Rivers in the Wasteland

The thing with having a terminal sickness is that you pretty much know when you’re close to death. The pain’s still there, but you start to see the glorious light spilling through the cracks from the other side a little more clearly. This place where you start to catch glimpses of Heaven is a place of hope for what’s next, but also a place of sadness because it’s come time to leave family and friends behind, along with the rest of the world. It’s right here in this place that my Dad is now in. 2 Timothy 4:6-7 was shared by our good friends the Coates today, and I think my Dad can look back on his life and say that this verse rings true through it all:

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

I want to be clear here, and tell you that my Dad probably only has a few days to live, maybe a week or two. He’s pretty much ready to go. And honestly, we’re ready for him to go too, because we know he’ll be meeting his Maker. His intestines have stopped working, he can’t have any nutrients, and so very soon the rest of his body will start to shut down. It’s possible that there will be a miracle, and God could definitely still do that, but God’s also made it pretty clear that this is my Dad’s time to go. It’s also really clear where he’s going after earth, though. And that’s a comforting fact. It’s this weird collision of emotions and truth, the truth being that he’s about to be free from pain and totally free from sin, and so that should be a really happy and joyful thing. Of course, death isn’t really all that, because we’re human. And so our emotions kick in and we realize that we’re not gonna see him for awhile, and he’s not gonna be around when we need him. And that’s super hard. The mind seems to disagree with the heart when death is close, like they’re at odds with each other. And the trouble is, the heart and it’s emotions usually find their way to the surface a lot more often.

There’s a lot of things we’ll miss about my Dad. There’s a few things I would’ve loved for him to be a part of, like my years at James Madison, or for him to have been at my wedding. I would’ve loved to go on a few more adventures with him, but you know what? That’s not what the Lord has in mind, and He’s in charge here. So who am I to stand in His way? Of course it’s okay to be sad, and grief and mourning will come, and that’s okay, that’s really important. It’ll get harder, too, once it really starts to sink in. Through it all, though, we can cry out, like 1 Corinthians 15:55, and say,

“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

Because Jesus is victorious over death. This is not the end.

I don’t really think we could’ve asked for better time with my Dad. His heart rubbed off on all of the family, and man, he taught me a lot. How to ride a bike, how to drive stick-shift, how to shave. He’s taught me how to be faithful, how to treat women respectfully. How to work diligently, how to love people, even when they don’t love back. How to use every opportunity to share the gospel. Really, how to live completely like Jesus. There’s no doubt that my Dad will be leaving a remarkable legacy, one that will have a ripple effect for generations and generations. It’s been incredible to hear different powerful stories of how my Dad touched people’s lives, starting with how he was really one of the first to guide my Mom in deepening her faith with the Lord and helping her craft it into what it is today. He’s done that with me too, and all of our family.

Here’s the good news: God’s gonna use his death for good here on earth. We’ve been talking about a lot of scripture lately, but my buddy William sent me some verses that have been particularly meaningful. Isaiah 43:16-19 (MSG) says;

This is what God says,
    the God who builds a road right through the ocean,
    who carves a path through pounding waves,
The God who summons horses and chariots and armies…
“Forget about what’s happened;
    don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
    rivers in the badlands.

And also, Isaiah 41:17-20,

“The poor and homeless are desperate for water,
    their tongues parched and no water to be found.
But I’m there to be found, I’m there for them,
    and I, God of Israel, will not leave them thirsty.
I’ll open up rivers for them on the barren hills,
    spout fountains in the valleys.
I’ll turn the baked-clay badlands into a cool pond,
    the waterless waste into splashing creeks.
I’ll plant the red cedar in that treeless wasteland,
    also acacia, myrtle, and olive.
I’ll place the cypress in the desert,
    with plenty of oaks and pines.
Everyone will see this. No one can miss it—
    unavoidable, indisputable evidence
That I, God, personally did this.
    It’s created and signed by The Holy of Israel.

There’s gonna be streams running through the badlands. Or, as NeedToBreathe puts it, rivers in the wasteland. Here, where there’s death and sadness, God is putting in a flowing river; good things in the midst of this turmoil. We have life-giving water, and beautiful trees and flowers are going to spring up from those rivers and streams. And the Lord says that no one will be able to deny that His hands were in it from the start, that he is working to see this thing through so that all the glory will be His.

I’ve been able to have some really meaningful conversations with my Dad the past few days. We’ve been talking about what Heaven will be like, who he’ll be able to see, how he’ll finally be Home. He is gonna be home. Home, at last, after all this complete crap here on earth, he’ll finally have pure joy and peace. He’s gonna be sitting next to the King at His table, like Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9. Mephib is Saul’s grandson, and when David becomes King and takes over the throne from Saul, Saul’s son had been a great friend of David’s. That son was Mephib’s father, and so David wants to repay him. Mephibosheth is crippled, and is looked down upon like scum on the bottom of a shoe. King David finds him anyway, and tells him that for the rest of Mephib’s life, he will eat with David and all of his royal family at the King’s table. And that’s exactly how it is with us and our King, Jesus. We’re crippled by sin and disease, and he calls us to eat with Him forevermore anyway. The best part is, when you’re sitting down at a table, you’re at the same level with the King, and your crippled feet are out of sight. Jesus heals those crippled legs and lets us sit with Him and feast, and that’s where my Dad will be very soon.

You know, it’s not exactly a tragedy, this whole thing. What if our time here on earth is like our time in our mother’s womb, and we don’t want to come out because we haven’t experienced what’s next yet? Life will certainly be hard without Dad. But how freakin great is it to know he’s gonna be home free? That thought alone will be a stream flowing in the middle of our desert, bringing comfort on the hardest days.

My family and I are so very thankful for every friend who’s been supporting us along this journey. We appreciate all of you guys so so much. Thanks for everything. I’m thankful for my closest friends who would answer a call at any time of day and have been praying for us relentlessly, who constantly offer love, wisdom, and joy.

One of my favorite things about my Dad has always been his laugh. We used to watch The Office together, all of our family together, and he would laugh so big and so loud. He has a booming, contagious laugh, and I haven’t heard it in a while because he’s had so little energy. I’m gonna miss that laugh. Every time I hear it, though, I can’t help but grin ear-to-ear and laugh along. I think when he reaches Heaven, he and Jesus are gonna be sharing some great big belly laughs, and they’ll both be grinning ear-to-ear, finally in perfect relationship with each other.

I’m thankful for these last few days I’ll have with my Dad. I’m thankful I know where my Dad’s going after he leaves earth. I’m thankful that our God will bring good things up from this painful time, like rivers flowing through the wastelands. I’m thankful for a Creator that will take care of us when my Dad is long gone, and when the earth is nothing but rubble. And I’m thankful that one day, I’m sure I’ll get to see my Dad again.