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We think of Lent as being all about sacrifice, but it can also be about joy.
Obligatory chats became conversations. Brief hellos became heartfelt moments. By the time she left that day she had enlisted dozens of people to hold her up in prayer and to look out for her. She was not alone.
Denalyn traces the healing of her depression to that Sunday morning service. On her darkest day she found God’s presence among God’s people.
My father, a man of rock-solid faith, would have understood. No one had quite as much goodness as Dad. He worked as a mechanic in the oil fields of West Texas. Never finished high school, never went to college, but he learned the important skills in life.
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He knew how to listen, how to love. His younger brother, my uncle Carl, was unable to hear or speak. Nearly all of his 60-plus years were spent in silence. Few people in the hearing world knew how to communicate with him in sign language.
Dad did. He took the trouble to master American Sign Language so he could communicate with his brother. Let Dad enter the room and Carl’s face would brighten. The two would find a corner and the hands would fly. Carl’s huge smile left no doubt that he was grateful.
Love is about listening and Dad listened to Carl.
Dad retired in his late sixties and he and Mom bought a travel trailer. Their plan was to see every national park in the country. As for me, I dreamed of doing mission work with Denalyn in Brazil.
I had finished college, gotten married, become a minister and served a church in Florida for two years. Finally we were ready.
Then my world darkened. Dad was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a cruel and fatal neuromuscular condition. Within months he was unable to feed, dress or bathe himself. His world, as he knew it, was gone.
I wrote him a letter, saying that Denalyn and I had decided not to go to Brazil. We needed to take care of him and be with Mom. He wrote back, just two words that looked almost carved into the paper: “No! Go!” with big exclamation points. He had no fear of where he was going.
I prayed and prayed that God would heal him. I expected a miracle, demanded one. I remember driving out into the country near Mom and Dad’s, looking up to the huge Texas sky, pleading with God for healing. That’s what God did for those he loved, right?
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We went to Brazil and I still struggled with my doubts. Dad was getting worse, just as the doctors had said. I was bewildered, angry, as hopeless as the disciples on that first Good Friday.
Dad kept trying to teach me. He wrote what would be his last letter to us before the disease took his handwriting away. Angled lines. Irregular letters and inconsistent spacing.
“Max, you and Denalyn always stick together, whatever happens...I hope to see you all again on earth–if not, I will in heaven. Lots of love, Dad.”
I flew back and sat by his bed. He slept for most of those last days, awakening only when my mother would bathe him or change his sheets. Next to him was a respirator–a metronome of mortality that pushed air into his lungs through a hole in his throat.
The bones in his hand protruded like spokes in an umbrella. All he could move was his head and his eyes.
I was watching a movie on TV while Dad dozed. “Max, your dad’s awake,” Mom said. Her words seemed to come from another world. I turned toward my father. His eyes called me over to his side. I sat on the edge of his bed and ran my hands over his barreled rib cage.
I put my hand on his forehead. It was hot and damp. I stroked his hair. “What is it, Dad?”
He wanted to say something. His eyes refused to release me. If I glanced away for a moment, they followed me and were still looking when I looked back. “What is it?” Suddenly I knew. I’d seen that expression before.