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Bigger Than Big and Bad
for my Father
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7: 24-25, NIV).
“Things happen to people every day,” my friend warned me. “Big things. Bad things.”
She was only 17, but already she’d learned that hard lesson; she’d just suffered an accident that left her paralyzed for life. By contrast, I had just received a glorious, miraculous healing and was still basking in my joy. By sharing what she’d learned, my friend was challenging the naïve assumption she sensed in me, namely: God will never let big, bad things happen in my life.
My friend and I graduated from high school and went our separate ways. I forgot her words for 30 years; I had no need of them. Nothing Big and Bad happened.
Then one day I pulled into his driveway and saw my big, strong steelworker father kneeling on the ground as if he’d lost something in the grass. I pulled alongside and laughingly asked him what he was doing down there.
“Nothing, I’m just resting,” he told me. “Go on inside.”
So I went.
I noticed, however, as time went on, that he was kneeling in the grass more and more. When we went to the mall together, he favored his right leg.
Sometimes he dragged it.
I began to watch him. My mother began to watch him. Neither of us knew precisely what we were seeing, but whatever it was, it was getting worse.
“Bill, you need to go to the doctor,” my mother urged.
My independent father poured scorn on this idea. “Shah. I just have a little trouble with my knee.”
At the time, it didn’t occur to me that something Big and Bad could be happening in my sheltered world – to someone I loved. But I began to pray vague, uneasy prayers that matched the disquiet I was feeling. Please, God, help Dad. Please heal his leg.
I was sure that God would respond. He always had. Once during a sweltering Atlanta summer I’d prayed that God would make the steel mill cool for Dad, just like the first day of fall. The next day, a baffled weatherman had shrugged, ‘I can’t explain it…a freak Arctic blast…it’s like the first day of fall!’ And it was just one answered prayer among hundreds. So I prayed hopefully for Dad’s leg to get better.
But Dad’s leg got worse.
Still -- it was normal to have a few problems at his age. Whatever this one turned out to be, I was sure he’d handle it. He’d always been tough.
So I didn’t worry.
Until he began to fall. One minute he was walking along, seemingly fine. The next he’d collapse as if he’d been shot.
“We’re taking you to the doctor,” my mother told him, and this time Dad gave in.
I went along with them. I sat in the waiting room, pretending to read a magazine, while some doctor I’d never met gave my father a laundry list of possible diseases. I pounced on him the instant he returned.
“What did he say?”
Dad was unusually quiet. “He told me it could be several things,” he replied, and gave me the list. I went straight to my computer and began trolling the Internet for information on a parade of neurological diseases, checking them against Dad’s symptoms. None of them matched exactly.
“Dad needs to go to a new doctor,” my mother was urging me. “We need to get some answers. Our doctor just looks at us. He won’t tell us anything!”
“Don’t push him,” I replied.
The Time Gone By
How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone upon my head and by his light I walked through darkness! (Job 29:2-3, NIV)
The epiphany I received as a teenager goes by many names in the Christian experience: rededication, baptism of the Spirit, mountaintop. Dad had helped me reach it. Because of a talk I had with Dad, I gave my life completely to God. As a result, for a time my relationship with Him had been luminous, ecstatic. My prayers were conversations. My praise was so heartfelt that I wept.
I experienced a healing.
When I went to my doctor a week later, he couldn’t believe his own x-ray. I had scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. But my spine had straightened by 10 degrees as compared to the previous film.
“What did you do?” he yelped. “I’ve seen people who’ve had surgery who didn’t get this good a result!”
“Jesus healed me,” I told him.
He looked at me, and looked again, and finally shrugged, “Well, we doctors don’t know everything.”
I began to pray that the Lord would work a similar miracle for Dad.
This is the Victory
This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (I John 5:4.NIV)
But my father's health did not improve.
As Dad’s condition deteriorated, I became increasingly more desperate to recreate my own long-ago miracle. I spent hours on the web begging others for prayer; researching medical journals for experimental treatments; poring over every word about healing in the Bible. I was fighting a losing battle and would lie awake at night crying.
But somehow, in spite of all these things I didn’t blame God or indulge in self-pity. Maybe that was because my father didn’t. He was still the same strong, patient man he always had been. He continued to read the old black Bible he’d worn soft with a lifetime of use. He continued to go to church for as long as he was able.
He told us he was ready to go.
A Simple Answer
...It shall be as when a sick man pines away, or a standard-bearer faints.(Isaiah 10:18, Amplified Bible)
My father’s mysterious ailment had now put him into a wheelchair. I helped Mom take him to a specialist.The doctor was a young man, thirtyish, chipper. “We have your test results,” he told my father. “It’s ALS -- Lou Gehrig’s. We’ve ruled out everything else.”
My father looked up at him. “Is there anything you can do for me?”
“No.” The doctor’s voice was brisk. Almost cheerful. Dad thanked him for his help and we left.
Dad now required help to dress and eat, and caring for him was an increasingly demanding task, even though my brother and I took shifts to relieve Mom. A nurse began visiting every week. Ladies from the church brought covered dishes.
Dad was dying.
Get Up and Go Home
He said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. (Matthew 9:6-7, NIV)
I never met my paternal grandfather. He died years before I was born. Dad had told me the story of his passing many times: “I kept asking, ‘What can I get you, Dad? What can I get you?’ He fixed those big blue eyes on the ceiling, as if he saw something tremendous. He told me, ‘…not a thing in this world, son.’”
On my own father’s deathbed, I received no such revelation. Dad was in ICU, surrounded by machines. He was on a breathing tube and couldn’t talk to us. Occasionally he would squeeze my hand.
As the hours passed, I noticed that the hand I’d held all my life was changing. “Look,” I told my mother. “His fingers are straightening out.”
Dad’s heartbeat gradually slowed…faltered…and then stopped.
We kissed his brow, one by one, and left the room, taking his flowers and balloons with us. When we got home, I waited until the others had gone inside. Then I took the balloon that read Get Well Soon and released it into the night sky.
Bigger Than Big and Bad
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, the Maker of heaven and earth…the LORD, who remains faithful forever. (Psalm 146:5-6 NIV-UK)
I still wish my father could have been healed by God, as I was once healed. I prayed my heart out for it. I even told Dad once that I was believing in a miracle for him. He didn’t object, but when I quoted the words of a well-known faith healer, he waved them away: “If that man was right, none of us would ever die.”
Dad was a practical man.
He saw God more in the everyday things than in the miracles, and in the end, that practicality served him better than all my well-meaning mysticism. Because over the years my father had built up thousands of small acts of trust in God. They accumulated like the quarters he saved in sock drawers, or squirreled away in jars, or tucked into jewelry boxes. By the time adversity found him, they were everywhere. Taken together, they added up to something far bigger than Big and Bad.
Big enough, even, for me to borrow from…both now, and on the day I will need that example most. Because even in death, my father taught me. Watching him taught me that we die as we have lived.
I hope I do just one of those as well as he did.