Believing Promises

June 16, 2010

This was written on October 7, 2009

When I think about my dad, it seems impossible to believe that years of resistance could melt away, but then I remember God’s promises. The Bible is full of promises. I know that God is not willing that any should perish. And I know he has loved my dad since he formed him in the womb, but I am speaking of promises more personal, ones made directly to me and my family.

The first one is an old one.  Some years ago, a decade or more, our mother told us that God had promised her that one day our father would come into the kingdom of God.  My brother, Bob, reminded us of this three days ago while when me and my siblings–I have two sisters and two brothers–were on the phone together during one of our regular conference calls.

During those calls we talk and pray.  And feel a little lost as to how to best help our parents.  Or Dad now that Mom has died.

Back in June, when they were both alive, I sat on the steps outside their home, my family home, crying. I was in shock over my father’s condition and what was required of my mother to take care of him. In that moment I felt that I would never be able to go home to Virginia, for how could I leave them, when Dad was so ill and Mom so weak?

They had canceled the Meals on Wheels my sister, Kathy,  set up for them and fired the caregivers we hired to help them, yet could not take care of themselves and in the midst of all that pain, I heard God say to my heart:  Some day you will look me in the face and say ‘Well done.'” And with his words came the sense of His presence as the tight spot in my heart unwound and peace settled on my soul.

At that moment God brought to mind a time, just months earlier, when he had protected us, while we were blissfully unaware of the danger we were in. We had bought a car from my parents in May and then had let the most accident prone member of the family–my 20-something son, Sammy–drive the car for weeks while the car was uninsured because I did not realize that my mom had canceled insurance on the vehicle the day the moving truck fetched it from her home. I had mistaken assumed that I could not add it to my policy until I owned it, until we officially transferred title. I won’t bore you with the details but it took weeks for us to transfer title at first, because Mom could not find it, and then because she could not get it from the dining room table to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. Yes, it was that bad. Walking 30 feet down a slope was beyond her.  God reminded of that season, by saying, “I protected you then, I am protecting your parents now.”

A few days after that fateful day where I cried out to God on the steps, I went home. On the plane I prayed, “Lord, you promised me that I would look you in the eyes and say, well done!  I marvel and your capacity for pain!  It is beyond me.  Help me to trust in your love. I know you love my dad, help me to see your plan and move in harmony with your Holy Spirit. Help me to carry your presence.  Help me to dance before you, to draw strength from your love.”

A few days later my dad fell and the paramedics who came to lift him from the floor to the bed took his blood pressure and decided, instead, to take him to the hospital. It is hard to imagine that going to the hospital was a moment for rejoicing but from my point-of-view the particular nightmare of parents-home-alone was over.  They were no longer alone, barely able to get food in their bellies.

Now our occasional sibling conference calls, which my sister, Kathy, set up when my parents first grew feeble, have gone to every other night since the doctor told us on Sunday, September 20th, that my dad has days or weeks to live.  My sister, Laurie, who is with my dad in West Covina, reports on his condition. He is afraid, not ready to die, too weak to say much–he communicates by nodding or shaking his head, or uttering a few words.

All of us wonder, Should we go to West Covina? We live in Toronto, Virgina, Michigan, Tempe and Los Altos.  My brother who lives closest has nine children, one just born this summer. My sister, Laurie, has been there weeks and weeks but since she is the only one us who does not have a job and actually wants to sort through the belongings of two depression-era pack-rats, it is all to easy to let her shoulder to burden.

My sister Kathy is there now, having flown in on October 2.  We talk almost daily. She is doing a marvelous job taking care of Dad.  On October 6th dad slipped from consciousness and she called me, as Sam and I were driving home from church, to discuss options.  Should we let him die or try to intervene?  We prayed together on the phone, but neither of felt any heavenly illumination and then there was the advanced directive. Sigh. As schizo as it seems my dad was never willing to sign an advanced directive. He was saying in essence: don’t give me medical care that would keep me alive but don’t let me die without medical intervention. Yet there it was. After talking, Kathy and I agreed that the best courses of action was for her to go to the nursing home as ask him if he wanted to go to the hospital. Even though the nursing home nurses said he was unconscious he might be aware under the surface and might rally to respond. Just days before we had tried to convince him to go to the hospital at the nursing homes urging and he had refused.  We often experienced him as non responsive, then suddenly he would say a word or two or even nod and we would realized that he had been tracking the whole time.

So Kathy went and asked but this time there was no response.  Zilch. Nada. So she asked to have him taken to the hospital.  By now I was home, in bed and we were on the phone back and forth, praying together, calling out to God for wisdom. We are a dynamic duo in these hard times. We listen, process, talk, pray and then stumble forward towards what, in hindsight, seems right.

When the doctor tried to insert an emergency port in his neck, so they could start dialysis, my father began to die.  This was the view from California.  What I experienced was a ringing phone and then a voice saying, “I am Dr. Smith. Your father is taking his final breathes.” And I heard Kathy, in the distance saying, I love you Dad, I am right here,” over and over. I began to pray and the doctor handed the phone to Kathy. We prayed in tongues, a heavenly language unknown to us, and in English. We began to sing to him–me singing on the phone, Kathy there in the room. And . . . he rallied.  We were confused and did not understand what was happening at first. The doctor had left the room and the next thing we know, someone came in to report that they were moving to a room.  “Isn’t he dying?” my sister asked.

God had given us an opportunity to try to save him, but the answer, which we had surrendered to God was, “Not yet.”  The door had closed on dialysis, but not on his life.

After 30 minutes they transferred my dad to a hospital room and I rolled over and went back to sleep. He never regained consciousness. As I was driving to work the next morning, I felt strongly that we should move him to hospice and then my cell phone rang. It was Kathy.  “I’m going to move him to hospice.”  Had we not been three thousand miles apart, we would have given each other high fives.  A month prior Kathy had found a beautiful hospice. A spacious room with light and gardens and like-minded people.  We had tried to convince dad to move there but he had not wanted to leave his familiar nursing home even through they were focused on helping him get better by prodding him to do things he did not want to do–like eat in the dining hall and exercise. But since he was going to have to leave the hospital, why not take him to a place that would support what he was already doing–dying. He was unconscious and could hardly protest, so we did what seemed best to us.

As soon as Dad was settled into the hospice a man named, Leon, brought Kathy a CD player loaded with worship music and Kathy began singing over my
dad and reading him scripture. He did not responding. His kidneys were barely working. He refused food and water.

Kathy notes that he is smiling now and says, “I wish I could see what you are seeing now Dad!”

Every day we talk and I offer to come out there to join her.  I was there on Friday, now it is Wednesday, five days later, and she has asked me to come so I
will leave tomorrow afternoon.
Everyone says he cannot live long, yet he continues to live.

Several months ago when I was discouraged, God said to me, “Dear Heart, do
you really think all your prayers have been for naught?”  We have been
praying for my dad for forty-five years.  There have been moments of hope. I remember when he asked me why in dark moments in the middle of the night, when my mom sat up in bed and shouted, “No!” the darkness had fled.

I remember him wondering why his nose healed when we prayed to Jesus but not when he practiced his religion.

Yet, he has stayed steadfastly attached to his faith, though the congregation has shrunk to a handful and we have not had a single visitor from the church where he gave his time and money for more than 40 years.

I was distraught when my mother died a year ago. A month ago when I cried out to God and asked, “Why did my mother die! Why did she die first?” It seemed like a terrible mistake. I was not ready.  I thought she was going to live and then there was the estate. We were selling the family home to finance the massive medical bills that had accrued, in part, because my father had eschewed Medicare.  In a rage a decade earlier, my father had altered his will, leaving the house to his cultic church.  Our hearts sank when we learned this bit of news.

Had he forgotten when he gave us the go-ahead to sell the house? It would not have been an issue if Dad died first, but then Mom died suddenly, so the entire estate now belonged to Dad.  What was God thinking when he let my mother die?

Then God showed me a picture of a tunnel between heaven and earth. At one end I saw two figures bathed in a bright light– my tiny mom standing next to Jesus. My dad stood sideways in the tunnel of decision, hand his chin, pondering. Then I saw him turn and walk toward the light. Was this a picture of what was to come?

A few weeks ago He said, “HE IS MINE!”
Then last week He said, “When your mom got to heaven, I said, ‘Well
done.”  When your Dad gets here, I will say, ‘You made it!'”

Another time when I asked God, what are you doing? he said, “Securing
the perimeter,” then a few hours later, “Storming the beach,” then
later “Having the victory.”

The view outside these conversations did not seem to jive with what I was hearing from God.  When I said to my dad, “You are nearing the end of your earthly journey and will have to choose.  Jesus will be there. He loves you, Dad.”  He only looked frightened. Did he not realize that he was dying?

He altered his will, a relief to us all, yet showed such fear over dying that I was downhearted. Yet again, I heard God whisper, “I am mighty to save.”

And this morning when I asked, “Lord, how should I pray for my dad?” He answered:
“It is no small thing to save a man. It is no small thing to save a
man who has thumbed his nose at God, who has said, ‘I can heal
myself’. Who has hardened his heart to the Lord. But I am Mighty to
Save!”

My heart cried out: “Lord, we stand in awe at what you are doing. You are at work in my father’s heart and mind. You are bringing him to the end of himself so that he might cry out to you. I believe. Help my unbelief.
I believe God will save him. He is not willing that any should perish.

Author’s note: My father died the following morning before I boarded the plane that would have taken me there.  I believe he entered paradise, because I believe God’s promises.


Why I am fasting for my dad

May 29, 2009

I wrote this article more than seven years ago, when my dad was still playing tennis most mornings and seemed invincible. Now he is dying. On Wednesday I will fly to L.A. to see him, perhaps for the last time. He has not seen a doctor in 45 years, yet it is clear that he has Parkinson’s and maybe something else. He is not well. He is in bed more than 20 hours a day, he  shuffles along using the furniture and walls for balance and he has fallen silent. It is sad to see a man, who played tennis so well that I was helpless to return his serves, unable to stand upright.

Although he has not left the house for a month or more, he holds fast to his hope that he will be healed by Christian Science.  I believe he is dying and am praying that he will come to the end of himself and cry out to Jesus.

Please pray for me as I travel, June 3 to 10, and enjoy this piece which was originally published in Virtue Magazine.  It seems especially poignant to me now and was never more true.

I wasn’t raised in a Christian home.  I was ten before I heard the gospel for the first time when a school chum invited me to her Sunday school.  I’d been to Sunday school a handful of times before, but this Sunday school was different. It was held in a small garage behind an old house–a relic from the days before the church owned the property.  My friend and I sat in the old garage, carpet at our feet but the garage door still visible straight ahead.  I remember listening to the thin, gray-haired lady who led the singing up front.  She talks about God like she knows Him, I thought.  I had never heard anyone speak of God in this way.  How could this be? I wondered.  Could anyone really know God the way they knew their mother or father? Their brothers or sisters?

Read the rest of this entry »