The pastor cleared his throat. "Your father has gone to be with the Lord."
Almost 17 years ago, my mom drove my dad to Pennsylvania to receive a kidney and pancreas transplant. I didn't know the severity of the surgery at the time. All I knew was that daddy was sick and the doctors were going to make him better.
And they did.
My dad had a successful surgery. Daddy was a juvenile diabetic, and for the first time since he was a kid, he didn't have to inject himself with insulin.
He had a successful surgery.
Two weeks later, on the night of New Year's Day, my older sister and I were sitting in the family room waiting to go to our next-door neighbor's house. My dad had been vomiting the night before, so my mom was getting ready to drive him back to the hospital where he had the surgery.
Something was wrong, but my parents did a great job at concealing that fact.
I remember nagging my dad all day about opening a bottle of Martinelli's to celebrate New Year's Day. Drinking Martinelli's was a family tradition, and I didn't want to break it.
Because of my nagging, though, daddy was annoyed with me. He was sick and trying to figure out what was going on with his body, and all I cared about was popping a bottle of sparkling cider.
I didn't know what was going on.
While my sister and I were waiting on the couch, I heard my mom scream from her bedroom. Since I was always a nosey kid, I tiptoed into my parent's bedroom to see what was going on.
I saw my dad lying on the bed and foaming at the mouth. My mom was hysterically crying and panicking, so my older brother called 911.
As soon as my mom could contain herself, she called our neighbor and told my sister and me to go next door immediately. We walked next door with our overnight bags thinking everything was going to be okay.
We were only at our neighbor's house for about an hour before we were told to go home. Go back home? Why?
I was confused.
As my sister and I were walking home in the dark, we saw multiple cars parked in our driveway. There were people all over our house, including the pastor of our church who was daddy’s good friend since childhood.
We were asked to sit down at the kitchen table. And that's when we were told the news ... our father was dead.
My sister started crying. My brother was crying. And I could hear my mom crying in the background.
Everyone was crying, except me. I never cried.
What's wrong with me? When someone you love dies, you're supposed to cry. I wanted to cry, but the tears never fell. Instead, I felt numb, confused, and guilty.
My dad was dying, and I was being a selfish 12-year-old who was relentless about having a glass of sparkling cider.
The Blessings of Death
The last 17 years of my life have been a wild bull ride. But, and I know this might sound strange, there have been huge blessings that came from my father's death.
My dad was a man of great faith, and his death taught me to take risks, live in the moment, spend as much time as I can with the people I love, and most importantly, trust God in everything I do.
One day after my dad's surgery, I remember having family devotions and my dad telling us that while he was under anesthesia, God showed him a lot of the mischievous things he did in his life.
He then apologized for anything he might have ever done to offend us and told us the importance of making things right before God because tomorrow isn't promised to anyone.
I distinctly remember that family devotion because it was the last one we had before daddy went to be with the Lord.
He may have died at a young age, but he left a great legacy.
"Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it."
- Proverbs 22:6
My dad's death taught me that our time here on earth is short. We have an obligation to carry out our God-given purpose so those around us can be infected by the contagiousness of the light within us.
I saw the love of God in my dad, and I never forgot the scriptures and lessons that he taught.
C.S. Lewis once said, "When we lose one blessing, another is often most unexpectedly given in its place."
One of the most unexpected blessings that came from my dad's death is my bond with my mom. She's literally my best friend in the world and the strongest person I know.
A Fresh Start
In this season of my life, I'm learning the importance of taking my problems to the throne instead of to the phone.
When we are grieving, hurting, and going through rough periods in our lives, our first instinct is to call someone who can empathize with us. And there's nothing wrong with that, but lasting healing comes from God and only God.
"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."
- Isaiah 53:5
You may not always understand death, loss, and heartbreak, but I want you to know that there's healing in the blood of Jesus. At times, we may not have the strength to move forward, but God offers His strength in exchange for our whole heart.
It's very fitting that my dad died on New Year’s Day, which represents the end of one year and the beginning of another. For some people who have experienced loss, it can be hard to celebrate the holiday season without loves ones. But for me, the holiday season always reminds me that even though challenges come our way, every day we can start fresh.
You don't have to wait for the seasons to physically change for your season to change. Today is a new day.
It's a new season, it's a new day! And by the grace of God, you can start fresh today.
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You were born to do great things. Start fresh today.
* Today's message was edited from its original post on 12/19/16.