For the past 30 years I have been traveling to various locations with my in-laws. During these trips, my father-in-law, Ron, regularly went missing. You can imagine how the hunt for Ron was exacerbated by the absence of cell phones in the earlier days. Without them, how exactly does one find a missing Ron at Disneyland? The common refrain from the family was “Where’s Ron?” I used to joke (though I was actually dead serious) that we should all wear t-shirts that said, “Where’s Ron?” (Like “Where’s Waldo?”) and have Ron wear one with “RON” in bold letters written all over it. Then at least strangers could be on the lookout and let him know, “Hey Ron, your family is at the Haunted Mansion ride and they are looking for you!”.
As of June 19th, 2021, we won’t need to ask that question anymore. The final answer has been given and we know exactly where Ron is: he is with his Father. His divine Daddy. Exactly where he longed to be for years. He talked about Him in this way regularly, especially during his battle against cancer that had been trying to take him out for a year. He never wavered in his faith and never doubted God’s plan for him. He knew that no matter how it “ended” he was in the palm, the bosom, the arms of his sweet heavenly Father.
There is so much more I could say about Ron, but I just want to share with you some of the divine moments I personally experienced leading up to his death (I sincerely hate even typing that word as it relates to him) and since.
God had gone ahead of us and we were all scheduled to go to Vegas to see Ron while he was still healthy and lively. Only God knew that he had gathered us to be with Ron as he went home to Jesus. My husband Blake and my sons Bennett and Berkeley all arrived on Wednesday June 16th. Ron had suddenly been admitted to the hospital for what we thought was a small infection in his feeding tube and was expected to get out sometime on Thursday. Wednesday turned out to be the last day he was able to communicate. God’s timing in their arrival was perfect.
But, I was still home and couldn’t arrive until Friday. I don’t remember how I came across this song or how I ended up in my basement with it playing at full volume on You Tube. But I remember it with fondness and tears. It was a profound soothing balm to my fear and anger and resentment at death. I wept and danced and fell before God as I sang the words that are still “rattling”a round in my heart:
Dry Bones Rattling (Steven Furtick)
Saturday was silent
Surely it was through
But since when has impossible
Ever stopped You
Is Sunday’s empty tomb
Since when has impossible
Ever stopped You
This is the sound of dry bones rattling
This is the praise make a dead man walk again
Open the grave, I’m coming out
I’m gonna live, gonna live again
This is the sound of dry bones rattling
Then they scream the word, “LIVE!!!” Like a metal band for the next 3 or 4 minutes.
I texted this song to my husband and said, “this is your dad’s song, now.”
When I got the hospital, I was able to talk to Ron, along with the rest of the family who was in the ICU room. Waiting. Dreading but desiring. We knew where Ron was going and wanted to get going to, but what about us? It’s so hard to be a grown-up and set aside our own selfish wishes to keep those we love in our presence, even when we know their spirit has all but left the building already.
On the way to the hospital, I asked myself if there was anything I still needed to say to Ron. Was there something that I would regret after he passed if I didn’t express it? After thinking for a bit, I only came up with one thing. Well, two things if you count that I told him that if he wanted to be more like me, there were certainly better ways to do it! He had been intubated and looked like a picture I keep of me on my phone from when I was intubated in ICU (I refer to this when I start feeling sorry for myself in any way-especially about my body). I told him he was such a copy-cat!
The other thing I told him was, “Thank you. Thank you for moving your family to Napa where I met Blake and have the exact life and kids that I have now.”
That night, after a couple hours of sweet reminiscing and laughing and crying from his family (me and Blake and our boys-Emma had the privilege of seeing him a couple weeks earlier and having tender closure-and Blake’s sister and her husband and children and of course Blake’s mom, Pam. The Rock of us all), all but Blake’s mom and sister went home to sleep. The precious hospice nurses had made Ron comfortable.
The next morning I arrived and Blake and his mom and sister were in the cafeteria. I asked if I could go up and talk to Ron alone for few minutes. I had a couple songs that had been haunting me for the past 24 hours that I wanted to play for him. I knew he was heading home to his Father and both of these songs felt sacred to me. Let me share a few of the lyrics with you…
My Father’s house (Cory Asbury)
Sometimes on this journey, I get lost in my mistakes
What looks to me like weakness is a canvas for Your strength
And my story isn’t over, my story’s just begun
Failure won’t define me ’cause that’s what my Father does
Yeah, failure won’t define me ’cause that’s what my Father does
Ooh, lay your burdens down
Ooh, here in the Father’s house
Check your shame at the door (ooh)
‘Cause it ain’t welcome anymore (ooh)
Ooh, you’re in the Father’s house
Arrival’s not the end game, the journey’s where You are
You never wanted perfect, You just wanted my heart
And the story isn’t over, if the story isn’t good
A failure’s never final when the Father is in the room
A failure’s never final when the Father is in the room
Run to the Father (Cody Carnes)
I run to the Father
I fall into grace
I’m done with the hiding
No reason to wait
My heart needs a surgeon
My soul needs a friend
So I’ll run to the Father
Again and again
And again and again
Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
I played these songs for Ron and told him, “It’s ok to run to your Father. He’s waiting for you. We are all going to be OK down here until we see you again. Go ahead.”
When they came back up to the room, after accusing me of faking time with Ron to hopefully “run across” the hunky cross-fit competitor doctor Voscopolis they had been telling me about, we took him off the oxygen. A kind nurse had gently advised this if we didn’t want the process of letting go to continue for longer than Ron needed to stay with us. Or we needed him to stay with us.
Blake’s brother-in-law Patrick arrived not long after that. When he came in Ron’s monitor started to fluctuate. I lovingly pointed this out to him and told him that his very presence was stressing Ron out! He argued that on the contrary, Ron was merely excited to see him. We all laughed and cried a bit and in the midst of this, Blake, who was sitting off to the side and keeping an eye on his dad and on the monitor, interrupted with the words I will never un-hear, “he stopped breathing.”
When I was in the hospital, there was a dry erase board where the nurses would write your status and it also had little faces drawn at the bottom that you would circle, Indicating how you feel (sick, sad, happy, etc). As we left that day, I erased it all and wrote: “Gone Home to Daddy” and circled the Happy Face at the bottom. As someone commented on our post about Ron’s passing, “Gone home to Daddy. Indeed.”
Since that day, I have been having what I affectionately refer to as “Rontings”. They are moments when I feel I am being haunted by Ron, when I know Ron is near, or God is assuring me that Ron is with Him. I don’t claim to know exactly how it all works. I am not that spiritual or smart or omniscient. I just know that when I get in my car and the very first song that starts when I turn on the radio is “Run to the Father” or “My Father’s House” or “Dry Bones Rattling” or “There was Jesus” (the song we chose for his Memorial service) over and over and over, that is not a coincidence.
When Blake and I were at a little church in a town of like, 20 people, this past weekend, out of hundreds of hymns they could have closed the service with, we sang with tears in our eyes and a reverent, spooked spirit if I am being honest, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” This is the one song Blake’s mom chose to be led by her niece at the graveside service we are having in Carthage, Missouri this coming weekend.
My husband’s work sent a wonderful and thoughtful condolence gift to us. It’s a set of wind chimes. I just love this! Something to help you think fondly of your loved one each time they ring. We hung it in the doorway of our guest bedroom until the dumb rain stopped and we could decide where to hang it outside. But ya know what? I think we will leave it there for awhile.
Almost any time someone walks down the hall we “rattle” it.
I am sure we each remember different things about grandpa Ron. Yesterday, on the 4th of July we remembered that he always saved us the absolute best spots at any firework show, often showing up an hour or so before the event and fighting people off so we could just saunter in at our leisure and have the best view.
Each time we rattle the chimes, I don’t remember any resentments or frustrations over his idiosyncrasies like quadruple checking the door to make sure it is truly locked or driving in my car without a lid on his coffee or going to Walmart for an item and being gone for hours (we used to ask the “where’s Ron” question when he came for a visit also, and would joke that he said he was running a quick errand so he’s probably at Walmart-for the past 2 hours. :). )
What I do remember is how fiercely he loved and served God and because of that he also fiercely loved and served his family and God’s bride, the church. He built into countless men and women who went on to lead churches with thousands of members or a handful of members. He inspired people to be brave and leave their worldly wealth and status and become Missionaries to Russia and the like. He encouraged my kids to dream big and assured them they could do whatever they wanted to do in life. He challenged my husband and I to work through marital baggage and let God work. He is part of the reason we are still married after 30 years (he married us by the way, so I suppose he felt extra invested!).
When he died, even though he didn’t even so much as cough it was so peaceful, I half expected there to be some sort of earthquake or the sky to go dark like it did when Jesus took his last breath. Because this man has influenced more people in their faith than we will ever, ever know about this side of heaven. All we do know is that the number is a big one.
This is why we are having two separate Celebrations of Ron’s life. One for anyone who can make it from the places he lived and served in the Midwest (Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois) and the West Coast (Napa, LA, Arizona, Los Vegas). People want to come and give homage to a man who poured himself out to them so they they too can keep the faith until the day they go home to see their Daddy.
So, I guess we are done repeating the question we have been asking for years. Where is Ron? We finally know exactly where Ron is and where he will forever stay.
-In loving memory of Ronald Winston Carter