Monday, April 15, 2013

How Great Thou Art...

For all of you good little Methodists out there, you'll probably instantly recognize my blog title tonight as a staple from the United Methodist Hymnal. I grew up Methodist, evolved, and enjoy a different type of worship today. But I digress...

This blog is titled "The Funny Side of the Street," and like I mentioned before, there is much about my life that is funny, but I also mentioned that there were some things that were a little less than funny. Before I delve too deeply, I should probably mention something that most people already know: humor can be a great disguise for pain. I know I use it--though not often--as such. Then there are things that are sad, but you remember fondly and with great humor. That's okay, too. Life is not as chronological as one would think, and memory isn't linear. Again, digressing. Stop it, Cassie!

In any case, most of the above is true when I think about my grandpa. For those of you who have known me longer, you'll know that he and I were very close, and were often regarded as two peas in a pod. If you take me, add 50 years and make me a dude, you have my grandpa (if you're snickering, stop). Point is, he's the one responsible (oh, I guess I'll give my mom some credit for this one) my vim and vinegar, my wit and wisdom, my love for music from. Mom--you can have credit for my good looks. ;)

Then sings my soul...

As I mentioned before, my grandpa was really the one who gave me a deep appreciation for music. I remember for my sixth birthday, he gave me an old guitar he used to play when he was playing in bands--now, almost 40 years ago. He knew I didn't know how to play, but yet he trusted me with such a gift--I think--because he knew I would love it as much as he did. And I do. I still can't play it, but it's made it in one piece during every move in the DFW and Austin areas. No scratches or blemishes.

Again with the digressing. Gah! Anyway, some of my earliest memories with my grandpa were riding around in his truck and listening to country music while we did whatever needed to be done that day before picking my mom up from work. He would sing along, and then I would join. He never told me to stop. When you're a toddler, you're used to hearing "no" and "stop" a lot--and believe me, I did--but no one ever told me to stop singing. In fact, it was encouraged.

My grandpa could play pretty much anything he picked up. And you know what? He couldn't read music at all. He figured out all on his own how to take melodies and transpose the chords so he could play in whatever melody he felt like and pretty much anyone (who could read music) could follow along. I still don't understand how he did it, but he was his own animal, and so there are some things I just don't question. When I in awesome wonder...

He had a beautiful voice, and it was so much fun to ride in the car with him and sing. Again, he never told me I was doing it wrong. In fact, we would have so much fun sometimes, we'd just start the song over so we could sing it all over again. I was so lucky to get to know Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, Willie Nelson, and pretty much any Big Band Era or "old country" musician. Sometime, when you're not busy, go listen to "Roly Poly", "Your Feet's Too Big," or "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On" on Spotify. Then, imagine us belting these along on any car ride. It was a good time.

But if you got to hear him sing in church, you were really fortunate. Nobody could sing "How Great Thou Art" like him. And I'm sorry to say it, but you'd be pretty hard-pressed to find someone who could do it any better. The baritone with which he sang it was just unlike anything you've ever heard. I tried soloing it once, and let me tell you, it was nothing compared to the likes of Clarence Moffitt.

And the music wasn't just limited to musical instruments or singing. He and I had a love of dancing that was independent of one another. I would perform songs and dances I made up in front of the TV during commercial breaks, and everyone would just laugh. My grandpa--he did the adult version of the same thing (i.e.: out in a crowd, not so much in front of a TV). One of my favorite memories of the two of us happened during 5th grade: every day, if we had done our work on time and had been reasonably good throughout the day, we would call it a day early, push back all the desks and have a dance right there in the class. I was really fortunate to have a teacher who believed socialization was just as important as book-learning. One day, my grandpa had come to the class early to pick me up. When he saw what we were doing, he grabbed my hands and said, "Let's show 'em how this is done." We then proceeded to do a jitterbug right there in front of everyone! It was so much fun. I didn't even care that my class was watching. I got to dance with my grandpa. And he thought I was a good enough partner.

I hear the mighty thunder

In 1998, things changed. It was July, and I had gotten my driver's license about two weeks earlier (stay with me, this becomes important). One night, my grandpa summoned me over, and asked me to feel a lump on his chest. He asked me what it felt like. I didn't know what the right answer was, so I said, "Um, kind of squishy, kind of hard?" I wasn't really sure why he was asking me--a 16-year-old who had no idea what was going on--as opposed to one of the other adults in the house. The next morning, he woke up and said it was hurting and thought he should go to the hospital. So we went--in two separate cars. I brought my mom with me, as she didn't drive. I don't really remember being at the hospital. I just remember my grandpa was afraid that lump might have been an aneurysm and was afraid it was hurting because it was about to burst. They decided that was not the case, and sent him home with a referral to some doctor the next week. He wanted to ride home with me, so we drove in almost silence back to Quinlan. When I neared the intersection with the Dairy Queen (the capital of any Texas small town), he asked me to pull in. He asked me if I would buy him a cup of coffee. So I dug through my seats and ashtray until I came up with enough money. So we sat at Dairy Queen while he had his cup of coffee, and then we went home. I knew then that this was important, but I wasn't really sure why.

I found out a couple of weeks later. I arrived home from school one day to find my pastor in the living room. When I came in the front door, my mom grabbed my keys out of my hand.

"What's going on?"

"Cassie," my mom started, "Pastor Larry is here because we have something we need to tell you. Your grandpa got his test results back today, and it's cancer."

"Okay, so what can they do?" I wanted to know.

"Cassie, it's very fast-spreading. Radiation won't help it, and the chemo would kill him faster than the cancer would."

"What are you saying?"

My grandpa spoke, "the doctors say I probably have about four months left."

The thunder crashed. My grandpa, the person I called "Daddy" for the first five years of my life because I really thought he was, was going to die. I was a junior in high school--he would never see me graduate. He would never get to be at my wedding. I couldn't cry. I couldn't really do anything. I don't remember what happened next.

What I do remember is that the next few weeks were a flurry of activity, and none of it was fun. It was all "at the funeral, I want this," and "Make sure I'm buried in this suit." I prayed--hard. I wanted God to spare me this loss. Let me have my "daddy" just a little bit longer.

I reached my breaking point when my grandpa said, "I want the poem read at my funeral." No. No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no! No! I could NOT let this happen. "The poem" he was referring to was a poem I wrote during a computer class during my freshman year of high school. I had it framed for him for Father's Day. But I could NOT let him go any farther with this. If I said it was okay for the poem to be read, then I had to admit this was really happening, and I could not let him go. It was too much to ask from a 16-year-old. Why would God do this? Why would God let my grandpa die when he was the only father I had ever known? I had prayed for years and years for a real dad, that didn't happen, and now this one was going to be gone too? I say this in all seriousness when I say that I'm pretty sure Jesus and I have uttered these same words at one point in our lives: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

I will say that the time we had left counted. I was able to say to him that I loved him and didn't want him to go away. We prayed together as a family. He escorted me during Homecoming that year. He said he didn't care if I had to push him in a wheelchair, he was going to escort me. I still have the picture. He doesn't look sick at all.

One of the hardest points was when he got up to sing his last solo at church. We all knew it was his last, and he sang it with gusto. "Oh, Lord, my God..." My heart was broken. I would never get to hear him sing again. Or play. Or laugh.

I don't remember how much later after that it all happened, but I do know about eight weeks after we were told my grandpa had four months to live, my Uncle Mark came to town. He wanted to visit, and my grandpa, being melodramatic as always, said, "I sure hope I live long enough for Mark to get here." That made no sense. He was fine. He didn't look or act sick. That was an odd statement. He hadn't even used the morphine until that night. I went to bed around midnight that night. Before I did, I gave my grandpa a big hug, and I said, "I love you, Grandpa." He held me in a big hug, and said, "I love you, too. I'm proud of you." I was sleepy, so I dragged to bed.

Around 3 am (don't ask me why I know this, but somehow I do), I heard a commotion. This was no small feat at the time, given that I had actually slept through a tornado once. I shot straight up in bed, and asked what was going on. My mom told me to go back to sleep. Yeah, right. I pestered enough until my mom told me that my grandpa had fallen out of bed. He said he felt low (he had diabetes, too) and was getting up to get something to eat. He said, "I hurt here," and pointed at his chest. Then, he looked like he was asleep. I heard someone say, "I called the ambulance," and someone else "he's not breathing." I said to my aunt, "this is it. It's now." I knew it was all over. And it was. At about 3:55 am, he looked very peaceful, like he was asleep.

I'm not going to bore you with details of the funeral, other than to tell you the next few days were absolute hell. I felt like I wanted to crawl into a hole and die when the minister read my poem. I didn't want to leave the casket. I wanted to climb in.

And that's when I knew. I was done with God. Who needs a God that takes those you love away?

I never sang again. Not in church, not a solo, barely in the car, and definitely not where others could hear me. It was over. I loved glorifying God with my voice, but no more. I wasn't doing Him any favors. In fact, I spent about the next 10 years doing things that I knew God wouldn't bless in order to get back at Him. I wish I could have convinced my 16-year-old self that I was only hurting myself, but we all know that's a wasted effort.

My Savior God to thee

Things finally came full-circle about seven months ago. I had hit a wall and was running on fumes. I finally threw my hands up in the air, and said, "Fine. You win." I now get that God wasn't trying to compete with me, He didn't "have it in" for me, and He definitely didn't want me to hurt the way I had been hurting myself anymore. I still haven't sang, but I hope that's not totally over.

I have many friends who believe in God or another deity, and many others who don't. I'm not here to convince anyone or say that my doctrine or beliefs are the only right ones. What I really want to say here is that I know God exists and here's how I know:

I decided it was time to go back to church, so I went to the greatest directory of them all to search: Google. I really hate to get excited about the very first option of anything, but the more I looked through and researched their web page, the more curious I was. I was particularly moved by the statement on the page that said "to be a place where people can come together, be healed, healthy and whole." Well those were some magic words. 

So I showed up one Sunday, and after being warmly greeted by some half-dozen people, I stopped dead in my tracks when I reached the auditorium. The song that was playing was--you guessed it--"How Great Thou Art." I am certain this was God's way of saying, "your grandpa is here, come let us back in your heart."  

To make a long(er) story short, I have met some wonderful people over the last few months (and no, this is not a shameless plug), and more important, have come to know God and His Son again. On Easter Sunday, I was re-baptized. My mom and (step)dad drove five hours to be there. When I was brought back up, I truly felt like my old self was gone and that I was salvageable. More importantly, I knew God loved me and wanted me to know my grandpa did (does), too. How great thou art, how great thou art!


  1. Beautiful, Cassie. Absolutely beautiful.

  2. Thank you. I keep reading and re-reading this and saying to myself, "Wow. This happened to me. How cool is that?"

  3. This is a great story -- and a great homecoming for you back to God.


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