School is back in session! Although I don’t have children, I get to reminisce and share in the excitement this year because my new husband is a teacher!
I not only love this teacher ;), but I LOVE teachers and I loved school! Looking back, even the teachers who were “mean” spent their lives making sure I learned to pay attention, to give respect, how to multi-task, and (ugh!) even how to do long division. And, (now I know) they took on this job while making “dittly squat” for an income!
Both inside and outside of the classroom, my teachers delivered lessons that still stick with me to this day.
I remain in touch with several of my junior high & high school teachers who had a profound influence on my life. This story is about one of these men; we will call him “Mister T.”
Colorado peaches are some of the best things on this green earth! A fresh Colorado peach is so juicy, sweet and tender, perfectly ripened by the Rocky Mountain climate and soil—they are out of this world!
My father loved peaches—only Colorado peaches, though. He loved them so much that he bought the tree and planted it in his yard so he could experience one of those beauties at his whim! Plus, as the cancer began to take over his body, his trips to the grocery store lessened.
Sadly, that tree he planted bore not a single peach.
Year after year—nada, nothing, zilch.
My father passed away March 29, 2008 and never ate a single Colorado peach from his tree.
The question that is never far away
The healing doesn’t come from being explained
Jesus please don’t let this go in vain
You’re all I have All that remains
-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”
If you’ve lost someone close to you, you know how it goes. Even though you feel your world has stopped; the world, in fact, keeps spinning. Time continues forward; people keep moving on; there is always the “TO DO” list.
As we went about the tasks of cleaning out his closets, settling accounts, paying doctor bills, we nearly missed what was happening with the tree.
Neighbors began calling.
He had one of the old voice message systems that recorded messages on a mini-tape. We heard his voice at every missed call. It was heartbreaking, like he was still here and waiting to return calls. “Just leave a message and I’ll get right back to you…”
At least four neighbors called and several family members who had been to the house; all with very similar messages –
“…Let us know if you need help. Especially with that peach tree…”
So my sister and I went out to the yard to investigate.
What we saw stunned us into silence. With tears in our eyes, we looked up and shook our heads in disbelief.
Five years after he planted it and just two months after he passed away, that peach tree’s branches were so filled with peaches that several of the branches hung to the ground! Many had leaned over into each of the neighbors’ yards—No wonder they were calling!
Our silence turned to awe.
There were so many peaches that each of those neighbors and family members picked to their hearts content. We packed several baskets and took them to friends.
We had some ourselves and baked no fewer than 12 peach pies which we froze and enjoyed over the next two years. Those pies were absolutely heavenly! We’ve held on to one, saving it for a very special occasion…
It’s May 30, 2014 and a beautiful clear Colorado day; the day before I will to marry my “Mr. Right” in Golden, Colorado. He and I go for my favorite run to Two Ponds and then around by my Dad’s old house. As we begin our run, I always pass by one of my favorite junior high school teacher’s house. Every time we do this run I tell my fiancé— “One of these days “Mister T” will be out taking care of his yard. I can’t wait to introduce you!”
We round the corner at the exact time we see his garage door opening and guess who steps out and begins working on his fence?!?
Barely able to contain myself, I nudge my running partner, “Today’s the day.”
I continue to jog right up to my old teacher. It has been years and he has aged; I can see it in his eyes. His eyes shine with recognition and a little confusion.
“Mister T!” I say, “It is Julie…uh..Stoddard…uh.. but soon to be different.” I wink at my fiancé.
“Oh my God it is!” He says and wraps me in a big hug.
“I always remembered the Stoddard girls; that deep voice you girls have, just like your dad!”
We go through the introductions and the reason we are back in town. He is happy in sharing his congratulations and I tell him how much he meant to me as a teacher and mentor. I know he is still making a difference in young lives as he shares some of his latest endeavors. Yet, there is a sadness in him; a weariness.
“How’s your dad doing? He still up around the corner? He still doing well?” He asks.
It’s my turn to feel sad.
“He passed away just over 5 years ago.” I tell him of the death sentence he was given. I also share with him the 13 years of bonus life we had with him and the triumphs of the unconventional treatments. I hold back on sharing how tough those last months were, watching the losing battle, I don’t like to re-visit that pain.
He looks me straight in the eye, I see the sadness in him again, “I’m so sorry, Julie. He was a good man.” He looks over to my fiancé, “Not that you need to hear this right now, with your good news for tomorrow…But, my wife,” he stops and looks back at the door to his house, “Over 40 years we’ve been together…She’s in there…can’t walk; can’t take care of herself; wearing a diaper.” His shoulders sink, “I just got through prostate cancer. The next day she falls. Now she doesn’t even know who I am.”
I choke back the tears in watching my teacher struggling with this. It all just seems to flood out.
His eyes drop, then he looks up, “I used to talk to God all the time. Now I just have questions. Why? I just don’t know anymore.”
This breaks my heart. I remember those feelings; the anger, the questions, the frustration, the helplessness, the weariness, the very same struggle I see in him.
Sometimes I feel it’s all that I can do
Pain so deep that I can hardly move
Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You
Lord take hold and pull me through
-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”
And I did just what this song said. I fixed my eyes on the Lord and laid all my questions and feelings at the foot of the cross. I handed it over to the only One who I knew could bear my questions. I trusted Him to be faithful. But the heartache is still real; cancer is still cancer; Alzheimer’s is still a thief, death still happens. I still have questions.
But I trust I will be given answers some day.
“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 (The Hope Bible)
OR, like one of my new favorite quotes from Sonny Kapoor who repeatedly says in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “It all works out in the end. And, if it has not yet worked out, then it is not yet the end!”
I grab ahold of my teacher’s hand and tell him the truth, “I wish you didn’t have to go through this. I don’t know why. I don’t have any answers.”
I really don’t. I hate this. I wish I had something hopeful to share with him. I am at a loss. I tell him he isn’t alone. I end up sharing how hard it was at the end for us with our father; the deep pain of watching one you love wither away, mentally, physically; the utter weariness and exhaustion of one’s spirit to witness such a thing.
But, I also tell him how I wouldn’t have survived without the prayers of my friends, encouragement from family and others sharing their struggles & stories. I tell him that God hasn’t left him and can handle his questions and to never stop talking to Him. I tell him how I believe God draws very near to us when we are brokenhearted; how I truly felt that. I tell him we will pray for him.
We continue on our run and we do. As we go by my father’s house and the tears come.
We pray for the pain we witnessed in “Mister T.” We prayed for his wife. And then I remember all those peaches.
I begin to wonder. Maybe, this is like those peaches that showed up after my father passed away?
Dad wanted those peaches so bad.
“Mister T” wants answers so bad.
But we may not get those “peaches” in our timing.
It’s the moment when humanity
Is overcome by majesty
When grace is ushered in for good
And all our scars are understood
When mercy takes its rightful place
And all these questions fade away
I fall into your arms open wide
When The hurt and the healer collide
-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”
And, just like this “divine collision” Mercy Me so beautifully describes, it is at this very moment, “Mister T”, my dad and I will sit down and savor that last peach pie.