He had the flu.
I know the flu kills people every year, but not 63-year-old healthy men who just got home from Disney World with his grandkids. Not active men who still have so much life left in them. But it did. It was shocking, sudden, and horrible. My dad died.
Death does not discriminate; you’re not spared because you still have so much love yet to give to your wife of 43 years. You’re not spared just because you’re the patriarch of your family, you don’t get extra credit simply because you helped raise your four younger siblings when your own father passed away before your 20th birthday. It doesn’t matter that you are a wonderful father or that your youngest grandchildren are too young to remember you once you’re gone.
Death is simply a consequence of this fallen world we are a part of. We will all face it at some point or another even though it hardly seems fair just two years shy of retirement. That night I was so sad, so broken I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Repeating the promises of the Bible didn’t help. I could make a list a mile long of all the things I’m thankful for and still these coping methods couldn’t bring my heart back from the edge of this daddy-sized void on which it was fixated.
“I. Want. Him. Back!” It was hardly the mature Christian thing to say in prayer to the Lord of the Universe but I didn’t feel all that mature either. At that moment, I felt like a small child incapable of understanding the reason for the pain I was experiencing. I knew God would not make an exception for me, but I couldn’t help expressing my deepest desire, “I just want one more hour to have coffee with him.” My favorite part of visiting my parents’ home was waking up early before my kids were up and drinking coffee with my dad. He would talk about whatever was on his mind; often times it was political topics I didn’t have too much interest in but just to have those moments with him all alone was worth any conversation.
I fell asleep mid-prayer and awoke to my alarm in the early hours of the next day. As is my custom, I try to be up before the rest of the house on Sundays to have a little quiet time to myself at least one day a week. I made coffee in his cup, the one he always used when we visited. I sat down and snuggled up with the most precious gift he ever gave me—his memories. I bought him a guided journal years before and just the day before we found it on his bookshelf. He’d filled out almost every single page. I could practically hear his voice reading the stories to me—some I knew, some completely unknown to me until that moment. Tears streamed down my face as I snuggled down in my La-Z-Boy savoring everything about this moment: the smell of the ink, the feel of his words indented on the pages, the wisdom of my hero.
Suddenly, I heard the voice of my 10-month-old over the monitor “talking” to himself in his bed and I knew my quiet time had come to an end. I looked at the clock; it had been exactly one hour since I sat down with my hot mug of coffee and my dad’s final stories to me. Suddenly I realized God had given me my requested hour. Sure, it wasn’t how I would truly have wanted it to be—I couldn’t hug my dad or put my head on his shoulder and hear his heartbeat again—but I had a quiet hour and a cup of coffee with my dad once again.
I wonder how many times I have thought God chose not to answer my prayers only because the answer had come wrapped in a slightly different package. God began to answer this prayer back in 2006 when I strolled through the Hallmark store searching for a thoughtful Father’s Day gift. He orchestrated the answer to this prayer on all of those early mornings in my parents’ home when I sat down with my dad to enjoy a cup of coffee. Every time my dad chose that grey and green coffee mug with the fish on it, God was working to give me this precious gift. God knew I would need it long before I did.
I still do not fully understand why God did not answer my most earnest prayers as I stood in the ICU with my father in those final hours, but I do know that there is an answer, wrapped in a package that doesn’t look like the medical miracle I was asking for. A perfect answer that will be revealed in His perfect timing. It’s not my place to question but I am blessed to know fully the truth in Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”