By Karen O'Connor
"Karen, your dad has taken a downturn." This message from my husband was waiting for me when I checked into a hotel after a trip to the mountains.
Suddenly my joyful mood turned somber. I could sense the end was near. My father had been suffering for a long time and his decline over the past few months was apparent. I decided on the spot to go directly to the nursing home.
I zipped down the freeway, preoccupied with thoughts of all the ups and downs our relationship had undergone over the years. I was filled with memories--of the time he and I sang a duet at a Girl Scout father/daughter dinner! Of the time we rode horses together at a dude ranch in Arizona. Of the time he stopped talking to me for six months because we had some fundamental disagreements about religion. Of the time he and I prayed together for God's forgiveness. Of the time he held his first grandchild and then his first great-grandchild with the same tenderness.
I arrived at 1:30 that afternoon and my sister June and her husband Harry rushed in a couple of hours later. We joined our mother at Dad's bedside. He had slipped into a coma and could no longer squeeze my hand when I reached for his.
The head nurse entered the room, then told us quietly at the doorway that our father was in the final moments of his life.
I could barely stand to watch my father struggle so. Each breath was labored. Dear God, release him, I prayed. He has waited so long for the touch of your healing hand. I give him back to you, O Lord.
Suddenly a passage from Scripture came to mind. Quickly, I flipped to the Concordance in the back of my Bible and there I found the key word that took me to the verse I wanted.
In that moment, I had an entirely new understanding of what was occurring in front of my eyes. I read the passage aloud:
"I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14).
Dad was pressing on towards the goal! He was in the final sprint of the race of his life. Of course he couldn't squeeze my hand. Of course he couldn't turn and acknowledge our presence. Of course he was preoccupied with what was happening to him. And of course he was breathing hard and fast. That's what runners do--especially when they are coming down to the line. They press on towards that goal.
It was a private moment between the Lord and my father. And I had the privilege of observing it. My somber mood began to lift. Little tendrils of peace--even bits of joy--crept to the surface. I couldn't explain it. My father was about to die and I was feeling happy!
My sister and I kissed our mother and father good-night at 9:00, intending to return at 7:00 the next morning. Later that evening the phone rang. It was the nurse.
"Your father is gone," she said.
Reality. Finality. Dad had died.
He had crossed the finish line--and now he was in full possession of the prize for which he ran so long and hard--the call of God from above. What a moment--for us both. Praise the God who comforts us in grief by turning our mourning into joy!
"Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him" (Psalms 126: 5,6 NIV).
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Karen O'Connor is an award-winning author and popular speaker from Watsonville, California. www.karenoconnor.com
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