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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.