Until Our Final Breath

Until Our Final Breath

Trusting God for the salvation of others.

by Jeri Stockdale

Torrential rains reflected my tortured soul as we said goodbye to my dad one cold day in February. The memorial service was a legacy marked by a stunned, somber crowd and an impersonal, hopeless eulogy. The pastor who delivered it never knew my father.

The depth of anguish, shock, and confusion churning inside me was masked by my stoic expression, betrayed only by tears that escaped at unpredictable moments.

Questions

I didn’t understand why my dad had died. He’d had a heart attack during an evening of bowling with his team. By God’s grace, the local firefighters were bowling that night too. They saved his life and transported him to the hospital, less than a block away. There he remained in CCU, in critical condition but still alive.

As his twenty-eight-year-old married daughter, I wasn’t ready to lose my dad. We had transitioned from the role of parent and child to one of mutual understanding. As two quiet people, we were actually talking more — something we rarely did while I was growing up.

As my faith grew during college and after, I became more outgoing. With this change came the hope that I could share Christ with Dad. So when he suffered his heart attack, I wanted more time with him to ensure he knew Jesus as his Savior.

Passionate prayer

As my dad struggled in the hospital to survive, I struggled with my hope through prayer.

Lord, I know You love my dad even more than I do and that Your Father’s heart desires him to be with You forever. I ask that You give him more time on this earth — not just for me as his daughter, but so he can have a chance to know You first, and then, be with you throughout eternity. Help him, Lord, to know You.

I spent hours praying long and hard until finally I felt a release. God’s Spirit gave me a deep, abiding peace; God had answered my prayer.

Reaching out

My dad improved over the next few weeks. While in the hospital, he allowed me to read to him from the Bible. Although he didn’t seem receptive, I clung to God’s unspoken promise that my dad would embrace Jesus at some point in the future.

But then, my world crashed. I received word of another heart attack. Dad did not survive.

In a state of grief, confusion, and depression, I struggled to understand. My dad was supposed to have lived, to learn about the Lord. Had I misread what I thought was God’s answer to my prayer?

Setbacks

Over the next four years, doubts continued to trouble my spirit, and life’s setbacks dealt a major blow. I had a tubal pregnancy the year after my dad had passed, and I couldn’t get pregnant again. Work changes created additional job stress, and my marriage suffered as a result of all these things. I carried these burdens alone.

My family and well-meaning friends couldn’t lift me out of my despair. Though they left small gifts on my doorstep, sent notes of encouragement, and included us in gatherings, my grief became an impenetrable fortress I couldn’t hide. Friends didn’t know what to say.

Distance from God

My sister suggested counseling, but I rejected the idea. My husband tried to help but didn’t know how. Unable to see beyond my own grief, I felt that a part of me had died along with my dad.

The distance between God and me was a chasm created by my doubts, confusion, and anger toward Him. I didn’t understand why He allowed all these bad things to happen to me. When I read the Bible, the words rang hollow. When I prayed, an invisible ceiling bounced the prayer back to me. I continued to attend church, going through the motions, but nothing changed.

I gave up trying to reach God, even though I still needed Him.

Negative thoughts

Tortured by doubts about my dad’s salvation and my inability to help myself, I began to wonder if my life was worth living. Why am I even here, Lord? I see no meaning or purpose in my life.

Even with a husband and family who loved me, I felt isolated and trapped. I thought of ending my life, but never how I would carry it out. Instead, I remembered my love relationship with Jesus, the sweet fellowship I’d once enjoyed, how He had saved me and walked with me from an early age. I couldn’t do what I knew would be so disobedient and final, but I also knew I couldn’t go on in this depressed state a moment longer.

Desperate prayer

On my knees at my bedside, I buried my face in the bedspread and sobbed.

Lord, I can’t do this anymore. I’ve been carrying this burden, and it’s too much for me. Please take all the broken pieces. Forgive me for holding on to what I was never meant to carry. Forgive me for not trusting You. I give you my dad, my doubts and fears, and my “not knowing” if I’ll see him one day. I don’t need to know anymore. I will trust You for all of it.

Miraculously, my burden lifted, and my healing began.

New beginnings

After this time, my husband and I resolved our problems. We started on the road to parenthood through adoption, welcoming three wonderful babies into our family over the next seven years. My relationship with my mother grew closer. We became good friends, supporting one another, laughing together, and enjoying each other’s company.

Considering the uncertainty surrounding my dad’s salvation, God gave me the resolve to reach out to my mom and share the gospel with her over the next several years. She listened but didn’t understand, so I continued to love and pray for her. Years of smoking eventually took their toll on her health, leaving her with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In a steady decline, she required oxygen and nebulizer treatments to help her breathe.

Salvation and death

After a medical crisis landed her in the hospital, Mom came to live with us. During those brief months she heard Jesus’ words of hope as we read our family Bible devotions each morning. Her eyes would tear up, and she grew to love this special time with us.

With her heart softened by our precious Father, Mom gladly received His Word when I presented the gospel to her. She passed away shortly afterward. Despite my grief at her passing, I experienced a great joy and peace knowing she was reconciled with God through His Son, Jesus.

Unexpected gift

After we laid my beloved mom to rest, I received an unexpected gift of my own. The Lord showed me that He had answered my prayer concerning my dad all along.

I received a condolence call from Angie, the wife of my dad’s friend, Shane. During our conversation, Angie said, “Shane and I visited your dad twice while he was in the hospital. I talked to him about his need to have Jesus as his Savior. He asked Shane if he had done that also. When Shane said yes and we talked more, your dad said he would think about it. When we returned to visit him a second time, he decided to accept Christ, and we prayed together.”

Angie had no doubt of my dad’s conversion, which meant he had received Christ during the days I fervently prayed for him.

New boldness

My spirit soared, but why had God waited over twenty years to show this to me? Then I realized that my anger and grief at Dad’s passing had overshadowed my belief and shaken my confidence that God had answered my prayer. He loved me enough to let me grow through my suffering, allowing me to learn to trust Him even when I didn’t know that my dad had received Christ.

Armed with this revelation of God’s love story, I realized where there is life, there is hope and that I should not give up on anyone’s salvation. I boldly shared my parents’ testimonies with my dad’s aging sisters. One of them accepted Jesus before she died, and I trust that the seeds planted with my other aunt bore fruit as well.

Message from God

God’s message to me through my journey is multi-faceted. I learned that His ways are higher than mine (Isaiah 55:9) and that I needed to grow in unwavering trust, even when I can’t see the final outcome to my prayers. Psalm 27:14 reminds me to “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” (NKJV).

When I finally trusted God and moved forward with Him, I no longer needed to know if my dad had come to Christ; I was at peace. And in His time, God gave me a precious gift. I came to realize our God is a loving, forbearing God, working in us and through us for His good purposes, and that He will continue to do so until our final breath.

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