Planning for the Trip of a Lifetime
There have been numerous occasions in my life that demonstrate the ongoing reality that God’s timing is ALWAYS perfect. I continue to be in awe of the way God wove His perfect timing into one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever witnessed. It happened 15 years ago.
But first, a little background — for many years, I wanted to take a cruise. I read about those far away islands and imagined myself on the “fun ships” having a wonderful time, far away from the worries and cares of my work day world.
1997 was a red letter year in that within a few months’ time of each other, my husband and I would celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary and I would celebrate a special birthday. What better way to celebrate than the long dreamed of cruise. We began to make plans with eager anticipation.
Plans Definitely on Hold … Or Were They?
After getting all the plans for the cruise made, tragedy struck. My parents were in an automobile accident. My mother’s condition was critical. I rushed to her bedside at the regional medical center in Savannah, Georgia, treasuring every moment I could spend with her.
One day, she lay near the edge of coma. Almost as if Someone had brought something to her mind, her eyes flew open, bright and sharp.
“When are you leaving on that cruise?” she asked.
“Oh, Mother, I’m not sure we’re going to take that cruise. I think I’d rather cancel the cruise and just come spend the time with you.”
With great effort, she pulled herself up in the bed and said, “Oh, you have to go. Don’t you dare cancel that trip! You have looked forward to it and I want you to go.”
I gave a noncommittal answer, “Well, I’ll think about it.”
She looked directly at me with a look I seemed to remember from childhood — a look that said “I mean business.” She always said, “I don’t like to have to say things over and over again. When I tell you to do something, you need to listen and do it.” Now, even without those spoken words, it was as if I could read the thoughts in her head.
Almost dismissing me, she said, “Where is your father?”
“He’s in the chair, asleep. Why?”
“Get him please.”
I couldn’t imagine what she wanted with Daddy, but I did as she directed. Once he was at her bedside, she said, “Horace, I want you to be sure that Carolyn goes on that cruise. It is important to me. It is what I want. Now you be sure she goes.” My father looked at me across the bed, as if he had been caught again between two women!
“OK, darling,” he replied, as he shrugged his shoulders at me.
When my brother arrived that night, Mother said, “I’ve been waiting for you. I have something I want you to do. I want you to be sure that Carolyn and Jay go on that cruise. It is very important and I want you to see to it.” Richard looked across the bed at me with the same expression my father had earlier in the day.
Later, I strolled down the hall to get Mother some ice. When I returned, Daddy was waiting for me outside the door. He seemed puzzled. “I don’t know what she wants, but she says she wants me to call Jay’s parents.” I too was baffled. As critical as was her medical condition, she had not really seemed THAT confused.
I returned to her bedside and asked, “Mother, what would you be wanting with Jay’s parents?” Again, with great conviction, she said, “I want to be sure that you go on that cruise. You might try to put something over on me, lying here in this bed, but they will make sure you go.”
“Mother,” I asked. “Why is this so important? You know that I love you and I just want to spend every second I can with you. We can always take the cruise another time.”
She reached out and took my hand in hers. “Carolyn, when you reach the place where I am, if God blesses you with a good mind, then you can still do two things. You can pray for other people and you can enjoy your memories. I’m so thankful I can still do both.”
She patted me on the hand and said, “Now … go make some memories.”
I stroked her hair and looked into those determined eyes. There was no doubt in my mind that she wanted me to go on that cruise. And so I said, “OK, Mother, but we have to make a deal … if I go on that cruise, you have to be here when I come back … and you have to listen to every boring detail … and you have to look at every repetitious picture of the ocean.”
She smiled, a long slow smile, as if she were weighing whether she could keep her part of that bargain. Finally, she said, “I’ll try. I’ll really try.” And so, it was a done deal.
Heading For the Trip of A Lifetime
Mother had a series of ups and downs in the following few weeks. A notable up was the celebration of her 91st birthday and her discharge to the hometown hospital a few days later. Things seemed to be going well. And she continued to anticipate our going on the cruise. She mentioned it almost every time we talked.
On Friday before our cruise, I talked with her doctor. While he acknowledged the fragility of her medical condition, he also said she seemed to be stable. He mentioned she had told him I was getting ready to go on a cruise. When I asked his assessment of whether it was wise, he hesitated, and then said, “It seems very important to her. I would go if it were me.”
Wanting to hear from God that it was the right thing to do, I prayed that God would give me a very clear confirmation that we should go on the trip. I remember saying, “God, I don’t want something vague. I want to know that it is Your absolute Will that we go. Make it very plain.” I then opened the Bible at random. I looked down. I had opened the book to Judges. “Well, that’s great,” I thought. “I doubt I get anything clear from Judges.”
But, much to my amazement, when I looked down at my Living Bible, I read Judges 18: verses 5-6:
“Well, then,” they said, “Ask God whether or not our trip will be successful.”
“Yes,” the priest replied, “All is well. The Lord is taking care of you.”
I was ecstatic, to say the least. How much clearer could God make it? He had done just what I had asked. In the Carolyn Jones translation, I believed I had just read, “Go thou to yonder fun ship and party hearty!” We were on our way!!
Decision Point … Do What Seems Right … OR … Follow The Leading of My Heart?
October 12, 1997, we flew out of Lexington, Kentucky to Atlanta and were on our way to Florida. In the Atlanta airport, we were paged. The message was to call my brother immediately. I did. He had just received a call from the physician on duty, who had relayed that Mother had taken a turn for the worse. My brother wisely said he would not tell me what to do. He just wanted me to have the facts.
The airline representative was calling to us to board the plane for Florida. My head was spinning. What to do? What to do? And then over the din of multiple people talking, people running to catch planes, babies crying, people being paged and even over my brother’s voice, I heard my Mother’s voice, insistent over and over again that we go on the cruise.
15 years later, I still have difficulty explaining to anyone why we continued on to the ship. I can only recount with certainty, that I felt compelled to go.
I heard myself saying to my brother, “Richard, we’re going. I think this is what I have to do. I think this is what she wanted me to do.”
Moments to Remember
After we got on the plane, the plane was grounded for nearly an hour. The pilot finally came on the speaker and indicated that there was a mechanical problem with one of the engines and they could not take off until the problem was fixed. “Mechanics were on their way,” he said. If it had been another time, I think I would have felt anxiety. But oddly enough, I felt at peace. I took out the notebook full of things that Mother had said during the time I had been with her in Savannah. I began to read.
And then I did another curious thing — I began to write — and though I did not know it then, what I wrote was her eulogy, which would be presented several days later to family and friends.
Just as I completed my writing, we were cleared for take off. We arrived in Orlando, Florida and had an uneventful trip to Port Canaveral. We set sail at 4 PM. We felt a combination of fatigue from the day, eager anticipation and peacefulness at leaving the world behind. Little did I know that somewhere in the depths of my Mother’s being, she was perhaps experiencing the same emotions.
Initial Signs This Was No Ordinary Cruise
As we moved out into the water, we encountered a great deal of turbulence. The waves from the deep ocean ahead essentially butted heads with the currents from nearer the shore, and the ship rocked from side to side as well as dipping from end to end. Each time we were on deck, all seemed well, as our eyes verified what our brain was saying. But each time we went below deck, our eyes told us that the floor should be stable, but our brains told us that the floor was moving! It was a very uncomfortable feeling!
We explored various parts of the ship and then moved back into our cabin. Eventually we came to the conclusion that the feeling was so bad there was no comfortable alternative but to return to the upper deck. We knew night would soon be upon us and the air on deck would be very chilly, but something (or Someone) seemed to be drawing us outside.
We stationed ourselves on the bow of the boat and watched the waves. Oddly enough when we were higher and could view our journey, it seemed peaceful. Later, I would wonder if this could be a lesson in that the discomfort that we experienced below was eliminated when we moved up to another level. Again, I was later to wonder if Mother was experiencing this same Lesson at the same time.
Noting that it was almost time for us to be seated for supper, we were getting ready to go inside when God gave us a very Special Gift. Even though we knew it was a beautiful gift at that moment, we were not to know until later how very special that gift was … and how TIMELY.
The ship was bathed in the glow of one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. At first we were just awe struck in watching it. Then, as I usually do, I felt compelled to take a picture. And then Jay took a couple of pictures of me with the sunset in the background. I had a sense of peace and contentment, as we moved further out to sea and the sun gradually set behind the waves.
Did I Read Every Positive Sign Wrong???
We reluctantly went inside and ate an uncomfortable supper, as we pitched to and fro. After our meal, we held onto the walls, as did our fellow passengers and we returned to our room. It was a short time later that we learned that Mother had departed this life.
I was stunned. This was not how the story was supposed to have ended. She was supposed to be there at home, waiting for me when I got back. She was supposed to listen to every boring detail and look at every repetitious picture. Someone had slipped the wrong ending in on us. This was lousy timing, I thought to myself (and of course, I later had to ask forgiveness of God, the author of Time.).
Through a series of challenging events, we returned to my parents’ home in Fairfax, South Carolina. We arrived two days later about 30 minutes before visitation was to begin. (We were ON TIME.) The next day, at her funeral, God gave me the strength to present the eulogy I had written. The thought occurred to me that without that one hour on the ground in Atlanta, I would have had no TIME to have written it.
Somewhere in the midst of all the funeral activities, Satan appeared and whispered, “So much for the supposed word of God … this just proves you can’t count on anything He says. Your trip was really successful, wasn’t it, spiritual hotshot!” Though a bit shaky in my faith at this point, I said, through tears, “I really don’t understand this, but I know the Word of God is true. I may misinterpret it, but His Word never fails.”
The eulogy was basically a summary of God’s Word as spoken through my Mother … a recitation of her faith and exhortation to others … and the salvation message strong and clear from her lips. After the funeral, many people confirmed the Message and told me how it spoke to their hearts. Even people, who were not Christians, asked for a copy. The funeral director, who wiped tears from his eyes, seemed surprised at himself that he would cry. After all, sad events are his business. “I never heard such encouraging words at a funeral,” he said.
And deep within myself, I knew that I could never claim credit for those words. I was simply the messenger, appointed for a TIME such as this, to have the privilege of delivering those words. In the stillness of the night after her funeral, when I lay in the bed where Mother had so often tucked me in … I thought of those people, who had been touched by the Word of God and I heard a Still, Small Voice whisper, “All is well. The Lord is taking care of you.” I realized, with a start, that it was the Word of God spoken through Judges. Perhaps the trip had been successful, but not in the way I thought.
After a week in South Carolina, I returned home and immediately was immeshed in work, teenage daughter’s activities, and writing thank yous for the many nice things people had done to express their sympathy. Somewhere in the midst of the chores, I got the cruise pictures developed. When they were developed, I looked at them with interest and was especially pleased that the picture of the sunset turned out so well. I put them aside to put into an album later.
I began the process of writing family first. There were many things Mother had said about her family that I felt should be shared with them. After writing the letters, Jay and I designed a card with butterflies and a quote I had found in Mother’s purse.
I then searched for a Bible verse to include on the card. I wanted something encouraging and something that would somehow correlate to her life. Dare I just open the Bible again? I did. What I found again sent shivers of joy all over me. It was as if my Mother were speaking from the pages of the Bible!
Philippians 4:8-9 in the Living Bible read:
“Let me say this one more thing:
Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right.
Think about things that are pure and lovely,
and dwell on the fine, good things in others.
Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.
Keep putting into practice all you learned from me and saw me doing,
and the God of peace will be with you!”
Again, a message right on TIME … this one more thing.
David, my nephew, had worried about what he considered bad timing the night of Mother’s death. David had been at her bedside praying. At around 7:30 PM, give or take a few minutes, the nurses asked him to step outside for a few minutes while they took her vital signs. He did so. Before the nurses ever got her vital signs, Mother quietly left for Glory.
David was initially concerned that had he remained, she might have remained. It was in the midst of my letter to David, that God reminded me of Moses wanting to see His Glory and God not allowing it. Instead He hid Moses in the cleft of the rock and covered him with His Hand, as His Glory passed by.
As I was writing David, I suddenly knew that God had sent everyone home and then had moved David down the hall before His Glory flooded my Mother’s room. God was still on duty and still in charge of TIME.
As I was thinking about that concept, I thought, “Wow, Lord, wouldn’t it have been wonderful to see Your Glory!” As soon as I had that thought, the Voice came, like a whisper in my ear, “You did. Your mother and I arranged it.” And suddenly, I realized what a beautiful GIFT I had received and how on TIME it was.
Suddenly, I realized that mother had moved to Glory WITHIN MINUTES of the TIME we had been privileged to see the sun set. God’s Glory had filled the sky, as Mother had moved above the discomfort and out of the confines of the stream of life and into the magnificence of her new Home where TIME would never be a barrier to her again!
God’s Plan Began Long Before the Cruise!
While I was reflecting on the wonder of the timing of the sunset, God brought to mind a memory from the past. As I was studying the pictures of the sunset … for just a moment, I moved back in time to high school. In my English class, we received points for every poem we memorized. Mother loved poetry and eagerly helped me select poems to memorize.
As I remembered, it was as if I was transported back home with my mother. We were both searching through books of poetry. I could hear her voice, spoken with enthusiasm, “Why don’t you memorize this one? I just love this one. It’s got such a good message. It would be a good one to remember always.”
So I memorized it … without knowing that God had planted seeds … and that many years from that moment, those seeds would sprout into a beautiful sunset on a turbulent ocean, within moments of my Mother’s ascension into Glory.
God allowed me to then remember that poem with a new understanding.
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea.
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne (meaning stream or small brook) of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.
The bar is that point in the water when the currents are stirred up the most by the force of the waters from the sea and the movement from closer the land colliding. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who wrote this poem and anticipated so well meeting his Pilot, after crossing the bar, died in 1892.
So All That Having Been Said, What Do I Make of It?
Can it be coincidence that Mother was so insistent that I go on that cruise? Was it mere coincidence, like a lucky flip of a coin at random that brought me to Judges and the Words, “your trip will be successful. God will be with you”?
Is it possible that it was just a mechanical failure that caused a plane to sit for an hour on a runway perfectly still — just long enough for me to write words that had been given to me in a hospital room I just happened to have been in a few weeks before? What caused me to feel the need to write down everything Mother said?
Was it just a bad break that everyone was gone when Mother departed this life … or was it perhaps a Masterful design? Is it possible it was her wish, as was it Lord Tennyson’s, that there be “no sadness of farewell when I embark.”
Was it God who placed within me the desire to speak at her funeral and allowed me to deliver her words … which in reality were God’s Words? Was this the real meaning of “your trip will be successful.”?
And if I say no to all the questions of chance and yes to all the questions of God’s Direction and Mercy … and I do … then I know, within my very soul, the answer to the rest.
God sent me to a specific place and a very specific time on a Sunday night on October 12, 1997, to allow me to see His Glory splashed across the skies and later to know how on TIME that sunset was.
Not only is God always on TIME, He also confirms His Word through various avenues. How good it is to know that even now, God is planting seeds for our future good. As if the rest were not evidence enough already, God further planted the words of a poet who died more than one hundred years before my mother’s death. God watered them through a mother who told a teenager to memorize his words and remember them always … and God brought those seeds to life in a magnificent sunset over the ocean within minutes of my Mother’s step into Glory.
GREAT IS HIS FAITHFULNESS AND ALWAYS ON TIME!
Significant Post Script from October 12, 2012
God’s Revelations and Divine Connections continue! As I was thinking back on the remarkable journey God and my mother directed me to take 15 years ago, He brought something else to mind … something I had never connected in my memory.
When I was in high school, I wrote a play that was awarded the best play in the South Carolina drama festival. My mother helped me polish it for submission.
The title of the play was … Sunset of Remembrance!
God prepares the way for us in advance. He travels the way with us. And He allows us to make beautiful memories, which He brings to bloom in just the right season. The most precious of these memories are perennials, coming up again and again, with new beauty … some even many years later!