It was two Summers ago that my dad and also a very dear friend of mine were diagnosed with some aggressive and serious forms of cancer. I remember having a myriad of thoughts and feelings about the prognosis of both my dad and my friend. Of course, the concern I felt for my dad overwhelmed me and I began to call my dad immediately and pretty regularly to inquire as to how he was feeling and what was happening in his body. Over time he began to grow increasingly agitated by my calls and, really, I don't blame him now, but I did blame him then. He was feeling lousy and tired of me asking about how he was feeling when, in his mind, clearly, I should already know that he was the same this week as he had been for so many days and weeks. I wish I knew that then and understood the source of his aggravation. I began to pull away from him altogether as his animosity grew over the telephone. I was resolute to just let him die and not talk to him again beforehand. In all honesty, at the time, I was tired of being treated the way I had often been treated as a child, with cruelty, when all I was giving was love and kindness to him.
As the Summer and Fall wore on in 2009, something in me eventually broke down. I decided I needed to fly out to see my dad one last time before he died, even though my feelings towards him where raw and full of hurt for so many reasons. It was December now and I bought a plane ticket and later realized that the days I picked fell neatly in a space of time that my husband did not have to work. Everything seem to fall in place for me to go and be with my dad in this final time, which we did not know he would leave us when I came.
We pulled up to my house, the house of my childhood that is no more a home to come home to. I walked up the front steps that were tucked neatly in the middle of my split-level home. I took a deep breath and then pursued the seemingly long, endless walk down the hallway to the back bedroom. There he was, my dad, a mere shadow of his former robust and highly energetic self. Frail, drooping eyes, labored breaths, cloud my mind even now as I remember him on that day and every bad thought and feeling toward my dad about the past vanished. Seeing him in this condition overwhelmed me. He acknowledged me and said hello in a very tired voice. Squeaking out the very word seemed to take the strength of ten men to accomplish. I was having a bit of a shock. I didn't know how he would be. My family did warn me, but nothing can really prepare you for this.
I was there with him for two and a half days. The labored speech turned into total quiet, the sips of water turned into a refusal to drink one drop, the open eyes when you entered the room turned into an inability to acknowledge your presence in any way. On one of the afternoons that I was there, he asked me to pray for him. After I prayed an awkward silence fell. I said something quickly to fill up the pause. Something about not worrying and that he was alright with God. He said he wasn't right with God and that he had been insincere and rotten.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. My dad had abused my mother and the five of us kids for years and years as an Independent Fundamental Baptist pastor and never did he ever confess or apologize for any of the things he had done to us. Ever. He was completely BROKEN for what it seemed to be the first time in his life, truly broken over the hurt and pain he had caused us. And the memory of the nights and literally years of praying as a little girl on my knees for my dad with tears streaming down my face came flooding back to my memory. Those prayers were not in vain. Wow, those prayers were truly not in vain. The many prayers, the "I'm tired of praying for him, he's a lost cause", to brokenness all over again to pray for him and yes, for myself to love him despite being lovely.
And in return, like a child, my father asked me, "Do you think God can forgive me?" In utter disbelief, I assured him that God can and will forgive him if he asked for it.
The next few minutes my dad prayed to God and asked him for forgiveness with tears streaming down his cheeks. He was done praying and he looked up at me and asked, "Can I have a hug?" I closed in and gave him the hug of my life as he whispered in my ear, "I love you." The peace of God in that room was overwhelming.
It is an experience on this earth that will never be forgotten and I feel privileged to have been in the room with him when those words were spoken.
The day after this life-altering event my mom needed to step out to run errands and I was home alone with dad. I sat in a chair next to him. I asked him, "Dad, do you want me to read the bible to you or sing you a song?" He shook his head no. "Dad, do you want me to leave you alone?" He says, "No, no, stay."
I sat there in that chair in silence for a couple of hours and all I could do was cry. The tears came and came and yet there were still more, many more. Where could so much rain come from? The depths of brokenness, the depths of gladness, the depths of questions and the depths of doubt.
I was wondering why God would take my father now, when he wanted to change and now had the real power to pursue this life of change. Why? And the questions came and I still have questions today as I visit my dear friend who is struggling with cancer and may lose his life very soon. It doesn't look good, even though we pray for his healing. Even though I prayed at the bed side of my father, begging God for him to be well, to get well, to be around a little longer for this new life he was beginning, this life of acknowledgment of sin and accepting God's grace and His forgiveness.
I beg God for my friend to be around a little longer for his four young children and his wife. I don't have any answers, no pat ones for sure and the veneer of my life crumbles when I have to think about things like this. I just don't understand.
As I had those questions and still do now as I witness my friend's suffering, I am reminded of Jesus Christ's words as He hung on the cross in His own suffering, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I am comforted to know that even Jesus, the perfect Son of God, asked His Father in heaven why had He been forsaken. Even Jesus had questions about His suffering.
I know that Jesus suffers with me through my questions and my doubts and my fears and He helps me find truth and comforts me through the rough waters of just not understanding why. With Him there are no simplistic veneers or pat answers to gloss over our raw reality and I am so thankful for that.