My dad changed dramatically when he retired. He had worked his entire life and he was truly happy when his time was his own. He quit smoking after five decades and spent lots of time fishing and spoiling my youngest brother. It was heartbreaking, when it seemed my dad had a new lease on life, to learn that he had COPD. He eventually required full-time oxygen.
I had a hard time watching my father, who had never been afraid of anything, have panic attacks when he couldn't breathe. Traveling and any activities that required him to walk became nearly impossible. At one point, he developed pancreatitis and was given a 50/50 chance of making it. He survived, but I had been warned. My dad was mortal.
Warning or no, I wasn't prepared the evening I got my mother's phone call telling me that my dad was near death once again. I cried and cried and kept saying, "I'm not ready. I'm just not ready." I had recently developed a habit of asking God to communicate with me through His Word. I begged God to let my father live. I loved him so much and I wasn't even sure of his salvation. I opened the Bible randomly and read from Isaiah 38:16, 18
You restored me to health
and let me live.
For the grave cannot praise you,
death cannot sing your praise;
those who go down to the pit
cannot hope for your faithfulness.
I was absolutely convinced that the Lord had heard my prayer and was giving my dad more time. I wasn't disappointed. My dad recovered. He had to move to a nursing home to get the care that he needed, but he never complained. He seemed to enjoy teasing the nurses and staff. I used the extra time with my dad to write him a letter explaining the Gospel and expressing my hope that he had received Christ as his Savior.
During a visit following my letter, my dad said, "Let's talk about what you wrote." He told me that he believed in God and had been baptized in infancy. I still had my doubts. My dad was a humble, generous man, but he had never said anything about God. Was it just because he was quiet? Or did he lack an authentic faith?
My dad and I had a routine. I called him at the nursing home the same night every week. On occasions when I had something else planned, I almost always forgot to call him until the next day. Dad was never upset when I forgot to call, though I always felt awful. I knew he looked forward to our talks. I did, too!
One evening, I realized that I was supposed to be at church the next night, which was my regular night to call Dad. I decided to call him right then. I joked with him that I was really on top of things this time and hadn't forgotten until it was too late. We did the usual chit chatting. I told him about our new mini-van with the remote control door. I said I was walking around like the Queen of Sheba, expecting every door to open for me at the touch of a button. He laughed. He told me that a pastor had come and talked with him for a long time. My dad said, "And you know what? I agreed with everything he said." I was so happy to hear that. I was sure that the pastor had shared the Gospel with my dad and my dad once again affirmed that he believed.
The next evening I was getting ready to go to my church meeting when my mom called. My dad had had a heart attack, she said. They didn't think he was going to make it. In that moment, I knew he wouldn't. When I returned home from church, I got the phone call that confirmed it. My dad was gone. Although I felt ready in comparison to the previous time his life was in danger, I still felt like someone was trying to rip my heart from my chest. I am so thankful my husband was there to hold me up.
Even in my grief, I recognized how loving a God I serve. I'm fully convinced that He moved me to call my father a day early and made sure that I knew my father's salvation was secure. The Lord continued to comfort me as I attended a memorial at the nursing home where he lived. The staff seemed more broken up than I was! Today I continue to be comforted with a vision of my father living in perfect health and peace with the Father of us all.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)