Friday, April 24, 2015

Surprised By Joy

Psalm 130
A song of ascents.

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy. 
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand? 
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope. 
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with Him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

In my book Great is God’s Faithfulness I wrote from Psalm 130 about this magnificent Psalm of Ascent to the Holy Hill, the Temple in Jerusalem. Moreover, this psalm is also about forgiveness of sins and guilt. I am reminded of the story of my father’s life.

My father grew up without a father as he had committed suicide, jumping off the roof of his troubled business in the first recession of last century when my father was just nine years old. A caring uncle paid for my father’s education in Ivy League colleges. Then WWII began.

My father shipped off to Africa as an artillery officer in the 32nd Division to chase Rommel. Then up to Sicily and the “Boot” of Italy. In the Battle of Monte Cassino, January 1944, he was severely wounded by a German 88MM artillery shell. After being rescued from under a jeep that had blown over him, he was driven through enemy lines to a British field hospital and then overseas on a hospital ship. Once back in the U.S., he suffered through 18 operations on his legs, arms and back, leaving considerable shrapnel in his body. The pain of the shrapnel and the war left him bitter and angry, even though decorated for bravery with the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his physical injuries. He was honorably discharged from the Army with the status of total disability.

Growing up with my father was a privilege yet often not a close or warm one. His fatherless upbringing and I believe residual anger and bitterness with the Germans often surfaced leaving him emotionally aloof at times. However, he was a generous man, financially supporting my education as his had been. He buried himself in work; particularly volunteer board leadership in Milwaukee. This emotional life was understandable, and made more complex by the fact that our family were German emigrants to the United States. He would not forgive the Germans.

My father’s unforgiveness festered in him. The Bible is clear that unforgiveness will lead to imprisonment of the soul and cause increasingly difficult anger that will eventually consume.  I know that my father was proud of his military service, particularly the men with whom he had served, however, his inner gloom remained. I know that he was a man with an outside humor, one of the best joke tellers around. That is often a clue of something going on inside.

Well, the years passed and my mother, with undiagnosed bi-polar disease and alcoholism, slipped into Alzheimer’s dementia. Life with her was almost impossible, exacerbating my father’s distress. We moved her to an assisted care facility, but they could not hold her. After numerous forced moves up the care chain, we eventually found a locked Alzheimer’s unit for her. Here she deteriorated until unable to speak or eat, she disappearing behind the dark veil of dementia. My father could not handle it, and suicidal, he moved back to their Florida home to find sanity, while I oversaw my mother’s care.

My father had shoulder surgery shortly thereafter and I visited him in Florida. He had found a friend whose spouse also had dementia with whom he could commiserate. We spoke of the trials of life and I spoke of how the love of God in Christ could free us. During this trip, my father forgave the Germans and gave up his bitterness. He also confessed his anger and sin and received the forgiveness of Christ and salvation. He became a new man, whole and healed physically and spiritually. Joy entered his life like C.S. Lewis speaks of in his moving book Surprised By Joy. I returned to Milwaukee where I would care for my mother.  About a year later, my father died in his sleep recovering from hip surgery. His worldly pain is gone, and I will see him again. 

At that time, I visited my mother at least weekly, with her not recognizing me or screaming at me in anger in her demented state. Yes, this was very difficult. Slowly, she deteriorated, until she had not spoken for two years. I was then working at a large health insurance company in Brookfield only a few miles from her care facility.  One day, while I walked to a meeting in the CEO’s office, the Lord spoke to me to visit my mother. I told God of my meeting, but he persisted and I went to visit.

As I visited her with no response, I tried something new. I had brought her mother’s Bible for some reason. I shared her childhood upbringing and told her of my own “born again” faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I told her that I would be going to heaven some day and that she could too.  Tears in her eyes now, the veil of Alzheimer’s tore, opening her mind and mouth. She said, “If you trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and are going to heaven, then I too could trust in Jesus and would go to heaven and we would be together.”  I prayed with her and we embraced in our new- found faith together.

Later that day, one of my mother’s nurses called me asking what I had done to her because she was aglow.  She died shortly thereafter,five years to the day after my father.

The photo below is my father in uniform after the war standing with my German Uncle Bill- Go figure. 
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