In honor of Father’s Day, I’d like to share this post about the salvation of my dad. He came to faith at 84 years young in an incredibly miraculous way: through a dream about a ladder and a lion. Jesus, thank you for saving him and allowing me the opportunity to be there.
Happy Father’s Day Dad. And Happy Father’s Day my Heavenly Father.
My Granddad moved to America from Wales when he was eleven years old. His parents said goodbye, packed him on a steamer ship, and he never saw them again. I find this so foreign to our current American way of thinking. I can’t imagine sending my ten year old to another country to never see her again. She is so unready for a trip like that. There is still so much I want to teach her about Jesus and life. But my great grandparents felt they needed to give my Grandfather the opportunity that America offered.
As I alluded to above, there was a price to pay for this opportunity. To the best of my understanding, without the spiritual influence of his parents, my Granddad died an unbeliever. My Dad and his five brothers and sisters were raised in an unbelieving household, and except for Dad, I believe they all passed away without a saving knowledge of Jesus. My mother was also born into an unbelieving household, and after they married they raised my brother and I as unbelievers as well.
Except for a miracle, Dad would have died as an unbeliever just as his father, brothers and sisters did. God had other plans. I am blessed that He included me in that miracle.
People find it hard to comprehend, but I had never heard the gospel until the day I was saved in June, 1992. Most Christians probably believe there isn’t an American who doesn’t know that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but I am living proof that there was at least one. I would love to tell you my conversion story, but this is about Dad’s miracle not mine.
Suffice it to say that I began praying for the salvation of my Mom, Dad, and brother from the day I was saved. Satan had a hard grip on them. If not for Dad’s miracle, none of them would have been transformed. Just to explain how hard-hearted they were toward God, the story of my wife and my first Christmas together still makes me shake my head.
My parents decided to come and visit my wife and I in our new apartment for Christmas. As a brand new Christian (18 months at that point) naturally I invited them to our church’s Christmas Eve service. Good ol’ Pastor Witt never missed an opportunity to present the Gospel, and that night was no different. He laid out God’s plan of redemption in all its glory. I was so excited. I was sure my parents would “get it” when they heard the Gospel just as I had. I was so wrong.
When we got back to our apartment, my parents were furious that we had taken them “someplace like that.” They told my wife and me exactly what they thought of Christians. My dad said Christians were hypocrites, slave owners, and crusaders, and that he couldn’t believe in a God with followers than that. He then asked me a question, “If Adolph Hitler repented and asked for salvation, would your Jesus save him?” (Dad fought in WWII against Hitler.) “Of course,” I said.
That was the wrong answer to Dad. He and Mom packed their bags and left in the middle of the night, on a Christmas Eve no less. My wife and my relationship towards them was strained from that point on. That didn’t stop us from praying for them, however.
Twenty years later, Dad required back surgery. He had traveled from their small coal mining community to Philadelphia to have the surgery at a “big city hospital.” Unfortunately, he had a heart attack in his room prior to surgery. After bypass surgery, his sternum was infected with MRSA, a “flesh-eating” bacterium. Dad spent six months in intensive care and rehabilitation hours away from family and friends.
We were told Dad’s prognosis was very bad. Not knowing if he would live or die, I traveled the five hours from my home across the state to see Dad every other weekend.
On the day Dad was saved, I knew something was different the moment I walked into room. “Nelson, I had a dream last night.” Dad never talked about dreams.
“Really, Dad, what was it about?” I asked. Dad was animated like I had not seen him in years.
“There was a lion. He was sitting up on top of a ladder,” Dad explained.
“Were you afraid of it?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “Somehow I knew he was there to help me.”
In an instant the entire meaning of Dad’s dream flashed into my mind. It was a God thing. I had never interpreted a dream before and have never interpreted one since, but I knew what this one meant. “Dad, would you like to know what it means?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” Dad replied.
“Do you know who the lion is, Dad?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
“He’s Jesus. The Bible calls him the ‘Lion from the Tribe of Judah,” I said. “That’s why you knew he was there to help you not hurt you.” Dad was silent.
I knew what the ladder meant as well. In “Evangelism Explosion”[i] training, I had learned about an illustration that used a ladder. So I continued, “Dad, Jesus is at the top of the ladder because he is totally righteous, totally sinless, totally Holy. All of us want to climb the ladder but we can’t.” I asked, “Dad, who is the most righteous person alive today?”
Dad immediately responded, “Mother Theresa.”
“She is on the third rung of the ladder, Dad. Jesus is on the one hundredth rung, but even the most righteous among us is only on the third rung.” “Who is the most unrighteous?” I asked.
Dad responded without hesitation, “Adolph Hitler.” I knew this would be his response.
“Adolph is on the lowest rung of the ladder,” I told him. “And you and I are on the second rung. We’re not as high as Mother Teresa and not as low as Adolph. But, Dad, when Jesus looks down at us from the hundredth rung, we all look about the same.” Dad was quiet. “There is only one way for us to get to the top of the ladder. Jesus has to come down, put us on his back, and carry us to the top. We can’t do it on our own,” I explained. Dad’s eyes began to tear up. He finally got it, but he wasn’t ready to commit just yet. Dad didn’t want to talk about his dream any more. He refused. In retrospect, I realize it was because it was me, his son, there in the room with him. His last tiny bit of pride prevented him from committing in front of me.
The rest of that day was long and quiet. When it was time for me to leave, I was desperate. I couldn’t leave without knowing if Dad was saved or not. I didn’t know if I’d ever see him again. I quickly shot up a short prayer, “Jesus, please give me a sign. Let me know my Dad is yours.” Instantly a 300 lb. nurses’ aid walked into the room. Around her neck was a necklace with a name dangling from it in two inch letters. The name stretched all the way to her waist. It said: JESUS. I laughed to myself and shot up a second prayer, “Jesus, when I asked for sign, I didn’t expect a literal one! But thank you.” That night Dad entered the Kingdom.
Dad lived another five years. My wife and I had taken our children to the “happiest place on earth,” Disney World. In the middle of an Indiana Jones enactment, my brother called me, “Dad is in a coma. Come home immediately.”
“Put the phone up to Dad’s ear,” I asked.
My brother said, “It’s pointless, he’s in a coma.”
“Give it a try,” I asked. My brother held the phone to my Dad’s ear and I told him everything a son wants to say to his Dad.
I was just about finished, but God wasn’t. He had one final miracle. For a brief moment, Dad opened his eyes and with his last bit of strength said his last words, “Nelson, I’ll see you when you get to heaven.”
Today we are one day closer Dad. I can’t wait to see you again.
[i] “Evangelism Explosion,” Evangelism Explosion, last modified 2015, accessed June 7, 2015, http://evangelismexplosion.org/