A Faith Journey: The Beginning

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This is the 1st of 6 essays in A Faith Journey re-tracing the final week of my Dad’s life. Loss served as the the catalyst to my faith, and it is through this story, I see God’s invitation to experience Him as the greatest story. For those that have walked this with me from the beginning, please read and remember and know that God is good. And for my new reader friends, hopefully this series will help you better understand how loss has awakened me to foundational faith, freedom, peace, and the most authentic joy that comes from knowing Jesus.
It was Tuesday, Family Life Group Night, the one time a month we gathered as families, kiddos included, to enjoy community. It always involved food and it never disappointed. This particular night beckoned “Breakfast for Dinner” and no one was more amped for french toast at 5:30pm than I. Driving over, I heard the phone ring but was steering with one hand while holding the egg-dish-wrapped-in-a-beach-towel with the other. At a stop sign, I checked mom’s voicemail: “Dad had a stroke. Call me.” These are the moments that blur. The transition from news to hospital arrival. I remember running into Brian and Donna’s, muttering “Dad had a stroke! Can we leave the boys–?”

“We’ve got it. We’re good. We’ll take care of them. Go.” Our second family, that’s the kind of friends these people are.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic gave us time to arrange for people to watch the boys. When we arrived at the hospital, already the lobby was mixed with family and friends sitting, standing, praying, hugging, waiting for the news.

What was going on? How was Dad?

Mom filled us in.
Dad had taken that day off from teaching to
Meet with his tax guy in Long Beach.
Update all their insurance.
Fix a light in the front yard.
Put a new toilet seat on in the downstairs bath.
He’d even written my brother a note, telling him he’d turned over “all his earthly treasures,” signing off with his typical, “I love you.- Dad.”
On his way home, he’d driven PCH and stopped at the Huntington Beach Pier, his happy place.
Ya know, normal errands.

Once home he’d greeted mom in the kitchen, they’d talked about their day, and made plans to meet friends for dinner before hosting weekly Bible Study. Dad mentioned a headache and walked upstairs to lay down. Not one minute later, Mom said she’d rounded the stairs into their bedroom, and there.was.Dad– his right hand raising up and down in slow motion. Words garbled as he attempted to speak. Mom grabbed his face. Their eyes met, and then his hand stopped. One pupil grew while the other remained unchanged. She ran. She dialed. The ambulance arrived, and in five minutes the world stopped and fast-forwarded.

Details that followed were a whirlwind of facts. Although a Kaiser patient, dad was transferred to the Stroke Center at St. Jude. A neurosurgeon for the sister hospitals called my mom’s cell to introduce himself and discuss my dad’s condition as the paramedics updated him. It appeared dad had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and was “actively dying.” He’d stopped breathing, had slipped into a coma, and had been put on a ventilator in the ambulance. Chances of survival were less than 50% but he assured mom he’d do everything he could. Not your average phone call.

Here’s the clencher about hospitals, nevertheless, waiting rooms. It’s like watching a movie- actors entering and exiting scenes, changing scripts, sterile lighting- the farthest thing from real life. Yet, here we were, plopped in the middle of a movie we hadn’t auditioned for. It was almost comical except for the fact that it wasn’t. Everywhere I looked over-sized, tear-shaped hand sanitizer stands loomed. Like insensitive aliens crouched in corners. White walls, white floors, too-firm chairs brought no sense of home to an already out-of-body experience. I longed for our couch at home, overstuffed and no doubt littered with legos, bathed in warm light from the floor lamp, and family pictures hanging above. Here, the only hung art were framed posters with rainbow hue writing. Gag. I probably re-decorated that waiting room and lobby dozens of times in the minutes leading to hours as we waited for dad’s news.

Our dear friends, the Rae’s took coffee orders and I remember asking mom what she wanted. Mocha Frappuccino. No whip. Never before had the clock inched so slowly. Over the next 2 1/2 hours I vacillated between crying and imploring God Almighty. I excused myself from conversations for time alone, then entered back in. So, so surreal. I remember snippets of talk. Catching up with Cori, a friend and mentor about my last conversation with Dad. And later, asking Joni, a nurse and dear family friend what the chances of survival were. Shoot straight, I’d said. Please don’t sugar-coat it. Just tell me. Her eyes spoke truth and compassion. It didn’t sound good.

And then a hush fell as the Dr. pulled our family into a circle to deliver the news. I held my breath the entire time he spoke, aware that on the other side of our family’s semi-circle were 75 people watching our reaction, studying our faces. The movie kept going. Our scene was being shot. Where was that darn script? Could someone please soften the fluorescent lighting?

Dad has survived the surgery. The hemorrhagic stroke had proven to be a brain bleed the size of an orange. Pressure from the bleed had pushed part of his brain against his skull, rendering it “dead,” and requiring it be removed. Part of his skull had been taken out to relieve pressure. The next 48 hours were critical. Were there any questions?

Um, yes! Is my dad going to be okay? Is he going to come home with us? Is this whole thing a horrible dream? There were a million questions with no concrete answers. The week before I’d stayed up ’til midnight talking with him in our living room. The boys had hid his shoes like they always did. And now? Now he was in a coma? End scene. Cut. I don’t want to be in this movie.

Our family circle joined the extended family, about 75 people who had showed up to say ‘We love you. We hurt with you. We are here for you.’ Don Marshburn, a steadfast man of faith and a cornerstone in my parent’s church and life, prayed for Dad. I don’t remember a word he said, but I do remember thinking there was no one else I wanted talking with our Savior on behalf of my Dad’s life than him. It was a holy moment, one forever etched in my memory.

After hugs were offered and comforting words shared, the crowd dispersed and our family made our way to the 4th floor, Critical Care Unit, Room 47. Down the hallway we floated- unified and scared – but with a peace knowing God was in our midst. Later mom would share that the song playing in her head was “Ode to Joy,” specifically the following lines:

Thou art giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blessed.
Wellspring of the joy of living,
Ocean depth of happy rest.
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother,
All who live in love are Thine,
Teach us how to love each other
Lift us to the Joy divine.

Even now, these words bring a smile at how God’s Spirit prompted for Dad’s days ahead.

Today, Lord, please “Teach us how to love one another.” The way Dad did. The way You do.

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Comments 3

  1. I too, remember being in that movie that I didn’t audition for. Yet, one year later, I find myself drawing closer to the Lord because of that experience and the tremendous faith of those that surrounded you and your father.. I love you and I’m praying for you as we draw close to the day he died. Your writings are truly an inspiration and a gift from God!

  2. I also remember that awful movie. Although, my dad or my family never had much of a support system, we had a few people praying for us. My mom, younger sister , and my mom’s friend were believers in Christ. I was not. I was 34 weeks pregnant when my dad went to be with The Lord . He fought colon cancer and finally succumbed to this ugly cancer. I was glad that his fight was over, no more suffering , no more pain, no more depilating disease rotting his body.
    At his funeral, I wanted to say something along the words of a eulogy. But, I could not. I never once told him that I loved him (he never made it easy). I thought “there is no glory in death, his death, as my sister spoke of Christ’s love.
    Well, I got saved two weeks after my daughter was born. The glory, God’s glory, I learned to love through Christ because he loved me first. To say the words “I love you.
    And yes my daughter knows I love, love her. I made sure of that! God revealed his love to me by showing me how to love and smile. And yes a very big smile. How much I love my daughter doesn’t come close to how much God loves me. God’s love for us is immeasurable.
    My dad’s death and my daughters birth that occurred two weeks later, brought me to Christ. Glory to God! And Glory to God I will be able to tell my dad ” I love you.”
    Thank you Becca for sharing your families love and allowing me to share with you how I learned to love. Xoxoxo

    1. Post

      Georgina, wow! Just wow! I have tears reading your story of loss and love. Praise God is right! “And glory to God i will be able to tell my dad “i love you.” Love that. Thank you for sharing your journey. May it always be about His love. xo

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