From my front row seat

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Lessons From an Old Junkyard Dog

Throughout his lifetime my father in law broke his back, accidentally cut off a finger, and even lost an eye.  All separate incidents.  He was like an old junkyard dog - tough as nails and nothing could knock him down.  None of this, however, kept "Bink" from being a master woodworker right up until he died at the age of 90.

Clay and I were married for nearly twenty years before I really got to know his father.  We saw him on birthdays and major holidays with spur of the moment visits scattered in between.  He always had a dry sense of humor and made ugly, snarky remarks, which we usually found amusing.  Little did we know, he was not actually joking.

Our lives turned upside down the minute Clay's mom collapsed in the McDonald's parking lot from a severe, debilitating stroke.  Her recovery took many long, dreadful months before returning home.  But she was not our biggest problem.  It was her husband.

From that day on, Clay's dad became our daily problem to solve.  This began as soon as we got up and continued most days until well past our bedtime.  He was stubborn, uncooperative, ungrateful, disrespectful, belligerent...the list could go on and on.  He had a way of stirring up trouble from a completely blank slate.  In two years' time we went through thirty-four caregivers because none of them suited him, or else, they broke up with him first.  According to Bink, they weren't pretty enough, they were bad cooks, talked too loud, or ate too much.  Some of this may have been true, but it became impossible to please him.  Im-poss-i-ble.

Naturally, one might assume he had dementia, which would explain his ugly behavior.  However, I observed on numerous occasions that he showed a much more charming side to select visitors (especially those from his church) and saved his worst side for those of us closest to him. 

I watched day in and day out as my sweet husband struggled to take care of all his father's problems.  But nothing he ever did was good enough and it rarely resulted in a thank you.

After months and months of this madness, I built up quite a storehouse of anger and bitterness.  "He can control it, so why does he just get away with it?"  Out of respect for my husband, I tried to control my tongue - so "turn and walk away" was the only plan I had - and I left the room a lot.

As if things weren't bad enough already, my father in law developed excruciating pain in his neck, which only made him crankier.  He was miserable so Clay and I made an emergency appointment to see his doctor.

Even though the doctor and nurse stayed after hours to see him, Bink slowly waddled in while barking, "WHY DON'T YOU PEOPLE EVER ANSWER THE PHONE AROUND HERE?!"

I apologized for his behavior and said, "Isn't it ironic that a Pain in the Neck actually HAS a pain in the neck?"  They both looked at me like I was a monster.  If they only knew.

Bink's neck pain only got worse.  He went to a specialist, no luck.  He went to a pain clinic and they basically said he had bone on bone from many years of abuse and there would be no relief.  So he continued to add this to his long list of complaints, which was endless.

We made frequent two-hour trips to see Clay's parents on the weekends and on one particular drive, as we traveled down the interstate, I began hearing God speak to me, loud and clear.  "I want you to pray with your father in law."

"Awww, man.  Surely not.  Please, no."

I argued the whole way there.  "We don't have that kind of relationship.  Besides, I'm so angry with him, my prayer probably wouldn't even take!"

By the time we arrived at the house, I was sweating bullets because I felt so much pressure to pray with this man - even though I absolutely did not want to.

On this particular day, though, Bink was extremely upset because no one had been able to make my mother in law's cornbread recipe the way he liked it.  That poor little ragged index card was worn out from all the caregivers giving it their best shot.  But he was insistent that today, someone was going to finally get it right.

Clay looked at me and I could see what was coming down the pike.  "Please...?"

"You know this won't turn out well, right?"  My father in law had been complaining that everyone made the cornbread too sweet so he wanted me to cut way back on the sugar.  Knowing full well that I was entering into dangerous territory, I eventually rolled up my sleeves and began looking for what I needed to make the stupid cornbread.

Working in someone else's kitchen, trying to find everything I needed, this project took about two hours.  I used less sugar than the recipe called for and took a deep breath.

As soon as the cornbread cooled enough to eat, Clay proudly served his dad a warm slice with a glass of buttermilk, just the way he liked it.  I had flashes of someone cautiously feeding a wild animal at the zoo.  The caregiver sat on the edge of her seat and looked a little scared.  We froze in place as he slowly dunked the cornbread into the thick buttermilk and took a big bite.

Bink immediately spat it out and yelled, "THIS ISN'T WORTH EATING!  IT'S AWFUL!  YUK!"

Well, that was the drop that made my bucket of tolerance overflow.  I grabbed my things, stormed out of the house and waited in the car until we could leave.  I screamed at the top of my lungs and pounded my fists on the dashboard.  Then for the long drive home, I spewed out all my frustration about Clay's dad through lots of tears and choice words.  I was so, so done.

The next weekend, however, I found myself riding down the interstate yet again, heading right back into the danger zone.  Again I heard, "You need to pray with your father in law," as if nothing had happened.

"Are you kidding me?  Did you not see the way he acted last week?"

This visit was no different from the others, except that it held less drama than the infamous cornbread incident.  I continued to fight the nagging feeling I must pray with Clay's dad.  It felt unnatural on so many levels.  Maybe God would forget about it. 

Hours later, as we were going out the door to leave, aware that I had not done what God asked of me, I turned and looked at my father in law stretched out on the sofa groaning from the pain in his neck.  Suddenly he looked different to me as if a veil had been lifted.

I laid my things on the floor and pulled a stool next to him.  I leaned over and asked if he would mind if I prayed with him.  He refused to wear hearing aids and usually couldn't hear me.  But this time he heard me perfectly and said, "Yes, I'd like that."

At that point it was almost as if I became just an observer because the most beautiful words began spilling out of my mouth.  It was a powerful prayer about great healing for his neck, comfort as he slept, and peace for his soul.

For a brief moment I saw him in a totally different light.  I saw that he was a great provider for his family, he had passed on valuable skills and strong work ethics to his child, and he had managed to raise a son who was a wonderful, sweet man.

Honestly, I was a little uncomfortable with the intimate moment but when I opened my eyes, I was surprised to see tears rolling down his weathered face.  Bink placed his gnarled, four-fingered hand over my own hand and said, "Thank you, Hun."

Several days later I realized we had not heard any more complaining about the pain in his neck.  Could it be?  Honestly, it had never occurred to me that he would truly be healed of this pain, but he was.  We never heard about it again.

Amazing.  Even through my gritted teeth and bitter heart, God was able to perform supernatural healing for the pain - simply through my obedience

We may not have women showing up at Blue Monarch missing a finger or an eye, but they definitely have chunks of their hearts missing and show signs of great pain and trauma.  Just like my father in law, they are amazing survivors, yet this can sometimes result in some of the same ugly qualities he had.  They may have run off lots of people who were trying to help them.  We may sometimes want to pound our fists and scream out of frustration.  And they, too, may have been told there is no cure for their problem, that they will be an addict for life.

However, I have seen over and over and over, that despite our occasional lack of faith, or our gritted teeth, when we are obedient, God is still able to perform beautiful miracles.  He can soften hardened hearts, heal addictions, and restore families in amazing, supernatural ways.  He simply needs us to say, "Yes," and He will take it from there.

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you."  John 15:16