Going Home

There are some messages we never want to receive. In our time they often come as phone calls; for earlier generations it would have been a telegram, a letter in a hasty scrawl, an out-of-breath messenger bearing the summons, Come as soon as you can, there isn’t much time. On the last day of November, my mother made one of those dreaded phone calls. To me.

My father’s liver, which for years had stumbled on in gradual decline, had fallen into an exhausted slump, spent. Other organs, already overtaxed from attempting to shoulder more than their share, wavered under the suddenly redoubled load. No internal klaxons went off to announce the change; unaware, Dad drove himself to a routine appointment, expecting to drive himself home again and get on with things. Whoever attended him saw the whites of his eyes were jaundiced, with his skin following suit, and he was admitted first to the hospital, then the ICU. That evening he and my mother were still thinking he would soon be on his feet, that this was just another early rumble along the fault line that would eventually—always some other day in the hazy future—bring about the big one. Morning brought another doctor and more details: the outcome of the next few days could not be predicted, but this was end-stage liver failure. Tears came then, and the phone call.

It had been a morning like any other for their son in Tennessee, but with a few tense words the ground shifted underfoot and the horizon swung round. I needed to go to them, and soon wasn’t soon enough. I rushed home and packed, but the earliest flight wouldn’t leave until late afternoon, and there was no way to make packing last so long. Hours remained and there was nothing left to do but wait and think and fear.

My fear was not just that Dad would die, but that he would die and stay dead. My father had been raised in a Catholic home, but had always been an atheist, as far as I could tell. He bowed the knee to no god, and there was no one in heaven he asked for salvation, or anything else. Dad had been a chemical engineer. He knew the little bits, the atoms and molecules that everything was made of, including himself, and that was enough for him. He’d heard the gospel from the rest of us any number of times, and was content to leave it in our care.

Now I sat with a full suitcase and a doubt-crowded heart. My father had ignored grace at every opportunity, and opportunities looked to be running dry. This might be my last chance to speak to him; what could I say that he hadn’t already heard? My mother had been tugging him toward the feet of Christ for more than forty years. My sister’s one wish, as she was slowly dying of cancer ten years ago, was that Dad would take her Lord for his own. Those pleas had not sufficed; what then could I say? Years of prayer produced no visible result. Yet I took to myself some measure of responsibility for compelling my father to accept Christ before it was too late, all the while asking God to give me the words and the time to speak them.

Dad was steeped in applied sciences; he had worked with compounds and formulas for thirty years. He knew the precision that was built into the fabric of the world, that it ran on organized principles. He was schooled in the exactitude and purposeful design it takes to reconfigure the raw material of that world—every element and atom accounted for, nothing haphazard in the lab or the processing plant. Surely an engineer could not fail to recognize the work of an Engineer? Dad was also an outdoorsman. He’d seen the proclamation of sunrise from a duck blind, and even more sunrise painted into the rainbow trout. The artistry of the feathers in the fanned tail of a grouse had not gone unnoticed. Had he been able to convince himself these things were accidental? How would I convince him otherwise? I jetted through the early dark of approaching winter, and felt in my hollows that he would be gone already when I arrived. That there would be no convincing to be done, that death would be a door locked behind him and keyless.

My mother met me at the airport to bring me to my father. I don’t know how long she’d planned to hold onto the news, but she only lasted a minute, and then it rushed out of her. Before I had even left home, while I sat wondering why decades of prayers had left God unmoved, God was answering those prayers. My father had asked Christ’s forgiveness and become one of His. Mom described how her former pastor had arrived by Dad’s bedside at just the right moment. She had been asking my father once more to put his faith in the work of Christ, and Dad was telling her that he was all right, that he had been “good enough” over his life. The old pastor, a fellow outdoorsman like Dad, was someone my father respected. In his measured, sturdy speech he told Dad that no one was “good enough,” himself least of all. “I’ve failed every day I’ve been given,” he said, “and every day stand in need of Christ’s love and forgiveness.”

“I need that,” my father finally said, and in a long-awaited prayer, he asked for it.

My mother and I laughed out our tears as the leaden weight I’d borne across four states dissolved into stunned praise. Why is it so surprising when God gives what we ask of Him?

Still thrilling with inward delight, I rode the hospital elevator to the ICU floor. I reminded myself not to be surprised by Dad’s physical appearance. As he’s aged, my mental image of my father has remained a hale and upright forty years old, a man in his prime. The picture stayed in place whenever I wasn’t with him, though he resembled it less and less when I was.

This time, though, he was an old man newly born. I approached the bedrail and he clasped my hand. His smile held the warmth his hand no longer could, as he told me “I’m going to be in Heaven with you and Mum and Morgan.” I don’t remember what words I gave him in return, only the feeling I meant them to give shape to. “I guess I’ve been a little stubborn,” he said ruefully.

The next few days glowed with a peace that couldn’t be overshadowed by medical facts and the details of a body’s failure. Pieces of information without context, often seeming contradictory, dribbled out of nurses and doctors. Numbers improved, medications were reduced, and my mother and I began making long-term plans for Dad to remain with us. Yet those hopeful dreams evaporated when new complications arose. Through the leap and plunge of expectations though, there ran a surety that all was and would be well. We reminisced, we talked of the future, and we enjoyed the moments as they were given. We loved and were loved. We said all those things we needed to say.

And still there are things I wish I had said. I wish I had told my earthly father more about my heavenly one. Dad was, in his old age, a spiritual infant. He simply accepted when his new Lord allowed his afflictions to continue and increase, and did not labor to understand why. Bedridden and bound up by half a dozen lengths of tube routed into various veins, he could not get comfortable, and rest eluded him. Feeding himself was difficult; managing other bodily needs unaided was nearly impossible. He had been emotionally at peace with dying from the hour he received Christ. Now, in pain and draped in the only-half-there hospital gown, fed by family and cleaned up by nurses, life by degrees became wearisome. Though every additional day with us was a gift, it came with a lot of fine print.

I wish now I had told Dad that this Jesus, into whose hands he has entrusted himself, understands what he’s going through. Though God, He knows what it is to inhabit a body that’s collapsing around him like a long-abandoned shed. He too walked through the shadow of death. From the beginning to the end, Jesus tasted of suffering and indignity. The One who raised fiery mountains from the sea and wove the aurora borealis had to be cleaned up, put in a diaper, and fed—holy humiliation and a sacred outrage, wrapped in homespun cloths and laid in a feed trough.

And the feed trough is appropriate; it is exactly right. Here in the huddled, too-vulnerable form of a newborn human is the only thing that can sustain true life, the Life that outlasts and knows not decay and death. Here in the wooden bin is the only provender we were designed to thrive on—not rationed meagerly, but in abundance astonishing. C.S. Lewis said “If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows—the only food that any possible universe ever can grow—then we must starve eternally.” The manger overflowed with a bounty that spilled across the world from beginning to end, and seven days before his earthen vessel gave way and reverted to dust, my father learned to partake.

A day after he came back to the house, Dad went on to his true home. His blood pressure bottomed out; breathing became a chore, then a fight. Yet again God answered prayer, another spilling out of grace in an extravagant week of gifts. As my mother asked God to ease his passage, Dad’s rattled breathing softened and his agitation stilled. His last minutes in the world where things still run down and stop were quiet and easy, and then he was alive in truth.

This is the beginning of my father’s story, such as I know it. The ending that is a beginning. Perhaps it’s more that I’ve fallen briefly out of his story than that he’s fallen out of mine. I will not walk again with him the wooded path behind the house, where the pines shed rusty needles and push out new green growth. When I catch him up, or when this frayed and tired earth is melted down and re-cast in beauty imperishable, on that road I will meet and embrace him. Then I will be the infant, and he will have grown indeed, so close to the One who is the source of every good thing we ever knew or imagined, bringing it forth from endless vaults of Himself. My dad and my sister—the wonders they must be immersed in already.

There may be days when the sky sags low and grey, when the chill wind feels ugly and the dried stalks of grass are coarse underfoot, and these hopes are hard to remember. I suspect one re-loses a parent many times over one’s life, as the absence gapes afresh both in little moments and momentous events. Certainly we all know families who have suffered tragedy amidst the holidays—those we ache for as we celebrate, those for whom the time of year becomes a raw wound as the pervasive joy of others scours their own loss.

Friends, I am not one of these.

For me this Christmas, more than any yet, brims with hope, with new life, with long-awaited beginnings, with resounding joy. I am thankful for those last sweet days to see Dad off, to witness the firstfruits of the Spirit already working within him, to meet the new creation he will be growing into forever. He has gone further up and farther in to the mystery we reach for during this season. Celebrate with me, the Lord is come.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

—Isaiah 43:19

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

—Revelation 21:5



  1. Deb
    Dec 27, 2017

    That was beautiful Matt. I did not know your dad but I do know your mom and she is a great lady. You two are so lucky to have your faith to see you thru..so many do not. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Nate Tester
    Dec 27, 2017

    Matt, what an awesome tribute to God’s faithfulness and your dad’s conversion. So, very happy for your Mom, Dad, You, and your sister.

    Very well written!

  3. Pastor Brent Danielson
    Dec 27, 2017

    Matthew this is Pastor Brent. This was an absolute joy to read. I am rejoicing with you in his new life in Christ Jesus! Thank you so much in allowing God’s Holy Spirit to guide your heart and words as you recorded these thoughts.

    There is a great reunion day coming!

  4. Kim
    Dec 27, 2017

    Incredibly well written and touching to heart and spirit!

  5. Brenda Smith
    Dec 27, 2017

    Beautifully written. You are surely gifted!

  6. Mike Thomas Spiridonov
    Dec 27, 2017

    Matt, what a wonderful story. My old man is up there with yours watching over us both. I always loved your dad and he and I shed a tear at my fathers funeral. I will miss him.

  7. Darlene Cyr
    Dec 27, 2017

    So proud of you my boy- as always! It was a Christmas season beyond all Christmas seasons. The year we received the SECOND best gift of all, we with our own eyes saw your Dad with Spiritually opened eyes see Jesus face to face. No better gift in all THIS world could be had! I love you my Son❤️!

  8. rick irvin
    Dec 27, 2017

    Such loss and grief as you share your journey. A blessing that you could share such intimacy with your dad, while giving support to your mom, and honouring Morgan. Holding you close….God Bless.

  9. Barb skagel
    Dec 27, 2017

    Matthew, I am barb slagel and I go to your mom’s church. She is one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever known. This tribute to your father is so beautiful. I never knew him but I will meet him in heaven. Thank you for sharing this. God bless you!

  10. Tracie Sindrey
    Dec 27, 2017

    Matt, what a beautiful testament to your strong Dad. His story is one of hope and victory and you tell it so beautifully. I am so grateful for God’s unfailing love.

  11. Sandy Jacobson
    Dec 27, 2017

    Words escape me as tears fill my eyes. So beautifully written and written with so much love.
    You need to continue your writing. I want to read more things! Love you! You have grown into a fine man!

  12. Vicki Strouse
    Dec 27, 2017

    Matt, I just read this post that your Mom shared on the church face book page. Your account of the last days with your dad is amazing! I am so sorry for your loss but thrilled with the fact that you will see your Dad in heaven one day. On a personal note, you are truly blessed with an ability to write. As I perused this heart felt memorial, I couldn’t help but think you, young man, should be writing for a living. I guess you could be, I don’t know what your occupation is, but keep at it, you are blessed. I am praying for you and your Mom. I lost my dad this year and I at my age feel robbed of time with him. I can’t imagine at your young age the loss you are feeling, but I know we serve a God that is more than enough to sustain. Sincerely, Vicki Strouse

  13. Dawn Toshack
    Dec 27, 2017

    Matt, what a beautiful re enactment of your father’s story. A story that will touch many.
    You have an amazing gift, in writing.

  14. Jenny Berry
    Dec 27, 2017

    I read this article tearfully, yet also felt wonderment and joy. I am familiar with the last week and your Dad’s end of life from your Mom Matt, but your thoughts and words, your metaphors made the time more rich, more real. This is a beautiful tribute to both of your parents. Beautifully written, thank you so much.

  15. Connie Holsinger
    Dec 27, 2017

    That’s so awesome Matt. You did a fantastic job. Your dad was a very neat and wonderful guy. I had prayed for him for years and had tears in my eyes when Curt told me that your dad accepted Jesus into his life. I will miss your dad but I know I will see him again. Keep writing.

  16. Curt McLey
    Dec 27, 2017

    What an inspired piece of writing. So good.

  17. Cathy Lewis
    Dec 27, 2017

    Your writing is a wonderful tribute to your Dad, Matt. Although his passing was a very sad event, your story is uplifting and inspires hope for the future in all of us. It is a well written and sensitive piece of writing.

  18. Lana Kantosky
    Dec 27, 2017

    astounding! You said it so well.

  19. Sharon Guitard.
    Dec 27, 2017

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

  20. Amber
    Dec 28, 2017

    Matt that was wonderfully written. I miss your sister and your dad so much but am very thankful they are together right now and we know we will see both of them again. We continue to pray for your mom and your family.

  21. Bernard (B. G.) Cyr
    Dec 28, 2017


    So very well written! The photograph at the top got me even before I started reading. I’ve been thinking about you all every day, particularly since my dad is going through his own health ordeal at the moment.

    Proud of you, “Cuz!”

    We miss him dearly; but, we remember him fondly!

    Lots of love to you, April, Sophia and Aunt Darlene!

  22. Barb slagel
    Dec 28, 2017

    Matt, too are a gifted writer. Your tribute to your father was so beautifully written. God has truly blessed you with this talent. Continue to use it for His glory. I would love to meet you. I love your mom!

  23. Carolyn Luper
    Dec 28, 2017

    I am in tears! What beautiful, glorious writing! I rejoice with you as you celebrate your father’s acceptance of Christ. This is a story that will give hope to many others.

  24. Maria Motoyama
    Dec 29, 2017

    Such a poignant reminder of what God alone can do: rescue the souls of men, women and children everyday. So grateful that your father was chosen before the foundation of this earth to receive the gift of Christ. What a home going it must have been! How grateful we all are that for all who rest fully in the completed atoning work of Christ, that death has lost its sting. It is merely the means by which we, who long to see His face, will be brought into holy communion with Him forever. Glory be to Christ! Thank you for sharing a glimpse of your journey and your dad’s precious story of being set free from the bondage of sin forever with us. Hallelujah, God be praised!

  25. DJ Edwardson
    Dec 30, 2017

    What a reverent, beautiful piece of writing. So much pain and loss and yet that seed of redemption burst forth during that late hour and made, as you pointed to in the Scriptures, all things new.

    I am sure that not only are your earthly parents proud of what you shared here, but your heavenly one is as well.

  26. Dan & Pam LaMee
    Dec 31, 2017

    Matt, we sat in our livingroom with your mom when she came to share the shocking news at how bad your dad was and that was not long for this earth. First the tears came. But then the joy when your mom also shared that your dad accepted Christ as his personal Savior. We shouted Hallelujah and laughed and cried some more. What a blessing it is that in the midst of such hurt and loss, we can still experience the Joy and Peace that only God can give us. What an inspiration your writing is. Continue writing and sharing! We look forward to seeing you in July! In the meantime, please rest assured that we are looking out for your mom. Our love and prayers continue with her as well as you and your family. Dan & Pam LaMee

  27. Kolene Dubendorf
    Jan 1, 2018

    This was wonderfully said. This shows how Awesome our God is, that He never gives up on us. Even when we are taking our last breath He is there . Your words should be encouragement to others. May God richly bless you as you write about our Lord and Savior.
    With much Love,
    Kolene Dubendorf

  28. Angie
    Jan 2, 2018

    I only met your dad a few times, but your mom was my friend, so I’ve prayed for him many times over the years. Your story was wonderfully written. Thank you for sharing the story. It’s very powerful.

  29. linda lewallen
    Jan 2, 2018

    Matthew, This was beautifully written with love and raw emotion. A tribute to your earthly father and and your heavenly Father.

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