Thursday, October 6, 2011

When Grace is Enough

Another homeschool year has started in our house.  As I sat down to start documenting our home & school life again on this blog, I realized that first I must share the event that has shaped the months since my last post.

I want to tell you the story of my Dad’s death.  That might sound like a harsh way to put it, but that is exactly what it is.  People always feel so free to share birth stories, so I ask you, why not death stories? Death is just as natural a part of life as birth. I know, we just don’t like to think about it, but it’s still there. If you have ever been with a loved one in their final weeks, than you will know what I mean when I say that a person’s passing can be just as precious as a person’s birth.

I write this for a few reasons; first, to honor my Father, secondly in hopes that it can encourage others going through similar circumstances, and lastly, but most important of all, to give The Lord all the glory & credit for everything He did for us during this time.

My father was diagnosed with lung cancer on Dec. 1, 2010, his 62nd birthday.  He went right into treatment and things started looking up.  By spring it looked as if he just might beat it. All of his tests were coming back with encouraging results, then he started having trouble breathing.  This was followed by a series of hospital stays, which eventually lead to a diagnosis of a rare pneumonia only seen in persons with deficient immunity, a side affect of chemotherapy & radiation.  My Dad fought hard, was put on a respirator, but in the end he could not fight this pneumonia.  He passed away on June 18th, the day before Father’s Day.

Those are the facts of my Father’s death, but it is only the beginning of the story.  The heart of this story is the grace & mercy of God’s wisdom & love.  As you can imagine, this was a very difficult time for my Mother, her children, children-in-law & grandchildren.  A nurse at the hospital asked me how it was that we were handling this “so well”.  She was not the only one who asked me similar questions during this time.  This got me thinking.  What kind of behavior did they expect from us?  We were sad, crying, praying – just what I think a mourning family would be like.  Then I realized what it was. In the midst of all our sorrow we had peace and hope.  The kind of peace and hope that only comes from faith in Christ alone.

Many asked how I could have faith in a God who would allow this to happen to my Dad at such a young age. That’s a good question.  For many people it is the ultimate question, and there are many answers, but I like this one the best.  To answer this, I look at Jesus, God’s own son.  What did God the Father allow into Jesus’s life on Earth?  He was homeless, penniless, mocked, ridiculed, challenged, betrayed by those he loved, arrested, beaten, tortured, publicly humiliated, and murdered in the most gruesome way imaginable at that time.  Now this is just the short list of what Jesus endured in his earthly life.  Why did God allow these things?  He allowed them to accomplish his plan, to make a way for us to choose to come to him and be with him for eternity.  If God can allow these horrible things to happen to his own son for my benefit, surely he is willing to allow these things in my own life for the benefit of others and myself!  Simply put, God allows things he hates in order to accomplish what he loves, our salvation & growth in him!

What did my father’s struggle accomplish? How can I count it as grace?  Well, I don’t know everything God is accomplishing through this.  That’s how big God is!  His plan is so big I cannot begin to comprehend it all, but I will share with you a few things I am aware of within my knowledge. 

·      The Lord showed up in many personal ways during this time. Showing us that he was there with us.  Some are too personal to share here, but I will share one.  My father was the kind of guy who said the day was over by noon.  He got upset that doctors didn’t make appointments before 8am.  He would say, “If you are not up by 5 am your day is shot.” Well, on the day we had planned to take my father off the respirator and let him go, we were all going to meet at the hospital around noon, but that was too late in the day for my dad.  He passed away a little after 6am on that day.  We laughed about this right from the start.  It was the Lord showing us he knew the man my dad was. Even though my dad was on life support and was heavily sedated that whole last week, God preserved my dad’s personality right to his last moments.

·      My family came together in a new way.  Joint suffering is a crucible for relationships.  We all grew closer.

·      Family members and friends who are not believers in Christ got to see our faith in action.  Now I am not saying we were perfect examples at all, but I do believe that we were used by the Holy Spirit to plant some seeds of faith that I am praying will continue to grow.

·      Personally, I came to a new place of faith.  I have always had one favorite Bible verse. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11. Before this summer, I had a very juvenile way of clinging to this verse. To me it meant that God would take of me and I would always be OK. It does mean that, but I understood in such a childish way.  For example, if I lost my job it was because a better one was right around the corner.  Instead, I think it can mean something more like this, I lost my job and it took me 6 months to find one, but during that time, my family and I grew closer, learned to be much better stewards of our blessings, and grew closer to and more reliant on God as a family and individuals. Like the song, “Blessings” by Laura Story says ~ “What if a thousand sleepless nights is what it takes to know You’re near?”  I’ll take the sleepless nights.  Through this I have gotten to know the Lord so much better, and come to this place of complete trust.  I am starting to understand that my hope and future are all in Jesus and developing my relationship and dependence on him!

·      Jer 29:11 brings me to another way God showed up personally for me and my Mom.  The morning Dad was put on a respirator; Mom & I took a walk the healing garden at the hospital.  In the middle of this garden is a big metal tree sculpture with metal leaves.  As a fundraiser the hospital sold these leaves and engraved them personal messages. Most say In memory of so and so, or have names of the donors on them.  They also scattered a few leaves sticking out of the ground on metal branches along the path.  For, me this was my lowest point emotionally.  I knew I might never be able to speak to my father again.  As Mom and I are walking, we turned a corner in the path and right in front of us is a leaf engraved with “Jer. 29:11”.   There were no other leaves that I could see with scripture references. I wish I could let the person know who paid for that leaf how The Lord used them to minister to me at that moment!

·      Lastly, and most importantly, is what this experience did for my father.  My Dad needed to look his mortality in the face in order to come to complete faith in Jesus.  He had to see the possibility of his life in an hourglass.  He had always believed in God, but facing this moved his faith from head knowledge to heart knowledge.  My Dad still kept his faith a personal thing, but I know he accepted Jesus as his savior.  And when you have a loved one facing their death, eternity is all that matters. Really, it is all that matters at any time!

So, I would have loved to have my Dad longer. 62 feels too young to die, but I trust that this was God’s will for him.  I gladly trade time here on earth with my Dad for his security and eternal life in Heaven, and I know he is there alive and well! I am so thankful for all the blessings that come with the pain of not having my Dad here with us anymore.  I also know that my list of blessings is just a small part of what God has done and is doing through the circumstances of my father’s death.  God is so big, I cannot even begin to comprehend his entire plan. However, I do know one thing.  While I will miss my Dad for a little while, he is a much bigger part of my future than he is of my past.

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