1. God’s Good Gifts

    May 23, 2024 by Peggy Morris

    I got the call on Monday, February 6th a year ago. I don’t remember the words of the caller. I was driving through McDonald’s and had just picked up my coffee. It was probably senior-priced coffee with cream. I drink it black now. A lot has changed since that phone call. I pulled out of the drive-through and immediately called my daughter. “Your dad has died.” I was stoic. That’s my nature. My daughter was not. She meant to disengage our call, but didn’t. The phone line carried her pain through the airwaves. I heard it.

    It was ten AM. We each drove to the Citadel, the senior care facility, where Bob, my husband, had been for less than a day. Tears threatened to flood my face as I drove. When I reached the front office, I couldn’t speak normally. I knew my voice would break if I tried. I saw the looks of sympathy on the staff as I went to Bob’s room. The nursing staff had already taken the roommate out of his room by the time I arrived. No one wants to be in a room with … Well, you know. I held my husband’s hand so very briefly. It was still warm.

    My daughter and I stayed with, I guess you could say … the body … until the designated men came to pick him up. It was just my husband’s body. You see, Jesus had come to get him. How gracious God had been in this whole process.

    Let me tell you about Bob. We met in algebra class in ninth grade at Canon City High School in Colorado. We were both sophomores. I was barely fifteen. He was sixteen. I sat in the front. He sat in the back. During class, he threw a piece of gum which hit me. That drew my attention to him. Later he said he was aiming to hit Russ Dowell. Do I believe him? Well, yes. He was an honest person.

    Shortly after that he asked me to go to the homecoming football game with him. It was probably October, or maybe September. Before the game, he called me to say he couldn’t be at the game because his grandfather had just died. I went anyway. At the game, one of Bob’s friends told me, “Bob doesn’t have a grandfather.” That wasn’t true but some friends are like that. They say things to tease you. Bob’s grandfather had just died.

    Bob and I started dating and continued throughout high school. When he died, we’d been married sixty years, almost sixty-one. We started our married life in a ten by fifty-foot New Moon trailer. Today it would be referred to as a mobile home. We had ups and downs in our marriage. I’m so glad the “ups” kept us together in the end. But what really kept us together was clinging to the Word of God. I clung to the Word. And in our later years, so did Bob.

    What do I want you to know about Bob? Most of all I want you to know he took good care of me. I never worried if I would have enough to eat or a home to live in or where would we get enough money for the mortgage. He always provided for me and our children. He was a good worker. Worked hard. Always had a job. He would secure another job before he left a previous one. He eventually became manager of a Skaggs Drug store, first in Colorado Springs, Colorado and then in Mesa, Arizona, the store on Country Club and Broadway.

    After many years in the retail world, Bob became disillusioned with higher management. One day, he called me from work. He asked for my input about his leaving the corporate world to become a truck driver. I readily agreed. I was confident that he would continue to do what was best for us and our family. Anyway, anything suspended on wheels was his first love. Engines. Motors. Trucks. Cars.

    In becoming a truck driver, he loaded and moved heavy equipment onto a huge semi-tractor trailer. It may have been an eighteen-wheeler. He drove the loaded tractor from one construction site to another in the Phoenix area. He was the best driver his company ever had. He could put his big rig anywhere he wanted without having to back up and try again. He excelled at whatever he did.

    Talk about his skills? Not only could he maneuver a huge tractor-trailer, but he could also craft a piece of wood into a beautiful work of art. With the skill of an engineer and the heart of an artist, he created picture frames, children’s puzzles, and fancy wooden boxes. If anything could be made of wood, he would make it. His grandchildren thought he could fix anything. Even damaged toys made of plastic. He fixed common things too, for me and anyone who requested his help.  I was the recipient of anything he made. First choice was mine. He was always creating some new item. And giving it away.

    He was intelligent. As I assisted in the homeschooling of our grandchildren, sometimes they needed to know the definition of a word. Bob was our go-to dictionary.  When the children said, “What does that word mean?” I would say, “Ask Papa.” He usually could define the words we asked him about. He read a lot. Was curious.

    He was witty. Made me laugh. Once when I found three identical books in my book stash, he said, “One for each eye and one for the back of your head.”

    He was a strong man until the last weeks of his life when he commented, “I’m as weak as a kitten.”

    I trusted him. So did our children.

    When the liver cancer took its toll on his body, he never complained. He worked hard at all his doctors prescribed for him to do. He wasn’t a complainer. Not ever.

    I’m so thankful God allowed me to have him for sixty years. How blessed I was! As Jon Benzinger, pastor at Redeemer Bible Church, said at Bob’s Memorial service, “God gives good gifts, and Bob was a good gift.” That is so true! Bob was a good gift from God.

    And Bob himself was, a good gift giver. A few days after he died, Dionne, my daughter, and I checked Bob’s Amazon account because he had Ensure, the nutritional shake, being delivered automatically. We had to cancel it. In that process, we discovered an unsent item in his Amazon shopping cart. It was a necklace. I was sure he was looking at it to give to me at some time. “Let’s order it,” I said mischievously. And we did. An anniversary gift! Our 61stanniversary was a month after he died. He was a good gift giver even posthumously.

    But the greatest gift he ever gave me was the hand written note he left behind for me to find after he died. He left it in one of our safes where he knew I would have to go soon after his death, as I looked for other important papers. His note said:

    “To my wife,

    The road of life

    has been hard to walk

    But with your love, I fly.

    If I did anything right in my life,

    It was when I gave my heart to you.

                                        Love you,

                                        Sexy old husband”

    So what I have learned since Bob’s death a year ago?

    As time passed, I’ve assessed myself as Bob’s wife. In retrospect, I am disappointed. What I could have been, I wasn’t. And now it is too late. But his death has helped me learn to live each day to the fullest. I’m not beating myself up for what I wasn’t. It is finished. But the Lord has gently brought me to see that from this point on, I can determine to be different. I can love others with my heart, not just going on day after day in the status quo of life. That is what He has always called me to do and to be: first love God and then love others. I’m going to love others better than before. What a wonderful gift that is from Bob, to learn to love a little better today, and a little better each day going forward.

    Bob’s death taught me many lessons about loving others.

    Learning to love others better is really about my heart. My heart is pretty filled with selfishness. Self-centered. Self-focused. Much of my heart is about me, me, me.

    I would make it about Bob, about him, him, him and others. What were some of his other needs? Would I sit by his fire pit with him even though I would smell like smoke afterward? Yes.

    Would I sit by him and engage him in conversation about what he was reading? Or about what he was watching on tv? Or thinking about his medical diagnosis? Or about the last sermon we heard at church? Of course.

    Would I sit with him to watch an NFL football game? Well now, there are some limits. I don’t think I’d go that far.

    I would look at his needs and ask the Lord how I was to help. I think most of all, I’d want to engage his heart to whatever degree he would like. My natural bent toward independence would yield to his needs. I imagine that is what Jesus meant when He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    It is my heart that I would shepherd differently.

    All I can say at this point is that both Bob and I did what we could. We lived up to what we were able to do and be. But that doesn’t bind me to that pattern from here on out. I’ll learn from the past and move forward. I’ll walk more closely to God’s ways … because of the past. Can I learn from the past? Yes. And I will shepherd my heart more carefully because of my love for Bob and my thankfulness that God gave him to me for sixty plus years. I’ll shepherd my heart to think of the needs of others. But especially how Jesus’ love is calling me to respond at this time.

    Now, a year after Bob’s death, I have an outright, in-my-face sense that I could have put more attention into caring for him. Of course, now it is too late. What I didn’t do, is left undone. It will never be done. But what do I do now? I was kind to him. I took him to his doctors’ appointments. I didn’t complain. Not even in my heart.

    I was as thoughtful as I knew how to be. I called 911 when we needed someone to pick Bob up from the floor because I couldn’t do it. Three times I called the firemen. When they left each time they said, “Call if you need us.” They never said, “If you only would do this or that, it would work better.” How gracious they were. I’d like to be that gracious to others—on the spur of the moment.

    What would I do if I had it to do it over? Arrange for his care—according to his needs and preferences? The meals for example. Yes, I would do that. Cook what he liked.

    But more than that, I would be more active in serving him. From childhood, I’ve been pretty independent. That’s not a bad characteristic. But another trait that supersedes that one is serving others.

    Love God first and then serve others. I think this is what it is to love others: Serve them out of a heart of love—Serve the lovely ones and the unlovely.

    I loved Bob as much as I knew how; and he did the same for me. In his name and memory, I’ll go forward day-by-day loving and serving others. Even better than I did so with Bob. Because of experiencing Bob’s death, I have learned an even better way to do so: Serve others with my full heart.

    In searching for a life verse, I have finally found it: It comes from Philippians 3:13-14: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

    By the help of the Lord Jesus, I’ll reflect that verse more and more each day—by His grace—as I move forward.