Fifty Years Ago

NOTE: Please forgive the longer post today. I’m reflecting on the day everything changed for me and my family: July 17, 1965. Most of all, I’m reflecting on God’s prevailing grace. “It was the phone call that would change my life. I was 15. On the other end of the line my mother was weeping. ‘David,’ she said, ‘you’d better sit down.’ I knew instinctively what was coming. ‘Your dad just died.’ I felt keenly sensitized and completely numb at the same time. I stumbled for half-coherent words. ‘You’re sure? There’s no mistake?’

“I walked in a daze around my cousin’s neighborhood. I had stayed with him that week while my father fought for his life in the hospital. As I walked, oblivious to the surroundings, I began the nauseous process of re-programming my life without my father.

“I asked to be taken to the church my father had pastored for the last ten years. I walked to the front and lay face down in front of my dad’s pulpit. I knew that in a couple of days my father’s body would be lying there as hundreds would gather to pay tribute to him. Throughout the afternoon I writhed in agonizing prayer before the Lord. I blurted repeatedly, ‘Why? Why us? Why me?’

“Two weeks earlier I had made a no-strings-attached commitment of my future to the full lordship of Christ at a Christian camp. I knew Dad was dying. I knew God could heal him. I had reason to hope He would. One of my last conversations with him was to tell him of my all-out commitment at the old-fashioned camp altar.

“That picture flashed before me as I lay prostrate at the church. ‘Lord,’ I reiterated, ‘I wasn’t kidding. I gave You complete authority over my life at that camp. I meant it then. I mean it now, even though I don’t understand.

“Over the next few months the finality of his passing sank in with deadening impact. Since Dad was a minister, it wasn’t too unusual for him to be gone a week or even two at a time. But this time he left and didn’t come back. Nor would he ever return. My faith and hopes for his healing had been canceled. I juggled the delicate theological process of discarding my faith for Dad’s healing without discarding my faith in God’s power to heal. I sorted through the tangled paradoxes of sovereign choice that allowed my father to die, and sovereign benevolence that was supposedly always in effect. Of course at 15 I didn’t use those words. But I grappled with the issues nonetheless.

“I was faced with an irretrievable dream. It couldn’t be fixed. Dad wasn’t coming home. He was home – in heaven. My dreams of growing up in the security of my father’s care would not come true. There would be no more father-son banquets. I would always want to rush past Father’s Day from then on. Every morning I would wake to a stark new fact: my dad is dead.

“I knew my ‘defense mechanisms’ were building walls of callousness to protect me from ever being hurt that deeply by loss again. I seemed powerless to halt their construction, yet as quickly as they were put into place, I was able to dismantle them. Somehow I knew that such walls would not protect me but imprison me.

“Then there was the new role. I could no longer afford the luxury of just being a teenager. I had to grow up. I was the closest thing my two younger sisters would have to a father figure. Responsibility took on a much greater meaning. A popular song of the times certainly applied to me: ‘The times, they are a-changin’.’

“Yet in spite of all this, in the midst of my inner chaos there was an anchored calm. The faith of my father was also mine. I too had trusted Christ. And I trusted what He said: ‘He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25). I determined to be true to myself and to God – about my future, my anger, my questions, my newly sprouting hopes, my fear ever to love deeply again. ‘Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom’ (Psalm 51:6). The truth was, Dad had died. The truth was, I hurt. The truth was, I didn’t know where to go from there.”

[NEW ADDITION: “The truth is, His grace is more than sufficient.”] – From Recapturing Your Dreams by David Shibley