Dutch Sheets’ Give Him 15 for today, December 30 holds a special place in my heart, because he talks about eagles. And eagles are close to my heart. Let me explain why in the following excerpt from the tribute I gave to my Father at his memorial service on June 6, 2014.
“…Before I begin to share some of my thoughts about my Father, I beg your indulgence to relate a couple of personal stories. I think they will lend some help as we process our grief, and they will also set the background for you to be able to understand and appreciate a detail I will be sharing with you at the end of my comments.
“My wife and I have not been able to bear natural children. But about fourteen years ago we brought into our home a cute little boy who we ended up adopting as our son. Emmanuel Martin would have been 22 years old today if he had lived. However, two years ago on July 9th he disappeared into the cold swift current of the Tanana River. He was alone at the time, and after an exhaustive but unsuccessful search the helicopters and airplanes and boats and hikers and search dogs were called off. Although we never found his body, my son, whom we called “Martin”, has been declared legally dead.
“For the following year, it was heart-wrenching for my wife to drive across the Tanana River bridge, the site of the tragedy. However, we had no other choice. When we needed to go to Fairbanks, the nearest city to our rural Alaskan home, we either had to cross that bridge or travel 600 miles out of our way. Whenever we approached that bridge, my wife would avert her eyes, or close them and try to think of something else.
“As the first Mother’s Day after our loss rolled around, my wife struggled with how to face a day so poignant with meaning and bittersweet memories. Instead of attending a Mother’s Day church service that Sunday, my wife shared with me that she felt strongly that it was time for a face-off with the monster that was the Tanana River bridge. She asked me if I would join her there on the banks of the river and do spiritual battle with her. So that morning, while everyone else was in church, we found ourselves standing hand in hand, staring down at the raging, silt-choked torrent that had snatched our son away from us.
“We stood there in silence for a moment, lost in our own thoughts. I let my wife pray first, committing her fears and grief to God, asking Him to transform her fear into peace, and to deliver her from this enemy that had so paralyzed her heart and mind and spirit. As she prayed, I looked across the river, and it seemed like I saw on the far bank, instead of the scrub black spruce, sphagnum moss and moose habitat…it seemed a brilliant golden city materialized full of light and joy and peace. I remembered the Celestial City in John Bunyan’s classic allegory of Pilgrim’s Progress. In that tale, Christian arrived at the bank of the dark river of Death which he had to cross before he could enter the destination toward which he had been traveling of so many difficult miles.
“When it came my turn to pray, I thanked the Lord that this river did not have to represent an ending, but that it represented a beginning…the beginning of a new and glorious chapter in Martin’s life…a chapter that would never end and one in which there was no more tears or sorrow or sadness…no more suffering or pain.
“When I finished, my wife turned to me with tears rolling down her face and said that just before I had started praying that way, the Lord had impressed upon her heart the truth that the Tanana River was not an end for Martin, but a beginning.
“We had our confirmation. We had our healing. That place was no longer a dreaded place of darkness and death, but a precious memorial of hope and resurrection power.
“Shortly after that it began to happen that every time we would approach the Tanana River bridge, I would notice bald eagles. Not one, not two, but three or four of them, wheeling high in the sky above the spot where Martin had disappeared. This was very meaningful to me, because in a private story that Martin and I had invented in a father/son special time every day for many years, eagles were his favorite characters. They were called “watchers” and they were the protectors of the good folks in Martin’s special imaginary world.
“You may think me sappy and silly, but I knew that those eagles were God’s message to me—a message that although I could no longer be there for Martin, he was doing just fine, because he was under the watch and care of our Heavenly Father’s wings somewhere beyond the clouds.
“…As I left home this past Tuesday to drive to the airport to travel here to lay my Father to rest, just down the road from my house a large bald eagle flew into view from the West, just above the treetops. It flew in front of my pickup truck, circled once in a tight loop over the road ahead of me, and then continued out of sight to the East. Tears sprang to my eyes and ran freely down my cheeks as I breathed, “Thank you, Father God. Thank you for reminding me that Dad is in your care right now. He has crossed to that Celestial City.”
“That passage from Isaiah filled my memory:
“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint…”
“…Today, as we sit here weeping with the pain of his loss, Dad is free. His spirit is leaping and dancing and waving both fully functioning arms as he throbs with the power and wisdom of his omnipotent Creator. Can you picture him, kneeling now at the feet of Jesus, casting his crowns of earthly achievement at the Master’s feet and worshiping Him in unabashed and perfect delight?
“His faith has become sight. His hope has been transformed to reality. His pain and suffering has turned to joy unceasing and full of glory. I know that Dad’s deepest hope is that each of us gathered here would join him someday in that place where all tears will be wiped away…”
Now comes Dutch Sheets with dreams of eagles. Eagles on the Washington Monument. Eagles on Lincoln’s lap. Squadrons of eagles around the Jefferson Memorial.
Imagine my emotions.
The watchers have been released.
Death has been replaced with Resurrection power.
Oh grave where is your sting? Oh death, where is your victory?
The Celestial City has come to earth, dressed like a bride adorned for her husband.
Meanwhile, it is duck hunting season.
Shall we mount up with wings as eagles?
Or…we could hang out with the ducks.