Gone, But Never Forgotten!

Every April, as many of the four of us as can journey to the Smoky Mountains for the Annual Wildflower Pilgrimage.  From the time I was a baby, I can remember tagging along with my dad's Auburn University systematic botany students on this foray.  My mom, a retired science teacher (Auburn High), had the enormous job of preparing picnic lunches for groups of nearly 50 college students (as well as putting up with Daddy's stress!), my grandmother would bake cookies to feed them all.  A special highlight was looking forward to reuniting with our friend Harold Moore, my dad's first graduate student who now works in quality control at Golden Flake in Birmingham, because he would bring the latest samplings of potato and corn chips!  (That's the first time I ever tried "dill pickle chips".)  My brother, John, would run after every critter that moved, and I would "get my head out of that book" on the car rides long enough to marvel at seeing spring for the second time every year.
 
As a child, I much preferred to let the "big kids" hike while Grandmother and Granddaddy Freeman met us in Gatlinburg to "play" at the local stores and attractions.  Yet as I got older, it was much more challenging and heart-warming to walk in "my daddy's shoes."  I can see him now identifying "saxifrage micranthidifolia" ("commonly known as brook lettuce") in the streams for his students all the while teaching them to capture an acorn top and blow an ear-splitting whistle into the depths of the woods.  I was amazed that he knew so much about every little wildflower God created (though he barely tolerated violets  ) yet managed the trails and rigors of teaching under the stress of a body afflicted with juvenile diabetes from pre-adolescence.  My mother was surely an earthly "right arm" for him, and together they made quite the pair serving those future trailblazers.
 
In the nearly 20 (!) years my father has been gone, I miss him greatly, and I cherish every spring.  The loss of my earthly father has caused me to draw nearer to my Heavenly Father.  God's presence is so real to me in the garden, on the trails, and anywhere a bubbling brook or a crisp breeze causes you look up, look down, and praise His mighty and astounding creation!  When the Pilgrimage time rolls around, I get excited because it is almost like journeying back in time, only with the blessings of the present joys we have as we introduce our own children to the trails we know all too well.  They never really knew "Papa John", but somehow they feel his presence right there with them when we head into "God's Country."
 
Have you lost someone special, recently or even long ago?  As you read this, I pray you will smile to remember someone in your life who, though gone now, left you with memories that capture your heart, even as they led imperfect lives.  Somehow, as we look back on our loved ones, we learn to see them with eyes of grace, because we know firsthand that life is hard.  We try to avoid making some of the same mistakes they made, but if we are honest, we realize we're just as susceptible to the inability to live as we can and should...because we are human.  I hope that somehow you've come to understand God's grace and provision in the loss of someone special, and that you know that, no matter how fresh the pain, God can bring something beautiful out of it.  I treasure the fact that death is not the end of the story for those who believe in and trust Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Should we ever be in doubt as to whether our loved ones did...then this is surely a time to trust in God's sovereignty...and make sure our loved ones never have to wonder about US.