Friday, February 27, 2009

The First Decade’s The Hardest

See, here’s the thing.

I had a five page long (and counting) post to commemorate the first decade after Dad’s passing. I worked long and hard to catalog the events surrounding his death, the years afterward, and the grieving process which continues to this day.

However, as I was reading through my post, I found myself thinking back to a conversation I had with my Cousin Aaron. Aaron is a pastor (I like and respect him, nonetheless). I had asked him to review a post I thought was maybe a little inflammatory before I actually put it on my blog.

He wrote back with his comments, suggesting perhaps it was too inflammatory. I, in typical fashion, responded defensively.

“It’s my blog, and I can say whatever I want,” I told him.

“Actually you can’t say whatever you want. I mean, you’re a Christian right?”

Dang it. He had me there.

“Aaron, you know me. I’m not into self-censorship,” I protested.

“Well, maybe you’re not. But I’m pretty sure the Holy Sprit is.”

Dang it! Why did I ask him again?

Either way, the conversation stuck with me, and I decided not to post the article in question.

As I was reading through Dad’s Death Post (as I was generically calling it in my head), I realized I was writing about a very dark time in my life. I was describing the people and churches who had failed Mom and me when we needed them most.

Every word I wrote was true, but re-hashing this particular part of my past wasn’t going to do any good. Many of these people still have no idea how their callousness, their thoughtlessness affected my grieving widow of a mother and this confused and helpless college student of a daughter.

Re-visiting their mistakes would no doubt bring back bitterness.

Don’t get me wrong. I am human, after all. The writer in me wants to post this article. The still-hurting 20 year old wants you to know how abandoned and rejected I felt by people who were supposed to love and help me.

However, this 30 year old, world-weary Christian, has hard-learned one of the greatest joys in life comes from forgiveness. And I have forgiven these people, these churches.

It took many years and many more trials, but God abundantly shed His grace on me. I had no choice but to gladly forgive and be set free.

Spiritual freedom trumps holding on to bitterness any day. Let me tell you.

I’ve memorialized Dad in past posts. See here and here.

To tell the truth, I think I could write something different about Dad every day and never run out of things to say. The man was the epitome of what “father” should be. I was blessed beyond measure to spend 20 years of my life in the care of such a godly and loving servant.

I do not want to forget I had 20 amazing years with this exceptional man. Oh, I could wish for more. Sometimes, in my human weakness, I do. But what God gave me was enough. It has to be, for God’s plan is always better than mine.

So, on this the official first decade since Dad’s passing, I thought I would share one of my favorite “Dad” memories.

As I mentioned before, I was on my high school volleyball team. In spite of my lack of competitive spirit, I certainly enjoyed playing volleyball. I was pretty good at it, too, which definitely didn’t hurt my self-esteem.

One wintry day, our team was getting ready to head out for an “away” game at some other Christian high school in Wisconsin. The weather was getting increasingly worse as thick snow fell from the sky.

We didn’t care, of course. When you’re a teenager, you’re invincible. Immortal. Bulletproof. I had no doubt our coach and athletic director would guide the team van over the icy roads and safely to our destination.

So, it was a big surprise to see Dad’s van pull up outside the school doors where my team was waiting.

Dad parked the car, bundled out in the snow (in that ridiculous Russian fur hat he insisted on wearing), and mucked through the slush to get inside.

“Hey Dad,” I said, clearly surprised.

“Hey, hon. I came to pick you up. I don’t really want you traveling with the roads in this condition.” Dad said, shaking snow off his hat like a wet dog.

“It’s fine, Dad,” I said, with an annoyed teenage eye roll. “Coach says we’re still going, and I’m sure he wouldn’t say that unless it was safe. I mean, no one else’s parents are here.”

Dad looked out the double glass doors at the blizzard-like condition and raised his eyebrows. I knew my Dad well enough to know what THAT meant.

“Come on, Dad. It’s fine,” I changed my tone conspiratorially, using the sweet little girl voice that worked on Dad 99% of the time.

This was the 1% time it didn’t.

My dad was not a hard man. He wasn’t perfect by any means, but he was almost always sensitive towards me. He put both hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eye.

“You’re the only child I have. It’s not safe to travel long distances, so you’re not going.” His tone was firm and decisive with an edge of love I found smothering and over-protective.

Dad went to inform my coaches I would not be traveling with them. I stomped up and down the hallway corridor, collecting my things, and telling my teammates my dad was a complete fuddy-duddy.

I met Dad out by the car but refused to sit by him in the front seat. I didn’t speak a word to him the entire way home.

(You can ask anyone who really knows me - when I stop talking, that’s the big sign I’m really, really mad.)

I slammed in the front door, informed Mom that Dad had officially ruined my life, and huffed off to my room to sulk in private. I envisioned my friends laughing, playing volleyball, and having just the best times of their lives EVER. While I was stuck in solitary confinement.

I heard a snippet of my parent’s conversation where Dad said, “She didn’t say a word the whole way home,” before I tuned out to my favorite Calvin and Hobbes book.

Ten minutes later, there was a soft knock at my bedroom door. It was Mom.

She had a pained expression on her face. She sat down on the bed next to me.

“Honey, you know your Dad loves you. Do you know things have been very bad at work for him, lately? He’s been under a lot of stress, and yet he still keeps going, to take care of you and me. We are a family. This home needs to be a peaceful place where we love an accept one another.”

Mom’s heart-felt speech started to melt the ice in my heart.

“Do you know what I think would make your Dad feel better? Maybe if you went down and sat with him and told him how much you appreciate him.”

I was not a teenage superhero, but if I had been, my kryptonite would have been my tender heart. Frankly, I doubt anyone could have resisted my mother’s plea at that moment or the hopeful look in her eye.

I put my book down, sighed, and walked downstairs.

Dad was sprawled across the downstairs couch, the paper propped up on his chest. The TV was on, but he wasn’t watching it. He was reading.

I shuffled my feet and cleared my throat. “I’m sorry I was so mad in the car. I know you just want me to be safe,” I sighed, exhausted with the effort of a selfless moment in a teenager’s life.

Dad turned his head, and I got the feeling he hadn’t really been reading, just waiting patiently for me. He motioned for me to come and sit next to him on the couch.

“Being a parent is hard work, but you know what kid? You’re worth it.” He gave me a hug, and I started feeling a whole lot better. The spark of happy home harmony had returned to both our eyes. I slid off the couch and sat on the floor at Dad’s feet as he turned the channel to Star Trek, one of our shared favorites.

We were about halfway through the show when Mom came down the stairs with the phone in her hand. “I just got a call from Kathy. The volleyball van just slid off the road. They’re waiting to see if anyone was hurt.”

Now, I know Dad wouldn’t wish harm on anyone, but I think he would have had to be a little too angelic not to feel the tiniest bit of affirmation at that moment. If he did, he never showed it. The three of us immediately prayed for the safety of my teammates, my coach, and our Athletic Director.

Thankfully, no one was hurt.

After Mom went back upstairs, I felt profound relief I had apologized to Dad before the phone call. I thought of the fool I would have felt like if I’d waited.

Instead, there we were, settled safe and sound in our little home, enjoying time together.

Dad put his hand on my shoulder, resting it there just briefly, and said our trademark catch phrase, “Don’t forget your daddy loves you.”

“Dad!” I said in exasperation, “I’m watching TV here!”

He just smiled tolerantly back at me.

Of course, it’s been ten years now since Dad put his hand on my shoulder or spoke those precious words.

But those words, that tender phrase is always with me. And sometimes, during the hardest of days, I still feel his hand on my shoulder.

After all, I promised I wouldn’t forget.

And I never will.


Anonymous said...

I don't know what the other post was, but I think I liked this one better = )
I'm impressed with how much conversation you remember years later...

Colleen said...

I loved that fur cap you dad always wore.

Sun-Kissed Savages said...

I love your memories, your are amazing, surely in large part because of your amazing parents.

Alice said...

What a great memory. Somehow the bad stuff stays with us, crystal clear--that's why it's so important to write all the good things down. Your dad sounds so great. (And my dad totally would have done the same thing. I doubt I would ever have even made it to the school in the first place. Thank God for wonderful dads!)

Jennittia said...

Praise God for that forgiveness... I've had a few of those deleted posts myself!! What a wonderful memory to share in its place!

Heidi said...

I was almost in tears. My dad would have done the same thing and I would have acted the same way.
Ah, the depravity.