Bad News Gets Worse
A few days after Mom and Dad went back home, on August 12th, I was down at Pomerado Hospital. Britni went into the hospital on August 10th with some health issues, and things weren’t getting better.
Just a few days before this, Britni bought Mom and Dad a book on Amazon and had it shipped to them. It was a daily devotional book written by a cancer survivor called 50 Days of Hope. It took the reader through daily truths and stories of hope to hold onto, and it had helped her and her husband, Travis, during the previous months of her own battle.
When Dad was first diagnosed, Britni reached out to Katie and me, and knowing where Dad’s spiritual state was, she texted, “I prayed that God would save his soul," and later, "Mercy, God we cry Mercy from your loving hands! Nothing is too hard for you.”
Britni had felt instantly connected to Dad in a fraternity that no one wants to join in, and Dad had also felt that instant connection. She cried out to the Lord on his behalf, and wept with us over his diagnoses. But now, she was in the hospital again, and slipping into a deeper state of unconsciousness.
I had been at the hospital now for the third day in a row, sitting outside on the lawn with Britni’s dad, David, and one of our other pastors, Tyler. Throughout the day, Mom was texting me, checking in with me about Britni, telling me that Dad was always asking about her. I told Mom that we had just found out that Britni’s cancer had metastasized to her liver, that her liver was failing, and that she “didn’t have much time.” Mom and Dad were devastated along with the rest of us.
It had become evening, and while I’m sitting there hoping to provide some kind of hope and care for Britni’s dad after getting this awful news, I get a text from Mom. MRI results were in, and Dad has a tumor in the brain. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I broke down, right in front of David who was going through his own shock and grief. It was just horrible. Absolutely horrible, like a nightmare.
I called Mom, she answered and I tried to hold it together, but then, unexpectedly, I heard Dad’s strong, confident, and calm voice say, “hey Jobe,” and then I lost it. I couldn’t even speak. So Dad started.
And over the next hour, I had what might have been the best conversation I’ve ever had with my Dad. I say “might” because the many conversations I had with him over the last 6 weeks of his life are hard to rank, because it was that good. But this one is definitely at the top.
As we talked, I walked around a little grassy area near the parking lot of the hospital. More folks from our church were showing up to pray for Britni and console each other, which gave me great relief because my heart was torn in half, wanting to be with Britni’s family, but needing to be talking to Mom and Dad. So seeing all of them, knowing that we had so many people carrying each other was a great comfort for me.
We continued to talk, and we sobbed a lot. But I can't tell you how well and calm and positive and filled with joy my Dad was. It was unreal. His voice was strong and positive and confident and peaceful. He even preached to me in the form of a question, asking me,
"well Jobe, aren’t we supposed to be able to have joy even in suffering?"
Here was Dad, preaching to the preacher. And of the many, many tears we shed over the phone, none of Dad’s tears were over the cancer itself. They were just tears shed over the many ways God was showing Dad God’s love for him. the many ways God has blessed us and our family, and particularly the great and deep work that God has been doing in my Dad's heart through all of this. His faith and his heart had been and would continue to be transformed by God's love for him.
He'd been filled with a joy and peace and trust that only God can give, and it was revolutionizing who he was.
I said to him, "Dad, if you gave me the choice of having you here for another 20 years, but you never truly know or are ever convinced of how much God loves you and you lack this joy and peace, versus having you here for only 6 more months but with you totally grasping and understanding the depth of God's love for you, I would choose the second option, as hard as that temporary reality is and as sad as I would be."
He stopped me and said, "well, Jobe, I totally agree, and I can tell you that you got your wish. I get it now. And I will never let go of Jesus, and I know now that He never gave up on me, and I have nothing to be sad about. He has given me a good life, and I finally understand that He came to die for me and save me."
I said, “Dad, I am just amazed at the things you are saying.” He replied and said, “I don’t even know what I was thinking before August 8th. I mean I knew about Jesus and believed in Him, but was it all just intellectual?”
For Dad, faith was never personal. It was just rules, religion, a moral code, and just trying to be good enough. Dad could never accept the love of God. But something had changed.
He said, “I know now how much God loves me, and what Jesus did for me, and I can’t believe He never gave up on me.”
At one point during this conversation, he also brought up some of his regrets. I began to stop him, because we’ve had this talk before, but something was different about how he was bringing it up to me this time. It was actually a bit oddly refreshing for me, because this time, he brought them up not in a way of self-loathing, saying “I wish I did this,” or “I really regret that.” This time, it’s as if he wanted to just finally get it off his back. I think he wanted to bury them once and for all.
So he mentioned some of these regrets. The first one, of course, was the same exact regret that he shared 8 years previously (and other times since then). I asked Dad if he remembered the time we were playing poker in his garage, and if he remembered what I said.
I reminded him of what that poker game represented to me; that the present was more important than the past. But I went further, because Dad had somehow fixated on his lack of playing catch with me, and I wanted to share with him something that I hoped would really put this regret in the past.
Field of Dreams
The year before, our family, along with Mom and Dad, went back to Sioux City when Dad’s mom, Mudge, passed away at age 89. This was the summer when most everything was shut down due to COVID-19, including MLB games, and so my family’s annual goal of visiting a new ballpark wasn’t going to happen. Instead, however, what we decided we would do to redeem this loss of visiting a new ballpark, was to take a road trip from Sioux City to Dyersville, Iowa, four hours across the state in order to visit the Field of Dreams baseball field where the movie was filmed.
Back in 1989, Dad was actually hired for the job to paint the primary movie poster, so the movie already had a heart connection with us. But in addition to that connection, it was also based in Iowa, and Mom and Dad grew up in the Sioux City, Iowa area, and I lived there also for a few years. On top of that, it was a great baseball movie, but even more, it was a great father-son movie.
That last heart connection was the most important. Field of Dreams was about a son (Kevin Costner’s character) who had been estranged from his dad, and never had a chance to make good on a broken relationship. In a sense, it was movie about redeeming regrets.
Now, in my own heart and mind, I had no regrets toward Dad, but I know that Dad had his own. At the end of the movie, the famous line that Costner utters to his on-screen dad is, “Hey dad…wanna have a catch?” And they had that game of catch that symbolized their reconnection; their burying of regrets.
At the time, I had this in my mind, but I didn’t say anything to Dad specifically about his regrets. I think I’d hoped that he had already moved on from them. Regardless, I went up to him and said, “hey Dad…wanna have a catch?” And there we were, he and I playing catch, along with my boys, his two grandsons. I was 41, enjoying a game of catch with my Dad.
So as I’m talking to Dad on the phone, reminding him of the conversation we had while we played poker, I said to him, “Dad, just like the poker game, do you remember when I asked you to play catch at Field of Dreams?” Naturally, he remembered, and I said to him, “Dad…I was 41 and you were 67. I wanted to take that road trip with you and Mom, because we love spending time with you. Any dad can play catch with his 10 year old son, because the son has to, and every little boy has rose-colored glasses for their dad. But to be 41, and want to play catch with his Dad? Not every dad is guaranteed to have a great adult relationship with their son.”
He was quietly listening, and then I said, “Dad, I would take that one game of catch at Field of Dreams at age 41, than 200 games of catch with you when I was 10, because that was you and me, as adults, wanting to be together, and not everyone gets that.”
I proceeded to tell him that through all the stages of my own boys growing up, I never wanted to “go back” to any of their previous ages. I loved age 4 with them, but then I loved age 6. I loved 10 and 11, and never longed for them to be 4 again. As I write this, they are 17 and 14, and I still don’t wish for them to be little again. I told Dad that I’ve enjoyed every stage, and I’ve always looked forward to the next stage. And I told Dad that I have always looked forward to when they are older and when I get to have an adult relationship with them. And I told him that I’ve always looked forward to that because of what I have always had with him. My relationship with my Dad has caused me to greatly look forward to hopefully, by God’s grace, having the same thing with my boys.
And that’s something I’ve thought for a long time. So many times when I’ve been with Dad, talking late in the night, asking about his younger days, or the various points of his career, or whatever it may have been, I would think to myself, “this is so cool…being an adult and getting to know my Dad in such a new way.” I would think about it, and it would make me look forward to hopefully some day my own boys having the same kind of interest and wanting to stay up late and talk with me. What a dream come true that would be!
As we continued to talk through this and a couple other regrets he had, I said to him, “Dad, anything that happened before August 8th, it just doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is now.”
And in a very uncharacteristic response, he just said, “okay.”
No arguing. No, “well I know, Jobe, but what about…”
Just an agreement that sounded very at peace. He sounded like a man who really believed what he was hearing.
He sounded satisfied.
Later that day, I posted this on Caring Bridge:
My Dad has a peace that surpasses understanding and that doesn't make sense unless you know the truth of knowing Jesus and what He has done. He knows this, and though we have some tough, sad, unimaginable days ahead of us, we know that beyond those sufferings we have nothing but joy to look forward to.
As a family, we are completely devastated more and more about my Dad's health, but we have been given so much more to be thankful for and amazed by. This will be the anchor and rock that gives us some stabilizing power as we go through the coming chapter of life.
Thank you all, and please continue to pray for my Dad's health, for docs to be able to slow the cancer growth and spread, as well as our family's mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
We are so, so thankful for all of you!
Part 6: New Reality