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.



23 thoughts on “Rivers in the Wasteland

  1. Sam,
    There are no words. I feel like I’ve gotten a sliver of a glimpse into the lives of you, your brother and your dad over the past few years, and it has been a PRIVILEGE. Your heart in this post can been heard loudly and clearly and it is a heart that only be from our Savior. The world tells you to have a much different response… I would have a much different response. I cannot comprehend what you’re going through, but you are going to further the Kingdom with this post alone, you already have. Keep on keeping on, keep the faith and keep your heart. I love you, brother.


  2. This is beautiful, Sam. I know your dad is so proud of you. His legacy of faith will live on. I’m honored to call you friends. Praying for all of you during this difficult transition. Love you. 💜💛


  3. Keep writing. It’s s gift. It will help you grieve. It will help you remember all the amazing things about your dad, and it will be a help to others. Praying for all of you as you endure this most difficult journey.



  4. Sam, What a tribute to your Dad! I was very touched to read your heartfelt words about him and let everyone know how you feel, and how much your faith is sustaining you and the family during this very difficult time. Oh, that all of us men could be loved so much by our sons. God Bless You all.


  5. Oh Sam, it is so clear that your dad has poured goodness and light into you by sharing his faith and (along side your mom) training you up in the way you should go! So proud of you for cliging to Jesus and giving him glory in the midst of such emotion and pain. You are a treasure! I look forward to seeing all the Lord has planned for you (Jeremiah 29:11-14)


  6. Sam, I’m not sure if you remember me. I met you at robs house at some point last year.

    I took some of my Granby High School kids through kings grant selling doughnuts to raise money for YL camp this past summer. I stopped at your parents house at the urging of the Blomdahls and your parents bought a box and gave my guys a nice tip. My kid Tomas gave his life to Jesus at camp this past summer and I can’t thank your parents enough for helping him get there. I didn’t know what was going on when we were there but I will be eternally grateful for your dad. Praying for you guys.


  7. Sam, I have just met your parents and sweet sister over the past few weeks because my son and Emma have become friends. I feel so incredibly blessed that God would give me the opportunity to meet this amazing man, even if it was just for a minute at a football game. His life is an amazing legacy that is truly evidenced in all who he has touched over the years, especially his family. Thank you so very much for sharing the raw real side of death, but finishing with the glory of the Father and His amazing perfect plan that may not make sense in our fleshly minds but is victory in our souls! I am looking forward to meeting you one of these days! Well done! Peace for the journey!


  8. Sam,
    I echo what others have said. Thank you for this post. It beautifully paints a picture of our Saviors love in a time of emmense pain and sadness. But like others have said it also paints a picture of your heart; thank you for sharing that with us. Love you and your family. We will continue to pray for healing, unity and peace.


  9. God is so good. I am excited to be with you through the next years and hear about all the good and faithful things your dad has done for the Kingdom. I admire your strength through this. God is going to be glorified through all of this because of the life your dad lived. Thanks for letting us in on your life.


  10. Sam,
    You’re a great writer, but more importantly, your transparency and vulnerability in your faith will draw a countless many closer to Christ, as it has me. Kitt’s heart for the lost and least of these is clearly found in you, and I know he is proud of you. While reading this brought me to tears, I’ll continue to pray alongside you and your family through God’s revealing of his plan. Team Free loves you guys.


  11. Wow.Wow.Wow. You are amazing at writing and articulating what many can not. I am blown away by your strength and obviously deep connection with Jesus. You don’t know me but I was blessed to know your parents when we lived in VA in 2002. Your dad’s amazing gift of grace and mission minded wisdom has been modeled to you. I know you have tremendous treasure stored in heaven. Thank you for sharing. It leaves a deep impression on me. I am praying for your family and the peace that is beyond understanding.


  12. You are amazing, Sam! I KNOW your dad is so proud of the young man you’ve become. Keep writing… keep healing… keep your family and friends close… keep your undying faith. Always praying for you and your family, Sherri


  13. This is so beautiful and so heart breaking. The love and the pain and the joy all burn so closely. Thank you so much for sharing this.


  14. Sam,
    You write so well and show the victory of our Savior in your words. I can see your dad’s training and spiritual legacy coming through in your post. What a beautiful picture of a good, good Father. You inspire me and I know you are bringing strength to your family in these days. I will be continue praying for you and your family.


  15. My very best friend called me 3 weeks before her death & said, “I need you now, it’s time.”
    I spent those last precious weeks with her!
    What an honor to walk her to her Creator! No greater emotion!
    On to glory!
    You are blessed Sam to have had such a Dad! I know our Lord is walking 🚶 with you all! ✝️💕😐


  16. Wow! This is incrediable. My husband and I were in a home group with your parents 20 years ago. Did not know this about your dad’s health. So very sorry for you all…will keep you surrounded in prayer as you come to mind. I remember your father as very gentle, kind and loving.

    I experienced a very brief near death where Jesus spoke, “It’s not your time yet. I have things for you to do.” The first thing I thought was…..Wow, there’s nothing to worrying about here and then I felt the immense unconditional love of the Father. Your father will soon be some place that’s too wonderful to explain in mere human language.

    Keep writing! What a gift.

    With Love,

    Jeff, Wendy, Daniel and Christopher Watros


  17. Your Dad has taught you well young man! You will carry his legacy into the future and it will be your duty to pass on what he has taught you to everyone you know now and those you will touch throughout your life! God bless you and your family! He will be by your side during all the special events to come in your life. You will not see him but he will be there!!!


  18. I met your mom and dad when we went to JMU. He was a big part in my choice to become a christian after college. I felt this magnet that he and his suitemates had concerning their faith. I gravitated towards them, though I didn’t really want to admit it at the time. Your mom and dad have raised such wonderful children. Thank you so much for posting this and sharing about your dad. I was at JMU for Homecoming 2 weekends ago, and thought about your dad the whole time I was there and hoped that I could see him. I was sorry to read the news that he is at the end of his life on this earth. But I rejoice with you and your family that he will soon see the Lord! I liked what you said about giving birth, that we don’t know what wonders we will be born into. I would like to think of it that way. Love and prayers to you all!


  19. Sam, So thankful someone from my small group at church shared this with me. I have never had the pleasure of meeting you as we belong to a large church but regardless it is a praying church that cares and intercedes during these challenging times. This is a beautiful tribute to your father and to our Heavenly Father and I know that they are both very proud of you! You have an understanding of the Father’s heart and love that goes very deep. That will help you through this time and take you so far in life. The Lord helped me get through the loss of my precious mom a year ago which I thought might not of been possible. The Lord showed up and he will for you no matter what happens. Continue to trust and draw close to him. Please know a lot of people are praying for you and your family. The Lord is with you’ll and will continue to be.

    Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. Isaiah 26:4


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