. Instead, he kept it resting on the top of his bookshelf where it collected dust for years. It remained there, and their prayers remained consistent. They would tell us both regularly they were praying for us.
And when the day came, when my husband was ready to fully give his life to Christ, the Bible was there. Waiting.
He dusted off the covers, opened the pages and a beautiful relationship began.
Shortly after my husband opened the pages of his Bible, they gifted me a pink and orange leather Bible. It is still the Bible I use to this day. And when I see it, I am reminded of the power of prayer and of the faithfulness of my in-laws.
My father-in-law was ready to be with Jesus. The cancer had ravaged his body, but thankfully and by the grace of God, he was in minimal pain.
When he went home, he was surrounded by his wife and children. My niece, nephew and I were able to gather around for his very final breath. It was peaceful. It was beautiful. It was filled with sorrow, but also promise. The promise that in this world we will have pain, but this world is not our home. The promise that he was finally home with Jesus. And the promise we will see him again.
It was a moment I will never forget.
We are in the grieving space. The space where we are aware that we will never see someone we love again, but where that also seems surreal and not quite true. We know he is no longer here, but I think the reality may take a bit to set in. It will come when Birthdays arrive and we do not hear his voice. When holidays come and we are not gathered by his side. When we travel through Indiana and are not able to stop in for a hug, hello and shared Pizza Hut pizza.
Our hearts are grieving. But they are full. Full of memories. Full of love for a man who has impacted our lives not only here, but for all of eternity.
I truly cannot think of a greater legacy to leave.
Today, I hugged my Bible, and I thanked God for the man who gave it to me. For the man who did not give up on me and my husband. For the man who pressed in when things became difficult. For the man who loved his wife, children, grandchildren, siblings, and friends deeply and authentically. For the man who wasn’t afraid to tell us how he felt about things. And for the man who taught us what it means to walk humbly, in faith. For the man who prayed faithfully for all of us. For the man who changed all of our lives with his love. And with his prayers.
I am forever grateful God allowed me the gift of being his daughter-in-law.
I am forever grateful for his presence in my life.
I know he is rejoicing in heaven now, and I have to believe there was a grand celebration when he arrived. God gained one of the finest last week. And our hearts are heavy with loss.
We miss you, Bill. We love you.
Until we meet again.
*Every once in awhile, I like to include a song that has meaning and has touched my heart in some way. This song was the song my husband was listening to on the radio when he heard from his sister that his dad had cancer. He had not heard the song before, but was determined to find out what it was after he spoke to his sister. When listening to it later, he realized why he had to find it. He also found out it was produced by one of his dad’s favorite bluegrass artists. (If you decide to listen, be sure to listen through until you hear the words.)