I love this time of year. As soon as I toss the last smooshy jack-o-lantern into the garden, I’m ready for Christmas. Now, before you judge—I don’t put up a single twinkle light until the day after Thanksgiving, but believe you me—after Thanksgiving, I am full-blown Buddy the Elf. Let’s pause for a moment, though, to give Thanksgiving the respect that it’s due. I’ve never been a huge fan of turkey, and between you and me, I am all-out TERRIFIED that I am responsible for making said turkey this year (No one should ever have to do something that requires them to salt the inside of a body cavity. It’s just not okay.). However, I can’t wait to be surrounded by family and friends, marveling at all for which I have to be thankful. There’s just something about the sacredness of a day of remembrance and reflection on all of the good things in your life that makes you feel warm and makes you forget that you just pulled something’s neck out of its butt. So, yes. Thanksgiving is great. BUT—Christmas. Christmas is my jam.
I have been known to take an entire day off, just to Clark Griswold my house, inside and out, while I listen to Christmas music and watch Christmas movies (in a very specific sequential order that only makes sense to me). I buy wrapping paper that matches my Christmas tree; I dress my dogs in little Christmas sweaters–I will even drink disgusting, digestively-dangerous eggnog one time per holiday season (I think it’s written in the Constitution that you have to, right?). I love it. All of it.
This year, though, something is different. I’m still as excited for the traditions, the lights, the gift-giving…but it’s all tempered by some feelings I would rather not feel. Four months ago, our family lost the greatest, kindest man I’ve ever known. Thanksgiving will be our first holiday without him. My cruel subconscious forgets for a split second now and then that Dad is gone. I’ll see something that would make the perfect gift for him and have a moment of excitement before I remember and my heart feels the familiar twinge of grief. I’ve started to text or pick up the phone to tell him something about a hundred times since he has been gone, and then I remember, and the sadness makes me catch my breath.
The holidays can hurt.
I hurt for my mother, who has spent every holiday for nearly 50 years with my dad. I hurt, knowing that if I have 36 years of memories that are equal parts treasure and torture, then how much more must it grieve her?
So many of my friends and family have lost someone they love this year. Whether it be a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a friend, or a baby they hadn’t yet met, but fiercely loved, the loss is real. It was abundant this year. More than I can ever remember. Other friends are coping with painful divorces, crushing disappointments and broken dreams. Loss takes many forms, but they all hurt.
For those of you who are like me, trying to balance the happiness of the season with the hurt in your heart, I want to encourage you that it’s okay to belt out Christmas carols one minute and melt into tears the next. Even though I wish I could turn my heartache off like a faucet, I’m grateful for it. Grief, as cruel as it is, reminds us that we had something worth grieving for. It softens us and proves the value of what’s right in front of us. Let yourselves hurt, friends, but then make new traditions and memories. Don’t curl up in the past and stay there.
Whether you have lost a loved one or lost a dream, you don’t have to grieve without hope. I know that I will see my dad again someday, and there is nothing more comforting or priceless than that. Pain is temporary in this life, and we have a loving God who wants nothing more than to see us through the hard seasons if we’ll only let Him. If that sounds nice, but like it’s out of reach for you, I promise you it isn’t. It’s for everyone. I would love to talk to you about it if you’d like to know more, or if you just need a listening ear. There is no better time than now to get to know the Healer of Hurts. He has saved me from myself and my despair time and time again, and He’ll do it for you too.
Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about those who have died. We don’t want you to be sad like other people—those who have no hope.–I Thessalonians 4:13
I wish you all the happiest of “Oh-My-Word-What-Do-I-Even-Do-With-These-Giblets?” Days. (Seriously—why do they leave the giblets in? I know it’s allegedly for gravy, but no. Just no. Giblets, you guys. No.)
I wish you an even merrier Christmas (I am totally throwing snow up in the air in my imagination right now), and a Happy New Year (can I get an “amen” that 2016 is almost over??? Bye, Felicia!)
‘Tis the season to be emotional pogo sticks…and that’s okay.
The last words you said to my brother were “What day is it?”
You were asking because your fight was over and you knew you were going Home.
It was July 17th.
The last day anyone would see your warm smile, or look into your kind, brown eyes.
It was the last day that Mom would hold your hand and laugh with you over a joke between the two of you.
It was the day for which we’ve been preparing for several years, but that caught us all completely by surprise.
It was the day that I saw more strength in my mother than I knew one woman could have.
It was the day she held up the rest of us as we grieved.
It was the day I held your hand one last time.
It was the day you shed the earthly body that had held you back from what you love for so long.
It was the day we looked through 73 years of your full life, laughing, crying and marveling at the man you were.
Today is July 23rd.
It is the day that everyone who loved you so deeply will celebrate who you were, even while our hearts break.
It’s the last day we’ll look on your sweet face.
It’s the day we will put your earthly body in the ground in the cemetery that has so much meaning, and even more so now.
It’s the day we will cherish each kind word, each sympathetic tear and each memory of the most wonderful man we knew.
It’s the day we’ll remember, for the 1000th time, that you are in Heaven this very minute, and our hearts will strengthen at the thought of it.
It’s the day we will say goodbye, if we’re ready to or not. We’re not. We never will be.
It leaves every piece of my heart asking “Lord, what day is it? What day will you call us Home to be with Dad and the others who went before him?” As much as my heart longs to see my earthly father again, it pales in comparison to the thought of seeing my Heavenly Father. He, after all, is the One who made a way for us to see those we’ve lost and to spend eternity with them–and Him. All because He loves us so. He grieves with us as we grieve, but is in Heaven rejoicing at the arrival of my Dad, His good and faithful servant. When I think of how Jesus must have felt, knowing the fight my Dad fought on this earth, when he walked into Heaven in a perfect body—I can’t help but smile through my tears.
Dad, we all wanted so badly to make you proud of us in this life. It’s my turn to tell you how proud I am of you. You fought well and you were dearly loved. Your life was authentic and touched everyone who had the honor of meeting you. I will miss you fiercely until I ask one more time “Lord, what day is it?” and the answer is “Today.”
But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:
Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?
I Corinthians 15:52-55 (The Message)
“You are your father’s daughter.”
I’ve heard that phrase more times than I can count. I never tire of it. As a child, I would nearly burst from pride when someone would notice my dimple, or my brown eyes, or the way I walk, and say “You are your father’s daughter.” I would look at his face when he smiled his gentle smile at me and then touch the dimple in my own cheek, to make sure it was still there—so proud to bear a physical resemblance to a man I loved so dearly. Over time, I’ve even come to terms with having my father’s horrific feet. Recently, as I tried to ease his compression socks onto his legs without hurting him, he said “You know, these feet are your destiny” with a wide smile, and we would laugh conspiratorially at our shared misfortune.
There is a gaping hole in my heart right now that feels impossibly deep, but the love of our friends and family, and especially our Savior, is carrying us through. I profess to be a writer, but the words to convey the lovely person my father was escape me. I couldn’t do it justice with all the words and all the time in the world. I loved him so, and he loved me. So much of who I am is because of who he was.
While my thumb is a much paler shade of green than his, I’ve grown to love watching seeds that I planted sprout up from the earth. Never mind that they have about a 50% chance of survival–at most. The last several visits we had together, he would say “now tell me again what you’ve planted and where you’ve planted it” while I took him on a virtual tour of my yard and garden and he assured me I’d done everything right—whether I really did or not.
I love gardening because of him.
Some of my earliest memories (before they raised those pesky height requirements!) are of him tightly buckling me in beside him in a rollercoaster car, putting his arm around me and giving me that raised-eyebrow grin of his, as we took off up the steep grade, only to plummet back down again, me giggling, and him clutching his Ohio State hat in one hand and my tiny arm in the other.
I love rollercoasters because of him.
I love the smell of a campfire, and the way a hot dog tastes when it’s straight from the roasting stick, charred from the open flames. And there is nothing sweeter than a marshmallow, roasted on a fire that my Daddy built with his trusty National Guard shovel and a few rolled up Bryan Times newspapers.
I love campfires because of him.
He loved being our dad. Both of my parents valued experience over possessions and I thank God that they did. We traveled, went camping, ziplined, tubed down rivers, took road trips and climbed sand dunes. We were professional adventurers. Even when we weren’t exactly looking for adventure, it somehow found us. 🙂
I love adventure because of him.
More than anything, my father taught me what it means to be a Christian. When I imagine what Jesus must be like, I imagine him to have many of the same characteristics of my Dad. A soft-spoken strength, and a love for his children that feels safe and strong. In the middle of the hypocrisy and cruelty of this world, my parents showed us what genuine faith looks like. The last time I saw Dad, we were talking about my husband and I said “He reminds me a lot of you, Dad.” He smiled and said “You sure got a good one and so did he.” He called me his “sweet daughter” when I left, and my heart caught in my throat. I mentally held onto those two words, desperate to remember that moment, knowing my moments with him were growing few. In the three days since he left this earth, Jesus has whispered that comfort to me over and over. I am his “sweet daughter” and my beloved Daddy is with him this very minute. I don’t know how any of us could do this without that knowledge, and if one person’s faith is made stronger by the legacy my Dad is leaving, I can’t think of anything that would make him happier. I’m so thankful for an earthly father who quietly demonstrated the love of Jesus.
I am my father’s daughter, and I am my Father’s daughter because of him.
Thank you, Dad.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. II Tim. 4:7