There was no way I could have better prepared for what this past year would bring than to move deeper into my faith. I did, and have been since I made the request to God when I turned fifty to turn me into a woman after His own heart. It took me a long time to get serious about asking that. In case you haven’t noticed: God’s way up is down. I avoided it as long as I could.
When I asked though, I don’t think I really had a clue what I was asking for, or I might not have asked, except that there was something in me which knew there was no other way up and out. I don’t want to get all serious, since this is my birthday and all, but birthdays tend to be a time of reflection as the years pass by. I’m entering my sixty-fifth year and my health isn’t what it once was. I reflect.
In quiet moments, when you think no one is watching, thoughts can sometimes wander to the place you keep off limits, even to yourself. It’s the feel sorry for yourself space where you ask, Why me? Why after I decided to be good did things get so bad? It seemed to snowball. Is that the right phrase…?
First, my dad had heart surgery and almost died. Then my brother had a heart attack. I had a bike wreck and survived. I didn’t understand why I did and he didn’t. He was such a better person than me. My mom’s cancer returned in midst of all that and after three years of a brave struggle, Dad prayed her into heaven. People I trusted turned against me. I finally got involved in a church and then it blew up. People turned on each other and turned on me. My best friend died. I never felt more alone. All this after my prayer.
But then something began to happen. Watching Dad alone after sixty years of marriage, began to change my heart. We started to spend more time together. Every moment together became precious, as every moment should be. I was never sure when his call might be his last, or when I’d kiss him goodbye, that I might not again be able to say hi.
As I think back on those years—three years, six months, and 16 days but who’s counting?—I can see how we began to develop a rhythm with each other that rocked our old wounds into slumber. Our love grew, but so did our patience for each other, our trust and understanding of our differences. Dad opened up about how I had hurt him.
“It was one of the happiest and saddest days of my life,” he said remembering a letter I had written that arrived at my parents’ address on Valentine’s Day. I was twenty-two and wrote to tell my parents I’d decided not to move in with my then, yet to be first husband. They had just finished reading it when I called to tell them I had changed my mind. I was moving in with him.
“Never had I felt such joy and grief so intertwined. Elated one moment then weeping the next.”
“We wept!” he said. I had no idea. I was living in NYC, exercising my new found “freedom”. I saw the cause for his grief at that moment as I had never noticed it, and his grief became my grief. We were working through things that only love can repair.
My father had a huge influence over me throughout my life, to the point I found myself living my life according to the rules of Bill. It was his way or the highway. For many years, I choose the highway, but I had come home. There was no more running. As I cared for him through his final years and watched as his body gave way, he became sweeter with a spirit of hope like steel that softened me.
He had always wanted to write a book and I found myself writing down the stories he told me, to preserve what he had hoped to. There was no plan to write a book, only my own hope to bring life in place of yet another eminent death. I wrote down the words he spoke because I knew I was going to lose him, and that the words would last.
I learned that living with the fear of losing someone rids you of all superficiality. Annoyances that once undid you slip by unnoticed, or are at least ignored because everything is stripped away except your love. Patience grows as you realize you’d do anything for just one more day together. And then when you receive it, that joy leads you to the next, and then the next.
I learned that death shows us the way to life. God’s Way. It teaches us to love. Treasures unfold like healing within affliction as confessions of shortcomings allow God to create new beauty within us. You begin to recognize miracles where you had missed them before–too busy, too impatient, too frustrated to notice. Like the sense that comes over you as you see a deer following on the path behind you one morning, or the delight you discover in robins and monarchs flitting across the path in front of you, or the joy as you receive a call from your son just as you’ve finished praying for him, hearing anew the sound of his voice, rich and soulful–miracles appear and you treasure them.
Beauty unfolds, un-seaming old stitching and patterns that need to be loosened, torn up, and tossed out. You begin to let go. When I stopped trying to be the perfect daughter, I finally began to love myself, and then I could open my heart up to God and to others. I began to step forward in my own way, and in doing so, began to find my way home.
When I stopped trying to be the perfect daughter, I found My heavenly Father’s arms spread wide
Heart to heart within His Presence, He kept me safe when my earthly father died.
To see His love grow larger for a world so in need of care
I had to become much smaller, then through me His love could share
He says, You are the perfect daughter, according to My will
Designed to stand in truth, your cup I will always fill.
May the Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord make his face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
May the Lord turn His face toward you and
Give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)