I joined the dead dad’s club some time ago. Actually, twenty years ago… today. It wasn’t a membership I had sought after or even wanted to join. Mainly because joining meant I was experiencing an unchangeable force of nature that was going to shift and shake my life in ways that I had no idea how or why.
I remember imaging what this day would be like in a year, in five years, in ten years… I never really went beyond that. It was hard enough to make meager attempts at any years beyond that very day without him, but twenty years? That was completely beyond my emotionally capacity. And to some degree, it still is. But here I sit, twenty years later.
I recently watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where George’s dad dies (season 3, episode 3). He’s standing outside of the hospital and Christina approaches him and says, “There’s a club. The Dead Dads Club. You can’t be in it until you are in it. You can try to understand, can sympathize, but until you feel that loss. My dad died when I was nine. George, I’m really sorry you had to join the club.”
George solemnly looks at her and says, “I don’t know how to exist in a world my dad doesn’t.”
“Yeah, that never really changes,” replies Christina.
And that’s pretty much it. I had no idea how to exist in a world where my dad doesn’t. And that hasn’t changed. I have, however, figured out how to be a member of the dead dad’s club.
There’s sadness that comes with the club. And sympathy. And sorrow. And tears… lots of tears. I guess I thought that club membership would somehow help to grow a thicker skin or even be able to tough it out. But really, it’s allowed me to be more more empathetic towards others and myself. I discovered that my world is lacking so much without him. As one of my biggest champions of my education, he wasn’t here to see me graduate from college. He won’t walk me down the aisle when I get married. My kids will never know him. My dad was my greatest champion in doing life well and loving it while I was doing it.
In twenty years I’ve learned to ask what’s next instead of why. Yes, I still question and ask why. And I did that a ton twenty years ago. God took my greatest champion on this earth. God could have chosen to heal my dad for the crazy stupid cancer that overtook his body and life. God could have elected for that moment a miracle to happen and be witnessed by many. But he didn’t.
I fully believe in a God who does not abandon. I fully believe in a God who is not only my creator, but also my greatest champion. I fully believe in a God who compels us to live a life full of faith and trust in him. And in these twenty year later days, that seems a bit easier said than done. But it’s all real and I believe it for every single person.
So, what’s next? Living life. There will always be a void, but there is so much other really good stuff, that the void just seems smaller. There is no one person who could take the place of my dad in my life, but God has seen fit to give me new champions. Friends and family who only want to the best for me. The void sits beside a community of people who fill a lot of similar roles, but just don’t have the witty disposition nor love of hot rods that my dad had.
The truth of the matter is that earthly champions will come and go. And for some of those who go, it will be hard. But the greatest champion for all of us is a loving, grace filled God bigger than any void, and so much better than a membership to the dead dads club.
I got stuck again. For the last three years I have been using the same daily devotional for the advent season. The first five are about lament. About Zachariah and Elizabeth. About their barrenness and advanced age. About them walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. About them being righteous before God. About an angel appearing before them and assuring them that they will indeed have a son and he is to be named John. This is the child, the promise, that will go on as Jesus’ cousin, and be known as John the Baptist.
Scholars believe that Zechariah, as a priest was chosen to enter into the temple sanctuary, and had prayed many, many time for two things. First petition most likely included interceding for the nation of Israel and the second petition for a child.
For the past three advent seasons, I can’t seem to get beyond these particular days. It’s the lament that grabs me and holds onto me as though I was clinging for my life. It’s grip is hard and gentle all at the same time. So gentle, it has taken me three years to finally grasp what I feel the Lord saying to me. He is patient and has let me know that my lament in this is what he wants from me. He wants me to make known to him.
My lament usually comes when I am at my end. When I truly believe that I can no longer handle it. When I’m so sorrowfully and dowdy that I can’t seem to operate in life or anything really. When the consuming reality of my life is overflowing, I realized that I don’t like it. I don’t want it. I want something different. So, my intended lament becomes more of a pout. More of a whiney exacerbation of crap that has been let out without anything stopping it. Not really a true lament, just complaining.
What does God want from me?
He wants honesty. He wants truth. He wants what’s real in our hearts and in our minds. He wants to know where I stand with him. And truth be told, by doing all this, exposing ourselves like this, being vulnerable like this, we are showing him all he has created in us and created us to be. If we can’t be this raw and vulnerable with God, then how can we, how can I, expect to be truly real and vulnerable with other people.
My lament is about my desire for a family. A husband. Children. A home established to serve the Kingdom. A big table that has space for many to come to it. A table to share a meal and experience a glimpse of the community that Jesus experiences when he went and ate with people in their homes.
Instead of whining about it, or crying myself to sleep at night, my lament needs to be grown up. I need to put on my big girl pants on and approach God wholeheartedly. I need to approach the creator of the every intricacies of the vast universe with the mightiness that he has created me with. To be brave and lay it all out to him and for him. To pray the very dangerous prayers that will change my life.
Oh wait, I’ve done this before.
I have had a moment where I did strip all the gunk away and approach the throne with authenticity. I prayed to see people as Jesus sees them. To be aware of them. Not to judge a book by it’s cover, but to somewhat accurately know them on the smallest scale. To be able to discern the situation with some accuracy. And when I did that, it all became real. I took my ministry more serious. I started being able to meet people where they were. My heart started to ache for his people. I couldn’t just pass a homeless person on the street and not acknowledge that they to are heirs to the Kingdom. I couldn’t pass a drug dealer on the street and not see that they too are an heir to the kingdom, the exact same kingdom that I am an heir to. They too are children of God, knitted together in their mother’s womb, just as I am.
In these radical prayers, I found my heart tugging almost everyday. Thinking about things I never imagined that I would ever have a tought about. Taking actions on things that I never thought I would do. These radical prayers shaped my heart, shaped my life. They led me to make decision that was so in the face of what my norm was in life, that many people didn’t know how to take it.
So here I am. At a junction. Waiting to just simply make a decision. I can choose to continue being in neutral or I can just do it. I can decided to put my big girl pants on and expose my most inner being to the creator of the universe and take the risk that he will turn everything upside down. Or I can just stay. Just maintain the course I’m on.
I choose my big girl pants.
I have the privilege of serving at a youth pastors convention this week. It’s long days, spent standing the majority of the time. I get to be the source of most knowledge for the convention delegates. They come with questions and I deliver answers. It’s not a swammy type of situation where I would be wearing a shiny turban on my head, but when they are looking for a seminar location or have come in the wrong entrance and are looking for check-in, I give them directions to get there.
The convention is in my home town, in fact I live 18 blocks away from the convention center, but I am staying in a hotel across the street. It’s much easier to walk across the street to crawl into bed after standing for 12+ hours, then walk the 18 blocks to crawl into bed. Because the convention is here, I have a great opportunity to brag all over the city that I love!
But with all the bragging that I am doing, and sending business to all my favorite restaurants (most of which are locally owned), there are those folks who walk by my in the convention center lobby with looks anxiousness on their faces. Looks of being lost, and not just because they can’t find the entrance to the main event or the bathroom. (Although the looks for those who can’t seem to find the closest bathroom is a somewhat serious situation!)
There is an anxiety in some looks. Because some folks have come with great expectation of change. Change of attitude or change of heart… they still have arrived with the expectation of change. Some have come with broken hearts. No matter if it’s because of sin on their part or the part of others, there they come here broken. And even others have arrived empty. They have poured every last ounce of who they are and what they had into the kids they minister to.
No matter what we have arrived here with, lack of something or an abundance of other things, we are all looking for the best possible experience. We are all expecting to experience God in big ways. The hardest part in that expectation, is realizing that our own anxiety can be the very things that prevents us for truly experiencing what God has in store over the next couple of days. Setting aside all that we need to in order to fully experience God in real and tangible ways this week requires us to give all our anxiety to him and to fully expect him to do great things in our live.
It’s only day two and I’m going to keep going. I know, you are probably asking yourself why I need encouragement to keep going on day two. Well, I jumped at this challenge at the same time I am volunteering with the National Youth Workers Convention, which means this will be a challenge that will require me to have some pretty heavy dedication and discipline. Yesterday alone we worked a solid 11 hours. We stuffed books, put chairs together, moved boxes, unpacked boxes, put signage together, folded t-shirts, and so much more.
I woke up super early in order to have have the time to come and do this. Which really translates that as this week goes on it will be more and more difficult to wake up early before I have to be somewhere to get this done, because the reality is that I don’t have the brainpower to do this at night.
Every night when I return back to my room I am struck with a couple of things. First the team of people who work on this event throughout the entire year. To some degree it’s a job I would love, but at the same time, I think I might be over it the moment I set feet to the ground of the city that convention is in. There are so many details, so much planning, so much energy and time, and so much heart poured into and over this event, I am in constant amazement of it.
Setting aside the detail and beauty of this event there is also the spiritual side. For months and months, people have been praying over and for this event in ways I can’t even imagine. Folks who know the folks who put this together and who will walk in the door, know that we all come with some type of hurt and need. A need that can only be met by God. A holistic need that we often don’t even recognize that we even have this need, much doing something to meet that need.
So, what do we do? We keep going. To some degree we have been conditioned to just keep going. We are under the impression that we need to meet our needs… jobs, paychecks, pleasure, joy, peace, etc. But the reality is that, for those of us who call ourselves Christians, we all too often set aside the deep desire for God to be out great provider, and that he will and does take care of all those needs. We can often step out of practice of living into that truth even though we spend our time telling others sharing that truth. In other words, we do a really good job and not practicing what we preach.
In the end we keep going. One foot in front of the other, walking forward. Some folks do stop and crash at the overwhelming nature of life, but for the most part we just keep going. Bitterness can set in and fester into something fierce. But the hope that we all need to remember comes from God and all that he has done for us.
I find myself constantly reminding myself that He has this. In my time of just going, God has it all.
I committed to this at just the wrong time, but what’s a girl to do? Here is what I’ve committed to do. Blog… for 31 days. 500 words a day. It’s so nice that October has the required 31 days and it was only a few days away from when I made this initial commitment.
While I am starting this commitment, I am also committed to volunteering for the National Youth Workers Convention here in Sacramento. Imagine 1500 + youth pastor types ascending on this fair city. They will laugh. They will eat. They will worship. They will pray. They will bring all their baggage, their brokenness, their joy, their struggles… they will bring it all with them. And hopefully while they are here, they will be able to lay it all at the foot of the cross.
While there everyone has the opportunity to make a new commitment. Some will make a new commitment to themselves. Some will make a new commitment to their ministry. Some will renew their commitment to Christ. (Yes, it does happen) Some will renew or make a new commitment to their spouse and possibly their family. Some will make a new commitment to their kids. All in all, being a youth pastor, director, or minister is similar to almost any other profession. You have the opportunity to get so engrossed in what you do, that you can forget about those around you. The folks that need to be your first priorities, the ones whose faith and journey with God need to be of more importance that any kids any a youth group. You know, you family… your spouse, your kids.
That commitment to your family is the second most important commitment that you will ever make as an adult. The first one being the commitment you made to God. But what about the folks who haven’t made that commitment. The folks who are vocational ministry folks who haven’t married yet and don’t have kids. This is my boat.
At times I feel less validated in my call to vocational ministry from people because of my lack of a husband and kids. Because I don’t know the struggle of balancing family life and professional life all wrapped up in the church/Christian context. I don’t what it’s like to miss a milestone in my kids life, because I was leading a mission trip or at camp with 20 of my best high school friends. I don’t know what it’s like to live into the expectation of having my spouse and kids be a part of the church and act accordingly. I don’t know what it’s like to have my marriage and parenting under a microscope disguised as the congregation of the church I work for. I do know that everyone, at least mostly everyone, means well and comes from a place of love. But, I don’t envy that one bit. And I will also say that this does not deter me from wanting all that.
for the past month on facebook, i have been reading friends declarations of what they are thankful for each day. from family to friends to jobs to houses to no interest loans to buy new kitchen appliances with character building blemishes, the thanks giving has been steady throughout the month. in the beginning i did think about jumping on the bandwagon and post each and every day in the month of november what i was thankful for. (i do suspect that by this time during the month, that there are a few who are struggling to post one more thing they are thankful for.)
but, i decided not to jump on that bandwagon and to do my best to maintain the positive, yet snarky, facebook updates that i love sharing with the world. i did, however, really start to think about what i am thankful for and why there is only one day, and only one month, we are challenged to express it to the world.
one of the most eternally awkward moments at the thanksgiving table is going around and everyone sharing about what they are thankful for, all the while the food gets cold. (you know, the food that your grandmother and mother slaved in the hot kitchen all day.) nobody really wants to be the first one, because you really want to hear what everyone else has to say so that you can come up with something really creative. also, being the first out the gate means that everyone can pile on all the stuff that they are thankful for, yet you completely forgot to mention while in the midst of your deer-in-the-head-lights-have-to-tell-everyone-what-your-thankful-for-and-can’t-remember-a-darn-thing moment. yep, we have all had those… and i am assuming that we can all say that those moments really suck!
thank you, Lord, my family have never done it. when i was a kid and we sat down to eat, we were all business. passing the turkey, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce (yes, the kind with the ridges from the can… is there any other?), stuffing and the all important white bread shaped into a somewhat fancy dinner roll. it was all there and we were happily piling our plated full of the stuff. it was all there, ready to go from serving dish to plate to our stomaches. bottom line is we were not a touchy-feely family, and didn’t share things like what we are thankful for with each other.
i wonder why we only take one day, one month to really give thanks for everything we have. i for one was taught to always say “thank you” in response to someone, but i do know that this particular lesson has escaped some parenting strategies. i honestly believe that hearing “thank you” will never go out of style.
so, what am i thankful for? I am thankful for many, many things, but the biggest thing is where God has brought me in my journey thus far. i have cried many tears of sorrow, sadness, loneliness, pain, and grief… I’m thankful for each and every tear. i have many friends, past and present, who care for me deeper than i deserve, and i am thankful for each and every one of them. i have many of material needs met and a little more, and i am thankful for all of it. i laughed many, many times (a lot of it is at myself) and i am thankful for each and every instance and fit of laughter that i have had. i am a citizen of a country where i have a choice in who i worship, i get to gather with fellow believers and worship my God is a safe place and space… and i am thankful for those freedoms.
most of all, i am thankful for my God… who saw fit to create me in his image. who has given me gifts, skills, abilities, and passions that can and will change the world. who loves me beyond measure and made the most significant sacrifice, of which i will never know the full cost of Christ being on the cross, for me. who liberally applies grace towards me, even when i least deserve it. who, above all else, simply and significantly loves me… just as He created me to be.
many years ago, well seventeen to be exact, i had planned a party for celebration on this very day. there were pots of spaghetti sauce being made, a cake with a with a humorous them being put together across town, bottles of soda chilling and the expectation of surprise hung in the air like a thick cloud of steam being release from a pot of boiling pasta. as far as i was concerned i was ready for the big reveal. but, the real surprise wouldn’t be for the birthday guy. nope… it would be for all his guests.
this was my dad’s fiftieth birthday… and it was a surprise party. friends from Oregon and Reno were coming into town for the party. even my mom (at this point my parents had been divorced for about two years) took the day of work and did a massive house cleaning. (ok, so maybe there was a bit of motivation from knowing her former mother-in-law would be in the house and wanted to give her best impression… but i digress.) all in all, it was shaping up to one great little party.
but in the weeks before, the birthday boy himself made one little decision that not only sent me into tears, but also was set to derail my months of planning and scheming in order to get everything into place. he revealed to me that he decided to move to southern California for his new job a week early. Meaning he was high-tailing it out of town the week before his surprise birthday party! the moment i heard those words, i dissolved into a teary mush of goo and he went from being Dad to Daddy.
through my sobs he heard about all the well made plans of Grandma making the largest post of spaghetti sauce she had ever made (Grandma exaggerated at times), how is best friend from Reno and family were heading down the hill for this special celebration (they hadn’t seen each other in a couple of years), and how our close family friends from Oregon were coming down to surprise him too and they were bringing the cake! He was impressed at the magnitude of planning i took on in order to see this happen, and not wanting to derail the plans, decided to stick with his original scheduled move date of the following weekend. But, instead of me calling everyone and informing them that the gig was up and he foiled the plans, he threw a bit of a twist in it all. instead of him being surprised, why doesn’t he show up first and surprise everyone else. (now do see where i got my devious, but always used for good ways?!?)
and that’s just what he did. he arrived early and we had the best time watching everyone through the kitchen window arrive. some who parked down the street and attempted to sneak up to the house and not be noticed, or others who parked across the street. no matter where they parked, when the door was opened for them to come in, they were greeted by the birthday guy himself. that started the night off right, with laughter being shared by all.
i have great memories of that night. it seemed as though all the hurt that had been passed from person to person in the previous three years with the divorce and all the drama that came with that, was set aside for that one night to celebrate someone who was significant in all our lives. these are the memories that cling to. the ones filled with laughter and celebration. the ones that we experience friendship and love in some of it’s purest forms. if just for one night, that’s what happened at this little surprise party for my dad.
it’s been almost fifteen years since my dad went to be with Jesus, and today would have been his sixty-seventh birthday. there wouldn’t have been a party, but there would have been a great dinner with a great cake to follow.