When Dad Died
Learning to live fatherless changes you.
Dad woke up unable to move half his body. Mom called the paramedics and a few hours later the doctor reviewed scans, thinking maybe he suffered a stroke. No. Something worse. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma of the brain.
The cancer cells spread out like a nightmare virus with ventricles stretched in different directions. Inoperable. But I prayed. I prayed in faith like the Israelites marched around Jericho. I begged God for a miracle healing like when Jesus touched the blind man’s eyes with clay. God is God. He can do anything he chooses to.
One morning when it was still charcoal black outside, my brother called. “Dad had a massive heart attack and is in the ICU. They are not sure if he will make it.”
I threw on my clothes and drove thirty minutes to the hospital. I will pray him through it. God can heal him. But when I crossed the metal doorframe into his glass cubicle, the Holy Spirit whispered in my heart, “Now. It’s time.”
My fiancé, Jason, joined me in dad’s room. He held my hand as I studied dad’s blank face. Did he know I was there? The accordion pumped air into his passageways and the tune felt like an unwanted death march. I leaned over close to his ear. “I know you wanted to walk me down the aisle. I wish you could too.”
I didn’t know what else to say. Don’t die? You can fight this? I put my hand on his. It felt cold. Strange. “I know your dream was to take your grandchildren to the park. But Jesus is ready for you. It’s okay. You can go. I will miss you.” A tear rolled down his cheek.
Jason leaned over. “I will love your daughter and take care of her.” We both placed hands on dad and prayed for him. We sang “Amazing Grace” and another tear rolled down his cheek. He moved his fingers. He took his last breath.
My worldly sense of security died with a click of a machine and a timed, signed certificate.
No more advice on what kind of tires to buy. No more, “Dad, can you loan me a few bucks?” No more friendly philosophical debates or disagreeing on my career choices over filet mignon at Wolfgang Puck. No more hearing, “I love you.” “You get more beautiful every day.” “You are so smart; you can do anything.”
How do I begin to live fatherless?
Learning to live fatherless is like metamorphosis. I changed. I am changing.
I still sometimes think about calling dad. But instead, I pray. I don’t need to speed dial God or wait until he’s out of his meeting. I don’t drive down the 170 to meet him for pasta at our favorite Italian place after work. I talk and listen to God instead. He offers advice through the word and his Spirit. He hears my thoughts and cares about each unsaid syllable. And in many ways, he provides much more than my father ever could.
But, I still miss dad’s face and the way his eyes shone when he looked at me—like I was the most valuable person in the world. Maybe there will always be this bruising in my soul. Where I mourn my earthly father while also being thankful for deeper intimacy with my heavenly one. But God has proved to be a capable father who provides what I need.
A Father Who Provides
A few years after we married, Jason sensed God calling him to seminary to better prepare him for a lifetime of pastoral ministry.
I doubted. How will we make it financially? But we took one step at a time.
He applied to seminary and got accepted, so we started preparing our house to sell. One morning while my infant napped, I stood on a step stool and painted the petite kitchen a clay green to coordinate with the grained wood cabinets circa 1952. Jason called, “Get ready. I’m taking you out tonight. I got a babysitter.” It was Wednesday.
When he walked in the door after work, he handed me a piece of paper. It read, “You have been awarded a full-tuition scholarship.” What? Only one student a year was awarded the scholarship at Dallas Theological Seminary. And God gave it to him?
The rest of our seminary journey was more of the same. We’d run out of money; someone would slide an envelope under our door. We’d not be able to pay rent over the summer; someone sent us a check.
Our abba father rained down modern manna every moment our bowl ran empty. Sure, I wasn’t shopping at Nordstrom. I shopped at the free thrift store on campus and cooked meals from the food pantry, but we followed our father and he always provided enough. He still does.
Not What I Want
Since dad died, I learned that my security for provision ultimately is from my heavenly father. Sometimes, however, it feels like God’s provision comes in the wrong model. Sufficient, but not quite what I wanted. This reality reminds me of when dad bought me a beat-up Ford Taurus he picked up at an auction. We affectionately called it Ford Tortoise because it seemed to break down every week. But I learned a lot about how cars function and that wisdom still serves me today. When the steering wheel won’t turn, I probably need power steering fluid. When the car smokes on the freeway, there might be a hole in the coolant container. Sometimes God gives us what we need to teach us what we need, even if it feels like a jalopy.
Right now, my family is in a jalopy situation. We moved to a new city by faith after seminary, believing that God was leading us to be closer to Jason’s parents. We moved with no job, no ministry network, and no place to live, but with savings from my mom’s sudden passing. It’s been two and a half years (yes, I’m counting) and we continue to wait on God to show us where my husband should serve in a pastoral role. God seems slow in keeping his promises sometimes and we have questioned whether we made a wise move, leaving our ministry network—or whether to abandon the call to pastoral ministry, but the Spirit reminds us that the call remains the same and we are right where he placed us for now.
I have learned that following God does not mean the path is always clear and to trust him in the process. In the journey. In the waiting. Sometimes his jalopy is just what we need to learn who he is and how to trust him.
God our father provides for us, just not always in the way we want. He might provide strength to endure a difficult medical diagnosis, comfort in losing a spouse. He might provide endurance through long days of raising kids. He might grant wisdom to know how to navigate piled bills. Whatever it is, God provides us himself—to walk through with us—in the jalopy seasons of life. We are promised trouble in this world and encouraged to take heart, because our Lord has overcome the world. God the father provides, just not always what we want.
I’m reminded that as incredible as it was that God rained manna from heaven as the Israelites roamed the dusty desert, they grumbled. They didn’t want manna toast for breakfast, manna nuggets for lunch, manna filet for dinner. Every. Single. Day. They used to eat a variety of food like meat, fruit, nuts, and vegetables in Eqypt. Sure, God provided their needs, but not variety.
Sometimes I think we can’t see God’s fatherly provision because it looks like the same old manna. But even our breath is provision from God. The trees that soak in toxin and push out oxygen so we can breathe is God’s provision. The ability to wake up and go to work or work in our home is manna. Everything we have or do is one way or another, God providing. He truly is a good, good father.
What kind of manna are you needing? A job opening? Strength to parent kids still at home or healing in a marriage? A way forward after years of emotional pain? Whatever our need, I believe God can provide our sustenance as miraculous as flaky, dew-like manna in the wilderness. But it might not look like filet mignon (or maybe it does).
Ultimately, the manna in the wilderness pointed forward to the manna from heaven, Jesus Christ, that would be our bread of life. I wish we all could be spared from suffering, from aches in our hearts that never go away or financial ruin that never restores (hello, plummeting stock market). Sometimes horrible things happen just because we live in a sin-broken world. But as I struggle to cling on tight in my current unsure season, I am comforted that we all have the provision of Jesus Christ in our circumstances. I am thankful we have access to the father through faith. Even when we barely can hang on, we have someone who hangs onto us.
He is here.
Since dad died, I feel God the father more actively. God comforts me when I’m lonely in deeper ways than my father. God gives me access to his infinite wisdom, more sage than my father’s insight. God corrects me at the soul level—more intimately than my father’s guidance. I am not saying I wouldn’t want my dad back. I will forever long for him as a little girl reaches for a daddy who loves her, but God seems more tangible now that I need him in tangible ways. And the things my father lacked—God the father is all the better.
But I still miss dad’s hugs.
Cover image by Marco Bianchetti.