Father’s Day Tribute

Tomorrow is the first Father’s Day without my Father alive. It’s strange and heavy. Just in the last 24 hours I’ve thought of handful of questions to which I know he’d have the answer or could add detail. Thoughts and emotions about him tumble in at miscellaneous times and often choke me up. I hear from others that this is quite normal and doesn’t necessarily have a time limit. 

To honor my Father today, I decided to share my words from his funeral a few months ago:

“Many of you here have experienced the loss of a parent. Depending on the circumstances, there are many emotions that can come and go. It’s strange to feel so many ways and to have emotions pop up suddenly or stirred by the most seemingly insignificant trigger. Last week as I thought ahead to this weekend, I found myself excited for a moment because one of my favorite cousins and his family along with my brother and sister-in-law would be in town, but then almost immediately I was met with tears because I could imagine just how incredibly happy the healthy version of my Dad would be to see this same group of people and all of you. I can see his grin. I could imagine the short, one-liners he’d have that often caught me off guard and made me smile because I knew he was comfortable and happy. I know many of you know that version of my Dad, too. 

With the sadness that comes with loss, there is a feeling of wrongness, one that says we shouldn’t be experiencing this pain. One of the few benefits of disappointing struggles in this life is that, not only can it humble us, but it can also bring light to an often ignored truth which is that this human life is not meant to be easy or pain-free. As a believer in something bigger and greater than myself, I decide each day to trust that there is meaning behind each disappointment. I came across two quotes this week that highlight this truth. 

C.S. Lewis, a man that found himself determined to prove that the God of the Bible did not exist, yet ended up referring to himself as the “most reluctant convert in all of England” has said, “We must stop regarding unpleasant or unexpected things as interruptions of real life. The truth is that interruptions are real life.” 

Also, a former pastor that planted churches in New York City, who is currently going through treatment for cancer said about he and his wife, “To our surprise, an encouragement we have discovered is that the less we attempt to make this world into a heaven, the more we are able to enjoy it. No longer are we burdening it with demands impossible for it to fulfill.” 

When recently I wrote about the passing of my Dad, I purposely did not skim over the hard stuff; the icky and sad stuff about his struggles. Although his death was initially deemed “natural causes”, we decided to go forward with an autopsy just in case we found helpful information. Although I didn’t have great concern that his death was anything other than natural causes, the morning I received the call from the pathologist with initial findings, I felt an odd calm after learning that he passed from a heart attack from 95% blockage and a contributing bleeding ulcer. I don’t know what the afterlife is like, but I began talking to my Dad as I drove down the road. I told him how thankful I was that he didn’t commit suicide and that he had essentially chosen to “hold on” when it was especially dark for him. Although he told me once that when it came to going against God’s will, he was a coward, I know he also didn’t want us to experience the same heartache as he did with his brother’s death. It was one of, if not the, hardest experiences in his almost 70 years. 

Life is hard. It’s filled with great joys and incredible highs, but it’s hard. We each walk our own paths through this life while having different genetics, heritage, circumstances, brain chemistry and opportunities. My father may have been dealt a challenging hand, but I do know he made the best of it by pushing through and taking full advantage of opportunities. I would describe him as a classic self-made man who started in the air conditioning field and produced a very successful business, of which my husband and I are incredibly grateful to now own and grow. He was not perfect, but he was giving and compassionate and clever. As I think all parents do, he wanted his children to have a better life than he did; better opportunities to go to college and pursue dreams. I remember him telling me to find something I love doing and make that a job. 

My brother and I have begun to see some of the enriching qualities that we’ve received from my Dad. Unfortunately for my outgoing Mom at times, the three of us are very similar; introspective introverts with a splash of ADHD. We enjoy being with friends and family, but need that recovery space afterwards to decompress. Loud and crowded events are not our forte! 

Although we feel very grateful for those wonderful qualities, we also see opportunity in the ways we’d like to do things differently and I know he would agree. One area in which my father was especially weak was admitting to internal struggles and accepting help. By being a male and growing up in the generation that he did, I bet it made it especially difficult. Thankfully, the mental health stigma is slowly crumbling, but it still remains an ever-present uphill climb for most. No matter how old you are, there is hope available if you are hurting. My own experience with finally finding a correct diagnosis for my OCD shows me that there is hope, but we must look for it and hold the hand of the one offering it. If you have someone in your life that is struggling with their mental health, the #1 piece of advice I have is to never, ever give up on them. Never stop reminding them that you are there and willing to help them with finding the hope and grabbing ahold of it for dear life. 

The IF-ONLYs about the latter part of my Dad’s life are disappointing. Lately, I hear my kids crack a joke or do something that makes me want to squeeze them because I love them so much, I think that maybe my Dad is watching. Again, I don’t know how things go once the human body dies or how interactive they are with us still here on Earth, but maybe he’s giving that grin that I love so much and genuinely laughing. It meant he was in a good place in those moments. I hope he is feeling completely free of all the heaviness he carried around for so long and is enjoying watching his grandkids from there. Just last night as I was looking at the pictures we gathered of him, I felt waves of sadness because I realized that the way I feel about my children, how I tell them that being their mother is my absolute most favorite thing in the world, that is how he felt about Ty and me. I wish he were here because I know my healthy Dad would knock it out of the park as a grandfather, but that can’t be. 

This life is not all there is. I will see him again, but until then, I will continue to do my best to take care of myself so I can be the best mother, wife, sister, daughter, and friend I can be. I want to continue to make him proud. 

Again, I want to thank you for being a part of my father’s life. If you feel it may have been insignificant, my faith in God tells me that no interaction is without significance, value and purpose. As funerals or memorials like these usually do, our busy lives briefly pause as we consider death and all it implies. Take advantage of the next few hours or days as you contemplate life and death. Although it’s tempting, try not to shove away that discomfort, but welcome it as an opportunity to see how it can impact your choices and interactions with others. You are loved.”

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you so much. 

April Kingdom Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come;

thy will be done;

on earth as it is in heaven.

When I sat down to write this morning’s prayer, my mind naturally drifted to my Dad, who just left this earth to be with you, Lord. I don’t know exactly what happens after death or what it looks like and it often leaves me feeling strange and a little uneasy. I make no claims to be bible savvy and don’t know how specific it gets when describing the immediate afterlife. Funerals and health scares gets one thinking about these types of things and for good reason. It does encourage envy in me sometimes of those already gone because when pain and failure hits, I want the ease of something other than this life. Jesus prayed that you, God, are in heaven and that You have a plan. If I’m choosing to believe that the Jesus of the Bible is honest and true, then I’m choosing to believe this prayer, given to Jesus’ disciples, is guaranteeing to us that this earth is not all there is, that You are worthy of honor and that You intend for much more. This morning I lift up in prayer to you the families that have lost someone they love and are wondering about the mystery and what comes after that last breath. I also pray for those of us hurrying about our days with little to no thought of death. My prayer is that you will hold us in a way that we can feel the sorrow and also practice the trusting in there being something greater.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Lord, what about that anger I feel? Anger over the power of words and anger over things out of my control. Anger that I don’t feel how I want to feel. Death and loss is hard enough, but having other feverish emotions grabbing ahold of the coat tails of grief feels plain tacky. Lord, help us to separate ourselves from the strong emotions that we often wear like reading glasses. Help us to step back and see them as something that could be getting in the way of a healthy perspective, a gentle response, or a kind attitude. When we see and feel pain caused by others words and actions, please give us space to separate from those, too; to see that others’ sin and mistakes do not define them and that we can choose forgiveness and grace regardless of how we feel about it. You tell us to forgive just as you do and I know that it can only be done with Your help.

And lead us not into temptation;

but deliver us from evil.

The movies I see and headlines I read give me pause as I consider what I truly believe. Wouldn’t it be easier to agree with this or that? Wouldn’t it feel freeing to escape the confines of my everyday life and explore one more adventurous and tempting? What truly is right and wrong? How much do we rely on generational “rules” or uptight guidelines that are never mentioned or implied in Your Word and that cause us to unnecessarily judge others? Are we falling prey to people pleasing that leads to jumping on the trendy bandwagon without too much thought or prayer? Stop us in our tracks before we make that comment or that choice, pass that gossip, or assume the worst in others.  

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

In Honor of My Father

My Dad passed away a few days ago. My stomach does a bit of a churn when I write it. With only a few days past receiving the news, I feel all sorts of feelings and I can imagine those will ebb and flow with bursts of tears for some time to come. I have so much to say, but then want to say nothing at all. One thing is certain, I want so very badly to give him another hug or say goodbye. That’s the most painful part for me right now and it just makes me feel so very sad and the tears feel like they’ll never stop once they start. The finality of death is alarming once it’s here. It’s feels a little panicky. Of course, I just wish I had more time.

I know my Dad loved me so much. Because of childhood pain and trauma that I couldn’t even begin to understand, he hurt. Because of genetic susceptibility to anxiety and depression, my Dad hurt. Because of unfortunate major health problems and chronic pain, my poor Dad hurt. With all of these factors combined, along with the challenges of life in general, it’s been so very difficult for him. Because of his natural pride and feelings of defeat, he didn’t know how to accept help or engagement from the people that loved him the most. It’s been terribly painful and frustrating to see him withdrawal over the years from the potential of a fulfilling life. His friends have missed him so much. I have felt utterly heartbroken over the joy he’s missed through his grandchildren. He was absolutely crazy about them, but pain can create an unintentional mile-high wall. He expressed his emotions, thoughts and memories through email over the last few years, so it is without hesitation that I know his love for us.

To know my real, true, deep-down Dad/Tim/Timmy/Vito/TR/Grampy was to positively love him. My Dad was witty, incredibly giving and compassionate. My brother and I would agree what we may miss the most is this small part of him that would peek out at rare times over the years and make us have deep giggles. His humor was so clever. I miss it so much. He modeled hard work and because of that hard work, my husband and I were able to take over the business that he and my mom created decades ago. He was immensely proud of this and I’m so thankful for it. Just yesterday I had the honor of meeting with the women in our office and sharing with them that responsibility and honor of creating a strong future for our business with honor and character. I know it would make him very proud.

My brother and I were able to make a visit to see our Dad just a month before he passed away. Of course, we are incredibly thankful for that opportunity. We could tell that his physical health was in bad shape and declining, but not expecting his death would come so soon. It nourished his spirit to have us there and oh, how I wish we could go back and do it again and stay longer. The things I would say or not say, the last hug I would give him; to have the chance to hold on tighter or longer. As I heard myself praying aloud just a few hours after learning he passed, I asked God to hold him so tight, to let him know with everything inside that he is so loved and safe. To think that he is with his brother and mother again brings me bits of joy. I love you so much, Dad.

Dear reader, you may be wondering why I mentioned his pain rather than just honor his memory in solely a positive light. My brother and I both feel very strongly that life struggles, whether that be mental health, addiction, trauma, etc., not be masked or ignored, but rather have light shine on them so they are not as scary, intimidating, or embarrassing. Life is hard. Circumstances can feel overwhelming. No one should ever feel alone and it is never too late to accept a helping hand. There is always, always hope. To you I say: Do speak the words you want to say. Do seek forgiveness, if needed. Hold on to the hugs just a bit longer. Accept the helping hand. Look for the silver beneath the tarnish. You are loved.

February Kingdom Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come;

thy will be done;

on earth as it is in heaven.

Although my moods and feelings change often and doubt creeps about, right now I feel a deepness in my belly as I think of You in heaven. Oh, what Your Kingdom will be like. I think it’s similar to how one feels when we become enraptured with a fairy tale or love story; the excitement over what will one day be true is thrilling. I can only imagine the sigh of relief we will feel. When life feels overwhelming or when we feel ridiculed for believing in such a story, I pray that you will give us just what we need to move through those emotions and CHOOSE to trust in You and choose to trust that what You say is true. Your Will is mysterious and to be honest, frustrating at times. My first instinct is to assume You feel annoyed with our ignorance and doubts, but then I’m remembering that You see us a sheep; helpless little creatures that receive Your gentle compassion, love, and patience. Thank you for loving us. 

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Help, Lord! Generations of us are falling prey to commercialism and without knowing, are spending money and time on things of little value. We might want attention, approval, more confidence, or just the warm feeling of “one more thing” or “one more minute”. Why is self-control and self-discipline so hard for us humans? Please forgive us for ignorance, laziness or excuse-making. Forgive us for judging others, even those closest to us, for something that we are also guilty of, but are unable to see because of the giant log that’s in our own eye. Thank you that You do forgive us and welcome us to try again and learn the art of relying on You for our comfort, confidence, and acceptance. 

And lead us not into temptation;

but deliver us from evil.

Help us see those temptations differently, if even as a tiny glimmer. Whisper into our ear an opportunity to stand firm and choose differently. Help us not forget that we can put on the armor and even in baby steps, learn a new rhythm and pattern for the 24 hours of each day You give us. 

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Failure During Advent

I’ve failed a lot during this Advent season. I think it feels different than failure on a Tuesday in June, but I think I’m seeing it’s been mostly in a good way. Call it depression or my “natural” perfectionistic tendencies (and the OCD part of my brain is dying to give it a label), but Emily is generally not Emily’s #1 fan. So, when I set a goal, particularly one that is based in my faith, failure feels yuckier. With this Advent, I chose to pause my social media activity to try and quiet things, had a book that I hoped to consistently read with the kids, and other lovely goals. Failure happens all the time though and my fears and internal critic tells me I’m not going to get the hang of this, I’m no good at self-control or focus, comparing myself to other moms, etc. 

In the midst of one of my brain’s sucker punching sessions, I saw the benefit of failing during Advent. It gives a clear chance to see the greatness of God’s character in why He came in human form and was wrapped in swaddling clothes being laid in a manger. God is Love. Perfect Love. Compassionate and Never-Ending Love. Not only did I see the opportunity of giving up something during Advent, as most do during Lent, in order to pause and think on Him, but it also happened as I stumbled and failed; when my self-control and self-discipline were majorly lacking. I’m not good enough, at least in my own eyes, but I GET TO rest in Him. You and I can choose to believe that He sees us differently than we see ourselves. I want to do better and still find myself desiring a magical (AKA perfect) holiday season filled with cozy, reflective moments (cue the scene of me gazing out the window at the snow falling as I cradle a steaming mug of warmth in my hands), but yet again, I’m ever aware of the crummy parts of reality that greatly hinder my dramatics and wish for perfection. 

So, as my failures led to my perspective changing a bit, I was appreciative of and more apt to welcome the combination of joy and disappointments over the last couple of weeks. Christmas this year was met with lots of green snot, dog poo tracked in the house, and crispy, brown evergreen trees, but also with fun movie nights, ping pong championships, and cold weather in Florida that actually required sweaters! As I’ve written about before and likely will each year as this form of blogging expression continues, life is hard and rotten at times, but we can practice making space for the disappointment, but also choose to look for the beauty peaking about in this life. 

Peace to you, dear reader. You are loved. You are not forgotten. 

Would Ya Look at That View!

Right now I’m sitting in a cozy chair with one of the most beautiful views in my hometown. My in-laws live in a stunning home on the river with spacious windows that allow you to see the river out back (does that sound like a real estate listing description, or what?) 

I feel almost completely content and generally hopeful. Because of its rarity and because my brain is usually busier, I do not take this for granted. I’ve sat here many times before and this morning, I’m reflecting on just how terribly awful I’ve felt during those times. As you know, often and disappointingly so, the yucky times tend to nab a more prominent part in our memory bank. 

We are here this morning because our home has just been put on the market and we’re staying out of the way this weekend to keep it tidy. Ironically, the emotional and mental breakdown I had sixteen years ago occurred in this beautiful home. While my in-laws were living in their seasonal home, we briefly moved in here while our home was being built. Upon moving in, I wrote a joyful journal entry expressing all I hoped to accomplish and in which creative outlets I planned to dabble. Quite drastically the next entry spoke of complete confusion and misery. Just like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, “my life got flipped, turned upside down” and constant, intense anxiety ruled every hour. 

I feel uneasy as I type because of how sensitive I am to those memories. My OCD wants me to stop typing it for fear that “it’ll come back”. So, I type some more! The heavy tears, shivering as though I had a fever, drastic weight loss, the fears over taking Zanax to get to sleep, a dear friend encouraging me and watching to be sure I a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, waking at 5:00am to immediate nerves…it was such an awful time. 

Over the years, I recall sitting in this chair at times to hide away during social gatherings, as I did my best to put on a smile and hide the heaviness or strong anxiety I had coursing through my insides. I remember sitting here crying on a beautiful Easter Sunday, but I was not able to see the beauty. 

Even though it feels heavy to recall all of these memories and I somewhat regret bringing it back as it puts a damper on my initial cozy contentedness I referred to at the beginning, I think it’s vitally important to do so because I want to possibly bring HOPE to someone that may read this. I don’t feel that way today. Yes, there is always the possibility of doing a crash and burn tomorrow and my OCD takes a liking to that idea, but I am not in misery. I’ve had great difficulty and pain over the last sixteen years, but it’s also been a time of up and down learning and growing. Life is hard. If you struggle with a mental illness of any kind, it may be something you have to manage for life, but it is not a death sentence. There is help. With practice and consistency, there are tools and habits that can help us learn to make space for discomfort so that we don’t make those feelings worse. There is always HOPE, dear reader. 

It’s Dark in Here.

The mountains and valleys of life are very curious and unpredictable. Just when I think I may be turning the corner or slowing down the ride for a nice view, the roller coaster does a big dip and makes my stomach flop. If you know me at all, you know I greatly dislike roller coasters. I don’t like the unknown, the icky feeling, AKA “thrill” feeling it gives some people.

Though I recently went through a really rough batch and felt forgotten and lonely, I ultimately know that I am not. It’s so easy to forget when it’s dark though. I imagine you can relate. I heard this message in a few different ways as I was working through the dark spot: look for the little ways that God is providing, nudging me, or reminding me that He’s there. In one of the sermons at church I heard, “the way God often works is through committed kindness, little by little”. That can come in many ways and I found it a timely and helpful reminder to keep me from wallowing too much in my self-pity.  A kind encourager told me that God reveals Himself way more than I likely realize. As I have come to recognize and gratefully so: just because God doesn’t fix me or my circumstances doesn’t mean He’s not present. I have spent a lot of time getting caught up in that frustrating web, which really ends up just entangling me more tightly. Tim Keller says, “If we are in a storm and we pray to him, he may still the storm (Mark 4:39), or he may instead help us, as he did Peter, to walk through the storm without sinking (Matthew 14:27-31).”

I hope you, dear reader, can begin to look up and out more often at the ways your Creator may be providing for and encouraging you. Ask Him to direct ways that you could be used by Him to encourage someone else. He is good. No matter what it looks like outside or feels like inside, He is good. 

Cry Baby

Last week I had the privilege of presenting the 8th grade awards to my students that are graduating and moving on to high school. As is the case with most graduations, especially at a small school, there are adorable and sentimental photos put together in a video with tender music. I knew this was coming and I tend to get a bit choked up over things like this, even if I’ve never seen the kid in my life. One of the songs chosen was the “I may need to go in the corner and ugly cry” song by Nicole Nordeman called Slow Down, and it’s been sweeping social media to make all mothers everywhere cry and hug their kids. So, there I went…thinking about my sweet children (one who had just earned his awards for 2nd grade and moving on to be a big 3rd grader), feeling the tears, and trying to hush them because, guess what? I was up next to speak!

I was not expecting to cry even a little bit as I presented these awards. It was my first year teaching at this school and there were many others who have been there to watch these great kids grow from tiny toddlers to teenagers. I expected tears from them for sure, but I thought I’d be safe! As I got to the end of the awards, I reinforced what a teacher in the elementary school had shared in her awards presentation, and that was the truth that we are not able to be perfect. We will make mistakes and what served as an extra special reminder for my students is that they may not be able to have perfection with their grades. I then began to share one of my favorite bible verses from Zephaniah 3:17 that says: 

The Lord your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing.

As soon as I started reading it, I had a great deal of difficulty getting the words out over my crying and after reflecting on it, I think it was because I felt as though I were really reading it to my own heart; to know that He feels that way about me, too. I reminded those kids (and myself it seems) that He is proud of them and that they are a delight to Him. 

Sometimes (quite often really), I struggle with believing He finds joy in me and is proud of me. I tend to beat up on myself more than I’d like and feel like a disappointment, but I do try to work on it. My counselor has shared that most mornings he wakes up and says to God, “I love you, too”. Just saying that can reinforce what is true about the way God views his children; that He loves us very much. Verses like the one mentioned above are gentle, sweet reminders that He loves us despite our inability to do everything right. Here’s another one that encourages me:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

As a father shows compassion to his children,

so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

For he knows our frame;

he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:11-14

The last line is my favorite. It’s important to remember that we are big, fat sinners and have absolutely no shot at being perfect, but He knows that. He has compassion on us and knows we can’t help it. He despises sin, but doesn’t despise us. That doesn’t mean he gives us free reign or encourages us to YOLO with our sin and not repent and confess it. It’s encouraging to know that He is pleased when I aim to glorify Him with my actions, but when I don’t and then I recognize that, He’s not shaking His head in shame or disappointment. I’d like to think He’s lifting my chin in tenderness. So, although I feel a bit embarrassed that I lost my ability to keep it together on stage in front of the audience, it was a sweeping reminder to me that we are all loved way more than we can comprehend. I hope I can keep reminding myself of this when I really need to hear it. It blows my mind really and that can tap dance in doubt some over how crazy it seems that each tiny little human matters to Him. But, that’s what faith is. It’s trusting in something much bigger than us and holding tight to His promises. 

Why are you breathing today?

I had someone recently ask me why I used the tag line, “Why are we breathing today?” on my blog header. My first response was that it ties into the mystery that inspired the main title, “Life Is So Curious…” Why are we here? How does it all work? I also realized that it’s two-fold; I want people to wonder why and how they were created which could then make them dig a bit and find hope in a Creator, but I also want to encourage other believers with the reminder that God has us still here on Earth for a specific reason. How is He using you? How is He stretching or pruning you? How is He helping and loving others through you? And like I mentioned in my last post, are we using our time here wisely?

I don’t imagine He creates us and then forgets about us for chunks of time (although it does feel like that to me sometimes…). We’re not like the plants on the back porch that we keep forgetting to water. He’s purposeful and all-knowing. He is not constrained by time and space. He knows you.

I often forget and need this reminder to keep me going and to approach life with my head up. Do you? I hope you know that you are loved and valued, whether you feel like it or not; whether you sense it from others or not. I know how scary life can feel. It’s encouraging to me to think about life in a different way and to consider that I’m here today to do something specific. It may be to simply speak kind or patient words to someone I talk to during my day, to look my son in the eyes to tell him how much I love being his mommy, or quite frankly, it may be a day for me to cling to Him every other minute because I feel awful or frightened. I don’t like to think that there’s any good in lousy times like that, but by asking Him, “what do you want me to do in this?” or “how can I glorify You today?”, I can seek purpose. It may feel like you have to drag yourself through the day or force the prayer out of your mouth, but I want to hope that He is proud of us when we try. Here’s a quote I love by an author named Angela Thomas: “I am going forward even when I cannot see. My worries are becoming trampled under the feet of my obedience. I sense the pleasure God takes in this offering.”

I just recently completed a bible study series by Matt Chandler with my 8th grade students and something that stuck with me was his reminder that, “God knows it’s scary to be us.” I’m so glad to hear that. Sometimes I tell Him that it’s scary down here and that I wish Jesus would come back already. But all in good time, I guess. In the meantime, I will keep at this life, not simply because I don’t have any other choice, but because I want to make the best of this time while remembering that this is not all there is.