Best Day Ever
That night I was up late, unable to sleep, and so when morning came around, I was still asleep at 830am when suddenly my wife woke me up exclaiming, "Jobey, your Dad is up and walking around...get up! He wants to be baptized right now!!!"
I scrambled up and rushed outside and there he was, walking around outside by the pool. Katie said that she was making coffee in the kitchen with her back to Mom and Dad’s bedroom door, when suddenly she hears his booming voice say, “well good morning, Kates!” She turned around and there’s Dad, walking toward the backyard slider door, like Lazarus risen from the dead.
The day before he seemed as if he wouldn’t live another couple days, and here on this Sunday morning, he was walking outside, talking normal, and even trying to fix the pool pump. Apparently, the night before, while laying in bed with Mom, he said, “is Jobe still gonna baptize me?” And Mom said, “whatever you want to do, Mick.” So, wanting to get the jacuzzi ready, he told Mom how to put the heater on. However, what she accidentally ended up doing was flipping the “drain” switch instead of the "heat" switch, and so that morning we woke to an empty jacuzzi! So, Dad was out trying to fix it.
The man was determined: he was getting baptized.
As I finally get out to him by the pump, he’s bending over trying to turn switches with what little strength he has, and I finally convince him to not exert himself. I said, “y’know, Dad, Travis (Britni’s husband) told me the hardest thing for Britni was to not overdo it when she was actually having good days when she felt good, because it would come back to bite her the next day. So we should pry get inside so you can rest and we’ll take care of this.” When I said this, Dad just said, “oh, okay,” and started moving away from the pump. He had such a love and admiration for Britni, our admonition had just become chopped liver, but if it came from Travis or Britni, well then he figured he would listen.
As I grabbed a hold of his arm to help walk him back to the house, he looked at the pool and said, “well, hey, Jobe, how’s the temperature in there?” I said, “well, we’re in Phoenix in September, it’s probably pretty good.” He then took a step down onto the first step of the pool as if he was on auto-pilot, not waiting for any of us, and he liked what he felt. He said, “well that’s perfect,” and he immediately began to continue down the steps without us, not waiting for anyone. He was ready! I told him to slow down and said, “sit down on the step for a second, we’ll get an umbrella for you and, you know, we can go wake up the boys so they can join us,” and he said, “oh, good idea.”
Once we were gathered, I wanted to one more time share with him a little bit of what baptism is all about. I told him that it’s sort of like a wedding ring. A ring isn't what makes you married, but it's an outer symbol of what has gone on inside of you. It's a symbol that let's everyone around you know, "sorry folks, I'm taken." Your wedding day isn't the day you fell in love, but it's the day you declared publicly to everyone your love and commitment to your new bride. And likewise, your baptism isn't what makes you a Christian, nor is it the day that you fall in love with Jesus, but it's the day that you let your friends, family, and everyone else know, "Sorry, folks, I'm taken. I love Jesus and I know that He loves me, and I want everyone to know it."
Dad loved hearing this, because this is exactly what he said has happened to him on August 8th, and it's exactly what he wants everyone to know about: that Jesus loves him and gave him new life. When I said that this baptism is like a wedding celebration for him to not just let us, his family, know about his love for Jesus, but for everyone else that will hear about it and see pictures and video, he said, "good...that's what I want."
We got in the pool and gathered around him and we prayed for him just before he went under the water. I reminded him that this is symbolic of the old Mick going into the grave, while the new Mick comes up emerging from the water, washed of all of his sin and now alive on the inside, brand new as an adopted child of God his Father. Later in the day, he said that when he came up he felt "so clean and washed."
Right after that, we went inside at around 10:15am, and though it seemed like we would have so much to talk about, he said, "Jobe, are we gonna watch your church service now?" My parents had been streaming our services from California since the pandemic began, and though I obviously wouldn't be preaching, I sort of thought Dad may forgo the service just to be with the family. But no...he wanted church! He wanted to hear the music and hear the truth of the Gospel preached.
I rushed to secretly send a photo to our AV guy at church of Dad being baptized, wanting them to announce it at church, even though the service had already started at 10am. But Pastor Tyler was able to get the news in time to share all of this with the church and show the photo, and we were all just so overwhelmed to hear the claps and cheers coming from the TV, followed by Tyler praying for my Dad and saying he has now gained Mick as a brother, and that God has gained a son.
Near the end of the service, Matt, one of our worship leaders, and a friend who had traveled with Dad and me to New York together back in 2006, chose to close the service with a song called “Rock of Ages.” We all stood as a family, with our arms around each other, and we sang together.
This would be the first time that I ever saw my Dad sing at church. Singing, also, was just too vulnerable. But now, he wasn’t just singing, he was worshipping. He was singing this song from his heart. Towards the end of the song, the lyrics declare,
And when I take my final breath, I’ll rest upon Your grace.
And when I close my eyes in death, I’ll wake to see Your face.
We all wept as we sang this part of the song, and Dad, whose eyes were fixed on the TV to read the lyrics as he sang, hung his head down in tears as Mom embraced him.
Those lyrics hit Dad particularly, because this had been Dad’s theme for these weeks. He constantly talked about taking his final breath here, and then having his next breath be in Heaven with Jesus, seeing His face, and holding His hands. And here we are, as a family, singing that very truth together.
Soon, both my sister's family and my brother's family would be there at the house, and it would be the first time in 6 years (and the last time ever) that all of us kids and grandkids and spouses would be under the same roof together. We watched some home movies, shared some stories, and each had some one-on-one time with Dad once he retreated to the bedroom to rest. It was quite a special time, and it was simply miraculous that Dad had this incredible boost of energy and life for that particular Sunday, and that God had used him so powerfully to dramatically impact our lives that day.
Once the dust settled at the end of the evening, Dad said with tears,
"wow...what a day. Could this have been more perfect? I mean that was the best day ever."
We all just sat around, weeping with him, halfway dumbfounded and halfway just amazed, and all Dad could talk about was how good God had been to him and how much he loves Jesus and is amazed that Jesus actually loves him and forgave him for all the ways he has sinned and done things his own way over the course of his life. He couldn't wait to meet Jesus and thank Him face to face for saving him and making him born again with new life and a new heart.
A Challenge to You...
Dad was overflowing with pure joy and gratitude, even though he was looking death and suffering straight in its wicked, cruel eyes. Dad even said, "I embrace my suffering because it makes me closer to Jesus because He suffered for me." In all my years as a pastor, I can't say I have seen a more radical example of such unexplainable and deep and astounding explosion of faith and intimacy and enjoyment and revelation of God's great love in someone's life. It had, and still has, all of us so overcome and overjoyed to see this miracle.
A couple days later, Dad had said that he wishes he could see another two or three August 8ths come and go for him to celebrate this new life he had. However, Hospice had given us their assessment that day, and at this point, they were saying a “couple months.” But Mom had realized and mentioned to Dad, "well, Mick, tomorrow is September 8th, which is the one month anniversary, so we can celebrate that!" Dad perked up and said, "oh great, well what are we gonna do!?"
Sadly, the next day, Dad wasn’t well enough to do any kind of celebrating, but the mere fact that he so desperately wanted to celebrate that one month “birthday” was an incredible joy for me that I will always treasure in my heart.
But a couple months after Dad passed away, Mom found this brief note in his "Notes" app on his computer, typed out the morning after his "best day ever," his baptism day:
So, as our family friend, Ron, said to me, that this quickly evolving journey reminds him of the opening lines of Charles Dickens' novel, "A Tale of Two Cities," which read,
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
And so it has been.
Part 10: Turn for the Worst