He shuffled up the walkway in his worn argyle sweater and brown corduroys. We came out to meet him so he wouldn’t have to climb the two concrete steps to the front door.
“Hi, Dad,” I said, with our usual awkward hug.
I loaded my toddler in the backseat and climbed in beside him. Dad eased himself in the front next to my husband. Mumbling over his shoulder we made small talk on the short drive to church. It was Easter Sunday Eve.
I chatted about Noah’s newest word and the picnic we had planned. I dreaded the next inevitable question. The answer in recent years was never good. But I had to ask it anyway.
“So, how are you doing, Dad?”
He cleared his throat and looked out the window.
“I’m okay.” Long pause.
My husband shot a look in the rearview mirror that begged me to keep the conversation light.
“I, umm,” Dad continued, “I went to church three times this week. I plan to go again tomorrow at least once. Maybe twice.”
“That’s great,” I said and asked which churches he attended and what each service was like. We pulled into the crowded parking lot and made our way into the worship center.
White lilies lined the stage. Classic hymns recomposed with modern beats pulsed from the speakers. The pastor got up and preached a resurrection message. But all I could think about was my dad’s week. I pictured him sitting off to the side in unfamiliar pews, stranger faces glancing back at him each time he rattle-cough-hacked or blew his nose too loudly. I pictured him surrounded by crowds, but all alone.
It was a sobering glimpse of my dad’s grim reality. The truth was, he didn’t go to church six times during Holy Week because he was super spiritual; he went because he was utterly desperate.
Several years of bad luck and worse choices had catapulted my dad from living the high life to hitting rock bottom. From corporate success to chronic unemployment. Fiscal freedom to financial ruin. He traded European vacations and luxury cars for bankruptcy and subsidized housing. Add to the list failing health, addiction, depression, and a second divorce, and my dad had plummeted into a pitch-black pit without a light or a ladder.
He couldn’t climb out. My sisters and I tried to throw him a rope. It always fell short.
The affirmation I offered my dad in the car was genuine. For having no money, no friends, and nowhere to go, church was an excellent choice. But sitting next to him during this resurrection celebration, I couldn’t see the hope in it.
I only felt the grief.
I only saw a man not drawn by devotion, but wrought with despair. I saw a man not motivated by piety, but moved by self-pity. I was ashamed that these judgments even entered my mind. But the evidence seemed obvious.
That was my dad’s last Easter.
He died nine months later.
It’s now my seventh Holy Week without him and each year I look back and see with greater clarity the brokenness . . . that was mine.
I look back and see a daughter jaded by what she perceived as years of unanswered prayers. I see a daughter looking for hope in miraculous physical healing and relationship restoring. I see someone dulled and wearied from continual disappointment.
But God wasn’t hindered by the darkness of one father’s pit or the faltering of one daughter’s faith.
He was in it all.
My dad didn’t regain his health or wealth. His revival was greater — he recommitted to walking with Jesus.
A few months before he died, he took his disability money and traveled to the Holy Land, a decision I thought was physically dangerous and financially irresponsible.
Now it makes me smile.
And I can’t help but wonder if it was the stories my dad heard his last Easter week that made him want to go. That made him need to feel the soil where Jesus knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane and cried out soul overwhelmed. If it was that last Good Friday service that left the sound of nails pounding through flesh and wood echoing in my dad’s heart, the reality of his own sins nailed to the cross. If it was those repeated resurrection messages that made him need to see the empty tomb, evidence that Jesus had indeed conquered death.
I cannot help but wonder if the week I once grieved as my dad’s lowest desperation was actually a picture of the Resurrected Savior reaching down into his pit.
Saving him again.