"...'Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.' When He had said this, He breathed His last." Luke 23:46b (NIV)
This story is a little different than the others that I have already written but it is no less praiseworthy. Any time that God teaches us something in the midst of great trial and heartache, it is nothing short of miraculous.
I had never watched someone die. Sure, I had seen it on TV but I had never seen it face to face. The two are very different. It can be very difficult work to help someone die - even someone who knows and loves the LORD. I have had that experience.
From the first moment that my Dad was diagnosed with cancer, I was by his side. Through surgery, appointments, chemotherapy, radiation... everything that I could possibly be there for, I was. It was important to me and it meant a lot to my Dad. The diagnosis of cancer initiated a whirlwind of investigation and planning that plunged us into a road trip to the Mayo clinic for surgery. I was five months pregnant and working a new job. It didn't look like I could go. I was torn. When my husband and I decided it was more important to be there, we drove through the night and got to my Dad's side just before they wheeled him into the operating room. My Dad looked at me and said, "I knew you would come." I needed to be there and Dad needed me.
Over time, as Dad's condition worsened, I began to look to the day when Dad would leave us - when he would die. It became ever so important to me that I would be there to hold Dad's hand as he breathed his last. When Dad was confined to a hospital bed in their house and time was so valuable, I spent my days and nights in a big easy chair beside his bed. Every word that came from his mouth was so precious to me. I didn't want to miss a look, a squeeze of the hand, a kiss... I was there.
I don't know what I expected of death. I think I expected it to be peaceful. That's how it's usually portrayed. The dying person just closes their eyes and goes to sleep, right? That's not how it was for my Dad. His body was riddled with cancer yet his heart was strong. Dad was covered by a blanket up to his waise yet I watched as his feet then his legs grew mottled. I labored to keep his arm and then his hand warm. For what seemed an eternity, Dad fought for every single breath. It really was a fight. His whole body worked in desperation for air. It was agony for him and for us. Each breath took so much work. He looked gaunt. The battle had taken its toll. I begged the LORD to take him home, yet it took time. With those short, ragged final breaths when there was lengthening pause in between, you wondered if each was the last - and finally it was. I had been there - holding his hand.
There was one last thing to do for my Dad. One last act that I could do to say "I love you." I helped was him and dress him to be taken away. It was important to me. I won't tell you about the events of those next few days right now. That's another tale and a tale of God's wondrous mercy and blessing but I want to tell you that God never wastes a heartache. He always works for us, in us and through us in our times of greatest trial.
I gained invaluable insight that day. As I watched my Dad die, my thoughts were drawn to the cross where Jesus lay down His life for me. It wasn't pretty or easy. It was a desperately hard work. No man before or since ever suffered so much. No one has ever bore so much in death. Jesus bore our sins so that we wouldn't have to. He hung on that cross, laboring to breathe, body broken - alone. I had been able to be by Dad's side - Mary watched from a distance and Peter had disowned Him. I held Dad's hand and worked to ease all possible discomfort. Jesus was offered vinegar for His thirst. He felt abandoned. His cry... "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:34b) Dad was surrounded by those that loved him. Mark tells us that those who passed by hurled insults at him, others mocked him, and those that crucified him also heaped insults on him. My LORD paid the ultimate price... for me.
I have a new appreciation of the cost of my salvation. True, it is just a glimpse. I can never know how much my redemption from sin cost but I am thankful for the glimpse. May I remember it often and proclaim it boldly.
"But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him..." Isaiah 53:5a (NIV)
"He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed." 1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)