A Special Christmas Memory
Scene 1 October, 1978. A shopping center parking lot in Indianapolis, before stores opened. The place I chose for an extended quiet time with the Lord.
Having recently resigned an associate church staff position, God’s Spirit convicted me of pride, and the need for a more others-centered ministry in my next vocational role. With grave sincerity and through tears, I pleaded, “Lord, give me a servant heart.”
Scene 2 Late November 1978. My dad, 59, was rapidly declining due to kidney failure. I spoke with his physician from the V. A. hospital in Durham, North Carolina. “Your dad doesn’t have long,” he insisted. “Perhaps just a few weeks. Besides, your mom desperately needs some rest and could use your help.”
Totally bedridden, dad didn’t want nurses or orderlies taking care of his most intimate needs, such as emptying his bedpan and cleaning him.
Scene 3 December 2-4, 1978. Friday, I flew to Durham and rented a motel room, where mom could rest. She’d been trying to sleep for weeks in his hospital room. For three nights, I took her place in dad’s room. During the day, we took turns caring for him. A bad plague of diarrhea exacerbated his need for mundane assistance. Throughout those three days and nights, he repeatedly called for the bedpan.
Though physically helpless, dad’s mind was clear. We enjoyed numerous chats about life and my future ministry plans.
Scene 4 Near sunrise, Monday December 4, 1978. A few hours before my return flight to Indiana. In all my 29 years, I couldn’t remember feeling so weary. At least hourly throughout that last night, dad called for the bedpan. I felt numb, listless from lack of sleep. My head pounded. When I finally fell asleep just before daylight, again I heard, “Son, I need the bedpan.”
That was the last straw. Though I loved my dad fiercely, I silently thought, “No! Not again!” Selfishness marked my attitude. I wasn’t moved by compassion for dad’s discomfort. I was annoyed by my own discomfort. But as I lumbered the few steps to his bed, I heard a clear, out-of-the-blue whisper from God’s Spirit: “Terry, I’m answering your prayer. Remember that servant heart you prayed for?”
When I finished the cleanup, that’s the time dad chose to look at me and say, with heartfelt gratitude, “Son, I’m sorry you have to do this. But you are even gentler with me than your mom. I really appreciate your coming.”
I leaned over toward dad’s face, smiled, and said with all honesty, “It’s a privilege to serve you, dad. I love you!”
Be careful what you pray for.
Dad entered the presence of Jesus on Christmas Day, in the same room—ironically, with me asleep in the chair beside his bed.
At first I thought, “No, Lord—not on Christmas Day. Why did You take him today of all days? Now this holiday will forever be tainted by the memory of his passing.”
Then God’s Spirit reversed my thinking. “What better gift could I give your dad than an end to his pain, and welcome him with open arms into My forever presence?!”
Before I told the nurse on duty that dad had died, I whispered, “Merry Christmas, Dad.”
What is your favorite Christmas memory?
Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America. His current books in print are Serve Strong: Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and Now That’s Good A Question! How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund. His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”
Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical depression and other mental issues.