My dad died three years ago from cancer. When he was first diagnosed with it, he was given a life expectancy of no more than one to two years. He survived for seven. I think this was due to two factors:
1. He was a resilient, stubborn, son-of-a-gun who refused to give up even when the odds were against him.
And 2. God wasn't done trying reach him and work in his life.
For this short entry I wanted to focus on the latter, where I believed God used several people including me to touch this "I did it my way" man's life.
Ever since I first heard the word about God's grace and gave my life to Christ at age 18, I tried zealously to get my family to accept Jesus too. Looking back, I realized how much of a turn off being a religious wingnut can be to those who don't need preaching but just need to be loved like Jesus loves us. I know I did that to my own family members. My heart was in the right place, I mean I really, really cared for them and, like the Keith Green song goes, "I only want just to see you there." But even though my heart was in the right place, the approach was far too harsh at times - to the point where I'd even block the view of the television from my mother so she would hear me tell her about how she needed to repent.
Oh foolish child of God am I at times!
Trying to reach my dad with the gospel of Christ was even more challenging. He'd been burned by a group of Baptist believers growing up, and he always used that as his excuse how NOT to follow Christ. He'd listen to the preacher spew hellfire and brimstone from the pulpit every Sunday, yet watched as those same "Christians" poured their alcohol down their throats like it was Mardi Gras. I can understand how our example as followers of Christ turns people far, far away from wanting to even hear the good news. Our example is more often than not quite the opposite of a message of love and grace.
Through the years I tried to share Jesus with my dad. One summer we went fishing at Elephant Butte Lake in New Mexico, and while we sat around a campfire one evening, we could hear two men singing and playing guitar just down the shore from us. They were worshiping and praising God so fervently the sound carried all the way down to our campsite! My dad surprised me and told me to go invite them to join us since there were very few people camping during those cold days. What ended up happening was that there were three of us sitting with my dad just sharing our love for Christ with each other and singing songs to God in front of my dad! I couldn't believe he was okay with it.
But still, even years after that along with gentle approaches to talk to my dad about God, he wasn't interested in wanting to pursue a relationship with God. That is, until he got cancer.
Those last few years I made frequent trips from my home town in Arizona to where he lived in Texas. Time and time again he would become ill with pneumonia or some other illness related to his weakened immune system. He would end up hospitalized and we would keep thinking that this time was the end. But his stubbornness allowed him to regain a part of his health enough to even leave the hospital and get back home again.
The last time I saw my dad hospitalized I'd brought my guitar with me. He was sitting up in the recliner next to the hospital bed watching TV while I picked and quietly sang songs to pass the time. I had no agenda other than to edify my own soul and worship God by my playing. But eventually my dad took notice and said, "I like what you're playing, it's very soothing." I was glad I wasn't being a bother and that he wanted me to continue.
I'd just started playing "How Great is Our God" when moments later a nurse walked into the room. I stopped playing and she immediately looked towards me, then questioned me if I was the one singing and playing "those songs." I answered in the affirmative and apologized if I was being too loud. It was late in the evening, after all, and I realized other patients might be trying to sleep.
The nurse's face quickly changed to one of surprise. "Too loud? Oh no! People down the hall including some of the other patients in their rooms could hear you singing and asked me who it was that was playing. They ALL wanted you to keep playing and SING LOUDER!"
I was humbled by her response. I turned and looked up towards my dad. "Well do what she says! Play louder!"'
The nurse left the door completely open and I started singing the song again. As I was singing the chorus (as loudly as I could mind you), my dad joined in singing,
"How greaaaat is our God, sing with me, how great is our God, and all will sing how greaaat, how greaaat is our God!"
The presence of the Holy Spirit was surely in this room, and in every room in that hallway. I continued singing a few more songs , "You Never Let Go" and "Shout to the Lord" before I finally let the hallway's eerie silence of but beeps and dings return.
Days later, I returned to the hospital, alone. No one else was there so I sat on the side of the bed with my dad sitting up right in the bed. I had to finally tell him unashamedly about all the times I shared Jesus with him and why I did that. My dad had such a peaceful look on his face, and he shared the following with me.
He said, "You know, I remember all the times you shared Jesus with me. And I remember when we were camping at the lake and you told me that I'm more precious than anything to God. I remember all the letters you wrote to me, and I want you to know that I was listening the whole time."
I began crying at his side. "Dad, I never knew. I kept trying but it seemed like my words were falling on deaf ears. I thought you and everyone in the family wasn't listening."
He held my hand with his own frail fingers and said, "Let me tell you something, I was listening, and so were all the others. Don't stop sharing that story of God's love. Keep talking because we're all listening."
I tried to stop the crying, overwhelmed by what I was hearing. "I've never done this with you before," I said, "but I'm going to pray with you, Dad." His tired, loving eyes looked back at me, squeezed my hand, and he said, "I'll start."
What he prayed was more than I needed to know that he truly experienced the manifest presence and grace of God himself already. He prayed that he was glad to know Jesus as his Savior, and that he thanked God for all that He had done in his life." I too thanked God and we hugged each other like we'd never done before.
My dad died two weeks later. I got the phone call from my stepmother that he'd gone peacefully in his sleep in the hospital bed.
Everywhere I worship, at home or in front of a congregation, I share this story of how great is our God.
He truly is a great and loving God. My prayer is that God continues to use me. Like my dad said, "keep singing and keep sharing, because they're all listening."
I believe that now.