In Good Hands

In Good Hands

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith

In Good Hands

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear;
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

~John Newton

The phone rang early. Hal, my husband, answered it before it rang again.

“Yes?” he said. “Oh... I see.” By the tone of his voice I knew it was the phone call we’d expected and dreaded.

We’d watched Hal’s father, Harold, grow weaker since his heart attack in January. Dad’s bypass surgery eight years earlier had given us far more than the five years doctors had promised. Then Dad experienced several smaller heart attacks. His lungs began filling with fluid. Doctors had reached the end of what they could do for him in the hospital and transferred him to an extended care facility.

With his needs beyond what care we could give and because he lived an hour and a half away, the most we could do was visit him as often as possible. Since we couldn’t help him physically, the best care we could give was to care for his soul.

Hal and I had become Christians fifteen years earlier, and we wanted to share our faith with his family. His mother, Grace, had taken Hal and his brothers to church when they were young, but his father never went. Grace quit attending after Dad’s first heart attack. Did she stay home to make sure Dad was okay after his quadruple bypass? Or had his heart attack shaken her faith? I didn’t know.

“Give us an opportunity to tell Dad about you,” I prayed to Jesus. “He must decide whether he will take you as his Savior, but please don’t let him die without a clear opportunity to respond to you.” I had prayed similar prayers for years, but when Dad became sick my urgency increased.

Hal hung up the phone. “Dad died at 3:30 this morning.”

“Lord,” I prayed silently, “did he have the opportunity I asked for?”

Hal and I had both looked for that opportunity to tell Dad about Jesus, but we saw none. With each visit, Dad seemed less willing to talk to us at all. He just stared at the television. When we tried to start a conversation, he pressed the “up” button on the volume control. The more we tried, the more he increased the volume. The urgency I felt inside increased as well.

We asked a hospital chaplain to visit Dad. He did. We asked our own pastor to visit. He made the trip. A pastor from Mom’s church visited too, but the result was always the same. Up, up went the volume on the TV. I didn’t know what else to do but pray.

And now Dad was gone.

According to my faith, those who accept Jesus Christ as Savior are ensured an eternity in heaven with Him. However, those who refuse this gift of salvation spend eternity separated from God. I still hoped somehow God had answered my prayer and had helped Dad understand, but had He? I didn’t know.

We buried Dad in the veterans’ portion of the cemetery. Mom, a veteran of World War II herself, made her own final arrangements at the same time. But none of us knew how soon she would need them.

The week after Dad’s funeral, she started showing signs of illness. One day, a neighbor found her on the floor, incoherent. Doctors diagnosed Mom with a cancerous tumor in her stomach plus lymphoma. She was hospitalized and we resumed the endless trips to visit.

Mom was too weak to live alone, and her sons discussed their options, each offering to care for her. But it became clear her needs exceeded what any of us could give. The best we could do as her caregivers was to let professionals help. She moved into an extended care facility. The chemo weakened her so that she didn’t speak anymore. She began having small strokes, then a major stroke. And there we were, the week of Christmas, laying Grace to rest beside her husband.

We invited everyone to gather at our home that Christmas. As we quietly celebrated the birth of Jesus, I not only wondered about Harold, I also wondered if Grace had a true understanding of Jesus Christ. How I wished I knew.

The new year dawned, and we all felt emotionally and physically drained. Nevertheless, the work of dealing with Harold and Grace’s estate lay before us. Each of us sorted, separated, donated, gave away or sold their belongings. We fixed up their home for sale, painting inside and out. Finally, six months later, Hal and I set the few remaining items in the driveway for one last garage sale.

Neighbors, Christine and Alfonso, stopped by. “You know, we visited your dad in the nursing home,” Alfonso told us.

“No, we didn’t know that,” Hal said.

“One afternoon I told Christine, ‘We need to go see Harold.’ We went right then. When I walked into his room,” Alfonso said, “his face lit up! He was so happy to see us. So I just started telling him about Jesus.”

“Really?” Hal asked, glancing at me.

“Your Dad said he wasn’t ready to go,” Alfonso said. “I told him, ‘I’m not saying you’re going to die, but we all need to be ready.’ I explained to him about Jesus and then asked if he’d like to ask Jesus to be his Savior. He began to weep and said yes, so I led him in a prayer.”

“We had no idea! When did this happen?” I asked, incredulously.

“Well,” Alfonso thought for a moment, “he died early the next morning.”

“I prayed with your mother, too,” Christine added. “When the ambulance came for your dad, I stayed with her. I asked her if she was sure she’d go to heaven when she died and she said no, so I prayed with her so she could be sure.”

“Your parents are in heaven,” Alfonso declared.

I know.

~Dianne E. Butts

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