photo: Alexandr Ozerov /

photo: Alexandr Ozerov /

I had no idea of the surprise that was about to unfold before me when I arrived at my mom’s a few weeks ago. I don’t believe its coincidence when things like this happen. Certainly I didn’t anticipate a surprise life lesson inspired by my dad, as we were gathering on his birthday to bury his ashes.

While the house was still quiet, I slipped into my dad’s office. I just wanted to be there in the stillness for a few moments. My eyes quickly settled on the corner by his computer, where so much of who he was adorned the space – a large picture of his naval ship, a Penn State picture frame, a level, and so many other tidbits that together represented his life passions. builderA large magnetic sign clung to the side of his filing cabinet. Even though I’d seen it a million times, it grabbed my attention. I remember it prominently displayed on his pickup truck back in my elementary years when he had his own construction business. Despite leaving the trade all those years ago to become a passionate teacher and professor he kept it. And, I read it that day almost as though reading it for the first time…“Paul L. Heim Builder”

When I read “builder” my heart skipped. Just a few months ago when my dad passed, my sisters and I worked to capture our memories in our tearful eulogies; but suddenly this one word resonated to my core. My dad was a builder. For years he built homes. He left the trade to be a builder of people’s future through education. A compassionate man of service, he built community through the many ways he volunteered through a number of organizations. Through his time and story telling with us, he was a builder of family. In his final days, he wanted to know that he made a difference, that he had built a legacy. My heart jumped again. That was it… my dad was a builder. That one word summarized his life so perfectly. What a beautiful gift before laying his ashes to rest.

By itself, I treasured my surprise gift, but I had no idea that was just the start.

A few minutes later I headed off to the store to pick up something for my mom. As soon as I got into my car, the dj’s on the radio began to talk about a band coming to the area for a concert, the band’s name – Building429.

“If you haven’t heard the story behind their name,” the dj began, “check out Ephesians 4:29- it’s where their name came from.”

After my “builder” revelation, I couldn’t help but resist looking up the reference as soon as I got back to my mom’s.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs Eph 4:29a

I smiled. That was who my dad was. He was a kind compassionate, person who built up others. He didn’t fall into the trap of allowing his words tear people down. It almost felt like a fatherly reminder, our words matter.

Once again, I felt as though I’d received a surprise gift. But, it still wasn’t quite complete.

Soon we headed off to the cemetery for our small family gathering. There we shared a few stories and tearfully listened to the trumpet play taps for dad one final time. As I got in my car to leave, my nephew tapped on my window. “One of the cemetery workers knows you from high school and wanted to say something to you.”

My sister and I walked to the short distance to where the workers were waiting. John, who had gone to school with me, said “I’m sorry about your dad.” He paused for a moment and then said “he was one heck of a builder.”

I looked at my sister and we smiled. “Yes, he was.”

I’m thankful for God’s fingerprints that showed up in the way of a surprise gift reminding me who my dad was and the powerful legacy he’s left behind. I’m reminded that even on our challenging days, we need to look for the encouragement around us, look for the “coincidences” that are blessings from above that I call God’s fingerprints. And, I feel like I received one more valuable reminder from my dad, choose and use my words carefully. Our words either give life or they destroy it. (The tongue has the power of life and death. Proverbs 18:21)

Be encouraged no matter what your path looks like today. God knows right where you are. He proved it to me on my dad’s birthday.

And, never be too busy to encourage those around you. Lift them up. Follow God’s nudging. He may just be looking to use you to surprise someone with His fingerprints on their lives.

What do you call “coincidences” like the one I had that day? I’d love to know what you call them. Have you experienced any recently? What do you think of my surprises on my dad’s birthday? I’d love to hear from you!

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