I returned home to California on July 7, 1999 after touring the Holy Land for 5 1/2 weeks with my college. I was 20 years old. My Mom picked me up from the airport by herself. This was unusual, especially after a trip of this magnitude. I hadn't seen my parents since Christmas time, and I knew they would be eager to reconnect. My Mom explained that my Dad was sick and was home resting. I figured he must have had more than a head cold to miss an airport pick-up, and as Mom spoke, I realized I was right. She described his condition, trying to make light of it, but concluded by saying cautiously, "I haven't really seen him this bad in 25 years of marriage." That caught my attention, and I remember thinking, "What if Dad dies?" but quickly brushed this thought off as an elementary school notion.
When we got home, Dad came downstairs to say hello. I could tell he was weak, and he looked incredibly pale. I encouraged him to go back upstairs, suggesting we speak the next day. I was shaken.
The next day I made him lunch, which he barely touch, and then he laid down on the living room floor. Later he took a bath to get ready for a doctors appointment originally scheduled for my Mom, but swapped out for him at the last minute. Whatever this was, it had overtaken him quickly.
My Dad called to me from the bathroom, asking me to get my Mom. When she came I stayed close-by, sensing something was wrong. I heard her say, "C.J. I need you to help me. I can't support your full weight by myself." A moment later she called for me to dial 911.
The ambulence was there in a matter of moments, and as they carried him out of the bathroom, they said, "We're trying to get him back." My Mom & I followed them to the hospital, singing, "It Is Well With My Soul" all the way. The paramedics were never able to revive my Dad. Instead, they invited us into his hospital room to say our last goodbyes. I remember laying my hand on his stomach with an amplified awareness that it was no longer moving up and down.
Ten days later we had my Dad's Memorial Service. It was a wonderful celebration of his life, and I watch the video every year, often on the anniversary of his passing. On that day, before we left for the service, I spent some time reading in the Biblical book of Haggai. I was reading through portions of the Old Testament after my trip to Israel. I was about to close my Bible when I was impressed to read it again. This is what I read:
3'Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? 4'But now take courage, Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD, 'take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,' declares the LORD, 'and work; for I am with you,' declares the LORD of hosts. 5'As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!' 6"For thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. 7'I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD of hosts. 8'The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,' declares the LORD of hosts. 9'The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,' says the LORD of hosts, 'and in this place I will give peace,' declares the LORD of hosts."
My heart was quickened on this 2nd read, and I could hardly believe I'd missed it the first time. Virtually everything in this passage applied to us! I received it as a promise from the Lord.
Later that week I shared this passage with my Mom, specifically emphasizing verse 9: "'The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,' says the Lord of hosts, 'and in this place I will give peace.'" My Mom said, "Laurel, I need you to keep sharing this with me." So I wood-burned a plaque that she kept on the window sill in the kitchen. After several weeks she said, "I'm almost starting to get excited! What's the Lord going to do?!"
It was about 2 months later that Todd Riddell came back on the scene. We had known him growing up as one of Mom's childhood friends, but she assured us he was never an old boyfriend. He had retired from the military at age 40, and lived in Arizona. He heard what happened with my Dad via the mother's grapevine, and called to see if he could help. Being retired, he was free to travel the country at will, and began coming out for week-long trips to fix everything that had ever been broken in our house. Mom said if it ever made my brother and me uncomfortable, to let her know and he'd be gone in a moment. But she was so cautious that we never felt we had to be! He was, after all, an incredible help.
During this time I returned to college, with a healthy scholarship provided through a family friend's "coincidental" connection with a woman at my school who "owed him a favor." All was done properly and in good order, and it worked out as a major blessing for us. ("The gold is Mine and the silver is Mine," declares the Lord.)
One day, back in California, Mom and Todd were having lunch on one of his monthly visits. He said, "You know, you can talk to me about C.J. if you want too." She proceeded to ask him how he had felt years ago when she sent him a letter at his Korean military base letting him know she was getting married. Her marriage was, after all, a farily quick decision, and she wanted to know what he thought. He choked for a moment, which she didn't understand, and she pressed to hear his answer.
After moments of mental deliberation, Todd replied, "You broke my heart. I loved you and was planning on coming home to marry you." Now it was my Mom's turn to choke. She had no idea. Todd said that within 15 minutes of being back in her presence he knew he still wanted to marry her. Each month he conveniently left several jobs undone, so he would have a necessary reason to return. He hadn't intended on sharing this information so close after my Dad's passing, but Mom left him virtually no choice.
Years before my Dad passed away, now and again my folks discussed if they would remarry if something happened to either of them. Dad had always said no, as he didn't think he'd have the energy to date again. I don't recall ever hearing an answer from my Mom. As it turns out, she didn't really date, as she and Todd entered into what might be considered a courtship. They were married 2 years later on June 23, 2001.
Todd has been an unexpected blessing in our lives. I never expected to have a step-parent, as my parents marriage was strong, and divorce was never discussed. However, the Lord knew that in the future, I myself would become a step-mom, and would need a good example. Todd gave me a car when I graduated from college, moved me cross country twice, and paid in full for my wedding, just to give the short list of his incredible generosity towards me. On my wedding day I toasted him, in part by saying, "Todd has never tried to replace my Father, but he has always done everything for me that my Dad would have wanted to do if he had been here to do it." While I spoke, Kiera stood by my side holding my hand. If I can be half the step-parent to her that Todd has been to me, I will count myself a success.
What is the Latter Glory? I believe the fullness is yet to be revealed, but Todd and Kiera are most definitely a large part!