Plans changed. We were scheduled for a joy-filled day of celebrating life, at my first baby shower. A day that I imagined would be filled with excited embraces from my closest friends and family, back home. Instead, we found ourselves on the front row church pew of a funeral- taking a final look at my daddy and bidding his earthly body farewell into eternity. We were embraced by grieving, memories, and empathy. I had also planned for a maternity photo shoot. But instead of standing behind a camera, I found myself standing behind a podium, delivering a personal story to honor my daddy’s life, as we laid him to rest. There we were- united as a family in a way that was different than we imagined, but monumental, nonetheless.
It seemed as though the songs and prayers on the schedule moved swiftly and a head nod from my uncle signaled to my sister and I that our time to speak had arrived. With each step to the podium, anxiety followed me. But God went before me- giving me the strength and courage that I prayed desperately for, the night before. I hope that sharing the words that I shared during the funeral will be for someone else’s good and for His glory. Here is the gist:
As I pondered what to say about my dad’s life, I had a difficult time deciding what exactly to share. Initially, I considered sharing about some of the simple pleasures he enjoyed- the few, fond memories I have from the few years that we lived in the same household. But as I prayed for the right words, the Spirit lead me in a different direction. My mind and heart were directed towards focusing on his years of suffering, rather than his years of success. It is the emphasis on the years of suffering that provided some of my most valuable lessons and that this message of encouragement was derived for you.
I want to encourage you with a message about two things that my earthly father’s suffering taught me about my heavenly Father’s sufficiency.
God’s word tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:19, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
My father’s story exudes this and displays how powerless we as human beings are and how powerful our Almighty Creator is.
The first thing I’ve learned from my earthly father’s suffering is: When an answered prayer does not look the way that we envisioned, we must trust that God is the one with 20/20 vision.
God’s 20/20 vision and ability to see far ahead into these days of suffering, began to reveal itself years ago. Around Christmas of 2013, I experienced a personal tragedy that changed my life and redirected the paths of my future. Simultaneously, I was interviewing for graduate school programs. My first offer of acceptance came from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Those who know daddy know that he attended UNC Chapel Hill for his undergraduate studies, was an avid Tar Heel fan, and took such pride in the charm of the small town of Chapel Hill. In fact, I chuckle at the fact that he waited until a few hours after the Duke vs. Carolina game to take his last breath.
As I opened that acceptance letter, I had renewed hope of a relationship with my dad. For years, we had been out of touch. There was a large gap of time where we’d hear from him every once in a blue moon, but his phone numbers and locations were never stable and his contact with us was inconsistent- essentially non-existent. In the midst of those years, I prayed fervently for him- for his health, his well-being, his safety, and his recovery from the pursuit things that meant him no good. Much of this grace and these prayers were inspired by my mama- who’s forgiving heart continued to wish him well, years beyond the hurt that she experienced from their divorce.
I anxiously anticipated starting my new life in North Carolina. While my parents were married, we grew up taking annual trips to High Point, North Carolina to visit my cousins, aunts, and uncles, on my dad’s side. We would laugh and joke, catch fireflies in the backyard, during North Carolina summers, and temporarily distract ourselves from the realities of life back home. And now, I would be moving not far from High Point to Chapel Hill, to continue a legacy and make memories where my daddy planted his academic roots.
Some months after I transitioned to Chapel Hill, I got word that daddy had gone to a rehab center- finally seeking some professional help. Not long after, I got notified that he had a serious stroke, while in rehab- initiating the decline of his health and abilities. I was devastated for him and mourned the fact that my hopes for our new relationship might not look how I imagined. But even in that, God’s 20/20 vision was apparent. He knew that I needed a fresh start in Chapel Hill. He knew that my dad would need encouragement in the midst of his unexpected storm and final years of life. He knew that after four more years of declining health, my dad would pass away. He knew that the relationship that I had been praying for would develop-unfolding into its own, unique testimony.
My prayer was answered. The answer to my prayer didn’t look like fancy, daddy/daughter dates. It looked like bringing him Starbucks and sipping our coffee in the nursing home lobby- him unable to walk and not able to converse much, through his slurred speech. The answer to my prayer didn’t look like my daddy getting to walk me down the aisle, know my husband well and talk sports with him, or meet my baby boy. It looked like telling him about my engagement, my wedding, and my news of expecting through pictures, at his bedside in the nursing home. The answer to my prayer was not glamorous. It looked like hard visits that required feeding him and wiping his dripping mouth, when he couldn’t do it by himself. Nevertheless, my prayer was answered. And I saw the good that God was doing in both of our hearts, in the midst of it all.
The second thing that I’ve learned from my dad’s suffering is: Life changes quickly. Let me re-emphasize that. Our lives can change drastically, in the blink of an eye.
James 4:13-15 cautions us about thinking that we are in control of our lives, our plans, and our destinies:
“Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there for a year and trade and make a profit.Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
My dad’s life changed in the blink of an eye, in ways he never planned for or imagined. His credentials and success as an attorney, judge, and man who gained the whole world are impressive. But the successful and intelligent, charismatic dad that I knew in my early years, found himself in low places and traveling down dark, winding roads. He lost jobs, people, and possessions. Eventually, he lost his intellectual abilities, his physical abilities, and his ability to live independently.
But there is good news, brothers and sisters. When life changes-quickly or slowly- and those earthly things are stripped away, GOD is still there.
“What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or nakedness, or danger or sword? …No- in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death or life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height or depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
Now that I have shared the two lessons that my earthly father’s suffering has revealed about my Heavenly Father’s sufficiency, I want to encourage you all to do two things (that I am also working on, myself):
- Ask yourself if you have postured your heart to receive God’s answer to your prayers in whatever way that He chooses to respond. He tells us in Scripture, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways. For as the heavens are higher than the Earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We are blind people- each and every one of us. HE has the 20/20 vision. HE sees all and knows all. HE has ordered our steps. But we have to humble ourselves to follow his lead and accept his guidance, even if the path He leads us down looks differently than we imagined. Don’t allow an unmet expectation to blind you to the fact that He meets you where you are to answer your prayer- in the way that He, in all of His wisdom, knows is best.
- Because you know that life can change quickly, build your hopes on things eternal. Colossians 3:2 pleads with us, “Set your affections on things above, not on the things of the earth.”Everything is fleeting, brothers and sisters – our health, our families, our possessions, our good works, our control, our pleasures, and most importantly- life itself. We have to remember to build on the foundation that will never pass away. My dad was graced with extra time on this earth that presented opportunities for repentance and reconciliation, but how can we be sure that we will be graced with more time to make things right?
I will leave you with the words to a hymn that sums up what this solid foundation is:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus name
His oath, his covenant, his blood
Support me in the whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my hope and stay
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand.
Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.