Sunday, June 12, 2016

My Dad - Born Dead, Died Alive

On a little New York dairy farm, a boy named Keith milked cows by hand.  His dad had died years earlier, but with a dream of owning a dairy farm.  The mother of the house still lived, ruling with care and sense, but not with much time to spend at home with her brood of five boys and two girls.  Her new husband was not much help at first, for he was muddled with a mental illness.

Keith grew into a wild young man, empty and lonely, trying to escape his feelings with drink and parties.

One day, his brother Deryl became a new man, one eager to share the newness in Christ, one not afraid to say that Keith was on his way to hell if he didn't repent.  That rang true and somber in Keith's heart.  He accepted the urge to go to church, and there heard a prophecy message--something new to him, something that amazed him.  This old Book could speak to things today?  He talked with the deacon afterward and prayed a prayer, a shining look on his face, one woman said--the woman who would become his wife.  Keith went home, still uncertain, and broke down under his sin, asking for forgiveness, longing to change.

And change he did.  He sought eagerly to become a preacher, changing his major from engineering to Bible.  Though formerly shy, he faced this new life with courage, preaching to many by the grace of God, preaching in the same church he'd first attended as a lost man.

That woman watching in the church was Mary--my mother--who married him, loving his single-mindedness.  She helped him through Bible school assignments, typing for him in a pinch.

Along the way, Dad needed other work to survive, learning from the renovation of houses that he did and using his past of engineering.

He took a job with two of his brothers in a cable factory, and the asbestos flew heavy through the air.

Beneath a flimsy mask, he breathed them in, those dusty particles.  They entered his lungs with barbs that clung tenaciously to the lining for decades, hiding from us--but known to God.  Dad worked with them, joked with them, ate with them, but never invited them.

We went along, unaware that the disease was lurking in his lungs.

Dad preached with boldness, never shying away from a controversial topic, but truly wanting what was best for others, wanting the Way, the Truth, and the Life to be poured out in our lives.  He prayed on his knees with us on the living room couches, read from the Bible and Christian men often.

But as a girl of thirteen, I didn't know if he loved me.  He pointed out error, but didn't kiss us or tell us he loved us.  He joked to lighten things up, but they were just jokes.  I needed reassurance of his love--words of comfort and a hug, and time spent with me alone.

My loneliness prompted me to seek the Lord, or at least to read the Bible and pray to be saved.  Things would get better then, right?  I would have love at least from One, and maybe from Dad and others, too.

Dad questioned my faith, noting the tears in my eyes and perhaps the shifting of feet.

I fell back to what I did better than talking: writing.  I wrote a paper on how I'd ostensibly become a Christian--I thought I was, though some doubts lingered.  Without much thought, I wrote that I didn't know if Dad loved me, and that he'd examined me as if I were a bug under a microscope.

He came to me then, teary-eyed.  I learned how words in ink could hurt someone, even this stalwart man.  He'd try harder, he said, to show his love.

He said he loved me every night, and kissed me on the cheek.  At first I wondered if it was just to appease me.  Little by little, I grew to accept his love, to see his care, to enjoy time with him, though we were both a bit tongue-tied when alone with each other.  We shared music on the radio when he picked me up from college, guessing the composers.  He stopped for MacDonald's or other surprises, and I delighted in his spontaneity.

One day, the asbestos particles showed themselves on an X-ray . . . lungs quite destroyed, ready to breathe their last in just a year or two.

Now, were radiation or chemo to rob his strength, his hair, his joy?  No, he said, he'd fight for life using food and vitamins before any further invasion to his body!

And then there was a man we heard of named Burzynski, who ran a clinic in TX, with hope for patients with cancer.  Yes, he was expensive.  No, there was no cure for every patient.  But if there was a remote possibility, we wanted to try.  The doctor, accented in Polish, told Dad that he would not give us good odds on this cancer, this mesothelioma.  He had not treated much of it successfully, especially this far along.  Still, we pressed on, praying for the outcome mostly miraculous.

Dad had treatments in TX, then went home for a while.  There he and my sister Annie read books on cancer, natural remedies.  We juiced carrots laced with vitamins and minerals, which Dad drank till his skin was tinted orange.  He cut out refined sugar and most fatty foods, things he loved.   More treatments, home nurses, shots of vitamins.  We hoped and prayed.

But there was no positive change.  Instead, he coughed more, said less . . . and his legs and feet swelled tight and puffy, which we could only rub with ointment, a job I curled my lips at--God forgive me!

I watched a movie or two with Dad, neither of us saying much, reclining in the living room.  It was special, though, like old times, but different.  We watched Lassie Come Home, an old and quiet movie with a happy ending.  Dad said, "That was a good movie," with tears in his eyes.  Was he remembering the dog he lost one time?  Or thinking of heaven, where there would be no more goodbyes, no losses?

Things got uglier, harder to bear.  His breath came in choking gasps and rattles.  Not much time left, we knew.  It was a week, just a week, in which he suffered worst.  But still, as all along, he trusted God.  He asked Mom to read the Bible to him.  No, not the psalms, which he thought had little comfort for one going through disease.  He wanted Job.

And then the night came--he was really dying!  I could hardly face it, even then.  We stood around the bed and sang Psalm 23, those words of comfort, at least for him.  For me--I didn't know for sure if God cared, if He loved.  Such pain, inflicted on his own servant!  Why?

I didn't remember then the agony of Job, or the deepest anguish of God the Son.  And even then, my crazy mind went, why would Dad have to suffer if Jesus had supposedly borne his sin?

I remembered Romans 8:28, yet it still niggled at me, wondering if all this was really fair or helpful.

Just when we had been getting along better, understanding each other, loving more vocally, this had to happen!  Dad was reduced to a skeletal being, not at all like my big, robust Daddy!

I fled the room--he might linger a while longer with no change, we thought--and tried to sleep away the thoughts--cry them away.

And that morning he was gone.  Mom had been left alone with him, calling for assistance at the very last moment, when Dad clearly said he wanted to stand up, asking what time it was, and looking up.  He collapsed in Mom's arms, a dead weight, and she cried, trying not to let him fall, or bang his body on the desk.

She believes he saw an angel, or the very Angel of God, and wanted to honor His presence in standing salute.  Truly, it may be!  Dad had not stood or asked to get up for at least a week before that.

We went to the grave-site after he was buried, with no formal ceremony, just our family.  Mom's sister had also in the same week gone to heaven, so we remembered her, too.

Even in death, Dad's words honored God.  The grave-stone was carved, at his earlier request, "Born Dead Jan. 5, 1948 - Died Alive in Christ Sept. 9, 2006."

Raindrops fell onto our umbrellas.  But as we lifted our heads from prayer, we gasped--a double rainbow, brilliant and rosy, canopied over us.  God's reminder: God is faithful.  No matter what, He is faithful, knowing what is best, and carrying us through the waves.