Dad loved to work. One of his frustrations in the last year was the loss of strength to work. He knew well how to delegate, having raised seven children on a farm; but now he guarded the tasks he was still able to do, such as moving folding chairs from the car’s trunk to the house, and expressly asked that I not help.
Then came a life-altering stroke in early August and his disabilities multiplied. He lost his driver’s license, his handle on the family finances, and the ability to find his way around the main floor of the simple bungalow he had lived in for 25 years – one he had designed and built himself.
Several questions were on my mind: How will Dad handle this? Will he become angry and frustrated? Will he become impatient with Mom, who now has to care for him in his disability?
But Dad defied my fears. He became more kind, gentle, gracious, conversant – and lonely for heaven. “I’m looking forward to what the Lord has in store,” he said.
In preparation for Mom and Dad’s 60th wedding anniversary celebration, my brother asked Dad to prepare reflections on his life and their marriage in the context of Scripture meaningful to him. Later, Dad told my brother he was preparing his comments based on one word.
“What’s the word?” I asked Dad when I arrived for the celebration on October 26.
“Satisfied,” he replied. “It’s based on Psalm 16 and 17. My thinking arose out of family devotions. David had a close relationship with God. He needed God, and always found him faithful.” Then Dad quoted Psalm 17:15, “I shall be satisfied when I awake in your likeness” (NKJV). Dad continued, “David had a lot of enemies, and therefore needed God as a refuge. He needed daily contact with God.”
Preparing for heaven
When I read Psalm 16–17 from the point of view of an 86-year-old man robbed of his independence, I understood. These verses were helping Dad figure out how to get ready for heaven.
Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge (16:1). Enduring a stroke – now that’s scary. But Dad was at peace. “I’m ready to go,” he said in the hospital after his October 31 heart attack.
Apart from you I have no good thing (16:2). Dad knew where his faith for salvation lay, and where significance is found.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places (16:6) – and this from a man who had, for the last 30 years, lived in the prison of hearing loss, unable to understand conversation at gatherings of his noisy offspring, and unable to function effectively within the church committee work he so loved. He chose the path of gratitude in the midst of loss.
Though you…test me, you will find that I have planned no evil; my mouth has not transgressed (17:3). The faith community where Dad had worshipped since 1937 was undergoing massive change he didn’t understand, formally closing before his eyes to become part of a multisite congregation. Dad chose the path of grace, capped by a wide-ranging prayer of thanksgiving and blessing at the church’s closing service less than two weeks before his death. He was resolved that God’s testing would find no trace of bitterness, anger, or any other sin at the moment of death. “I guess it’s time for the old people to get out of the way,” he said to me in July.
Hide me…from my mortal enemies who surround me (17:8–9). What’s all this talk about enemies? Then, as I was taking Dad’s clothes to the undertaker, it hit me. Dad’s mortal enemy was mortality. Old age. It had stolen the independence that is a farmer’s hallmark.
But old age, by robbing Dad of so much, had simply motivated him to focus on getting ready for heaven. Dad was a disciplined man. When the fields were ready for seeding, so was his seeding equipment. He built his own homes and farm buildings, while getting the farming done as well. He now used his disability and the words of Psalm 16 and 17 to focus his mind to prepare for heaven. And he found freedom from his mortal enemy, first by concentrating on heaven, and then, on Dec.31, by going there!
As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness (17:15). Dad, you finished well.