Nearly nine years ago the person who loved me unconditionally, accepted me completely, and spoke great love into my life left this earth. During our last year together we walked through deep valleys and took tea on high mountaintops. My dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-smoking lung cancer after noticing a painful knot at the back of his neck. He was a New Zealander with a wonderful accent and so dearly loved.
As a little boy of eight, he heard the Lord whisper dreams of marrying an American woman and traveling to tell the world about Jesus. He loved Jesus with all of his heart and took that love to people in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, Korea, Greece, Italy, Russia, Australia, little ole’ Panama City, and everywhere he went. I tell you this so you can get a glimpse of the kind of man that he was – he gave all that was in him to share the love of Jesus with others, one friend at a time.
He also showed me what it was like to truly be loved by a good father. Yet, even with his nearly perfect example, I had still moved away from walking with the Jesus that he loved. Through Dad’s illness, I began to find my way back.
As he laid in bed one afternoon, after going through chemo, I had the privilege of sitting in the chair beside him. He turned away from me, hand under his face and body curled up and whispered, “I don’t want to leave my family.” I gave my bravest response, “I really don’t think you will. I think you’re going to get better.” He shared his heart and his fears with me. I shared my tiniest seed of faith, it was all I had.
Traveling back and forth, moving between my family of little ones and husband, to my momma and dad who needed me, my littlest would ask, “Mama, when you comin’ home?” As I traveled down I-75, my heart started to melt. The pain began to change me. The distractions and delicacies offered by the evil one no longer tempted. I traveled from one family to the other, and loved the best I could.
I joined Dad in the living room late one night when he couldn’t sleep. We smiled at one another, not wanting to speak out our fears; we faced them together in the quiet darkness. Although he was the pastor, his health and strength caused us to drop out of attendances. So instead, we shared sweet mornings together. He made me an avocado sandwich and I made him grilled cheese and tomato. I wish I could make known the depth of love and friendship that we shared.
I remember the moment he spoke to me about my heart softening towards the Lord. His prose was a painful gift. “I’d go through all of the devastation of cancer again, to see you come back to life.” He’d believed that I was worth it.
There was a time early on when I visited and attended his church. A man looked beyond my best brave face and said that I was like dry bones, shaking and coming to life. I knew what he meant, because I had been asleep for so long. The inevitability of losing my dad, one of my greatest loves, had caused me to stir from my slumber. I wanted him to live and I came back to God, at first, begging and bargaining.
Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
I didn’t know it then, but I can see it now. God was using my dad’s sickness and ultimate death to draw me back to Him. There were so many moments of fear and sadness, and sweet moments of hope, and along the way I was taking one step at a time, getting closer to knowing the heart and kindness of God.
Darkness Burning Away
Something happened that made an impermeable impression on my heart. A dear friend of our family died from a setback and drug overdose during my dad’s illness. He was a man who loved God so much, yet succumbed to the chains of addiction. Days after his death his family came to church and I watched in awe as his sister and her husband led praises and worshiped God, despite the tragedy they had just so keenly experienced. It was one of the most real and raw things I’d ever seen. How could they be praising when their brother had just tragically died? The image of their sacrifice burned into me.
As I navigated a real relationship with God, my friendship with Christ grew, while Dad’s health diminished. He was very brave, and always beautiful, a proper Englishman. I didn’t want to leave his side, but with the doctor’s okay, I traveled home, only to be called back early the next morning to the rush of the end drawing near. When I arrived, he was already leaving us. He couldn’t respond, couldn’t look at me with his weeping blue eyes, couldn’t squeeze my hand. Yet, I whispered of love and as his body betrayed him, in my daughter’s voice, I sang as he slept.
Matthew 5:3-4, The Message. You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
Light Breaking In
The Holy Spirit showed me something this week, nearly nine years after Dad left us. In the hospital room where my dad was stuck in a shell of a body that had been bruised and couldn’t hold up to its requirements any longer, I saw Jesus, full of light, over Dad’s bed. Jesus never left us, even when it looked like Dad had been defeated, and death and darkness had won. What the devil planned to break me, to frighten and scare me away, actually drew me to the One who loves me greater than the man that loved me so. When the enemy thought he would crush me with Dad’s death, God used his assault to bring me back to life.
Life is like a continual road that we walk on and God gives us choices all along the way – choose life, or choose death. Choose to believe that I am for you, or choose to believe that I am against you. He allows choices so that we can earn the reward that He has for us at each turn. I choose to be like the brother and sister who praised God, despite the strike the enemy used to try to crush them. I choose to believe that despite the fear and deep grief that I experienced during my dad’s illness and death, that God is still good, that He is for me, and that He can use every circumstance to draw me closer to Him.
Deuteronomy 30: 19-20, This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
What are you experiencing in your life that offers you the choice – to be crushed, or to live, despite the pain? If we will reach up and grasp the hand of the One who loves us the most, Jesus will walk us through to the other side. He never ever leaves us, even in the tragedies. It may be difficult, and so painful at times, but if we will choose to believe that God’s goodness is for us, He will certainly meet us where we are and bring us from death into life.
Isaiah 43:1-5, Do not be afraid—I will save you. I have called you by name—you are mine. When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. When you pass through fire, you will not be burned; the hard trials that come will not hurt you. For I am the Lord your God, the holy God of Israel, who saves you. I will give up Egypt to set you free; I will give up Ethiopia and Seba. I will give up whole nations to save your life, because you are precious to me and because I love you and give you honor. Do not be afraid—I am with you!