I wish I could say that just moving back home with my parents and going to church every Sunday made everything in my life right and good again, but that would be a HUGE FAT LIE. I was definitely taking steps in the right direction, but I also made a few BIG steps backwards. It seemed sometimes like I spent more time falling down than I did walking upright —you know, kinda like a toddler learning to walk— but I’m grateful He always forgave me both my willful disobedience and ignorant mis-steps. Not too long after I took a HUGE fall (and got back up), my dad’s health took another sudden turn for the worse.
Back up a moment: Let me just say that I’m a daddy’s girl. I’ve always been one. As a toddler, I clung to his leg as if hanging on for dear life. Later, though I probably wouldn’t have described it that way then, my dad not only hung the moon, but the stars as well. But when I was in grade school, he had his first heart attack. A few years later, he had a multiple by-pass surgery and almost didn’t make it; his heart had stopped during surgery and his doctor massaged it by hand for over an hour to get it to start beating again. That’s dedication and determination you don’t really see anymore, and I thank God for that doctor! In my early twenties, after I’d returned home the first time with my “tail between my legs,” Dad had another serious heart attack that left him with a very unpredictable heart problem; he would lose consciousness at totally random moments… and no one knew this until after he’d been released from the hospital. More excitement! We found out about the new condition one night, when he passed out and hit his head during his trip to the bathroom. So there was another ambulance ride back to the hospital. After they began running tests to find out why he’d passed out, Dad had pretty much given up; he hadn’t told us, but he signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate order). After a doctor who was walking by his room saw dad collapse on his way to the bathroom, he rushed in and resuscitated him despite the DNR and there was no keeping the DNR a secret from us anymore. I totally wigged out! Dad was under 60 and, fortunately, his doctors really liked him and weren’t ready to just let him die, so they tried a great many medications to find out what would help his new condition. The tests they put him through to find out what new thing was wrong with his heart were just awful, but I suppose after I flipped out about the DNR, he sucked it up and endured all the terrible testing for my sake. Even with a pharmacy’s worth of pills to take every day, they couldn’t regulate his heart properly, so they offered him an alternative; his doctor was working on an experimental treatment using implantable defibrillators. That meant another surgery, but it did extend his life a couple of years.
During this medical-nightmare period, I’d divorced my first husband and continued to live a pretty wild life, which I kept hidden from my folks. We strictly followed a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy at home. I still wasn’t happy. When I didn’t see any real improvements in my financial situation after a year, I decided to move some place I’d always liked when I was a kid. This was me trying to find peace in a place, trying to find peace apart from God. That didn’t go so well either. After months of deep winter and personal misery, my boyfriend told me I just needed to move back home with my parents. (I wrote more about this in a previous post.) When BF said to go, I knew God was speaking through him, even though I was a personal wreck.
When I moved back home this second time I took a few weeks to get settled in, worked on some projects around the house with my dad, took a job at a local store and signed up to go back college. I stopped partying and was trying to get right with God again; I think I knew instinctively that if I kept doing what I’d always done that nothing was ever going to change. I was doing well in school which was a real confidence booster for me. I had grown up enough to really put all of my effort into doing a good job, plus it was costing money to do it, which has always been a good personal motivator. (Later, I found out from a friend that my dad told her that he was proud of me for going back to school and doing so well! I just wish he’d told me that himself. Thank you, Friend, for telling me!)
One Sunday after church, Dad and I spent the afternoon watching a football game together — something we’d NEVER done before. Neither of us were sports fans, but it was a great season for our “hometown” team and they were a pleasure to watch. It was more like watching a well-choreographed dance than sports, and I’m so grateful that he sat down to watch with me that day. What a great memory! Then with no notice, everything changed. The very next day, in the middle of my programming class —wham!– one of the college’s secretaries came to tell me that my dad had just been taken to the hospital. It wasn’t the first time I’d received that kind of message in the middle of my day, but, somehow, it was just as traumatic. I don’t even remember the 10 mile drive home. I’m sure I was speeding the whole way, panicking.
About a week after our football Sunday together (and the many crises following it), the doctor told my mom she should take Dad off life support, that there was nothing they could do to stabilize his heart rhythm. For my whole life, the doctors had always found a way to pull him through. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from that man! I ran to the chapel weeping and poured my heart out to God, begging Him to heal my dad. There was only silence. When I finally returned to the waiting room, it was my mom’s turn to suck it up; she made the decision to take my dad off life support and had to tell the doctor in front of me. I was in shock. We went in to hold his hands and say goodbye while he was still warm, but we knew that he was already gone. By the time we left his room, I was inconsolable and completely DEVASTATED; my whole world shattered right then and there. I bawled like a baby the whole way home from the hospital. It was a LONG drive across the state.
Any depression I’d suffered under up until that point in my life was a minor blip. I left my job and I quit school for the rest of the semester. Although my mom said many times that she was very grateful that I was back living at home with her, I was absolutely NO help during the next few months. Perhaps my presence was all she required, but the bottom line was that I totally crashed and it was a challenge for me to just make it out of bed each day. EVERY morning for weeks—maybe months—I felt like I was scraping myself off the pavement just to get one foot in front of the other as I “walked” through my days.
One of the few things that helped me was music. My mom had a huge stash of Integrity Hosanna praise and worship cassettes — I played them constantly, partly as a distraction to keep my mind from focusing on painful subjects, but I realize now that it wasn’t merely a way to distract myself. It also began to bear good fruit in my thought patterns. It was training my brain to stay focused on Jesus and my Heavenly Father, instead of wallowing in misery and self-pity. Spiritually speaking, I was putting “on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” and as I did, the pain eased.
During the deepest period of our grief, our pastor took the time to regularly visit us at home; this was a LONG time ago. Do pastors even do home visitation anymore??? At that time, our pastor was intent on shepherding his hurting sheep — unfortunately over time, that focus changed, but I’m grateful we got the ministry we needed then. Oh, the blessings of an intimate congregation when pastors actually pastored! (But that’s another subject for other posts…)
After a few months, I slowly started to climb out of my great emotional hole and began to look forward to church meetings. Our church had small groups that met once a week in different people’s homes; these were all flawed people (me, especially), but they were REAL and non-judgmental. We read the Bible, sang and prayed together. We ate yummy snacks and shared life together. One of the things that had always disturbed me growing up was how fake people could be; I HATED it! So, as you might imagine, I never had very many friends, but at this little body of Christ-followers I found real love and acceptance from people who weren’t afraid to to show their flaws. This was something I’d always craved!
Our pastor was very non-threatening. I mean that in the best way possible. He was gentle, kind and easy to talk to. He, too, had been broken like me and so I started asking questions. I still recall one very important conversation I had with him after church one day; he pointed me to the Bible and told me to dig in and read it for myself, while humbling myself and asking the Lord to teach me through it. He told me the most important thing was to make sure I always remained teachable. It was another of those moments where I knew it was the word of the Lord and this became one of my biggest moments of obedience! I decided then and there to do what he said and I began reading the scripture every day, asking the Lord to teach me. As I read and listened to what the Lord was telling me through the scriptures, my whole life began to change.
I know now that someone, from some part of my life, had been praying for me; someone asked the Lord to do WHATEVER was necessary to get me right with Him… and that’s exactly what happened. Things started to really crumble in my early twenties, but a few years later when my dad died, it was like the peg that I had hung all of my trust on was removed and everything came crashing down around me. Some of us (who are very stubborn and prideful) have to crash and burn because we are so full of our own ways and thoughts that we won’t willingly yield to Him. That was me. Definitely. My dad wasn’t perfect; I knew that, but apparently that didn’t matter and, though I never realized it at the time, Dad had achieved the status of an idol in my life. OUCH! When he was taken away from me, I began to learn that ANYTHING or ANYONE can become an idol: Parents. Children. Stuff. Ideas. Thoughts. Culture. Country. Even Religious Practice. In Western culture, we don’t generally worship idols of wood and stone; we are more inclined to worship people, personal preferences, ideologies and other “stuff.” Even though I never realized it, my dad meant more to me than God and when he died, I had NOTHING left. There was no where else to turn–I’d already tried most everything else, so I finally turned fully to the Lord. The stage was now set for new adventures.