Erica's Testimony on Father's Day
Last year at this time, I was home, crying. Going to church was out of the question. I had recently lost my dad. I wanted nothing do with church or God. I was angry. I actively contemplated taking my life to end the agonizing pain of being without my dad. It didn’t matter to me that I had a husband who loved me or three boys who needed their mommy or a niece who needed me. I just wanted the pain to stop.
I grew up trusting in the Lord and in his goodness and love. But when my dad died, that trust died. My dad had become one of my best friends. In the last few years of his life, I probably saw him every other day. My dad loved my boys and me so much. He was an amazing man. I could not imagine life without him.
So, when that text came at 5AM, that my dad needed to go to the ER, I panicked. My mom thought it was probably a visit like others before, seeing as he was in his seventies with COPD and cancer. But my dad would never return home. I still envision the walker my mom put in the back of her car, just in case he needed support on the journey home-the walker he’d never use.
Each day my dad remained unresponsive, my heart shattered. I wanted one more day. I need to hear his voice one more time.
I hated seeing my mom have to make the hardest decision of her life-letting my dad go be with Jesus. I am still amazed at how strong she is. I hated the doctors ushering us outside his room as a medical team gathered inside to stop the instruments supporting his life. I hated hearing the tubes being removed from my dad’s throat and listening to him gag. I wanted to vomit. To scream. To go be with him. Death was minutes away from separating me from my dad. I hated Death.
Once allowed to return to my dad’s room, the pain was intense as we awaited the flat line. We prayed for him and sang to him. We each held his hand and collected our final memory with him.
I’ll never forget my brother wailing and my mother’s feet beating the hospital floor when my dad’s chest did not rise again. In a breath, our entire world changed. The grief was unfathomable. I was already struggling with postpartum depression, so my depression grew worse.
I spoke at my dad’s memorial service with confidence that God is still good, and my dad is in Heaven. But reality set in. My dad was never coming back. I began to feel my speech was a lie. I wanted nothing to do with my parent’s faith, especially their God. I remember screaming into the sky, “You’re not real! This is all a big lie! You’re a liar! You said if we pray…you said to trust you… My dad was the biggest prayer; he trusted you, and look what you did to us!” So, I stopped believing in God. I could not rationalize how a good Father could do what He did. Life became more hopeless to think Heaven was none existent. My depression grew worse. The panic attacks were almost daily. My dad’s death consumed me. I was so depressed that when I gave birth two weeks later, I did not want to hold my baby. What I wanted most of all was to die.
I feasted off of lies I told myself, which only fed the depression. I was terrified of my thoughts. I had no idea who I was anymore. I stopped going to church. I stopped speaking to people. I stopped wanting to get out of bed. I couldn’t care for my children to the point of being dependent on the almost daily help of one of my best friend’s, Rachel Hontz and my aunt Kim Thiele. I lived in paranoia. I cried all the time. I hated myself. I hated God. And I hated anyone who told me I could rejoice because my dad was in a good place.
“Your father would be so angry with you!” I will never forget these words. My mother spoke them in urgency and in love. She knows best how much I love my dad-how dark everything seemed without him. But she was right-if my dad knew I was wanting to take my life, that I was not loving his grandsons well, that I was crying without hope (the very opposite of the gospel message he spent our entire relationship making sure I understood), he would be so disappointed. And I never wanted to disappoint him, not even in death. I will always want my dad to be proud of me. For him, I wanted to grieve well. I wanted to live as though all he taught me and invested in me mattered, because it does. As one of our members Susan Timm, reminded me: I wanted to live a life that was a reflection of his legacy, not an opposition to it.
Though my father’s death meant the actualization of one of my worst fears, I have to tell you that it was the trial that drove me closer to God than I have ever been. Either I believed in God or I didn’t. And if I did not believe, then I could just live my life how I wanted and be as self-absorbed as I wanted. But I had seen too much of God’s goodness in my adoption story, through my parents and the church body to keep God dead. God had to be real, or I’d lose my mind entirely.
A friend of mine who had become a quadriplegic in his early twenties, said to me, “If my accident and not turning away from God after it, or your dad’s death led one person to Christ, wasn’t that worth it?” Absolutely not is what I told him six months ago. My response startled me. It forced me to see that I did not believe in the urgency of the gospel, and in the rawest sense, I did not know God.
But God. Those are my favorite words in this chapter of my testimony. Through prayer, amazing support from family and friends, therapy, and a mentorship, I found a faith stronger than I ever imagined. What I learned is that I grew up in church, in a Christian school, and in a Christian home, but I did not understand the depth of who God is nor did I grasp the scriptures I’ve heard for the last 23 years. I use to wonder how could so many people raised in the Lord and in the church just walk away from it all? How could believers turn away from God and live in blatant and total opposition to him? I never understood it until I was living it. When I experienced my hardest trial, and could not have my deepest longing fulfilled, which was to have my dad back, God felt so cruel and unloving that to reject everything pertaining to him felt freeing. But I was far from free. I was living in my own hell and forcing my family into with me.
I never understood depression until I was living in it. I thought it was all mental and that you could just turn it off. I did not think a true believer could struggle with a mental disorder-not if he loved God enough. I was so very foolish, wrong, and humbled by such flawed thinking. Depression is real and it is a liar and it feasts off of every insecurity, taunting, leading you to flirt with the brink of no return.
But God. God gave me a mentor who was lovingly firm with me and reminded me about who Jesus really is, not who I wanted him to be. She pushed me to the scriptures-to find Truth, not the way the world defines it, but real truth that gives you purpose and hope. She encouraged me back into church and to a body who is going to not give up on me and who is going to preach Truth week after week until it sinks in. After losing my dad, so many people in this body helped carry my family through waves of grief. Thank you.
What I have been reminded of this season is this important truth: God loves us. He wants to be good to us. He wants to use life experiences and sorrows to bring us closer to him. And He will, at all costs. That is why today, I can smile. I can tell you that I am the happiest I have ever been in all of my life. I have joy in the Lord. My dad would think it’s the greatest story that his death is the event that drove me closer to the God he loved more than anything.
Fathers, love your children. Live in a way that points them to Jesus. I know you will not be perfect. But if my parents had preached one gospel and lived another, I would have walked away from God and this church for good. What helped me return was the more I learned about God, I finally understood what my parent’s faith had been all about. Affirm your children. Pray for them. Pastor Sunday gave me one of the most beautiful thoughts after my dad died; it was that he believes my dad still prays for me in Heaven. Never stop praying for your children. Let them see you actively living out you faith; that will be your greatest legacy.
And children, of any age, do not spend your days thinking you have time. Time to get it right. To make amends. To tell your parents you appreciate them. To live for God later. Love your parents. Thank them because they love you and want to protect you. I know parents can seem like hypocrites. Remember, Christians fail. God is working in them. Don’t shut them out. Don’t reject the faith they are teaching you about. Listen about the God they desperately want you to know. Because really knowing him and who you are in him, will save your life.
And to those who may be in a season of darkness like I was, dawn will come. God can heal, restore, and save. Talk to people about the darkness that imprisons you and the lies that scream at you. Show your cuts and scars. Share your fears. Look around you. We are all broken. But we can help each other. Don’t feel ashamed of who you are or the thoughts you desperately try to hide. When I got sick, I saw women and men start to open up about similar mental battles. We need to all talk about the unspoken mental illness and how it impacts Christians, not hide it. Don’t reject God. Don’t stop going to church. Don’t, and I beg you, please don’t ever stop wanting to live. God can save you from yourself and from the hell you’re trying to claw your way out of. And you need him; you cannot do it on your own. And though you may not believe this or have long forgotten, please know that you are important. You are beautiful, remarkable, and strong. You are so loved.
It is my mother and father’s love, faith, and legacy and my Heavenly Father’s love, goodness, and faithfulness to me that allows me to stand before you today, closing this chapter of my testimony with a line my dad loved to say, based off Philippians 1:6, “I’m not the man I ought to be, but thank God, I’m not the man I used to be.”
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I miss you. And Happy Father’s Day to all of you.