I write this story with permission. At his wife’s request, his name is withheld, and so I shall call him “John.” This, I think, is fitting, for it hearkens back to another disciple and true friend of Lord Christ. Yes, I think it fits.
A king went Home last night. Not born of royal blood in the lineage of earthly kings, they full-adorned with crowns, encased in palaces of gold; no. Not him. In the way of the world, he was a peasant, a humble man, living and dying unknown. In the real kingdom, though, which some of us know, he was a king.
I learned about his life and legacy from his daughter, a beloved friend of mine. Like my own special Cub, she was the caboose that came along at the far end of the Crazy Train. When we met, she seemed to me to be happy, confident, bold. She adored her parents, and they adored her.
As our friendship deepened, she began to share with me her epic battle with fear. For years she had lived in its grip and had suffered. Then came the Light that showed her its roots, and the warrior in her rose up to fight. And fight it she did from that solid, sweet base of parental love.
I recall listening in wonder when she told me about her father. “We always knew he loved us,” she said, “but he didn’t use words or physical affection to show it.”
It was at an advanced age that her father, “John,” read a book called *The Blessing. Its message struck him to the core, and that good-hearted man began to change. He started expressing his love with words, speaking affirmation and blessing to his children. He began expressing his love physically with hugs and kisses on cheeks, and though it felt awkward at first, he persisted. Kept doing it until the awkward became the norm, and the norm became the happily expected, and that family of his learned to love it.
What struck me about her account was the age at which “John” had changed. In spite of the old, ingrained patterns he’d always used, his heart had quickened when faced with truth, and he embraced it. That one decision to do it differently–and to keep on doing it–changed the culture of his family. It altered their course for generations.
But back, now, to my friend and her battle with fear.
In recent years, I’ve pondered long on the meaning of I John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect (mature, complete) love casts out fear because fear has to do with torment. He who fears is not made perfect (mature, complete) in love.”
What occurs to me in I John’s light is that it isn’t so much faith that’s the opposite of fear, but, rather, love. It is love that casts out fear. This is true for children in a happy home, is it not? After all, what is there for a child to fear who is wrapped securely in love? Who trusts its parents completely? There’s no need for fear, not in the face and space of such love, and it was from this holy place that she battled, my friend. With that love at her back, she fought hard, and she won. Her courage and freedom are striking, and her father, I know, led the way.
As “John’s” death became imminent, what happened was pure beauty. Because of his years of investing in relationships, planting love, speaking blessing along the way, he reaped the sweet, sweet fruit of his labors. Over and over as he lingered, his sons and daughters, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, and grandchildren gathered around his bed. They prayed. They sang. They laughed. They cried. They hugged and kissed him and each other, and, once more, they received his blessing.
Against all odds, he lingered. For days, he hung on, and on a recent day, I got this text. “Dad wanted to renew his marriage vows with Mom last night…It was a special moment. He was so, so happy! Kept his eyes fixed on Mom. He wasn’t able to repeat anything, but his eyes were speaking volumes. They sealed it with several kisses and us clapping. Dad smiled for a long time afterward. He’s still showing us how it’s done. Amazing.”
And this. “I know we’ve all released him. But I think he loves us so much, he’s the one hanging onto US.” And then this, “The nurse thinks we are correct, that his life purpose was being the best husband and dad he could be, and he is finding it hard to leave us–particularly Mom. Over and over, we have reassured him that we will take good care of Mom and (*__).
“He said he didn’t want to go without Mom. He was crying…feels like such a ripping away when you’re soulmates. It’s heart wrenching to watch it happen. I was mentally and emotionally prepared for dad’s death. What none of us were prepared for was how painful it is to see them be pulled apart. It’s like the Notebook kind of love. It cannot be adequately described or explained.”
Late last night, he made the crossing, slipping from their hands into the nail-scarred Hands of Love. In the Kingdom of Heaven, he now stands tall, leaping, running, singing, and shouting glory on streets of gold. He is, I am sure, keeping watch by pearly gates for the love of his life, his queen, and for the family they made together.
His story proves, not human perfection, but the extravagant grace of our loving Lord who can transform a heart of any age and station. If Love could grip such a one, then it can transform you and yours. It’s not too late. “John” has shown us the way. Walk with me?
*The Blessing by Gary Smalley and John Trent