Reflections of A Father About A Lost Son

With my legs spread out in front of me, exhausted and in total fear, I pray repeatedly "Lord, don't let my son die." EMT officials administer RCAN, but the heart monitor set up a few feet away is flat-lined. He died in my arms.
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By Richard Cizik about Richard Cizik, Jr.
December 28, 2013

Thursday started like every other day. Light streaking in my windows as the sun came up. Hot coffee. Prayers by a Dad for the day. Ginny began her day praying, "God protect my sons."

I've been fond of quoting C.S. Lewis that "one day seems like the next. Until you look back and everything has changed." Sometimes in an instant.

"Rich, help me trim the tree, ok? And can you help me find my glasses?" "Sure, Dad," was the response. He went to find them, and did, under a book. " What do you think of going back to contacts, so I don't lose 'em, Rich?" I don't know Dad, "you might want to consider that." Hey, I'm headed out for breakfast." Why, I asked. I'll make you eggs and bacon. He left in a seeming hurry. I shaved and showered.

That thing about life changing in an instant. Next sound heard are screams for help from John and Taylor. Richie sitting half-up on a bed. A needle still in his hand. Chaotic attempts to save him. To get him into a shower to shock his system. Unsuccessful with his big 6'7" frame, I held Richie's head in one arm, a cell phone in the other talking to 911, while Tayler and John try CPR. Fifty, fifty-one, fifty-two... Our precious first-born had stopped breathing. He was dying or already gone. With my legs spread out in front of me, exhausted and in total fear, I pray repeatedly "Lord, don't let my son die." EMT officials administer RCAN, but the heart monitor set up a few feet away is flat-lined. He died in my arms.

The shock of seeing your son alive one minute, dead the next, is almost more than one's mind can comprehend. Not even the attending physician at the Hospital telling you the truth about your son, or your loved one, as the case may be, can make it real. This can't have just happened. It's a bad dream. Why? How? Where are you, God?

Richie was Virginia's and my first born, after years of being told we were infertile, a bundle of joy was about to enter our lives. I will never forget shouting out the back door, "We're going to the hospital," though to whom I shouted this is a mystery.

He was a lovely child, obedient, most of the time. I do recall his first sentence was "Me no do." As a young boy, he and his brother fished on the Rappahannock River, which Richie did a fair amount of in his last year. He also loved history, skateboarding, and music. He was warm, comfortable, and fun to be around.

"I was so touched by what a kind, gentle sprit he had; someone who would not hurt anyone; someone who had so much love inside of him," is how a family friend wrote about him this week. The boy had grown into a man.

Chelsey, a girlfriend of old wrote, us this week saying "you brought up a good, compassionate, understanding, generous man." She also wrote that "you made him feel happy and safe. He would do anything to make you happy, and protect you from some of he things he struggled with. Thank you for sharing him with me."

Last week, our 23-year-old young man, so wonderfully sensitive, and breathtakingly sweet, had been to rehab for a month, was now clean, off all drugs, and on his way back. Richie was happy, excited about his "new life," and not as some assume about these things "estranged" from his family, or angry, or depressed. He was totally alive! Called his Mother earlier that morning to say "I love you, Mom." He checked in on her daily, visiting often. Checked in with his brother, John, about Dad, too, if we hadn't talked.

We had been to the White House Holiday Party, and Richie had stood for over an hour to get the chance to shake hands with President Obama. He admired him greatly and was thrilled. His only disappointment? His "selfie" of the handshake turned out to be a picture of his palm. He joked about it.

The head of the White House Office of Faith based and Community Initiatives is here today, Melissa Rogers, and that would have really impressed Richie. He'd be even more pleased with the letter she brought from the President, not because he was arrogant, or lacked humility, but because he cared about people, all people, and surely you in this room helped form that concern for equality, justice, and compassion.

We don't have the capacity to fathom how or why such tragedies as Richard, Jr's death occurred. We know of sin, and death that ensues, for all of mankind, but the wound of Richie's death for us is still too raw to process. For days, I have sighed deep "soul sighs." I say for myself and his mother Ginny, we have these deep, irrepressible sighs, only able to voice "oh, God," as a prayer.

Who am I? I am a man who has lost a son. A mother has lost her son. The world is emptier.

We all are here because we loved him, and miss him. There is a hole in our hearts. A void. A gap, which no one else can fill. No one will ever be able to laugh the way he did. Or play x-box. Or see and apprehend the world like he did.

But I do know some things with all my heart to be true. And I hope these truths will comfort and strengthen you.

First, God is all powerful, loving, and merciful. He can be trusted with Richie's life, and I do say life, not death. Richie has only transitioned. He lives in another existence and will be raised again. Just as Lazarus was raised. Just as Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead.

Ok, you say, that raising for Richie is sometime in the future. What about my pain now? God answers saying "I had a son who died." I understand your suffering.

We can't turn back the clock. But we can choose to see what happened differently. If you knew how many people are here today because they prayed for Richard, Jr., you would be astonished.

In Richie's case we have to believe that all the prayers, intercession, compassionate intervention and patient striving with him, as he worked to free himself from addiction, will not return void, any more than God's word will return void. I won't venture to predict what God can accomplish in good and holy transformations but they will ripple forth provided that they re not stopped by bitterness and blame.

But if you ask, as I do, Why was his life was cut off in its prime? Why did God not prevent his death? You may have asked God this same question about your loved one. We know you have. Years ago, Rich and John lost their babysitter. These are unanswerable questions. They can create a spur of bitterness at God. And that is wrong.

God can turn the curse of Richard's premature death into a blessing. God weaves the devil's attacks into the tapestry of his perfect will. God knew what was going to happen when Richie "went out for breakfast" and did not prevent that exercise of his corrupted personal choice.

But with faith to see beyond the curse, God can make what happened a blessing. Richard, Jr. would want that, as John Cizik put it.

Second, for believers and non-believers our son's experiences and circumstances are a a warning to be heeded. We may fancy that we needn't take these snares seriously. To quote Deuteronomy 29:19 "I will be safe even though I persist in going my own way."

Richie reminds us that we can someday go too far w/out realizing it. We need to "settle matters quickly" with God as Matthew puts it (5:25). In a word, don't do drugs. Don't cause this pain we have in our hearts to those who love you.

Richie would also say, as I do, forgive yourself and others. When someone really sinned against him, he forgave him. When I asked how, he said "What good would anger or revenge do? This was more than a human calculation. It was a reflection of Richie's heart. It was a character quality. A lens into his soul.

Richie's life was cut short by a mistake, a fatal mistake. But it was a successful life in the ways that really matter.

Finally, we should bear in mind those encouraging us onward. Randy Alcorn in his book "50 Days in Heaven," writes as follows: "Christ said there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:10). Notice it does not speak of rejoicing by the angels but in the presence of angels. Who is doing this rejoicing in heaven? God, but also the saints in Heaven, who would deeply appreciate the wonder of human conversion, especially the conversion of those they knew and loved on earth. If people in heaven rejoice over conversions on Earth, then they must be aware of what is happening on earth. -- and not just generally but specifically, down to individuals coming to faith in Christ!

Many assume that people in heaven must not be aware of anything on earth or else they wouldn't be happy. But people in heaven are not frail things whose joy can be preserved only by shielding them from what's going on in the universe. Happiness in heaven is not based on ignorance, but perspective, God's perspective. God is full of joy, despite his displeasure of certain things on earth. "

Richard, Jr, Richie, had this wonderful interest in the expanding universe. He pondered the ineffable, what can't be explained. Now, I know he knows. As he is with God.

He would want from us this perspective, that we would think as follows:

Thank you, God, that those in heaven are cheering us on, rejoicing in making the most of our lives, as Richie's brother John put it. We long for Earth's full deliverance from sin, suffering, and the curse. Thank you that Jesus did the work that assures our ultimate deliverance from the Hell we deserve to the heaven we don't deserve. We praise you for purchasing our redemption, even at such a price!

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