For those of us who live in the middle of the United States, storms are part of the fabric of life. Thankfully they are occasional occurrences but one can never blithely disregard tornado or blizzard warnings. This year in Nebraska during the week of Christmas, blizzard winds reached 50 miles per hour and drifts were waist deep. Christmas gatherings were postponed and churches sat empty. Only the hearty and the brave ventured out. Much like the disciples, anxiety and worry were the rule of the day.
As I reflected upon today’s gospel, strong memories of another Christmas storm came flooding back. Last Christmas my father was dying. Our precious, story-telling, strong-willed, humorous, Irish, loving father was on his last journey and it was impossible to imagine our lives without our anchor. The storm raged -- it was embedded in our hearts and souls and our grief was churning the boat of our lives.
For over a year he had valiantly fought the illness that was slowly overcoming him but by December 2008 we knew that he would not recover. A week before Christmas we consulted with hospice representatives from a local facility. Their kindness, wisdom and understanding carried us through the most difficult conversation we have ever had as a family. The plan was that he would remain home a few more days until after Christmas. We would then move him to the facility.
On Christmas Eve my brothers helped Dad get dressed and assisted him into the living room of my parents’ home where we had all gathered. This was the room where under the watchful eye of our parents, my seven siblings and I had studied, laughed, prayed, sung, entertained friends, debated the problems of the world and had grown into young adulthood. On this Christmas Eve night, the room was once again filled not only with his eight children but our spouses and scores of his grandchildren as well. Dad settled into his chair, smiled at everyone, looked at the Christmas tree and began to very weakly sing “Silent Night.” It was more than most of us could bear and our tears began streaming. When he finished the entire song, everyone cheered. His smile lit up the room. I will never forget that night.
On December 26 my brothers waived the offer of an ambulance and transported him to the hospice facility themselves. They carried him in gently and placed him into the compassionate arms of the staff. We spent the next seven weeks sharing loving good-byes with our father. He called each of us by name until the last day of his life. We prayed with him every day and the storm became interwoven with the calming, peaceful winds of the strong faith and traditional prayers which our father had always loved.
Through all of this, God’s hand was calming the storm. There were constant signs that Jesus was walking with him and each of us. His final days were peaceful. He took his last breath while family members held him close. Moments after his death we all gathered around his bed where we prayed, wept and sang one of his favorite Irish ballads.
We can’t avoid storms whether they are outdoors or within our hearts and lives. Our faith supports us and companions us. Like the disciples, we must remember to turn to Jesus. He will guide us through, even as the waves crash over the boat. He will lead us to find that which will calm the fierce wind. And like the disciples, we will ask, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
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