Finding Father

One Man's Journey to Discover Paternal Significance

Author: Ken Sausedo (page 1 of 5)

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We packed up and left Cheyenne on Tuesday, August 7, having accomplished all that I had hoped to on our trip to Wyoming.  As we said our goodbyes to the family, I remember my cousin Leo telling us, “Just don’t wait another 35 years before you come back!”  I couldn’t help but wonder, “When would we be back?  Would we even be back?”  With time as swift and life as busy as it is, envisioning a return trip seemed challenging.  Nonetheless, I was extremely satisfied with how this visit turned out, and if we never got another chance to make another trip, this one would definitely suffice.

Tuesday,  August 7, was also Jonathan’s 15th birthday.  Before we arrived at the Denver airport, Doris and Charlotte drove us to a local restaurant, and the seven of us celebrated his birthday with a meal together.  Later at the airport, we said our final emotional goodbyes and boarded the plane for the trip home.

The long flight home gave me much time to reflect on the previous five days and ponder all the life- changing events we had just experienced.  It was an incredible adventure; it would rank as one of the best ever.  Not only did it help to complete our family tree and answer many of my questions, it gave me reconnection with our family who had had us in their hearts ever since those tragic events of 1965.  It formed strong bonds that remain to this day, and I am so grateful for these ties that bind.

Since that trip, I have kept up with the family in Wyoming.  From time to time, my cousin Theresa and I have lengthy, engaging conversations on the phone to catch up on everything.  A couple of times since then, my cousin Bobby has shipped us food from his Mexican restaurant in Laramie that we have thoroughly enjoyed.  I also have connected with several from my Wyoming family on Facebook, and it has been good to keep up with their lives through social media.

We took Leo’s advice – we didn’t wait another 35 years to make our return trip to Wyoming.  In the summer of 2012, Jeannie and I planned a return trip out west to see the Wyoming family.  This time, I was farther along in my research concerning my dad, and I asked my cousin Leo to locate anyone he could find that might have known my dad growing up.  I knew it was a long shot, but I was hoping he would find someone.

We flew into Denver again on Wednesday, August 8, 2012, and this time we rented a car to make the trip to Wyoming.  It was great reuniting with the family again, and even though we didn’t have the turnout that we had in the 2001 reunion, we still had a pretty big fiesta at Charlotte’s house in Laramie.  Many of our family who lived close by came out, and we enjoyed an evening of that excellent Mexican food and some great reconnection with family.

As for locating a childhood friend of my dad, my cousin Leo did not disappoint.  He found a man named Reuben Chavez who said he had known my dad during his teenage years.  Leo phoned Reuben on a Saturday morning to see if we could meet up.  Leo held his hand over  the receiver and said Reuben could meet us right then and asked if I had any reservations about meeting him at a local bar.  I told him that would be fine and in a matter of a few minutes we were sitting across the table from Reuben Chavez at one of Cheyenne’s popular watering holes called “The Keg and Cork.”

Reuben sat down with his beer and asked Leo and me if we would like something to drink.  We both ordered a Coke and then engaged in one of the most fascinating conversations I can remember.

Reuben was an Hispanic man in his early 80’s – about the age my dad would have been were he alive.  He had jet black hair which he later admitted was dyed and always would be.  He was the most pleasant man and appeared just as eager to talk to me as I was to him. I shared with him everything I had come to discover in my research concerning my dad’s life.   He didn’t have a lot of details to offer, since my dad left Cheyenne when he was 18 years old and never came back for any length of time after that.

He said that what he remembered about my dad was that he was always clean-cut and well-groomed and was a snappy dresser.  Reuben recalled that every time he saw my dad, his clothes were always neatly pressed and that his khakis had that crisp, clean crease down the middle of each pants leg.

He also recalled a story that was very telling as to why my dad entered military service.  It was sometime around VE Day – when victory was declared in Europe during World War II and most of the country was in a celebratory mood.  Apparently my dad and some of his buddies celebrated too much that evening, and although Reuben couldn’t recall exactly what they did, it was enough to land them a night in the local jail.  Reuben said that was all it took for my grandmother to escort my dad straight from the local jail directly to the recruiting office and enlist my dad for active duty.  Reuben said my grandmother wanted to make sure my dad “shaped up and got his act together.”  My dad first enlisted in the Navy, then later transferred to the Army and would remain in active service until his passing in 1965.

It was so gratifying to be sitting and talking with someone who was close to my dad’s age and had actually known my father when he was in his late teens. For a couple of hours we sat in the bar sharing our stories, laughing together, and connecting in a way that was priceless.

Most of the conversation revolved around my dad, but towards the end of our banter, Reuben asked me, “And what do you do?”

“I am a minister,” I replied.

Reuben’s demeanor changed a little.  He appeared embarrassed and taken aback.  He said, ”You’re kidding me?  If I had known that, I wouldn’t have had you come to a bar with me drinking beer and all.”

I laughed and assured him it was all right and that it didn’t bother me in the least to do that.  It was clear in the short time we were there that Reuben was a regular at The Keg and Cork and that he was in comfortable surroundings.  I told him I would have had it no other way than to meet him there.  That seemed to put him at ease.

Reuben ChavezWe took some time to have our picture made together and I thanked him for taking the time to have us in his space and for sharing the stories about my dad.  I was so grateful for my cousin Leo for arranging the visit with Reuben.

Forty-seven years after his death and eleven years after our initial visit to reconnect with our Wyoming family, our return trip was a success, and I was satisfied that I had exhausted every possible outlet in finding my father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembrance

When my father passed away in 1965, my mother made the poignant decision to have him buried in his hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming.  I have never quizzed my mother as to why she made this decision, but I have always admired her for it.  In one way, it would have been nice to have his final resting place nearby so we could have made visits more often.  However, considering that most of his family live there in Wyoming and have deceased loved ones in the local cemetery in Cheyenne, I can see why my mother may have wanted him there.

funeral3She made the trip alone in February, 1966 to attend his memorial service, which took place in St. Paul’s Cathedral in Cheyenne.  Most of the family in Wyoming grew up Catholic and as a child, my father was raised in the same religious tradition.  My brother and I did not attend the funeral; however, my mother took us to Wyoming a couple years later to visit the family and to see where my father was buried.

Being six years old at the time, I have a sketchy and limited memory of those events. I remember my cousin Leo taking my brother and me, along with his three daughters, on a driving excursion in his VW Beetle.  He took turns letting each one of us sit on his lap and drive.  Our hands were on the wheel, but I’m sure his were on it, too, making sure we didn’t veer into oncoming cars.  With us being as small as we were, I definitely know his feet were on the pedals, controlling our speed, which as I recall was a very slow snail’s pace.  That visit was also the only time I recall seeing my grandmother, Susanna.  It was her birthday, and my mom asked me to give her the present we bought for her.  When I handed it to her, she gave me a great big smile and began saying something to me in Spanish.  I had never heard anyone speak a foreign language before, and for some reason it scared me and I began to cry.  I can remember those things from our visit, but I cannot say that I remember visiting the cemetery and seeing my father’s grave.  My only record are the pictures that my mom took and passed on to me.

Throughout this entire process of digging through the facts and discovering the circumstances of my father’s passing, it became clearer to me that I had not been given the adequate opportunity to grieve for my father…or at least, to have my own personal “memorial service” for him.  The trip that we made to Wyoming in 2001 would give me that opportunity.

At the grave of my grandfather, Francisco

At the grave of my grandfather, Francisco

We arrived in Wyoming late on a Thursday evening and wasted no time making our pilgrimage to my dad’s burial site on Friday. I knew in my heart that this would be a defining moment in my journey.  I felt that this event would go a long way in filling the hole I had uncovered during this process.  As we drove up to the cemetery, we stopped at several markers along the way.  We saw the headstones of my Uncle John, my dad’s oldest brother.  My grandmother, Susanna, and my grandfather, Francisco are also buried in that same cemetery.

As we made our way to see my dad’s grave, I could feel the emotion beginning to swell inside of me.  In a way, there was a sense of awkwardness about the moment.  I had embarked on this journey to discover the truth.  My brother, for his own personal reasons, chose not to share it with me, and to a large degree, my mom had already laid much of these events to rest years ago.  All through this journey, Jeannie was and still is most supportive of my quest, and it meant so much to have her there with me.  It was meaningful to have Jonathan and Aaron there; after all, this was their grandfather.   In a way we were here because of the questions Jonathan asked me the night I had the momentous dream about my dad.  I was also going to share this moment with my newly rediscovered family….my cousins, Charlotte, Doris, and Theresa.  The connections that we had made were already powerful, and I knew that this would be one of those benchmark moments that none of us would forget.

The sense of awkwardness came from the fact that my mother would be sharing that moment with me also.  How would she feel watching this moment among the Sausedo relatives evolve?  How would I react to that moment, and what would I say to her?  I had no preconceived ideas or notions how any of this would play out.

The beauty about the life we live is that the moments – those benchmark moments that serve to flavor and define our lives – come in the most spontaneous and unscripted manner.  Those occasions tend to unfold without any deliberate orchestration and manipulation.  And when they are over, all you can say is, “Wow….where did that come from?”

wyo at dads grave2As expected, seeing the marker up close and in person was daunting.  “Mike R Sausedo…Wyoming….SP4, US Army….May 8, 1928 (his birthday)….Jan 25, 1966″ (the day he was legally declared dead).  I knelt down and began to weep.  All those emotions that had been pent-up and tucked away came gushing out in the form of tender tears.  No one spoke a word.  The quietness and stillness was reverent and sacred.  This was my time to properly grieve for the loss of my father.  This was my memorial service.

wyo at dads grave1As I got up and wiped the tears from my eyes, the most natural thing happened.  My mom and I embraced, and I began to weep even more.  Then these unplanned, unscripted words rolled off my tongue: ”Mom….you did good….you did good.”  As surprised and gratified as I was that those were the words that came out of my mouth, even more surprising and gratifying were the words that came out of hers.  “I needed to hear that,” she said. “I needed to hear that.”  That moment was priceless.

One terrible mistake that we often make as human beings is taking things for granted.  I just accepted the fact that my mom did what she had to do to compensate for the loss of my dad without any real thought in doing so.  I just assumed she was strong and solid in her building our house into a home all by herself.  And while all of that was true, she still needed to know that she had done it well.  She still needed to hear those words from my mouth….”You did good.”

The journey had come to its end, and the resolve I so longed for was attained.  I had come through this cacophony of emotions and now had paid my respects to my father and fully laid him to rest.  And in the process, I came to embrace even more what I had always known – that I was surrounded by the most precious of treasures in my wife, my boys, my new-found Wyoming family, and my mom.

 

 

Reunion

After the dossier revelations in 1994, I became more intent on discovering all I could, not only about my father, but also his family….my family…. that lived in the southeast corner of Wyoming.    As I shared in a previous post, “Solving the Puzzle,” I came across a picture of my grandparents one evening while searching my family name on the internet.  This was one of the major catalysts that opened a deeper dialogue between my Wyoming relatives and me.  It was at that time that I started writing them, and we quickly began a long distance relationship, first by snail mail, then by email.

Most of the correspondence took place with my cousins, Charlotte Barela and Doris Garcia.  Charlotte and Doris are daughters of Eleanor, one of my dad’s sisters.  Both Charlotte and Doris and their families have been so gracious to my mother throughout all the years they have known her.   They have been good to keep in touch with her and have even made a couple of visits to North Carolina.  They definitely have gone above and beyond to stay connected with us.

Because of that solid relationship with my mom, establishing a connection with them came rather easily.  It seemed the more we corresponded, the closer we got.  It was around the end of the year 2000 that we seriously considered making a trip to see all of our relatives in Wyoming.

Our original plan was to visit Wyoming in July, so we booked our flights for the trip in January of 2001.  In the early part of the spring, Jeannie’s father, Joe, was moved to the VA Hospital in Asheville, and for the next few months his health rapidly declined.  He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease right after he retired in 1991, and for the next several years we watched as his physical condition slowly deteriorated.  He was moved to hospice at the end of the spring and during the month of July took a turn for the worse.  We knew we couldn’t leave Joe during these last stages of his life, so we made the decision to cancel our trip to Wyoming.  Joe passed away on July 24 and we had the memorial service for him a few days later.  Joe was a great man and a very influential father figure in my life.  While it was sad for Jeannie and the rest of our family to see him go, there was relief that his suffering was over.  I have detailed more about my father-in-law and his passing in a previous post, “The Father Figure.”

After taking the time to properly grieve for Joe, we were able to reschedule our flights and make our trip to Wyoming.    On August 2, 2001, Jeannie and I, along with Jonathan, Aaron, and my mother, boarded a plane and made the trip out west.

We flew out of the Charlotte airport around 2:00 in the afternoon.  After a small layover in St. Louis, we arrived at the Denver airport around 7:00 p.m.   In those pre-9/11 days, visitors could still greet passengers right when they got off the plane, and waiting to meet us were my cousins, Doris and Charlotte, who had driven from Cheyenne to pick us up.

It had been 35 years since I had seen either of them, and having been six years old at the time, my memory of them was very fuzzy.  However, when we saw each other on that August evening in Denver, it was as if we had known each other for years.  The three of us embraced and immediately I was overcome with emotion, and tears began to roll down my cheeks.  It was as if part of the hole that existed in my heart had been somewhat filled, and a reconnection had been made with the family who had been missing for the better part of my life.

wyoming 1

our family with Doris and Leo Garcia, and Charlotte Barela

My cousin Doris is married to Leo Garcia, who served for several years in the Wyoming State House of Representatives.  Leo and Doris were the perfect hosts, and they graciously opened up their home to us and rolled out the red carpet of hospitality.

We spent much time visiting with them and catching up on all of our Wyoming family.  We had a chance to visit some of the historical sites around Cheyenne and to attend mass together at the Catholic church where my dad attended as a child.  It was also the place where his funeral service was held in 1966.

St. Mary's Cathedral, where my father attended church

St. Mary’s Cathedral, where my father attended church

Aaron, 11, in my cousin's backyard....where we saw the antelope..

Aaron, 11, in my cousin’s backyard….where we saw the antelope..

They apologized for the fact that the Wyoming landscape was flat and lacked scenery.  We were dazzled by its beauty and marveled that we could see the dome of the state capitol from their backyard, which was almost 8 miles from where they lived.  Growing up we had all sung the song, “Home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play.”  One evening, to our astonishment, several antelope leaped and ran in Doris and Leo’s backyard…that was quite a sight.

me and my cousin, Charlotte Barela

me and my cousin, Charlotte Barela

One day we made a day trip to Laramie, which was about a 45-minute drive from Cheyenne.  Laramie is home to the University of Wyoming, and is also the place where many of the Sausedo relatives reside, including my cousin, Charlotte Barela.  Charlotte is my first cousin; however, I am closer in age to her three children: Michael, Cynthia, and Theresa.  Michael and Cynthia live away from Wyoming, so we spent much of our time in Laramie with Charlotte and Theresa.  There was instant connection with them, and it was from them that I gleaned much of the history of the Sausedo side of the family.

In the stories shared by Charlotte and Theresa, I learned some interesting facts about my dad’s mother, affectionately called “Grandma Susan” by the Wyoming relatives.  She was born in Zacatecas, Mexico in 1893.  I’m not exactly sure when she married my grandfather, who was the same age as she, but they moved to Wyoming sometime in the early 1900’s.  Two of the earliest children born to them, Concha and Lupe, died when they were very young.  They would have five more children – Charlie, John, Dorothy, Eleanor, and my father, Miguel – all who would live long enough to marry and have children of their own.

Grandma Susan

Grandma Susan

I discovered that Grandma Susan suffered a loss and a fate similar to that of my own mother.  Her husband, Francisco, died in 1938 at the age of 45, leaving Grandma Susan to raise five children on her own.  Also similar to my mom’s journey was the fact that Grandma Susan never remarried and remained a widow until she passed away in 1983 at the age of 90.

Another daunting thought occurred to me as I crunched the dates of our family tree.  My grandfather Francisco died in 1938, which meant that my father would have only been 10 years old at the time of his passing.  Even though he had six more years to spend with his father than I did with mine, he still spent the majority of his life without him.

Of all the children of Grandpa Francisco and Grandma Susan, my dad’s sister, Eleanor, had the largest family.  Eleanor, who passed away in 1958 at the young age of 42, had a total of three sons and three daughters with her husband, John.  I also found out that one of Eleanor’s sons, my cousin Bobby, owned and operated a Mexican restaurant in town.  Bobby was the owner and operator of “El Conquistado,” and he treated us to some of the best Mexican food ever, and the best green chile I have ever tasted.  This was the same restaurant that was mentioned by Arthur Villapando, the Laramie resident we met in that serendipitous meeting at the Cracker Barrel in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee just a few years earlier.  (See “Serendipity at the Cracker Barrel”)

Later that afternoon, Charlotte and Theresa took us all on an excursion about an hour west of Laramie into a section of the Rockies called the “Snowy Range.”

At Snowy Range, 12,000 ft above sea level

At Snowy Range, 12,000 ft above sea level

In just a matter of an hour’s drive, we went from being a mile high to almost 12,000 feet above sea level.  Even though it was the first days of the month of August, we were treated to temperatures in the 40’s and even saw patches of snow on the sides of the mountains.

Sausedo Family Reunion, 2001

Sausedo Family Reunion, 2001

Me and my cousin, Bobby

Me and my cousin, Bobby

One of the highlights of our time together was the Sausedo reunion my family had planned for us on that Sunday.  They had invited all the relatives they could contact, and several of them drove many miles just to be there.  From noon until dusk, we dined on Cousin Bobby’s Mexican food, shared stories, took pictures, and met long-lost relatives that were so excited to see one another.

 

My mom, my Aunt Dorothy, and my cousin, Charlotte

My mom, my Aunt Dorothy, and my cousin, Charlotte

In the months leading up to our visit, I had already filled out the branches of the Sausedo family tree.  In just a matter of a few days, I was able to put faces with the names.  My father had seven brothers and sisters, one of whom was still living at the time of our visit.   My Aunt Dorothy, who lived in New Mexico, made the trip with her daughter, Angie.  Aunt Dorothy, the last living sibling of Francisco and Susana Sausedo, passed away in November of 2013.

 

Sausedo Family Portrait

Sausedo Family Portrait

The Sausedo Family Fiesta began at noon on Sunday and lasted well into the evening hours.   It was such a surreal experience to meet with and talk to relatives who had known my father and to feel the strong connections with my newfound family members.

However, as festive as the food and the reunion was, there was one event that would stand out above all the rest that we experienced that week.  It was the one that would finally give me the closure I had been looking for throughout all this search and inquisition…. the visit to my father’s grave.

 

A Beautiful Dissonance

Those of you who know music are familiar with the suspended chord. As a song nears its end, it almost always follows a chord progression that takes the song to the II minor chord, then to the V7 chord, before landing on its home base of the I major chord. Sometimes to add some spice, the songwriter will add what is called a “suspended” chord just before the song ends on the I major chord. This is accomplished by playing the fourth note of the chord against the fifth note, creating a beautiful dissonant sound. The chord “resolves” into the normal, regular I chord – the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale that form the melodic harmony that we all are accustomed to hearing.

A perfect example of this technique that you may be familiar with is the “Amen” that is often sung at the closing of a hymn. Most times, the “Ahh” part of the song is that dissonant suspended chord, with the “men” part resolving into the more typical sounding I chord.

This “dissonance” is what I felt when I came to the end of my investigation surrounding my father’s death. I was so sure I would find the last piece of my puzzle when I found the last person who spoke with my father before he disappeared. As it turns out, the new information that he gave me concerning the conversation my dad had with four German civilians just a week before his disappearance was a “curve ball” I did not expect. The revelation presented me with even more questions, for which there were no answers. On the heels of last week’s post, someone wondered why Mr. Duncan did not divulge that information in his sworn affidavit. I was so stunned by the disclosure of that new information, that I really didn’t think to ask him that during our phone conversation. However, I remember what a good friend who served in the Army in Germany during the 70’s once told me. It was his opinion that the Army’s standard operating procedure was to keep everything “in house” and not get involved in the civil arena. Even when they found my dad’s body in the city limits of Dachau, they got the medical examiner to determine that his death probably occurred on the base so they could keep all investigations within the jurisdiction of the Army and not the city of Dachau. It was possible that Mr. Duncan told them about the civilians, and they purposely omitted it from the official reports for that reason. Rather than call him back and ask for clarification, I have chosen to end my investigation and live with the dissonance.

In her book, “Gone With The Wind,” Margaret Mitchell wrote, “It is better to know the worst than to wonder.” I will have to admit that, although difficult and painful, the quest to uncover what nuggets of truth I did find about my father was one of the best things I have ever done. It is true that sometimes truth hurts, but it is even more true that the truth will definitely set you free.  In music,  the dissonant, suspended chord eventually resolves into that beautiful, melodic major chord. And even though the lack of unanswered questions left me with dissonance, God has transformed the dissonance into a beautiful resolve, the details, of which I look forward to sharing with you in coming posts.

For now, I will share two verses of scripture that pretty much sum up the redemptive resolve I came to embrace through all this searching and seeking to find answers about my father.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

We will be terribly misguided if we believe that our lives will be a bed of roses and devoid of heartache. Jesus Himself, told us that “in this world, you will have trouble.” But he also said, “take heart, I have overcome the world.” This life that is full of blessing will also have its share of sorrow to endure. But God, in His infinite sovereignty, is able to turn tragedy into triumph and bring an ultimate good out of the most dire of circumstances. As I look back over my life, one thing is clear….God’s blessings are undeniably and plainly clear. As traumatic as losing a father is to a family, God gave my mother tremendous grace to carry the load of raising two boys and supplied everything that we needed throughout our lives together. He has surrounded me with the best gifts anyone could ever have – the best wife in the world, two boys that are my treasures, and a new daughter-in-law that is equally as precious. God has most definitely brought an ultimate good out of our situation and has made this “dissonance” beautiful in His time.

The second verse comes later on in that same Romans chapter when Paul said, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life… neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I vividly remember the night I first read through the dossier and the range of emotions – everything from sadness to anger – that I felt in the aftermath. However, in the middle of that emotion, a very calm stillness came over me and I felt that peace that passes all understanding and escapes all explanation. The reality of the truth of this verse fully held me in its grip – that God loved me…that he had always loved me and would always love me. He also affirmed to me that my existence here was no accident…my place in His grand scheme of things was no afterthought. And while the presence of my earthly father was, for the most part, nonexistent throughout most of my life, there was no doubt in my mind that I did, indeed, have a Heavenly Father who had kept me in the grasp of his caring embrace and would continue to do so.

This was my renewal….this was my redemption….this was dissonance turning into a beautiful resolve.

…And Then There Was One.

In the March, 2015 post entitled, “Breakthroughs and Connections,” I related the story of how I searched and found contact information for the four men who gave sworn statements concerning my father’s disappearance and death. In my investigations, I discovered that two of the soldiers had passed away, and that two were still alive. After sending letters to the two men who were still living, George Whyel and Charles Duncan, I received a phone call from George Whyel from Ohio, and had two lengthy conversations with him that really gave me no new information.

While not totally satisfied with the information I received from him, I was still elated that I was able to make a connection, especially with the amount of time that had passed since my dad’s death. I had sent the letters to both Gerald Whyel and Charles Duncan on the same day, and even though Gerald responded within a week, the letter I had sent to Charles Duncan never received reply. My mind entertained all sorts of reasons as to why I never heard from him. Maybe he was not the right Charles Duncan…or maybe he was the right one, and for whatever reason, was just too reluctant to reply.

In the early part of March 2015,  I decided I would take a daring step and call the number I had for him. After a few rings, a man answered and I asked if I could speak with Charles Duncan. He said, “This is he.”

I said, “My name is Ken Sausedo from Asheville, NC. I’m taking a total stab in the dark here, but are you the Charles Duncan that served in Dachau, Germany in 1965?”

“Yes, that’s me,” he said. It was obvious that he recognized my name, because he quickly replied, “I got your letter, and I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back with you. It’s just that I really didn’t think I had any information that could help you.”

I couldn’t believe that I had actually found the one person that, in all likelihood, was the last soldier on the base to see my dad before he disappeared. It was totally surreal. I told him that I had been investigating the circumstances surrounding my father’s disappearance for quite some time, and I related to him all the facts and information that I knew thus far. That seemed to open the door for him to elaborate on those things, and what he began to share would totally change the landscape of what I believed happened to my dad.

He said that there was something strange about the entire situation. He told me that my dad, having been at the base for only a short amount of time, had become acquainted with four German civilians, all in their 20’s, who lived in an apartment not far from the army base. Charles said that early one morning, my dad told him he was going into Dachau, and asked that Charles accompany him. He said they ended up at the apartment of the four German civilians, and that my dad engaged in conversation with them in an adjoining room. Charles said, although he could hear their voices, he wasn’t that cognizant of what my dad and the four German men talked about. He also added that he really wasn’t sure why my dad wanted Charles to go with him in the first place. When I asked him if he could speculate as to the topic of their conversation, Charles was very vague with his reply and said that “there was just something strange about the whole situation.”

The men lived in an apartment in the local town, which Charles said, was about a 30 minute walk from the Dachau army base. When I mentioned that my dad was found in the shallow stream of water that flowed through the Dachau base, he recalled that they had crossed a stream of water to get to the men’s apartment that morning. It was about a week after that visit to the apartment, Charles said, that my dad turned up missing. He also said that he couldn’t help but think that the two events were somehow connected. He  kept saying that there was just something strange about the whole thing and that “there is probably more to it” than what seemed to be.

I was stunned. I had not heard anything, nor read anything in the dossier, like that before. There was no mention of four German civilians, nor anything that would give hint that anyone outside the base might have been involved.  Even in his sworn deposition, Charles made no mention of the four men, or the encounter he and my dad had with them that morning they were all together.

In our phone conversation, Charles didn’t attempt to speculate as to what business my dad had with the men,  or what might have been the nature of their conversation. But I could feel the emotion in his voice that he had strong feelings of discomfort from whatever transacted between them.

For a moment, I considered that Charles, being one of the last ones to see my dad that Friday evening, was contriving a story to possibly cover himself. However his voice seemed sincere, and his story came across plausible and credible. For some reason, it resonated and had a strong semblance of truth to it.  Without being in the same room with Charles and seeing him face to face, I really had no reason to question his honesty.

If there was one thing I picked up from his vocal demeanor, it was that he seemed to be withholding some of the details surrounding that encounter he and my dad had that morning with the four German civilians.  Maybe it was for my benefit and my protection…maybe he feared that I would find some of those details too disturbing.  He may have been right.  For the first time in this process, I had come to a place where I felt I couldn’t ” turn over any more rocks” for fear of what I might find underneath.

In ways I was relieved because I came to the conclusion that, although Charles was the last one to see my dad in the Enlisted Men’s club that evening, he had nothing to do with my father’s disappearance or demise.   After 20 years of holding to a theory that my dad had accidentally drowned, I had come to the conclusion that all of the circumstantial evidence pointed that someone did, indeed, rob and murder my father, or at least, had injured him and left him for dead.  I told Charles that some on my dad’s side of the family have always believed that theory.

“That’s a good possibility,” Charles said. It was common knowledge to everyone that my dad was scheduled to leave for the states, and because of that, one could assume he had money in his pocket. In addition, the laceration on my father’s head, as well as the disappearance of the billfold with the money and the traveler’s checks made this an even more plausible theory.

I thanked Charles for being gracious enough to answer my phone call and for being courageous enough to entertain a voice from his past. As did George Whyel, Charles expressed his sorrow and his empathy for my plight, and shared with me that he, too, had grown up without a father and could relate to my situation.  It was some consolation, but in the end, the new revelations left me somewhat stunned and empty.

I hung up the phone and, as best as I could, soaked it all in. I was overwhelmed…partly because I had come to embrace what I felt was the truth of my father’s demise.  However, I was also grateful that I had actually talked to the man who had the last known conversation with my father….and that he seemed genuinely sorry for the way things had turned out.

My search had finally come to an end and I now felt I had as much information as I could possibly find, and enough to satisfy my personal quest.

At Long Last

Taking a break from the writing of this blog seems to have been a commonplace ever since I began writing back in July of 2013. The story should not have taken that long to tell, however, I have found with the schedule I have and the unexpected events that have come along, it has taken a while for me to get all of this down on paper.

2015 was a most eventful year for us, both professionally and personally. We spent the first part of the year making preparations to start a new preschool at our church. For the last eight years, my wife, Jeannie, has been the Director of a local church preschool here in Asheville. When the sponsoring church decided to sell their building, they began looking for another church who would be willing to incorporate the preschool. After meeting with them and conferring with our church body, we made the bold move to relocate the staff and existing enrollment of children to Grassy Branch.

preschool picIt was a huge endeavor, but after much blood, sweat, and tears on the part of many at our church, Grassy Branch Preschool opened its doors in the summer of 2015. Everything has gotten off to a great start, and it is such a blessing and joy to see our place come alive with all of those wonderful children coming through our doors.

On Mother’s Day of 2015, my 95 year old mother experienced her first heart attack, and since then she has made several return visits to the hospital because of erratic blood pressure, low sodium levels, installation of a pacemaker, and most recently, treatment for bronchitis. At her age, any of these events could have led to her entrance into the pearly gates, but her spiritual and mental attitude are as strong as a tank and her resilience is like a Timex watch….she takes a “licking” but keeps on ticking. We know that she has defied the odds, and God has blessed her with a long and fulfilled life. By no means are we ready to let her go yet, but she has had “the talk” with all of us, and she knows she is totally willing to stay but ready to go should her time come.

mom at christmasFor someone who has never had any major illnesses or had ever been to the hospital, my mom’s health situation this past year has served as our family’s “wake up” call. She had me late in life, was almost 60 when I graduated high school and was in her 70’s when her grandchildren were very young. I remember asking God to let her live long enough to see her grandkids grow up, and now all of her grandsons are in their mid-to-late 20’s. We know that the time we have with her is precious, and we are trying to make the most of every opportunity that we have to spend with her. As of this writing, she seems to have made it through the storm and is doing very well. Thanks to all of your for your thoughts and prayers for my mom.

I also spent the last part of the year preparing for and running my first marathon. Ever since I started running in the summer of 2010, I have run several 5K’s and even a few half marathons. The more I ran, the more the desire to try a marathon increased. Having just run a half in June, and with my legs feeling pretty good, I felt that I had the perfect opportunity to train and run my first marathon. I registered for the Charlotte Marathon on November 12, and issued a challenge to the members of my church. For every mile that I was able to complete, I asked them to pledge a dollar amount, with the proceeds going to Ebenezer Gospel Mission.

Our church has been supporting Ebenezer since the 1960’s. Founded by Chacko Mani, Ebenezer is a Bible College in Kerala, India, who trains Indian pastors to minister in their home country. Ebenezer trains missionaries to plant Christian churches throughout India, ministers to thousands of children through their “Kid’s Klub” program, and builds fresh water wells as part of their community enrichment program. After issuing the challenge to our church, the response was overwhelming, with over $2300 in pledges on the first day!

marathon picRunning the marathon was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. It truly was a test of endurance, and I am so appreciative to my wife Jeannie, to my son, Jonathan, and my daughter-in-law, Emily, for being there at the finish line to greet me. I also appreciate my good friend, Tim Turner, who met me on miles 21 and 22, and gave me that extra “push” to get me to the finish line!

Now that all of the busyness of 2015 is behind me, I am looking forward to finishing the story I began in the summer of 2013. I ended last spring with a series of posts detailing how I received a dossier of information from the Army pertaining to the disappearance of my father in the winter of 1965. In that dossier were affidavits from four soldiers who last saw my dad on the day he disappeared. I took on my own personal investigation to find the whereabouts of these four men and discovered that two were deceased and two were still alive – one in Ohio and the other right here in North Carolina. I sent letters to the two men asking them to respond to me if they had, indeed, served with my dad in Germany. The very last post relayed the conversation I had with George Whyel, the soldier who lived in Ohio. I ended that post with the sentence: “I would now turn my attention to the last name on my list – Charles Duncan – to see if he might hold any of the answers to my questions.”

I posted that on March 15 of last year, and it was there that I unintentionally left everyone hanging. I am working on some new articles that will complete the cliffhanger and lead on to some of the beautiful things that came out of that whole investigation.

I want to thank all of you who have been loyal readers of this blog. I have truly been humbled by your encouraging comments and the stories of your journeys with your own fathers. Each one has given me inspiration, and has only served to confirm my initial desire to even write this blog – to let you know that you are not alone, and that there is a Heavenly Father who has been there and will always be there for us on this exciting journey of life.

Breakthroughs and Connections

allpres-pressofficeI love the film, “All The President’s Men,” which tells the story of Washington Post investigative reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and how they broke the Watergate story in the early 1970’s. One of the fascinating elements of the movie is the amazing way they collected their information. Without the modern methods of internet searching that we have at our disposal today, they did their work the old fashioned way – pouring over hundreds of pages of phone books, scrubbing library card catalogs, and going door to door for interviews.  With rotary phones devoid of speed dial and push buttons, they wore out their index fingers with endless calls to potential leads, and were thrilled with excitement whenever they made a breakthrough. All I had to do was submit my credit card information, and after remitting $19.95, was well on my way to finding information that would have taken Woodward and Bernstein weeks to uncover.

In his investigation, Military Police Investigator Jackie Leach obtained sworn affidavits from four men who last saw my father on that infamous day, Friday December 17, 1965: Company Sergeant Harold Hoard, Platoon Sergeant Charles Clemens, Specialist Four Gerald Whyel, one of my dad’s roommates; and Pfc. Charles Duncan, who was with my father in the hours leading up to his disappearance.

Most of the free search engines on the internet will provide some information on a person for whom one might be seeking;  more specific information can be obtained for a fee. Upon paying for the advanced search, I proceeded to conduct what I thought might be the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack. Such might be the case if one were merely searching for a random name. However, I had a pertinent piece of information on each man that would easily narrow the query – their dates of birth.

I began with the two sergeants, starting with the oldest first. Sgt. Harold Hoard was born in 1925, and at the time I conducted the search, would have been 89 years old. I found a Harold Hoard, and was able to positively identify him with the exact date of his birth. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1982 at the early age of 57.

I was also able to locate the obituary of Sgt. Charles Clemens, the platoon sergeant who loaned my dad money on the day he disappeared. He lived a long 89 years, and passed away in 2011. If only I had begun this search sooner, I may have been able to connect with him.

I moved my attention to the two younger men in the group – Gerald Whyel and Charles Duncan. With Whyel being such a unique name, I thought my chances were good at locating him, and my thoughts proved correct. The search record confirmed his date of birth, and also gave me his address and phone number in his current state of residence – Ohio.

I then searched for Charles Duncan, a little more common name, and one that I was sure would show up multiple times. However, with the DOB being a unique identifier, I was able to find a match less than 100 miles from where I live. Again, I was able to ascertain all the information I needed to make contact with him.

I wrote letters to both of these men, not really knowing what their response might be. About a week later I was driving home from church on a Sunday evening when my phone rang. The display on the phone indicated the caller was from Ohio. My heart began to beat a little faster. I answered the call and began a conversation with one of the men who roomed with my father, Gerald Whyel. He said he was totally shocked to receive my letter and expressed his desire to help me with whatever questions I might have. He confirmed that he was, indeed, stationed at the Dachau Army base in the winter of 1965, and that, although he wasn’t 100 percent sure, he thought he remembered my dad.

The statement that Gerald gave to the military investigators was definitely the shortest of the four. He had stated that the last time he saw my father was shortly before dinner on the evening of Friday December 17. The next morning when he heard that my dad was AWOL, Gerald stated that he thought dad had left out early to come to the states on his furlough.

In our first phone conversation, Gerald said he had distinct memories of a man he referred to as, “Smitty,” and wondered if this might be the man for whom I was looking. Gerald said that Smitty had thick, black hair, as well as some other features that sounded as if it could be my dad. “Smitty, “ however, did not match any part of my dad’s name, aside from the fact that they both started with the letter, “S.” He said he had a picture of the two of them that he had taken when he was in Germany . I asked if he would allow me to send a picture of my dad and call him back later to talk with him further. He agreed, and the next day I called him back to follow up on our first conversation.

Disappointingly, he said that the man in the picture was not the person he remembered as being ‘Smitty.” He said he was having a hard time remembering the man in the picture at all. By that time, I am guessing he had time to think about this peculiar query from his past, because he then asked me, “How did you find out about me?”

It was then that I told him about the dossier, and that I had a sworn statement from him saying that he was a roommate to my father, and that he had seen him the day he disappeared. Gerald struggled to recall and profusely apologized for his inability to do so. He said that in a barrack, a soldier could have several roommates, and that being so long ago, he was sorry he couldn’t place my dad. Besides that, my dad had only been at the Dachau camp for about twenty days. Attempting to remember a twenty day acquaintance some 50 years later proved to be an impossible challenge for him.

Gerald then expressed empathy for my cause and told me that he, too, had a long lost relative he was trying to locate and contact. He said that he had an older sister that his mother had put up for adoption many years ago. He said that his son was helping to locate her, and that he had discovered her name and the town where she had lived. At the time that we talked, he wasn’t sure whether or not she was alive, but he was hoping to find out and possibly reconnect with her.

A warm feeling came over me. Even though the breakthrough with Gerald Wheel wasn’t as productive as I had hoped, a connection had definitely been made. We were on kindred quests, hoping to find out more about our missing loved ones so that we could satisfy our souls and fill in the blanks that were missing in our lives. I thanked Gerald for sharing that with me, and for taking the time to respond to my letter.

I would now turn my attention to the last name on my list – Charles Duncan – to see if he might hold any of the answers to my questions.

Theories and Speculations

theories and speculationsThe journey on which I had embarked began with a simple dream. (See “The Dream, March 31, 2014)  In that dream, my father and I embraced and the words that instinctively rolled off of my tongue were, “I just needed you to put your arms around me and let me know everything would be all right.” In seeking to make things “all right,” I sought answers to the many questions I had concerning my father’s disappearance and death. Obtaining the dossier of official Army documents was a valuable and important occurrence in this process. In the final analysis, the dossier served to give me a concrete timeline of the events surrounding the disappearance and subsequent death of my father, however, it fell far short in providing me with any definite information as to how he died. In the summation of his investigation, Jackie Leach concluded that my father died of accidental drowning and that there was no foul play involved.

After reading the dossier, I began to deal with all the plethora of emotions that came with it. There was a sense of great gratification that came with finally knowing something. While it failed to give me all the answers I wanted, it did fill in many of the blanks. The account of my father’s demise also brought about a great deal of sadness and grief. I realized I had never properly grieved for his death, and this evening would be the start of that process.

In the days that followed, I would look back over the material to see if there was something I might have missed or overlooked. After a while, I compiled the papers and put them into binders, then packed them away in the closet. At that time, I had accepted, with some reservation, Leach’s conclusion that my dad had an accident that caused him to go into the river, and that accidental drowning was the likely cause of his death.

For many years, I held that opinion, despite the fact that there was circumstantial evidence that pointed to possible foul play. It was not until recent years that I began to rethink those earlier opinions and proceed to dig a little deeper into other possible theories.

I had an interesting conversation a few years back with an Hispanic gentleman who had been a career serviceman during the time my dad was in the Army. He listened to my story with great interest and proceeded to give me his personal opinions about what might have happened to him. He quickly arrived at the conclusion that my dad’s disappearance and death were likely the result of foul play. He told me that, given the fact that my dad was new on the base, was somewhat of a loner, and was Hispanic, he probably was branded as an easy target. Racism, the gentlemen said, was very prevalent in the 1960’s, not only against blacks, but also against Mexicans.

My dad was a Mexican-American, born and reared in Cheyenne, Wyoming to two Mexican immigrants. I was born with half of that heritage, but having been born and reared in the deep south, I always had the mentality that I was Caucasian – a “good ol’ southern redneck boy” from the mill villages of Gaston County, NC. The thought that racism may have played a part in my father’s death had not crossed my mind before, but in many ways, made sense to me.

Another good friend in my church also served in the Army for many years. He and I have had several discussions in recent years about what possibly happened to my father, and he concurred with the speculations of the Hispanic gentlemen – that racism could have played a role. However he added a whole new dimension to the story that I would have never considered.

He said that when a serviceman overseas was scheduled to go back home to the states, that usually meant that he would be in possession of a good deal of cash. It was a common practice among the more deviant enlisted men to take that particular soldier to the bar, get him drunk, and then steal the soldier’s money. My friend said that was a common occurrence; and, that he wouldn’t be surprised if that was the fate my father suffered that evening in December, 1965.

These new speculations began to resonate with me and change the way I initially viewed these events. I pulled the dossier out of storage and began to read through the material again, with these new viewpoints and filters in mind. For years, relatives on my dad’s side of the family have believed that foul play was involved. In my visits to Wyoming which I will detail in later posts, some in the family believed he was, indeed, beaten and robbed, and they even said they had heard that some of those missing traveler’s checks had been cashed here in the states. I had not heard that before, and wondered where that story may have originated. I was beginning to doubt the conclusions of the initial investigation, giving more attention to the “foul play” theory, and wondering if there were any leads I might utilize to make that determination.

In the original dossier, I had copies of sworn affidavits from four soldiers who were interviewed by Jackie Leach during his investigation – Charles Clemens, Harold Hoard, Gerald Whyel and Charles Duncan.   As I read through them a couple of years ago, I gave more attention to the details of what they had said, and greater attention to their dates of birth. One was about three years older than my dad,  who was 38 at the time; another was four years younger. Two of them were significantly younger, 18 and 22, which meant, if alive, they would be in their late 60’s and early 70’s.   I began to wonder where these men might be now and whether or not they were alive. And if they were alive, would I be able to locate them, and maybe even personally talk with them.

In 1994, the internet was in its infant stages. Google had not come on the scene yet, and there were really no sophisticated ways to search for individuals. Now, with the internet growing to more than 600 million websites and 2 billion users, my chances of locating these individuals were much better than they would have been. In 1994, I made a bold move to request my father’s service records, and it proved to be a worthwhile endeavor. Now, 20 years later, I would make an even bolder move – to search for the men whose names were on the affidavit, and attempt to make contact with the ones I might find.

Finding Hope in Our Winter of Discontent

mikeken10

Me with my brother, Mike, circa 1965

Here in the southern mountains of Western North Carolina, we have just come through one of the coldest weeks on record. Ice and snow fell and the temperatures plummeted to below zero, with the blustery winds making it feel much more frigid. Most mornings I am awakened by our ten year old Bichon Frise, named Beaux, and together we begin our daily excursion down Pine Spring Drive so we can have our bonding time and he can take care of his doggy duty. With this walk occurring in the early hours of the day, the weather is always somewhat cool, even in the summertime. Winter mornings are definitely more challenging, with icy precipitation making it more cumbersome and extreme, bitter cold making it almost intolerable.

And by “intolerable,” I mean “wrap-yourself-completely-in-layers-except-for-your-eyes-so-you-can-see-where-you-are-going” intolerable….like the icy, frigid cold we had for the last week, or so.

You would think that after living in these mountains some 20 plus years, I would be better acclimated to the cold, dark days of winter. Partly due to the fact that I have passed the half century mark, and partly because these last few winters have been somewhat brutal, I have found myself more challenged to get through them.

I would imagine the setting was similar during the winter of 1965 in Dachau, Germany – the season that would be the backdrop for the disappearance and subsequent death of my father.

Thirty years after his disappearance and death, I was finally reading first hand accounts of what happened to him in the last hours of his life. The “dossier” had arrived at my doorstep and even though there were hundreds of pages, I had managed to peruse and read through most of them in that one spring evening in 1994.

With the revelation that he had been found in that shallow stream of water in Dachau, Germany, and the findings of the medical examiner who concluded that my dad died of accidental drowning with no signs of foul play or self-infliction, you would think that would have been enough to satisfy my inquiring mind. But there were two things that jumped out at me when I read through the entire report. One was the finding of a 6 cm laceration on my father’s head, along with other “deformations on the head that were clearly noticeable.” The other was the shredding of his pants on his left rear pocket and the mysterious disappearance of his wallet, which included, at least $25 or more dollars in cash, and $100 in American Express traveler’s checks, which in 1965, was a substantial amount of money.

After my father’s death, an investigation into what exactly happened to my father and how he ended up in the Wuerm River began. The officer assigned to the case was Criminal Investigator Jackie Leach. Leach first conducted a search of my dad’s belongings. A set of keys found on my father’s body led them to his locker where they found his plane ticket, his leave papers, and a suitcase, neatly packed and ready for an excursion across the Atlantic.

In the coming days, Leach would interview several of the soldiers who last saw and talked to my father on the Friday that he disappeared. Included in the dossier were sworn affidavits from four men – Charles Clements and Harold Hoard, two of his commanding officers. There were also statements from Jerry W., one of his roommates, and Charles D., the man thought to have seen him last at the Enlisted Men’s club on the evening of December 17. Except for some of the details unique to some of the men’s testimony that I have included in previous posts, all of the witnesses pretty much said the same thing. They all testified having seen my father that day; they all said that he didn’t make bed check that evening, and they all assumed he had taken off early for the states when he turned up missing.

As for the lacerations on my father’s head, Leach concluded that those could have come from the various rocks and debris that were in the stream. Concerning the traveler’s checks, Leach contacted the local American Express office to see whether or not the checks had been cashed. Since each check was recorded and logged with a unique identification number, it would have been easy to determine if those particular checks had, indeed, come through their office for processing. The American Express office reported that the checks had not been cashed, and Leach concluded that my dad must have lost the checks when he went into the water.

That evening in April, 1994 was totally overwhelming and filled with a variety of emotions that affected me on many levels. There was a sense of satisfaction that, at last, I knew something, even though there was much I still did not know. There was much sadness, given the raw details surrounding my father’s demise. It occurred to me that I had never truly grieved for him, and on that evening, this grief process truly began. There was also some small amount of self-pity, thinking of what I had missed out on by not having him around.

In that moment, however, something supernatural happened. I can’t say that I have ever audibly heard the voice of God, but in that moment, it was as if I sensed His still, small voice whispering in the deepest confines of my soul. He seemed to reaffirm what I felt in the aftermath of the significant dream just years earlier….

“Now will you believe that I have taken care of you for all these years, and that I will always take care of you?  Will you believe that I hold you in the palm of My hand and that I have wonderful plans for your life?  Will you believe that I have always been your Father, and my promise to you is that everything will be all right?”

It is a scientific fact that the sun is less evident in the winter, more than any time of the year. After reading the account of my father’s death in the dossier, it was clear that the winter of 1965 was definitely a cold and dark period of time for our family. However, in the middle of the winter of our discontent, a bright light emerged that would carry our entire family for the rest of our days. And in the aftermath of reading the details of my father’s death, the Heavenly Father was getting ready to open up avenues of illumination that would be some of the greatest treasures of truth that I would ever find.

From Pondering to Praising

nativity“But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.”

– Luke 2: 19, 20

Mary was a meek and mild mother of Jesus, a very quiet, submissive, and contemplative servant of the Lord. Her words were few, but when she did utter them, they were substantive and powerful. When the angel told her that she would be the one who would bring the Christ child into the world by natural birth, despite the fact that she was a virgin, she willingly replied, “May it be to me as you have said.”

The shepherds, on the other hand, handled the historic event of seeing the birth of the Christ Child in an altogether different fashion. Shepherds were on the low end of the totem pole, as far as social standing was concerned, living a very simple and meager lifestyle in the fields far removed from the city action. For them to see what they saw that night was huge – an angel announcing the Savior’s birth through a visual heavenly phenomena, then to actually see the baby, himself, lying in a feeding trough in a cold and smelly animal barn. Their reaction was anything but contemplative. They couldn’t help but go throughout the land telling everyone of the good fortune that had come their way.

It seems that this time of year always prompts us to accommodate both of these responses. I am always contemplative and reflective during the Christmas season. Sometimes I just have to get quiet and still to soak in everything that has happened in the course of the year. I find that an honest assessment of those events can evoke, as an old Billy Joel song says, both sadness and euphoria.

It was 49 years ago this month that the events I have recalled in the story of “Finding Father” occurred. Especially with the last two posts, I have brought those of you who follow this story into a very deep abyss with the recollection of what happened to my father during the last hours of his life. I have brought you to the abyss and have unintentionally left you there. My intentions were to lift the story line into the more redemptive part long before we got to Christmas. However the tyranny of the urgent trapped me once again, and I was forced to lay aside the pen so that I could attend to other things. I promise that the writing will commence soon and that the story will take that redemptive turn in the coming weeks.

Each year during the holidays, I think about that Christmas of 1965, and I, like Mary, treasure it all up and ponder it in my heart. And I think about many other families who come to this time of year and feel the sadness of a loss – a father who will not be sitting around the Christmas table this year, a mother, a brother, a sister, who won’t be sharing Christmas with the family. I think about you and I say a prayer for you, knowing that the void and the pain is real, and that there will always be a hole in your heart during these holidays.

But with the pondering comes much praising. It takes a while for the dust to settle from a busy holiday agenda, but in the hours leading up to Christmas, the spirit of the season comes in with full force. i begin to look at the blessings that are evident all around me and I become like the shepherds – feeling so fortunate to be surrounded by such abundance and having no choice but to thank God for his goodness. There are so many things we can take for granted….just the fact that we are able to rise and breathe in oxygen is an incredible gift. We will gather together with our families in the next few days, exchange our gifts, and eat more food than we really should…and it will be an absolute blessing.

But at the risk of sounding cliche, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that the greatest blessing, the best gift you will ever receive, came 2000 years ago wrapped in those swaddling clothes. He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly, He came to be a light in our darkness. He is Immanuel…..God with us. During the turbulent storms of our lives, He is our Prince of Peace. When it seems there is no hope, He is our Blessed Hope. And He is Joy unspeakable and full of glory.

So my thoughts and prayers for you this day are to go ahead and ponder….be contemplative and thoughtful. Acknowledge the sadness, but embrace the euphoria. Let your pondering turn into praising and allow God’s grace and blessing to surround you…through the presence of your family and friends that will be at your side.

I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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