My Dad’s Blanket: A Lesson in Suffering and Humanity

For the last two years of his life, I watched as he grew weaker in both body and spirit. His once gregarious personality withdrew as his energy faded. He suffered. And for those of us who loved him, it was equally painful to watch his daily agony as he declined.  His days were filled with prescription bottles, injections, breathing treatments, and countless reruns on Netflix. He became confined to his bed, unable to venture out. He longed for home, to be with Jesus. 

It all felt very unfair. This man, who raised me, who had served in ministry and missions for so many years and who had touched so many lives, wallowing in the agony of a slow death and longing for eternity. 

He died in a broken body. It was not the story of the saints who go out praising the Lord.

He died weary worn and frail. He didn’t die with a great amount of dignity. He could no longer make it to the bathroom by himself, he cried out in pain, his eyesight was failing, he shivered in the warmth of summer, he exhausted easily but sleep was often elusive, his mind was cloudy and his memory diminished.

He could no longer enjoy the plethora of exotic and strange foods he loved.  I still can’t pass by cow tongue, octopus, ox tails, or menudo in a market without sighing in remembrance.

It was not a glorious affair. He died in weakness and imperfection.

And I knew his weaknesses well. We were so much alike and we were often at odds as we mirrored each others shortcomings. Instead of having grace for him in my teen years, I was repulsed by his humanity. This great missionary who was gifted with understanding, wisdom, and insight, was in reality so imperfect. And I judged and blamed him.

When I became a mother myself, with a son who is so much like me in my weaknesses, I finally appreciated the complexities of parenting.

How we desperately  love our children and how often we fail in spite of it. And I understood his love for me. The love a father has for his daughter.

My dad and I getting to know each other

I would go sit in his room, by his side, and talk to him. He would share stories of his life, as if grasping at better times. His internal thermostat had been deeply affected by his infirmity and he was always cocooned in the electric blanket my mom had bought him. It was as if his very soul had grown cold in the frigid environment of suffering and I longed for him to be warm again. 

And when he was at last absent from his body and at home with the Lord, we grieved, but not as those who have no hope. And the flood of condolences came pouring in. The fruit of my parents work in faithfulness and obedience, written out in words of thankfulness and appreciation for the man my father was. And there were so many, spanning years of ministry. And I realized the legacy he left, not just in my brother and I, but in the lives of so many touched, healed, redeemed., and inspired.  That willing and obedient outweighs the flaws and imperfections every time.

My dad is the white guy.

Isn’t that what grace is for? Isn’t that the gospel, the covering of our imperfections in his blood, making these empty vessels full of Him? Suffering carves a place out in us, and it’s in that hollow born of emptiness that He comes to fill us. 

My dad was used by Christ not because he was perfect but because the imperfections pointed to a redeemer. And my dad was used mightily, of that I have no doubt.

My dad was asked to stand in for the father of the bride in this Nepali wedding of a former sex trade worker rescued by their friend Sheela’s ministry. A great honor in their culture, especially for a white guy.

As I lurch through this fleeting season of illness and my body feels weak and impatient for health, as my self-pitying tendencies emerge like a vulture’s vicious  curved beak and talons looking to  rip me apart, as I am tormented by deep body chills,  I nestle deep in my dad’s old electric blanket and feel the warmth embracing me like the strong hug of a father who loves his little girl. And I realize I am enveloped in abundant grace and mercy. 

In my daddy’s arms.

God uses the poor in spirit to prove His mercy. He uses the sick to demonstrate that these bodies are dying a bit more every day and we are not home, and the longing for healing and wholeness may not come on this earth or in these broken vessels but He is at work, especially  in the suffering.

On a side note, I have great pleasure in picturing him at the Lord’s banqueting table eating all the foods he loved and which we often thought were really gross but which made him amicable and accepted so readily in cross-cultural missions. I miss my dad, but I know we will be reunited in eternity.

Comments

  1. says

    Touching post, Alia. I am sorry for your loss. It brought to mind my own dad’s death, and while his physical suffering lasted only six months, his body was just as destroyed and it was indeed so very painful watching. While I loved my dad, I don’t have the blessings of sweet memories as you do for my dad struggled greatly with alcohol after enduring a childhood of torment. I pray he found peace at last…thanks for sharing.

    • Alia Joy says

      Thanks Sheila. I am sorry for the loss of your father as well. It’s always painful to watch someone we love suffer and even more so when someone has had a life of suffering as your father had. All I know is that we serve both a merciful and just God and I pray you find comfort in that. Thanks for sharing your story as well.

  2. Sarah says

    Beautiful post Alia! I was just looking at pictures of him with the girls the other day. It’s crazy because, I grieve the loss of him in this life, yet I rejoice in the life that was well lived and that he has been welcomed home by our loving God and is living it up in Paradise!
    Your parents have always been an inspiration to me and an example of living for what truly matters, living for eternity, for spreading the gospel no matter what the cost. How great their reward will be! I know they have seen some of the fruit of their labor here in this life, but I know that the fruit they have seen here will by no means touch the magnificence of the joy and reward they will receive in the next life! “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” Matthew 19:29

    • Alia Joy says

      I know, I think I’ll have to crash at their place when we get to heaven, but seriously, I am so proud to be their child and I know that growing up me and Jordan didn’t always see it but they have left us a legacy that you guys are passing on to your kids and Josh and I are trying to pass on to our kids.

  3. says

    Thank you for sharing your words! I am slowly watching my daddy’s health decline, but it is a different sort. He has alzheimers. He was a pastor for over 30 years and has also left a huge legacy. He wrote down every sermon he ever preached and I have them all! Such a gift in this time. He was always full of words and now we just talk about the weather. I am so thankful that this is not all that there is!
    All that to say- thank you! (Are you sure you need a better writing challenge?!! :) )

    • Alia Joy says

      My grandmother had alzheimers and it is such a painful disease for those who end up holding all the memories. What an amazing blessing that you have those sermons and that the legacy left to you is such a blessing even though I am sure it is so hard right now. And yes, we have eternal hope which brings us peace.

  4. Karen says

    I just happened upon this post and I must say it was a very moving post. Thank-you for sharing such a touching story to the world.

    • Alia Joy says

      Karen, thanks so much. I’ve been stewing on these thoughts since he passed away last year and I finally felt ready to write it.

  5. says

    So very touching, Alia. I am very thankful to have known your dad and entire family in general. I have good memories of you and your parents having dinner with Steve and I and our green plastic chairs. I made fruit salad (what else?) and he was just happy yo be having fresh fruit. No ox tail that night. ; )

    • Alia Joy says

      Yes, only my mom made him ox tail soup and we avoided some of his more “exotic” tastes although we are all adventurous eaters. Thanks Kathi, I don’t remember the chairs but I will always love your fruit salad. :)

  6. says

    Well done girl! I really enjoyed reading your “perspective” and getting to know you a little better. I am so excited to meet your dad someday. He sounds like a wonderful man. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree from what I can tell! Very touching and well written. Good job!

  7. Regi Thomas says

    Brief as it was, Steve left a lasting impression in my heart and was an elder brother. He has left a legacy and often have good memories of our times together. Thanks for posting this Alia.
    Regi (for Rose and the boys as well)

    • Alia Joy says

      Regi and Rose, Thanks so much for leaving a comment about my dad. He spoke of your family often and I know that even while he was here with us, his heart was always in India. I know he missed it so much and told me so many stories of all the people that he knew and worked with during their time there. I appreciate that you were a good friend to him and the memories you had while he was there. Blessings to you and your family.

  8. Tamrah T says

    You have such a gift of emotion. Every time I read your words, I feel where you are…and I am so edified by all that the Lord has and is working in your life! Lord bless.

  9. Ruth Hagenbach says

    Alia, it was beautiful to read your words. I think we all miss the full impact of having a good dad here on earth… but I know that when they belong to the Lord they pass on the greatest thing of all… coming to know that knowing our Heavenly Father is the most important thing and learning to live our lives as his children… I know my Dad passed that on to me. We did not always agree on things, but one time my dad totally surprised me and told me that I did not seem like a daughter but like his sister. I was about 20 at the time… that felt special. So glad to know we will meet our Dads in Heaven and I am sure they are doing what they love there… talking to people and worshiping the Lord. Love you and praying for total healing for you.

    • Alia Joy says

      Thanks. Your dad (grandpa) was one of the most godly men I knew and I was so blessed to have him as my surrogate grandpa. I like to picture them together in heaven :)

  10. shan says

    Alia,
    Moved to tears. I love your gift with words. In light of reading the book you gifted me with over the last few days…. this story somehow just adds to all that I have been soaking in. I never met your dad… but man he must be so proud of you!
    Honored to know you, my friend!

    • Alia Joy says

      Thanks Shannon, I am glad you are soaking in the book. It’s life changing in many ways and was a catalyst for me on this journey. Thanks for your encouragement and friendship. I’m blessed.

  11. Rick Engel says

    Hi Alia, I just wanted to tell you again what an amazing blessing your dad (and mom!) have been in our lives. Your dad was a “hero” to me – and a dear friend who was able to minister grace in a particularly hard time in my life because he had experienced the grace of God in his own suffering. It was a pleasure to minister together for a season.

    You are a gifted writer and we so enjoyed reading your reflections. May the blessings of God rest heavily upon you and your family in the months and years ahead.

    Rick & Heather Engel and family

  12. Leasa says

    Alia, Thank you so much for your beautifully written words about your Dad. So many memories and fruitful years. Wow, how we laughed and laughed! And some really powerful holy moments in God’s Presence.
    I was missing Marlene and came across her FB page and then saw this post. I hope to read more of your work. Grace and Peace to all ya’ll. Leasa

    • Alia Joy says

      Thanks Leasa. She’s not on Facebook very much but she is all “mom” posting my writing.lol There are so many memories, from so many people. He is missed. Blessings to you as well.

  13. says

    its pretty cool the way our perceptions change when we become parents….i love the realization that he was used because of his imperfections and not his perfections…so true that…a wonderful tribute to him as well..

    • Alia Joy says

      Thanks Brian, It is amazing how much I realized when I became a mom myself and saw how different it looked through my own attempts to parent. I saw that the humanity is the gift. I cruised around your site as well and loved how you spin words into amazing pictures.

  14. says

    this touched me so deeply, friend. you captured life and heart in your words. your father has such kindness in his face, and you were such a cutie! may God fill you with the peace that comes from knowing your father waits for you, with open arms.

    • Alia Joy says

      Thanks Emily. That means a lot to me. It was cathartic to write about our relationship after he passed away, to remember him as he was, both imperfect and perfected in a way. Your post from your dad was very special as well. I can’t wait for your book to come out. I love to read your words.

  15. Jo Inglis (@Piano_Jo) says

    Thanks for re-posting this Alia & I appreciate the fact that you have written about the relationship difficulties. We are entering the season of decline with my Dad & He & I experience similar relationship difficulties, which are inexoriably entangled with my depression (he knows just which buttons to press!) I can forsee a bumpy ride ahead but your words give me much hope.
    Thank you x
    “Suffering carves a place out in us, and it’s in that hollow born of emptiness that He comes to fill us.”

    • Alia Joy says

      Jo, praying for peace and wisdom as you enter this time with your father. I know that during the end of his life, my father was difficult and frustrating at times, but God gave me those last few years to really practice grace. To extend it and to be blessed in the process. I look back on that season and although it was extremely trying and tough, it was a time when God was showing me the extent of my own judgements, areas that needed to be forgiven, things I needed to forgive and the chance to walk out my faith in the midst of it all. Serving him and loving him at his weakest, most vulnerable time. Praying for you. Have hope, friend.

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