Category Archives: God’s faithfulness

Our Father, Who Has Been in Hell.

My Daddy doesn’t cry.

Growing up, I never saw him cry even once. Oh, his voice faltered for one tenuous moment while speaking at my sweet Grandpa’s funeral in the old church on Hubbard Street, but no tears fell. This is, in no small part, why I find it violently disturbing whenever a man cries in my presence. It feels like the sky is falling.

As a little girl, my Mama used to tell me that one day, I’d see my Dad cry. She’d grin and lean in, as though she were about to share something precious, confiding in a whisper that every time the two of them watched Father of the Bride, Daddy teared up just a little bit until he’d finally ask her to turn it off. Your Father can’t even think about your wedding without tears springing to his eyes. Oh honey, that man is going to just cry on your wedding day, she’d tell me with a sort of prideful glee that I’ll bet only a Mama can understand. It was a promise that I savored, treasuring the idea that that my stoic Dad loved me so much that he’d actually cry when I got married. I used to recount that promise to friends, remarking how I’d need to wear waterproof everything on my wedding day because I was entirely certain that one look at my Father with tears in his eyes would send me careening straight over the edge.

Ian started chemo two impossible days after his diagnosis. Doctors wearing white coats and grim expressions were using words like aggressive, and as Ian’s abdomen continued to swell his shallow breathing was becoming increasingly labored. Every second mattered. Reeling from an incomprehensible diagnosis unceremoniously handed to a healthy twenty-one year old kid, we were sitting in a corner room at UNC Hospital, Dad, Ian, and I. Large windows overlooked Chapel Hill in October, and the Magnolia leaves had sparked into flame. We barely noticed, that day.

My tall, strapping brother looked so small laying in his white hospital bed. The chemo bag was hung, Ian was hooked up, and I remember being surprised that something as ominous as chemotherapy wasn’t more complex. As though there should have been more fanfare, more gravitas before poison was allowed to course through my little brother’s broken body. A smiling nurse quietly exited the room, and I sat on the edge of Ian’s bed as the chemo began to infuse, our Dad standing behind me.

So this was chemo.

Minutes later, Ian began to shake violently. The pale, curly-haired boy that had been cheerfully traipsing around his college campus just three days earlier was moaning and writhing on the bed in front of me, and as I lunged over him and held him I fought the panic in my voice as I screamed for someone to come help. I felt like I was drowning as I watched my little brother convulse on the bed in front of me, powerless to do anything but watch. Ian, I’m here, I’m right here. Daddy and I are right here. You’re going to be just fine. Just keep breathing. We’re right here. Nurses and doctors poured into the room, and I stayed trembling at the foot of Ian’s bed, my hands holding his feet. I’m here, Ian. I’m right here.

Fearfully, I glanced over my shoulder at my Daddy just in time to see one tear trickle down his face. It was the first time that I’d ever seen him cry.

I would later learn that Ian was experiencing Rigors, induced from too much of the toxic chemotherapy flowing into his battered body at once. His chemo drip was slowed, and eventually the horrifying convulsions came to a sputtering, faltering halt. I weakly made an excuse about needing to go get something, anything, and walked into the long hallway outside of his room with hot tears streaming uncontrollably down my face. I didn’t make it past the nurse’s station before gut-wrenching sobs threatened to send me to my knees. Sunlight poured into oversized lobby windows, and everything in my world felt dark and splintered. My twenty-one year old little brother’s body was rebelling, and there was nothing, nothing that I could do. I learned that morning what it’s like to feel helpless. To pray ragged, desperate, keening prayers, deeply guttural moans begging God the only way I could think to do it: please. Please. Please. Please. 

Ian would go into kidney failure later that day, and would be rushed downstairs into a dark ICU. I would sit there by his bed, holding his cold hand, begging God please. Please. Please. It was a scene that would be repeated time and time again over the next five months, by hospital beds and on 2:00 AM drives home from the ICU, always begging God please.

When I think about that day, and the many like it that would follow, when I think about holding tightly to Ian’s hand as he falteringly breathed in and out for the very last time, when I think about how God said no, I don’t understand. I believe that when our hearts are shattered, human instinct is to try and make sense of it all, as if a tidy answer will help us put the pieces back together again.

I don’t pretend to understand God. I cannot tell you why He said no to the one thing that I wanted most in the whole world. What I can tell you, is that before Ian’s first day of chemo, I thought about God as Our Father in Heaven. He is that, of course, but as I learn to stumble through life without my little brother I have learned to cling to Him as Our Father who has been in hell. Our Father who has been in hell, who watched the flesh be torn from his Boy’s body as He was chained to a post and violently whipped again and again. Until tattered skin hung loose and blood ran crimson and bone was laid raw and exposed. Our Father who has been in hell, who watched as thorns were pressed deep, as blood poured rivers down his Boy’s beaten face. Our Father who has been in hell, who watched smirking Roman guards stake his Boy to a couple slabs of wood. Our Father who has been in hell, who for hours watched his Boy slowly suffocate to death. Straining, gasping for air that his exhausted lungs could not find.

I’ll bet He cried, just like my Daddy did.

I do not follow a God that I understand. I do follow a God that understands me. Who understands wrenching pain and searing loss, who for the sake of Ian and you and me stood by while his precious Son bled out and suffocated. A God who is intimately familiar with the raw, howling, soul-wrenching bone-weary keen of grief. In the midst of it, I am grateful for the God that has been in hell. Who triumphantly walked through it and shattered the chains off the gates and declared it FINISHED so that death would not be the end of Ian’s story.

It does not have to be the end of your story, either.

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Filed under Family, God's faithfulness, Grief, Hope, Ian

Lean on Me.

I apologize for the impromptu blogging hiatus. I’m sure you’ve all been on the edge of your seats wondering how the nail-biter saga that is my birthday turned out. PATIENCE, PEONS! [I’m sorry. The birthday dictator keeps bubbling to the surface. So embarrassing.]

A week and a half ago, one of my very best friends came to visit. Jess was one of my roommates in college, and has enough dirt on me to squelch any aspirations that I’ve ever had of running for political office.

She also led the charge to save my wedding.

Once upon a time in another life, I didn’t ask for help while wedding planning. Oh, dear friends offered time and time again–but I was simply skeptical of the idea that people might actually WANT to spend their spare time tying navy bows and stamping endless piles of cream-colored envelopes. I smiled politely and deftly refused–wholeheartedly believing that I was saving them from themselves.

When Ian went into the ICU for the very last time, I remember sitting on the cold floor beside his hospital bed with my DSC_0135laptop open on a rainy afternoon. I had neither thought nor spoken of my impending wedding since he’d been admitted, fearful that he would hear and begin to panic. I desperately didn’t want him to understand how close my wedding day was, and consequently, how long he’d been sick. In a dark ICU, days and nights bleed together as monitors murmur and flicker, and the passing of time becomes marked only by changing shifts as doctors and heroic nurses quietly ebb in and out of winding hallways.

As I sat on the speckled floor, an email from my reception coordinator popped up in my inbox, defiantly glaring at me from the glowing screen. The steady rush of a ventilator breathed in and out and my heart stopped as the sheer impossibility of it all threatened to drown me. My brother can’t breathe on his own and I am supposed to get married in three weeks. Without so much as a second thought, I hastily responded:

DSC_0216I am in the midst of a family emergency. Copied on this email is Jessica Mann. She will be working with you from now on.

I didn’t even think to ASK Jess first. And the thing is, I didn’t need to. I knew that Jess would take over the remaining three weeks of wedding planning without so much as batting an eye, a suspicion quickly confirmed when she responded “Absolutely.” less than 7 minutes later. The next evening, she, Gretchen, Haley, Ashley, Danielle, Hartley and Michelle [every best-friend-bridesmaid that was in town] all piled into an ICU waiting room with a bottle of white wine and a flock of open laptops, quickly and decisively divvying up remaining tasks. From crafting a seating chart on antique window panes to picking the wine list to coordinating with the photographers and meeting with the reception planner, everything was taken care of. Each woman gathered in the waiting room that night treated my wedding like it was her own, insistently caring about sweet details when I no longer could. My wedding was far from ideal, but I am quite convinced that there has never been more love poured into a single day.

Jess was the tiny, formidable force driving the whole herculean effort. They tied navy bows and called the florist.DSC_0253 They painted signs and coordinated chocolate cupcake deliveries. They took time off of work and wrote checks out of their own bank accounts that I wouldn’t find out about until months later–and all, so that I could simply sit by Ian’s bed and hold his hand. They gave me the precious, irreplaceable gift of time with my little brother. I could not have been more grateful for anything under the sun.

Weeks later, when I walked away from room 17 in the ICU for the very last time, they were the phone calls that I made, one by one, as I sat in crushed disbelief on my bedroom floor. I had always believed that somehow, Ian would live, and they had stubbornly believed with me. I remember Gretchen dissolving into tears as I numbly relayed the news, unable to even begin to wrap my mind around the idea that my curly-haired little brother was not coming back.

These are my people. The people that ache with me and belly-laugh with me and know to keep calling if my phone goes unanswered. The people to whom I can say everything or nothing at all. The people who spent hours sitting alone in nearby hospital coffee shops, just in case. I think that God gave them to me as a tangible reminder that in the midst of a world throbbing and aching and blindly reeling with grief, I am never, never alone.

Neither are you, friend.

 

 

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Grief, Ian, My favorite people

The Intersection of Death and Marriage.

_DSC2702 bwOn March 2nd, 2013, Kellan promised forever to a woman that neither of us knew.

Three impossibly short days before I put on my white dress and walked down the aisle, I’d held my little brother’s swollen hand as he died. The girl that left her brother’s body alone in room 17 of the ICU that day was profoundly different than the one Kellan had been dating for two and a half years. Neither of us knew who she was.

We tightly held each other’s hands as we promised “I do”, then boarded a Jamaica-bound plane. One week later I found myself standing beside a casket. My Daddy could tell that I wanted to see my little brother one last time, and someone opened the lid for me. Quietly, I kissed my fingers and laid them on Ian’s cold chest as my little sister watched. She slowly did the same.

That evening I trembled in the white dress that in another life, I’d carefully chosen for my rehearsal dinner. As eight hundred wide-eyed people sat watching, I willed my legs to walk towards a stage, and spoke at Ian’s funeral. I’d spent a week staring at an ocean, mentally composing my little brother’s eulogy. I had everything and nothing to say.

Kellan and I were the first to arrive back home from the funeral. Night hung heavy, and sweet friends had left glowing candles lining the stairs leading up to my parent’s front door. I sat numbly on the yellow couch while Kellan rented a U-Haul to be picked up the next morning. And just like that, the very next day we found ourselves driving a truck to New York. A fresh mound of dirt reminded me that Ian was gone, and two rings on my finger reminded me that I was a wife.

I hear a lot of couples talk about how their wedding day was the happiest day of their lives. It’s a sweet sentiment, and I wish I could share it. My wedding day and every newlywed dream that I didn’t know I had shattered the moment that Ian stopped breathing. Our marriage began in the midst of crushing grief, the two so deeply intertwined that it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began.

I am almost afraid to admit it out loud, but in the spirit of more authentic marriages in the world I want to tell you that more of my nights this yearJCP_3983 have ended in tears than laughter. Kellan and I recently mentioned to some friends that we were about to celebrate our one year anniversary, and they made a crack about the honeymoon phase almost being over. We looked at them as though they’d just sprouted horns and announced plans to summer on Pluto.

The honeymoon phase? Please explain. With visual aids and an outline, if possible.

Kellan and I promised each other for better or for worse in the midst of “for worse”. No girl makes wedding Pinterest boards devoted entirely to adorable seating charts thinking that will be her story, but it’s ours. I can no longer remember what I thought being a newlywed would be like before cancer. I simply know what it has been, and it’s been harder than I’d ever dreamed possible. We have slogged through the neck-deep mud of the death of my brother and the death of the people that we used to be before Kellan and I vowed to become something new together. Each painstaking new step has been painful, worthwhile work.

Over the past year, I have watched my husband honor his vow to love me no matter what on days when neither of us recognized who I was. With no one watching or applauding, Kellan has chosen to love me when the very bravest thing that I could do was get out of bed and stare blankly at our living room wall. He has chosen to love me when I dissolved over closet space [read: missing Ian] and when I couldn’t get off of the bathroom floor. He has chosen to love me on the days that I have been very, very angry about everything that I lost. And after one impossibly heart-wrenching year, I am quite certain of one thing: when Kellan Dickens looked me in the eyes on a Saturday in March and promised for better or for worse, he meant it. Even when it is exhausting and thankless and horribly unglamorous, the past year has taught me that my husband is going to wake up each new morning and make the choice to honor his vow.

Since the day that Ian died I have wrestled with both grief and marriage, and quite unexpectedly, they are teaching me the same simple thing: I need to do what my Mama always told me to and make good choices. In the midst of pain, I need to choose to believe that God is good. I must fight to cling to what my mind knows to be true when everything in my aching heart screams false. And in much the same way, I need to choose to love my husband on the days when it does not spring up naturally in me. Choosing truth is painfully simple and unromantic and often really, really hard—but there is no other way. My heart will not win every battle, but if I have consistently preached truth to myself my mind can win the war.

 

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Grief, Marriage, The love of my life.

The Shadow.

JCP_1584 bwI was carrying a large pizza.

It was dark outside-after ten o’clock at night. I had been sitting at home waiting for news-any news about Ian all day long. Just that morning we had been told that he did not, in fact, have mono or an odd strain of the flu—he had cancer. Wait until we call you to come, my Mama had said. And so I sat alone in the brown chair and stared at my silent cell phone all day long, willing it to ring.

It only needed to ring once. We’re at UNC Hospital and Ian wants pizza. He’d listed off the toppings that he wanted, and shaking, I ran to my car to race to a local pizza joint on my way to the cancer center.

My voice trembled as I stammered the order. Pepperoni, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, green peppers. Please, please hurry. Black-aproned college students were wiping down tables and stacking chairs, so I stood outside waiting. A gray-haired manager noticed me, lip-quivering and wide-eyed, and walked out to the sidewalk to ask me if something was wrong.  It all came spilling out. He’s only 21 years old. Just diagnosed this morning. I don’t know anything except he wants a pizza. I think sometimes angels must be disguised as sweet gray-haired pizzeria managers, because the man gave me his card with a note scrawled on the back that said “Good for one free pizza at any time.” He wrote a note to Ian on the front of that pizza box—We’re rooting for you buddy! Fight hard.

I parked in a massive concrete parking garage and ran towards the hospital. Glass doors welcomed me to “UNC Cancer Center”, and whitewashed halls grew blurry as tears filled my disbelieving eyes. My heart could not understand where my legs were taking me. He can’t have cancer. How is this possible?

He was on the third floor, with our Mom and Dad. I wiped tears away and then burst through his door with a wide grin. YOU DRAMA QUEEN. You couldn’t just get the flu—you had to get CANCER.

Ian rolled his eyes and slowly grinned back, then reached for his pizza.

I would spend the next five months doing my very best to make him laugh. I refused to cry around my little brother, and I didn’t let anyone else do it either—going so far as to tell my own Mother to step out into the hall and get it together. The big sister in me desperately didn’t want Ian to be scared. I would tease him, goad him, demand that he stop being so lazy and let me ride in his wheelchair for once. But never did I let him see me cry.

When Ian was admitted into the ICU for the last time, I had the flu and was not allowed to see him. For days I sat a fifteen second walk away from him in the waiting room, asking my parents to remind him over and over again that I was there, just steps away, and I loved him. One bleak midnight I staunchly refused to leave and Kellan had to pull me, sobbing, towards his waiting car.

When I was finally allowed to see Ian, he had already been intubated. A ventilator breathed air into exhausted lungs that were too weak to do the job any longer. As I stepped into his room alone, the heavy door closed and clicked behind me and I stared at my pale little brother. Tubes masked his gaunt face. Cancer had left her calling card, and the kid lying on the hospital bed in front of me looked nothing like the one that just months before had picked me up and done curls with me in the kitchen. He looked so small.

My brave façade crumbled, and I grabbed his hand, laid my head down beside him and wept. Voice breaking, I told him for the umpteenth time that I loved him so much, and with tears streaming down my face whispered that if he needed to go, that was okay.

Sitting there beside my little brother, I begged God to let me take his place. If I could have crawled into that hospital bed and shoved the tube down my throat instead, I would have done it. Given the chance, I would have joyfully handed Ian every last second that I had left to live. Jesus, He’s too little! I can do it. Let it be me. Crushed, I begged, and as clearly as I have ever heard anything I heard Jesus say Ashley, I have already switched places with Ian.

This Thursday, Ian will have been gone for one year. His friends are doing all sorts of things to remember and honor him—from raising money to fight cancer to going dancing in his memory. And while those things are great, this big sister would just love it if today, you would remember that Jesus switched places with you too. Jesus took the full weight of death into His body so that you and I and Ian would only ever need to experience its shadow. If Ian could tell you one thing today, I know that He would look you straight in the eyes and promise you that there is nothing in this world more valuable than knowing Jesus. Our deepest need is not for a healthy body or a head of curly hair or Christmas with six instead of five, our deepest need is for Christ Himself. One year later as I stand amidst the wreckage and tearfully survey the damage, I, with Ian, am adamantly convinced of that too.

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Grief, Hope, Ian

G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetWell, we did it. A week and a half ago, Kellan and I picked up the keys to our new house and said goodbye to apartment 1304. Closing the front door on the first eleven months of our marriage was bittersweet.

The morning after Ian’s funeral, we packed up a Penske truck with a couple of duffel bags and SO MANY BOXES of sweet wedding gifts, and started the fourteen hour trek towards New York. Or as I like to call it, the Trail of Tears because WHY AM I MOVING TO NEW YORK. My Mama ran out to the truck wildly waving my Grandma’s red-handled rolling pin in the air as we were pulling away, and thrust it through the passenger side window. Here, take this! You’ll need it for pie.

Priorities, people.

A cancer diagnosis a month after our engagement had left precious little time for premarital counseling. [Read: WE HAD ZERO CLUE WHAT WE WERE GETTING INTO.] I remember after we crossed the New York state line, Kellan glanced over at me and hesitantly offered, “…well, I guess we should talk about chores?”

Given that we were a mere four hours away from the 1,000 square feet that we were about to call ours, I graciously acquiesced. Yeah, how were you thinking we’d divide things?

Kellan paused, looking for all the world like he was mentally composing a peace plan for the middle east instead of attempting to determine the best way to tell me that he had absolutely no intention of ever picking up a mop. Well babe, I was thinking I would take care of outside stuff, and you could take care of inside stuff.

Yes, because our apartment complex is going to need a lot of mowing and hedge-trimming. Good heavens, I do hope you can find time to sleep.

As we journeyed on in our chores discussion, my newly-minted husband casually mentioned that he had NEVER CLEANED A BATHROOM. Color drained from my newly-tanned face into my pedicured toes, and my hands grew clammy. I willed myself not to dry heave while contemplating throwing myself out of the truck and tucking and rolling onto the highway because ARE YOU KIDDING ME.

[Kellan says in the spirit of fairness, I need to inform you that I have never mowed a lawn. In my defense, that is mainly because I don’t want to.]

It was raining when we pulled up to our new apartment building. Kellan carried me over the threshold into our freshly-painted apartment, and just like that, I lived with a man. I proceeded to spend the next several days unpacking a veritable mountain of boxes while he went to work, and every spoon unwrapped and dish carefully placed in a cabinet was a sweet reminder that we were deeply loved by the friends and family we had just said goodbye to.

Our first night in the apartment, we collapsed into an exhausted heap onto Kellan’s suede brown couch [I know. Commence dry heaving: round two.] to watch tv, and several minutes later I began to itch. We leapt off the hideous monstrosity masquerading as seating only to make the rather startling discovery that tiny little bugs were biting us.

Try not to be intimidated by our glamorous lifestyle.

[The bug-infested couch was gone the next day.]

We ate our meals on the tile kitchen floor for the first month when we didn’t own a table. Or chairs. Or really, anything except for one black recliner with a glaring rip in the faux-leather arm, and even that was the benevolence of parents. Our existence was very Little House on the Prairie, with fewer Indian raids and the welcome addition of indoor plumbing.

That little apartment taught us a lot. It’s where we learned that high heats will shrink oxford button-ups and make your husband look like Spanky from the Little Rascals, and turning off the heat in the dead of a New York winter while you’re away will make your pipes freeze. We learned to fight without entirely dissolving, and when all else fails, to dance in the kitchen. We learned to meet in the middle and buy “some pulp” orange juice. And I think more than anything, we learned that marriage is a whole lot of hard, unglamorous work that nobody but Jesus will ever see or applaud you for—but goodness, is it worthwhile.

Even if your spouse doesn’t clean the bathrooms. ;) 

[FINE, or mow the lawn.]

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Love, Marriage

Eleven.

Holding IanMy family carefully hung each of Ian’s ornaments, placing his treasured, tacky yellow Big Bird at the very top of the tree, right next to the angel. The ornament is an eyesore that I’ve always hated and hidden on the back of the tree when Ian wasn’t looking, but this year I allowed Big Bird a place of prominence. The absurd irreverence of Big Bird and an antique angel adorning the top of our tree together belied the heaviness that everybody felt.

Christmas hurt.

Unwrapping presents without Ian felt hollow—joy is elusive when the only thing in the whole world that you want is for a curly head to burst through the front door. He has been gone for eleven months today, and eleven months later I am still quite certain that at any moment, Ian will come back. Eleven months later, my heart still adamantly refuses to believe that he could really be gone. There are brief moments when understanding begins to dawn, and my heart starts to comprehend that there will be no more Christmas mornings with my brother. No more birthday candles, no more kitchen dances, no more songs. Not here. And suddenly, it is once again February 27th, and I am stumbling away from my little brother’s body all over again.

Grief feels like sprinting exhausted through a marathon, only to discover at the finish line with gasping lungs and screaming legs that somehow, you haven’t even started yet. Eleven months later, I find myself still at the very beginning of grief, wondering what to do.

Over Christmas, I found myself thinking a lot about Mary. Mary, who knew with absolute certainty that God had favored and chosen her. [After all, He’d sent an angel to tell her just that.] How must she have felt after arriving in Bethlehem at long last, only to discover that there wasn’t so much as a place for her to stay?

I’d always glossed over the stable, but this year was different. I pictured her. Shaking, too exhausted to stand. Filthy from her journey to Bethlehem. Emotionally spent from nine swollen months of a watching community disdainfully condemning her for a crime that she hadn’t committed.

God, after all of this, not so much as a place to stay? Really?

How must she have felt as labor wracked her body? God, this is YOUR child! And he’s being born into filth! Do you care? Do you see?

I wonder if she felt forgotten.

I wondered why God chose it that way. Why He sent His precious Son to be born into filth when it would have been such a small thing to give Mary a comfortable place to deliver. One break for the scared teen aged girl who had so carefully carried the God of the Universe inside of her all of those months.

I thought about Ian. I closed my eyes and pictured my Mama holding his swollen hand and cradling his bald head in the ICU. God, do you care? Do you see?

I wonder if maybe, God orchestrated his Son’s birth to be in a dirty barn as a gentle reminder that even when the world feels like it is spinning madly out of control, it isn’t. He sees. He’s present. He understands. There would be no sterile, safe place for His baby, just as there would be none for so many of our babies that followed. His Son would later be broken, just as so many of ours would. And 2,000 years later when a Mama cried in sterile white room over her broken son, His heart would bleed and crack and ache with hers because He would understand.

Of course He hadn’t forgotten Mary. He hasn’t forgotten us, either.

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Filed under Christmas, Family, God's faithfulness, Grief, Ian

The Extravagant, Irrational Point.

JCP_3997

[Today is my Dad’s birthday! In his honor, I’m re-posting a blog that I wrote about him months ago. I love you, Daddy!]

My Mom tells me that when she was pregnant with me, my Daddy desperately wanted a girl from day one. She originally wanted a boy, but seeing how much my Dad hoped for a little girl made her hope for one too. I like to remind them that I fulfilled all of their pink tinted dreams simply by being born.

My Dad has long been the man I’ve looked up to the most in the world. I didn’t understand what a precious gift that was until high school, when I came to the startling realization that not every little girl grew up wanting to marry somebody like her Daddy. I watched friends reel with the sting of being overlooked and hurt by their Dads, and something in me just couldn’t understand it. Where other girls looked at their Dads and only saw pain, all I could ever see when I looked at mine were a thousand burned and rather salty chocolate chip cookies that he choked down over lemon-water tea parties with a smile. I saw a man who was reading his Bible when I woke up every morning. A man who determined when I was a very little girl that he would buy me more flowers than any other man on the planet—and thus far, no contender has even come CLOSE. I have an overflowing stack of dried flowers from my Dad sitting on top of a dresser in my old room, and the first time Kellan saw them he was so disheartened that  he didn’t buy me so much as a carnation for a solid year. [He’s rallied.]

As the years spun on, I looked at my Dad and saw a man who would take me out for overpriced lattes and let me rant or cry or float about whatever it was that was stirring the still waters of my world. I saw a man who would patiently, wisely counsel me when I had questions or was hurting. I saw a man who encouraged me to hop a plane to West Africa for two years, not because it was safe or he wanted me gone, but because he fervently believed that Jesus was better than being comfortable. It was a lesson I’d learned simply from observing his life over the course of mine. I looked at my Dad, and I saw a hero. Not perfect, but perfect to be mine.

The past year has revealed new things about my Dad. I look at him today, and see a man who fitfully slept in an uncomfortable recliner by his son’s hospital bed every single night that Ian was there so he would never be alone. [And over the course of a five month bout with cancer, there were many.]  A man who would switch off with my Mom during the day and instead of running home to sleep in an actual bed, would go to work or take my little sister Emily to ballet. I remember during the last week of Ian’s final three week stay in the ICU, I walked into my parent’s house one morning and saw my Dad sitting at the living room table. He hadn’t really slept in weeks, and in fact had barely left the ICU at all. Confused as to why he wasn’t taking a nap or at least eating a meal that hadn’t come wrapped in paper, I asked him what he was doing.

He was working on his sermon for my wedding. Honey, I really enjoy this. I’m really excited about your wedding! He said it with a smile.

It was the same man that left the hospital just long enough to buy me a bouquet of roses on Valentine’s day. The same man that insisted that we practice our waltz over and over again in the kitchen even JCP_3351though he was unspeakably exhausted, and the world outside of our front door was crumbling into a thousand irretrievable pieces. Our waltz was still important to him because I never stopped being important to him.

That’s just my Dad. I look at him today and see a man that confidently, brokenly, humbly reminded me in the whitewashed hallway outside of room 17 in the ICU that if God chose not to heal Ian, it would not be because He didn’t love us or hadn’t heard us. I knew that he meant it because he had spent his life teaching me that God is a good Father. It was a lesson that I never found hard to believe, because I already had one.

To you Daddies out there—especially y’all with little girls—buy her flowers. Buy her so many flowers that no other man will ever be able to compete. They are expensive and unnecessary and will die in a week and that is the extravagant, irrational point. It is through your extravagant, irrational love that she will begin to understand the way that Jesus loves her. Eat everything that she proudly hands you as she’s learning to bake, and every once in a while ask for seconds. Wear the feather boa AND the floppy hat, and cheers her stuffed bunny rabbit when she invites you to tea. Tell her that she looks just beautiful every single morning. Let her see you read your Bible, but more importantly, let her see you value the God that gave it to you. Value that God above all of his gifts—above her Mother, above a comfortable life, above keeping her safe. Push her to follow Jesus wherever He leads. Remind her that God is good no matter what it feels like—whether a boy hurts her feelings or her little brother is dying. God longs for your daughter to know how He treasures and adores her through you.

And if you have questions about any of this, feel free to give my Daddy a call. He’s pretty great at it.

Happy Father’s day to the greatest one that I have ever known!  I love you, Daddy.

JCP_4006 bw

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