His Final First Step

“How can I feel joy when I’m grieving so Lord?” This is the question I prayed as my dad was leaving the confines of this earthly life to enter eternity with our Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit answered my question by bringing four words to the forefront of my mind. His-Final-First-Step.

It’s been nearly two-and-a-half years since I returned my beloved adopted dad to Florida to live out his life. None of us siblings expected he would be with us in 2021. Had the health we helped restore when he was with us here in Texas made a difference? He was on death’s doorstep when I brought him back with me after going home to say my last goodbye in 2018. He stated on the ride to Texas, “I just want to live a little more. There’s more in the tank.” I knew I had to do my best to help him achieve that goal.

I wrote about taking him back home here Going Home – J.D. Wininger, Christian Author (jdwininger.com). I accept that choosing my health over his was actually choosing his happiness over mine. Once he got settled in the family home, he got to reconnect with his oldest son and daughter-in-love who had spent most of their lives overseas as missionaries. He tinkered with his beloved Model T, turned a few more items on his wood lathe, and enjoyed evenings admiring the natural beauty of the lake behind their home. Among his favorite days was going to the family auto repair shop his son Raymond still operates today and watching the busyness and seeing old customers.

Greatly loved by all his children and grandchildren, who visited as often as possible in person or via FaceTime™, he cherished his lengthened days. In recent months, we often spoke of his impending death. He knew his life was ending and although I did my best to prepare him for that day, it was once again becoming all too real to him. Dad told me, “I don’t fear death because I know I’ll see Jesus and my family in heaven; I fear the dying.”

When my dad first came to Texas to stay with Ms. Diane and me, I spent many nights holding his hand, trying to calm his night terrors. It seemed the only thing that helped was my touching him and reciting the 23rd Psalm over and over as he slowed his breathing and regained his peace. In time, I discovered that his fear was of dying. He was afraid of the many unknowns about what was beyond death’s door. He knew heaven, but had so many questions. Sadly, I didn’t have all the answers he needed.

As he often did, he wandered into my office around 5:00am one morning as I was finishing my “God time.” He asked me if I would pray with him to help him find peace with things happening in his life and for answers to what happens when he dies. As we sat together with his once-powerful hands in mine, we did just that. During our prayer, God reminded me of a story I’d read long ago of a man diagnosed with a terminal illness and afraid to die.

He asked his doctor “What lies beyond death” and the doctor responded that “he didn’t know for sure.”

The patient said, “But you’re a Christian! How can you not know?”

The doctor lowered his head. “There are many things that I can’t know because God has not chosen to reveal them to me yet. But let me share with you what I know.” With that, he walked over to a door in his office and placed his hand on the doorknob. The man heard whimpering behind the door. The doctor opened the door and his furry friend bounded into the room. His tail wagging, his puppy-sized body was quivering with excitement. The doctor patted his friend, then looked at the man. “‘Champ’ here didn’t know what was beyond that door. He’s never been in this room before. He did not know what to expect, but he knew his master was there and that was all he needed to enter without hesitation.”

The dying man nodded his head in understanding and accepted that we can’t know everything that awaits us beyond death’s door. For those of us who die in Christ, we will have eternity with our Master and that’s enough to cross that threshold into eternity.

Do you have the assurance you need to take that final first step? Share on X

During today’s prayer, God revealed the words “His Final First Step” to me, and it caused me to think about the many first steps in our lives. In my dad’s very full and blessed life, some of them included:

  • His laughter-filled first steps as a small child that brought freedom of movement,
  • The joy of learning to walk again after spending nearly a year hospitalized and bedridden with Rheumatic Fever as a young boy,
  • Stepping out with his best girl on their first date,
  • Surrendering his life to Christ and taking his first tentative steps as a new Christian,
  • Leading his new wife down the aisle immediately after their marriage in a small Methodist church in Massachusetts,
  • Taking his children in his hand as he helped them take their first steps,
  • Becoming a husband, father, provider, and friend to his children,
  • Purchasing their first home,
  • Walking his beloved daughter down the aisle as she began her life as wife and mother,
  • Opening his own business,
  • Having the courage to adopt a wayward young man into his family and giving him the love, respect, attention, and guidance needed to become a godly man and worthy husband,
  • Stepping into retirement as he transferred his successful company to his sons,
  • Taking those first tentative steps after major heart surgery to have valves replaced and blockages repaired,
  • Stepping out of his bedroom for the first time without his beloved wife of over 50 years beside him,
  • Getting through that first morning knowing that his youngest son was no longer in this world, and his final first step,
  • Taking Christ’s hand as He led him into heaven’s glory with his family members welcoming him home.

There are many first steps in our lives. Some are memorable like those listed above, and others lost to the ages. The one thing each of them required was the courage to take that first step. My dad would tell you that taking that first step isn’t nearly as important as what you do afterwards. Words like responsibility, kindness, integrity, honesty, compassion, and service were important words to my dad.

He worked hard to instill those values into each of his children. Another word I think of when I think of dad is “Forgiven.” While he may not have been perfect, he was never afraid or ashamed to ask someone’s forgiveness, and he was always quick to forgive others. Mr. Stewart E. Adams, my dad, has left his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren a wonderful legacy of love, compassion, and caring for others. His legacy will guide those of us remaining to continue serving God and mankind so we might honor the memory of a much-loved man.

Have you considered what your life’s legacy will be and what influence your life will have on those coming after you? Share on X

Before dying, my dad lost his ability to speak. In knowing him, I believe he would tell us:

Whatever else you do in this life, reconcile your life to Christ
through God’s free gift of salvation, learn His ways, endeavor to be
the best you can be, and don’t be afraid to take that first step.

My prayer for each of you is that you consider the legacy you will one day leave behind and you know your eternal destination is secure through God’s grace and faith in His Son (John 3:16).

God’s blessings,

60 thoughts on “His Final First Step”

    1. Thank you sweet friend. Saying “goodbye” to a loved one is perhaps the most difficult thing we’ll ever do, but when they’re “in Christ”, we understand it’s a “see you later.” Like you, I look forward to that day when we are reunited with our loved ones and our Lord.

  1. JD, Sir, this post truly blessed me, and cry happy tears. The final first step is a great way to explain a loved one’s home-going. May God continue to comfort you as you think of your dad.

  2. Completely and utterly beautiful and true. We, as Christians, all have to make our peace with the dying. I thank you so much, JD for writing on this most important subject not often discussed.
    Well done.

  3. Since I recently lost my mother, J. D., this post spoke volumes to me. I love how you’ve described all the first steps we take, and that the final first step is passing from this earth into heaven.
    May God give you comfort and peace at this time of loss, my friend.

    1. I knew you would understand all too well my sweet friend. Still praying your peace and comfort ma’am. While we grieve their lack of physical presence in our lives, we rejoice in knowing we’ll see them again soon. I like to think I carry the love of my parents and family members in my heart, and I draw upon the life lessons each have taught me as I struggle to endure just a bit longer. God’s blessings sweet lady.

  4. A beautiful testimony! I can relate to your dad’s questions about dying. My foible of fear is that I don’t know how I will die. But of course, not many of us do.

    The important truth is that every step of a Christian’s life toward Home should have counted for something. Your dad’s sure did!

    Thank you, JD for weaving into “His Final First Steps,” the importance of leaving a legacy. That is my heartbeat, as well. In fact, I’ve been invited to write a monthly column in Women World Leaders magazine. Beginning in November of this year, the reader will find my column, “Leaving a Godly Legacy.”

    Your intimate portrayal of your dad, confirms to me that there is absolute need for Christians to finish well, so that future generations of family and friends – even strangers – may be enriched by the legacy they leave. I am a stranger who has been enriched.
    Thank you for sharing the well-lived life of Mr. Steward E. Adams. His influence certainly spilled over into your life. You are an excellent and inspiring writer, JD.

    1. Thank you so much Ms. Kathy, and I’ll be praying for your upcoming columns. I do hope you’ll share them with us. Something I’ll share is that my prayer has been “Lord, be merciful and take my dad peacefully. Don’t cause him to endure the indignity of waiting to die in a nursing home, where he would feel unloved and abandoned.” I knew that my siblings would visit him as often as they could, and that I would call each day, but oh, how my dad hated the idea of having someone other than family care for him. He realized it was inevitable, as we’re all over 60 or 70 and need help of our own somedays, but he so didn’t want that to happen. After moving him to a loving hospice facility (for less than 12 hours), the night nurse (of whom this was her first night on the job) was named Theresa, which was our mother’s name. After daddy passed, other nurses helped my sister out to the car with his things. One of the nurse exclaimed, “When they change the parking lot lights to purple?” My sweet sister smiled and told her that purple was our mom’s favorite color. We see these things as Godwinks that assured us He and mom had answered our prayers. I was so relieved to learn that my dad died peacefully, surrounded by His Savior and family that preceded him into Heaven.

  5. J.D., I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. What a beautiful testimony. I’m so thankful the Lord granted the desire of his heart. I love the story of the dog and his master. You know I can relate to that one. Sending love and prayers.

    1. Our dad’s life was indeed a testimony to us and many others Ms. Debbie. I pray daily that I honor him by reaching out to so many, as he did his entire adult life as Christian.

  6. A favorite friend and pastor used to say, “Christians die well.” This doesn’t mean the journey will be easy, but one’s faith helps Believes reach a place of peace when facing the unknown. In your dad’s case, God used you to help. Beautiful story!

    1. I felt it was my last opportunity to honor the man who gave me “life.” Yes, he adopted me when I was 14, but he was the man who taught me how to be a man and he helped lead me to the Lord through the example he sat for his children. Thank you so much for your kindness and prayers ma’am.

  7. J.D. what an absolutely touching and beautiful post. I offer my condolences in the loss of your precious father but it really isn’t a loss since you know where he is and will see him again. I lost my dad in a very sudden and unexpectedly violent way 5 years ago and miss him daily. But knowing I will see him again is my comfort. Thank you for sharing this my wonderful friend.

    1. I’m so very sorry you have that memory of loss to carry with you Ms. Ann, but I know that God has tempered your grief with His love and mercy sweet friend. While I can’t imagine I will ever not miss my dad, until that Day when we are reunited, I trust our Lord to fill the missing part in my heart with His love.

  8. JD, you have touched my heart and soul again. While reading your message, I was taken back to when my Daddy was passing on to Heaven in 1998, and then, to my Mama passing on to Heaven in 2013. I am thankful to God for my parents. Thank you dear friend for sharing your life with us.

    1. Thank you Ms. Mimi. We lost mama in 2003, and none of us thought daddy would have made it this long. We considered every passing birthday with him a blessing from God. I’m not sure the “hurt” ever goes away when we lose our parents, but I’m certain the pain and grief will subside. God promises that all who are in Christ will be together again one day in eternity. Am looking forward to that coming day my friend. Thank you for your kind wishes and prayers.

  9. Losing a parent is never easy. Losing the second one made me feel like an orphan, even as an adult. My prayers for the comfort and peace of the Lord to be abundantly present for your & your family. Thanks for sharing your grief with us.

    1. No ma’am, it is not. While I feel “tossed by the winds of grief” right now, I know that our Lord is my anchor and in Him I will be able to withstand this storm. Thank you so much for your kind words and your prayers dear friend.

  10. Edwina Cowgill

    Mr. J.D.,
    Your beautiful post has shown those of us not privileged to have known your dad that he was a wonderful father and left a legacy that will live on in your life and the lives of your family members.

    I pray for God to comfort all of you and give you peace.

    In Him,

    1. Thank you very much Ms. Edwina. Our family was very blessed indeed by our parents. Mr. Stewart and Ms. Theresa were the best kind of folks. I’ll always remember coming home with my little brother from closing up the station while I was in high school and mom and dad would be comfy and sitting in their recliners. Mom was usually reading the Bible; and while dad often did, he always had a stack of Scientific American and Popular Mechanics to peruse. While my love of reading predated my adoption, they certainly reinforced many good habits (like Bible study and prayer) that has stuck with us children our entire lives. Thank you for your prayers and kind words ma’am. God’s blessings gentle friend.

  11. Butch & Linda Burns

    Your posts never disappoint. This testimony and tribute to your earthly father and Heavenly Father was amazing. We cry tears of joy along with you. Sympathy and love, Butch and Linda

    1. Thank you both so very much Mr. Butch and Ms. Linda; and thank you for the sweet card and sentiments. Ms. Diane and I thank God for wonderful friends like y’all here in our small community. God has blessed us so mightily since we followed His leading to move here. God’s blessings sweet friends.

  12. Oh, my dear friend, such love shines through your message. A wonderful tribute to your earthly father who loved you and helped you become the wonderful man you are. I’m so sorry for your loss, but so grateful that God sent you your dad. I’m glad you had that special time with your dad in Texas. I know that was a wonderful memory for you both. Praying for you–it’s so hard to say goodbye to our loved ones, even when we know they are in the loving care of Jesus.

    1. Yes it is hard Ms. Katherine. Even though we knew this day was coming soon, you can never fully be prepared to lose someone you love so dearly. My only consolation is knowing that I will see my dad, mom, brother, and many other loved ones again one day soon. In God’s promise, we find the strength to face each new day here on this world, while we anticipate and work towards going home. God’s blessings gentle friend.

  13. I’m lost in a mix of sober reflection, deep gratitude, and an inner longing to be blessed with a small portion of what you’ve given your dad, and us. We who didn’t get to know your dad then, now feel like we do. No dad could ever want a grander thing in his legacy than a son who would open is heart and paint such an indelible portrait for all the world to see. It’s fascinating to consider the picture you shared in contrast to a photo of what he looked like on the outside. I doubt if many hearts would have been moved if all we saw was a photograph. The picture you chose to reveal was much more lasting and meaningful. Those of us who have come to love and appreciate you and the gifts you share with so many, now know a little more about what there was about you that caused us to react that way. Thanks for inviting us to deeper places than we many not have expected to gol

    1. “Lord, I thank you for the wonderful gift of Christian friendship and fellowship that You have bestowed upon me from so many. As eloquent as my dear friend Mr. Ron is, I pray you bless him and the many others who share their love for You with so many undeserving folks like me. Together, the body of Christ is stronger by each person commenting here, and the hundreds of others who read and comment privately.” Not sure how to say Thank You enough for your kind words my friend. I will only say that I hope and pray that one day I can return your kindness. I wish you could’ve gotten to know my dad; like you, he was indeed a special and blessed friend.

    1. Thank you so much Ms. Kathy. I pray you never have to share that example with any more of your loved ones, but I’m ever-grateful to God for His bringing that old story back to my memory when I needed it to help my Dad. I pray He will do the same for you when you one day need to help someone wrap their minds around the unknown unknowns of our Creator. God’s blessings sweet friend.

  14. What Ron said. I can empathize with you. My dad passed in 1985, when I was 36. He took his last breath while I sat with him. I’m still not sure he knew Jesus. When I asked him in an earlier visit, he said, “ I’ve made my peace with God.” Guess I’ll find out for sure when I get home. My best condolences to you and your family, J.D.

    1. I imagine it’s hard not knowing for sure our loved ones who precede us in death will be there awaiting us or not Mr. Howard. I pray that your dad’s “peace” came through salvation. I have loved ones who are “spiritual”, and my fervent prayer is that they one day soon become “saved.” We both know none of us can be good enough or spiritual enough to enter God’s kingdom through the only gate. Thank you for your kind thoughts my friend. Sure glad I know that I’ll see you there one day so I can introduce my dad in between worshipping Our Father.

  15. So sorry to hear about your dad’s passing. He indeed left a legacy. This is simply beautiful writing and story-telling that you are a master of. Praying for your grief-filled days.

    When my biological father passed away the Lord spoke to my grieving heart through Isaiah 53:4, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”

    This is a prophecy about Jesus years BEFORE His coming and crucifixion, yet written in PAST TENSE. He has already borne our griefs and carried our sorrows and continues to do so. It doesn’t make it easy, but it brings me comfort in that it was already accomplished for us!

    1. Thank you Ms. Karen. Your kind words are always appreciated ma’am. Yes, we can take comfort in knowing that our Lord suffers and grieves with us. We can indeed be comforted in knowing that our loved ones who were in Christ at death are healed and that they are now safe in the Father’s arms.

  16. What a beautiful legacy your dad has left behind to be admired and cherished by your family. I’m glad you helped him get over the fear of dying; my mother has always feared that, too. The story of the dog is a great way to explain it. Also, deepest condolences to you as you grieve for your precious dad. Someday soon, we’ll all be together in heaven, won’t we? Eternity with our Lord Jesus will be beyond our imagination. Maranatha, brother J.D.

    1. He sure did Ms. Karen. I watched a video presentation that will be shared at his memorial tomorrow and realized what a “living legacy” he has left behind. Each of his grandchildren and great grandchildren, whether they’ll remember him or not in their lives, have been impacted by our dad/grandpa. The lessons he shared with us will be shared with them for generations to come. God’s blessings ma’am; and thank you for the love, respect, and caring you are giving to your precious mama.

  17. What a gift you were given to be with your dad in his final days. I took care of my mother for her last 3 months while she was in hospice. Even though she knew where she was going and wanted to get there, she kept asking me to hold her hand. I think that physical touch, like when you held your dad’s hand, means so much to them as they know they are leaving this earth. It does make us think about what kind of legacy we want to leave behind us. May you have the peace of God in your heart as you think about what you were given.

    1. Yes ma’am. As challenging as caring for an aging parent can be, the rewards of doing so far outweigh it. My most precious memories of my dad, and I have over 50 years of them, are of those quiet moments here on the Cross-Dubya when we would sit and talk together. Not as Father and Son, but as friends and confidants. Dad learned it was safe to share his innermost feelings and fears with me, and I learned to remove him from the pedestal of “fatherhood” and just allow him to become a true and trusted friend. God’s blessings ma’am.

  18. Lori Ann Hatcher

    Please accept our most sincere condolences on the loss of your beloved father. May God wrap His big strong arms around you and comfort you as you grieve.

    Sending a hug,
    David and Lori

    1. Thank you so much Pastor David and Ms. Lori. Knowing that my family are in your fervent prayers brings great peace and comfort to us all. Sometimes I feel it’s “high tide” and the waves of grief are going to overwhelm me, but then I replay a conversation my dad and I shared during the past few years and it’s as though the tears are dried up and held back. Is my family and I grieving? Most certainly. Are we doing so with God’s joy, peace, and comfort in our hearts; knowing that our beloved father, dad, and friend’s soul is safely in heaven with his Savior and Lord? Absolutely. The tears will come each of us siblings will process grief in our own way and in our own time. I think our mom and dad are smiling down from heaven though, knowing that we stand together with Christ and will continue supporting each other as family should. God’s blessings sweet friends. Your thoughts and prayers bring my entire family great comfort.

  19. Yvonne Morgan

    Praying for you and the family as you take your first steps without him. I love this beautiful tribute to him and I pray that I remember the story you shared about the dog to share with others. Thanks and God bless.

    1. How sweet Ms. Yvonne. Thank you so much ma’am. For some of us, our first steps seem shaky and tentative as we’re unsure of ourselves having lost that “anchor” we had always held onto. Others will try to walk boldly into the future with the swagger and confidence our dad instilled upon us. And others (at least me) will move slowly forward for a season, not wanting to let go of the past but knowing that my dad stands in heaven and shouts encouraging words to me as he looks to Jesus and asks “Help him Lord. Show him the way You will have him go.” To him, I write “Thank you Pop. You will always be my greatest supporter.”

  20. J.D. you brought tears to my eyes with this beautiful story and tribute to your Dad! I’m sure you must miss him so very much, but you gave him wonderful gifts of more time and your compassionate understanding and help with his fears before he took his final first step. Many blessings to you, my friend!

    1. Thank you Ms. Kathy. Like God above, I don’t know that I will ever be able to do enough to repay my earthly dad for all he gave, and did for, me; but our father’s (earthly and heavenly) don’t do them because they expect repayment, they do them because they love us. I think the best we can do is to share that love with others ma’am. God’s blessings dear friend.

  21. A beautiful post, Mr. J.D. I enjoyed reading this. Your father sounds wonderful. I especially liked the example of Champ the dog, because one of our dogs behaves the same way with me, and the other two are the same with my husband (throughout the years, I’ve found that many dogs choose one family member as their leader above the others). I try to improve at not worrying and being content with not having the answers all the time.

  22. How important it is to be able to speak openly with loved ones about life beyond this earthy existence. As a hospice volunteer, I always welcomed that opportunity. There is healing, acceptance, and peace in the transition when we know where we are going and with whom will be spending the rest of eternity. I can feel the warmth of love between you and your Dad. He was indeed a special man as is his son (i.e. you).

    1. Thank you Ms. Karen. I think of the many things my dad and I have done for one another over the last half-century and I’m certain the greatest gift he gave me was love. I pray the greatest gift I gave him was the same. I hope, at his end, my gift of trying to help him accept the inevitable and take that “final first step” into eternity helped. I’m told my dad went peacefully, having spent less than eight hours at the Good Shepherd Hospice. I thank them for all their care and help during our dad’s difficult transition. As a former hospice volunteer, I know you can appreciate the “Godwinks” my sister and brother received while there. I shared this earlier, but repeat it here for you. The night nurse, who came on duty (her first night there) right before daddy passed was named Theresa, our mother’s name. The Chaplain who came by to visit and pray with the family was a former NASCAR track Chaplain; dad was a “car guy” and spent his life as an auto mechanic. Of course, he raced stock cars in his younger days too. After passing, other nurses helped my sister out to her car with some of dad’s things. One nurse looked up and exclaimed, “When did they change to purple lights in the parking lot?” My sister Sue smiled and said “Purple was our mom’s favorite color. That’s why.” My siblings and I are so comforted knowing that God was present in my dad’s passing and that he’s been reunited with the souls of our mom and baby brother who have been awaiting his homecoming for many years. Thank you for your kind words ma’am.

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