It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on this blog. I’ve written dozens of posts in my head but they just don’t ever seem to make it onto the blog! 🙂 A few days ago, I spent a bit of the afternoon with my dad. It was a beautiful, end of summer day. As I sat on a rock outside his house, soaking in the heat of the sun, I quietly watched him. So many, many emotions flood through me when I spend any amount of time with dad. As a girl growing up, dad was very tall and slender with broad shoulders. I always thought of him as a big man. He was as strong as an ox and in my view there wasn’t a thing in the world he couldn’t do. I don’t remember him being very talkative, not too quiet, but he wasn’t chatty. He had, and still has, although not nearly as often, the zaniest sense of humor! Somehow, he always managed to make me believe I was his favorite. I know siblings of mine felt that way also, so he must have done a good job of making us feel loved. For a long time, my universe centered around my dad. He was larger than life to me and I loved him more than anyone in the world.
The years have not been kind to dad. As I watched him, I marveled at how much a body can change. Dad’s face is deeply etched with lines. Many are from hours and hours of working outside and some are from all the laughter he once was filled with but most are from the years of pain and nights on end of no sleep. He sits in the sun and picks at weeds with a tool he’s fashioned, at one time or another, for just such a task. Dad was a problem solver. He still tries to be a problem solver but for the first time in my life, I’m witnessing my dad not succeed. Too many things are just too much for him anymore. Dad was very handy and could invent most anything he needed to fix a problem or make a task go better. Usually he’d fashion his inventions out of materials he had laying around. Money was always tight but he never seemed to be concerned about that. Money never had a grip on him. If he had it, he’d just as soon pass it on to someone he thought had more of a need than he did. If he didn’t have it, he’d go back to the drawing board and invent whatever it was he needed, out of whatever it was he had laying around.
He sits now and watches as I try to prop up mom’s apple tree, which has so many apples on one limb it’s bending in half. That he sits and watches while I do this is a deep jolt inside me. Once upon a time, there would have been no way he’d sit while I problem solved or wrestled with tree branches. At the oddest moments, the pain can be searing. Why and how did it come to this, I wonder for the umpteenth time.
When he stands, his once 6’2″, straight as an arrow, ex-Marine Corp body is stooped and ‘S’ shaped. He is often shorter than I am. At times, he can force himself ‘upright’ and reach the height of 5’7ish”. Today, 5’7″ is impossible. He sits and soaks in the August sun and comments on how fine Alaska is in August. “Can’t be beat.” “So glad we came here.” “Alaska’s a good land”. This day, I can almost see the cords that bind him to this land he loves so much.
I’ve been with dad through many of his most wretched physical trials. I’ve seen suffering deeper than I ever knew existed. I’ve experienced a crisis of my faith, my belief system, in part, because of watching him go through this terrible suffering and I’ve largely come out the other side of this crisis, in part, by watching dad’s own faith. I’ve never, even in his darkest, most horrific times, heard dad blame God, beg Him to make it stop, demand that He fix it. And I know it’s not that he’s given up faith in God’s ability. I know he has questions, I’ve heard him voice them but at the end of the day dad’s thankful, grateful, hopeful and he comes to God in gratitude. I’ve stood with dad in the darkest, darkest times, harboring vast amounts of anger at God and listened as Dad’s thanked Him: for His presence, His Peace, His availability, His strength, His Grace. And I’ve often not understood a word.
But watching dad navigate the desolation of his health, I’ve learned a few things. It’s not God’s fault. It’s not Dad’s fault. Bad things happen to good people and, yes, that’s very hard to accept sometimes. As I’ve allowed my heart to open to the understanding that God isn’t a ‘sugar daddy’ whose only role is to dispense the good things I like, want, need or hope for, I’ve begun to see that though I DO NOT understand why dad is suffering…God hasn’t ordered it, He doesn’t rejoice in it and He hasn’t abandoned him or me.
Proof, you say. Well, one undeniable proof is Dad’s still soldiering on. He’s able to be plunged back into intense suffering over and over and over and over and over. You argue, that’s not proof because he has no choice. Yes, he does. There are many who have chosen to end it all, to the great sorrow of family and friends who were denied their chance to say goodbye or even make wrong things right. Dad keeps keeping on because of his faith. Because he believes in Gods’ presence, feels His peace, knows first hand He’s available, knows He’s his strength, knows His Grace.
As I sit and watch dad on this glorious August afternoon, I can’t help but wonder how much longer dad has to endure this suffering. I use to get all twisted up inside thinking about dad’s death and feel like I just would not be able to handle it. Funny how perspectives change. I can honestly say from walking through this journey with dad, there are things worse than death. I’ll miss him dreadfully but that won’t be ‘new’. I miss him now. I am convinced that dad will be trading his sickness and pain for joy, health and peace and for that, I can’t wait.
He stands up and says, I love being with you, Sarah, but I think I’m going to try to sleep for a bit. When I hug him there is no recognition of ‘hugging my dad’. It’s like hugging someone else’s body and calling it my dad’s. I walk away from him marveling at his strength, his endurance, his perseverance, his faith. If I can cultivate half of what dad has, I’ll be so blessed. I am so blessed already, so fortunate, to have had this man to love me and guide me throughout my life. He’s the strongest man I’ve ever known.