Today would have been my father’s 77th birthday. He passed away a few years ago. I was thinking about him this morning and decided I wanted to share with you the story of how he was saved in the hope that it will be an encouragement to those who have been praying for lost loved ones for years.
I don’t know much about my dad’s childhood except that he was born and raised in a little town in west Texas. It just occurred to me this morning that I don’t ever remember him sharing stories from his childhood. He was one of five children, quit school when he was about 15 to join the service for a few years, and spent time in Okinawa. At some point his family moved to southern Texas, where he met my mom. He was riding in a rodeo, got flipped off, and on his way down his pant leg got caught on the bull’s horn and ripped. My mom thought he had torn his leg and dashed into the food area to find her parents and tell them, when in walked my dad, and that’s how they met. 🙂
My mom knew that he had a short temper and was very jealous, but she felt that his jealousy would be assuaged when they got married, that that would be proof of how much she loved him, and he wouldn’t be jealous any more. (Warning to any unmarried young ladies reading: it doesn’t work that way.) She knew he drank but I guess didn’t feel he drank too much. I can remember her saying that he worked hard and had the right to drink if he wanted to. I think they were relatively happy — a few spats here and there, I am sure. Whenever he would lose his temper, he would feel horrible the next day and apologize profusely and promise never to do it again. With love’s willingness, she believed and forgave him.
I don’t think the word “alcoholic” was used then and certainly not as much was known about it as there is now, or she probably would have foreseen the pathway this would take. You can probably guess the progression. Alcohol and anger don’t mix well, and both increased through the years. I do remember happy times, stable times, even tender times. But those got more and more crowded out as the years went by.
My mother left my father when I was 15 and took all of us kids (five at that time) to another town. It was as a result of this feeling as though the rug had been pulled out from under me that the Lord got hold of my heart, which I shared earlier in my testimony. I couldn’t blame her, but it was a time of upheaval in my life.
When I became a Christian, naturally I wanted to share Christ with my family members. I think I was a bit bolder then, though I can’t remember many specifics, but overall witnessing has been one of my major failings. I could, and did, share many things in writing, but it was very hard to talk about these things in person. It was hard to talk about anything controversial with my father. There was always the fear of his reaction if he got angry and the automatic response was to lay low, stay off the radar and avoid setting him off. Plus, besides or maybe because of these things, we weren’t terribly close, though I knew he loved me in his own way and I loved and cared for him.
Over the years I did write to him many times. Sometimes I would lay out the plan of salvation in the letter; sometimes I would just write out a salvation verse at the end. When he wrote back or we talked, though, he never mentioned it. My assumption was that he skipped over that part. When he moved to our town, he went to church with me occasionally.
Our relationship continued on in a fairly amiable way, and my sharing Christ with him continued through letters as I went to college out of state, got married, and lived in SC.
His health began to slowly decline. He was always prone to pneumonia — whether because he smoked all his adult life or he was just disposed that way, I don’t know. It was after one health crisis, I think, when I called my former pastor in town there, and he went to visit my dad. My pastor told me later that my dad had prayed to receive Christ, but when I talked to my father, he never said anything about it. I had wanted him to initiate the conversation about it, but when he didn’t, I told him the pastor mentioned he had come by. He acknowledged that he had come to visit, but didn’t elaborate. So I wasn’t sure exactly what happened. My pastor was not an aggressive, “push them back into a corner til they agree” type of personality (I do have another family member who “made a profession” after an encounter with someone like that, who also has never said anything about it and never changed, so I fear he just responded as the person wanted him to because he was cornered and didn’t really come to Christ in his heart). Whether my dad was saved then but just didn’t think to or now how to express it, or what, I didn’t know. But because there was nothing said and no subsequent changes in his life over time, I wasn’t sure whether he was really saved.
He ended up quitting smoking and alcohol for health reasons: both made him feel sicker. I thought it was interesting that God removed those from him before he got saved rather than after, but I am glad, because I didn’t want him to think salvation was just a matter of stopping drinking.
He came to visit us in SC for the first time when we’d been married about 10 years. Jeremy was 5 and Jason was 2. He wasn’t doing well physically, but he had just gotten out of the hospital a few weeks before, and we thought maybe he was just doing too much too soon. He went with us to a field day and carnival at Jeremy’s school, and one of the people he met there was my pastor’s wife. She had grown up in a little town in west Texas and knew his little town in west Texas, and that and her sweet personality gave them an instant rapport. My dad ended up not feeling well enough to stay long. Earlier in the week we had invited him to church with us that Sunday. At first he declined, but then he agreed. We had been pinning all of our hopes for his salvation on that church service, so we were profoundly disappointed when he felt too sick to come. We couldn’t understand why the Lord would allow him to get sick at that time. My pastor told Jim that perhaps He knew it would just be too much or be too overwhelming for my dad at that time.
Dad was supposed to fly back home I think that Monday or Tuesday. When he woke up, he came out of his room, breathing heavily, having to hang onto something to walk, and asked if we minded if he stayed a few days longer, because he didn’t think he could travel. I said of course we didn’t mind, and hurried to get Jim to tell him something was wrong. We got my dad in to see our doctor, who called an ambulance to come and take him to the hospital, and he was admitted into the ICU.
My memory is a little fuzzy here, but I don’t remember what they initially thought was wrong. I think they had trouble figuring it out at first. I don’t know if they ever gave us an actual diagnosis. After he had been there for several days they discovered he had some infected teeth, and one theory was that the infection spread through his body, maybe because his health was not good on the first place.
Because he was in ICU, we were only able to see him for 15 minutes at a time. Because I had two young children we couldn’t just camp out up there, so life was a lot of running back and forth, taking care of the kids, getting them to baby-sittters, getting things my dad needed, and going to the hospital. He had been in for maybe 2-3 days when, as we came into the hall to see him, his nurse quickly came up to us and told us they had been trying to contact us. My dad’s heart had gone into an irregular rhythm and they had almost lost him: they had to pump all kinds of medicine in and shock him before it finally stabilized. We could go in and see him just briefly. We were shocked and astounded — we hadn’t realized his condition was so serious (later when I saw my doctor and told him my dad had almost died, he said, “He almost died in my office.” He hadn’t told me that!) We went in to see him and talked a bit. At one point he said, “I know one thing — when I get home, me and the Lord and Pastor H. are going to have to have a long talk.” We asked him if he wanted our pastor here, Pastor M., to come and see him. He said yes.
So we called our pastor and he readily agreed to come. Our church, by the way, really rallied around us in prayer and in practical help taking care of the kids. Pastor was able to see him in the ICU and spend a few minutes at a time with him. He told us that he kept emphasizing one verse, John 3: 16, with him. He didn’t feel my dad could handle a barrage of verses, and he may have shared others, but he kept talking about John 3:16 every time he visited.
Well, after several days, Dad finally got well enough to go to a private room. I think his first or second day there, when we came that night to visit him, he said, right off the bat, “I want you to know I accepted the Lord as my Savior this afternoon.” You could have knocked us over with a feather! He said Pastor M. had come by that afternoon and was able to talk with him a little longer, explained everything to my Dad’s satisfaction, and Dad prayed to receive Christ.
Pastor told me later that Dad had said something like his daughter had been after him to do this for years, and that he had read all those verses I had sent in letters, all those verses I thought he had just skipped over. My heart was so touched and it almost brings me to tears even now. So I encourage you — keep on, gently, as the Lord leads, sharing His truth. He is using it even when there is no outward evidence that anything is going on.
To share with you “the rest of the story” — my dad ended up being in SC for six weeks instead of one. When he went home, I excitedly thought this would be the catalyst to reach the rest of my family. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way. Though there were small, discernible changes, there was no big, dramatic, obvious change. My pastor here said that when someone has lived “on the other side” for so many years (Dad was 61 at this point), sometimes the changes take place more slowly. Plus he wasn’t in church being taught and being around other believers, so I am sure that hindered his spiritual growth. He did, however, love to read, and would devour Christian books I sent him. I remember one phone call when we discussed one of the books I had sent about Soviet Christians who had been imprisoned for their faith, marveling at all they had gone through and God’s grace in sustaining them. When I got off the phone, I just sat for a moment, marveling that I had just had a conversation with my father about the Lord.
He only lived about seven years beyond that. He had a stroke, then developed lung cancer, skin cancer, and suspected colon cancer as well as kidney problems. His poor body just gave out. My former pastor agreed to preach his funeral and was able to share the gospel.
I was surprised that I had a great deal of anger in the years after he died — angry that our relationship wasn’t what it could have been, and though I couldn’t talk to him about it, anger at his anger. I felt it was kind of silly, really, to be angry at that point when there was no way to reconcile anything with him. I have read, though, that those feelings are pretty normal. What helps is to know that now, in heaven, where hearts are made finally perfect, knowing what he knows now, everything is all right on his end and he would do things differently if he could.
One of the greatest things my dad taught me was respect. He emphasized that in our family, and that stood me in good stead with other authority figures through the years. When I became a Christian, one of the things I learned early on is that in family relationships, we’re to honor, obey, and respect our parents because of the position God gave them, even if all of their actions aren’t honorable or worthy of respect. He also tried to teach us a basic standard of right and wrong as he understood it.
I haven’t shared the negative aspects of his story to dishonor him, but just to be honest. Many people in the world have to deal with alcoholism and anger in their families, and I hope this is an encouragement.