For the last two years of his life, I watched as he grew weaker in both body and spirit. His once gregarious personality withdrew as his energy faded. He suffered. And for those of us who loved him, it was equally painful to watch his daily agony as he declined. His days were filled with prescription bottles, injections, breathing treatments, and countless reruns on Netflix. He became confined to his bed, unable to venture out. He longed for home, to be with Jesus.
It all felt very unfair. This man, who raised me, who had served in ministry and missions for so many years and who had touched so many lives, wallowing in the agony of a slow death and longing for eternity.
He died in a broken body. It was not the story of the saints who go out praising the Lord.
He died weary worn and frail. He didn’t die with a great amount of dignity. He could no longer make it to the bathroom by himself, he cried out in pain, his eyesight was failing, he shivered in the warmth of summer, he exhausted easily but sleep was often elusive, his mind was cloudy and his memory diminished.
He could no longer enjoy the plethora of exotic and strange foods he loved. I still can’t pass by cow tongue, octopus, ox tails, or menudo in a market without sighing in remembrance.
It was not a glorious affair. He died in weakness and imperfection.
And I knew his weaknesses well. We were so much alike and we were often at odds as we mirrored each others shortcomings. Instead of having grace for him in my teen years, I was repulsed by his humanity. This great missionary who was gifted with understanding, wisdom, and insight, was in reality so imperfect. And I judged and blamed him.
When I became a mother myself, with a son who is so much like me in my weaknesses, I finally appreciated the complexities of parenting.
How we desperately love our children and how often we fail in spite of it. And I understood his love for me. The love a father has for his daughter.
I would go sit in his room, by his side, and talk to him. He would share stories of his life, as if grasping at better times. His internal thermostat had been deeply affected by his infirmity and he was always cocooned in the electric blanket my mom had bought him. It was as if his very soul had grown cold in the frigid environment of suffering and I longed for him to be warm again.
And when he was at last absent from his body and at home with the Lord, we grieved, but not as those who have no hope. And the flood of condolences came pouring in. The fruit of my parents work in faithfulness and obedience, written out in words of thankfulness and appreciation for the man my father was. And there were so many, spanning years of ministry. And I realized the legacy he left, not just in my brother and I, but in the lives of so many touched, healed, redeemed., and inspired. That willing and obedient outweighs the flaws and imperfections every time.
Isn’t that what grace is for? Isn’t that the gospel, the covering of our imperfections in his blood, making these empty vessels full of Him? Suffering carves a place out in us, and it’s in that hollow born of emptiness that He comes to fill us.
My dad was used by Christ not because he was perfect but because the imperfections pointed to a redeemer. And my dad was used mightily, of that I have no doubt.
As I lurch through this fleeting season of illness and my body feels weak and impatient for health, as my self-pitying tendencies emerge like a vulture’s vicious curved beak and talons looking to rip me apart, as I am tormented by deep body chills, I nestle deep in my dad’s old electric blanket and feel the warmth embracing me like the strong hug of a father who loves his little girl. And I realize I am enveloped in abundant grace and mercy.
God uses the poor in spirit to prove His mercy. He uses the sick to demonstrate that these bodies are dying a bit more every day and we are not home, and the longing for healing and wholeness may not come on this earth or in these broken vessels but He is at work, especially in the suffering.
On a side note, I have great pleasure in picturing him at the Lord’s banqueting table eating all the foods he loved and which we often thought were really gross but which made him amicable and accepted so readily in cross-cultural missions. I miss my dad, but I know we will be reunited in eternity.