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The Unexpected

Dad sat at the edge of the couch with his eyes tightly closed. He was using what little energy he had just to keep his frail, 135 pound body, upright.  I wrapped my arms around the sides of his chest, my fingers sinking deep between the ridges of his rib cage. Tears consumed my ability to see. Just over 365 days ago dad was a healthy, robust, 69-year-old man. Life was surging through his veins as he looked forward to his next decade of life.  He and mom were planning new adventures, discussing upcoming family holiday traditions, and they were already anticipating their  50th anniversary.

Life has an amazing ability to take sudden and tragic shifts that leave us paralyzed in emotional limbo. Now, my once strong superman of a dad couldn’t even lift his body off the couch.

I whispered in his ear: “I love you Padre.”

Padre. I do not recall when I started calling him that, but what I know is it became a term of love, honor, and friendship. I would call him on the phone and exuberantly say, “PADRE!”. He would immediately respond, one-upping my exuberance, “SON-DRE!

Oh, how I wish I could hear him say that one more time. Just one more time.

Dad slowly lifted his arms and wrapped them around my neck, interlocking his fingers. My usually strong and confident voice, quivered, “On the count of three dad . . . 1 – 2 – 3.”  With all of my strength, I carefully lifted him to his feet. We paused.  His muscles were slow to respond. He tried to catch his breath.

I stood there, motionless, sinking in a sea of denial. Cancer is a vindictive and cruel disease that has claimed an incomprehensible number of lives. Cancer sucks!

Once his body was able, we focused on the next challenge –  a five foot trek from the edge of the couch to the sterile hospital bed placed in the corner of the living room. The distance was minimal. The challenge equated to hiking the Grand Canyon – rim to rim.

“O.K. Dad.” Michele, my sister, softly said. “We have you. Lean on us. We will get you there.”

Over the next several minutes Mom, Michele, and I cautiously guided dad to the edge of his bed. We slowly lowered his body and gently laid him down.

The denial, or maybe it’s hope, either way, started to dissipate. The doctor, just two months prior, informed us that he had 18 months to live. That once unfair and mind numbing diagnosis now seemed like a cruel joke. Hospice was now engaged, and we have the unfortunate fortunate opportunity to assist dad as his body quickly fails.

In that moment, as I stood staring at my dad, the unexpected happened. God’s voice pierced through my deafening sorrow that was erupting in my soul and revealed a simple truth:“For me, to live is Christ and to die is to gain.” (Philippians 1:21).

So many times we focus on the ending four words of this verse.  I understand that death for a Christ-follower is an unmeasurable gain.  The Bible is clear about Jesus preparing a place for everyONE who accepts Him as Savior. His grace is beyond amazing. John gives  us a picture of what heaven will be like.  Hope surges forward as we grasp the reality that we will live in eternity without pain, loneliness, sorrow, addiction, hurt, sickness, depression, guilt, or even death. We will live in the presence of Abba – Father. Ahhh, now that is GAIN.

But for me, at this moment, death is a cruel joke that this fractured world has doled out yet again. I know that Dad will experience unfathomable gain, but we are left with an unthinkable loss. The reality is that death leaves us holding the fractured pieces of a another life that has been brutally ripped away.

But as I looked at Dad, lying in his bed helpless, struggling to do the simplest of human functions, joy suddenly pierced the deep sorrow in the my heart.

“To live is Christ!”  I have read those words. I  have processed those words. I have even repeatedly taught those words. But now, these four words have an entirely new meaning.

If your life has ever intersected with my dad, you have been impacted by his resolve to live as Christ.

  1. Dad’s radiating smile  imposed its will on whatever type of day you were having. His relationship with God fueled his smile.

  2. Dad’s  unswerving desire to pray for anyone, no-matter where they were on their spiritual journey, was a response to Christ radically redirecting the trajectory his life.

  3. Dad’s unwavering resolve to speak words of encouragement and admonishment to couples, pastors, leaders, and parents, was his response to God’s call on his life.

  4. Dad’s unrelenting pursuit to teach the Bible, not in the attempt to deepen knowledge, but to motivate you to change, grow, and experience God’s plan for your life here on this earth.

  5. Dad’s deepening love  for his wife over the past 46 years reflects his understanding of God’s unconditional love for him.

  6. Dad’s  unending commitment to serve the Church was driven by Christ’s command to go!

This world is a better place because dad has lived-out these words. I am a better husband, father, pastor, leader, and Christ-follower because my dad’s commitment to live as Christ. And for that I will always be thankful. 

With sorrow engulfing the depth of my heart, I will help dad experience the gain that is awaiting him.

With joy piercing my sorrow, I will hold  on to the fact that dad Lived as Christ!

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