I originally posted this at my blog Really?!! Scott invited me to post it here as well. As Many of you have been kind enough to pray for me and my family during this time, I did so. God bless. JW
There is an upside to having your own blog. It means I can pretty much write whatever I want to without worrying about what others think. Most of the time I use that power to be as stupid as I feel like being but not tonight. My father is dying in an ICU unit here in Marietta, GA. No doctor has told me or my family that he is, in fact, on his death bed, but when a man lies in intensive care for nearly 3 weeks and is not physically progressing it does not take a Rhodes Scholar to see the truth. It may be tomorrow, next week, or next month, but he is dying.
Our relationship has never been perfect. He is an alcoholic and a heavy smoker, facts that are wreaking havoc on his body right now. He was an adulterer who left our family when I was nine years old and is now divorced from his third wife. During my teenage years, I was a self destructive little punk that rebelled against everything. In my twenties, my new found faith drove a mild wedge between us. In my thirties, my father was given the option of walking away from alcohol and keeping his relationship with his grandchildren or continuing to drink himself to death and be cut off. He chose the latter.
Tonight I walked into his ICU room and saw a body that is not long for this earth. More importantly, I saw my father struggling with life. A chair was sitting in the room and I pulled it next to his bed and wept for several minutes. I wept because I love my dad. I do not care what has happened between us or the years of bitter dispute that have passed. I love him and it is killing me to watch this.
It is a fact of biology that I am my father’s son. I can see we have the same oddly wrinkled and heavily lined hands. Our arms share the same shape. His face and body structure are now mine. I look like him, and sometimes when I lose my temper with my young children I hear my father’s voice booming out of me. For years I tried to shake the imprint of my father from me, either out of spite or then later out of fear of becoming him. It became clear to me as I matured that I could never stop being my father’s son.
As a Christian, it often feels like I understand certain big concepts. God’s unmerited favor for example. My mind grasps the explanation of what it means, but as with many of the truths of God that I think I understand, time and events often expose the ignorance of my heart. Tonight was one of those lessons. As I held my father’s hand, prayed and sang Rich Mullins songs, I had a hard time understanding the true differences between us. I was an adulterer in my youth. I was a drunk. I abused drugs that my father would never dream of doing. I lied to my mother and betrayed her trust. I alienated my family just as he did. As my father groaned in pain and shifted in his bed to relieve the agony of the cost that his choices are exacting from his last days, I was at a loss as to the qualitative difference between the man that is in the hospital bed and the son that sits by his side. I am no better than he.
The answer is grace. The grace of God dominates my life. And here is what I never fully understood until tonight. I might have been able to say it, but I never fully got it all the way through my whole being balls to bones as the oracle in The Matrix would say. God’s grace transforms my life because I let it. Not because I am a good man, and not as a result of proper works. It is God’s desire to love me and somewhere along the road I started to get myself out of the way and let Him. That is all the difference, but it makes all the difference in the world.
At one point I realized that my father’s eyes were open and so I moved into his field of vision. There was not a flicker of recognition in his gaze. His motionless eyes did not even track to my movement. I sat back down and prayed even harder that he would wake up and that I could talk to him for a moment. A few minutes later as his eyes suddenly darted in my direction in response to a comment I had made. I stood up and moved around to the other side of his bed and back into his field of vision. He watched me all of the way around and looking into my eyes the whole way. After a moment, he dropped his gaze.
“Daddy!” I called to him. I know it is odd that a 36 year-old man with a dysfunctional relationship still calls his father daddy, but I don’t care. His eyes shot back up. “Do you know who I am?”
He ever so slightly nodded and said what passes for yes in the garbled voice that is left to him for this time. My father was before me and with all that I had been thinking about for the last hour I tried to decide what I most wanted to say. “Do you know how much I love you?” He answered yes. “I am here with you,” I told him. The corner of his mouth drew up ever so slightly into a smile. I talked to him about God and other things, but in that one moment I realized all that truly mattered.
Paul said that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. That there is none righteous, no not one. Whatever plans or prayers I had about how my father may turn his life around they all crumbled to the ground the night of July 26th, when I heard the message on my answering machine that he had been found unconscious and unresponsive. Whatever problems I had with him in the past or unresolved issues still exist, they are meaningless now as well. He is pitiful, frail, dying, and it is all his fault. So how is he any different than the rest of us before God. We can never get what was lost to our poor decisions and choices back, but we can hold on with furious passion to the hope for our future. For me and my father, that future contains the moments that I have left with him now and the hope of eternity with him then. It is time to start getting into practice for the future relationship where all that is left in the end is faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.