I walked into the hospital room, where my dad, now in his early seventies, lay fighting gangrene in his foot. Dad’s health had gradually deteriorated with the onset of Diabetes in his early fifties.
Being a stubborn German–as I am also–he wasn’t willing to change his eating habits to accommodate some disease, so he kept on with the fried potatoes, fried sausage and fried everything else. Twenty years later he was paying full price for it.
The foot refused to heal. It would take time. Lots of time. Dad, a driven man who seldom held still, a workaholic who pushed himself and his children as hard as he could, was stuck in bed, indefinitely. Flat on his back. Doing nothing.
It all began over 9/11. I spent that morning at home, wondering what the attacks meant. Feeling insecure. Most of us remember that day as vividly as if it was yesterday. The day the world changed. (I google searched that phrase, and 9/11 popped up all over the place.)
In early childhood my parents had spoken graphically of biblical reference to the world burning up. This teaching was usually associated with some bad behaviour, and shared in a half pleading, half monotone, guilt trip. The warning that, if we did not behave well, the world would burn up and we’d be stuck burning in hell forever and ever. But maybe, just maybe, with enough begging for forgiveness, God may find it in His heart to forgive us.
I don’t if it is something my parents said, specifically, or if they implied it, but somewhere I drew the conclusion that it would be bombs and war that would set the world ablaze. And in that burning, the saints would be rescued and the rest of the planet left behind to burn up and create the eternal hell.
Not terribly biblical, from what I read now, but, still, the seeds that had been planted in childhood, resurfaced that morning of 9/11. Had that end come? Was it only a matter of minutes? Days? Hours? My comfort was my faith in Jesus. Regardless of the outcome, I knew that He was my answer. My hope.
A day or two later I received word that the hospital Dad was in was on lock-down. They had received a bomb threat.
The mind is a fragile thing, after something like that. After seeing the trade centre go down that way. People running and screaming. Lives lost. Children left fatherless or motherless. Confusion and mayhem on the streets. Fear. Rage. Anxiety. Grief.
To have Dad hospitalized was bad enough, but the uncertainty of a threat at the hospital, even though it turned out to be a false alarm, was … a little crazy.
I tried to drive the hour and thirty minutes at least once or twice a week, to see Dad. Because we were still Mennonite and didn’t have TV, it was at the hospital where I first watched the news footage. My mind tried to comprehend it all.
At the same time I was trying to prepare myself for the worst with Dad. He seemed fragile, his health teetering on a dangerous cliff. A slight imbalance anywhere, it seemed, and he was sure to slip off the edge.
I made an appointment for my younger sister, Dad’s power of attorney, and myself to go see his doctor and discuss the severity of his health issues. Dr. Andrews kindly and forthrightly answered all questions. Dad’s heart, at best, functioned at approximately 17 to 25%. They would only do an amputation if it became critically necessary, as that would put Dad at risk of heart failure during surgery.
The thought of him dying, in and of itself, didn’t totally alarm me. Nor did knowing how fragile his health was. When it came his time to go, I would be the last one lined up to pull him back. I had resigned myself to what life had been, had made the best choices I knew how, and had long forgiven him. I was ready to release him on every level, except one. I didn’t knowing where he was at in his faith, or what he had done with the past. His sins. The violence. The abuse. Was he a forgiven man? Did he believe in Jesus, as his Saviour?
Life had been very hard for him as well, and watching him grow old and cantankerous, and losing his sanity, wasn’t something I wanted to witness. It would not be pleasant. Whatever abuses he had suffered growing up, whether at the hands of family or friends, it had left him scarred. Badly scarred.
Church life had also left him struggling. When I visited him during that hospital stay, he shared those struggles with me. He admitted how hard it was to forgive the bishop at the Lakeview church–the same bishop who had swept his son’s sexual abuse under the carpet. It was difficult, but Dad chose repeatedly to forgive.
Tim and I were in the process of leaving the Mennonite church over that time. While Countryside had been kind, and much healing had happened for me there, in the end things went sour. Not so much between us and the church–we kept a good relationship with them to the end–but in the way we saw things handled with other situations within the church.
The hardest part was that one could never tell where God’s work ended and the devil took over. There were those in leadership with the purest of hearts, who were terribly misunderstood, and there were those with personal agendas.It was difficult to tell at times, which was which.
The last six months became increasingly difficult. Sunday after Sunday, the life drained from me. And Sunday after Sunday I would go home, depressed, telling Tim I was done–I could not do it any more. Somehow church was no longer about Jesus. We didn’t see Him lifted high. The focus had shifted from God, to agendas. To battles of various sorts. And it was no longer life-giving.
We had already sensed for some time that God wanted me in women’s ministry, and it wasn’t going to happen there. Ultimately that call to ministry was the deciding factor. On April 2, 2001, we made our final visit to Countryside church, before withdrawing our membership and moving on.
Tim and I started gradually making changes. I didn’t look as Mennonite as I had before. I still wore a veil, of sorts, but not much of one, and I wore ‘normal’ clothes.
Dad, who had been religiously strict about these things, inevitably noticed. On my first visit I had prepared myself for a religious ‘once over’ from him. I decided I would sit and listen, calmly state my position and forbid an argument. I was a big girl and it was the choice my husband and I had made.
True to my expectations, Dad asked. “So what kind of church do you attend now?”
I told him we were not sure where we would go, or what we would do, but that we were visiting Elmira Pentecostal and liked it very much. I struggled a bit with loneliness, not having couples our age that we connected with, but there were a lot of great people, and I enjoyed the teaching.
“Tell me more about the church,” he said, “what is it like?”
“Well, this morning before I came to see you, I called Pastor Brian and immediately he asked if he could pray for you before I come see you. He prayed for your healing and for my travels,” I said.
Even as I spoke, I realized I wasn’t telling him about the denomination, its beliefs or what I assumed he was really asking. Things like, do they wear head coverings and skirts and have uncut hair, and that type of thing. But, to my amazement, rather than challenging me, Dad looked peaceful.
“That’s a good church,” he said. “Stay there.”
We didn’t stay there, because the loneliness wore me down, but to have Dad bless our journey was a powerful thing. And that blessing was the first of many signs that a transformation had taken place in my dad.
The winds of change were blowing… The weeks that followed were filled with moments that brought full closure and peace to our relationship, as Dad spoke words of affirmation and repentance that I never expected to hear from him.
To Be Continued….
© Trudy Metzger
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