Richard Carlson

Richard Carlson

On Wednesday morning, I got a phone call from a man in Sweetwater County telling me his Mom was Home with the Lord. It triggered in me an indelible memory of my Dad’s Homegoing.

In April, of 1966, the awful possibility faced me at the age of 21; I might soon be the oldest man in my family. As the eldest of five sons, with two older sisters, my Dad lay sick in bed at the hospital, having experienced another of many heart attacks.

Despite my knowledge as a college junior, that Dad was likely to die soon, I never dreamed it would happen to me. I had never lost a parent in death. Would I be called upon to become the patriarch of my home before I had graduated from college? There was a marked jumpiness inside me. It revealed the impending nature of what was soon to happen.

On the morning of May 10, 1966, the phone rang in our college men’s suite. It was just moments before 6 a.m. when the phone rang. I felt something inside me, akin to being electrocuted. Bolting from my bed, I beat all the other 15 men in our suite to the phone. I knew it was Mom. It was! Dad had just gone Home to be with the Lord. She was now at his side. Jane Lamb Hospital in Clinton, Iowa, called her too late at home. She raced to Dad’s side, but he went Home to Jesus moments before she arrived.

As Mom was standing beside Dad’s warm body, his body now was lifeless. We wept together. I told her I would be home as soon as I got dressed and packed. I was in northeastern Illinois at Trinity College, in Deerfield, Illinois, 130 miles away from Clinton, Iowa. I told Mom my brother Tim and I would be there before the morning was over.

Today, usually, I am fine when the alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m. But if it is the phone that rings around 6 a.m., some sort of a post-traumatic stimuli produces an electric shock in my body. There is a visible shudder in my whole being. I pause a second before answering the phone. Why? It is in me, for an instant, as if Dad just died; as if I am about to hear again, the worst news of my life.

All of us have certain triggers that take us back in time. To others, these sights and sounds and smells may seem insignificant. It is not so with us. To us, these flashbacks register a shift higher in our blood pressure, accompanied often by a flush of fear and angst that we cannot escape, no matter how many years have gone by. I have known many men who grew up in abuse filled homes or men who have served our country in Vietnam who have a similar kind of response if someone comes up too quickly behind them.

We all experience the shock they register in an electric reaction, as they instantly turn with a fist ready to knock us out. I have at times wondered about the apostle Peter who denied his Lord on the night Jesus was arrested. Jesus predicted that he would three times deny that he even knew his Master before the rooster crowed early the following morning.

In cities across Europe, Asia, India, and around the world, where I have been on mission trips, I have often been awakened by the sound of a rooster crowing. Some years ago, in Grandview, Idaho, I was awakened every morning at our annual conference of our Intermountain West District by roosters crowing. They never shocked me. They did awaken me. Yet I wonder if a rooster crowing was intolerable for Peter. Did it forever give him a flashback of when he denied his Lord, when he cursed and swore, saying he knew not the Man? How many times did those early morning roosters crowing have the Pavlovian effect on Peter of taking him outside his home to weep bitterly in guilt and shame for denying Jesus?

In counseling, I often listen to many wonderful people who struggle with flashbacks. Many of them have found forgiveness from God and even others. Yet, they have not found a way to get past the instinct to beat up on themselves for past sins and stains in their life that they cannot forget. When we are starting to get better, we understand more and more clearly, the evil that is still left in us, that only God can remove as we grow in Christ. When a person is getting worse, that person understands his or her own evil within less and less.

Did roosters crowing always remind Peter of his sin, remembering he had denied his Lord? In this new year of 2021, I pray to the Lord that He will help each of overcome the tendency to beat up on ourselves for past forgiven sins, but also that we will learn from those forgiven sins, not to repeat the past, but to claim God’s forgiveness in Christ, and to face this New Year with hope.

Richard Carlson is the pastor of the Rock Springs Evangelical Free Church. Of his 53-plus years in ministry, he has pastored locally for the last 44 years.

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