I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. John 10:28-29
A Terrifying Ride
I was in elementary school when Mom, Dad, and I went to Myrtle Beach for the first of many family beach vacations. One evening we ventured to the amusement park, home of the Swamp Fox, a towering wooden roller coaster. I must have been eight or nine at the time, totally unaware of how it felt to ride such a thing, so when Dad suggested Mom and I get in the front seat, I went for it. Being first is a big deal when you’re a kid, plus I would have a great view of the park, right?
My dad’s mischievous grin should have given me a hint regarding what awaited, but Mom and I climbed aboard when the coaster rattled into the station. The first few rises and falls were manageable, lulling me into complacency, but then we began to climb. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack. Higher and higher we went. The Swamp Fox reached the peak and then paused briefly before plummeting at a rate that left me gasping for breath. What little air I had escaped my lungs as uncontrollable screams.
I grasped the slender safety bar inches in front of my lap as if it were the only thing that stood between me and certain death. At my age, I did not understand the forces playing on my body as we hurtled toward Earth. Instead, a firm conviction permeated my being – surely, if I let go for an instant, my body would catapult out of that seat.
Traumatized and terror-stricken, I vowed I’d never get on another rollercoaster! I kept that promise for ten years until another vacation found us at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. I stood by one of the coasters, listening to the screams of riders as they sped over and around, up and down. Were they exhilarated or terrified?
Determined not to let rollercoasters get the best of me, I asked Dad to join me for a ride. I can’t say I enjoyed it, and I don’t remember how much or little I screamed, but I had the satisfaction of conquering a long-standing fear. Even so, I didn’t plan to ride one again, ever!
Back on Board
Despite my long-ago proclamation, I’m in the front seat of another rollercoaster, this time an emotional one, as Dad’s declining health becomes increasingly fragile. Highs and lows, twists and turns that mimic those of the iconic rides, have filled the past few weeks.
Dad has been sleeping more and eating less. He spends most of his time in bed, doesn’t talk much, and rarely looks at his newspapers, something he’s always done. But last Tuesday night was a different story. He ate his dinner and sat in his recliner while we visited. When I left, he was reading the comics and watching Sports Center.
What an improvement! I almost skipped to my car. I couldn’t wait to text the good news to my kids.
My heart was still singing a happy song of praise the next day. And then, barely 24 hours after I exited Dad’s apartment, I got a call that he’d fallen. He didn’t have any injuries, but his blood pressure was precariously low.
I went to check on Dad and await the arrival of the on-call hospice nurse. After he examined him and took his vitals, Chris said, “I’m sorry we have to meet under these circumstances. I’ve seen people rally, but given your dad’s extremely low blood pressure and slow, erratic pulse, I’d say he’s nearing the end.”
I replied stoically, “Considering Dad’s recent decline, I can accept that, especially since he’s pain-free and not in distress. I’ve prayed he won’t experience the same torment Mom did in her final days.”
There would be no skipping to my car that night. Despite my brave words, it took me a long time to go to sleep. When I finally drifted off, I tossed and turned, plagued by troubling dreams.
Dad’s vitals improved over the next three days, and he resumed eating. But this morning, the buzzing of my FitBit jolted me out of a deep sleep. Dad had fallen again. Paramedics with him assured me he hadn’t broken any bones but needed me to confirm his wishes not to go to the hospital. I did so emphatically since I promised Dad several months ago when his hospice care began, that I would do everything possible to keep him out of the hospital.
Secure in the Father’s Grasp
Up and down, back and forth. I have no idea what will happen next. The uncertainty takes a physical as well as emotional toll. Not only did my tracker alert me to the incoming call, but it also captured the effect it and the news I received had on my heart as my pulse rate shot up from a restful 50-some beats per minute to nearly 100!
Though there are times when I feel like screaming, tears have become my emotional safety valve. Sometimes, I’ll sniffle intermittently throughout most of the day. I’m losing my dad bit by bit, and, to borrow a phrase one of my daughters used when Mom was slipping away, my heart is breaking in slow motion.
Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, clickety-clack. How high will the car climb? How steep will the plunge be, snatching my breath and elevating my heart rate? How many times can you prepare yourself for the worst?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, but nothing surprises God. I’m clinging to the same assurances I held on to when Mom’s earthly life was drawing to a close – God is faithful, His mercies are new every morning, and His grace is sufficient (Lamentations 3:21-24; 2 Corinthians 12:9).
Though there may be times when I feel like I’m free-falling, I know God is holding Dad and me safely in His grasp. His grip is more secure than any safety harness on any ride. Eventually, this rollercoaster will come to a stop. Until then, I will pray for wisdom and strength to help Dad as he makes his way Home.
O Lord, I am powerless against this great horde that is coming against Dad. I do not know what to do, but my eyes are fixed on You. Thank You that Your children are never out of Your sight or beyond Your reach.