I visited my dad this weekend. This is not an easy time as my mom is in a nursing home after suffering what we assume were a series of strokes that has robbed her of mobility and affected her capacity to process life going on around her. I have always respected my dad as a rock in this world—his decades-long passion for God, his care for others, his honesty and integrity even at personal cost, and now the way he gives up his life every day to make my mom’s a bit more pleasant in the twilight of hers. I would have to tell you more history than is appropriate to help you understand the depth of what my dad is going through in this the sixty-seventh year of their marriage, but trust me I am undone by the sweet and tender way he attends to her every need when there is little coming back to reward him for doing so.
One morning he told Sara and me that God had spoken to him as he woke up and confirmed to him that he was in control of every bit of this process, that he was drawing both of them into a greater season of dependency. “As painful as this is, I wouldn’t trade it away for the depth of connection it is giving me with God,” he told us choking up. God also assured him that he was at work in Mom as well, deeply below the surface shielding her in the pain and drawing her closer as well even though it isn’t so visible on the surface. It reminded me of what we wrote about Missy in THE SHACK, that God was in the truck with Missy, even as the abductor sped away. Our fear for others (and for ourselves) always removes God from the situation as we assume people at the extremes are all alone in their suffering and pain. I love being reminded that they are not.
Every day he goes down to the nursing home to spend the day with my mom in the middle of circumstances he no longer controls. Every night he returns home to take care of all the details of their lives and prepare for the next. He takes her food every day because it isn’t so good where she is. It is a lonelier life now for sure, and their isn’t much happiness in the circumstances he bears. But my dad was on the front in an infantry division in World War II in the northern reaches of France and thinks this is still far easier than that was. So he soldiers on every day determined to make each day as sweet as possible for his bride at this stage of her journey.
So now he is leaning into God’s reality each day more than he ever has. He has no idea how long this stretch of the journey is so he takes one day at a time and simply does what is before him. And I treasure every moment I get with both of them, Mom in the narrowing space of life, and Dad in his deeper touch with God. It’s easy to understand why we all hope for “the good life,” and think of it as circumstantial ease that allows us to enjoy life on our own resources. It seems that only in times of extremity are we reminded that we weren’t created for this broken age and that we cannot endure it alone. Our hearts long for another reality, and then we discover again it is right here with us.
Jesus said as much. “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (Matthew 5:3, the Message) The more disconnected we are from the kingdoms of this world the more drawn we are into his. In a world that lots for amusement and easy it is so easy so easy for us to complain when our temporal joy is disrupted with brokenness and challenge. I love the legacy my dad is giving to my brothers, our children, and our grandchildren. This world and its “joys” are ever-fleeting, but a live lived in love—the Father’s extravagant love and the love we pass on to others who may be able to do little for us in return—draws us into the space that is far more real and far more enduring.
The trust that goes deeply into God when life deals you challenge and pain, is a rare and precious treasure. I have a front row seat for one example of it right now. My inbox if full of many others who are being swallowed up by the pain of this age. Trust me, there is a place deeply in him that can set a heart at rest even in the midst of great extremity. I pray you find it too.