My freshman year of high school was a great year for me spiritually. My parents had put me in a private Christian school, which I loved, and I had come to the school year from some wonderful summer camps that had really challenged me to dig in and seek the Lord. The second semester this year, I remember I had a Bible teacher named Mr. Smith that had everyone in the class keep a prayer journal. It was split up into sections: prayer for family, the government, myself, my friends, etc., along with a section for me to journal what I was reading in the Bible. During this same time I decided that I wanted to learn to play guitar. So, I bought a little guitar, and began to teach myself how to play, mostly by playing old worship songs. I began to spend long amounts of time in the evenings doing my prayer journal and playing worship songs, and was really growing and seeking the Lord. I distinctly remember an old worship song that had a line that said "Though my world may fall I will never let You go." And, I was pondering this… I had never had anything major happen in my life. I didn't know if I would cling to the Lord, even if my world fell apart, but I knew I wanted to cling to Him.
Also, during this same time I had a friend named Emily. Emily had the most bizarre thing - she had dreams that would later come true. She had had this happen all her life, and we were talking about it. I want to have a dream that comes true, I told Emily.
My freshman year of high school was my also my sister's senior year of high school. Seeing that my dad was a good OU graduate, he convinced my sister, who had her heart set on attending Texas A&M, to just submit an application to OU for his sake. So, she did. And the weekend before Easter in 1998, we loaded up in the family van and took a trip to see the OU campus. When we got there, my dad became instantly excited! Memories began to flood his mind, and like an excited child he drug us all through campus. He showed us the dorm he lived in, the spot in the library where he would study late at night, the Baptist Student Ministry building he went to. We walked all the way to the north end of campus, called the North Oval, and he stopped. Pointing across the street at a building with a yellow awning (the awning is no longer yellow, as you can see in the picture of Campus Corner above), he began to tell us a story. "That's where it happened. That's where I first became a Christian." It was Jesus Week on campus, which happens every year the week before Easter where different campus ministries hold events to honor Jesus. My dad was a freshman at OU, it was towards the end of his freshman year and he was failing all of his classes. He was partying, and partying hard, and was being put on academic probation because he couldn't keep up with his school work for all of his partying. He was nearly an alcoholic at this point. While walking across campus, a stranger stopped him and asked him if he could meet with him to talk. Sure, my dad said. So, they met at this building with the yellow awning on Campus Corner. There, this stranger from Campus Crusade shared with my dad from a tract called the Four Spiritual Laws. He did his presentation of the gospel, and left. There, my dad sat and pondered this story. Struck with the gravity of his sin, my dad prayed "the prayer" (or whatever you want to call it), and was filled with joy! He jumped out of his seat, and began running down Boyd Street in front of campus with tears streaming down his face. He was a new man. And he was changed. From nearly failing out of school, my dad became the salutatorian of his entire engineering class at OU. And everytime he would meet with his academic advisor who had put him on probation after this, the advisor would look at his grades from his freshman year, look at his grades after that, and shake his head. "I don't understand," he'd say. To that, my dad would say, "You see, I changed. I became a Christian and I'm different now. Jesus has changed me." To which the advisor would still shake his head and continue saying, "It just doesn't make sense…"
What an impact this story had on me! First of all, I was struck with the boldness that this stranger had to share Christ with my dad. If it weren't for his boldness, I very well would myself not have become a believer. I was humbled by the means the Lord chose to use to bring my dad to Himself - a tract. I despise tracts! But, the Lord uses them, nonetheless. I came back to school the next week thinking about these things, and about God's absolute goodness to me.
We went to visit the OU campus on a Thursday. We returned home to south Texas late Sunday night. Wednesday night, April 15th, I had dream. I don't remember all the details of this dream. All I remember is in the dream my dad had died. I woke up with such an odd, heavy feeling from this. When I was at school, I naturally told Emily about my dream (we always talked about dreams), "I had a dream last night that my dad died."
That day at lunch my principle pulled me aside with a serious look on his face, "Your dad is having problems and you need to go home right now. There is someone here to pick you up and take you home." So, I packed up my things and got in the car with a family friend who drove me the 30 minute drive home. When I got home, my mom was there and greeted me at the door with a simple, "He's gone."
What an overwhelming feeling for a 15 year old! But to be honest, people ask me what it was like to lose my dad, and I have to say that there was such a peace. Sure, it's hard to lose someone you love, but God had been preparing my heart and was teaching me how to rely on Him, my only true Father. He had allowed me to hear my dad's testimony firsthand just a few days before this. He had prepared me down to giving me a dream the night before. He had been drawing me to Himself and causing my heart to love Him and cling to Him throughout the year. Despite being overwhelmed, I felt the presence of God so strongly that there was almost a calm surrounding the whole event. When I saw my dad's lifeless body for the first time, I dropped to my knees was able to thank Jesus for His goodness, thank Him that He is a High Priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses, who has been tried and tested in every way and succeeded, and who knows pain much better than I did even at that moment. I was able to ask that He would teach me how to consider this trial as pure joy, and that it would develop steadfastness in me, that I would be mature and complete and lacking in nothing. Looking back now, I don't know if I would be able to handle such a trial today like I did then. God had really prepared me, and taught me so much from the trial. It resulted in some really sweet times with the Lord and an increased awareness of my complete dependence on Him.
Not that this was a walk in the park. I've had times where I've been so overwhelmed with sadness from losing my dad. I was 15 years old, which means my actual "adult" conversations with him were very limited. I was just at the stage where I realized he wasn't just my dad, but he was an actual person. I never got the chance to really get to know him as a friend. There is so much that I missed out on as a result - his counsel, support, encouragement, wisdom, and so much more. I've caught myself questioning the whole thing at times, "Lord, why did you take him? He could have done so much, he wanted to be transferred overseas with his work so he could do missions, he was such a wonderful teacher in the church and could have been used to reach so many people," I've asked God. But, I've come back to the prayer that I would not believe the wicked lie that my dad died "too soon" or "before his time". God ordained his death at this exact time. Scripture says our days were numbered; it was not an accident. Everything God does is wise and good and right - I really believe this, it's not just an abstract theological principle we talk about. My prayer is that through his death that the Lord would use his testimony, even through me, to bring many to His Kingdom!
So ten long years later I'm still pondering all of these things. To me, a decade seems like forever. After all it's almost half of my life. But to my dad, a decade is only a tiny speck on the timeline of eternity being spent in eternal gladness in the presence of God Almighty.
May God would grant us the grace to see His goodness even in the midst of our suffering. And may we be constantly reminded of the beauties of heaven. May He give us a longing every day for the restoration and unimaginable joy that is to come. I pray that as we consider these things that it would give us a desire to share the beauties of Jesus with those who do not have this hope, like the stranger who shared Christ with my dad.