Sunday, January 22, 2012

The most important man in my life

The most important man in my life

Besides the Lord, the most important man in my life was my father. He always had a way of making feel like I was O.K. even when I wasn’t. After my divorce, Dad became my best friend. He gave me crash courses on how to check the oil in my car, how to ride a riding lawnmower without hitting trees, the difference between "normal" funny sounds in a car’s engine and when you need to call the tow truck.

He tried desperately to teach me everything he knew in a very short amount of time because we both knew his time was limited. Dad had been diagnosed with cancer four years earlier, was getting stomach pains and was told that the cancer had spread throughout his body. Knowing this, my dad loved me and wanted his single daughter to be able to take care of herself. That’s why he was giving me so many crash courses. We never talked about it but we both understood.

One Sunday afternoon, my car started making a really loud noise. Dad had been in bed sick for several weeks and I didn’t want to bother him. When I finally called him, I only wanted him to tell me what he thought I should do next. But instead, he got out of bed and drove 30 minutes to my house. When he came to my door, I was shocked at how thin and frail he looked and I was upset at myself for having called him.

We went out to my car and took it for a test drive. He said “Well babe... we better get this thing to a mechanic quick!” Dad was trying his best to act like he was alright, but the pain in his face gave him away. As we drove, he tried to explain what he thought was wrong with the car. “Ya hear that sound right there?” He asked. “Ya…” I answered. “It sounds like the motor mounts have gone bad.” He continued. “What does that mean?” I asked. “That means your engine could fall out!” He laughed. “And if your engine falls out, you’re gonna need two tow trucks! One for your car and one for your engine! Let’s just hope we make it to the mechanic’s shop before that happens!”

On the way to the mechanic's, dad asked if I had any gum. Dad always chewed gum. I looked in the glove box and found some Red Hot Cinnamon gum. I handed him a stick and he popped it in his mouth. A few minutes later, as he was driving down the road, he opened the driver’s door to spit out the fire hot gum; not realizing that when he opened the door, the seat belt automatically moves forward. So here was this little frail man, with the seat belt wrapped around his neck, trying desperately not to wreck the car! We laughed the rest of the way home. Thank God I didn’t know then that this would be the last good memory I would have of my dad and me together.

For many years, my dad was a vivacious and active Pastor. He daily went from hospital to hospital... home to home... ministering to others. Helping them see God’s love even during difficult times. Now my dad found himself in a tough time as Carcinoid Cancer attacked his body. Although dad’s outer man was being attacked daily - his inner man just kept getting stronger. But while he was homebound (because of the severe pain he lived in daily) he still called others on the phone to minister to them and to help them see God’s love.

When I needed encouraged, my dad was the first person I went to! When I needed to feel loved and accepted – it was dad’s voice I needed to hear! When I started to feel overwhelmed and needed to know I was gonna be O.K., it was my dad who helped me get my priorities back in perspective. When I walked through the front door and heard him say “How ya doing Babe?” I knew I was home, I’d be o.k. and everything was gonna work out. He was such a humble man and I don’t think he ever realized what a man of God he truly was. That only made him more special to everyone who knew him.

Mom had been really depressed, scared, hurt and confused and I can only imagine what it must be like to lose the man you’ve loved for 30 some years. “Why” seems to be the big question. Why does dad have to suffer like this when he has been such a man of God? She told me how dad’s breathing was really scary last night. She says she thinks it was the death rattle people talk about. He had really deteriorated since I last saw him only a few days ago. Mom said he’s praying that the Lord will take him so he doesn’t have to suffer. How hard that must be for Mom to hear. I can’t imagine what she’s been through. It’s all I can do to get enough strength to visit for a few hours in the evenings. Watching dad suffer is so emotionally draining.

After a short visit, I couldn’t wait to get out of mom and dad’s house so I could explode into tears. When does mom cry? When can she release her pain? Where is everyone? After all dad had done for so many people - why does he have to lay at home suffering alone? If everyone he ever ministered to would visit for 10 minutes, he’d have someone with him around the clock! I really don’t understand people at all. I guess when you have a choice whether to become vulnerable to the heartache of watching a friend suffer or not, many choose not to.

As I cried out to the Lord the entire ride home, asking "why", the Lord spoke to my heart. “Brenda, if you don’t want your dad to die now - then when?” “Never!” I cried but I knew in my heart that dad had to die at some point. “But Lord.... why cancer?” That’s when He asked me the second question. “Brenda” He said. “If not cancer, then what; a car accident… or a heart attack? What?” In my heart, I realized the Lord was just assuring me that this was dad’s time and it was o.k. to let him go. Even though I wanted dad to stay and take care of me, it was time to let him receive his rewards in Heaven.

On Monday, I went to mom and dad’s and had a good talk with dad. He was lying in his hospital bed in the living room, when he looked at me and said, “It’s not looking good, Babe.” I had been praying all day for an open door to tell my dad how much I loved him. When he said this... at first I panicked and thought “I don’t want to talk about him dying!” But soon realized this was my open door and I may never get another opportunity like this one again.

So I went to his bedside and said “Dad, God knows I don’t want you to leave us.... but He also knows I could use some help down here! When you get to Heaven, could you just pull a few strings for me?! Not right away! Give yourself some time. Say five or ten minutes!!” He grinned and said “You know I will Babe!”

I couldn’t bear to talk about Dad dying so I told him not to give up. I said “I imagine when Daniel smelled those lion’s stinking breath - he was feeling pretty hopeless. But he didn’t give up! And when Jonah was looking at whale intestines, he didn’t give up! Dad, God can still do a miracle you know!” He just grinned. I continued by telling him he was the best dad in the world and that I loved him so much. He just lay there grinning his famous grin. It seemed he had something to tell me, but decided not to. Instead he told me how much he loved me and how proud he was of the decisions I had made.

Aunt Linda arrived with coffee stirs for everyone. Dad struggled to get to the table and enjoyed a few sips of the coffee stir before his bent frail body went back to his hospital bed to rest. Aunt Linda and I sat motionless at the kitchen table in disbelief and silence.

Tuesday, on the way home from work I picked up three meals at Perkins and went back to mom and dad’s to spend the night. We had a candle light dinner and dad got out of bed and sat for a few minutes to eat with mom. It wasn’t until we actually sat down together, that I realized I had bought a complete Thanksgiving meal (turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce; the works). It was only a few minutes before dad was too weak and had to get back into bed. That evening, I slept on the couch in the sitting room and mom slept on the couch in the living room beside dad’s hospital bed.

The next morning I walked into the living room and said, “Hey dad!” He opened his eyes and said “Huh.....” “Do you have any idea how much I love you?!” He grinned and said “Uh huh.....” “Do you know you’re the best dad in the whole wide world?!” “No.....” he said “I’m not asking ya, dad! I’m telling ya!” I said, “You’re the best dad in the whole wide world and you’ve done a great job raising us kids! I’m a survivor - because you showed me how to survive! I’m strong because you made me that way. I’ll be o.k. - because you’ve been a perfect example of Christ to me and He is the only thing I really need!” He grinned and fell back to sleep.

It was the Fourth of July, so I didn’t have to work. In the morning, mom got dad out of bed to use the porta potty beside his bed. He kept falling off the toilet and she had an awful time getting him back into bed. He was too weak to lift his legs and crawl into bed. As I lay on the couch listening to all of this, I began to panic. What in the world are we going to do? Mom can’t go on like this forever. I’m surprised she’s held up this long. I got up and went to the kitchen. Once I stepped into the kitchen I fell to the floor begging for mercy. “Oh God! If You're really going to take him, let him die with dignity! Don’t let him continue to linger! If you’re going to take him.... please let him go with dignity!”

That afternoon, about thirty different people stopped by the house to see mom and dad. They would only stay for a few minutes, just long enough to say “Hey Willie? I love ya man!” and walk out with tears streaming down their faces. He slept most of the day, but would wake long enough to make each visitor feel welcome, by smiling at them and saying their name. It was an exhausting day for everyone, but a good day.

The most precious visit came when twelve of his best friends (pastors he worked with), came to the front door and sang “The Old Rugged Cross” in the front yard. It reminded me of all the times we went Christmas Caroling and how it blessed people's heart. Today was dad's blessing and their act of love blessed dad more than they may ever know. He forced himself out of bed and stood at the door smiling back at the faces that loved him so much. It broke our hearts to witness this kind of love, but taught us so much in the process.

That night, as my brother, my sister, mom and I were sitting beside dad; the neighbors were having a 4th of July picnic and started lighting M-80s. At first, I was upset that they could be so inconsiderate; but I knew they had no idea what was happening in our home. Then, as only dad can do, he made us all laugh. Every time there was an explosion dad would wake up and say “Come on now. We need to all settle down. Let’s just settle down now.” I think he thought we were trashing the joint! We explained a couple of times that it was the 4th of July, but I don’t think he quite understood.

Dad started breathing differently today. He would take 6-9 deep breathes and then wouldn’t breathe again for a long, long time. The hospice nurse explained that this was the process of his body shutting down. Every time he would stop breathing, I would think that was his last breath! But then he’d gasp for another breath and start the process all over again. Several times, I caught mom trying to breath for him. I’m not sure she even realized what she was doing.

The list of things that went wrong today was astounding! My nephew, Michael wrecked his motorcycle and ended up in the hospital, the hair dryer started shooting flames and blew up, the light in the bathroom blew out, the leg on the coffee table broke off, the curling iron broke.... my dad was dying!

Friday, July 6th I wrestled for a long time whether I should go to work or not. My heart ached to have to leave dad! What if he died before I could get back? What if he remained like this for weeks? No one knows! The hospice nurse explained that while the cancer had taken it’s toll on the rest of dad’s body... he still had a very strong 61 year old heart and that was what was keeping him alive. After much debating, I finally took a shower, got dressed and prepared to leave for work. Aunt Linda stopped this morning too. I sense she’s wrestling with the same feelings. Should she go to work, should she stay? My sister, Patti came this morning, so mom won’t be alone. I stood at front door fighting with myself, but finally walked to my car. Once I got a few blocks down the road, I felt a peace and knew that I was supposed to be at work.

Once at work, I started trying to get things prepared in case I needed to leave in a hurry. The girl in the cubicle next to mine was going through a divorce and (not knowing my dad was dying) came over to my cubicle and to tell me her little girl had been making accusations about the little girl’s daddy sexually abusing her. I cried with Chrystal and tried to encourage her. Once she left my cubicle I jumped on the Internet and sent her a card to let her know that I was praying for her. As soon as I hit send - I had this urgency to go home! So I started packing things up and getting things ready to leave. It was then that my sister called and confirmed my decision to leave. I said “I’m on my way! I’ll be home in 15 minutes!” and I left. I got home and dad was still doing the same breathing. My brother, Mick and his wife, Debbie, my sister, Patti and I were there. I asked mom for dad’s anointing oil and we anointed him once again and asked for a healing. Then we prayed the Lord would take dad home; understanding that Heaven is the ultimate healing.

My son stopped over to see his Papa. When Josh walked in the front door and saw the way his Papa was breathing he panicked. “He needs oxygen!” He yelled “I’m going to the fire station and getting him some oxygen!” And he took off, flying down the road in his car. When Josh came back, his sister took him aside and explained to him that Papa’s breathing was the process the body goes through when it’s dying.” Josh calmed right down and sat the oxygen tank off to the side.

This was the first time in a long time, since my son had seen any of us. After the divorce, Josh moved two states away to live with his father. He was so full of anger and confusion and it was heart breaking so see him under these conditions. It had been a while since Dad spoke but when Josh entered the living room Dad said, “How ya doing Bud?!” It was good for Josh to hear the love in his Papa’s voice and it blessed my heart that the Lord would allow them to have those last few moments together.

Everyone was there telling dad how much they loved him and how he was the best father in the world. I don’t know if he could hear us or not. I was just very thankful that I had the opportunity to tell him those things when I knew he understood. We all told him he could go home and get his reward and that we’ll see him later.

Mom (just to get away from the scene for a moment) went out to get the mail. When she came in she had a funny look on her face and said, “Look what we just got in the mail.” Opening the envelope she pulled out a little vial of anointing oil and a prayer cloth. We all just stood there looking at it. My mind was racing! Was it too late?! God is able to do anything! Nothing’s too difficult for God! Mom was the only person brave enough to verbalize what we were all thinking! She said, “You don’t suppose.... I mean.... God is able!”

Then it started..... “So where do we put this thing?” My brother asked. “I don’t know!” Someone else said. Then someone suggested we put it on dad’s forehead, another said “No. It goes on his heart.” Yet another person said we were just to touch him with it. Suddenly, my sister asked, “Didn’t it come with directions?!” We all started laughing. I looked at dad and said “Oh dad! You’ve raised some real morons.” So my brother took the anointing oil, put it on dad’s forehead and began to pray. We put the prayer cloth on dad’s head for a little while and then his heart... (just to be safe!) If dad knew anything that was going on at this point – I’m sure he would just shake his head and laugh. We were as sincere as we could be.... but didn’t have a clue what was expected of us.

Shortly thereafter, dad spoke again. He hadn’t really done any talking for 2-3 days now and out of the blue he said loud and clear.... “I’m home!” We all jumped up, ran to his bedside and thought he was leaving. We cried and told him how much we loved him and that we were going to be o.k.; but he still lingered on. Breathing 9-10 times and then not breathing for a long, long time. Someone was by his side constantly from that point on. Mom and Patti sat with him during the night, and I got up early in the morning and sat with him while they tried to rest. Pastor Joe came over and sang some worship songs at dad’s bedside. You could tell Dad’s spirit was able to respond to Pastor Joe’s singing even if his body wouldn’t allow him to speak.

Friday morning I was sitting beside dad, wiping his brow with a cool cloth. Every time he would make even the slightest noise, mom would jump up and run to his side to make sure he was o.k. She was totally exhausted but did not want to leave his side. As I sat beside him, I could not believe how hard he had worked for the past couple of days. His breathing had taken its toll and he was sweating like crazy. I had worked as a birthing coach and was amazed at how much coming INTO this world was like LEAVING. They were both labor.

As my father lie there struggling to hold on, my mind went back to so many memories. Memories of sitting on the steps waiting for dad to finally get out of the bathroom so we could run downstairs and open Christmas gifts. Memories of how he loved his grandchildren. The crazy things he would do like riding a Slip and Slide down the hill at camp and singing “If raindrops were gumdrops” just to hear his grandkids squeal with laughter. Memories of our times spent at camp and fishing side by side. There were so many memories; memories that pierced my heart as I stood beside my dying father.

The hospice nurse came in the next morning and gave dad a bath around 10:30. After she finished, Pastor Carol came in. She said, “I bought you some chicken. I’m just gonna stick it in the refrigerator and then I’m leaving.” Before she could get it in the refrigerator, I decided to make mom a plate of food. Carol, Patti and I were in the kitchen talking when I decided to carry mom’s plate into the living room. As soon as I stepped into the living room, I realized something had changed! Dad was breathing differently. There were no hesitations, no pausing. Just a constant gasping for air! I sat the plate down, went back out into the kitchen and said, “Something has changed. You better come in.” Patti and Carol followed me back into the living room. Mom and Patti were on his right side, I was on his left. At first I thought, “I wonder how long he will do this now.” But I soon began to notice that his hands and face were changing colors. Oh God! He’s really dying! I can’t watch! But I can’t leave either! Oh God! My dad is dying! Right now!! Right here!!! There’s no miracle! There’s no healing! Why God! Why?!!

I held Dad’s hand and once again started telling him how much I loved him because there were no other words to say. That’s when I remembered the Hospice nurse telling us how strong his heart was. So I reached over and placed my hand on his chest, to feel his heart beat. My thoughts were “God take him! No more suffering!” That’s when God spoke clearly to me and said “You take his heart. You take his love for the unsaved and the hurting. You carry the mantel he has carried for so long.” I agreed and with tears in my eyes I looked at my dad and said “Dad, you can go home now... we’ll take it from here.” Dad’s body jerked three times and he was gone.

I stood beside the shell that once was my loving father in total disbelief and anger with God. “God! You said we could ask anything in Your name and it would be done. You said by Your stripes we were healed! What about Dad? Why didn’t he receive his healing? What didn’t you answer our prayers?! Where are you God? Don’t you even care what just happened? How could this possibly work together for good? Why do I even bother praying to Someone who doesn’t listen?”

The next few days were a blur, but I remember sitting on the front step with my friend, Debbie and being angry that the day my father died was such a beautiful day. The sun was shining, there were big fluffy clouds in the sky (the kind of fluffy clouds that my father loved so much), it was warm and beautiful. How dare the world continue to move on. My world stopped; so should everyone else’s.

Two days later when we arrived at the funeral home, the receiving line was already three city blocks long. People stood for hours to pay their respects; people from all walks of life (rich people, poor people, black people, white people). I have never seen anything like it. As a matter of fact, the funeral director went out to those standing in line and asked them to come back for the second viewing. “The family” he said “needs some time to sit down and rest. Please come back to the second viewing.” And they did. What a testimony to dad’s character. It was exhausting speaking with so many people, but it blessed our hearts beyond compare.

For a long, long time I wrestled with why my dad had to die when he was so young. Why did he have to leave me when I needed him most? Only God knows why. God reminded me of the promise I made to my dad as he was dying. “Dad” I said, “I’ll take it from here....” I wasn’t sure what that meant, or how that was accomplished but I didn’t want what dad had spent his life living for to die with him. I needed to pick up his mantel. I needed to step up to the plate. Dad had passed the torch to me. It’s time for me to run with it. I just pray to God I don’t drop it.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to carry his mantle of love but somehow … some way I was going to step in where he had left off. Although, the very thought of doing hospital visitations, going into the prisons, or (heaven forbid) preaching a sermon made me weak at the knees.

There was no way for me to know that in less than two years, I would be hired to serve on the same support staff at the church my father served on. There was no way of knowing that God was going to begin pouring gifts and talents into me and use me at my church for many years. God had handed me a job doing what I love to do. Writing and designing was something I only dared to dream about doing! You don’t take a woman who didn’t work (outside the home) for over twenty years and drop her into her dream job! That’s something she has to work up to! Not with God. He wants to fulfill our dreams. He wants to give us the desires of our hearts. Nothing pleases Him more than to bless His children. Don’t ever stop dreaming. Don’t ever stop believing. With God ALL things are possible.

There was no way for me to know that I would one day be doing hospital visitations and YES even preaching a sermon or two. God was beginning to mold this shy, backward lady into someone He could use for His glory. It was more amazing for me to watch this happen than it was for anyone else. I was no longer living up to my dad’s legacy of love but I was beginning to see my own destiny and my own legacy unfold right before my eyes.

As years went by and as exciting as life was becoming (as I followed the Lord and allowed Him to stretch me far beyond anything I could imagine), I still had no contact with my son, Josh and my heart ached desperately to have him back in my life. One day I found myself lying across my bed crying out to the Lord. “Father, You promised me life and life more abundant! You said that whatever I asked in Jesus’ name you would do. Jesus! My heart aches for a relationship with my son…. PLEASE! Do whatever it takes to bring Josh back into my life……”

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