When you’re hurting on Thanksgiving

It’s the week of Thanksgiving! Are you ready? I wish I was, but there’s a lot to do and a heart to prepare. It’s been less than a week since we laid my dad to rest, and we’ve decided to spend this Thanksgiving at home. Sometimes, grief needs to be cocooned and cradled, and for me, that looks like being home. Honestly, it’s just too soon for me to bear going “home” for the holiday and not taking an apple pie or homemade bread to my dad’s, particularly when I FINALLY remembered that he loved apple pie and hated pumpkin pie. I confused it so many times and would always either take a pumpkin, or have to take both refusing to admit to him before that I had forgotten again. haha

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But, Thanksgiving will be a bit rough around the edges this year. I get to play hostess for the first time ever, which is something I will love to do the first year in our new home, but there will be an ache always conscious that someone is missing. But, last year, I learned something I found interesting, but this year is vital to my heart for Thanksgiving. I had been reading through the Bible, so I had passed on through Genesis and Exodus. I was aware of all the laws and requirements for worship for the Israelites, having just read through them again. Then, I ran across this:

With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving, he shall present his offering with cakes of leavened bread. Leviticus 7:13

Now, if you hadn’t just read through Exodus, that verse may not seem all that important to you. But, it is extremely important and all because of one word: leavened. The verse before that says that they would also need to bring unleavened bread (the pure and good), but then here we see for the first time that He was also requiring leaven this time. Leaven meant yeast, and yeast was strictly forbidden in any offerings made to the Lord with fire. In fact, He was so serious about the presence of yeast, that He insisted they throw out ALL yeast before celebration of the passover each year and not even have it in their homes. ummm….do you have any idea how difficult it would have been to get that yeast back? You had to grow yeast from yeast to have yeast….and you’re in the desert…and no one is supposed to have it. But, each year, they had to throw it out. Either, someone wasn’t all that honest about throwing ALL their yeast away, or they were going to great lengths for their bread. But, yeast bread vs crackers?

So, why was God anti-yeast? Because it was symbolic. Leaven symbolized sin or evil in the world. It’s deceit and hurt and pain and everything God doesn’t want for us. It’s cancer and divorce and yelling at loved ones in rage. And in the offerings, like the sin and other offerings, He required it out. Drop your issues, leave them out, repent, and come to me.

But for thanksgiving? He said, bring them in.

Don’t try to fix them. Don’t wash your tear streaked face and dust yourself off first. Bring it here. Because if you can only be grateful for the good, you’re cheating yourself in knowing Him more. Being thankful doesn’t mean you’ve got it all together. Being thankful means that sometimes, you hold it broken. You come before Him with your pain, and your loss, and your sin, and your fear, and you say, “You are still God. You are still good. and I will still follow you, in the harvest and in the drought.”

This Thanksgiving instead of styling our tables perfectly and putting on our masks so that we look like we aren’t broken this year in front of others (and our Lord), let’s just go to Him like we are, either with a harvest of happiness and blessing or with our arms cradling our broken hearts. It’s hard, oh my word, it’s hard. And I don’t know that I will be able to decide right here to offer my hurt with my blessings, but I can spend my week offering little bits at a time. But there is a reason God required it. He knows that we need to know He is gracious through it all. He is walking with us through it all. And through it all, He is good. And He has promised us so much. He’s promised that He does have a plan. He’s promised us that our pain and trials will produce perseverance and faith and so much more. And I want those things. So, I’ll take joy this year in knowing that He loves me and weeps with me and that hurt and pain is not what He wants for us. But, He’ll use that hurt and pain that comes in our fallen world, and transform it into something beautiful. And beauty from ashes may just be what I’m most thankful for this year.

An open letter and goodbye to my dad

It’s been one week since you left us. A miserable, awful week. One month before your death, you stood in my living room and gave presents to my girls you picked out at Toys R Us. Well, it was presents AND candy….always with candy. We were supposed to go eat, and we wanted to introduce you to our favorite burger place. But, you were hurting too much, and you shoved money in my hand and told me it was late and to go feed my kiddos because you needed to head back to the hotel to lay down. I really didn’t grasp what was happening. We thought your back pain had to do with the arthritis they found in the xray the week before…all you needed was some better pain medicine, right? We didn’t know the cancer was spreading like poison up your spine and everywhere else.

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But then, you stood by my fireplace and looked down at my girls playing in the floor. You watched them for a minute and then looked to Norah, the free spirited baby, and said, “I wish I could get to know you more, Norah.”

And I knew that you wouldn’t.

Within a matter of days, we began a whirlwind of packed bags and days spent away from home. You were a bit of a stinker when you began to get confused, but you knew ahead of time that would happen and told us over and over for months, “please. please don’t take anything I say seriously. I love you. I’m so afraid I’ll say something hurtful when my liver fails and toxins affect my brain.” and you did. but we remembered. But you also said some funny things, and I can’t wait to laugh about them with you at a large table in heaven.

I’ll forever treasure October 13th in my heart. We talked on the phone often, but that day, we spoke for almost 2 hours and we said a lot of things that should have been said long before. You were driving and annoyed at other cars, and we had no idea what the next month would hold for us. But I sat in my floor listening hard and holding in the tears harder…I shut my door and hoped for the best for my girls while I stole away to talk to my dad. And I’m so grateful I did. And afterward, I sat and thought about how much I love you.

Because, Dad, you have not always been an easy man to love. It’s a stinging thing to say, particularly now, but you know it’s true. I have fought hard for our relationship when for so many years it would have been easier and less painful to let it just slip away. But I couldn’t, even when I wanted to. I have written you letters like this before each time we’ve been cut off from one another temporarily, but before, it was always me making that call. It was at times when you were hurtful and mean, and I needed to step back. This is the first time it was you who left.  But I made a decision years ago to honor you. I would honor you as the Lord had called me to, and I have never been more blessed by a decision. I chose to answer every call. I chose to attend every gathering you invited me to, (unless it was not one small children were welcome to and not a Parrothead gathering, ahem…ha)

You have been such a blessing. Not just to me. To so many. We basically had to take over the entire funeral home the night of your visitation. The line lasted hours. People were broken over the loss of you. We still are.

Part of it is because you are a giver and an encourager. I have learned so many lessons in life just from that night…one of which is how lacking I am in hospitality. I don’t want to make people uncomfortable. I don’t want it to be awkward for me or them…so I stay back and let moments pass. But you….you jumped right in. so what if it’s awkward at first? They’re welcome. Turn up the music, throw another meat on the grill, and talk. It won’t be awkward for long…and you know what? years later, those people stood in a line with eyes and hearts swollen with memories. I have been cheating myself and others by not swallowing it down and putting a leaf in the table. But not anymore, dad. I should have learned it earlier, but at least it wasn’t missed completely.

Also? I don’t give like you did. You gave money, time, resources. I want to…and when I do, it’s out of compassion and obedience. But you? You were born a giver, blessed with that by God. and it blessed everyone around you.

But sometimes, it was hard. You confessed to me a few times that you thought some people were only around you because of what you could do for them. Because of that, I refused to take anything for so long… I remember in early marriage, we played chicken with so many bill grace periods. We chose between groceries or late fees, gas or interest. I knew then that if I were to only hint at our difficult season, you would have swooped right in and been a rescuer, as always. But I refused. I wanted you to know that I loved you. I loved you for YOU, not for what you could do for me. But later, you were the answer to so many prayers that way. Once, it was a billion degrees in the ancient house we had just moved into. My 1 year old and barely 3 year old were miserably hot and couldn’t sleep, and I text Lance saying we would just figure something out because we had to go get a cheap window unit for them. I finally wrangled the girls up and dressed and was trying desperately to get out the door when my phone rang. I looked down and saw, “Dad.” At first, I started to ignore it and would call back later, but I remembered my decision to honor you always. So, I answered. you were outside and I told you our plans, and of course, you went to the nearest ATM and insisted that I let you buy them a window unit. “A GOOD ONE.” It was around that time that I began to see how much you truly cared.

The relationship we had for the last 4 years is truly my prize. I treasure it in my heart so much and so often. Because I remember the first time you told me I looked pretty. I was in college and I sat in my car crying never knowing just how badly I needed to hear compliments from you. But you poured them out the last several years. You lived close and you text me and called me and pursued me. You set a solid milestone in my life of just how much you love me, but also a mirror of my Father in heaven and His daddy’s love for me.

But through all of that, I still wished so badly that you could know God. But, I didn’t know how to talk to you about that…remember? I don’t want to make people feel awkward…or me to feel awkward. And, plus, there was this new precious relationship between us that I so desperately wanted to protect. And so, I prayed harder than I ever have in my life. For years, mornings began with me crying out to God each morning, asking Him to let you know just how much He loved you and wanted you to turn to him. But then, you called me one June day as I sat out on the swing and told me the doctors had found cancer. And my prayers became more desperate. And I bought you a Bible with your name on the front that now sits here by my chair, and I called a friend who has a dad a lot like you. Someone who doesn’t care to make you feel a bit awkward for a bit, if it’s worth it in the long run. And he insisted on coming to see you in the hospital with his pastor. And you prayed and you asked questions.  And when they called to tell me the news as they left the hospital that day, I fell to my knees crying over just how sweet life can be. And I rejoiced that no matter what this cancer path would be, it wouldn’t be the end. We would continue our relationship, not just as father and daughter, but as brother and sister in Christ, forever. And you were baptized and you joined a church.

And, oh my word, the blossoming of spiritual fruit. It was amazing to watch you grow in faith. You made so many comments to me and said, “I mean, I know I’m just a baby…an infant spiritually. like christian 101 class.” But you loved and cared and prayed and learned and preached like a professor, Dad. You rebuked me, and you comforted me. You taught me and convicted me to my core. The Holy Spirit moved through you like I’d never seen. I only wish you’d had the chance to go back to work as a new creation so that all those people who already loved you so much could see your joy and peace. It was addicting and contagious.

And all the way up to the end, you gave me peace…because you had peace. “I’m not afraid to die, heather. I’m only afraid to leave you guys alone in this world. But I know God is watching over you, and I know I’ll see you again.”

All the way to the end, I was okay. Because I was thinking of you, and you were miserable, Dad. I couldn’t stand to see you ache and say all the words and things you were so so afraid you’d say. But then, you were gone. And I spiraled down. I’m still down here, and will be for awhile. But that’s okay. Grief is okay. So many people have seen my tears and said, “your dad’s not suffering now. he’s in a better place,” and I nodded and tried to smile, but I wanted to yell, “I’m not crying for him! I’m crying for ME. I need my dad! I need my dad to stand up for me when I feel 8 years old. I need him to laugh and joke when it’s too heavy to talk. I need him send me Bob Marley songs when I’m scared or upset.” But I nodded and smiled and tried my best not to push hands away when they tried to push my grief away. And I stood in front of your casket and controlled the urge to yell things like, “No!” and “but that’s my dad!”

Sorry that I chose a song at your funeral that involved cuss words and “being drunk for two weeks” oops. Turns out, I don’t know the lyrics to the second half of the song as well. But, in my defense, Jimmy Buffet mumbles. But the message was clear on your love for the ocean. We were told on your last day that hearing is the last to go, and that you could hear us even if you weren’t responding. So I sat close to you and played you songs and purposely spoke to those around me about God and heaven and the ocean. I wondered aloud if people were drawn to certain things because they were created for that in their eternal work. That maybe you had a job in heaven that had to do with water and waves. I hope you heard me. and I hope you do.

mostly, dad, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for taking me out of my all white town as a little girl and to work with you so I could go into house after house in “the bad part of town” so I could meet people. Thank you for showing me my entire life that people are equal. That people make bad choices but that doesn’t mean we get to have an opinion about them. thank you for showing me that if you’ll set aside this one moment and welcome people in, you’ll create life long friendships worth more than anything else. Thank you for showing me how to live passionately. How to work passionate, rest passionately, play passionately, and spread God’s love passionately. So many more lessons….

Goodbye, Dad…but just for now. Life happens in the blink of an eye, after all.

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