Today I’m traveling back to Memphis to spend some time with my parents, my dad specifically. I don’t talk about it much. It’s heavy and personal, but sometimes those are the things that speak the loudest. My dad is in the final stages of a terminal disease called Multiple Systems Atrophy. It’s extremely rare but ever so vicious. It’s as if you took ALS, MS, and Parkinson’s and rolled them all into one. I guess nothing terminal is kind, but this particular disease has been hard to watch. He was diagnosed 8 years ago at the age of 58. Jake was 2.
It’s really all my kids have known when it comes to my dad, so I try to tell lots of stories of Pop’s life before MSA. He was a bit of a rebel. He loved to run and spend time with me and my horses. He loved music of all kinds. He loved to play it loud. I get a lot from him. And some of these are qualities my kids really wish I hadn’t inherited. Our car can bump.
But in these final days it’s even more important to remember the fun and the good. It’s also important to think about his journey the last 8 years. Because this has shaped and molded such a powerful story of love and peace and joy in the midst of the darkest of days. I can’t overlook that. I can’t not share that.
My dad has been walking with Jesus for 35 years. The house I grew up in had impressions in the carpet in the upstairs game room from the days my dad spent on his knees in prayer. He had two daughters, so there was a lot to cover. Bless him. He was faithful and consistent in his love for us, the crazy and emotional and unpredictable women in his life. I always sort of felt sorry for him living in a house of women. Brushes got thrown on bad hair days(sorry Ang) and voices raised, or completely ceased in a moment of “I have nothing to say,” then the arms cross. Women.
I’ve been looking through old photo’s and letter’s the past couple of week and every single time my dad wrote to me he talked about how much he prayed for me. Even now, I know he prays for my every day. His disease has taken his speech, his balance and mobility, his ability to run which he did every single day of my life, his ability to swallow, his ability to cough, clear his throat or feed himself. It’s taken his privacy and his pride. But, the one thing this disease has not taken is my dad’s peace. It hasn’t stolen his joy or his ability to whisper prayers for us and everyone else he knows. My dad is faithful.
People come to visit him and walk away from his room, and immediately comment on the peace they felt from having been near him. My mom has cared for him selflessly for 8 years, and not without dark days and moments of wishing for a reprieve. But, my mom has had peace. I hear it in her voice when she calls to tell me he’s having a bad day or when she’s having to handle a big crisis on her own.
Lysa Terkeurst says,
“I know deep hurt, but I also know deep hope. Sometimes God’s power is shown as much in preventing things as it is in making them happen. We may never know why, but we can always know and trust the Who.”
There are so many amazing stories I could sit and write about my parents and the ways God has showed up in the last 8 years. I guess showing up implies he left, which He didn’t. He doesn’t do that. He’s always there and present, even in the crappiest of circumstances. But, the times God showed off by providing for them is a testimony to just how good He is. He didn’t take away my dad’s suffering. He didn’t pave an easy road for my mom, but he provided a peace that surpasses all understanding. He has given them a story. He has given my dad an even stronger legacy to leave behind and my mom the words to share for the rest of her time on earth of just how good God is. How He held them up and filled them with thankfulness. Its’ a story they wouldn’t have otherwise and honestly, even through the hardest times, I don’t think it’s one they would change. And that? That perspective can only come through Christ, because they know the richness that has come from having to rely on Him through it all.
When we walk through trials or suffering, it’s hard to talk about it, much less see the good in it. But I’m learning there is always something good.
“When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, LIFE GROWS.”
God has been forging His good and perfect will through these circumstances. None of this comes as a surprise to Him. Not one moment or second of the past 8 years is a shock to Him. He knew the plans He had for my parents, and while they certainly wouldn’t have been our choice, they have purpose. My dad’s life, especially since his diagnosis, has screamed of what it means to follow Jesus. It doesn’t mean we won’t face trials, for this world is full of them and no one is exempt from that. But, it does mean that He is there for us in our worst moments. Through the tears and the fear and the anger and the rage. Through the sadness and regrets. Through the lonely and the empty. Through the loss and the life that comes after that loss. Through the good and joyous. From the beginning of our life on this earth up until the very end, and on into eternity. Life grows through the dark places. For that’s when we are forged and shaped. That’s when we are tested and have the ability to come forth as gold, and not as a person of bitterness.
I know my dad’s hope. I know that He will once again be whole and new. His body won’t be broken. His smile will return. But I also know his joy was never lost. Even when he couldn’t fully express it, it was there. Palpable and alive. Showing itself to a watching world that Jesus is the very essence of hope. Hope and peace, joy and gratitude through circumstances that are excruciating. These things can only come form a perfect God. A God who is full of grace. Who boasts in us and cares for us, down to the hairs on our heads and the tears that fall. My dad’s life was deeply rooted in the person of Christ. His roots grew deep, intertwined in God in such a way that his life produced fruit, and thankfulness. That when a storm came, he wasn’t knocked down. He was planted firmly in his faith, and was not shaken.
My prayer for you is that you have hope and peace. I know it’s the holiday season and that may not mean joy for you. This may be the hardest time of year for you or your family. I am so very sorry for whatever the source of that pain might be. But I can assure you that there is hope in Jesus. He’s what my family celebrates every December. He came that we might have life. Not perfection or ease. Not wealth or prosperity or fame. Not a pretty wardrobe or a publishing deal. Not a big house or a spot on the best team or on the stage. Not perfect relationships or good health. None of those things are bad, but they are enormously temporary. Earthly. Not of any eternal value. He can use us through any or all of those blessings, but it’s not why He came. He came that we might have life, and that we might have one that is rooted in Him. Abundant and green and full of hope and joy. A life that experiences peace through any circumstance, even the ones we hate. So, I hope you feel encouragement. Hope. A welling in your spirit that whatever you are going through, God can use for good. Because He is good. And there is always a reason to give thanks.