Three years ago today, my phone rang. We had gone to bed because it was pretty late, but I set the phone on the bedside table, in case my mom called back with more news.
I hadn’t quite fallen asleep when we got the call. I knew just as soon as she said my name. She said she was sorry for having to tell me something like that over the phone, and I said I was sorry I wasn’t there to be with her.
Four months earlier, we had moved my parents ten minutes away from us so I would be there. So I would be there at that moment. But they had gone out of town, and she was there without me. Even though family members were at the hospital so she wouldn’t be alone, I was the one who was supposed to be there. That was the plan.
My dad had his first heart surgery when I was in high school, his second when my youngest son was almost a year old. He hadn’t been in good health for awhile, but he always seemed to push through. He wasn’t fragile or frail; he just had to rest a lot. His knees hurt and he got out of breath easily. Still, he was the same dad and grandpa he had always been. He moved a little slower, but he talked and listened exactly like he always had.
And now, all of a sudden, he was gone.
When that awful night finally ended, the day was spent crying and calling people we knew. I would make a call…deliver the news…hang up the phone…cry until I felt completely empty…then take a deep breath and make another call.
No one I called was surprised, yet everyone was shocked. Somehow, it seemed like Dad was going to live forever. We all knew he wouldn’t, but he had outlived so many statistics. His death wasn’t a surprise, but it seemed so very sudden.
My dad was gone, and part of me just felt broken. I wasn’t sad for my father. There was no need to be sad for him. He had lived his life by his faith in Jesus. He loved God and His Word. The covers on his Bibles would literally fall to pieces because of overuse, as though anyone can “overuse” their Bible. Dad was exactly where he was supposed to be, where he was saved to be.
And I was here, feeling so empty and alone. My faith, the faith I thought was fairly strong, was now thin. One minute, I was pouring out my heart to God, clinging to Him. A couple moments later, I was wondering if He was even there, and if He was really there, did He really love me? After all, He had left me without my daddy.
I honestly don’t know why God tolerated me. His mercy toward me truly was new every morning. Otherwise, I would have been lost forever.
Every time something would go wrong in my life – a disobedient child, a forgotten bill, a burned dinner – a voice inside my mind would remind me that, on top of everything else going wrong, God had also taken my dad away from me. That voice reminded me that I felt so alone because I was alone. In the many dark moments, that’s what I thought. That’s what I said to myself and to Him. It wasn’t true, but I felt like it was.
The Painful First Year
For a year I struggled. For a full year I fought against my faith. Some days I considered walking away from all of it. I thought about having nothing more to do with church, or the Bible, or God. I just wanted to quit. Several times, I thought I would.
But I didn’t. I don’t know why, but I didn’t. By the pure, loving grace of God, I had an intense fear that if I ever gave up, I might never find my way back to the truth of the cross. I was afraid that if I walked away, my children might follow me. I was terrified of what that would mean for their lives.
The year was long and full of so many tears. I wasn’t exactly “depressed,” but life felt so heavy. One week I was fine, and the next I was a total mess. Not a day went by without my thinking about Dad. Special occasions were sad, not special. Christmas was torture. I could hardly look at the tree in the corner if the living room. If it wasn’t for the kids, I would have boycotted all holidays that year. I would have skipped birthdays and anniversaries, too.
And baseball season. Definitely baseball season.
But nothing could be skipped. I couldn’t quit, or run away, or lock myself in the bathroom (for more than a few minutes), or make any of it stop. I just had to live through it. I had to hurt. I had to grieve. I had to be broken to the point that I wondered if I could ever heal.
As the end of that first year rolled around, something happened inside of me. The pain and the darkness became less painful and not so dark. The tears stopped flowing so frequently, and my self-pity began to fade. I could breathe again.
God brought rest to my weary soul. For the first time in a year, I believed that God was good. He had always been good, but I was finally able to believe it again.
God was faithful when I was faithless. He was good when I couldn’t see goodness anywhere. He drew me back to Himself. He broke Jesus to cover the sins of my own broken heart. And then He forgave me. He loved me. From before the foundation of the world, He loved me.
My self-pity still wages war against my heart, but not nearly so often. And when the accusations start to rise up inside of me, I’m much quicker to recognize them for the sin that they are. They may be born out of my grief, but they are still false accusations against the One who died for me. The death of Jesus covers those bitter, sinful thoughts, too.
That phone call three years ago changed me.
My life is forever changed. I am changed by the life my dad lived for the Lord. I am changed by the utter pain of losing my dad. I am changed by my rebellion against God. I am changed by the subsequent years that have been sometimes stagnant, sometimes full of growth. I am changed by the love of my family, my husband, my children.
But mostly, I am changed by the cross of Jesus.
His steadfast love.
His unwavering grace.
His merciful forgiveness.
His perfect plan.
His heavenly throne.
Today, I am changed.