“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him (the shepherd), and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” John 10:3
So clearly in my mind that I open my eyes and wait to see if it comes again.
That one word rolls around through my thoughts gathering memories and fears until it crushes any sleep that I thought I’d be getting.
That distinctive cadence that comes from his Louisiana drawl in a warm baritone voice. It was like he was standing right next to me.
I would know his voice anywhere but now I’m afraid I’ll forget it. That voice that’s spent 60 plus years soothing souls with it’s warmth, wisdom and space. That voice that has created cathedrals at dinner tables, weddings, funerals and Christmas mornings through prayers more beautifully crafted than a Shakespeare sonnet. That voice that has taught God’s truth with a perspective and honesty that rivals the greatest theologians and mystics.
I know his voice. It’s home. It’s love.
I hope he’s in bed next to my mom and that they are both sleeping, but it’s just as likely that he’s sitting in his chair, in the dark, thinking. For years, he would sit there writing down thoughts and prayers with no light because he didn’t want to wake her. Even when I gave him a pen with a flashlight on the end of it I’m not sure he used it. I don’t think he cared if anyone saw those scribblings as much as he just wanted to get them out of his head and onto paper.
I get that.
After all, I’m sitting in the dark doing that very thing right now.
The fact that those thoughts have no way out now makes my heart hurt for him. And for me.
He knows what he wants to say but can’t say it. It’s just a jumble of words but he says them with the same beautiful intonation. The same cadences that I know like the back of my hand but fear I’ll soon forget just as he probably feared a few weeks ago that he would soon be trapped without the use of his words. His lovely words.
Is it ironic or cruel that this man that devoured books like candy, taught and preached almost his entire life, wrote cards and letters daily and fashioned stories and poems like they were child’s play would end his life with words that mean nothing to anyone but him? Even the books he cherished are like a foreign language to him now.
He’s left with his thoughts and I pray that they are nothing but beautiful.
The man who showed me what integrity is when he had to fight for what’s right even when it wasn’t popular. The man who believed I should be able to do anything I wanted to do in life even though I was a girl. The man who allowed my youthful pride to argue theology only to see me come around hoping to have the understanding and faith that he has. The man that said we would, more than likely, find out in heaven that everything we thought to be certain is wrong…so we should take our stand with humility and love…but we should still take a stand. The man that believed in me, showed me how a wife should be loved, how to struggle with and fight inner demons, how to face defeat and success, how to be a friend, how to have compassion, how to think deeply and ask hard questions even if no one else understands, how to forgive others and ourselves, how to filet a fish. This man that hung the moon for me my whole life not only says my name like no one else, he has a name for me that’s used by no one else. A special name based on his knowledge of who I am. It’s so much a part of me and representative of how much I love him that I’ve shortened it to become my nickname for my granddaughter – bug. Even now I can hear his voice saying it.
It’s his name…for me…his daughter…and it makes my heart want to run into his arms like I did as a little girl when he would walk in the door from work hearing me yell, “DADDY!”
I don’t want to forget his voice saying my name.
I don’t want to forget the treasure that I was given to be born the daughter of Coyle Allen Stephenson.
When he speaks, I know his voice. Even when it’s in my mind.
When he smiles, I feel his love. Even when he can’t express it.
And I suddenly see the most important thing Daddy taught me.
He wasn’t the perfect Father, but he pointed me clearly to the one who is.
He modeled, so well, how to be His child. My daddy knows our heavenly Father and I’m sure they are having lots of very honest conversations these last few weeks. I’m fighting fear every night because I don’t know what lies ahead of us. I’m sure daddy has those moments too. But I’m also sure of this.
My daddy knows the Shepherds voice and he knows how he says his name. He isn’t alone and we haven’t been abandoned. The Lord will carry us in his arms and bear our burdens every day of our lives. (Psalms 68:19)
Suddenly, I have a new picture of the moment I’ll stand before God in heaven. I think he’ll get stars in his eyes, lean down to whisper my own special nickname into my ear with his own unique rising and falling of his voice, reach out with his arms for me to climb into his lap and will lovingly say, “You’re fun to be with.”
And then we’ll go find my daddy.