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Recognizing God’s Grace

God’s grace often comes in unexpected, unrecognized ways, and, truth be told, is sometimes unwelcome. Such was my experience when I learned that my father was coming to the Lutheran home in Roanoke. (This was in the 1970s and the Virginia Lutheran Home was predecessor to the current Brandon Oaks.) My sister informed me that after his third stroke, my mother could no longer care for him at home. Mom was a Lutheran and made arrangements for him to be brought to the home in Roanoke, knowing he would be near me and I could look out for him. Therein lay the problem for me.

I was never close to my father. In fact, I lacked filial affection and often expressed my negative feelings. I was the oldest child and resented the way he seemed indifferent or verbally abusive to his wife and five children.  My father ridiculed education, and showed no interest in our school work. He didn’t attend my high school graduation and scoffed at my determination to go to college.

Although a talented tree surgeon, sought after by the wealthiest families in our hometown to care for their trees and shrubs, he failed to manage money well and was always in debt. He would have “brilliant” ideas and invest in them, only to lose interest and pursue another track to a dead end endeavor. I looked forward to leaving home and rejoiced in my independence when I came to Roanoke to teach..

Now, in his old age, I faced the responsibility of caring for him. I would have to go each week do his laundry and cheer him up… Impossible! I would feel like a hypocrite. I resented God for this unwelcome responsibility. Why would He put me in this position?

But I went because I had to go. I considered it my Christian duty. But there was no joy in the task. Three strokes had left Dad unable to communicate, and speech therapy did little to correct the problem. Yet his mind was clear and I felt his frustration as he tried to talk. His vision had been failing prior to the strokes and he was unable to read. A wheelchair allowed him to roam the halls. Eventually, his position of helplessness stirred feelings of sympathy and remorse in my heart. I believe it is impossible to go through the actions of caring for someone without developing such feelings.

Then suddenly I experienced an epiphany. I had spent my adult life striving to meet the needs of children with specific learning disabilities, hoping to prevent a dismal future for them, should they not be remediated. These children are normal or above in intelligence, but perceptual problems make learning through traditional methods frustrating and unproductive.

Now I recognized in my father the same symptoms these children displayed – impulsiveness, egocentric tendencies, lack of focus and failure to complete tasks, to mention a few. My father had dropped out of school when he was a teenager and I could imagine his negative feelings about education as he recalled the difficulty he must have encountered. He had no special training to overcome these problems, to achieve his potential. Now I realized I had denied him the compassion that I felt so strongly for the children I taught. I was witnessing the results of no remediation at an early age. How many lives it had affected!

I could not use the special techniques with my father that I employed to help children achieve success. It was too late. But it was not too late to show compassion and understanding. Throughout the remainder of the two years my father spent in the home, my caring was no longer a burden. I believe he sensed the difference, the forgiveness and reconciliation, for my mother said on one of her visits just before his death, he managed to utter two words: “Jo good.”

When he died in May 1979, my tears were genuine.

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