A Christmas Memory
I believe that Christmas Day should be the start of a week-long celebration, rather that its conclusion. Too often we feel an emotional and spiritual letdown the day after we celebrate Christ’s birth. That’s why I’ve saved a very personal story until after December 25. The story, occurring over a 3-month period, shows how God’s answers to sincere prayers are sometimes challenging, even though necessary.
October, 1978 An empty shopping center parking lot in Indianapolis, long before the stores opened. I chose this place for an extended quiet time with the Lord.
Having recently resigned an associate church staff position, God’s Spirit had convicted me of pride, and the need for a more others-centered ministry in my next vocational role. I wanted to serve without worrying about how people perceived me and my abilities. I wanted my motive to be pleasing God and meeting needs of others, not “looking good” and basing my identity on my success. With grave sincerity, and through tears, I pleaded, “Lord, give me a servant heart.”
Late November, 1978 My dad, 59, was rapidly declining due to kidney failure. I spoke with his physician from the V. A. hospital in Durham, North Carolina. “Your dad doesn’t have long,” he insisted. “Perhaps just a few weeks, maybe less. Besides, your mom desperately needs some rest as his caregiver and could use your help.”
Totally bedridden, dad didn’t want nurses or orderlies taking care of his most intimate needs, such as emptying his bedpan and cleaning him.
December 2-4, 1978 I flew to Durham and rented a motel room, where mom could rest. She’d been trying to sleep for weeks in his hospital room. For three nights, I took her place by dad’s side. During the day, we took turns caring for him. A bad plague of diarrhea exacerbated his need for mundane assistance. Throughout those three days and nights, he repeadly called for the bedpan.
Though physically helpless, dad’s mind was clear. I now treasure the numerous chats we had about life, including pleasant memories and my future ministry plans.
Near sunrise Monday, December 4, 1978 A few hours before my return flight to Indiana. In all of my 29 years, I couldn’t recall ever feeling so weary. At least hourly throughout that last night, dad called for the bedpan. I felt numb, listless from lack of sleep. My head pounded. When I finally fell asleep just before daylight, again I heard, “Son, I need the bedpan again.”
That was the last straw. Though I loved my dad fiercely, I thought, “Oh no, not again!” Selfishness marked my attitude. I wasn’t moved for compassion for my dad’s discomfort or his terminal condition. Instead, I was annoyed by my own discomfort. But as I lumbered the few steps toward his bed, I heard a clear, out-of-the-blue whisper from God’s Spirit: “Terry, I’m answering your prayer. This is what you prayed for back in October, remember?!”
When I finished the cleanup, that’s the time dad chose to look at me and say, with deep gratitude, “Son, I’m sorry you have to do this for me. But you are even gentler with me than your mom. I really appreciate your coming.”
The Holy Spirit had changed my heart over the past few minutes, starting with when He had reminded me of my October prayer. I leaned over toward dad’s face, smiled, then said with all honesty, “It’s a privilege to serve you, dad. I love you!”
Be careful what you pray for.
Christmas Day, 1978 Dad entered the presence of the Lord, in the same room, while I was napping in the chair beside his bed. At first I thought, “No, Lord, not on Christmas Day! Why did You take him today, of all days? All future Christmases will be tainted by the memory of his passing.”
Then God’s Spirit reversed my thinking: “What better gift could I give your dad than an end to his pain, and to welcome him with open arms into My forever presence?”
Before I told the nurse on duty that dad had died, I whispered, “Merry Christmas, dad.”
No doubt that was the best Christmas my dad ever had.