But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:3).
In a moment the Lord changed the direction of my life. I didn’t want it, because it meant serving Him instead of myself. It was my Moses moment. But God wasn’t telling me to free the Egyptians. He was telling me to free my father.
I was at a Christian conference listening to a pastor speak about overcoming fear. He quoted one of my favorite verses: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. (Joshua 1:9). He said someone present was struggling with a decision. God had called her to do something, but she was afraid.
His words were a jolt. The pastor had raised a question that had plagued me for months: What should I do about my father?
My father was 82 and had Lewy Body dementia, a progressive disease similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. He’d been married for 57 years, but my mother’s mental illness prevented her from caring for him. In fact, it was the opposite. I’d recently discovered elder abuse in their home. Elder against elder, my mother against my father.
My mother was abusive throughout my childhood—verbally, emotionally and sometimes physically. Alcohol was a large factor. Both my parents drank heavily. My father stayed calm, but my mother became enraged. She was the dominant figure in the household.
I’d heard my mother berate my father many times, but I didn’t realize how things had worsened over the years. Once my father’s health began to fail, he couldn’t dote on my mother as he had in the past. Instead he needed her help. My mother resented his illness and began punishing him for not attending to her and being “weak.”
My father was living in a war zone. In addition to alcoholism, my mother had a blend of personality disorders characterized by a need for excessive admiration and an unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.
Through a series of traumatic events, the Lord showed me what was happening. My father fell three times in a few weeks. Once he was left unaided in the tub for over an hour. Another time instead of calling an ambulance, my mother texted me a horrifying picture of my dad lying on the floor. The message read, “Come get your father!”
That stark text helped me understand the seriousness of my mother’s illness. I knew she wasn’t unwilling but mentally incapable of caring for my father. A few days later, I went over to check on him. It was mid-afternoon and he was still in his pajamas, slumped in his chair and vacant-eyed. He hadn’t eaten all day. My mother was smoking and watching TV. I asked if she’d made lunch and she replied, “He can make his own (expletive) lunch! Whose making my lunch?”
Right then I felt the Lord’s presence. I’d been fervently praying about my father for several months. One of my go-to verses was Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6). But I vacillated between spirit and flesh, between knowing God would work this out and worrying he wouldn’t. I was afraid it I didn’t force a solution, my father would die.
Something changed that day as I sat next to my father. I felt a loosening of the anxiety that had gripped me for so long. Replacing it was a sense of knowing inside me, this calm certainty that God would work this out. I just needed to take one step in faith.
A few hours later, I returned to my parents’ house. My husband and I thought the best option was for him to spend the weekend with us while we figured out next steps. I went back determined but concerned my father would decline. He always had in the past. He covered for my mother the same way an abusive wife covers for her husband. (About a week earlier, I had reported suspected abuse to social services. When the social worker arrived, she questioned my father in front of my mother and he said he was fine.)
But this time was different, because the Lord was moving. While my mother was yelling in the background, I sat down by my father and told him he didn’t have to live this way. I asked him to come home with me and he agreed.
When I think of it now, I know God was instructing me all along. I didn’t realize it because I wasn’t listening, I was demanding. I’d forgotten something critical. God’s methods are beyond our understanding. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord (Isaiah 55:8)
The Lord showed me I’d been trying to run things, but this wasn’t about me. It was about Him. He would be the rescuer, not I. And we wanted me to wait on His timing. I’m a Type A person, so waiting isn’t something I do well. The Lord knew this and still gave me minimal information. He was strengthening my character by having me go against my inclination.
It reminds me of the dog mushers I grew up watching in Alaska. During the grueling, 1,000 mile Iditarod race, mushers travel in subzero temperatures across frozen tundra. Much of the time they’re in total darkness, their headlamps illuminating just a few feet ahead. They cannot see what is around the next bend.
I couldn’t see ahead either, because God knew I wasn’t ready. He needed time to prepare me for the tremendous life changes that were to come. So he took me through steps. Step one: go get your father. Step two: call the police (after I learned my father had been assaulted). Step three: apply for a protective order.
Just as Moses did, I fought God at first and told him he’d picked the wrong person. Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt? (Exodus 3:11) In my desperation and fear, I listed reasons he couldn’t possibly want me to do this: my marriage was shaky. I had battled an alcohol problem and was only 10 days sober. I’d never raised children or cared for anyone. I could barely care for myself, and my father was so fragile. I told the Lord my sister would’ve been a better fit. She’d raised two children and was the responsible middle child of our family.
When I think about the last five years, I’m in awe of the Lord’s grace. My dad fell three times in six months, injuring his head each time. He had two serious car accidents. He knew he shouldn’t be driving, but was afraid to refuse my mother. When the Lord called me to help my father, he spared his life. He has given him a new life free from abuse.
The blessings didn’t stop there. God also healed my relationship with my dad. For years I blamed my father for not protecting me from my mother, for being a weak man who drank too much. Once I began caring for him, the Lord showed me something. My father was a sickly man who needed forgiveness, the same forgiveness I needed.
God also transformed me from a selfish alcoholic to a dedicated caregiver. He replaced my desire to drink with a commitment to serve my father. I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but my sanctification began when I became my father’s caregiver. For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:13). And the Lord’s reach is so tremendous that he also repaired my marriage and turned my husband into a true helpmate and partner. He is often better with my father than I.
All of it hinged upon the Lord’s loving reminder to me that day at the conference. He told me not to be afraid. He would equip me with what I needed, just as he had Moses.