Julie Ziglar Norman reminds us that even at the darkest times we have reason to rejoice.
Posted in , Jun 27, 2013
I’d turned on the car radio for the long drive home that afternoon last November. My favorite preacher was on, but I wasn’t really paying attention. My mind was on my father. I’d just visited him at the nursing facility where he’d been for the past few months, his health failing.
He was 86. His spirit remained strong but the light in his eyes had dimmed and I had to wonder if this was the last time we’d see each other. My dad, the motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, was known the world over for his energy, optimism and faith. The interesting thing is, he came to that faith in his mid-forties.
It was the night of July 4, 1972, not long after he left a successful career as a salesman to pursue public speaking full time. He’d grown up in a church-going family but he had more doubts than belief.
That night he was out in his swimming pool when he was struck by the urge to pray, as his friend Sister Jessie had been encouraging him to do. Was God real? he asked. Was he truly present in our day-to-day lives? Dad lay back in the water and stared up into the heavens.
All at once a shooting star streaked across the sky. He was startled and elated. A warmth filled him, like the light from the star. He knew with the utmost certainty the answers to his questions. And he knew that he needed to share not just his energy and optimism in his speeches but his faith.
Dad often talked about the sign he saw. Maybe that’s why I looked up myself that afternoon, driving home from visiting him. Clouds were skimming across the Texas sky. Then I saw it, a cloud in the unmistakable shape of a Z.
Z for Ziglar.
I pulled over, grabbed my cell phone and took a picture. It wasn’t till later that I realized the camera function must have been set to video. I showed the recording to my brother and sister when we were keeping vigil in Dad’s hospital room. He’d been rushed there on Thanksgiving with pneumonia.
“We’re sorry, but there’s no hope,” the doctors told us. Dad would have argued that meeting his savior was more than hope enough. My prayers were for his time on earth to end peacefully. That was how he died six days later, in his sleep.
The family met to plan the funeral. Dad had spelled out exactly what he wanted for the “big church memorial,” as he called it—down to which Bible passages to read and which songs to sing. But for the private graveside service that would come first, he gave free rein to his pastor, Jack Graham.
Someone suggested that we get a better quality image of the Z cloud for the memorial program. I found the video on my phone and pressed “play.” Who was talking in the background? I hadn’t noticed it before.
I turned up the volume—it was the preacher from the car radio. He was quoting from I Thessalonians 4:13–18: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope...”
Hope. That was what Dad was all about. “Hey, y’all, listen to this,” I said to my family and played the video again. We’d have to tell Pastor Graham about this after the graveside service. He would be as moved as we were.
The next morning we gathered at the cemetery. “Years ago I committed to memory certain Bible verses,” Pastor Graham began. “Verses that I believe God wants me to share with you today.” He started quoting the Scripture.
My brother and I looked at each other, stunned. Then we said quietly along with Pastor Graham, “...that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
Dad was in his eternal home, and like Dad, I had looked to the heavens and had seen a sign telling me with the utmost certainty that I would see him again.