Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV)
My dad’s ashes hit the surface of the water and swirled into an eddy in a tiny inlet before being swept downriver. The rising sun enflamed the red rock face opposite us and a lone duck, God’s endearing joke of a creature, paddled idly ten feet away.
A minute ago, I had been swinging between delirious laughter and uncontrolled weeping, the two so interwoven that I didn’t know where one ended and the other began. “It’s a plastic sandwich baggie?!” I’d exclaimed as my brother withdrew my dad’s remains from the far more solemn and appropriate velvet drawstring pouch.
As we deliberated over where exactly to scatter the ashes and whether to divide them between different sites, each of us trying to pawn the responsibility of decision-making off on the other, I broke into unceremonious giggling again as I imagined our dad chuckling as we debated the logistics of parceling him out across the American West he so loved.
We finally tilted the plastic baggie with as much decorum as possible and our father’s ashes alit on the water under the blank, watchful eye of the duck. In a wild and holy profusion of tears and snot and laughter, I watched the white ash float downstream until the water swallowed it. We picked our way back up the river bank between tufts of yucca and deceivingly gentle-looking fine-quilled cacti.
I looked back at the top of the crest and beheld the time-striated red and white rock, a wonder of God’s patience. And I wondered, What do I really believe? Do I truly believe I will see my dad again? In the face of sorrow, when all seen reality seems to sing nothing but a death-dirge, do I dare profess that God so loved the world that He sent His only son to die for us, and through Him we have eternal life?
There, looking down at the water that had carried what was left of my dad’s earthly body away, it seemed defiantly, outrageously, perhaps even delusionally bold to proclaim such a thing as my only sustaining truth.
When the rubber hits the road, when white ash hits roiling water, when catastrophic loss and nonsensical tragedy force our faith to become either a real, gritty, enduring thing or nothing at all, we find out what we believe. Grief obliterates our comfort, and faith can no longer survive as an abstracted concept hovering about outside our lived reality. It never could. Grief yanks faith down to earth and wrestles with it like Jacob at Peniel. But when we stay with Jesus, clinging to Him even in anger, bitterness, and desolation, He transforms our faith. Gone is its brittleness, its tentativeness, its facile cliches, like God will never give you more than you can handle.
You learn that indeed, you will be given more than you can handle, but that the “more” will bring you to the place of abject dependency on Him that couldn’t have been achieved any other way. And therein is the blessing in the desert, given after what seems a dawnless night of fevered wrestling: a faith that is supple but unshakable, earthbound but gazing always toward eternity, anchored in nothing less than Jesus Christ and His great love for us.
A few nights before my dad died, we were gathered around him as he lay on a hospital bed, tubes snaking outward tethering him to humming and beeping machines. I was playing hymns for him off my phone, including his favorite, “Just As I Am.”
“Ash?” he whispered hoarsely between hard-won inhalations, his lungs laboring from the damage wrought by COPD. “You know what song I’m really into lately?”
“Which one, dad?” I asked, leaning in close, eager to fulfill his requests.
“You know, that one . . . ” he said, hesitating. “That one that talks about ‘the Bible tells me so’.”
Thinking he meant a song with that title, I immediately began searching. I found one, an upbeat bluegrass tune from an album whose cover featured a country band in period costumes in one of those sepia-toned photos.
He raised his hand weakly after a few seconds, as though waving away the dissonantly jaunty song. “No, no, that’s not the one,” he said. “You know the one – the one that says ‘Jesus loves me’.”
The tears came hard and fast, and I barely had to glance around the room before we all began to sing, including my brother, an agnostic: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.
He was so near to death, so seasoned by loss and suffering. Yet what my dad most wanted to hear perhaps the most foundational, basic, childlike worship song ever penned.
But there, and there alone, is hope: yes, Jesus loves me. There, and there alone, is the greatest testament of faith we can offer: Yes, Jesus loves me.
The blessing in the desert is a faith that is supple but unshakable, anchored in nothing less than Jesus Christ and His great love for us. -Ashley Lande: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Ashley I’m sorry to hear of your dad’s passing. It is true that as I watched my grandfather taje his last breath over 20 years ago I read him that passage ‘As I walk through the valley in the sahafow of death I…
It is the most simple basic and homely verses and songs that it appears are most important. God simply loved us to send his son and Jesus loves us so much so that he made the ultimate sacrifice for us.
Thanks for sharing
Ashley Lande says
Oh, so true, Jas. A friend told me once that when the theologian Karl Barth was asked to summarize his theology, he said “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
What a beautiful piece. I think your dad is smiling in heaven over what you’ve written here. Yes, facing death brings us back to basics. When my dad passed away and my mom and I had the surreal task of going “casket shopping” at the mortuary, my mom and I broke out in tear-stained laughter as we looked at one casket. I shook my head “no” to that one and flippantly said, “That looks like a casket for Elvis, but not for Daddy.” All the while I was rubbing the cross around my neck with my thumb and index finger. I remember saying over and over again, in my head, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” When the rubber meets the road…what DO we believe? Do we truly believe we’ll see Jesus and our loved ones in Christ again? Do we really believe that the Lord’s grace will be sufficient when life becomes too big to handle? The fact that you wrote this beautiful piece about your dad says that you believe, deep down, in your salvation and Jesus’ sacrificial love for you. Your dad’s song request was further confirmation of Jesus’ love. What a beautiful gift your dad left you as he parted this world. Thanks so much for sharing this with us!
Ashley Lande says
Oh Bev, thank you for all this. I love the story about casket shopping. What a gift indeed that because of Jesus we can find laughter in the midst of deep grief. The song I listened to over and over the week my dad was dying (while driving back and forth for various errands from the hospital and then the hospice) was “This So Sweet To Trust in Jesus”. Facing death definitely brings us back to the basics, as you say, and what a sweet foundation we have.
Maggie R says
Thank you for sharing such a sweet memory of your father n his need for a simple but powerful song . My son became a quadriplegic 6 months ago n I need plain n simple messages to remind me of His love in all circumstances. God bless you
Gillian Mackenzie says
Maggie, I’m so sorry to read this. It must be so hard to see God in such an awful time. But He is there – let Him carry you. Even if you just say His name every so often throughout the day…..Jesus. You don’t have to be praying great big prayers and praising to get you through this. Just know that He is upholding you and I am sending up a prayer for you and your son right now ♥️
Ashley Lande says
Maggie, I am so very sorry. Such pain I cannot imagine… But I know Jesus walks with you. As our sister Maggie says, He will carry you, and He savors all our prayers, perhaps especially the simplest ones. I will pray for you, for abundant peace and that He will make the promise of restoration in eternity even clearer to you while also giving you eyes to see His kingdom breaking in here and now. Bless you.
Cathy Scible says
Ashley, I am so sorry for your loss. . .keep singing “Jesus Loves Me”. My brother and I sang it as we removed my dad’s life support 15 years ago and at his home-going service. Best reminder ever for His children.
Ashley Lande says
Cathy, that is so beautiful. What sweet sounds to carry your dad into the fullness of God’s kingdom. I’ll bet your dad savored every moment of those tender words sung with his beloved children’s voices.
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so is one of my favourite Bible songs. It is one I want sang at my Furneral when I die. I am only 49 on Monday. As no one knows the hour or day they will leave this earth. Age now a days means nothing. You don’t know from the minute you get up until you go to bed if you will see the end of the day. You have to be thank full on God for giving you another beautiful day to enjoy his beautiful world. I also want at my furneral this song played. By Dave Billbrough. It is called I belive there is a God in Heaven. It very hard to get it on Youtube. To listen too. I want I have it on cd. Is my Salvation Army Officer to play it. At my furneral all the people there to listen to it. As some of the words go I believe there is a God in Heaven who died for my sins. It was finished was his cry. Etc is another line in the words of the song. It not that long a song. But the words in the song have true meaning about salvation and why Jesus went to the cross and how much God love us to send Jesus to the cross. Then the Salvation Army Officer too say. This what Dawn believed. That is why Dawn is in Heaven today. If you want too see her again. If not saved you can see her again. By asking Jesus into your life. Dawn would love to see you in Heaven with Jesus. The cd by Dave BIllbrough is called All Hail the Lamb. My furneral will be different. Especially if by then my family are not saved. As today none of them are saved. I pray for their Salvation. As I am along with my Husband the only one saved. They will get a shock at my furneral as it will be different to the type of furnerals they go to. Plus I want this song sang at it as well. Are You Washed In The Blood? I do believe and I Dare to believe to be different. Different by living my life for JESUS. I am glad I am not of the world. I am glad JESUS is my Saviour. When I see the way my family lives. I can’t tell them they need Jesus. Or to get saved. Or they say stop preaching too me. Then a row go up. They tell me to keep my religion to myself. So all I can do is pray for them. Live my life as Christian in front of them. Hope they see Jesus shining out of me. Want what I have. That Jesus for themselves. I read one day in Our Daily Bread a Mother prayed for her son for over 20 years. She never once let Satan whisper in her ear he not coming to know Jesus. So your prayers are not being answered. So you might as well give up. No this Mother kept on praying. One day after 20 years. The front cover of the Our Daily Bread the words. Of it convicted him. That day that Mother’s son got saved. So that gives me hope to never give up praying for my family. Should it take over 20 years like that Mother’s son. In that Our Daily Bread Reading. To nnt let Satan whisper in my ear there not going to get saved. As I know in my heart and I Believe and I Dare to Believe like today’s title of the ready and God they are coming they will one day in Gods perfect timing get Saved. My prayers will be answerd. Love todays reading. About your Dad. Glad you sang Jesus love me this I know with him like he wanted before he passed away. You know you will see him again in Glory what day that will be. Yes you miss him on earth but you have not lost all. You see him again in Glory with Jesus. You can look at photographs and talk about good days and times spents together. Which I know he want you to do and not be sad. But think of that day you all will see him again. Oh what a day that will be for you all Love Dawn Ferguson-Little xxx
Ashley Lande says
Dawn, yes, what a day that will be!!! I am so sorry, I know the anguish of so desperately wanting beloved family members to know the love of Jesus and be saved. What a gift you are to them to be so perseverant in prayer! I could learn a lot from you! And yes, do NOT listen to Satan’s taunts. He is nothing but a liar, thief and murderer, as we know!
I also want a Jesus-glorifying funeral!!! I will have to try and find that Dave Billbrough song – I haven’t heard it!
Poignantly beautiful. Thanks for sharing.
Peace and Blessings,
Ashley Lande says
Thank you so much, Tonya. Bless you, sister.
Thank you Ashley. I am sorry for your father’s passing. This message comes to me at a difficult time. But definitely God’s time. I am still struggling with rejection from my husband. He is planning on marrying the woman he left me for. My kids are upset about it, naturally I am. However, I need to get to a place where I believe God’s live is all I need!
Thank you for the wonderful vision of your family around your dad singing a beloved children’s song!! Yes, Jesus loves me, even if my ex does not.
Ashley Lande says
Oh Dawn, I am so terribly sorry. I can’t imagine the heartbreak you are experiencing right now. I wish I could give you a hug and listening ear. Jesus is wild about you!
A verse I have been clinging to lately is “for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:19-20)
I just have to trust that God will make everything turn out for our deliverance. EVERYTHING. Even the deepest grief and heartache. I will be praying for you, Dawn!
Nancy Ruegg says
Crying here! Praise God for that foundational truth of Jesus’ love, holding us firm to the end, through our last breaths! Thank you so much for sharing this poignant story, Ashley. And may the words he sang at your father’s bedside, continually ring in your brother’s heart until they become his testimony too.
Ashley Lande says
YES! Thank you, Nancy. For my brother to know the great love of Jesus is one of my most frequent prayers. I know it is what my dad desperately desired, too, and labored for. May it be so. Praise God indeed for His beautiful, life-transforming, mind-blowing love for us in Christ Jesus!
Beth Williams says
What a tribute to the faith of your beloved father. Losing a loved one can be hard. If we are Christians with a good solid faith then we can face death a bit easier. We have the hope in the true love of Christ. We know our loved one is going to Heaven to spend eternity with Jesus. We will get to see them one day. When my parents passed I felt a sense of peace. I will miss them, but their suffering down here is over. I kind of rejoiced knowing they were in Heaven walking around clear minded with Jesus. (They both had severe dementia.) No more pain or sorrow for them. Major illnesses & death can bring out our faith questions. Do we really believe what we say? Is there a Haven awaiting us? The blessing in the desert you described was displayed by your dad. He would be proud to see your writing here.
Ashley Lande says
Beth, thank you so much. I am so sorry for the loss of your parents – I’m sure the course of their illnesses was not an easy road – but I praise God for the comfort we have in Him. What a glorious reunion you have to anticipate, and how sweet to know your parents are fully restored, body and mind!
My Dad just died, too- the day before his 63rd birthday. The only comfort I have is from deep-seated knowledge that he’s with Jesus. Even though I don’t feel comforted, even though I don’t feel like I can trust God. But I CAN trust my Dad, & he trusted God. So for now, that’s enough.