by Rock Church | November 15, 2012

It was shaping up to be a golden period of my life.

My dad, although just in his mid-40s, had been stricken with esophageal cancer. After a surgery where they removed his esophagus and stretched his smaller intestine to become his esophagus, they performed chemo and radiation and he was sent home. It was touch and go for a while, but dad started swallowing without pain and gaining weight. He went back to work and was looking and acting like his handsome, funny self again. My mom, sister and I were elated. We dodged a bullet on this one. Dad was back.

A few months later, I met Brandon and fell madly in love. He was definitely the take-home-to-your-parents type and when I did, it turned out to be somewhat of a homecoming. Brandon didn’t have much of a relationship with his father and he and my dad really hit it off. They were on the same page when it came to humor—two extremely funny guys. Mom loved Brandon too, said he was the funniest thing on two legs. There were lots of supercharged laughs around our kitchen table, you know, the kind where you’re laughing because it’s funny, but mostly because you’re just so happy?

Mom and dad had raised me and my sister to love Jesus and I walked around feeling lighter than air. I was in love with my boyfriend, thrilled to see my dad feeling good and so grateful to God for providing it all. We attended the Rock together and we’d raise our hands and praise the Lord. How could we not?

One day, dad felt something a tad painful in his hip and decided to go in and have it looked at. It was such an inconvenience to think that from here on out, he had to be suspicious of every little ache and pain. But I understood it was better to be safe then sorry.

When mom and dad returned, both of their faces were ashen. “What happened,” I demanded. “What’s going on?”

Dad’s cancer had returned and it was stage 4. The cancer had left his esophagus but had metastasized to his pelvic bone. He had 9-18 months to live.

“But you feel good and look good! I don’t understand!” I screamed. I ran to my room, slammed the door, lay on my bed and wept. There was nothing about this that made any sense. My mind went into overdrive trying to grasp it—like trying to remember a dream that keeps fading away. “Why, God?” I shrieked.

Dad’s deterioration seemed to start as soon as we got the news. You could see it in his face and body right away, the slow, steady death march of the disease. His treatments were only designed to prolong his life. There was no way to save it.

The earliest dad was supposed to die was nine months, but none of us could see how that was going to happen. His day-to-day deterioration was significant. As we could see time slipping away, Brandon and I both felt strongly we needed to pray about the possibility of getting married.

God isn’t always clear, but He sure was this time. We were certain that God was affirming to us that we should get married, and we even felt He had confirmed the date. Brandon went to my dad and asked him for my hand in marriage. Dad said yes. When he proposed to me, it was wonderful and romantic and each one of my smiles were genuine and real, and yet each had to rise out of despair to appear on my face.

I was trying to plan the happiest day of my life so that it would happen before my saddest. Is there really a “happiest day” in that scenario?

We had to move quickly. We knew we were dealing with just a few months. We went into hustle mode making arrangements as fast as we could, yet still tending to dad who was starting to move slower and slower. Sometimes it hit me, the absurdity of it. I was trying to plan the happiest day of my life so that it would happen before my saddest. Is there really a “happiest day” in that scenario?

I tried to live the moment, to enjoy the process of being a bride, but as quickly as the joy would arrive it would leave again. Each day it felt like I was filling a bathtub with the drain wide open.

I kept asking God why my joy was being stolen. This time was supposed to be the happiest of my life and yet, I was heartbroken knowing that my dad might not make it to my wedding day or meet his grandkids down the road. I was supposed to be worrying about what shoes to wear and where I should get my spray tan. I wanted to giggle and laugh and act silly and dream. I couldn’t understand why, if God really loved me, He would allow all this to be taken away.

“God, you can heal him, but you choose not to. Why? What sense does that make? He’s a good dad and I love him and he needs to be here for me. Why won’t you listen to me? Give me one good reason!”

The night before my wedding, mom told me she didn’t think dad was going to make it to the ceremony. The next morning, my stomach was in knots—not because of the wedding—I was nervous that dad would not be waiting at the top of the aisle to walk me down just as I had always dreamed.

However, there, in the middle of my doubt and despair, God breathed life into my wedding day. At the top of the aisle waiting for me, like a king waiting to give away his princess, dad was there, wearing a tux and a smile. But the miracle was just beginning. Dad had enough energy for the wedding, the reception and he even closed down the place that night—this from the man who barely had enough energy to make to the bathroom and back.

Ten days later, dad died.

Even though God did indeed provided a miracle, still dad was gone. I fell into a deep depression. With all the hustle and bustle of the wedding, I had forgotten how much I needed to hear his voice once he had been silenced. “God, everybody I know still has their dad. Why can’t I? Why allow me so much pain? And why drag Brandon through this?”

I went to church and sat there cold and unmoved. I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t raise my hands. I was without my dad, without much faith and without answers.

I tried to carry on and hold it all together for Brandon. There was no way he should have to come home to a crying bride. I wanted to be everything he deserved and didn’t want either of us to miss this time of just-wedded bliss. I put on the smiles and kept up a sunny disposition but all the while, I was living a secret, solitary, dark existence.

I went to church and sat there cold and unmoved. I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t raise my hands. I was without my dad, without much faith and without answers.

I decided I would give the GriefShare Ministry a chance at my heart and went on a Monday night. It was OK. I wasn’t really clear as to how being in the room with other grievers talking about our feelings was going to help. But I kept going. At least it felt like something positive.

At about the same time, a co-worker and dear friend lost her baby in the third trimester of her pregnancy and I immediately went into action to be there for her. She was devastated and leaned on my shoulder hard. That was fine with me. I loved her and was in it for the long haul.

Day after day, I tended to my friend. It was one of the more taxing and helpless experiences of my life, watching her carry such a heavy burden and hoping that my mere presence was somehow making a difference. I prayed with her, read Scripture and cried with her. Sometimes we just sat in silence. Time is a pruning.

As the months passed and I walked the long painful road with my friend, I rather expected that it should have been tiring. But that is when something surprising began to happen. I could feel strength rise up inside me. I didn’t really recognize it. It felt new and unfamiliar. I had to conclude: I was changing.

But there was something else.

I no longer felt lost. My steps were more stable, more deliberate. I looked down and saw that I had pillars beneath me everywhere. Each smile that I had received at GriefShare had grown into another pillar. Each hug. Each hand on mine. Each good word pulled from the Scriptures. Each prayer. I was standing in a different way now, stronger and more upright. I could let myself feel joy without guilt because I was being inundated with it. God was showing me that in the middle of my own personal tragedy, He could still bring flowers from the ashes.

God did not change my circumstances. He changed me.

As I look back on my wedding day, I see that God was really using it as a big going away party for dad. Sure, some people were there for me—the girl in the white dress—but it was just as much about him. Everyone there that night has a lasting memory of dad, and it is a happy one.

I don’t have answers to my questions, but I have something better. I can see His hand everywhere; dad on my wedding day, Brandon, GriefShare, allowing me to be there for my friend. I feel His joy and trust His wisdom. I guess these were all the things that I needed to go through and learn about God before He reunites me with dad again—things I wouldn’t have learned if he was here now.

However, I do have one last question: God, how could You be so good?

• • •

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." - 2 Corinthians 1:3-4


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