My dad died over 20 years ago but for the last week he’s been on my mind.
We’d been hiking with children and grandchildren in the Colorado mountains. Growing up, my family’s favorite camping spots were in mountains. We loved to hike, and my dad was one enthusiastic trekker.
Back home, the fond memories continued to come to mind as I was working at my computer in my favorite coffee shop.. Another regular stopped by my table to tell me her father was dying. We hugged, talked, and prayed together for God’s presence to be felt by all of her family in this tough situation.
Back to work with a small stone of sadness in my chest.
An hour later another friend stopped at my table with her new little red-headed daughter born just a few months ago.She told me that her father was undergoing tests to see if cancer had spread in spite of preventative measures. My eyes, full of tears of delight at this beautiful child, overflowed as I shared her pain. Her father lives close by and had been her go-to person for the 30+ years of her single life. Now, when he is delighting with her in her marriage and the birth of a precious grandchild, it looks like her father’s life may be shorter than they had hoped it would be.
The little stone in my chest grew to boulder size, and it hurt to breathe.
But the Holy Spirit brought another memory of my father. Suffering from a aggressive brain tumor and no longer able to speak or show expression on his face, my dad was having a terrible evening.Was he in pain? Was he afraid? My mother and I had no way of knowing what his thrashing and moaning meant. We tried playing the music he loved, we tried pain medication, we tried a back rub, but he would have none of it. My mother is silently crying by the side of his bed when I come back from a conversation with our hospice nurse. I knelt by his bed and prayed for God to send His angels to comfort and reassure my father who was in great distress. Through my tears, I noticed that the room had grown quiet. My father was holding my mother’s hand and looking toward the end of the bed with a smile on his face. A smile! His face hadn’t changed expression for so long. I asked if he could see the angels, and his smile continued as he squeezed my mother’s hand.
That presence, the fact that God cares and is always right there, is what I could talk about with my friend. And we did.
At home working in the kitchen I played a home-made cassette that I had dug out and begun listening to earlier that morning. Something totally unexpected, and only vaguely remembered, was on that tape.
My father, my mother, and I singing in trio a song that my mother had written. The words (from 1 Peter 4) go like this:
There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
There are varieties of service, but the same God;
There are varieties of working, but it is the same God
Who inspires them all in everyone for the common good.
I played this song over three times—at full volume—humming along with delight.
I had been prepared by those memories of my father so I could perform the service of listening with empathy to those who were staring death in the face. I had been prepared to respond with the assurance that “God is our refuge and strength, a present help in times of trouble.”
And God again brought comfort for my flailing emotions. The boulder was lifted from my chest, and I could not only breathe easily, but smile with each intake of breath.