Dad

It’s very hard to encapsulate fully what my father meant to me, what he meant to my sisters and to my mother, to his family and his friends.

Watching someone suffer with illness is never easy. And it is certainly never fair. With dad, we had ten years to try to come to terms with reality. And even though we have been planning this event for several months, the fact that this day is here, that his journey in this life is truly over, is breathtakingly hard.

I could share my memories about my father with all of you all day long. Like the way my sisters and I would run across the drive way with bare feet when we saw his truck pulling down the lane, his oldies music blaring loudly even though the windows were rolled up, and we were all sure that one day he would go deaf prematurely. He was always glad to see us.

The way he and my mother danced to Eric Clapton in the living room, with the gas logs burning in the background, and the Christmas tree that he had cut down stationed in the corner.

The way he was always found in the furthest corners of the yard, clearing something, tilling something, growing something, a calming presence as steady as the sun, in his element for sure.

My favorite memory of him is actually a collection of sorts. Nearly all of them seem to point back to the same things: his almost endless patience, and his gentle goodness.

Sunday afternoon naps were sacred for my father when he worked as a golf course superintendent. He would toil away for eighty hours a week during the warmest months of the year and in the cooler planting season in the fall.
His one respite sometimes was that he could come home early on a Sunday afternoon (after he had already been at work since 5 a.m.), and take a nap.

Usually, it was one of us girls would wake him up asking ridiculous questions, probably in a veiled effort to keep tabs on him. He was the lone man in a house of four women. And we made it our sacred duty to mind every single thing he did. It was a tiring operation. Little did we know what a production it would become as the years went on.

On this particular Sunday, it was one of my dozen or so chickens that woke him from his nap with crowing outside of his window.

None of us girls were home at this point, so my dad rashly decided to take matters into his own hands, which usually had a fifty-fifty shot of turning out poorly. He stomped out on to our back deck, near to where the chickens were, his rifle stuffed in the crook of his arm. He had decided to fire a flare into the air in a bid to scare every last chicken away.

Unfortunately for him, one of the pieces of the flare splintered off as he fired, striking the offending chicken square in the chest, blowing his head clear off.

My dad stood on the deck in his slippers, totally speechless, and was not long after joined by my mother who had since returned home. Together they cleaned up the mess, his nap affectively ruined, and concocted a story about the now missing chicken to tell my sisters and me.

For dad, there was hardly ever peace. But he always seemed to welcome such interruptions, and calamity, knowing that it was the price you paid for living a full life, full of people you love. He always let us be ourselves while we were in his orbit, usually content with who we were, amused by our going’s on, content to quietly watch.

I thought that the day my dad died would be the worst day of my life.

Not long after he passed, I slowly began to realize that it was actually the days ahead that would be the worst. When the phone stopped ringing on Tuesday afternoons, and my dad’s voice wasn’t on the other line just calling to chat. It’s been him not being there for French toast (his favorite) on Christmas morning. It’s knowing that chocolate is now safe at my mother’s house, and how it won’t go missing within three hours because my dad just had to have one more bite. It’s not being able to remark about the weather to him on a perfect day.

It’s knowing that us girls and my mom will move on with our lives, and that we can’t share it all with him.

I have seen it written, and believe it is true, that grief is just love. Pent up love, frustratingly and achingly, with nowhere to go. The current of which you have to painfully redirect elsewhere.

One of the worst parts is quite simply not being able to tell him how much we all miss him. It’s figuring out what to do with all of that love we had, the immense love that we maybe didn’t even realize how strongly we felt until now.

In every setback, every medical emergency, every day that his body grew just a touch more fragile, dad always seemed to have the remedy. Because there was always more hope than pessimism for dad.

He never believed the end would come so soon, because in his mind, there was always still more work to do. In his mind, he would be eighty, watching his grandchild graduate high school, still giving my mother a hard time.

Dad in his abundant patience knew to keep cultivating. To keep going, even with the ground was unforgiving, even when it didn’t rain and drought had set in. He knew to keep tending to his work, until something would give. Until something new would come of it.

Dad hardly ever seemed encumbered by the portion that God gave Him. A cup full of peace and easy-going contentment, but also at times marred with sorrow and depression, anger and resentment. And when he was tossed about, what spilled out of him was usually the best that he had to offer.

Dad made it look easy to have that much faith. It was almost annoying at times.

Dad was always preoccupied with worry for others, with taking care of others. When he was badly burned in an accident in our backyard one late August afternoon, I remember him on the stretcher, being carried out by paramedics, an oxygen mask over his face. He pulled down the mask and turned to us girls and asked if we were alright. When I was sick as a little girl, I remembered my dad telling me how he wished he could trade places with me, to take my misery on himself.

I know that if he were here, he would still be worried for each of us. He would want for us to be okay. And, maybe even more importantly, he would want for us to know that it was okay.

I know that this is harder on us now than it is on my father. I know that we all see as in a mirror dimly lit, incomplete and impartially. He would tell us that God brings about redemption in each one of our shortcomings, turning something useless into something restored and usable. Maybe just not in the ways that we expect.

He would tell us that as the suffering sets in, that we can still find the goodness in this life. It’s just buried deep now. Waiting to emerge, little by little, to find its way to the sun. Hard times and sorrow are very real. But even more so is goodness. And hope. And it is hope that will win the day, every single time.

Hope is what sustained my father. Hope in healing in this life, or hope in complete restoration in the life to follow. He chose hope, happily. He seemed to have figured out that we are more than the cheap shots that life occasionally takes at us. We are more than bodies that wither. Goodness outlasts the bad ten fold, long after each of us is gone. Our choice then becomes how much goodness we will choose to take to heart and live out, and to believe in while we are here. We cannot choose our portion, but we can choose to make peace with it.

Now I see my dad in places I never did before. In a perfect fall day. In every chocolate milkshake I have enjoyed since August. In the oldies song on the radio, on days where I can roll the car windows down and walk barefoot outside.

His hope has become my hope, more than ever.

His work is now all our work. In our lives, there is hope. May we plant it deep.

And let it be.

When you’re not the brand new mom anymore

Is there such a thing as the dog-days of raising children?

I feel like if such a thing exists, then I am surely living in them. 

I’m not always fond of the dog-days of summer. The thrill of warm days and nights, of beach trips and sandals usually wanes for me by August. By the middle of the month, I am ready for every wayward insect to die a frostbitten death. I am beyond tired of the boob sweat that plagues me every time I step outside. 

Dog-days with children are the same way.

It’s the space between them becoming mobile creatures, and them turning into potty-trained, slightly better mannered small children. Somewhere in there, it’s almost like they become feral.

I’m in this fold right now.

I have a toddler, and two elementary aged children. The older two could argue about practically anything – and seek to do so daily. While the toddler lives by a personal manifesto that is equal parts the word “no,” and the phrase “YOLO.”

It’s a rare thing when I prepare a meal that everyone eats happily, without even one crinkled nose. It’s even rarer to put all of my children in their beds and actually have them fall asleep without reappearing a handful of times. 

And so, with an undomesticated toddler underfoot (or standing in the yard wearing rain boots and no pants), two junior litigators, and my flailing attempts to draw boundaries and teach them goodness, the energy is drained from my lifeless body daily before ten in the morning.

Do you ever think that moms can lose their vision?

We all start out wanting to do the right thing.

We read the baby books. Heck, we practically started off thinking we could write the proverbial book on parenting. We cut their grapes into fours, made sure they only watched one cartoon a day, and we never left the house without a fully stocked diaper bag.

We answered every cry and question with such purpose, such assuredness. Every waking thought and conversation was dedicated to them. And their faces bring us such unabated joy.

Eventually, maybe a few more kids got added on to the pile, and the days become more about surviving then actually accomplishing anything. The minute hand on the clock slows down. Time becomes relative in relation to when your toddler skips their nap. On those days you watch the space between lunchtime and when your husband walks back in the door grow about five times in length.

You used to sit down while the baby slept. But now, there’s a child latched on to the front of you, and a maybe child pulling at your pant leg, and possibly one shouting at you from the other room….and maybe even one more making questionable smells in the bathroom.

The mom who promised herself that there would be no compromising, no gray areas, becomes the mom who will give in and just buy the damn Lunchables so she can make it through the store without children gnawing off her ears with requests for one thing or another. 

Everything becomes like an episode of American Gladiator.

There is no just making it up the foam mountain, you have to make it past the tennis balls whirring right towards you. No battle, no task is clear cut or simple. There are multiple variables to be considered at all times. Always.

There is no just making it through the grocery store when there exists such torturous things as cereal aisles and miniature carts the kids can push around because didn’t you plan on having your ankles maimed while you went to the store to buy milk?

But really? What happens when you aren’t that brand new mom any longer?

The scent of Dreft has long since faded from your washing machine. That life giving earnestness you had when everything was new has faded. Now your kids have grown old enough to argue with you about whose turn it is the sit in the middle swing at the park. You haven’t made it to the gym in you don’t know how long, and come to think of it, you actually can’t remember the last time you did anything for yourself intentionally that wasn’t akin to spreading peanut butter on a graham cracker, and shoving it in your face while, blessedly, no one was looking.

Nobody really asks how you’re handling everything anymore, except for maybe the handful of mom friends you have. Everybody just assumes that you have a firm grip on everything now. Or they relate enough to know that there is really no such thing as having it all together, and they bring you chocolate even when you didn’t ask for it. 

Now you’re the lady with a few runts hanging off the side of the grocery cart in the store. Nobody gives you the second glance to see how extraordinary you are as you diplomatically sort out whose turn it is to choose the cereal, this week. 

Those visions? The ones you had of how you thought it was gonna be? They’re toast.

As shriveled as the split ends hanging off your head. They are dried out, flapping in the breeze as much as those batwings on your arms do when you wave to a friend across the parking lot at Target. 

Nobody ever told you how hard this was gonna be. And really, would you have even sincerely believed them if they had? And how would you have even understood??

We are in the stage where we aren’t quite the blushing new mom at the grocery store who illicit gently turned heads and praise from other moms as their pink baby is nestled into their chest. Everyone loves that mom. Her kind is welcome here, full of its promise. 

But we aren’t old enough to be pushing a cart alone in a store with stain free pants on, a coffee in hand, admiring all of the young moms while reminiscing about the good ole days, overlooking their struggle or looking on their efforts with sentimentality. 

We are in the stage hardly anybody talks about. Where it is all so unwaveringly hard.

Forget about everything else that’s going on in the world, that’s going on with everyone else. There is enough going on right here, in this house. With these children.

When the nap times have stopped. When there is homework. Where there is no romance, because romance would require the children in your house to actually fall asleep at a decent time. You’re actually confused now as to how anyone ever made more than a handful of tiny humans because even a few of them become such enormous deterrents to marital romance, let alone sitting down.

You’re in the stage where you want to throw your phone across the room when you read someone complaining about how tired they are on Facebook, or about the pedicure they just treated themselves to after such a “hard week”, only you’re too tired to even do so. So you simmer in your disdain. 

This is it. The point of no return.

There are no bottles or nap time schedules. In fact, the only schedule is the one you make, which sounds empowering until you realize how much effort that takes to stay on top of everything American Gladiator-style.

You are moving into the era of shoes needing to be tied, and not Velcro’d. Of after school sports or clubs, and miles on your vehicle as you scurry between everything like a taxi. You are almost to this promised land of kids who can make their own eggs for breakfast, and who you can trust not to run into the street on a whim. 

But for now, you’re nose is to the grindstone, your hand is on the plow. And you are making this work. And it is taking every inch of you. It takes every ounce of moxie you have to not throw everyone’s toys in the trash can, because you how many times have you told them not to just leave them sitting out right after you stepped on a Lego??

Nobody ever tells you what it’s like when you become this giving tree of gargantuan proportions. 

And they assuredly never tell you how beautiful that is.

Nobody tells you how brave you are when you make those hard parenting decisions. Or even the mundane ones. Because someone else’s mundane is your miracle.

Nobody tells you how selfless you are, when you get up again in the middle of the night to quell bad dreams. Or when your children fall victim one by one to the flu, and you haven’t hardly showered or left your house for almost two weeks unless it’s to the doctors. 

Nobody has ever told you how blisteringly tired you are gonna be when those tinies turn into littles, and that it takes pure fight in you sometimes to make it through each day.

Nobody has ever told you how much this world is depending on you, to raise those babies into children into teenagers into adults who care about the rest of us. Nobody has ever told you how powerful you are even when you are catching someone’s puke in your hands or down the front of you. 

ALEX

Nobody has ever told you how powerful it is that you care and that you love, because raising up from that will be more people who care and who love. People we hope will reach the next level. We already have enough violence in this world, enough brokenness, so what we need are people who love unconditionally and that is borne from the love that sheds off of you every day in every humble effort. 

Maybe nobody ever told you. Until now.

I wouldn’t know what to tell the parent who is struggling. Who is exhausted beyond words. Who is afraid. Who feels like they are losing themselves to this parenting battle. Who just wants to sit down. 

There is nothing I can say to you that makes those problems, those worries, those obstacles go away. 

I can only say that you, friend, momma, are not alone in this. We are all out here. And we sometimes think that we are invisible to anyone else, to each other. But we aren’t. 

I need you here, in this, with me. Right now.

I hear that one day, our children will know how to cut the crusts off of their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The ones that they will have made for them themselves. By themselves.

I hear it gets easier, and then right around the time it does, we start to fret.

Because we will already miss them so. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atlas – how to not be afraid.

My biggest question?

Where did you go.

It isn’t even a question anymore, actually. It reads more like a definitive statement. It’s my current definition in my waking life, to which I am steadfastly beholden.

That thought runs through my mind dozens of times on any given day.

When did you turn from this living, breathing being into the still photos on my mantle?

How does it seem like it just happened? The same way that rain falls from above. The same way sunlight streams in through uncovered windows and washes across the floor. 

It feels like everything just happens now. Silently. Unnoticed. Expectantly.

If they told me tomorrow that I was dying, would I even be surprised? I don’t think so. Not the same way I was surprised on the day that you died; when I finally saw that we really are just beings wrapped in flesh who all go away the same way that even summer heat eventually gives way to winter cold.

I was disheartened when I saw for the first time that we are all reduced to lines on a screen that turn flat. No more rhythm. No coursing. Just lines being drawn inexplicably to an end. 

And that’s what terrifies me. I used to not be afraid like I am now, because I hardly ever thought about it. And now that I do, I worry about what you felt. What you sensed. If you felt panic or fear or loneliness.

What does it feel like to slip away? 

And what was there when you opened your eyes on the other side, and breathed in for the first time again? The breath of one whose burdens are removed, who feels complete freedom from turmoil. Who sees perfectly now, as we were meant to. Is that the place where you are? 

I don’t know if it would surprise me if I were to learn that I was going to die. I breathe in and out now like I’m expecting it. Like I will lose it all tomorrow. Silently. Unassumingly. Without care. Like it will happen the same way those white lines flattened.

When did you fade into just being these fractured memories from my childhood? I try not to box those memories in too gently, the way you would fine bone china. I try to hang on to them as tightly as I can, to not recast them as something more delicate than they were. 

But they’re still mine.

And even though I promise that I’m looking, I still can’t find you. 

Even though I’m living this life backwards, and all that I see now is what has transpired, I can’t find you amidst those waves of memories. They’re like shadows dancing on a wall.

What was really real?

I am this empty space trying to absorb the chaotic dust and particles that are floating by. I’m waiting for gravity to take hold. For it to help form something, for the elements to meet and fuse and bond. So that I will eventually have something solid to stand on. Sometimes, I would rather just wait than move on.

But so many things have formed from and in the depths of blackness. Gases and poisons; heat and ice. Cratered surfaces and oceans of lightning. Hidden moons and distant planets spinning in the dark. 

So many things are born when something else shatters. They are beautiful and volatile; terrifying but majestic.

But not every thing that forms right under your feet is a place that you should stay.

I’m caught up in waves of thought; of how things begin, and I stand eagerly trying to reconcile them to the way that things end.

Beginning – end. Beginning – end. My mind turns it all over, once and again. The way that bones grow hard in the womb, the way that they weaken and give way to age and illness. 

Strong to weak. Something to nothing. Alive to dead. Born to die. 

What is out there, exactly? Do we ever really die? Tell me it’s not true.

I’ve become a wanderer. I’m not trying to find my way – I’m trying to find out why. My world was shattered, and now I want to know where the pieces went as they were flung off into the darkness of space after impact; I want to see the things they made, the things I hope they formed.

These are places I need to see, even though I know I can’t stay. I just want to know that the hurt was worth it.

The stars and blackness become a map to me. It’s out there that is the most wild and yet, feels the most comforting – in those places where I would be the most alone, where no one can find me. Where no one even wants to look.

But God says those stars and planets, galaxies and hidden moons, black holes and lost things are already named. He already knows where they each are. Every cratered surface. Each red storm. Every piece of rock, ice covered, hurtling angrily through space, bent on destroying something else, the same way it was dislodged when destruction came calling.

I

Even burning stars, whose lives gave out long ago, but whose light hasn’t yet reached its final destination, He knows where each lost thing is. Because whatever is out there in the dark is still not lost.

It still matters. 

Each hurt that filters through me, that chips off pieces of me is named and counted, grief upon sorrow. It isn’t unknown where they will land; where they will collide; where they will begin to orbit.

As I wander, and I discover and confront each of them, I find that He was present all along. I wasn’t alone in the planes of space. It’s almost palpable, each time I find myself somewhere new; the feeling that He’s already marked it. That it already belongs to him, no matter how vast. No matter how far removed. 

Those lost pieces – He has already set them in place. A solar system, a galaxy of hurts and loss, hate and burning love, turned into ethereal beauty for the ages. Fixed but always moving, always rotating, always going onward, unafraid, into the blackness. 

Affixed invisibly to the sun.

A river of stars, light still being given off from pieces of me that have already gone. Still there to help chart where to wander next. A sea of black above, full of spinning, giant planets and moons. A trail of tears in the dusts and particles.

A forrest of hurt, and yet a map of hope. 

Each lost thing named, not forgotten. Charted.

Claimed.