Today, much of the U.S. is observing Veterans’ Day. Except those of us that work at a private institution. Le sigh. But, work is not without the interwebs, so I am broadcasting from my desk (not on company time, of course).
Today, I’m thinking about heroism. It’s a fitting subject as we remember those who protect and defend us, who can be called upon to fight for our freedom. But there are other fights we face, too. Some fight the injustice that poverty brings, some fight oppression. Some fight for the earth, some fight for their families. And some fight because there is no other choice, and they do it with grace. Here is where my hero comes in, my father.
My father is not tall, he’s not really what you would call handsome or charismatic. He’s just your typical accountant that lives in the condo next door. Sometimes talks a little too much, maybe laughs inappropriately, wears holey tee shirts and likes plain fast food burgers – the small ones. But, he loves God and he fights for his family.
You see, years ago, he left my mother. My mother was no saint, either. Co dependency and mental illness would drive almost anyone away. He left her with three children, one barely out of diapers and another with special needs. As the divorce proceeded, the one with special needs, my sister Becky, left to live with him. I don’t remember too many of the details about this, but I do remember that, as a 4-6 year old these were hard years. Screaming phone conversations, fearing my mother while simultaneously craving her approval, a mostly absent and sometimes vindictive father, a much older sister who had her own struggles turning into a teen.
Things calmed down by late elementary school for me. Remember that codependency? It resurfaced when I was in junior high. At that point, I think I was happy that my parents were talking civilly again. And that mental illness? It developed into a much worse problem: my mother started having seizures. She was hospitalized following a car crash. We eventually moved back in with my father. There are rough patches, but life at least looks normal. Except that one time when the neighbors called the cops, but I don’t want to think about that.
At this point, my mother and I were attending church (I was baptized when I was 11) and my father was not. Sure, on Easter and Christmas, but he would always leave during Silent Night. Running. Sometimes with tears. As a teen, I was quite embarrassed, but now I know that God was working, working. Showing him his need for redemption. I don’t know exactly what he was thinking, but it hit him hard.
Fast forward a few years, my father comes into a little money, buys a condo, and I go off to university. Sure, they got all the fancy stuff when I move out. Danggit. My parents, still divorced, are attending church together, and my father begins to pursue Faith and Love like never before. It actually gets him excited to read those awfully dry theology books. At least they’re about redemption. And so, Redeemed he became. He decided that it was right to remarry my mother, and did everything in his power to make it right. He went to counseling, instituted rules about their relationship, tried and asked and tried and asked, trying to restore what he partially destroyed. Finally, in the summer of 2005, they were hitched for a second time. I cried. My sister cried. My other sister cried. God changed their hearts so that they would be married. What was torn, God had made right. It was a beautiful sight.
And it all fell apart again. Not their marriage; that was strong. The seizures got worse. The medications stopped working. The doctors pushed for brain surgery. Brain surgery. Needless to say, my mother was scared. Her fears were not unfounded, as that surgery was the beginning of the end. There’s a lot of detail, so I’ll just give you guys a quick rundown: lots of different anti-depressant/bipolar medications; she begins to break bones due to osteoporosis; she develops anxiety; begins to talk about suicide and is hospitalized 3-4 times in the psychiatric ward; moves into full time nursing care at the age of 63 because my father can no longer care for her.
So, we come to today, four years later. My father is drained, physically, mentally, emotionally, financially. It’s hard to maintain friendships that are not family ties with weight like that. Both able bodied daughters are too far to help. Siblings are either dead or estranged. There’s one distant cousin with whom we spend a lot of holidays. But, my father never waivers in his faith. He never really becomes angry. He faithfully attends church and helps out with communion. He still laughs. He helps his daughters and delights in his grandchildren. He wishes he could do more. His spirit, though weak, still glows. He is pressed but not crushed, struck down but not destroyed.
And he still fights. He fights because maybe someday, my mother will wake up out of her haze and become new again. Maybe she won’t. But, because he has chosen obedience to God in marriage, that’s a cross he’s called to bear, whether he likes it or not. He bears it with grace, I think mostly because Jesus bears it right along with him. It is only through Him that my father has maintained his humor, his grace and his love, and has enough left to give to others.
And, that is why he is my hero. He may not lead a group into Africa to dig a well, he hasn’t written bestselling books, he didn’t fight in any wars, but he loves and cares for his wife who cannot do the same. He fights for the goodness in her, nearly headless of the toll it takes on him. He has been transformed and through his circumstances, it shows. Without adversity, how do we know we’ve changed for Christ?
You know, sometimes life hands us things that we don’t want. Obedience doesn’t always bring peaceful circumstances. A friend posted on facebook today, “In the end….it is our walk that defines who we really are in life.” Sometimes it’s not what you do in life, but what you do with it that matters, because sometimes, you have no other choice. And, I look at my father, my unassuming hero, a man with no other right choice, and I see a man that, on that fateful day of Judgment, will be welcomed into the kingdom by the Lord saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”