Five years ago today my dad died.
People ask if today is harder than most and rightfully so. In some ways today is easier than expected. I woke up. I cooked breakfast. I walked the dog. And in some ways today’s simple tasks are the hardest thing I’ll do all year.
Grief, I would argue, is akin to God in the sense that he moves profoundly and shows up at the most unexpected times.
I told a friend recently that maybe today would be hard but maybe it wouldn’t. It’s good in the sense that it’s a day to force me to reflect, to remember, to remind myself of who I was, who he was, and unlike my dad who I have the chance to become. I said that today is just a day in the same way that every day is a day and you learn to live with it.
To which she responded: “You know, just because my husband and I got married in September that doesn’t mean we’re any more or less married the rest of the year.”
And I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m grateful to my friend for putting words to something in a way I certainly couldn’t.
Just because my dad died today doesn’t make the rest of the year any more or less painful. It just is what it is. It’s the burden I bear and the grief that I know and sometimes it will overwhelm me during broad daylight in the middle of a walk. Sometimes the grief comes for me in a song, in a memory, in a small quiet voice. Sometimes it feels like a wrecking ball that rocks my world on a Tuesday and leaves me undone. But just because today is the day doesn’t change the reality that it’s something to live with for the rest of my life. I have good days and bad days and the whole spectrum between.
Losing something or someone leaves you with two options: you can either shut down or you can show up.
At this point I’ve tried both. At first I shut down, rightfully so, because it all felt so unbearable and overwhelming. I was shut off from myself, from community, from God. If you think death is lonely then think again. I was dead among the living because I was terrified to unearth the pain blistering up inside of me. I thought it was too ugly, too painful, too awful to shoulder. But I can firmly say that the only thing worse than losing someone or something is losing yourself in the process.
And so, when I reached the end of myself, when I was at my unhealthiest and angriest I started to show up. It started off slowly. It was the quiet revolution inside of me that rebelled against my better judgment. It looked like asking for help or calling to talk or simply letting myself actually feel something.
The road back to myself is a long one. I know I’m not finished, in fact I know I’ve only just started. I can say that on this journey to reclaiming who I truly am I keep tripping over a few artifacts, a few dusty old relics on this timeless road. When I trip over these things they cause me to stop, to reflect, to investigate and time and time again I discover that those bits and pieces are my dad. When I’m willing to do the hard work of showing up for myself I find my dad under the surface.
As silly as it sounds, it’s like in The Lion King when Simba looks in the pond and Rafiki touches the water only to see Mufasa staring back at him.
“You’ve forgotten who you are.”
And I think after having forgotten for so long I’m finally starting to remember who I am. I’m finally starting to see who I could be if I’m willing to do my work and if I’m willing to let work be done in me. As an adult on this journey I’m discovering that my dad was by no means perfect. For the first time in my life I’ve taken him off the pedestal to investigate him as the flawed human being he was.
He was both sinner and saint.
I am both sinner and saint.
Author and pastor Nadia Bolz-Webber reminds us that we’ll always be 50/50. In this life we’ll never reach a place where we’ve “arrived” by any means. I’ll never be 55/45 or 60/40. Always 50/50. Always sanctified and always suffering. Always half of him, half of my mom, yet fully me.
And on this road back to myself I must remember where I come from. I was born in a hospital, yes 25 years ago, but also a short 5 years ago. I was born in the waiting room, waiting for the news. During a season of Advent what could be more fitting than to wait for God to show up?
Spare him. Spare me. Spare us.
And yet there was nothing on the other end. Silence. The gates of heaven felt as though they had slammed shut and God had grown cold. Despite my fervent efforts, despite my most profound prayers God fell silent.
Save him. Save me. Save us.
Is that not the Christmas miracle? To sit in the waiting room in deafening silence begging for a Savior to save a life? I wish I could’ve known then what I know now. My request did not go unanswered. My prayers were not in vain. God did not stay silent. His answer was vastly different than the one I could’ve planned or the one I could’ve hoped.
A few days from now it will be Christmas. What a gift. What a reminder. What a hope.
“The thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices…”
I wish I could tie it all up nicely and put a bow on it. I wish I could let you walk away with some simple saying or a quick reminder. But all I can do is put you with me in the waiting room wondering if God would make good on his promises. All I can do is remind you that we’re all scared little kids in the hospital room wondering if God is who he says he is.
And all I can point you to is Christmas.