I was laying in bed a few moments ago reflecting on the day when I realized it was September 1st. I mean, I knew it was, but I remembered. My dad died on September 1st, 1983. I was 12 years old. I did some quick math and counted 25 years. That is a crazy long time for him to be gone. I've lived twice as long without him as I did with him, and yet I will still name that loss as one of the most defining events of my life.
I stared at the green light on the baby monitor blinking in the dark and thought about the sermon I heard yesterday in church. Our pastor spoke about Jesus as the healer, how that was so much a part of who He was that He sometimes healed people without being asked and without any demonstration of faith on the part of the needy one. It was a great sermon, but I confess it really would have rattled my cage 15-20 years ago. How does He decide who to heal? I just don't know, and once in a while something rises up in me and wants an answer to that question. When I was 11, I sat in the bottom of my closet for a year asking God to heal my dad, and believing He would. I was so surprised when dad actually died because I always thought God was going to change it, that there would be a happy ending somehow.
I still don't know why He didn't heal my dad, but I'm grateful tonight that about 10 years ago, He began to heal me. Deep in my heart I was bitter and angry, and I mistrusted God's intentions toward me. But then I heard some teaching about Jesus' encounter with the widow in Nain. How she was walking by with her dead son in a funeral procession when Jesus saw her and was so moved by her pain that he raised the son up right then and there. She didn't ask Him to do it. She didn't demonstrate any faith in Jesus. There's really no indication in the passage that she was aware of Him being there at all. Which of course she wasn't... if you've ever buried someone you love, you know how the world stops turning and other people cease to exist. There is only the immeasureable, white-hot pain that is all you are in that moment. Of course she didn't see Him. But she passed Him, and it was as if He couldn't help Himself. He just intervened, powerfully. It's an amazing incident really. And the teacher concluded (not just from this passage) that healing was an integral part of who Jesus was. He'd never known suffering in heaven, let alone death. It was His nature to heal and restore... she concluded that any time He chose to act in a different way--withholding healing--it could only be for some greater glory to come, almost an act of restraint on His part. This was the beginning of healing for me. It was the first time I could see that God was still good and compassionate and loving, even though He allowed this to happen to me. Now I can say honestly that I'm not bitter anymore. I don't doubt God's goodness. I believe.
25 years feels so strange; there is a sadness and a longing for all I never knew about him. But there is joy in what I do know: my dad loved to fish and shoot guns. He liked tomato sandwiches with butter and often asked me to bake a potato for him when he was sick. He liked football and Hogan's Heroes, CCR and Simon & Garfunkle. (I love all of those too, except Hogan's Heroes!) And he was a good rescuer for a daughter dreaming scary dreams in the night. One of those nights he let me sleep in his bed (mom was working), and I fell asleep listening to him tell a story about his grandpa while a black & white movie played in the background.
Tonight I am thankful for the 12 years I had with Dad. And I'm thankful that in Christ, the hardest things we have to walk through in life are not for nothing. He's not just slapping us around... but working something in and through and around us that is so big, and so ultimately good. I'm thankful that those hard things are for maturity and growth and grace and perseverance and faith. And faith and faith and more faith. He can redeem anything--any mess, any family, any anything.
I write this for myself, to mark what to me is a profound day. But I hope it encourages someone reading who is also on a hard path... to keep trusting in spite of the circumstances, and believe God for the good, because he promises to bring it. And He is faithful.