There were moments in my journey with dad that all I could say was “Jesus…Jesus.” It would often lead me to silently sing the words to a a song:
“Jesus, Jesus…You make the darkness tremble….Jesus, Jesus…You silence fears”
I didn’t have to go much further to settle into peace again. It’s not that I ever lost peace, but there were occasions my peace was confronted clearly with my inability to take away the struggle, the sorrow, the physical pain. It was in these moments my Heavenly Father would remind me that He had my earthly father and the only thing He was calling on me to do was to just be WITH him. My presence…His presence through me…brought comfort.
When we are helpless to take suffering away and apart from a miracle, comfort matters…it matters more than we could ever imagine.
A friend told me recently that he sees people in their darkest hour abandoned by family and friends. The thought is really unthinkable to me but I think get it now. Staying close to someone suffering and not being able to take it away is emotionally, spiritually and even physically difficult. When my dad took his last breath I literally felt tension leave my body. Especially in the last week. I slept with my jaw clenched…not on purpose but the agony of watching him struggle found it’s way into my own body. None of these realities take away from the deep and abiding faith I have…it’s just…we are still human…and yes, Jesus invades our humanity but sometimes feeling our humanness provokes an awareness of just how much we need Him. And I need Him more than I ever have.
Jesus was and is my peace. I know this and yet, there are moments when the darkness will try and find a place in my mind and heart. My last day with dad felt like an all out war between light and dark. It felt traumatic to me and left me wondering if it’s harder to watch someone you love suffer OR be the one suffering.
I have processed this with a few friends and my family. Our son Brady sent me something he wrote that helped quiet my anxious thoughts about dad’s last day. I want to share it with you because I’m no longer naive’ about how many people have watched their love ones suffer through illness and death. I hear from someone almost every day who shares a story or tells me that processing my journey out loud is helping them in their journey.
I didn’t go into this trying to help anyone but only feeling desperate to hold on to my faith and not allow the enemy an inch of pleasure in the valley my dad and I walked through together. I am happy to say that Psalms 23 is indeed TRUE.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You are with me.”
Death does cast a shadow…death is brutal. We don’t have to minimize the horror of it. In fact, LIFE has never looked more beautiful to me in the face of death. What Jesus has done for us in securing eternal LIFE has deepened my gratitude and awe.
“To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”
For several months, I watched dad contemplate these truths. We talked about them, prayed about them and in the week before he passed, he fought for them. The enemy of our soul is relentless and in our most vulnerable moment he seeks to whisper words of doubt and fear. My dad had a moment of intense struggle before he passed. Fear tried to creep in but it didn’t end well for fear…in my dad’s weakest moment, the perfect LOVE of God casts fear completely out of the picture. My dad’s voice was the loudest it had been in weeks and he sat up in bed praising the Lord for His salvation.
“Jesus, Jesus…You make the darkness tremble…”
Several years ago I had the honor of helping a young man named Marc prepare to meet Jesus. He also had cancer and didn’t live long after diagnosis. He lived with us the last three months of his life. Marc was eaten up with fear when he came to us but praise God, that is not how he left us. He left this world in peace and so did my dad.
I am confident the Lord has assured me that we cannot judge what’s happening to the body as what is happening to the spirit. As the spirit prepares to leave the body, we can have peace no matter what that looks like. I would have LOVED for my dad to pass away of very old age, peacefully in his sleep…but he didn’t. He was only 74, he struggled to breathe and yet, peace was his in his inner man.
“Though our outer man is wasting away, our inner man is being renewed day by day…”
Some babies come into this world with greater ease, some come already fighting for their lives…from the womb to the tomb, we have an enemy who is out for our destruction. It’s no different in death. Some people leave this world with greater ease, some with greater struggle…what is true for all those who have peace in Christ, death has no victory. The grave has no hold and my dad is in the presence of our Lovingly Sovereign Lord.
I will close with sharing what my son sent me after confessing feelings of despair. It’s weighty and glorious. If you’ve never contemplated what happens at the time of death, I hope it brings you comfort even as it brought me comfort:
“I know the Lord is speaking to you. The struggle to breathe is a reminder that our bodies are not capable of experiencing His full glory. His body was keeping Him from seeing Jesus face to face. Grandpa let go of his physical body, which served as a wonderful home for his spirit for the last 74 years, but because of Jesus never ending love for us, he had to let it go in order to stand in front of the fully glory and beauty of Jesus own resurrected body. I know the experience seemed tragic, horrific, brutal, and crushing, but we can remember that we watched the very transition from an incapable body, to a capable spirit, so that his eyes could finally lay hold to the beautiful glory of Jesus Christ, our Savior. It doesn’t look beautiful to us, but he surely felt a huge relief, to be free from the weight of a dying body that kept him from eternity.”
When Brady sent this to me it didn’t immediately take away the struggle I’ve been having, but it has set before me the reality of a greater TRUTH…my dad’s body fought hard to live, but in God’s mercy, He met my dad in his final battle and led him Home… into the presence of the One who never left us for forsook us. When I think back to those moments a few days ago, I felt forsaken. As I have processed those feelings with the Lord, He has drawn near…He is speaking to me…but I am still in process. I won’t paint a picture of a strugg-less journey at this point.
I need friends and family who can let me wrestle…this can’t be solved by memes, cliches or spiritual platitudes. Don’t mistake that for casting aside prayer and the power of God’s Word. I cling to those more than the air I breathe. It’s called lament and in this place, I put my hope in Christ. I won’t abandon where my help comes from, nor will I pretend I don’t need help. The grace of God kept me very close to my dad’s suffering, which spilled over into my body, soul and spirit. I am very grateful for the kind words and prayers people are sending every day. There are moments I receive a text and before I get done reading it, tears are pouring out. It happened last night…it was simple but just what I needed:
“If God is for us, who can be against us?….Christ Jesus who died- more than that, who was raised to life- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (Romans 8:31, 34)
I took a deep breathe after reading this powerful truth- Jesus Himself is praying for me and He is praying for you.
Yesterday my grandson Titus asked me to swing him. I took him outside and the smell of the air and being in nature overwhelmed my heart. Tears began to flow as I pushed my favorite little boy…Titus heard me whisper under my breath “Jesus…Jesus…” He asked, “Yaya, why are you saying Jesus, Jesus?” It was in that moment I saw an opportunity to use simple terms to tell a three year old boy that the name of Jesus has power and it brings comfort to my heart. My tears dried up and I had this sense my dad would be proud.