Eleanor felt immediate concern when her husband walked into the church leadership meeting she was attending. She could tell by the sadness on his face that something was wrong.
"Your stepfather's in the hospital and they've called the family home," he said. "It's urgent you leave immediately, if you want to say good-bye." Eleanor was surprised at her willingness to go to San Diego.
The next day on the airplane, she was still pondering her reaction to her stepfather's illness.
"Are you going to San Diego for vacation?" the white-haired gentleman sitting next to Eleanor asked.
"No, actually I'm going home. My father..." she said then stopped as her voice faltered and tears began welling up.
Meeting her sister at the airport, Eleanor gave her a quick, wordless hug. She was afraid to say anything for fear of crying in public. Eleanor wasn't even sure if her stepfather was still alive, but didn't want to know until they were in the privacy of Annie's truck.
"Dad's real bad!" Annie said once they were settled in the truck. "It has everyone shook up, even Mom."
Eleanor's mother and stepfather had recently divorced, an ugly grudge match where they fought their battles publicly, trying to tear apart both family and friends.
Her mother and stepfather married when she was five years old. Up until then, she and her older sister had lived an idyllic life with their grandparents. After the wedding, they had moved from a loving home into the home of an alcoholic. They also moved across the country to a world which was foreign to them in Connecticut.
After a year of suffering from the stepfather's cold-hearted abuse, Eleanor, her mother and sister moved back home. Her mother already had experienced one miscarriage after a severe beating. Once her mother discovered she was pregnant with triplets, she felt the need to protect the babies from this man. Even then, the stress caused her to miscarriage Eleanor's half-brother. Fortunately, her two half-sisters were born healthy and safe.
"Hey, are you still here with me?" Annie asked when they got to the hospital. "You seem like you're miles away."
"Try years away," she replied. "I guess I got lost in the past somewhere, thinking about how things were when we were growing up. To be honest, I don't know why I'm here. Why do I even care?"
"Yeah, I've had those same thoughts!" Annie replied.
"I hated the day they kissed and made up. I use to dream up ways to torture him. But here I am, actually crying over this man. It doesn't make sense."
When Eleanor walked into the ICU, she was shocked to see the man lying on the bed. The once-upon-a-time fierce monster was now a frail, old man. He had gone on a drinking spree for several weeks causing his ulcers to bleed. His diabetes compounded the problem making it difficult for his body to heal itself. Some teenagers had found him roaming the streets late at night; he was completely incoherent and had a raging fever. His arms and legs were blackened by the effects of peritonitis.
Eleanor walked over to her stepfather's bed. At first, she hesitated to touch him since his arms were covered in bloody sores where his skin had burst open in its bloated, blackened condition. Finally, she touched his arm. "Daddy, it's me, Eleanor. I'm here." That was the first time she had ever called him "Daddy".
He opened his eyes, smiling at her. If Eleanor was confused about her emotions before, she was even more confused when she saw his smile. Although he was dying, his eyes held a twinkle in them and his face had a softening glow to it. And yet, what freaked her out more than anything was that smile. It was genuine!
Struggling to speak, he said only one word, "Jesus!" His eyes were already looking beyond her to another world.
A couple hours later Eleanor understood the transformation in her stepfather. A hospital chaplain had visited him earlier in the day. Knowing he was dying without a relationship with Jesus, the chaplain pulled no punches. That day her stepfather met his Savior, Jesus Christ.
With relief and understanding, Eleanor was happy she had listened to the tug on her own heart.
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)
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