The Tough Task of Loving Others Just as They Are
My father arrived on our doorstep in KY in 2004. His excuse for coming was that he needed my husband to repair his computer. He quickly announced that he wished to move to KY and asked that I assist him in locating a house.
Now, the man at my doorstep, I never really knew. I did know he was a smoking, drinking, cursing stubborn guy who wanted to move into our mostly Christian community.
He saw a house just two blocks from our home. The next morning there was a knock at our front door at 6:00 AM. We drug ourselves out of bed and found my father at the front door again. He handed me a check and said, “Go buy that house down the street. I’m going back to Alabama and I’ll be moving in two weeks.” Astonished and still asleep, we began a journey of six years of really becoming family.
His return came with a flurry when his moving truck got stuck under the local bridge at rush hour. It took a local train company’s machinery to get the truck dislodged. We knew that all of our lives would be changing, we just weren’t sure exactly how.
With God’s help, we learned to love him just as he was, but that didn’t mean that we didn’t also set healthy boundaries. In fact, he was told, “If you get arrested we won’t bail you out.”
In 2005, my dad began a long series of health issues. After two weeks of sleeping at his home, I knew it was time for us to sell our houses and move in together. This was a huge step for all of us. We never preached to him but we prayed at meals and loved him. He often reflected as we ate together that these were the happiest years of his life.
My dad carried deep hurt from my mother, which he expressed through anger. But one evening, as I walked by when he was in the family room watching TV, he asked me to find their wedding picture and put it on the shelf by the fireplace. As I placed the photo, Dad began to tell me how he had forgiven my mother. Then, he further astonished me by announcing that he wanted to be buried next to my mom.
The morning after Christmas dad became very ill. He endured ICU, a rehab center and finally a nursing home. He always teased us that someday he would have a death-bed conversion. Even though he laughed about this, I always thought it was a good possibility.
While at the nursing home our next-door neighbor dropped in to visit him. Part way through the visit, she suddenly asked him if he would like to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He replied, “Yes” and she prayed the Sinner’s Prayer over him. It seemed that he was returning to the faith that all of his family had shared. I knew his mother had spent many years praying that my dad would stop cursing, smoking, and drinking and return to his faith. Her prayer was finally answered.
On the evening of his death, his neighbors from Alabama came to visit. He sat and he retold his entire work history, from driving 7-Up trucks through his years until retirement. While he was sharing, I remarked what a character he was. I was startled when he replied, “Well, that’s just how God made me.” That’s when I knew that his death-bed conversion was solid.
In closing, hear these words. Acceptance and forgiveness do not come easily to most of us. Our natural instinct is to recoil in self-protection from those who do not fit neatly into our box. We don’t naturally overflow with mercy, grace, and patience. But, loving others just as they are is often the gift that helps them to heal and accept Christ.