Do you like bittersweet chocolate? The month of February is like that for me. My father went to be with Jesus on February 14th, Valentine's Day, 2004. But his passing on February 14th, was no coincidence. His story began 15 years earlier in 1989, a God-ordained miracle. Here is our family testimony:
"My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalms 73:26).
(Creole French for "a little something extra")
"Life is too short to buy green bananas. Buy the ones ready to eat because you never know how long you'll have." Always ready with a clever quip and a funny face to match it, Dad kept his family forever laughing. For some reason though, he continually brought up the subject of dying, and somehow, inexplicably made it sound funny. In retrospect, perhaps joking about death was a form of bravado for him.
Dad was 47 when he was hospitalized for the first time--on Valentine's Day, 1975. But unlike his own father who died of a heart attack around that age, he lived--a tribute to modern medicine and lifestyle changes.
Years later however, on New Year's Eve, 1989, his heart rebelled again with a cluster of serious heart attacks. Dad's condition was serious and the prognosis extremely poor. Four arteries leading to his heart were blocked. Severely damaged, his heart was leaking blood from one valve, and there was an aneurysm in an outside wall that we were told, could rupture at any time, resulting in instant death.
Doctors tentatively scheduled surgery, but were waiting to see if he would gain enough strength to live through it. The death of my father seemed imminent. However, in the course of time between his first heart attack years ago and this incident, the family had asked Jesus into their hearts."
One night, after an exhausting day at the hospital, the family gathered in the kitchen. My mother was preparing to return to the hospital to spend the night at Dad's side, but before she left, we decided to pray together. Filled with the hope of God's promises, we formed a circle and joined hands, each sharing a prayer from the depth of our souls. Surely God knew our hearts were as broken emotionally as our father's was physically.
My brother prayed last and felt strongly prompted by the Lord to pray the prayer of Hezekiah over our father:
"In Second Kings, Chapter 20:1-6 (KJV), the Prophet Isaiah was sent to King Hezekiah by God and said unto him, 'Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.' Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, wept bitterly and repented. So God answered, "...I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee...And I will add unto thy days fifteen years..."
My brother continued praying, "Lord Jesus, we ask that You will grant to us the life of our father. Let him live another fifteen years as you did King Hezekiah."
The strength of that prayer did not shake the earth or startle us. It was a simple heartfelt prayer that we agreed upon in the presence of God.
On the night before his operation, we visited Dad. My brother asked if he wanted to receive salvation. To our surprise and delight, he agreed. That very night, Dad asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior.
After his surgery on Valentine's Day, 1989, Dad's condition instantly improved. Doctors could suddenly find no trace of the leaking valve "fatal" aneurysm in the wall of his heart. After a quadruple by-pass, he began an astonishing recovery. He was transformed inside and out and six weeks later, was able to proudly walk me down the aisle at my wedding.
In the years that followed, mother and father became grandparents to a total of nine grandchildren. And as the years passed, so did our memory of that prayerful night. We had long ago forgotten the prayer--until the close of the fifteen years approached.
Dad contracted bronchitis, but seemed to be doing all right. Doctors prescribed medicine. An X-ray revealed that his lungs were clear. However, both my mother and brother suddenly remembered the prayer of fifteen years earlier; the illness seemed to call up the echo of its spoken word. They realized that 2004 was the fifteenth year, but said nothing to the rest of us. Perhaps, they reasoned, God would let him live longer. After all, he seemed fine.
Then, on Valentine's Day, 2004, my father suddenly slipped into congestive heart failure. The kind, young doctor who worked on him in the Emergency Room, assured our family that he would treat him as if he were his own father. God is never late, never early but always, always right on time. In spite of all the doctor's efforts, Dad faded away.
A flower fades, dries and crumbles to dust, but its fragrance remains for a time. The fragrance of that one special life remains for us and it is sweet indeed. Our world did not come to an end the day Dad died, though we all imagined it would. And though we missed him desperately, life continued without missing a beat.
Though his absence seemed unbearable, we remembered the prayer and understood that God had indeed granted us the desire of our hearts. He gave our father another fifteen years of life, and we were indeed grateful, but even more so with the eternal perspective that we can look forward to a joyful reunion in heaven.
And as for his children? Like our father, we're fond of bananas and we always buy bright yellow ones, never green, because you never know.