This was my dad’s bill plate, a quintessential ingrained memory for us as kids. He walked in the back door every day holding this. He would kiss mom and then go directly to his cupboard where he would open his bill plate and file all of his paperwork. This system, like much of what made Dad the predictable character he was, rarely, if ever, altered to any discernible degree.
The day before the funeral, we were all working hard around the yard and the house in an effort to help mom feel less overwhelmed by her sizeable to-do list and to make it pretty for all of the family who would gather the next day.
The work was cathartic as we all did things just as Dad had always done them, and imagined him there in his domain, the place where he built forts for us, taught us how to use chainsaws, buried our many dogs. We imagined his instructions, his corrections, his whistle. When going through Dad’s truck, my big brother came across the bill plate. When he brought it inside it brought forth immediate unguarded sobs from all of us. My brother put Dad’s bill plate in the cupboard.
The next day was the funeral, one of the most beautiful difficult days of my life. We each read (or had our spouses read) our memories and thoughts. One of the passages my brother read as part of his tribute to our father was from I Corinthians 15.
The next day after church, I was leafing through Dad’s bill plate. It still had baby pictures of all six of his kids and a few grandkids taped inside and old carbon copies of bills from the early part of the 2000’s. When I opened the last compartment I let the softened yellow papers flit through my fingers like letting go, and then saw Dad’s unmistakable handwriting. I took the papers out. It was quite faded, but the last inside plate was filled with words scratched with a pencil directly onto the plate.
It was the verse from I Corinthians 15 that my brother had read the day before, alongside Dad’s plan for his own memorial service, including who he wanted to preach, who he wanted to lead the singing, who he wanted to play the organ, and the songs he wanted sung. Based on the names listed he wrote this sometime in the early 80’s. I’m not sure if he was just struck for some reason at that time by his own mortality, had a friend or loved one pass away, or what may have moved him to scritch out his funeral plans in the middle of his work day. But to say I was stunned to have discovered this the very day after his funeral is an understatement.
As I sat staring at this with shivers running up and down my spine at God’s incredible ability and desire to sweetly orchestrate such things for our comfort, my cousin texted me the words to a hymn that had come to her mind that she thought would bless me, How Firm A Foundation.
A few of our family members had missed the funeral the day before due to illness or being away so we went up to the graveside that Sunday afternoon to say farewell one last time. And to sing the song Dad, without telling a soul, had requested several decades before on that faded bill plate…
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in His excellent word! What more can He say than to you He hath said — To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed, For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless, And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply; The flame shall not harm thee; I only design Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose, I will not, I will not, desert to his foes; That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”