Friday, July 4, 2008

Painful Memories

This Saturday, July 5th, will mark the 6 year anniversary of my father's death. As I sit here and type this, all of the old emotions from that time come flying back as though it just occurred...

His name was Rory. In reality I hardly knew him. He disappeared when I was 6, after he and my mom divorced, leaving my younger brothers and I with barely a handful of scattered memories to grasp onto. The only way we knew he existed was through correspondence with his mother.

He was terribly addicted to drugs and alcohol, to the point that he only worked a job long enough to afford the next "fix". He drank his way out of job after job, and house after house. He lived with "friends" until even they could not support his habits any longer. He lived a sad existence indeed.

He eventually wound up a beggar, penniless and homeless, living on street corners and under bridges, relying on the kindness of strangers for a few spare pennies to buy enough food to sustain him. Even sadder still, whenever he was questioned about the choices that led him to the life of a beggar, his response would be that he loved life on the streets. He claimed that he had never felt more free.

This is why it completely shocked me to get a phone call that he wanted to reconnect with me, the daughter he hadn't seen in over 15 years. Of course I was skeptical at first, not wanting to let my guard down to this virtual stranger. But, he insisted that he had changed and that he had saved up enough money to buy a bus ticket to see me, if I would welcome him to come.

At the time, Jay was on his last semester of undergraduate work, with plans to go to seminary and study to be a pastor once he graduated. My mind went immediately to visions of my father wearing smelly, torn rags, shivering from cold, and eating from garbage cans. It seemed so similar to the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). I wanted so badly to think he had the broken, repentant heart of the son, returning to his father with a new appreciation for patience and hard work. So, Jay and I, wanting to be good Christians, agreed to allow Rory to sleep on our couch so he could focus on getting a job.

Day after day passed, with him sleeping most of the day and sitting in front of the TV. Whenever Jay or I would ask him when he was going to look for jobs, he would claim he was waiting to get his system completely clean first. He would respond in much the same way each time we would try to tell him about the Lord. No matter how hard we tried to share the Gospel with him, he would just smile and tell us he would get around to it one day. He knew his need for a savior; he would say he needed to "get right" with God. But, like the job situation, he would leave it at that... a need.

How similar that sounds to so many non-Christians when faced with the Gospel. They want to get their life "right", or clean, before they come to the Father. How sad it is to know that they will never be truly "clean", no matter now hard they may try, until they first come to the Father, through the Son, Jesus Christ.

After a while, Jay and I began to get frustrated that Rory just did not seem to be getting any better. We soon discovered that he was still drinking quite heavily. He had bottles of "water" that he kept with him at all times that actually turned out to be filled with vodka. I angrily poured it all down the drain right in front of him. That did not change him. We later learned that he was drinking down all of the cough syrup containing alcohol that we had in the house. Finally, we had enough. We refused to enable him to continue ruining his life, right in front of our faces.

Sometimes we get caught up in a trap of just wanting to make our loved ones happy. And sometimes making them happy is a good thing. Sometimes it can, in turn, make us happy, as well as others around us. But sometimes, it is not that fleeting, temporary "happiness" that they truly need. What they need is for us to love them enough to allow them to face the consequences of the decisions they have made. Sometimes.

Jay and I called several places and were finally able to get a room for Rory at the Salvation Army. It seemed the perfect place for someone in his situation. He would get a clean bed, showers, three meals a day, transportation to several day-labor job sites, and firm structure to ensure he could not continue to fall back into his old ways. He reluctantly agreed to go, and we loaded him up, dropped him at the door, and said our goodbyes.

The next morning we received a phone call from the Salvation Army staff. Rory was kicked out of his room the night before for missing curfew. He stayed out all night drinking himself to oblivion at a local bar. When he finally arrived at the door to claim his bed, it was several hours past curfew and he was completely drunk. He was immediately escorted from the premises. He never spent a single night in his room.

An enormous wave of anger washed over me after that and I began to grow hard-hearted towards my father. I no longer wanted to show him the love of Christ. I no longer wanted to share my faith with him at all. I did not care that he slept on a street corner. When I drove past him sitting at his corner, I would ignore him as I would have ignored any other bum on the street. He would call several times a week to talk about how hungry he was or how desperately he needed to take a shower. He would ask me if he could use my washer and dryer to wash his clothes, so he did not smell so bad when he went to look for a job. I responded to him very coldly, refusing even the smallest request.

He even called us on his birthday and wept through the phone about how lonely he was and that he just wanted to hear a friendly voice. We did not provide that friendly voice. We told him that he brought it upon himself, and hung up the phone.

That was the last time I spoke to my father.

Early in the morning on July 5th, an urgent, reverberating knock on the door woke us from our sleep. A couple of police officers waited on the other side to tell us that we needed to get to the hospital as soon as possible. After quickly throwing some clothes on my body, the first thing I thought to grab as we rushed out the door was my Bible.

During the entire drive to the hospital, I prayed with more urgency than I had ever prayed before. I begged God to forgive me for not sharing the Gospel with my father. I pleaded with the Lord to let him live just a few minutes longer. I asked Him to give me one more chance to tell Rory about Jesus, knowing that if I didn't, he would surely spend eternity in Hell, separated forevermore from the God I claimed to love more than anything. All I needed was one more moment with my father.

But it was not to be. My father was dead when we arrived at the hospital. He had been hit by a car and died almost instantly. In a flash, his life was over. God had known all along which day my father's life would be required of him. Sadly, we had failed to live as though each day could be the last. And now he was gone forever.

As I stared down at his lifeless body, I began to see him differently. Yes, he was still filthy from living a life on the streets. His hair was still a tangled, matted mess from months without a shower or a comb. His teeth were still rotted and missing from years of neglect. But I didn't notice it anymore. I no longer saw him as a worthless burden to pass off, or a loser wasting his life away.

Instead, I began to see him as a real person. A person whom the Lord Himself knit together in his mother's womb. A person who was created by God with a purpose and a plan. A person who was heading in the wrong direction, desperately wicked, depraved, and consumed by sin. A person whom the Lord led all the way across the country to sleep on my couch. A person the Lord placed in my hands to care for, nurture, and share my faith with. A person who will now spend eternity in Hell. Because of his poor choices, yes. Because he failed to call upon the Lord Jesus Christ to save him from his sin. But also because I failed, no, downright refused to complete the task the Lord called me to do, before the time that the Lord had appointed to end the life of my father.

How many people are in our lives each and every day that do not know the Lord? How many people do we tell ourselves we will share our faith with, and never do? How many of them do we put off witnessing to, just so we can keep the peace between us? How many people has the Lord placed in our lives for a specific season, to fulfill a specific purpose? How many of us say nothing to them because we are afraid we do not know all of the answers to the questions they will ask?

Through which glasses will we be looking when we see the next homeless person holding their sign on the side of the road? For me, I will be seeing my father. Someone's father. Someone's son. Someone heading in the wrong direction, desperately wicked, depraved, and consumed by sin. Someone a lot like me, before my heart was broken before the Lord and my eyes were opened to my own depravity and desperate need for the Savior.

Sometimes, there is a need to make others happy, and sometimes it is necessary to love someone enough to allow them to face the consequences of the choices they have made. The Lord loves us in a similar way. Sometimes, in His perfect provision, He chooses to bless us, and it truly makes us happy. But sometimes, as a loving Father, He shows us discipline by allowing us to face our own consequences.

Rory had his consequences. I thought I was helping him face them. But in the process, I allowed my heart to become jaded and hardened, refusing to do the very thing I knew the Lord wanted me to do for Rory. And the Lord, in his great sovreignty, allowed me to face the consequences of my decisions, too.

No comments: