I remember that night when I was looking at Joel gasping for his last few breath and I told myself that this will be his final journey on earth. I told myself that I will not cry. I am not going to shed a tear. I want to hold it all in. That’s how I grieve. That’s how I roll. My son and daughter were also in the room and I thought I was keeping it together for them.
But when I saw my father-in-law, who was holding back his tears too, went over and fell head first on Joel and let out a wailing like a baby, I knew the tear ducts would come crashing like a broken dam. And it did. But then, I saw my son crying like a baby before me. I guess I managed to hold it up longer than him at least.
The order of nature as we all know it in this world has been disturbed, disrupted.
Because sons shouldn’t be going before their fathers. A child shouldn’t be going before his/her parent. That’s the worldly understanding of it. That’s the natural order of things. A son is born to take over his father. A son is needless to say younger than his father. A son carries on as his father’s heir. A son therefore attends his father’s funeral and sends him off. Not the other way round. Never the other way. That’s what I meant by the order of nature.
I am a father myself and no father I know would want to see this day come to pass. It would be a heart breaking day to send your son off like this. And that was why I cried too like a baby. I felt the pain, the brokenness, the sorrow, and the grief of a father’s heart. I felt a fraction of what it was like to turn your face away when you see your son hanging at Calvary and dying all by himself, gasping for his last breath.
But then, I was so wrong. I was so mistaken. I have been thinking the way the world has been thinking. I have forgotten that we are in the world and that’s about all – we are not of the world. God’s kingdom works so differently. Aren’t God’s ways different from the world? Aren’t God’s thoughts higher than ours?
You see, the order of God is different from the order of man. Jesus said that the first shall be last, and those who exalt himself shall be humbled. The weak shall declare they are strong, the poor rich, and the lost found. To live, you have to die to self. And to be successful, you must first be a servant.
So, yes, Joel has left before his dad. He has left leaving behind his loved ones. But it is not the end. Definitely not. It is only a beginning, a marvelous beginning, an endless celebration in fact. He lives on over there even as he expires over here – physically speaking.
His testimony as a son, a husband, a father himself, a believer shines throughout. These memories are just indestructible. They cannot be taken from all of us here. We stand (or sit) here as evidence of how each of our life has been influenced by his life – in small and big ways.
In fact, these memories, the images of Joel’s life and ministry stand as a city on the hill for all to see, and to be inspired, to be encouraged.
Joel indeed fought the good fight. He took this life God has given him – not too long and not too short – and made the most out of it, the best of it. And now, he lives forever in the arms of his Savior. He’s home where he has always belonged.
Let me end with what faith means to me in this journey. We spent 8 long years since 2008 praying for him. Our collective voices as a family cried out to God. But it appears it went unheeded. Our prayers seemed unreciprocated. Underscore “appears” and “seemed”. So let me share with you my beloved the other side of this desperate supplication to God. Let me offer you another perspective from God’s point of view in our struggles with unanswered prayers. I have written it here and I call it, quite ironically, the journey of unanswered prayers.
“This is the journey of unanswered prayers.
It arises from an earnest heart.
It takes its life from the breath one takes.
Our souls incubate her to flight.
Every whisper adds flesh to her existence.
But the journey she takes is a hard one.
It is long and painful.
At times, the pain can be unbearable.
Hope can appear distant.
Joy can be quashed.
And faith can fall short.
The journey of unanswered prayers takes many blows from all sides.
Circumstances conspire to exhaust her.
Time can mocked at her, torture her.
While nothing is impossible for those who believe, yet believing is not what is impossible for the believers.
It is the false hope that makes the journey intolerable.
The uncertainty cuts deeply into the longing, weary soul.
Positive turns are met with negative U-turns.
Improvements we see in Joel turned out to be deterioration lying in waiting.
And peace of mind are shattered by unbidden anxiety.
This uncharted path also seeks to starve us of hope, faith and joy.
Yet, this journey of unanswered prayers does not remain unanswered for long.
It somehow finds her own answers, in her own ways.
The miracle unfolds in her own time.
God’s plans are indeed different.
With time, the season of pain gives way to a season of deeper understanding.
The season of disappointments turns into reason for hope.
The load becomes lighter.
The joy returns.
As the journey of unanswered prayers come full circle, it is an end of one journey and the glorious start of another.
It is the beginning for Joel in a place he will always be singing and praising with no end in sight (that’s what he loves to do, above all).
And for the living, for us all here, his family, his friends and believers, we look back at the trail of this journey of unanswered prayers, and we see not the pain, the sorrow, and disappointments anymore.
The trail behind us has changed completely when we choose to see it not through our own eyes, but through the eyes of our Savior.
The tears of this journey has turned to rejoicing.
The brokenness is made whole.
The sadness transformed to joy.
Faith is restored,
Peace returns for good,
And love finally conquers all.
The love of a father for his son.
The love of God for us.
Now I know what Isaiah 55:11 means when it says, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
Tonight, the journey of unanswered prayers find her rest and assurance in this scripture.
For every prayer offered did not return unto God void.
But it accomplished so much for those of us who keep trusting, keep believing.
Joel has finally returned home to much rejoicing.
It is victory forevermore.
It is life eternal.
It is joy unconditional.
Rest in peace Joel.