“Go walk your Dad home, Frances!” Holly hollered from the back of the locker room as I slipped out the door.
I told them I wouldn’t be back for a while because I was returning to Baton Rouge to be with my Dad. We just found out he has MDS, so we only have a short time left with him.
“Walk him home.”
I love that image.
“Home” stirs up warmth in my heart. To think about being home with our Heavenly Father—that’s a homecoming hard to grasp. It’s where all will be well. And it will satisfy the deep longings within.
And walking is one of my favorite things to do. More than walking a mile with a friend, I love to walk the spiritual journey with others. I learned to love that from my Dad since I was a little girl.
It figures that one of Dad’s favorite songs is “Walking on Heaven’s Road.” He’s been walking on that road all his life. And he invites everyone he encounters to walk the path with him—often going out of his way to show someone the path. He had a way of seeing people who others don’t see—people who were walking alone. Or people who others feel uncomfortable walking with. And he was always willing to give a hand whenever someone stumbled along the way. And when they stumbled again, he helped them up again.
There’s always been a large crowd on heaven’s road around my Dad. Maybe because he and Mom knew that if you’re walking a long journey, you need good food along the way. They’ve feasted with many on this walk. And they made heaven’s road a fun place to be. Walking heaven’s road with them was on a path paved with love and mercy.
Dad has always walked heaven’s road with purpose. Even though he’s 80, he wore me out whenever I came to visit. Now, since his stroke at Thanksgiving, his walk is more like a slow shuffle. He’s really tired. Very tired. And he can’t really talk.
But he can sing. If we start a hymn, he sings along. How Great Thou Art, Count your Many Blessings, Amazing Grace, Blessed Assurance.
“Walking on Heaven’s Road” is probably the song we sing most often. We sang it together this morning as he shuffled to the breakfast table (I think it helps him keep walking). And we just sang it again tonight as we shuffled down the hall to go to bed.
“Walkin’ on heaven’s road. Gonna lay down my heavy load. Jesus said he’d walk along with me. I’m singing all the way. I got sunshine in everyday. Won’t you come along and join me on that heaven’s road?”
So here we are, walkin’ heaven’s road with Dad. We’re walking him home on this last stretch.
It’s a stretch of “heaven’s road” we haven’t experienced before. Our Mom went home five years ago on a fast dash before we knew what was happening. But with Dad, we’re walking a final upward climb before he reaches the destination. We can see the warm lights ahead. He knows he’s on the last stretch home. And he’s ready to be there. Just a little farther to go.
It’s a different kind of walk with Dad than usual. The path isn’t as crowded. We’re surrounded by friends who have walked this heavenly road with Dad for years. But family is walking the closest with him right now.
It reminds me of our walks through the Arkansas woods after a large Thanksgiving meal. As we journey the path, we move in and out of different conversations along the trail. Our love for each other and for Dad keeps us in pace together. God’s Spirit unites us with peace. The canopy of tall trees surrounds us with his presence.
We each come alongside Dad in our unique ways to lend a hand on the final stretch. And the Heavenly Father walks amidst us. He’s leading us through this valley and up the last hill. He comforts us.
It’s a hard stretch. And it’s merciful. Joy and grief accompany us on the trail. Comfort and pain compete. Longing lingers. Peace prevails. Because it’s heaven’s road. And it’s leading Dad home.
As our family walks this stretch with Dad, we’re so aware and grateful for everyone else walking this stretch with us – even at a distance. We know that so many have special memories with Dad on heaven’s road. Your prayers sustain us. Your stories strengthen us. Kind words encourage. We’re thankful that you walk this path of joy and grief with us.
Pretty soon, while we’re walking this heaven’s road home, I imagine the Good Shepherd, our Heavenly Father, is going to come alongside Dad, closer than he’s ever been. We’ll step back. He’ll take Dad’s hand. And bring him the rest of the way home.
If songs of praise still overflow out of Dad’s heart now–even though he can’t speak, I can hardly imagine the song that will burst from his soul when that day comes. “Heaven is a Wonderful Place” is another one of his favorites we sing often. I’m sure he’ll sing a new version about how wonderful it truly is.
He’ll be easy to find when we join him there. I’ll hear him and mom singing loudly-they always sang a little louder than everyone else. And I imagine they’ll be surrounded by many friends who walked heaven’s road with them. It will be part of their great reward.
Until that day arrives, we keep walking.
We walk on heaven’s road with gratitude. We’re grateful for this last quiet stroll we have with Dad. We’re grateful for God’s mercies. And we’re grateful for all the special people on this journey with us.
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16
“Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” Isaiah 57:2