I called my aunt eariler this week. Tuesday, I think. Uncle Don would make his final trip to the hospital that day, but when I called, he was still at home and she was about to go run errands...things like buying him more of those Boost drinks, since that was all he could stand anymore. But I had to do something I had never done for my father, something that had bothered me for almost 10 years. So I called.
See, I really began to come into my faith in September 1994. I had been raised in churches all my life, but it wasn't until September 7th, 1994 that I think I was really and truly saved. It was after that date that I see the change in my life. Not that suddenly everything was OK, because it wasn't, and in some ways, life actually got harder. My great-grandmother, a woman who had always been dear to me and my greatest defender, had died the month before, and the last time I would see my father's face in his life was just a month away...not that I knew that at the time. But I know I changed that day. School started a day later than usual that year; our schools didn't open until the Tuesday after Labor Day, but that year, we were another day later than that for Rosh Hashana. We weren't Jewish, and I can barely remember any of my friends that I remember as being Jewish...the school board decided we all got a pass, so it happened that the first day of my Junior year in high school was a Wednesday that year. Anyway, since I'd been in the school for two years, I already had my designated place where I hung out at lunch everyday, and the first day I picked up just as if I'd been there the day before, and headed off that way. That would be when I noticed a scared-looking freshman. High school can be an overwhelming place in general, and the layout of our school certainly didn't help things...so I detoured to go see if I could be of any help. Later I ran into a guy I'd "dated" in 8th grade and the beginning of 9th...until he'd actually used the "If you loved me, you would..." line on me. He gave me a note...well, a letter really, that caught me up on his life from that day...and thanked me for refusing him. He said I'd been a real witness to him. I hadn't said no to him so I could show him the love of Jesus...to be honest, I think I was afraid of sex by that point...afraid of getting hurt. But it had been a witness to him, probably in those long nights of deep depression he talked about before his son was born. I'd meet his son later that week or the week after. Anyway, that night, at my church youth group, I remember my youth pastor talking to us...and I realised, possibly for the first time, that God had a plan and a purpose for my life. I realised that God was going to use me to reach those around me...and he could do it with or without me. I chose to go along with him for the ride. I prayed to give God complete control of my life (not that I didn't stumble on that point, not that I don't still stumble to this day), and I honestly believe that was the day I was truly saved.
Anyway, as I said, this was September 1994. February 23, 1995, my father died. It was a car accident, and I've been told that his neck was broken and that his aorta may have ruptured. He was declared dead on the scene...and they told me that meant he probably never knew what happened. He didn't suffer. He was just...gone. My sister declared God awful for taking her daddy away, but I just clung to the promise of Lazarus in John 11. Not that my Daddy would walk out of the grave and suddenly be alive (though I certainly would have loved for that to happen), but that the God I choose to serve has the power over death, and when I got to heaven, I'd see my Daddy there. Alas, this is where the heartache and guilt set in; for all the wonders of my new-found faith, I realised I had never really shared it with him. Those summers we stayed with him, he always took us to Vacation Bible School, we went to the Methodist church where he'd worked, but I'd never made it a point to tell him about the new hope I'd found. It didn't matter that my father was this terrifically wonderful man. It didn't matter that he was one of very few people who'd ever gotten it through to me that I was loved. I sincerely believe (and still do) that mine is an exclusive faith; You must recognise you have a problem, namely, that there is a high standard for "earning" heaven, and every single human on earth falls way short of it (since no one is perfect, and that's the stamp they check for at the door, so to speak), then you must admit that you, by yourself, can never overcome this problem (you can't make yourself perfect), then you must recognise that not only does God exist, but that He lovingly provided THE only way back to Him, to heaven, in the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. You have to recognise that only the death and resurrection (yes, He rose again!) of Jesus Christ are capable of getting you to heaven, of covering all your imperfections so that, when you get to heaven, all they see is Christ's perfection. You have to repent, or turn, from the futility of trying to find your own way to heaven and follow God. You can't be good enough, no amount of good will ever outweigh the bad you did in your life. Only a confession of your inadequacy and God's sufficience can save your soul.
See, for all the ways my Daddy was a good man, I didn't know if he'd ever figured that point out. I didn't know if he'd ever been told the truth, and if he'd ever really taken the opportunity to be saved. And here, I had figured this part of the truth out, and I didn't share it with him. And, unlike his parents, who are mormons who believe you get a second chance after death, I don't believe that. See, the way I understand the Bible is that you get one life, and if you don't get it in this life, you don't get another chance to figure it out when you die. There is no Purgatory to work off your sin, no re-incarnation, no afterlife baptism. This life, this trip around the sun, is all you get. So I lived for almost 10 years wondering if I could have done better...if my father is waiting for me in heaven, or not, and if I had actually told him, would that have changed. I recently asked my mother, who knew him in those first years of my life (they got married 9 months exactly before I was born), in those days when he left mormonism and converted. She said that he had made such a profession of faith in those years...and that was what I needed to set my heart at rest. I don't know if he meant it when he said it, I don't know if he ever really sold out to the God who gave all for him, but I know now that he had been told truth...he knew what it took to get to heaven.
Anyway, I told you all of that to explain why it has been so important to me to have called my aunt before my uncle died. See, my aunt is still very close to my grandmother, who is still a devout mormon. My aunt comforts herself with the idea that if we futz things up in this life, we can fix it all in eternity, after we die. I don't know what my uncle believed. I never really knew him that well. I mean, I remember him as my uncle all my life, but even when we lived closer, we didn't go visit very often. And my aunt adores me, so she tells people about me all the time (as evidenced when I went up in July for a brief overnight visit and people I had never met and others I barely remembered shared with me how often she sings my praises), but Don and I never talked much in those times. But no matter how well I knew him or not, I still wanted to offer him, offer Kathy, what I had never given my Dad. I still needed, for his memory, for the sake of their own eternal souls, to tell them this truth. I called them Tuesday, and I still don't know what he did or didn't know before he died. But when I called Tuesday, I shared my witness with her. I told her that I truly believe that, without confessing a faith in Jesus Christ before death, you don't get to heaven. Did Uncle Don know that before Thursday night? I don't know. But I had to try to tell them.
My Aunt Kathy loved my Uncle Don. He loved her. She had a very hard time when her baby brother, my Daddy, died. I can't even begin to imagine how hard this will be for her. I just hope that she places her faith in the one who is longing to carry her through it all. I just hope she finds God sufficient.