The holiday season is here and it’s that time of year when many of us are missing loved ones. For myself, I always start to get sad near December 21.
It will be five years December 21, 2019, that my father passed away from pancreatic cancer. I am actually blessed in the fact that my father lived longer with this type of cancer than expected. Most people diagnosed with this type of cancer are lucky to live a year. My father, however, survived for almost four years. He was able to endure a grueling surgery and recovery. He was strong and did whatever he had to do to survive. At one point we thought the cancer was gone. He went several years where scans were clear. Unfortunately, the cancer came back with a vengeance. When it returned, I felt overwhelmed with grief. Before, I had this hope he would beat it. This time, I could see the the fight in him was running out.
It’s a horrible thing when you start to lose hope. For me, I lost hope that he would survive- at least here on earth. That’s a temporal hope though. All of us will leave this earthly existence at some point. This is why we cannot put our hope in this life we live on earth. We have to place our hope in the eternal- in the life Jesus promises us when we are finished with the work he’s given us. We don’t know when our time is up. That’s what makes it so hard. We miss the loved ones we’ve lost. We don’t know when we will see them again.
God’s Grace Abounds
It’s interesting how God works and how his grace abounds even when we do not perceive it initially. Such was his grace when my Father passed away. That night I just happened to be performing in a live Nativity for a church group. My role was to play one of the angels. My husband was working so I brought my son Jonah over to my Mom and Dad’s house. My plan was to pick him up after I finished the Nativity performances.
Before I left for the Nativity I visited my Dad. I told him I was playing an angel in the Nativity. My Mom reminded me that it was Dad who named me Angela because he said I looked like an angel when I was born. I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about this. That night I talked to Dad for a little while, but he seemed different. I’m not sure how to describe it except to say that he looked more peaceful than usual. I left for the Nativity, trying to remind myself that God was in control.
I performed in several shows that evening. It took longer than I had anticipated and I realized I wouldn’t get back to pick up Jonah until close to midnight. So, I called my Mom to ask her if Jonah could stay the night. My Mom was glad to let him stay because she felt comforted having someone with her, instead of being alone with my Dad.
I got home after midnight and went to bed. Early in the morning hours I woke up. I glanced at the clock, which said 4:30 a.m. I kept staring at the clock as if in a daze. Then this little voice inside (I think it was the Holy Spirit) said, “Remember the time.” I made a mental note of it and then slept all the way until 10:00 a.m. That’s when I heard the phone ring. It was my Mom. I could hear something unsettled in her voice. I knew what she was going to say. “Your father passed away.” And that’s what she said. I wanted to drop the phone. But then she said, “It was around 4:30 a.m. when he passed away.” I immediately remembered the 4:30 time I had seen on the clock when I awoke in the early morning hours.
Grace Upon Grace
Now here is something even more amazing about that 4:30 a.m. time. Several years before my Dad developed cancer he had a conversation with me about God. We were sitting in the living room and he said, “Angela, I want you to know that I know the Lord. Every morning I have my time with God. At 4:30 a.m. I go outside with my chair and I sit there and talk to God.” You see, my Dad wasn’t one to go to church every Sunday. I know he was raised in the church and baptized, but he didn’t go to church in his later years. I had always worried about that. When he told me he spent time with God, I felt so happy. How amazing is it that in his death he would pass at the very time of the morning that he spent time with God! The fact that I woke up at 4:30 a.m. the morning my Dad passed was no coincidence. Talk about God’s grace! It was so apparent.
Another aspect of God’s grace was seen in my son Jonah. Remember when I told you he stayed the night with my Mom the night my Dad passed away? My Mom told me she was so glad he was there because if not, she would’ve been all alone. I know you are probably thinking, “Wasn’t it traumatic for your son to be there when your Dad died?” Actually, my Mom said Jonah had no idea Dad had passed. Because my Mom did not want to alarm Jonah, she remained calm and had this surprising sense of peace. I find that so amazing because Jonah’s name means peace, or dove. My Mom told me if Jonah had not been there she would’ve melted down. I realized the Nativity running late that night, and Jonah staying with Mom, was yet another example of God’s grace.
God’s Grace Never Ends
God’s grace didn’t end because there was another surprise. Christmas rolled around four days after Dad passed. As I opened a gift from my sister, it brought tears to my eyes. It was a Nativity charm. My sister asked why I was crying and I told her about the Nativity I was in the night Dad passed away. I asked here if she knew I was going to be in a Nativity and she said no. She said she bought it for me back in November and thought I would like it. I felt like the charm was a special reminder that Dad was in the place God prepared.
A few months after Dad passed away, I started feeling overwhelmed with sadness again. The awful thing about cancer is what it does to the body. For me it was difficult to get the image of him lying in bed out of my mind. All his life my Dad was athletic and strong. He lost so much weight with the cancer and his entire body looked so fragile. Seeing him cry in pain occupied the worst of my memories. All these things were running through my mind one lonely night. I sat there on the bed and prayed to God. I said, “Lord, I can’t remember what my Dad was like before the cancer. I just want to know he is healthy and strong again. I want to know he’s ok. Can you help me see him healthy and happy again?” Then, I went to sleep.
Death Has No Sting
That night I had a beautiful dream. My Dad sat in a tall white chair in the midst of a lush, green garden. Surrounding him were friends and family, laughing and smiling. As I walked toward him in the dream, I could see how young he was. He looked like he could be in his late 20’s or early 30’s. His body was no longer thin and emaciated. Instead, his athletic form had returned, but even better than before. Behind him was the most amazing sight! It was a large banner with the Lion of Judah painted on it. I immediately thought of Jesus when I saw it because symbolically he is the Lion, and he is from the Tribe of Judah. My Dad rose from his chair and walked over to me. He gave me the biggest hug of my life. Though it was a dream I could feel the hug. I know that sounds strange but it’s true. After the hug, I woke up.
Grace Wins Every Time
After the dream, I knew God’s grace had been poured out yet again. Through the dream he reminded me of so many amazing truths. The first truth – DEATH HAD NO STING. My Dad was healed. He was young. He was strong. The second truth- Jesus, the Lion of Judah who conquered the grave, gave my Dad life again! His life in heaven far exceeded any earthly existence. Also, seeing the chair in the dream reminded me of what Dad said. He spent time with God at 4:30 a.m. while sitting in his chair outside. In the dream Dad was outside in a chair!
This year as the five year anniversary of Dad’s death came around, I started to feel that old familiar depression come back. Memories of Dad’s cancer battle surfaced and threatened to weigh me down during the holiday season. It hit me the most when I unpacked Christmas decorations, only to find part of my Nativity set was missing and part of it broken. To be honest, I really needed a new one because this set had some issues. Yet, I really wanted that Nativity because it reminded me of Jesus, and of Dad. I said a small prayer to Jesus that went like this. “Lord, I would really like a new Nativity set, but I know it’s not a priority.” Then, I felt a wave of guilt pour over me as I thought about how God had much better things to do than to get me a new Nativity set!
Well, guess what? God’s grace came busting down the door. I was at a dinner with my Bible Study group and out of the blue, one of my friends says, “Does anyone need a Nativity set because a neighbor of mine is giving one away.” My ears immediately perked up. “Did you say a Nativity set?” I asked. “Yes, it’s a beautiful set and you can have it if you want it.” Right then and there I wanted to cry! How does God line all these things up? I asked God for a Nativity set and the prayer was answered in just a few days.
The timing was no accident. It had been five years since Dad passed away and I received the new Nativity set. Five in the Bible points to grace. I love studying biblical numbers so that’s how I know this about the number five! One of these days I’ll write a blog just on the number 5.
I don’t know if you’re missing a loved one this year. Most of us are missing someone. Even though we miss our loved ones, if we could just imagine what they are experiencing in heaven, we would only weep tears of joy. The dream I had of my Dad in heaven gave me just a glimpse of the glory. But it was enough for me to hold onto until I see him again.
Whatever heartache you have, let Jesus take hold of it. He can carry it until the day comes when you meet your loved one(s). If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, you too will be in glory with him, and you can look forward to a grand reunion with many loved ones. Hallelujah! Cling to that blessed hope!
Update: After writing this post, I went over to my Mom’s house on December 21- the anniversary of my Father’s death. While I was there my Mom gave me a shirt she thought I might like to wear for Christmas. When I looked at the tag it made me smile. The tag said GRACE (see picture). My Mom did not know I’d written the blog about God’s grace so it’s amazing how it all lined up on the anniversary of my Father’s death.