Happy Birthday, Dad

My dad would have turned 71 today.  He’s not experiencing the way that I thought that he would.Dad - college

In the nearly 71 years that my father lived on this earth, he experienced a lot of hardships.  He was raised in Brooklyn, New York by his mother after his alcoholic father left him, his mother, and his brother.  He experienced a different kind of prejudice as people expected him to be a juvenile delinquent because of the absence of his father.  He struggled to learn.  He struggled in ministry.  He struggled in pleasing his mother.  He struggled to change.

Yes, he lived until he was almost 71, but the last few years might not easily be considered living.  He was a shell of who he had once been.  He was battered, beaten, and bruised.  He was lonely.  He was broken.  He missed my mom.  He missed the church that he had given his life to.  He missed the place where he had spent nearly 40 years.  He missed being the man he had once been and couldn’t fully accept the man that he was becoming.

Dad never asked for much for his birthday.  He was pretty content with what he had.  He never wanted any big ticket items.  One year, my brother, my mom, and I bought him a banjo.  That was probably the biggest thing I ever got him.  For years, it was ties, shirts sweaters, and other stuff with no emotional significance at all.  He was always kind and accepting, never once complaining about what he got, regardless of whether or not he needed it.

In some ways, I guess he’s having the best birthday ever today.  He’s not experiencing pain.  His emptiness is gone.  He is not alone.  He has been completed, fully changed, he will not change again.  The struggles of the past are just a distant memory to him as he stands in the presence of the One whom he served.

I know that those are the right things to say and I believe them, but I would be lying to say that I didn’t miss him.  I still keep a bottle of his cologne on my bathroom sink.  Once in a while, I pick it up and take a good, long sniff.  It’s amazing how I can conjure up his face in my mind with just a simple smell.  I miss his smile.  I miss his wisdom.  I miss his love.  I just miss him.

Happy birthday, Dad.  I know you’re having a great day.  One day, I’ll celebrate with you again.  Until then, I guess I’ll just settle for the pictures in my head, the aroma of your scent, and the love that you gave and showed me.  I love you!

Memories and Mementos

When your loved ones die, there is always the inevitable task of going through all of their belongings.  Life has not slowed down enough for me to have been afforded such a luxury.  My brother and I have been able to go through some of my parents’ belongings and we’ve found some treasures.  Well, they would most likely not be treasures to other people, but they are to us.

Among the treasures that we discovered was a journal that our dad had filled in completely.  I’m not sure when he bought it and filled it out, although I can make some good guesses based on what’s in there.  The premise of the journal is that there is a section for every month of the year and each section contains questions that are answered.  The end result is a journal full of all kinds of information about whoever fills it out.  Favorite places, books, vacations spots, sports, and a whole sundry of other information that is fascinating, at least for someone to whom the information was new, which a lot of this was to me.2013-07-28 18.56.49

Among the pages in the journal was a page talking about how my father was a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Seeing as he grew up in Brooklyn, it made sense, but there was not a whole lot of money to go around and afford him and my uncle the luxury of going to a baseball game.  According to what my dad wrote, he and my uncle were able to go to some games through the boys’ club at the Navy shipyard.

My father and I never went to a baseball game together.  We went to a minor league hockey game once, but I spent the majority of the time explaining the game to him as I used to referee ice hockey in college and beyond.  He was never a big sports fan either.  He and my mom never tried to dissuade my brother and I from playing sports, but they never encouraged it either.  We never spent Sunday afternoons watching football, baseball, or even golf.  Sports just didn’t take a priority seat in his life.  So, I was kind of surprised when I read this page.

When I was up in Connecticut this past week, one of the things that I took part in was a memorial service for my father at his former church.  I got the chance to show my wife around my hometown, going to places I had never taken her when we would visit my parents there.  After meeting with one of the elders from the church to go over the order of the service, my wife and I decided to take advantage of our few moments without children.

Right next to the church where my father was the pastor is a thrift store.  I could probably write at least one whole post on the treasures that we found there as kids.  My mom, dad, brother, and I spent a great deal of time searching among what some considered throwaway stuff.  It afforded my brother and I the opportunity of wearing some of the name brands that our peers wore growing up.  We found some incredible things there and so, partly in honor of my parents, and partly because of our own curiosity, my wife and I decided to take some time to peruse the shop.

Back in June, I wrote about a pretty incredible moment that I experienced at my seminary graduation, a moment that I felt that my mom was watching me in the midst of it.  You can read about it here.  In some ways, when my wife and I went into that thrift shop just hours before the memorial service for my dad, I felt like I was experiencing something similar.

As we looked through all of the stuff, I came across a Christmas ornament.  Of all of the major league teams that it could possibly have been, it just happened to be the Brooklyn Dodgers, the same team that my father claimed as his favorite in his journal.Brooklyn Dodgers ornament

I picked the ornament up and stood there in amazement.  Could this really be happening?  Was I really holding this ornament, this reminder of a team that had long left Brooklyn and had made its home in Los Angeles years before?  I checked the price tag and it was only 25 cents, a deal too good to pass up.  I showed my wife with a smile on my face and in this day and age of technology, I snapped a picture and sent it to my brother.  He agreed that I would be a fool to pass it up.

This ornament will stand as a reminder to me of my father.  No, we shared no baseball games together.  In fact, I’m not sure we ever really threw around a baseball.  But he did share with me a book full of stories, some of which I knew, and some of which I didn’t.  It’s a treasure chest of memories, memories that I can relive every time that I open up the book.  I probably won’t leave the ornament with all of the other Christmas stuff.  That would only enable me to look at it for about a month during the year.  I’m not sure where I’ll put it, but it needs to be in a place that I see it often, a place where I can look upon it and remember.

I guess it really proves the saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  And this is sure a treasure to me.

Aftermath

door_closingClosure.  That’s a word that people use frequently when it comes to losing someone and the grieving process.  As someone who has been a fairly strong “J” on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), closure is fairly important to me, as opposed to someone who might be a “P” on the MBTI, they pretty much can move from situation to situation without much closure at all.  But closure when it comes to losing someone is fairly important, especially when life moves fast and the loss feels somewhat surreal.

Sometimes, having one service for someone who has died is hard enough.  Having two services can be downright unbearable, especially if the services are months apart.  The closure that you might have felt after the initial service can feel incomplete when everything gets reopened for the second service.  It’s almost like having a scab and deciding that you want to pick it off just as it begins to really heal.

The decision to have a memorial service for my father in Connecticut was not a hard one.  We had done the same thing for my mom.  Both of my parents were well-loved in my hometown of Darien.  They were known through their positions and through their kindness.  Dad knew so many people in town and Mom had established herself as a great teacher’s aide in the public school system.  There were not many people who were able to get down from Connecticut to be part of either of the funeral services for my parents.

My mom’s memorial service was held right around her birthday, 2 months after she died.  It seemed appropriate to do similarly for Dad, having his memorial service around his birthday, a little more than 3 months after he died.  The church where he served for 36 years was gracious enough to let us use the sanctuary and even dedicated their recently renovated front stone steps in honor of my dad.

It was the first time that I had been in the sanctuary since November 7, 2010, the day that my parents left the church for the last time.  That was a little less than 3 years ago and life has changed significantly since then.  I would be lying to tell you that there weren’t any hard feelings deep inside me regarding all that had taken place.  It’s always hard to watch it when our loved ones go through difficulties, and watching my parents struggle in their last years in Connecticut was no exception.

I consider myself a fairly objective person, able to recognize my own subjectivity and yet check it enough to be able to assess situations reasonably well.  My parents were wonderful people, I loved them, but just like the rest of us, they were broken and fallible, in need of the grace of a Savior.  They were prone to mistakes and had their own faults, just like the rest of us.  As I’ve mentioned in this blog in the past, I know that there are always 3 sides to every story.  To think that I would have heard the objective truth about all that had taken place from one side or another would be downright naïve.

So, the delicate part becomes how much to talk about, how much to reveal, and what the final outcome will be.  Those of us who are strong J’s on the MBTI have a strong sense of justice and like to see justice served.  Our greatest strengths can be our greatest weaknesses, so there always needs to be a sense of self-assessment when seeking justice.  I was not going to simply go and pretend that nothing had happened in the past that had deeply impacted my family.  That would have been lying.

At the same time, we are called in Scripture to speak the truth in love.  In speaking truth we don’t do it out of a sense of justice, to pay people back for mistakes, but out of a sense of seeing others continue the process of sanctification that God brings us through.  We sharpen each other and call attention to certain things that others might not be aware of.

When we made the decision to do the memorial, I honestly had no idea what I would say.  I wasn’t sure how much to say.  How much was appropriate?  How much would actually be heard?  How much would actually be received?

My father was a very gracious man.  He saw the good in everyone, even when they had screwed him time and time again.  He showed me how to forgive, not simply with words, but with actions that spoke louder.  He had forgiven so many people in his lifetime and did not hold grudges against the hurts that had been caused to him.  That characteristic was not lost on me as I thought through my comments for a service that was to honor him, but more importantly, that would honor Jesus.

In the end, I think my dad would have been proud.  He would have understood my need to say certain things and yet he would have appreciated the sensitivity with which I worded things, delicately enough to bring it to light and yet not so harsh that it felt accusatory.

Of course, no matter how delicately you might think you are speaking, you still manage to offend.  It’s never a pleasant thing when you get scolded in the receiving line after your father’s memorial service.  In my opinion, it was a case of misunderstanding and misperception.  Time will tell whether or not the need to clarify the issues is strong enough to actually circle back and have a conversation.  Will it be received?  Will it be beneficial for both sides?  Does it bring further closure?  There’s that word again.

My brother texted me the morning after the memorial service and he used the word “closure” too.  It seemed that it was a good fit for our situation.  The anticipation of this service had been weighing on me since the moment that I knew that it would happen 2 months ago.  The anticipation was great enough for me to have thought long and hard about it and to have lost sleep over it.

I said what I felt needed to be said and I felt that I said it delicately.  I honored my fathers, the earthly one who is gone and the One that I have in heaven.  I pointed to the One whom my dad served his whole life, the One who has shown us grace and extended us the salvation that we could never conjure up on our own.  I pointed towards Jesus Christ, the reason that we grieve differently, that we have hope beyond hope in what will be.

One day there may be room for more conversations.  There may be exclamation points instead of question marks.  I may understand better 2 sides to the story in an effort to decipher the 3rd side.  In the meantime, I will continue to journey through the process of grief.  Today, there is a little more closure than there was before.  Today, is one day further away from when I lost my dad and one day closer to when I will see him again.  The aftermath of it all is that I’m one step further than I was before, one step further down the road of grief, and one small step into closure.  I’m not closing the book on my dad or his memory, but I am closing the book on the grief and loss that I have experienced, allowing it to turn into anticipation, anticipation in the hope that Christ’s resurrection means more to us than anything else in the world.  That may be the best aftermath that I could ever experience.

A Book

write-a-bookI started my blog 4 years ago.  My wife was the wise one to suggest it.  I guess she realized that the way that I best process my thoughts is through writing.  Her perception was spot on and I’ve been writing ever since, becoming more and more consistent, reaching more people, and doing my best to make a difference, albeit to a small percentage of the population.

Over the last few weeks, as I’ve struggled to make sense of the emotions that I felt at the anniversary of my mom and dad’s death, I had a few people tell me that it was eerie that I was able to verbalize things that they had been feeling inside themselves.  Both had experienced loss.  Both still feel the loss.  Somehow, the words that came out on the page resonated with them in a way that they hadn’t experienced frequently.

My wife has told me numerous times over the past few years, as I’ve navigated the waters of grief and loss, that all of my experiences would go into a book.  I would be lying if I said that her insight and wisdom didn’t play a role in my attraction to her.  She has insights into my soul.  I guess that’s why she studied to be a counselor.

I have friends who have written books.  Some successful, others not so much.  Writing anything is like wearing your heart on your sleeve.  I remember the days of writing music and playing in local coffeehouses (get that image of Phoebe and “Smelly Cat” out of your heads).  There were moments where I felt completely naked as I stood up there revealing an inner part of myself to friends and strangers alike.  Writing reveals a hidden part of our souls that often requires digging to find.  The difference in writing is that the only person who did the digging was the author himself (or herself).

I’ve been thinking about writing a book, probably about my experience of losing both parents by the time I turned 40.  It’s what’s been on my heart and mind over the last 2 years as I’ve been on the journey.  Grief is a natural part of life, so I would imagine that my thoughts would resonate with those who have and will experience grief themselves.  This blog and my former blog have been somewhat of a springboard in airing out those emotions.

It won’t be a New York Times Bestseller.  It might not even sell 1000 copies.  I made a CD once.  The boxes of unsold copies continue to litter our garage.  But the question becomes, why do writers write?  If writers write to pay the bills (which inevitably will happen for those who pursue writing as a career), the writing can easily degrade to the lowest level.  While I’ve had my fair share of writing for others (i.e., seminary papers), I still put a part of myself in each of those papers.  Writers need to write out of who they are, and if they’re honest, that will happen naturally.

So maybe one day, you’ll read a book that I’ve written.  Maybe you won’t.  Either way, I need to be okay with that.  I write in an effort to keep myself healthy and with the desire that the things which grief, emotion, and life have evoked might make an impact on those around me….no matter how small or great they may be.

Better Together

better togetherWe weren’t made to be alone.  No, I’m not saying that to promote the end of singleness.  I’m saying it because we are relational creatures, made in the image of God to be with one another.  The moment that we begin to sequester ourselves from others is the minute that we not only begin to set ourselves up for a fall, but also when we live out of sequence with the intention of the One who created us.

You can learn an awful lot by watching your kids.  My 2 oldest kids are only 23 months apart from each other.  While we have had our fair share of challenging days, we’ve also begun to see the benefits of the natural relationship that forms over time with the two of them.

While my wife was putting our youngest to bed on an evening when I had a meeting, she left the 2 older children downstairs to occupy themselves quietly.  After successfully getting the youngest one to sleep, my wife returned downstairs to find that the oldest had chosen a movie, loaded it into the DVD player, set everything up, and even brought his brother a snack for the movie-watching experience.  What a pleasant surprise takes place when your kids are actually learning some of the things that you have been trying to teach them all along.

When I made an anniversary for my wife for our 10th anniversary video, I used Jack Johnson’s song “Better Together” as one of the background songs.  Over the course of 10 years, my wife and I were constantly reminded that we do things better together.  We get more done cooperatively and we have fun in the process, especially if it’s a task that we’re not necessarily crazy about doing on our own.

We weren’t made to be alone.  The wisest man in the world understood this when he wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

We can find countless stories within Scripture of what happens to people when they spend too much time alone (the story of David and Bathsheba comes to mind).  I’m not recommending that all of the introverts of the world rebel against their natural tendencies to be reserved and quiet, but I am recommending that we come to the realization that we need each other.  We need support.  We need encouragement.  We need prayer.  We need loving arms.  We need sturdy shoulders.  We need each other.

We are a gift to each other, given by God not to selfishly consume, but to lovingly and graciously give.  That’s what Jesus did.  I can’t imagine the number of times that he would probably have liked to tell the disciples to just leave him alone so that he could have a few moments of peace, but instead, he loved them and gave himself to them.  What am I doing to give of myself to others?  My children?  My wife?  My friends?  The people who need me most?  What am I doing to live out the truth that we are better together?

Breaking Out

breaking-out-of-shell2The more you know and learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know.  At the same time, the more you learn, there is a great potential that you might actually gain not just knowledge, but self-awareness as well.  As you learn and explore the world around you, you begin to understand things better, to understand how they work, and to understand yourself a little bit better.

That’s been the case for me, or at least I’d like to think that it has.  As I’ve studied, observed, watched, and learned, I feel that I am much more in tune to myself than I had been once upon a time.  Once an outgoing extravert, I have slowly begun to appreciate the need to be an introspective introvert at times.  Those times of self-reflection are invaluable for the way forward.

I don’t excel at this, that’s not what I’m saying.  What I am saying is that there is a level of awareness there that was not there before.  Awareness is a good thing, but if that awareness is not attended to, it remains simply awareness without resulting in action.  In order for that awareness to be meaningful, there needs to be a move to action to attend to the awareness.

I have found myself to be attentive to this awareness but moving to action is not always the easiest thing.  It’s easy to identify issues within one’s self, but how do we make the move to remedy those issues?  A constant reliance on the Holy Spirit is an essential piece of the puzzle.  We cannot be so completely self-aware and self-perceiving that we have such a self-awareness that eliminates blind spots and issues in need of restoration.  Only God can help us move past those issues.

But there’s something to patterns that have embedded themselves into the family system and structure over the course of years, decades, and even centuries.  The sins of the fathers and mothers seem to be carried upon the sons and daughters…..unless the pattern is broken.  But breaking out of patterns is easier said than done.

I have seen this happen time and again in the area of divorce.  We live what has been taught to us and there have been many times where I have seen a pattern of divorce within families that extends beyond this generation, continuing back 2 or 3 generations.  Unless patterns are identified and assessed, we will find ourselves in danger of slipping into those same dangerous patterns.

I recently wrote about anger and violent tempers.  I have seen that as one pattern that can easily be carried from one generation to another, even if it might skip a generation.  It seems that negative behaviors are as easily transmitted to subsequent generations as are positive behaviors.  And they will continue unless the behavior patterns are broken.

But I’ve seen them broken.  I’ve seen behaviors that have carried on for generations be broken.  I have seen those behaviors stopped dead in their tracks by those who have said, “I will not let this happen anymore.”

Alcoholism.  Abuse.  Abuse.  Divorce.  Neglect.  The list of these behaviors could go on and on.  Some have dropped the behaviors by simple avoidance.  Alcohol issues?  Don’t drink.  Abuse issues?  Don’t get close to anyone.  Patterns of divorce?  Just don’t marry.  While I respect the premise, avoidance does nothing for our own growth and God’s work in our lives.

Recently, I was reminded of a verse in 1 Corinthians that was very helpful to me (and remains helpful to me) over and over again in my life.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  To escape a pattern, we always need to find the way out.  In order to break out, we need to find the escape hatch, and we can’t do that on our own.

My family is no different than any other family.  While we may have seemed like we’ve had it all together, we’ve struggled as much as the next family.  If we identify patterns that have been in existence for years, we won’t escape them without a lot of work and prayer and without God’s help.  While we may not have anything that’s glaring to those around us, we always want to be improving, leaving things better for our children and grandchildren.  That includes our family’s mental and spiritual health and well-being.

Breaking out isn’t necessarily something that happens overnight.  It might take a long time.  After all, none of us ever got to that place overnight either, it took us (and our families) a long time to get there.  Giving ourselves grace in the process is important.  We might not break out right away, but over time during the slow process, we will be free.  So, remember, if at first you don’t succeed, keep trying…….and don’t try it alone.

Anger

My grandfathers had serious anger issues.  They were both abusive and my parents had both experienced it, either first or second hand.  My father used to tell a story of how he disagreed with his dad or second-guessed him and how my grandfather hit him and knocked one of his teeth out.  My mom’s dad never hit her, but he hit my grandmother and my uncles.  At least that’s what I remember about the conversations that I had with all of them.

Needless to say, my parents had strong feelings about anger issues and violence.  In nearly 40 years, I can only count on one hand how many times that I really saw my father get angry.  While he got mad plenty of times, he just never “blew his stack.”  He never raised a hand to anyone and he always kept himself in check.

I’m a different story.  I’ve never been a patient person.  I have a tendency to lose my cool quickly if I’m not careful.  When I was younger, my parents saw that come out enough times to make them worry.  They wanted to make sure that I knew my family history.  Not sure that anger is genetic, but they wanted to assure me that it was a problem in the past history of the family and they were not keen on letting it be passed on.

Over the years, God’s gotten a hold of me and sanded off some of my rough edges.  I am far from perfect, but I’m better than I was before.  I continue to strive to be sanded, although I know I can’t do it myself.  I’m grateful for people who have been patient with me over the years.

Every once in a while, something happens that just sets me off.  Fortunately, it’s not that regular of an occurrence.  The last time that I really lost my cool was about 2 ½ years ago, and I still have the door to prove it.

It was January and my wife wasn’t feeling well.  Our two boys were a handful, especially the younger one.  He was about 2 ½ at the time and was successfully getting into everything.  That day, he had managed to fall on the drawer of the Playstation 2, rendering it useless.  Everywhere that I’d turn, it seemed that he was destroying something.  I’m probably over-exaggerating the issue, but that’s how it felt.  I can assure you that his big brother probably felt similarly.

Although I knew there was a strong possibility, I hadn’t really considered the fact that my wife was pregnant.  We had talked about it before and felt like a third child might just push us over the edge.  I was still trying to get through seminary, my parents had moved closer to us 2 months before, and overall, we had started to establish some kind of “normal” as a family of four.

Call it the perfect storm.  The day that my son2013-07-21 23.01.19, the “destructor,” was breaking stuff, my wife revealed to me that we were going to be a family of 5.  I’m not sure what else was going on in my head as I came to the door of my sons’ room.  All I know is that everything had come to a head and in frustration and anger, I slammed my fist against the door.  I can honestly say that I wasn’t expecting the door to give way, I thought it was stronger than that, but it wasn’t.

That was sort of the beginning of a season of frustration.  2 weeks later, my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I have wrestled and struggled through the past 2 years and every day, as I walk to my boys’ room, I am reminded of my frustration that came to a head that day in January.  We never replaced the door and it stands as a constant reminder to me.

I didn’t leave it there to beat myself up.  It’s kind of an Old Testament thing, to be honest.  Over and over again in the Old Testament, God calls his people to set up some kind of reminder of his provision to them.  They would often take stones and gather them so that every time anyone walked by, especially their ancestors, they would see the visual reminder of what God had done for them.

A hole in a door stands as a visual reminder of what I have been through.  It’s raw.  It’s honest.  It’s broken.  One day, it will be fixed, but I’ll still have the pictures to prove that it was there, they will stand as a reminder to me of where I was on that day in January of 2011.  They will remind me that I am a work in progress, that I have come so far, but I still have so far left to go.  They will remind me that my anger has gotten the best of me before and I can’t let it happen again.  They will remind me that even out of brokenness and ashes, God makes beautiful things.  Every time that I look at my daughter, I get that reminder too.  What a gift!

Brace Yourself

November 2010 0022 years ago at this time, I was preparing for my mother’s funeral.  The day after the funeral, my family and I packed up our car and headed to Connecticut to visit family.

It was the first time that I was back in Connecticut since I lost my mom, which probably seems obvious.  Even though I like to prepare myself for things, somehow or another, I didn’t expect the level of emotion that I would feel when I passed through my old hometown.  In fact, as we drove up the Merritt Parkway, I could feel my body beginning to tense up and I wasn’t sure what was happening.  Then I realized that we would have to drive right through Darien.

Every time we go to Connecticut, there are certain things that we like to do and certain things that I like to do.  Do you ever remember your parents driving you by their old home when they were young?  Funny, I don’t.  You see that kind of thing happen all the time, and maybe you’ve experienced that before, but I never had that experience.  My brother eventually looked up my dad’s old neighborhood, but I wouldn’t know my mom’s old neighborhood if it was in the news.

I guess we have a tendency to start traditions with our kids that we feel that we missed when we were kids.  That’s what my approach has been.  When we go back to Stratford, Connecticut, I always like to check out the old house.  When we went to Asheville not long ago, I wanted to let the kids see our old house.

While those houses hold memories for me, they just don’t evoke the same kinds of emotions as the house in which I spent 27 years.  Both of my parents are gone and the mere thought of driving by the old house puts a huge lump in my throat.  My brother has to pass it on the train a few times a week but I just don’t think that I’ll feel compelled to see it until I have to, which could be a long while from now.

This coming week, I’ll enter the church where my father served for more than 36 years to honor him and celebrate his life with those who knew him from Connecticut.  Just like driving through my hometown for the first time after my mom’s death, I’ll be bracing myself.  It won’t be easy.  Many hours were spent in that church sanctuary, both during services as well as late nights when I would practice piano and write music.  It’s hard to say exactly what that place means to me and even harder to figure what kinds of emotions it will evoke.

My advantage all along has been that, as a musician, I have experience in “performing.”  There are just those moments when you have to step into a situation and almost “leave” your body.  Those times when you know being fully present may end up being way more difficult than you can imagine.  So, you just put the game face on and get through it.

Ironically, while my father died on April 17, 2013, there was a big part of him that died the last time that we were all in that church in November of 2010.  Months later, he died more with my mom’s diagnosis.  Months after that, he died even more when he lost my mom.  So, while he’s only been gone for 3 months, I started losing him almost 3 years ago, if not before that.

All I know is that life hands us situations that are sometimes unexpected, catching us off guard and by surprise.  But it also hands us situations that we expected or we saw coming, but just like a car accident that you know is inevitable, you just sit back, wait, and brace yourself.  You can’t avoid it, but you can at least do your best to stay as protected as possible.  I guess that’s just what I’ll do.

2 Hard Years

gibsons circa 1974 -edit 2Tuesday, July 19th, 2011 is a day that I will hardly forget.  It was just 5 days after my mother left the hospital for the last time with the news that she only had about a month to live.  From a month to 5 days, it’s kind of hard to believe.

There’s no easy way to tell someone that kind of news.  I remember early on in my mom’s journey through cancer, she was afraid.  In fact, it was the week after she had been diagnosed.  We were driving to yet another doctor’s appointment in the back of my aunt and uncle’s van and I was holding her hand.  She did not want to be a “wimp,” she told me.  Having seen her live through so much in her lifetime, I would hardly ever choose such a word to ever describe my mother, but that was her fear as we held hands and the tears streamed down her face.

I wondered, as she journeyed through the process, how much she was doing for herself and how much she was doing for everyone else.  My mother’s greatest strength was also her greatest weakness, she lived her life for her family and was selfless to a fault.  There was a part of me that felt that she just didn’t want to fight the cancer, but she did.  Not even capable of imagining what she was going through, I did my best to put myself and my desires aside and embrace her wishes.

Things ended much differently than we imagined they would.  We thought that there would be an operation, but through treatment, the cancer spread.  We thought that she would have longer time, but she had been so weakened by the treatments that her body could hardly find the strength to push through.

In the end, I think her will won out.  The human will is a very fascinating thing.  Through it, nearly impossible odds can be conquered.  Determination and will can drive a person.  I know my mom’s faith drove both her will and determination, she trusted that God was in control….we all did and still do.  It’s just difficult to trust while in the midst of the storm.

Her will won out because she waited until her best friend from high school got there to say good-bye and waited until one of the teachers who she had worked with arrived with her newborn baby before she finally breathed her last.

It was 6:30PM in the evening and I remember it like it was yesterday.  We knew that the time would be short.  My dad, still in shock over the course of events, had spent some time alone in the room with my mom.  My brother and I were taking turns reading Scripture verses to her.  As her breathing became more and more labored, I struggled to come to grips with reality myself.

Those last moments were among the most difficult.  As my mom’s breath grew more and more shallow, I remember how I began to watch the pulse on her neck to know exactly when she had passed.  That last pulse is embedded on my brain in a way that I will never forget it.  Even after she was gone, my dad struggled with the reality of turning off the oxygen machine since she didn’t need it anymore.  That marked one of the most painful moments of the day to me, a husband coming to grips with the loss of his beloved wife.

Yes, I can recall the events of the day with some vividness.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been 2 years already.  2 years full of more hardship.  My dad is gone.  I’ve had my own share of health issues.  I finished seminary.  My first and only daughter was born.  So much has happened.

Rarely a day goes by where I don’t imagine what Mom would be doing if she were still here.  She would have loved her only granddaughter.  She would still love her grandsons, her sons, and her daughters-in-law.  She would still be selfless.  She would still laugh and love as much as she used to.  She would still provide all of the wisdom that she so willingly dispensed.  She would have remained the pillar of faith that she was, trusting fully in her Savior.

I fully believe that you never quite recover from a deep loss, you simply learn to live with it.  I feel that way about my mom.  She was one of my best friends and it’s hard to fill that void.  My heart aches every day, but my kids are a reminder to me of who she was.  They remind me of the selfless love that she showed to me and everyone around her.  They remind me that there is still hope and that there is still life.

I fully expect that even after 10 years, I will still feel as if it was just yesterday that she was here.  I’m okay with that.  I will not stop telling stories.  I will not stop passing on what she taught me to my kids.  I will not stop shedding tears when they come.  I miss her, but I look forward to seeing her again.  It’s been 2 hard years, but one day, there will be no years between us…..ever again.

What Am I Doing?

9 years ago this past May, I was officially ordained into full-time vocational ministry.  I did not have a seminary degree, I had only been in full-time ministry for a month and a half, and I was incredibly green or wet behind the ears or whatever silly euphemism you want to use to say that I had no idea what I was doing or getting into.

I am at the place now where I have worked in 2 careers for about the same amount of time and I am ready to make the leap to allow my second career to surpaSpanish_inquisitionss my first as far as time spent doing it.  There may be some who wonder why, I know that there are days when I wonder that.  There may be some who wonder how, considering that I live out my birth heritage as a New Yorker and my forthrightness as a New Englander.  But at the same time, there are some who are thinking or saying, “You’re doing exactly the thing that God intended you to do.”

Having completed my seminary education in December of last year, you would think that I would be kind of coasting, or at least giving my brain a little bit of a break.  Trust me, I’ve wanted that way more than I can even begin to express.  If it were up to me, I would be spending most of my time by the pool with a cold drink in my hand, soaking in rays (through my sunscreen, of course), and doing my best to find some restoration after the last 5 years of brutality that seemed to have sucked some life, passion, and energy from me.

But alas, things are hardly what we would want them to be and life rarely affords us the luxury of coasting or relaxing too much.  In my efforts to continue in full-time vocational ministry, I need to transfer my credentials from one denomination to another.  The problem is, it’s not a simple process, nothing I ever do is a simple process it seems.  In fact, I told someone the other day that I seem to have a tendency to take the Israelite route through the desert, the one where what easily could have been accomplished in a matter of years ends up taking 40.  Yes, not exactly the way that I would have planned.

Well, the first step for me was written exams.  I studied and studied and studied some more.  In the midst of my studying, my father’s health took a major decline and on the eve of my first attempt at written exams, my father decided that he would sign himself into hospice.  Life and relationships have always been more important to me than red tape, so I decided to forego my studying that night to make the trek to check on my dad.  It was the right call, but needless to say, I only passed one of the 3 exams that I took.

As I prepared for the second time around, I was grateful to have to only retake the exams that I failed rather than all three.  My father’s health continued to spiral downward and exams seemed less and less important, but I pushed onward.  By the grace of God, I passed my written exams.  Now it was on to oral exams, which is where I find myself today.

In a matter of weeks, I will be sitting in front of a board of inquisitors examiners who claim to have my best interest in mind.  They want me to succeed.  They want this process to go smoothly for me.  But they still want to make sure that I know everything that they think that I should know.

And so, I continue to study and study and study some more.  To be honest, I’m not incredibly optimistic about this first go around.  I’m a study guide kind of a guy, I like any kind of study aids that I can get my hands on.  I have 2 engineering degrees and was used to tests where I could do sample problems.  There are no sample problems for the test that I will take, just some same questions pulled from a storehouse of information that comprised a 300+ page document from one helpful friend.

Why do I write this?  Well, for 2 reasons.  First of all, I need prayer.  I need people to pray that I can actually retain all the things that I have been studying and reading.  I need prayers that my brain won’t act like a sieve, allowing the information to escape.  I need prayers for grace among those who will be examining me.  In the midst of all of this, I’m still tired and weary, but I press on.

But I also write this because this is important to me.  One of the big questions I asked myself when I was in seminary was whether or not denominations mattered.  Time and time again, despite my own resistance, I kept coming back to the fact that, although they are manmade, there is an accountability and structure to them that is beneficial.  In order to continue on in doing what I do and in order to be recognized appropriately by the denomination in which I serve, I need to be fully credentialed.

One day, my friend insists, I will look back on these days and smile, remembering all that I went through.  While I’m in the thick of it, smiles don’t come as easily.  With that being said, I needed to add some humor to my life.  So, if you don’t get the picture on this post, go watch it on YouTube.  If you still don’t get it, then you just don’t appreciate British humor, which may not necessarily make you a second class citizen.  Don’t worry, I still love you.  Thanks for the prayers and support.