Why I believe in Easter

My father was a man of great sin, and our family suffered from his choices. He hurt, abused, and almost destroyed us. As he lay dying, he faced it all.

For days, I had stayed by his side in the ICU. Near the end, he began to tear at the restraints, eyes squinting as into bright light. After a furious but silent fight, he grew quiet, cocking his head as if listening. Then he relaxed and flopped back. In minutes, again his body tensed and legs jerked against the ankle straps. He grimaced at some inner pain. Then his lips moved in silent confession.

I knew God was showing my father his sin. He repented. God forgave him and assured him that He would redeem the years the enemy, using my father, had devoured. The cycle continued for hours until, at dusk, he fell still.

That night he slipped into a coma from which his doctor said he would never awaken. Exhausted after two weeks at his deathbed, I asked why they didn’t just turn off the IV’s and oxygen, why keep him alive when there was no hope. The doctor said the machines weren’t keeping him alive–my father would go when God was ready—and that everyone in the hospital had great respect for the courage that had kept him alive this long.

Respect for my father–the alcoholic–the rage and fury of my childhood?

During the night, in the glow of machines, I realized his cheekbones were just like mine. For the first time, I was proud to have those strong bones, proud to be The Dutchman’s daughter. I rose and leaned over his bed. He opened his eyes as if I had called to him. He reached up and gently stroked my hair.

All my life I had yearned for that tender touch.

“I love you, too,” I whispered.

He smiled and closed his eyes. His hand fell back to the bed.

When morning came, my Mom arrived, fresh after two days of sleep. Completely exhausted, I dragged myself to our room and collapsed into bed. Several hours later, she shook me awake.

He was gone.

I felt cheated. I’d spent days at his bedside, then wasn’t there to say goodbye. God had brought spiritual healing to him during his last days, and I had felt a touch of the love I hungered for all my life, but now, I had nothing.

I grasped at emptiness, and found only pain, fresher than ever.

Several days later, Mom asked me to read a lesson at the funeral.

Choked with tears, I read “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” While I read, I begin to grasp that a God who was powerful enough to bring forgiveness to a man like my father, could bring life and healing to me.

My voice rang out as I ended: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Corinthians 15:55,57 (NAS).

I felt the touch of the Father’s hand, the all-encompassing love of an eternal “Daddy” who will never hurt me or leave me.

And for the first time in years, I was able to pray.

Healing has been a process. What I experienced at my father’s death was a crack in the door, a chance for me to open the walls I had formed around myself–to choose life.

I have learned to release old hurts and receive love. God has redeemed the years of pain. Deep wounds have carved a crucible of joy that I can pour out for others.

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord. Be strong, and let your heart take courage.” Psalm 27:13, 14 (NAS)

Papa God, hold the little child in me who needs your strength and gentleness. Turn me towards the light. Fill me with your love, that I might love, and love, and love again.

I miss the manger

The neighborhood is so dark in January. When I walk my dog at night, I miss the sparkle of Christmas lights on houses. I miss the bright warmth of Christmas trees shining through windows.

Christmas lights
Christmas lights
Most of all, I miss the soft glow of the manger scene, the gleam on the faces of the shepherds and wise men. But is it more than light in a dark room that I miss? Could it be the innocence and purity of that scene?
 © Jack H Thompson
Manger light © Jack H Thompson

After all, when the wise men left, Joseph was warned in a dream to take the child to Egypt. As they slipped away in the night, Herod sent his soldiers to kill all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two.

The dark world, full of pain and hurt, seemed to quickly absorb the light.

As I face the hurt or pain in my life, and in those I love, I could easily slip under the weight of darkness.

My child and grandchildren are going through a painful experience. My mother sinks further every day into her own dark world of dementia, yet still painfully aware of what she is losing. My sister has suffered months with undiagnosed misery. My brother went for what we’d hoped was an easily treatable cancer, only to find it much more daunting, and he faces many weeks of radiation and chemo.

I am certain you have your own list, pockets of pain or hopelessness. Prayers too long uttered. Joy so slow in coming.

Wailing seal © Jack H Thompson
Wailing seal © Jack H Thompson

Oh yes, the darkness is very present. Always threatening to overcome the light.

But we can’t stay at the manger. That was just the beginning. It was only a glimpse of the light.

In the strangest twist, it took the greatest darkness of all, that manger-child growing into a man and allowing himself to be nailed to a wooden crossbar and hoisted up, for the cruelest death the Romans could produce, all the fury of hell thrown at one body. The blackness of death. And three days. Three long days and nights of darkness. Loss. Hopelessness.

Then morning came — the day we’ll celebrate months from now, with odd objects like bunnies and colored chicks and baskets of candy – and with the Dawn of Morning Light came the light that overcame the darkness.

Morning light in Galapagos
Morning light © Jack H Thompson

What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out. John 1:4-5 The Message

We won’t find what we need longing for a warmer, more secure time. Nor in turning away, ignoring the pain, or anesthetizing the pain with food or busyness — whatever the drug of choice. Not waiting for a better future, the someday when everything will be right.

The light we long for is either present, here, now, or it isn’t powerful enough for all that we face.

In another strange twist, we don’t run after the light. The light finds us. We look around, and see.

leaving darkness © Jack H Thompson
leaving darkness © Jack H Thompson

God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace. Luke 1: 78-79

Each time His light flashes into our lives, illuminating the way like a crack of lightning, our certainty grows. Over the years, every experience builds our story, within His story.

Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. II Corinthians 3: 16-18

So if the darkness is pressing in, if your road is through the gloom, even through the valley of the shadow of death, don’t lose heart.

I’ve heard his voice. I’ve seen the light enough times to know it is there, even when I can’t see it.

At times, we have to sit in the shadows, wait for the story to play out. But in the fullness of time, he will appear. Watch for the light.

We couldn’t be more sure of what we saw and heard—God’s glory, God’s voice. The prophetic Word was confirmed to us. You’ll do well to keep focusing on it. It’s the one light you have in a dark time as you wait for daybreak and the rising of the Morning Star in your hearts. II Peter 1:19 The Message

What kind of darkness has pursued you?
How have you been surprised by the light?