“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Messiah and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5:18). God’s heart is reconciliation. Yeshua said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” The Olam HaBa (age to come) is described as a place where the wolf lies down with the lamb. As many of you know, we just returned from the US with the most impacting and memorable time we’ve ever had. The theme seemed to be reconciliation.
Before we left for the US, I learned of the tragic death of the son of a member of our former congregation (Tikvat Israel) in Virginia. I knew the son well. When we arrived, I discovered the mother, an old friend of ours, had been wishing that I was around to do the funeral. I contacted her and said we were in the US, and I’d be honored to conduct her son’s funeral. I had conducted her husband’s funeral over 15 years ago. She was still a member of Tikvat and wanted to hold the service there. This created a problem because I had not been back to our congregation for four years. I have never written about this, but suffice it to say that I had huge differences with my successor at the congregation and would not return until he left. He left a year ago. Interestingly, I had contacted the elders of the congregation about possibly speaking there on this trip, and a meeting was scheduled with them a week following the funeral. My purpose was to seek to bring healing and restoration to the congregation. Now, I needed to conduct a funeral there, even before the meeting.
The elders graciously allowed me to do so. The funeral, while very painful for the family – her son was 34 and had three children – still brought a lot of healing for those in attendance. Some were members of Tikvat, and others were those who had left Tikvat. Stacy also sang at the funeral. The funeral was the bridge to reconnecting to our former congregation. The elders and I later had a long and successful meeting in discussing the past, and I was allowed to speak at the congregation. Stacy also played with the worship team. It was great to be back, and I was shocked to receive standing ovations at the beginning and end of my message. Only the Lord knows the future.
During the trip Stacy received a Facebook note from a former member of Tikvat, who left the congregation with her family many years before. They were very close friends, and their departure was very painful. She now sent us a long email apologizing for what happened and indicating that she had recently returned to the Lord. We were deeply moved by what she wrote, and as it turned out she and her husband were visiting Richmond the coming weekend. We ended up meeting over a very long lunch. We hadn’t seen them in over 20 years, and it was an incredible reconciliation.
In addition, we later spoke at a church where another former leader of Tikvat and his family were attending. They had also left the congregation around 20 years ago under difficult circumstances, and again we got together and had a wonderful time of reconciling. It was as if God had planned all along for this trip. Interestingly, on the same trip, Stacy and her brother had arranged a reunion of the members of her former neighborhood, who lived there over 40 years ago. While technically there was no reconciliation, still seeing folks she had grown up with and hadn’t seen in many years was incredible. Of course, I knew many of the people as well because we played softball games in the field behind the house she grew up in (I met Stacy when she was 16). However, the culmination of the trip and the reason for my visiting at this time was for my Dad’s 91st birthday.
As many of you know, I was estranged from my parents for 28 years due to my faith in Yeshua as Messiah. A complete reconciliation with my father occurred 2 ½ years ago and a partial one with my mother just before she died 6 months later. Last year my Dad hosted a big party for his 90th birthday, although he held the party over a month later to enable me to attend. That was the last time I had seen him, although we talked at least once a month on the phone. This year I arranged to be there for his birthday. After we arrived, my sister said his health had deteriorated over the past several months, and he didn’t feel he would be up for a party. Instead, we arranged to visit him and bring cake to his apartment. When we arrived, it was pretty telling. He had changed dramatically from when we saw him last year. He was now bedridden, had lost a lot of weight, and I could tell this was probably the last time I would see him. My sister said that many days he was incoherent. Thankfully, the day we visited, he was completely lucid. We had a nice time together.
I planned to visit him one more time before we returned to Israel. I was also scheduled to attend a rabbis’ conference in Connecticut at the tail end of the trip. The day before the planned visit my sister called to say that for the past week he hadn’t been doing well, probably would not be able to communicate and possibly for Stacy to sing him a song and for me to pray for him. Stacy then sent out a prayer request to a group who prays for ours and others’ needs. When we arrived at his apartment, I heard a bunch of chatting from his bedroom. I wondered who was there. As it turned out, he was completely lucid and talking to my sister and her daughter. It was a miracle. We spent an hour and a half there. At one point I explained that Stacy had brought her guitar and could she sing him a song. He happily agreed. She played, “Lord of the World,” a derivative of a famous Jewish hymn, Adon Olam (Lord of the World). He loved it. My sister and her daughter left shortly thereafter.
We were getting ready to leave, and I asked my Dad if he wanted Stacy to play another song. He said yes, and Stacy played a modern version of “The Lord is My Shepherd,” from Psalm 23. After she was finished, he began clapping and clapping for the longest time. Finally, I asked if we could pray for him. He said absolutely. This, in and of itself, was shocking. He was never religious, and before we were estranged, anytime I brought up faith issues, it became a big battle. Even after our reconciliation, he was eager to read my updates, like this one, but instructed me not to send him anything with religion, to which I agreed.
I prayed, and then Stacy prayed. Then, he said that he also wanted to pray. I was completely dumbfounded. I didn’t even know he knew how to pray. He then prayed out loud as if he had been praying all of his life. At the end of the prayer, he thanked God for His forgiveness and His redemption. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Honestly, I have never seen anything like it.
Three days later, my sister called me and said the hospice nurse said death was imminent, and I needed to come. Stacy and I arrived late Saturday afternoon. We prayed for him again – I said the Shema (the most well-known Jewish prayer/declaration) and said when one is dying plus chanted over him the Aaronic benediction. Several hours later, while we were there, he passed.
The funeral was two days later. Two of our girls and our infant grandson came from Israel (my dad had met our grandson – his great grandson - last fall). The day before the funeral we met with a rabbi from my Dad’s congregation, who was preparing the eulogy. Stacy and I, my sister and her two daughters attended and recounted various experiences with him from over the many years.
At the funeral, my sister, one of her daughters, my Dad’s brother, one of my daughters, who also read something from the one daughter who couldn’t attend from Israel, and I spoke. Stacy again played, “The Lord is My Shepherd.” Last September when I was in the hospital I had written a long letter to my father, expressing my love for him and recounting both the years when we were in relationship and the years we weren’t. I apologized for a lot of things. After I wrote it, I knew I would read it at his funeral, which I did. It was hard because it was very personal, but I think it helped many in attendance to understand what happened and how complete the reconciliation had become. I found out later the service was videotaped. If you’re interested in viewing it, you can go to http://totalwebcasting.com/view/?func=VOFF&id=whc&date=2016-05-17&seq=1
Password: cowen2016. My dad was a remarkable man.
Throughout the years, I always hoped for reconciliation with my family. I had given up hope. Then, as I said, two and one half years ago, we reconciled. It was a miracle, and the ending was even more of a miracle. Just the fact that we were there for all of this was miraculous. I thank God for it, and I thank my Dad for his willingness to reconcile and for my sister, who facilitated it. Yet, upon reflection, we lost many years. Our girls really never experienced growing up with them. In conclusion, I would say this to my readers: if there is a breach between you and a member of your family, do what you can to heal the breach. The separation and pain are never worth it.