The call came early, before the first pot of coffee was emptied. “Your dad is on the way to the emergency room.”
I ask a few questions, assume auto pilot to get myself dressed and to the hospital. It will be the first time Dad has ever been in the hospital. Ever. It must be bad for him to submit to an ambulance, to poking and prodding, to needles and hospital beds.
Blood is drawn from small veins. Tape attaches to paper-thin skin. IV needles invade his body in too many places. He looks uncomfortable yet submissive and compliant. He cries out in pain, grimaces. And is there a gentle procedure in a hospital?
News travels. Channels of information run quickly to family and friends. Facebook posts prayer requests. Responses simply say “praying.” And praying is always more than just a simple response.
People come to sit with my step-mother and me, to share our angst, to whisper silent prayers. To tell their stories of my father. Stories that reveal a compassionate heart, a tender concern, a promise made to pray and a promise kept. And lives are changed by the power of the almighty God my father serves.
Tests reveal infection. Pneumonia. Internal problems. The heart beats regularly, not strong but true and faithful.
Dad is frail and thin, a mere wisp of the man he was when I was a child.
He was a builder by trade and craft, a carpenter, like Jesus, with strong muscular chest and arms. I felt safe with him. He was always busy building. Houses, churches, businesses, play houses for his little girl, dog houses for her pets.
When he was in the prime of his life, the Lord called him to build people. He exchanged his nail apron for a towel and wash basin, the garb of a servant. He visited, counseled, encouraged, taught, and built up the kingdom. His materials were the eternal kind, not the wood and stubble used to build the kingdoms of this world.
He lies still, breathing regularly but not full and deep. He has few teeth now and his mouth hangs slightly open. His hairs are white and fine, barely covering his scalp. His face is sunken, showing the outline of the skull, fine wrinkles on skin that covers but just barely.
I stand in the doorway gazing at the ravages of sickness, the strong hold of a sin-cursed world on these earthly bodies to the very end, even those who are sanctuaries to the very presence of the Almighty.
And I ask myself, so this is life? Is this how a life ends?
He was once a sturdy man, strong and capable, working long hours and toiling hard. It seems he has always taken care of others. He marched off to war to help defend his country. He stayed at the task until it was done no matter the cost to himself. Now he can barely lift his hand. Unable to speak clearly, unable to chew food, unable to hear the conversation, unable to hold a glass of water to his parched lips.
I’ve seen this happen before. I’ve watched this same struggle as other loved ones came to stand at Jordan’s stormy banks, casting a wishful eye to the other side.
So this is life?
The days of sitting in the hospital give me time, time to think and remember. Time to hear how my Dad’s life and prayers and teaching the Word and loving people are living on. His life, the one lived for his Lord, is not lying in a hospital bed languishing between white sheets. It was cast upon the waters of service, and it has not returned void.
The breath of life may be slipping away in the body that holds my dad’s spirit and soul. But the life he lived in Christ lives on in me. In others.
I hear it from their own lips, the fruit of his labors bearing fruit in their own lives. Prison ministry. Wisdom to raise a child in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Deliverance from an addiction to pornography. Marriages salvaged. Demons cast out. Broken hearts mended. Encouragement to keep pressing on. Proclaiming the Lord’s return and people get ready!
Jesus said, “. . . whoever loses his life because of Me will find it.” Dad wore himself out in his servant’s role.
And I see that THIS IS LIFE! This is how to live.
It is not in gaining the world but in giving oneself away. This is life! Proclaiming to any who will listen the goodness of God and the salvation He provided. This is life! To visit the widows and care for the orphans and the lonely and the unlovable. This is life! The way it was meant to be lived and used up and wasted away for the sake of the Gospel.
This is a man who spent himself on others. Even now in mere whispers, he prays for those visiting him in his shadowy hospital room.
In the stillness of the evening, I hear him say it softly. “Praise You God. Praise You God.” The Father knows this man’s voice. He has heard it countless times as he daily knelt by his chair to pray, as he prayer-walked every night for how many years (?) as long as he was able. His voice has called out my name in prayer countless times, and I see that I have been left an amazing heritage.
A life lived this way has no fear of what is left of it or how it will end or what lies beyond when he breathes his last. His times are in His Father’s hand.
So this is life and the way it should be lived? Yes, it is! Of this I am sure.