By Felicia A. Petro/Senior Reporter
The holidays can be a special time, as well as a stressful time.
I came to understand this all too well, starting with the death of my father, who developed heart problems and regularly went to the Veterans Administration hospital in Butler for treatment to clear excessive fluid from his lungs.
It was a common stay, so we did not expect that he would not come home the last time we saw him alive at the VA on Christmas Eve in 1994. He died at 5:30 the next morning and my world changed forever.
The anniversary of his death was yesterday; 18 years just flew by. I went from being 27 years old to 45 in about 37 seconds - with so much packed in those seconds that has reached depths much farther than the texture of my changing skin and color of my hair.
Yet, somehow the concept of being middle age escaped me until recently. Now I wonder about how the next 18 years of my life will be - which will probably arrive in about 10 seconds this time, I'm sure.
I know there will be more life-altering things that will be painful, yet how do I reconcile this with the genuine belief I've gained in the last 18 years that the Savior came to this world to suffer as us, not just for us?
I never thought anything would be so life altering as my father's death that Christmas Day. Strangely enough, my two sisters' father died at exactly the same time on exactly the same day as mine - but nine years later.
My eldest sister said she knew her father would soon be dying and asked God to take him on a day that was unusual like my father's, so she would know she would see him again in Heaven.
Well, it seems God answers prayers very specifically in these matters, doesn't it? And why wouldn't he: "The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth." (Psalm 145:18)
When my dad died, I felt God nearest to me than any other time I had known. It was the most spiritual time in my life - but it wasn't because I had a lot of faith.
I didn't understand faith. I used to try and drum it up all the time. I had faith in my faith rather than faith in the Faith-Giver, which is a whole lot simpler, I've realized, although much harder to execute because it requires belief and letting go.
In some ways, I think faith can go even deeper than that. After Dad died, faith came, I think, simply because I needed God so much.
I left home shortly after my father's death to do mission work (11 days later, in fact). I knew no one. I was in an unfamiliar place. I was scared.
But this strange thing started happening. Verses I knew from the Bible - or parts of them - came to my head out of nowhere. For instance, "A bruised reed he will not break," from Matthew 12:20.
It kind of knocked down the idea that God's out to get us, which many people believe, especially when they are suffering.
Psalm 34:18 also says that "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
That sounds pretty tender to me, especially for the suffering.
I didn't chant, memorize or even read these scriptures generally. Honestly, I only knew parts of them. It was like they were small seeds planted in my heart that grew simply because I needed them to - and God himself was holding the watering pot and fertilizer to ensure that they would grow. This is the deeper faith I mean; the kindness of God that reaches out and heals the suffering. It's a stronger God who's faithful, even when we are faithless.
During that time, I also remembered something about orphans and widows being close to God's heart - again, out of the blue - one day as I thought of my dad. I had kept trying - and failing - to put on my game face for everyone.
It seemed strange that I could be considered an orphan at 27, but for a moment I felt this tender understanding fill me inside. I've never forgotten it. I knew people said in church that God is my father, but here I felt it in this cruel transition of my life.
And it was comforting. I don't know why people do this - and why others expect this from the grieving - but I felt I should be getting along with things. Surely, my dad was elderly. He had heart problems. But he was the most important man of my life. I was living in a strange place with no family or friends. I was a fatherless, 27-year-old orphan.
God understood, even more than I knew: "You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn." (Exodus 22:22-24)
I guess God does get us in some instances. But not when we're suffering.
I've sponsored a child in India since she was 12. She will be 18 next year. It's not because I am a great Christian all the time. She just needed someone to help her. The middle-school ages often get overlooked. I understood what it meant to be overlooked, and that's why I picked her. Bharati was overlooked - fatherless, too.
I wish I could bring her here to put her through college, as she has been like a daughter I never met. She signs her letters, "Your loving child," or "Your only child," and it makes me want to cry at those stand-up tables in the Grove City post office, where I read them.
There are orphans in India. China. Mexico. And it is mission work to reach out to them. But, please, do not think it is less spiritual to reach out to the 12-year-old orphan who lives next door - or the 27-year-old in your midst who weeps like a child inside.
Maybe you are the 42-, 53-, 85-year-old orphan. Please mourn without shame, knowing you are honored and remembered by the Savior.
Life is filled with loss, and I want to know that there is someone who understands all that I've suffered; someone who pulls off my game face and listens. Deep down, I truly believe the world senses who He is, especially at this time of the year.
Like many people, I get angry at God, but maturity has taught me that my anger won't make God walk away. And I'm thinking that the next 10 seconds of my life will teach me more than I know now about how much Jesus' deep suffering for me - and as me, in place of my brokenness - is the only thing that can raise me back to life, just like he was Raised. I believe this is why the gospel is The Good News. I just have to remember to put faith in it, and not faith in my faith.
I think it's what God was trying to show me 37 seconds ago, when he was so near to me at such a displaced time in my life, that I swear at times I felt his arm leaning against mine.
He is near to you in your pain as well during this special and stressful time of the year.
Published Dec. 26, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.