Strength for the Battle

 

My dad died in the strength of God, even though that strength eluded him most of his life.  He loved Jesus. But a thousand times my heart was broken, aching for my father to win his battles, watching as he lost. But at the very end, in his weakest hour, Daddy found strength to win his final battle, kindled by the glory promised for so long.

Daddy was not unlike many in the church: intimately familiar with Jesus’ coming to save him from his sin, but a stranger to the divine purpose of Jesus transforming his soul. Intellectually and emotionally rejoicing in Jesus, Daddy wept profusely over what He had suffered on his behalf; but Daddy had difficulty reflecting his Lord in the day of trial.

The power that came to save him was also meant-to-make-him a new creation. We are supposed to become something that never before existed until we receive Christ.[i]  The power of God does not just come to forgive our sin; it comes to transform our souls.

2 Corinthians 3:18
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory…

Scripture is showing us a spiritual dynamic here–the effect of beholding His glory.  As we gaze steadily into the revelation of God–into what He is saying and doing–we are bathed in glory. This dynamic holds true not just for some, but for all.  Glory transfuses and suffuses us, transforming us into the likeness of the One we are beholding. “… we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

Saved in his sixties, joining a church for the first time, throwing himself into the study of Scripture, my father soon became a favorite adult Sunday School teacher challenging his large class. Daddy’s salvation was real and his gratitude was enormous. At his baptism, he described the strong consolation of his tragic childhood: when he would lose himself in the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, dreaming of one day becoming like Lancelot.  Standing before the congregation that night, his voice choking with emotion and tears streaming down his face, he declared that he had finally found his King and The Round Table of The Kingdom he would serve for the rest of his life.

If passion and poetry could draw God’s power down, my dad would have been mighty in God. But sentimentality does not give the power of God the ground of our soul.

The ground of Daddy’s soul was given over, instead, to an ironclad need for control. Wounded from childhood, his deep insecurity drove him all his adult life to the stronghold of control. His fury over the injustices he suffered as a child continued to spill over as an adult, with a deep need to hold others accountable, driving him to prosecute perceived wrongs. He was easily offended, feeling contempt as he nurtured mental arguments fostering unforgiveness. This colored the air we breathed, suffusing my sister and me as we grew up… coloring our souls as well.

This said, my dad was also beautiful. His thoughts and reflections were like glistening jewels lifted out of water, streaming in the light. He was heart-piercingly eloquent, gifted in his use of words, tender, emotional, passionate, fierce.  I am so very aware of how like my father I am–which has driven me to my knees. I am so very grateful for the gifts that passed from him to me, but as to his weaknesses. . .  I would rather die than break the hearts of those aching for me to win my battles, but forced to watch me lose.

All of this explains why I feel such anger and sadness when I look out upon the church and see the power and presence of God too often eluding us. Scripture indefatigably declares that we are meant-to-be different than this. But transformation depends on beholding the glory of the Lord… with an unveiled face.

There is a veil that keeps us from beholding His glory.

2 Cor 3:15-16
until this very day … the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christto this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

What is that veil? It is comprised of the false arguments our enemy constantly speaks into our thoughts… untruth and strategicly false insinuations blinding us to the truth. Our enemy blinds our minds (2 Corinthians 4:4) to keep us from beholding the glory.

But that veil is taken away when we turn to the Lord.  What does “turning to the Lord” look like?

 

Step One of Our Transformation:
Intentionality, turning to the Lord, choosing Who we will serve  

When Daddy became extremely ill, I flew to his and Mom’s side every few weeks to walk that holy ground with them. I saw the effect of Daddy’s turning to the Lord.

Even though he was a Christian, adversity had always aroused Daddy’s ire, making him difficult. In his mind, there was always an argument that validated his irascibleness. But in his sickness, faced with the solemn absolute of his approaching death, those arguments lost priority. Daddy became intentional about Who he would serve. Initially he struggled with the dire prognosis, but a moment came when Daddy (a military man at heart) suddenly saw the road before him as his assignment from his Commander, and he determined to walk it out like a good soldier. It was a moment of revelation. And, as Daddy gazed steadily into what God was saying and doing, he was infused by the strength of God that had so often eluded him.  He was deeply different: never once complaining, having no trace of self-pity. I witnessed courage in my dad like I had never seen before.

In the most humiliating moments of critical care, my once proud father was so humble and accepting that it tore my heart out.  Laying my head in his lap, sobbing, I told him that in these most demeaning conditions, I saw a nobility in him I had never seen before.  Tenderly stroking my hair, he replied softly, “Darling, dignity has its own source.”

Whatever the former arguments had been, that kept Daddy from beholding and reflecting his Lord’s glory, when he became intentional about walking that road, the veil was taken away. The beauty of character shaped in my father was the greatest gift of those days….

But my father’s mortal enemy was not happy.

 

Step Two of Our Transformation:
Union with Christ, holding onto the word, The Morning Star rising 

Union with Christ depends upon two things: recognizing and responding to the word of God coming to find us… the divine dialogue unfolding in our circumstances.  Union with Christ is consummation of our relationship with Him, in which we experience His moving on us and we respond to Him in turn. There is a reason that the Greek and Hebrew  words describing the knowledge of God in Scripture are the same words describing the physical union that takes place in marriage.

It was a Sunday afternoon, when I prayed that God would tell me when to fly back to my parents, so I could be with Daddy when he died. The strong thought, “Wednesday,”  shot into my mind.

I landed late Wednesday night and spent all day Thursday with them quietly. Daddy slept most of the time. Mom was exhausted. I learned that she yearned for a day away with me: to steal away to Greenville, to see their old home, to have lunch at her favorite café, to strengthen herself with the beauty and familiarity of that place she still loved. So I wrapped my arms around my mom and we made the date.

Daddy’s pattern was to sleep through most of the day. So Friday morning Hospice sent a sweet lady to sit with Daddy while he slept, and I drove my mom the hour to Greenville for lunch.  But our lunch had to be aborted. Daddy had suddenly awakened confused and frantic, sure that we had been abducted. Mom had promised him months before that she would never leave his side, and He took it literally.  He couldn’t imagine any reason she would leave him, so we must have been kidnapped. He tried to call the police. He fought the hospice lady, thinking she was part of a conspiracy. She could not calm him down. The moment she called, we raced home.

Daddy shook with rage when he found out that I had taken his wife away from him…when he was dying…. for lunch in Greenville.

Angry and offended, controlling hostility took over in him. Mom was weeping, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” as he turned a ferocious eye on me … telling me to leave his room, that he didn’t want to see me. It was awful.

My heart broke and a dam with it, flooding the ground of my soul with helpless frustration and hopeless despair.  I struggled with how unfair this was, burning with my own anger. I was not angry with Daddy, but furious that yet again his “stuff” was ruining everything–especially now, when it hurt more than ever.  We all have our demons. Daddy’s were mocking the fragile life and beauty that had been shining through him. Mine were hurling fear into my heart, telling me that “Daddy was going to die and Jesus was not going to make any difference.”  No light was getting through that veil.

Daddy was succumbing to the same lines of reasoning that had always twisted and tormented him.  And I was succumbing to unholy despair as I watched his mindset take him down into the miry clay where no human reasoning could reach him. My nemesis, Self-pity, took over as I fell asleep sobbing, “it’s not fair.”  And I wasn’t referring to just Daddy and his demons… I was indicting my Lord as well.

In the middle of the night, I awoke suddenly with a clear picture in my mind of Michael, the archangel,  and Satan contending for the body of Moses. [2]  Springing from a remote verse in the book of Jude, that picture spoke to me. Downstairs my father’s body lay still and close to death, and I knew that God was using that verse to tell me that my dad was being contended for. The contention was over how his last days would go. I understood that we had not been abandoned, but that a battle was taking place. As I held onto that word, it eased my heart, giving me strength in knowing that He was there. He was moving on me, and I was responding to Him longing for the union that would transform me.

2 Peter 1:19, NAS
So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 

Peter wrote this when he knew that his death was imminent. The young church was in peril on every side, torn by strife and unsettled by uncertainty as to what was coming and when.  With the deep concern of a father, about to be taken from his children in duress, Peter wrote this letter to serve them in his absence. He was telling them how they could find union with Jesus Christ, to be strengthened for the battles that lay before them.

“So we have the prophetic word made more sure.”  The prophetic word was the promise of The One who would come to right all things and save God’s people from their enemies.

Knowing that the darkness of suffering and persecution was coming, Peter was teaching them to hold fast to the prophetic promise of deliverance, to gaze into its light like a lamp in a dark place, until the day dawned and the morning star arose in their hearts.

It is a spiritual principle: As we hold on to the prophetic word, paying attention to its light, the dawning of the day comes, as the morning star arises in our hearts. Peter was describing how we come into union with Christ with its inner transformation. When the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts, the power of the night is broken and the enemy loses all power over us.

When daybreak came, I went in to see Daddy. He was as angry as ever.  I left him, walking into the kitchen to my mom. I recognized my total helplessness, but I didn’t feel helpless.   This warrior-like energy was burning in me and I was suddenly possessed by the fierce need to pray… to pray the picture I was seeing in my mind.

I saw a blue star [3] shining high and far away.  And then I saw a shot of light come down from that star striking my dad, infusing him with strength. I saw my father, like an ancient knight weary to the bone, standing before a dragon. And when that beam of light suffused him, he found the strength to raise his arm one last time, bringing down his sword to slay the dragon. With tears streaming I cried out passionately, asking God to send a word to my Dad, to send a message that would give him the ability to win his last battle.  It was half prayer, half decree flowing fiercely from me. But I was not making it up.  I was praying what I saw, knowing that this was what God was guiding me to pray.  It was union with Christ. The morning star was rising.

 

Step Three of our Transformation:
Dying to What We Are After

A short while later, the doorbell rang.  It was Courtney… My daughter had flown from Georgia to Pennsylvania, to get to her grandfather. She arrived totally unexpected, on a mission, hugging us briefly but intent on one thing… to deliver a message to her beloved grandfather.

Bending over him, Courtney’s tears fell on his cheeks, their eyes meeting in the intimate intense union of the love between them.  And then my daughter began to sing over my father  … the song God had sent her to sing.

 You are my hiding place, You always fill my heart
With songs of deliverance, Whenever I am afraid
I will trust in You, I will trust in You
Let the weak say I am strong In the strength of the Lord
I will trust in You

As Daddy looked into Courtney’s face, her song and tears spilling over him, he was suffused with joy and wonder.  He was gazing into the prophetic word, as unto a lamp shining in the darkness. I watched as his desperate lifelong need for control began to give way. I could see him melting under the influence. But he was still angry at mom and me.

I was clinging to the promise, but I was still being attacked by cruel thoughts being hurled into my heart.  “You’ll watch his tender good-bye with your daughter, but it will be denied you.”  I collapsed inside about then. I gave up and just accepted as best I could whatever would be. I determined to be a good soldier too, no matter how unfair it was, no matter how much it hurt. I would accept it.  Having Jesus was enough.  I died to the good-bye I was desperately after.

The three of us were trying to coax Dad out of his agitated angry state, trying to reason with him, when the point of a recent sermon suddenly came to Courtney’s mind. She shared the core message–that in relationships we all reach an impasse, but when we come to that impasse, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I here to make a point, or am I here to build a bridge?”  My dad heard.  He recognized and responded to how God was moving on him.

Union with Christ. The veil taken away. The dawn came. The morning star arose in his heart. Healing poured forth. In my father’s hearing, something of God entered him, and he was able to die to what he was after.  With big tears streaming down his drawn face, his voice strong and clear, my dad said, “I choose to build a bridge!” With those words, the aged knight lifted his arm with a shout,  bringing the death stroke to that which had bested him all of his life.

Turning to mom and me, his eyes held instantaneous forgiveness. He cradled my mom in his arms, blessing her with the tenderness of a lifetime of passion and impending loss, but with a sense of completion.

Wordless tears gleamed in Courtney’s eyes as she bent to kiss her grandfather goodbye. And then she was gone.  Only my mom and I understood what had just transpired . . .  the answer to my prayer that morning in the kitchen.  Courtney was already well on her way to us, when I had prayed for God to send a word to strengthen my father in his last battle… But the outcome, his hearing–recognizing and responding to the word when it came– still hung in the balance.

 

The End of all other authority power and rule

When I returned to Daddy, he pulled my hands to his heart, his face filled with adoration, his emotion strong for a body so weak. In humble eloquence he poured out his love and respect for me… It was a holy moment, in which my heart broke with gratitude.

Then Daddy closed his eyes and slept.  Sunday morning he asked for Morphine for the first time. Monday morning he left his body and leapt invisible upon unseen air  … strong and whole and right… a knight belonging to the holy order of the only King who is worthy…. Whose triumph continues to fill my heart today. [4]

Daddy and I had lost a lot of battles over the years, being hopelessly ensnared by the arguments that gained their foothold in our ancient wounds and deep misgivings. But this time, when it was more important than ever, we did not give up on God; we did not abort the victory He was always desiring and able to give us.

The Lord never stops contending for us. God is always moving on us, drawing us into response to Him so that He can achieve union with us.  He sent the word to go to my parents that Wednesday, the verse from Jude, the pictures we saw in our minds, a granddaughter’s song, the keynote from a sermon. Every word came at just the right moment to fulfill its predetermined purpose as He choreographed our deliverance.

Hebrews 1:3, Amplified Bible
The Son is the radiance and only expression of the glory of [our awesome] God … upholding and maintaining and propelling all things [the entire physical and spiritual universe] by His powerful word [carrying the universe along to its predetermined goal                          

He is doing the same for you.  Be intentional, commit to the process of being brought into union with Him.  Ask Him to help you recognize and respond to the divine dialogue unfolding in your circumstances. . . His powerful word propelling the entire universe to its predetermined goal … 

Believers in Jesus Christ, it is time. It is time for us to find strength for the battle, to allow Him to bring an end to all other authority power and rule over the ground of our souls…  in union with Him.

 


[1] Kris Vallotton, from a sermon on False Prophets

[2]  Jude 1:9
But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”

[3] The blue star…. I’ve never explored the symbolic meaning of the blue star I saw that morning in my mind, until I prepared this message, doing an internet search.

I learned that there is a flag flown by military families, in which a blue star represents a service member in active duty.

I learned that the reference in the book of Numbers to a star speaks of Jesus.

Revelation 12 speaks of stars as angels. Stars also indicate church leadership. Stars guide people.  Stars are mainly connected with the light Christ brings, angels and leadership.

The morning star precedes the day, and symbolizes Christ bringing the gospel light. It also symbolizes the Spirit illuminating the hearts of those who have accepted Christ, as suggested in 2 Peter.

Revelation 2:26-28To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end … I will also give the morning star.

 Revelation 22:16I, Jesus … I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.

 2 Peter 1:19: … until the day dawns, and the morning star rises in your hearts.

As a former student of anthropology, I have always been fascinated by the phenomenon of symbolic language running like an underground river though time, culture, and history communicating to men in all places and times meanings and messages that come from beyond ourselves.

[4] Stanley Payson BlishApril 29, 1925 – February 23, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. Susan Baldschun says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Valerie.

  2. Martha Wolfe says:

    Valerie, this is one of the most heart tugging things I have read in years. It is so personal, so transparent, so real….even as I recall my Daddy’s last few breaths and then a death rattle. I was there at his bedside, and when his spirit left his body I believe he saw me there though no final words were exchanged before he went to heaven. I came in his hospital room just two minutes before his final changing of pasture.

    Please tell your Mother I said hello. It was my joy to meet Courtney and your Mom. I send dearest love to you, Valerie. I am so glad the Lord saw fit for us to do life together, if even for a short time.

  3. Mary says:

    Thank you, precious friend! Your words so eloquently written are touching my heart and deepening my understanding of things that are so personally (and corporately) meaningful to me. Love you

  4. Seth Barnes says:

    Wow – what a powerful reminiscence. There is nothing so stirring as the imminent death of one’s parents. And to be there in the middle of such a struggle for your dad’s heart, must have been overwhelming.

    I love the way you’ve rendered those scenes with words that seem like paint on a canvas – words forming a poetry to match the passion of the moment.

    Thanks for sharing this intensely personal scene from your life, Valerie.

  5. Christy Miller says:

    Dear Val, just got to read your post on your Dad’s last few days. So sorry for your loss but so happy for your Dad. I feel the same about my father who died in his sleep in 2012. You miss their seemingly larger than life impact but wouldn’t call them back from their happiness of being with the Lord. But you are blessed to still have your Mom.

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