Three surprises awaited me last week.
First, a glorious home-going for a man who spent his entire life proclaiming the forgiveness, love, and hope available to every person in the world, through a personal relationship with Jesus. The second, an unlikely and unintended tribute to my Dad. And finally, venomous words from a bitter, angry, and hate-filled person. I was brought to tears and grief by each event, all happening within four days.
Wednesday morning, I opened my iPad while sipping coffee. Immediately, the news of Billy Graham’s passing was in front of me. As soon as I saw the dash before the 2018 under his name, my heart sank. I pored over social media for confirmation, knowing all the while, it was true. He was gone.
At the age of seven, at a Billy Graham Crusade in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I asked Jesus into my little heart. There was standing room only at the crusade, right up to the platform. People could not come forward so I stood to signify my decision. I didn’t want to go to hell and he said I could avoid it by asking Christ into my life. Later, in my teens, I rededicated my life to following the footsteps of Jesus day by day, not just for fire insurance in the next life.
I didn’t understand why I was crying so much over Billy’s passing. He was finally home, completely whole, vibrant in every way. Now joining his wife who had gone before him. He was getting answers to his life-long questions. The mysteries we cannot fully know until we stand in the presence of God. I sent condolences to the grieving family. After all, he was their Daddy, Grandfather, Brother, Cousin, Uncle and Friend.
A few days later, I received a letter with a surprise related to my own Dad’s passing. It brought justice I didn’t know I needed and a layer of healing I longed for. A public tribute to my Dad’s existence on this earth. It would have made him smile in a way he never could in this life. There are some things only God can do, and this was one of them. The impact could not be removed or lessened by anyone. It would forever fade the abuse I took after he left.
I wanted to share this with the woman who sat at my Dad’s hospital bedside with me and four of my siblings, when he took his last breath. I called, asked the usual “How are you doing,” and “What’s keeping you busy?” I wished her a belated happy birthday and proceeded to explain the wonderful surprise. Then, the unexpected happened.
It spewed out of her mouth. Hatred, thick and fungus-like. Bitterness crushing my ears and anger pounding at my heart. I’d heard about this woman’s hidden rage but now was experiencing it first hand. Initially, out of pure shock, I held my tongue. Then, knowing I could not penetrate her layered attacks, I kept silent. Disbelief served to calm me, and I allowed her to continue for fifteen minutes before ending the conversation with a kindness she did not expect.
I was surprised by the words, “I HATE” articulated in front each of my sibling’s names. Surprised to hear her say my Dad never wanted any of his children near him in the end. Even more bold was the blatant accusation that I had tried to kill my father on his death bed. It took me a while to pull the arrows out. I started to believe her words could rob me of the precious memories she had been part of. The fact is, this too was a tribute. But it didn’t belong to me or my Dad.
Billy Graham would be the first to say his life was not about himself. I would agree and so it is with that understanding I continue.
Both Billy Graham and this woman were broken sinners in need of forgiveness. Both created by God. Given time, gifts, abilities, and the opportunity to choose.
This woman chose to carry all the pain this life has to offer until it could do nothing but spill over the sides of her life. She was enslaved by her circumstances.
Billy chose the freedom that surrender brings. Surrender to his Creator, Savior, and coming King. He invited us to do the same.
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yolk of slavery.” ~ The Apostle Paul (Galatians 5:1)