God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.~C.S. Lewis
It was the smell. One I didn’t even notice consciously. But there I was breathing it in as it tickled my nose and tromped through my childhood memories.
The hour was late. I had lingered too long visiting my elderly mother at her assisted living home. A recent widow, she was and is having a very hard time saying goodbye to the 65-year love of her life, my Father. Even so, I stayed with her until the last moment I could, knowing I had a two-plus hour drive ahead of me. I put her to bed. Tucking her in, turning on soft music and lowering the lights, “Sweet dreams,” I called. Just like she used to do for me.
I gently closed her apartment door, checked out with the front desk and stole into the night. My heart hurt, I was emotionally worn and frankly, just carrying too much burden. It had been only a few weeks since we had buried him. My Dad. A force of personality. He lived hard, thought fiercely and could rarely be found without a “cee-gar” (cigar) in reach.
And as I barreled down the rural route heading home, I called my brother on the car speaker in tears. This is really hard, I whined.
We chatted. We shared frustrations and memories and just as I passed the turn off that would have led me to my parent’s farm, I was enveloped by an aromatic whiff of memory… cigar smoke wafting through my Jeep. Even at first I didn’t notice it because it was so familiar.
But suddenly I realized. There it was. And more importantly, why? Why was I smelling this and why so strongly and where was it coming from? I was virtually alone on this barely-lit stretch of road. I gasped and said to my brother, “I smell cigar smoke. Everywhere. I can’t believe it,” and I started to sob. I mean deep rib-cracking soul sucking gasps. The kind that start deep in the hollow of your core and come out as a silent howl from your pain.
And there he was. The essence of my Dad. Right there with me. It lasted nearly 10 minutes and the smell became stronger and stronger. I was crying so hard my brother told me to pull over. And so I did. And we sat together on the side of a southern Virginia road crying. He in his home in Texas. But still together in the presence of our Dad.
It was eerie and wonderful and affirming and loving and peaceful all at the same time. It was a few minutes before the fragrance cleared my car and eventually I managed to get back on the road and drive. But here is the thing, my burdens were gone. My heart was light and my mind was clear. It’s as if my earthly Father had come along side of me and said once again to me, “you’re doing good, kid.” Because as hard driving of a personality he had, when it came to my mom, he was a marshmallow, and there is no question in my mind that our Dad would want us to take extra special care of her.
Though my earthly Dad may have had a message for me, it is my Heavenly Father who delivered it to me. It is God who knows my heart, my burdens and my pain, as He is the one who formed me to His own specifications. God knew I needed that special message at that broken moment.
I have always believed, and scripture supports it, that God speaks to us in the language only we understand. For me, it was the divine woody smell of a sweet-leaved tobacco “cee-gar” in the middle of the night.
Amen and amen.