Birthdays

birthday_cakeToday is my birthday. As I get older, birthdays get kind of anticlimactic. You pass the big birthdays which become milestones of some sort, and you’re content to just hang out with your family and maybe some friends. It kind of becomes like Spring Break, it meant something to you once upon a time, but not so much anymore.

My kids all found some exciting presents for me at Five Below where everything is $5 or less. My wife took them there and told them to pick out presents for me. It’s funny how your genes seem to permeate into your children, because my boys picked out the kind of things that I would buy at a store like that when I was their age: a self-inflating whoopee cushion and a hand buzzer.

My oldest seems to celebrate things a lot. I’ve never seen someone so excited about Valentine’s Day before. Until recently, he treated it almost like a second Christmas. So, it doesn’t really matter whose birthday it is, he gets excited for it.

On this day, I am grateful for all that God has given me. I’ll celebrate that people still think that I’m a little younger than I really am. I’ll think about the opportunities that God has given me and the family that he has blessed me with.

On days like today, I miss my parents a lot. Mom was always good about calling and wishing me a happy birthday before anyone else. I am grateful that I had nearly 40 years of birthday phone calls from her.

Mom was good with calligraphy and once wrote out a verse for me to put out on my desk. It was Luke 1:14, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.” She always quoted that verse to me and never let me forget how much I meant to her.

On my birthday, I hope and pray that this verse would be true for me. I hope that I am a joy and delight to those who know me and I hope that many will rejoice because of this day, the day that I was born. I hope that I can bring something to everyone that I know, that they can say that they are glad that they know me, and that they feel like there are positive things that they have realized through knowing me.

It’s just another day and just another year, but I hope that when I look back in a year that I am different than I am today. Happy birthday to me!

Dream Big Dreams

dare to dreamFor the next few days, I am hoping to be energized. For the next few days, I am hoping to be reminded that I am not in charge, but God is. For the next few days, I am hoping to be reminded that dreaming dreams that are big enough that I can accomplish them on my own is not enough, I need to dream dreams that are big enough that ONLY God can accomplish them.

I am spending the next few days at a conference with others who are seeking to see what God can do through the imperfect vessels that make up his church. I expect that it will be a lot like drinking water from a firehose. I am glad to be with others with whom I work on a daily basis, all of us with different perspectives, talents, and gifts.

When you live a life in the trenches of full-time ministry, it’s too easy to become complacent. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the details and needs of those who are already convinced that Jesus is Savior. That’s not to say that those who already believe in Jesus as Lord are inconsequential, but just like any of us can become self-consumed and elevate our own needs above those around us, they and we can easily lose sight of the sheep that have yet to be called into the fold.

When we get caught up in our own needs, desires, and wants, we easily lose sight of the needs of those who still don’t know Jesus. When our own needs crowd out the needs of those who need to hear the Gospel of Jesus, that is a tragedy that, sadly, happens all too often within the Western church.

I once heard a speaker at a worship conference talk about dreaming dreams that are so big that only God can fulfill them. That same phrase was spoken to the pastors and staff at my church not too long ago by a minister from Latvia. It’s a phrase that I need to be reminded of every day, and I think all of us need that same reminder. We need to remember to stop putting God in a box, to stop making him in our image and try living into his image more and more every day.

I am excited to see what God will do. I am excited to be challenged. I am excited to be shaken out of my own complacency in order that I might encourage, teach, and shake others as well. May we dream big dreams and seek God’s help, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to fulfill those dreams!

People Say the Dumbest Things

cliven bundyI’ve been following the Cliven Bundy case off and on over the last month or so. I haven’t read a whole lot about it, but enough to understand what’s happened. I’ve been trying to distance myself from the political world a little bit as focusing on it seems to do nothing more than raise my blood pressure and get me frustrated.

Having become a poster child for standing up against big government by some on the right, his recent comments have gotten everyone bristling. If you haven’t heard the latest about him, he made some fairly thoughtless remarks regarding African Americans, saying that they would have been better in slavery than they are under the current system.

Now, those who had embraced Bundy and his stance against the government are backing off for fear of being associated with his comments. Those who had been critical of him all along are now criticizing not only Bundy, but all of the people who had supported him prior to his remarks. The whole thing is a mess as someone who had been elevated to Superhero status has shown the world what their “kryptonite” is.

I find it interesting how quickly people latch on to others for acts that they have committed. It’s been happening for years, but with our communication culture, it seems like the process has sped up and the information certainly gets out there much faster than it ever has before.

The thing that troubles me is that when you dig deep enough, you’re going to find “kryptonite” for just about everyone. We are all imperfect. There was only one perfect man and we know what happened to him. When someone supports an action by someone else, does that always mean that you support every single thing that person has said, done, or supported? If so, I think we would spend a lot more time investigating people we support than we do. I also think that we might take the time to make more clarifying statements about the people that we support, specifying that we support their current actions but that doesn’t mean it’s a blanket statement of support for anything and everything that they had ever said or done.

I’ll be the first person to admit that I’ve said some pretty stupid things in my lifetime. I’m not sure whether any of them could ever get me into deep trouble. But regardless of what I’ve said and done, I can think of people who I have appreciated and supported who have said or done things with which I disagree. Just because I don’t buy into 100% of what a person has said and done, does that mean I take it all or I take nothing?

So, what have I personally learned from all of this?

– Be specific about what I’m supporting – when someone does something that seems like something that I would support, I need to be specific that I’m behind their current actions but not necessarily supporting their entire history.

– Do a little research – because of the danger of support for one act or event turning into an overarching support for everything, doing a little research is just smart work. I’m smart enough to know that regardless of specific comments about limited support, I will still be criticized for embracing someone for everything that they’ve ever done.

– Always remember that everyone is fallible, including myself – People are people and they will screw up, don’t ever expect that they won’t. Not to say that you go in expecting the worst all the time, but elevating people up to an untouchable shelf will almost always result in disappointment. I am fallible and so are you, let’s not expect each other to screw up, but let’s also not be so delusional that we think that we are perfect either.

In the end, the Bundy case is still one that I will follow. I am curious to see what happens, and who knows what other lessons I can learn for myself.

The Power of a Place

2014-04-24 21.10.38Yesterday, I drove to Asheville, North Carolina for a denominational meeting. Asheville holds a special place in my heart. It’s where I first entered into vocational ministry as a pastor ten years ago. In fact, it was April 2004 that I moved down to Asheville from Connecticut. My wife followed a month later. During that month, I was charged with finding a house, which is another post altogether.

When we moved to Asheville, we were making big changes in our lives. I was leaving my engineering career and starting fresh. We were moving a day’s drive away from all of our family. We were moving to a place where we knew no one other than the people we had met in interviews along the way. We didn’t take the decision lightly and had spent a significant amount of thought and prayer on it.

My wife and I had only been married for about three years when we move to Asheville. We had no children by that point either. So, those three and a half years that we spent together in Asheville helped us as a couple to really learn to rely on each other and God in the midst of the uncertainty. Some close relatives had told us of their time spent away from family at the beginning of their marriage and how beneficial it was for them. Once we experienced it ourselves, we agreed.

My wife and I loved going downtown Asheville and hanging out. There are so many great places to eat, so many interesting people to see, and although it’s a city, it feels a little bit more like a village, as one of my friends so aptly put it. In some ways, it felt like we had an extended honeymoon to spend all of this time together, alone. There were difficult things in the church, but the benefit of each other was so helpful as we journeyed through it together.

A year before we left Asheville, our first son was born. Now having a child, the distance from family grew even more difficult. We were blessed by many great people in our church who stood in as surrogate relatives in the absence of our blood relatives, but it just wasn’t the same. We began to feel the pull to move closer to family. That coupled with some of the further difficulties that we were encountering within the church made the decision simple on paper, but we had grown to love Asheville and it was hard to say, “good-bye.”

Driving west on 40 yesterday, I could feel my heart begin to race a little faster as we passed the Ridgecrest cross. As we drove into Black Mountain to drop off one of my fellow pastors for a meeting, the anticipation was growing more inside of me. We drove to our hotel which was right by The Cove, the Billy Graham Training Center, where I spent a number of days and nights leading worship with some pretty incredible and talented people.

As we drove down Tunnel Road and got on 240, I felt myself being pulled back in time to when I saw all of these things for the first time. I remember driving west on 240 and coming through the mountain to glimpse the Asheville skyline on my left, painted with a backdrop of mountains, it was a stunning sight for me then, and just as stunning of a sight to behold when I saw it again this time.

We drove up Merrimon Avenue where I spent a good part of my time, past the church where I served. Drove past Urban Burrito, a place that had grown near and dear to our hearts as my son seemed to enjoy their burritos in utero. We drove to Marco’s Pizzeria where my wife and I had discovered a fellow “yankee” (and me a fellow New Yorker) who actually knew how to make pizza.

After eating at the Mellow Mushroom downtown and hanging out with some friends who I’ve stayed connected with through social media, we walked through downtown. We went past Pack Square Park and I pointed out where some of my favorite street performers usually are on Friday and Saturday nights. We walked past the Marble Slab and down to the Orange Peel where I had seen and heard some great musical acts during my time here: Howie Day, Nickel Creek, and others. We walked to Pritchard Park where the drum circle takes place on Friday nights and I pointed out the Flat Iron building, modeled after the one in New York, and where Early Girl Café is, a favorite eatery of my wife and mine.

We ran into a Celtic street performing group complete with bagpipes. We walked past Tops For Shoes where we bought my son’s first pair of shoes. We walked past Doc Chey’s Noodle House and Salsa’s Mexican Caribbean Restaurant, one of our all time favorites. We saw the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium where I had seen Harry Connick and his big band. It all felt as if I had just been here yesterday.

And as we walked around, taking in the sights, hearing the sounds, and me recounting my own memories, my heart began to ache a little. In just a short three and a half years, this city had captured our hearts. The place and the people. I realized in those moments just how powerful place can be, how a place can almost embed itself within your soul, capturing your heart.

Asheville will always hold a special place in the hearts of my wife and me. We have often said many times since we left that we wish that we could take Asheville and plant it a little closer to where our family is, but that’s just can’t happen. So, we will be forced to come back, over and over again. We will walk the streets, see the sights, hear the sounds, and remember. We will look at each other and smile, remembering when it was all fresh and new to us, and our hearts will be warmed as we remember.

Out of the Depths – A Book Review

Out of the DepthsIt’s been said that war is hell and Edgar Harrell knows firsthand that statement is true. Harrell was only one of a handful of survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during World War II after it had been hit by a Japanese torpedo. The USS Indianapolis’ end is ironic considering that the ship had left the port in Pearl Harbor just prior to the Japanese strike which has gone down in American history. “Out of the Depths” is Harrell’s own story of survival and faith in the midst of impossible circumstances.

Harrell, a retired Marine, and his son, David, recount his experience in such vivid detail that the images he paints stay with you long after you close the book. He gives just enough background information to keep the reader interested but not too much to make the average civilian still feel like they understand. Harrell recounts the mysterious cargo that the USS Indianapolis carried which turned out to be parts of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Harrell recounts his experience of hearing the screeching metal as the torpedoes ripped through his boat and as it took upon massive amounts of water, of the smell of the burning flesh of his shipmates after the torpedoes had ripped through his Navy destroyer, of the effects of salt water and sun on those who clung to life in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, of seeing his shipmates attacked by sharks while waiting for rescue in the Pacific Ocean, and of so much more. Harrell recalls the moments right after the torpedoes ripped through the ship to the moments when he and other survivors were lifted out of the Pacific Ocean after spending an endless four nights at sea.

Two things in particular struck me after reading Harrell’s account. First was his constant and consistent faith in the midst of all of the difficulties that he faced. Over and over in the book, Harrell talks about his trust in God and his prayers prayed in the midst of circumstances and situations that would make most of us cower. Second was the fact that many more lives were lost at the fault of the US Navy who covered up some of its own mistakes and oversights. Harrell describes the trials of his ship’s commander which took place, trials that seemed to overlook important information simply to find a scapegoat for the Navy’s mistakes.

This book is not for the squeamish. Harrell does not pull any punches in describing what he saw and experienced through the torpedo strike and in the days following as he and his shipmates fought to survive in the ocean. The fact that he was able to recount such vivid details only gives the reader a glimpse of the horrors that he has had to experience every day since that horrific experience on July 30, 1945. While the details and descriptions were vivid, I would not call any of his descriptions gratuitous, just real and honest.

I am grateful that Mr. Harrell wrote his story down and shared it with the world. While the details weren’t always pleasant to read, it stands as a reminder that we have been blessed in the United States to enjoy freedoms that have cost so many so much. Thank you, Mr. Harrell, for your book and for your service. We are eternally grateful to you and so many others.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House Publishers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Running the Race

meg menzies memorialA little more than 3 months ago, my community was hit hard when a young mother was out for a training run for the Boston Marathon with her police officer husband. They were getting a late start as the school bus that carried their kids to school was late. As they followed the rules of the road, running against traffic, an SUV swerved off the road, missing the husband but hitting the wife and mother of three. Hours later, she was pronounced dead.

In the days and weeks that followed, it was pretty incredible to see not only the local community but the running community, both nationally and internationally, respond. People ran for Meg and her family. People ran to carry on her legacy, a legacy that was cut too short at 34 years. All over the world, the story of this unassuming mother was being told and the faith that propelled her and which now propels her family forward has been proclaimed.

Yesterday, the 2014 Boston Marathon took place. It was a solemn day as the victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing were remembered and honored. And somewhere in the mass of people who ran the race was Scott Menzies, the husband of Meg Menzies, the woman who had been training for the marathon when her life was cut tragically short by the alleged drunk driver who had swerved off the road. He was running the race to see what she would have seen and to experience what she would have experienced. He was hoping that he would feel her and that she would be behind him, pushing him across the finish line.

This story is so multi-layered, kind of like an onion, when you peel a layer off, you continue to find more. In these days of social media, the story unfolds even more broadly. As I read stories and looked at pictures on Facebook yesterday, I saw the pictures that my friends who live in Boston had posted. They were watching the race with their families. I saw the posts on the Facebook page created in honor of Meg Menzies. I saw the chief of police who Scott Menzies works for holding up signs along the race path, he and his wife having traveled to Boston from Virginia to cheer on his fellow officer.

Yesterday morning, I drove by the intersection where Meg Menzies was hit back in January. Every time that I drive by, I turn my radio off and drive in silence, sensing that the moment is sacred and that the ground is hallowed. It’s hard not to be overcome by emotion as I see the street sign strewn with running sneakers. It’s hard not to think about the Menzies family and all that they have endured. As I drove past, I prayed for them, and especially for Scott as I knew that his run would be an emotional one.

The words of Hebrews 12:1-3 seemed appropriate as I thought about Scott and his run, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” I imagine that the witnesses that surrounded Scott were not just earthly witnesses, but heavenly ones as well.

Life goes on, races are run, and marathons will continue, but I imagine that no race will ever be as important to Scott Menzies as the one that he ran yesterday. Police officers put their life on the line for strangers and citizens every day, and for that, they are rightfully considered heroes. Yesterday, Scott became a hero for representing his wife, at least he did in my eyes. Well done, sir, well done.

My original post after the tragic accident:

https://coarpk.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/facing-tragedy/

Here’s the Washington Post story on Scott Menzies and his run:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/04/21/a-heartbreaking-boston-marathon-story-you-havent-heard/

And the local Richmond news report with Scott’s interview before the race:

http://wtvr.com/2014/04/21/scott-menzies-boston-marathon/

When All Is Said and Done

Lent is over. Holy Week is behind us. Easter has passed. So what happens now?

I haven’t seen any Easter inflatables in the yards of my neighbors and the general consumerism of Easter seems to be exponentially reduced from Christmas, but for Christians, there is just as much preparation as we move towards Easter during the time of Lent as there is for Christmas during the time of Advent. But for those giving things up during Lent, what is the significance when the fast is broken, when we go back to the things that we did without for 40 days? What did we learn? How did we do without?

There are few things more gratifying to me than learning that something that I thought I “needed” was actually expendable and not nearly as necessary as I thought that it was. That’s what fasting can show us, that our dependence on things is more of a creation of our own minds than an actual need for us. It’s a lost practice that I have not done nearly as often as I should during weighty spiritual times but a practice that Jesus mentions within the Gospels.

It’s interesting to think of the grieving period that the disciples had after Jesus’ death. It didn’t last nearly as long as the typical period of grief as things changed dramatically on the third day. When Jesus ascended though, there had to be some additional emotions felt by the disciples, feelings of loss, albeit not the same kind of emotions that they experienced on Friday. Those emotions led them where? Eventually back to Jerusalem.

More recently, I have snickered at the fact that the disciples’ answer for what to do in the absence of Jesus was to have a meeting. It was in a meeting that they eventually received the Holy Spirit, and from there, everything changed. It became less about meeting and more about action. It became about going and doing and not simply sitting and learning.

So what difference does Easter make for us? How do Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday make us different? How do we live differently when all is said and done? Or do we live differently?

From Easter, I find hope in the resurrection. I find that grieving for those who know Christ is not as sharp as it would be had Easter never taken place. But I should also find confidence that what God said was true was really true. Am I living with confidence, not in my own abilities but in the truth of God?

Today is a new day, but as I look at it through the lens of Easter, it should look different. Like the blind man who was given sight to see a world of magnificence and beauty after facing darkness for so many years, our eyes should be open. Like one who had been looking at things in black and white or sepia toned lenses and who now sees in brilliant technicolor, the world should look different.

So, how does Easter change the way you see the world? What difference does it make to you?

Emptying the Tomb

2014-04-17 11.30.00Yesterday was the one year anniversary of my father’s death, just 21 months after my mom died. You might think that I would be doing anything possible to keep my mind off of that for the day, but instead, you might say that I drove right into the mouth of the dragon. My family and I spent the morning in Williamsburg, going through the townhouse that my parents barely occupied before the bottom fell out on them.

There is hardly anything left there. We enlisted some folks to come in and sell what was left over. For those of you who are left with properties when you lose parents or relatives, an estate sale is an incredibly beneficial thing, mostly because you don’t have to sort through the belongings yourself. We were blessed to have a friend who is involved with estate sales and the emotional weight that was taken off of me by having someone else sort through my parents’ belongings was invaluable. We had gone through and taken all of the sentimental stuff out, so we were not worried about what was going to be purged.

Going through the townhouse, I thought that I might feel a stronger emotion than I did. It wasn’t the house that I had grown up in. My mom had only been able to call it home for about 9 months before she died there. My dad could only call it home for a little while longer as he eventually was unable to care for himself. Once the furniture and “stuff” was taken out of it, it just resembled a space with no identity. The day will come soon when the place is sold and someone else will move in there. That day will hold different emotions for me than walking through this now empty tomb.

It’s appropriate that the emptying of this “tomb” should take place when it has. I’ve always seen God’s timing as impeccable, and this situation seems to reinforce that. In just a few days, Christians will be celebrating the empty tomb, rejoicing that Christ didn’t stay where he was buried but rose instead. Today, I am celebrating that the empty tomb of a house where my parents once lived could not hold them. It contained some memories, but they are not there. Just as my dad insisted we put on my mom’s grave, “She is not here, she is with Jesus,” so the phrase now applies to him as well.

Today is Good Friday, but it hardly seemed “good” to those first disciples. If there had ever been a Black Friday, it was that day for the disciples and all who had followed Jesus up to that point. All that took place didn’t seem good, at least not from their vantage point, but they didn’t have the benefit of hindsight and they were still hanging onto hope that had not yet come to fruition, it had not been fully realized.

I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Romans in the eighth chapter of his letter where he wrote, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Because of a very black Friday, we can celebrate a joyful Sunday. Because of what took place between those days, I can celebrate. It’s hard to bid farewell to what had become a shrine, a place of remembrance of my parents, but it’s a lot easier when I think about Easter Sunday. He is risen indeed and we need not fear death any longer!

Have a blessed Good Friday, but more importantly, have a joyful and Happy Easter!

A Year

2013-05-23 12.38.16One year ago today, I became an orphan. After a brutal 3 years in which he lost his church, his wife, and his health, my dad finally breathed his last breath. To be honest, I was kind of surprised that he had lasted that long. Men half his age would have had a hard time enduring all that had come across his path during that time.

It’s hard to believe, in some ways, that it’s only been a year. It felt like I had been anticipating the day for such a long time that, when it finally came, it felt almost like I was able to breathe again. That’s not to say that I celebrated its coming, but you come to a point where you realize that “living life” means more than simply being mostly conscious and breathing in and out for 24 hours a day.

Some of the conversations that I had with my father over the nearly two years between my mom’s death and his own death were among the most painful conversations that I have ever had to have. Other than my brother and family and a few close friends, I kept the facts about what was going on with my dad fairly close to the chest. He didn’t want to talk to many people and I wanted to maintain some amount of his dignity. He was not the man that he used to be and there was no need for everyone to see that.

Hardly a day goes by since April 17, 2013 that I don’t think of him. I still have voice messages on my phone from him, wishing me a happy anniversary. I still have recordings of him singing in church from so many years ago. I still have a bottle of his cologne next to my bathroom sink. Lifting that bottle to my nose and closing my eyes, I can easily drift off and my mind is filled with images of his smile and his words of wisdom, imparted to his son who has followed in his steps.

Time heals all wounds, at least that’s what the masses say. Not sure whether I fully believe that or not. I always compare the wound of grief to the wound that Frodo received with a Morgul blade in the Lord of the Rings books. Although the wound healed, he was never the same because of it. The damage had penetrated much deeper than just the skin, and the same can be said of grief.

A year from now, I will look back again and most likely be surprised that another year has passed. The memories will continue, but the ache may feel a little duller than before. Things are different today than they were a year ago, and I expect that a year from now, they will be more different still.

I miss my dad tremendously. I miss his laugh. I miss his smile. I miss his voice. I miss the conversations that I would have with him, even when he would give me advice that I never really asked for. I know that his time here was done and I know that he’s with my mom and his Savior now, it still doesn’t take away that ache that persists deep in my very being.

Today, I will celebrate the life of a man who gave all that he had to do what he didn’t completely understand by being a pastor. I will celebrate the truth that he has passed on to me. I will celebrate the love that he showed to me, my brother, my mom, and everyone with whom he came into contact. I will celebrate that the shell of a man who breathed his last breath one year ago today has been fully restored, glorified, better than he was before. No more pain. No more tears. No more dying.

I can’t wait to see you again, Dad. I love you so much more than I ever realized. Take care of Mom. Happy Easter. Enjoy it as you celebrate with the One who died and gave it all so that we might live.

A Selfish Prayer

bob dylanA year ago, I prayed a very selfish prayer. I knew that my dad was coming to the end of his days here on earth, but I had been so beaten down by the events of the years leading up to that day that I just needed a break. Having been a Bob Dylan fan for the better part of my adult years, I jumped at the opportunity to go see him when he came to Richmond. I bought tickets well in advance of the day, unable to foresee the circumstances that would be playing out as the day of the concert arrived.

As I watched my father’s health decline, I was seeing the perfect storm ensue and wondering whether or not I would have to forego seeing this musical legend because my father had passed. My insides were in knots. I felt like such a jerk. I loved my father and here I was, hoping and praying that he would last one more day so that I could have a few hours to spend with my wife seeing Bob Dylan.

It wasn’t the money that was the issue. If I had had to give up the tickets or if I had been unable to go, it would have just been money. It was really just the opportunity for a break. Between seminary, my church and job situation, my mother’s failing health and eventual death, and now my father’s rapid decline, it was hard for me to get to the surface to catch a breath of air before the next wave hit. As crazy as it sounds, a simple excursion to a Bob Dylan concert could function as that for me.

So I prayed……a selfish prayer. I asked God to preserve my father for just one day. I asked that my night be free of phone calls that he had fallen, that he would stay in his bed, that his heart would keep beating, that he would rest on earth for one more day. I just wanted one more day.

And that’s what I got.

My wife and I went to the concert. My phone never rang. My dad lasted through the night, but that was his last night on earth. I woke up the next morning and spent the entire next day by his side. I read to him, I sang to him, I prayed with and for him. I kissed him. I waited. And that next day, after spending the whole day with him, he breathed his last breath while I sat there by his side.

I wrestled in my spirit whether I had done the wrong thing or not. Should I have forgotten the concert to spend time with my dad for his last night on earth? Should I have not been so selfish? Could I have done more? These questions and so many more were running through my mind.

The reality of loss and grief is that when we go through them, we need to be careful to take time for ourselves. If we aren’t careful, we can be overwhelmed with all of the duties and responsibilities that fall on us, the caretakers. If we don’t stop to care for ourselves, we can easily find ourselves on a decline emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

I took the time that I thought I needed……and I prayed. I feel like God heard my prayer, selfish though it might have been. I’m glad he did and I’m glad that I had that one night to step away, to find solace in the music. The next day, reality rushed back in like a tidal wave, and I think that I was a little more ready to deal with it because of a selfish prayer that I had prayed, a selfish prayer that I felt like had been answered by a gracious God.