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Forever Changed

I wish my kids could meet my Pepa, but he passed away before they were born. Hunter came close to meeting him, though.  Within touching distance, actually. The week before Pepa passed, I went to see him, ultrasound video in tow. I was only two months away from delivering his first great-grandchild, and I wanted him to get to share in the excitement. Weary from his struggle with cancer, Pepa wasn’t moving around or speaking much at that point, but spent his days quietly on a long, blue sofa, so I settled in on the floor as close to him as I possibly could, my back to the sofa, so that we could watch the ultrasound video together.

I tried, at first, to interpret for Pepa what we were seeing on the video, but realized pretty quickly that I didn’t really know myself. Laughing at my own ineptitude, I turned to share a smile with Pepa and locked eyes with his. Large in his sweet, tired face, his dark eyes were tearful and sad. My own eyes brimmed in response. Smiling, he reached out and smoothed my hair back from my face. That was when I first realized that Pepa might not be with us when my baby boy was born. Gently, I took his hand and placed it on my belly right where Hunter had been kicking just moments before and prayed silently that it would happen again. It did. For a full minute or so, Hunter twisted and kicked and stretched as if trying to meet his great-grandfather, but it wasn’t to be, not in this life anyway.

Pepa is with Jesus now, and I’ve done my best to bring him to life in the minds of both of my children, telling them stories about the gentle and generous man of steel and velvet that I knew as a child, one of the strongest branches in their family tree. Mema and my mother have certainly helped. Recently, my mother showed us a display that she’s created in a large, black hutch in my parents’ living room. A miniature museum of sorts, it is full of black-and-white images of my grandparents and great-grandparents. In the center, a small cedar box holds family mementoes and keepsakes.

Though I knew the faces in the photos, at least by name, I was stumped at first by some of the trinkets in the chest, a piece of lace and some oddly shaped pieces of tin. Anxious to share some family history, my mother explained that the lace was from Mema’s wedding dress and that the pieces of tin were trench art valentines that Pepa had etched for Mema while stationed in New Guinea during World War II. I was touched by what I saw and read. The etchings were lovingly and painstakingly done, one depicting a lonesome soldier outside his tent under the stars. “Missing you,” the caption read, the note beginning with “My Darling Wife.” After giving us time to examine the valentines, my mother drew our attention to the photo of a very young Mema standing by a vase of roses. With pride, my mother explained that Pepa had arranged from New Guinea to have the roses sent to Mema on their first wedding anniversary. Pepa was a true romantic, and I smiled at the reminder.

As my mother talked, I grew wistful, imagining scenes that never did and never will play out in real life, Hunter and Hope running from the car into Pepa’s waiting arms at Christmas, Pepa telling my thirteen-year-old daughter over and over again that she is “just beautiful,” and Pepa teaching my son how to dream big dreams and chase them, all things that I was blessed to experience myself. My eyes began to sting. At the end of our visit, my children left my parents’ house encouraged and inspired by what they had heard. Feeling good about life and family in general, they tucked their newly acquired knowledge away and went about the rest of their day as usual, but the ache in my heart remained. It’s one thing to hear about a person and another entirely to know them. Though Hunter and Hope probably feel as if they know Pepa pretty well by now, they still have never met him.

These days, it seems that people are quoting scripture and talking about prayer like never before, and that is wonderful. Scripture and prayer are things we desperately need, but I can’t help wondering just how many people are walking around feeling as if they know God pretty well when they’ve never actually met Him. Christians and non-Christians alike draw encouragement and inspiration from reading the Bible, but reading—even believing—the Bible and knowing God personally are two completely different things. God has given His Word to the world so that those who don’t know Him can find Him, but salvation and subsequent intimacy with God are only available to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ to forgive them of sin and rescue them from eternal separation from God.

Understand, God is not our cheerleader; He is the one and only Hope for this lost and dying world. To meet Him is to be moved beyond encouragement and inspiration. To know Him is to be forever changed.

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