Room for Hope

by Robin Dance

Rock of Ages

For the Lord sees not as man sees:
man looks on the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks on the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7b

i.

I remember the night my father died.  I was sitting alone in our playroom, mindlessly watching tv while the rest of my house was asleep.  My phone buzzed later than people know better to call, and as soon as I heard my sister’s voice, I knew.  We had been waiting, praying no longer for miracle or life but for soul’s release from a shriveled mind and tortured body.  She had been with him in that holy moment when this life enters the next; his firstborn child and the boss of me most of my life.  It was fitting she should receive that honor.

The walls in our playroom are cool flame, its ceiling, robin’s egg blue.  For a second the world stopped spinning and I was consumed by fire and sky.  I was an orphan.

Fourteen months earlier my father had a near-fatal reaction to an antipsychotic medication used to treat Alzheimers.  We extensively researched his symptoms and what we suspected was confirmed after his death: he had suffered from Lewy Body Dementia, not Alzheimers.  No one in our medical community seemed to fully understand or even know about LBD–it was first randomly introduced to me when I ran into a friend at the grocery store as we exchanged “catch-up” stories; she listened to me describe my father, and then explained his behavior exactly mirrored her mother’s.

There’s much more to all that – how the medical community failed my father over and over – but in a very real way, that horrific 14 months when child and parent reverse roles was a gift to us.  Daddy would never again walk unassisted, he could barely self-feed and he required 24-hour care when not hospitalized.

Because 24-hour care isn’t fully covered by insurance, my siblings and I took turns by his side.

We were captive to one another.

 

ii.

Daddy was Jewish and Mama was a Christian.  His faith, at least on the surface, meant little to him, but hers meant everything.

During her five-year battle with cancer, she found a church home she knew would love us well.  She accepted her days were numbered and that she wouldn’t be there to nurture our faith.  Her dying wish to my father was that he would continue taking us to Sunday school and church.

Mama died when I was nine and Daddy kept that promise.  I was oblivious, then, to realize he dropped his country club membership and gave up golf to do so.  While he didn’t attend with us, he was faithful to take us.   He stacked quarters every week for us to take, too; a small, consistent offering we were thrilled to be able to give.

There were three exceptions to his attendance:  if my siblings and I were performing, Christmas and Easter.  What may be rich in irony is trumped with one thing:

Daddy heard the Gospel.

 

iii.

Daddy watched a lot of television, mostly sports, and he had a fascination with TV preachers.  He made fun of Ernest Angley but didn’t say much when Billy Graham was on.

Daddy heard the Gospel.

A lot.

 

iv.

It’s hard to share your faith with your family.  I suppose there are as many different reasons why as there are individuals.

I recall only one time I initiated a conversation with my father about the Lord.  I was in college, home for the weekend.

I was nervous, fearing his response.  Rejection?  Mockery?  I had low expectation but was determined, concerned for the state of his soul.

Daddy, I know you love me more than anything, and I believe if you thought my life was in danger, you’d do anything in your power to save me….” I began.  “I’m concerned for your eternal life…” and before I could say much else, he interrupted–

Well, I figure I’ve got about as good a chance as anyone else, I’m mostly good, and...”

I don’t really remember his list of reasons beyond that, but the conversation was over before it began.

 

v.

Over 20 years had passed since that day.  And now Daddy was out of his mind.

He talked a lot while he was confined to that bed.  Sometimes it made sense, but mostly it didn’t.  On rare occasions he knew who we were.

And over those 14 months, spilling from gibberish and babble, God gave us gifts.  Glimpses of my father’s heart.

One day he recited the Lord’s Prayer.

He’d cry out to God to help him.

He asked for forgiveness.

He spoke the 23rd Psalm.

When he was strong enough to be wheeled to the table to eat a meal, he’d bow and expect prayer.

But the most astonishing, beautiful gift was the day Daddy broke into song; not prompted by anything in particular, and reminding me of his strong, pitch-perfect voice–

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee;

let the water and the blood, from thy wounded side which flowed,

be of sin the double cure; save from wrath and make me pure.

How in the world did he know all the words?

Daddy heard the Gospel. 

The words spilling from Daddy’s heart when so there was so little left of him were a gift wrapped in hope.

There’s no way of knowing about his salvation, I’m not delusional.

But in a prayer, in the overflow of my father’s heart, in a centuries-old hymn, God gave me room for hope.

 

23 Responses to “Room for Hope”

  1. Ro elliott November 13, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    What a beautiful story…I have just walked this road with my brother …he lived a hard and painful life…and then came cancer..he was given 4 months to live …just like you …we never sat down and prayed the “sinners pray”. ..no closing the deal moment…but there were so many small moments that gave us a window into his soul…I had the honor of being with him as he peacefully took his last breath…I had peace as well…he was home…he was like the theif on the cross…in his 11th hr…he found God’s grace…something tells my so did your dad.

    • Robin Dance November 14, 2013 at 6:47 am #

      Ro,

      My sympathies to you for the loss of your brother; I’m close to my siblings, and find it difficult to even imagine this world without them.

      So thankful for those precious times you shared with him, giving you peace.

  2. wanda November 13, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    Wow wow wow! What a testimony!

    My mother passed away in July after living a “hellacious” type of life. One that didn’t include Christ……until near the very end.
    I can’t tell you how God MINISTERED to me as I sat with her battling cancer & heart trouble. She was present with Jesus and I could see clearly SHE LOVED HIM & HE HER!

    • Robin Dance November 14, 2013 at 7:03 am #

      Wanda,

      I know some people are critical (cynical?) of death-bed conversions; which makes me especially thankful for the thief who hung next to Jesus. To me, another kind and generous offering from God. Celebrating your mom’s conversion, with sympathy for your loss.

  3. Sidnie November 13, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    Oh, my heart, Robin. This is beautiful.
    And now after reading all of it, I know exactly why it brought me to tears. My cousin-in-law passed away recently after being on life support for a week and our prayers during that week were for his salvation, and God showed up in big ways during those hard days to bring us Peace.

    (I recently read a book and in it, a man was having a conversation with God and God told this man that He’s in all religions. He doesn’t forget anyone, and His work is to simply bring everyone together in Heaven. It was a lovely thought- that God is present whether you worship in a temple or church or in an open field… that He’s working to bring you to Him, in a way that’s comfortable for you. I’m not sure I believe it, but it stuck with me and is such a comforting thought…)

    • Robin Dance November 14, 2013 at 7:07 am #

      Sidnie,

      Life-loss is so often hard for those who are left behind; which makes me even more grateful when Peace invades my heart. I’m thankful for you and your family to have seen God in the midst of such painful circumstance. Peace changes everything during a season like that, doesn’t it?

      Yeah, I understand the funky theology your book example suggests, but honestly? Though many would argue, and I’m not saying I agree with it…but there’s room for interpretation from scripture…no matter how sure a theologian is… :).

  4. Mary B November 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    It’s amazing how the love of Christ connects us. I spent the past 5 years working at a nursing home mostly with Alzheimer’s residents and other forms of dementia. One thing that always seems to bring joy or a moment of connectivity is hymns. Gods power is amazing so thankful you were able to have those moments.

    • Robin Dance November 14, 2013 at 7:09 am #

      Mary,

      Your work is a mighty ministry. Thank you for how you’re serving those residents.

  5. Lyli @ 3-D Lessons for Life November 13, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    Oh, Robin, this made me cry! I’ve been praying for my dad since 1979… He’s such a tough cookie. Thanks for sharing your dad’s story. It fills me with hope. xoxo

    • Robin Dance November 14, 2013 at 7:13 am #

      {{Lyli}}

      It really is why I hate the question after someone’s death (or during an extended illness), “Were/are (s)he saved?”

      Who are we to KNOW? There are plenty of Christians who profess yet their lives are dreadfully lacking of evidence (not preaching works here).

      I’m so thankful my experience is encouragement in the midst of yours. It IS why I wrote it, because HOPE for those we love is life-changing. Without hope, what do we have??

      I’m praying for your dad this morning; and for you to live the truth of Christ before him, in a way that compels him to want what you have.

      xo

  6. Katie Fox November 13, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    Robin, I have walked this same road – not with my parents, but other loved ones. Thanks for sharing. Sometimes that small bit of hope is exactly what we need to keep going.

  7. Leigh Kramer November 13, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    Oh, Robin. I’ve got tears in my eyes. So beautiful, so poignant.

  8. Diana Trautwein November 13, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

    Oh, Robin! This is so exquisitely beautiful, I can hardly breathe. Thank you, thank you. Today has been a really hard day for me, many tears over my mom’s rapid decline. And I know about LBD – we thought maybe my mom had it, but she does not. Most likely Alzheimer’s I am so sorry for your loss, but so grateful for those days with him and for the ways in which God ministered to all of you.

    • Robin Dance November 14, 2013 at 7:16 am #

      Oh…Diana…

      I see satan in severe dementia (whether it’s LBD, Alzheimer’s…whatever); all I could think during that season was “it kills (his mind), steals (dignity) and destroys (body, relationship).

      I used to romanticize what it meant for parent and child to reverse roles; until I lived its horror. I’m praying for you right now, and for your mama.

      God be close… xo

    • Beth Williams November 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

      Prayers for you and your mother Diana. My mom had dementia and sundowner’s. It does steal the person away. She went from walking and energetic to laying in bed 24/7 and not knowing people unless they showed up regularly.

      May God bless you with better days and just try to remember the good old days you and your mother had.

      Blessings!

  9. Diane W. Bailey November 14, 2013 at 6:18 am #

    God says He write His word on the tablets of our hearts. Sounds like your dad’s tablet had a lot of writing on it.

    • Robin Dance November 14, 2013 at 7:16 am #

      Diane,

      Every glimpse was a surprise; every time it was reason to give thanks.

  10. Theresa November 14, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    Hope lives on because Jesus wins!!! You know my story of my parents, at least in part of their respective journeys through life. Thank you for your gift of written expression as it gently reminds my spirit that there is always HOPE. I love you dear friend.

  11. kelly stoutenborough November 14, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    your words as usual are SO POWERFUL!!! I am so sorry you have lost both parents…as an only child I am truly afraid of that day the God calls my parents to him…I am saving this particular blog to recall when that day comes…THANK YOU

  12. Beth Williams November 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    I can certainly relate to your story. My parents grew up and married in a church. Mom was church secretary for a while. Then for some reason they quit going altogether.

    Mom went into the hospital (2007) and rehab for 1.5 months. When she got home she had full blown dementia and sundowner’s. Dad took care of her 24/7.

    She died peacefully 2 years later at home. During all that time my dad read the Bible and watched some TV preachers. One day he asked to speak with my preacher. They got together and the next thing I knew my pastor was re-baptizing my dad. It was a great & happy day!! :)

    Dad would come with me and my hubby to church quite often. He has since quit coming due to distance (10 miles to my house & 10 more to church). Now that he is a few years older he’s having trouble living day to day. He still watches TV preachers and reads his Bible daily!

  13. Debbie Ginn Settle November 16, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    I love the way you write, Robin! Tender and powerful all wrapped up together. Blessings.

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