I dropped my son off at my parents house the other day. As I was rushing out of the door, my Dad was telling me about the Christmas performance he just had. He’s a singer and a good one. I told him I had seen the video clips and he did an amazing job. He told me with tears welling up in his eyes that he finally felt like he made it, like he finally had his hopes come true.
The reason he felt that way is because he has been singing for years. Mostly he does shows at retirement homes and churches. He has his own little following and it’s kind of cute. All the older ladies think my Dad is handsome and I get a good chuckle out of it. Anyway, these are places that hire him or ask him to perform. When the guests hear him sing, they are already at the location. My Dad sang in a little Italian restaurant called Vinny’s. He said that people stayed way past their meals, they pulled up chairs so they could hold their kids in their laps and listen to Christmas songs. He said to me, “They could have eaten their food and left, but instead they stayed. They pulled up closer. They wanted to hear me sing.” I put my hand on my father’s cheek and we both had tears in our eyes. His because he felt like the gift God gave him, touched the people he sang for and mine because my father “made it” a long time ago.
In 2014, my father almost died. He suffered a heart attack, had quadruple bypass surgery and came home. It was scary, but it was just the beginning of what was to come. When he came home, we all thought everything was going to be fine. He would heal, get better and live better. Something wasn’t right. He couldn’t breathe well and still had pain. We figured it was a big surgery and just par for the course. He then had another heart attack within days of being home. What?! The doctor’s had just fixed him. How could this happen? I was so confused. The stint had failed and his arteries had collapsed. He had fluid in his lungs and was struggling for his life. They fixed the stint and we just prayed that the fluid on his lungs would be managed by medical treatment. He wasn’t doing well. He had a total of five heart attacks and was resuscitated back to life two times. When he coded for the second time, he suffered a stroke. They put him into a medically induced coma as we all waited to see if he would make it. We didn’t know the condition he would be in when he woke up. Would he know who he was? What had happened to him? Would he know who his family was? What damage had the stroke caused. Would we ever be able to experience the soul of who my father was?
My Dad, the man I love so very much was dying before my eyes. I could barely hold it together. Most days I didn’t. I would be a pillar of strength around the hospital but the minute I walked in the door, I collapsed into tears. There was one day that it was so bad, I knew I needed intervention. I called my friend Tracy and told her I couldn’t get out of the floor. I was laying there soaked in tears, shaking and holding my father’s keys, pleading with God, begging him to please let my Dad use his house keys and walk in this house again. I remember praying “I’ll do anything. Just please, please let my Dad live.” I was sobbing on the floor for hours before my body could get the strength to call my friend to help me. It was the most devastating feeling I can remember to this day.
My father was in the coma for a long time. I know he had been in the hospital about a month at this point. We sat by his side, read to him, played music and talked to him. He was still in the coma and on a ventilator so there wasn’t interaction, just us encouraging him. One day I walked into the hospital and saw a group of people together in a circle praying around my father. One of those people was Todd Gaston, the pastor from Mount Ararat. When I saw the Pastor, I freaked out a little bit. What was happening? Was this it? Was he going to die now? There must have been panic on my face because Pastor put his hand on my shoulder when he saw me walk in the room and told me everything was okay.
My family, both immediate and extended, were at the hospital every single day. My mom lived next to his bedside. She never left. People would beg her and she wouldn’t do it. One day I remember I had to go work for about four hours. I was scared to leave him. I spoke to my mom and some of my extended family and they assured me they wouldn’t leave him. I had no doubts based on what I had seen.
I went into work and got a call from a friend I had not heard from in a while, maybe a couple of years. His name is JC Lopez. He was in his car, driving to his job in Richmond and asked me if he could tell me something. I said sure. He told me that as he was driving, God told him he needed to turn around and go to the hospital and to do it fast. He said that God told him to pray over my father, to spiritually fast by abstaining from eating and to get there fast. I told him he could visit my Dad. I wasn’t going to be there for a few short hours but my mom would be there. JC had never met my parents even though we had known each other for about 12 years at this point. I knew my mom was very stressed and I worried how she would react to strangers coming in. She was exhausted to the point that we were worried for her health. I couldn’t deny JC going though. I know he hears from God and if God told him to go, then there had to be a reason. JC arrived to my father’s hospital room and it was empty. No one was there. He knew better than to call and tell me though. He knew I would panic so instead he stayed in my Dad’s room, next to his bedside and began to pray for him. Even though my Dad was unconscious, he told me he walked into the room and introduced himself and asked if he could pray for him. Eventually I called JC to see if he had made it. He said yes and that he was there alone. Somehow there had been a miscommunication among the family and for the first time in month my Dad went from having 20+ people sitting around the hospital and my mom by his bedside to being alone. As I was about to flip out on the phone, JC stopped me in a calm voice and told me they were about to take my Dad off the ventilator and bring him out of the coma. WHAT???!!! My Dad was going to wake up alone. That’s when God spoke to my heart and said, “No, your father is with JC. I sent him.” I argued with God, as I sometimes do. I remember thinking, “…but God! My Dad doesn’t know JC. He will wake up and think we don’t love him. He will wonder where we are.” JC and I decided it was best if we hung up the phone and he give my father the moral support he would need coming off the ventilator and out of the coma. My mother arrived faster than I did and I believe I was closer to the hospital at the time.
When I arrived, there were a lot of people in the room but I only remember my mom and a few visitors. My mom told me that my Dad was trying to say a word and no one could understand it. She said he seemed upset that no one understood and was getting frustrated. I looked at my Dad laying there. I could tell he was frustrated. I wondered what he was thinking in his mind about his new condition. I can’t even imagine. All he wanted was to say one word. He had been quiet and just laying there. He didn’t really acknowledge me much. He was looking at the ceiling and I could tell he was trying to understand what was going on. I held his hand, looked at him and called his attention to me. I asked, “Dad, what is the word you are saying? Would you be willing to say it again and I can try to help you?” He looked at me with a glimpse of hope and pleading in his eyes. He said, “toll you.” I repeated it back to him and as soon as I did I could see a little frustration. I encouraged him, “Again Dad. Say it again.” He said it slower “told you.” When I repeated that to him, his body weakened in defeat. I whispered to God, “God please help me. Please help me understand my father. Please.” I quietly asked my Dad, “Dad just one more time. I’ll get it this time.” He repeated, “TOLD YOU.” That’s when I heard God say, “It’s solider.” I looked at my Dad and exclaimed SOLIDER!!!! He squeezed my hand with all the might he had and shook it like a champion does after a fight. I said it over and over and we both began to weep. I said, “Solider. Solider. ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLIDER! You want to fight Dad. You don’t want to die,” and he shook his head yes with tears streaming down his face. I will never, ever forget that moment. I am so thankful that my Dad wanted to live. I am so thankful God helped me interpret what he was trying to say. I am thankful for his life every day. The Holy Spirit filled the room. My Dad would ask us if we could see Jesus. He told me he could see him standing at the foot of his bed. I believed him. I don’t know what conversations took place between my Dad and the spirit of Jesus those next few days but I believe He had come to claim victory over my Dad’s life, to tell him the battle was won.
As my Dad came out of the hospital and into rehab, we knew the stroke was going to get better. He was still himself in spirit but just lost his ability to speak and write correctly. It was severe when he first came out but has gotten almost all the way back to normal. My Dad speaks normally, and most people wouldn’t notice he’s had a stroke unless you are a medical professional. You would just think that he stutters occasionally and forgets words he wants to say but he’s doing wonderfully.
There was something that wasn’t taken from him in all of this. It went untouched, unscathed, protected; and that was his singing. He’s always loved to sing and after the stroke he was sad to think he wouldn’t sing again. It was his God given gift. It was his purpose to impact people with his singing. We told him to try turning on the music and see what happens. He did and he sang beautifully. There was something we didn’t know and that is that the part of the brain responsible for speaking is completely different than the part of the brain that allows you to sing. When my Dad sings, he doesn’t miss a word, a pronunciation or a beat. He sings like an angel. God not only saved my Dad; he protected his gift. It’s a wonderful, wonderful life and I am so thankful for it.
My Dad used to sing, “You are my Sunshine” to me and now when I sing it to my kids, I think of him. I hope to pass on the great love of my Dad. My Dad loves Jesus so much. That’s what I love most about him. His legacy is a heart for God. He’s given that to me and I hope to give it to my children too.
None of these photos were taken professionally. There’s nothing here to try and promote photography to you. It’s just a story about my life, my family and my incredible friends. It’s Christmastime, my Dad’s absolute favorite time of year. Here he is ‘making it big’ singing 'Do You Hear What I Hear" at Vinny’s.
P.S. Dad, you made it big a long time ago in my eyes. You are my sunshine too. I love you forever.