A Different Kind of Father’s Day

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Father’s Day is kind of an emotional crapshoot every year.  Depending on where I am, who I’m with, and what else is going on in my life, it can vary on where it registers on the uncomfortable emotions scale.

The first Father’s Day after my dad died, I was living in New York and I overheard two college-age girls on the street talking about what they were going to do that weekend.  One girl was complaining that her dad was going to be in town, and he’d want to have dinner with her, and how boring that would be.  I felt a white hot flood of anger wash over my body, and I wanted to scream and sob all at one – it took all of my self control not to grab her by the shoulders and shake her, to say to her “You have a dad who loves you and wants to spend time with you and is ALIVE – he’s here.  How dare you take that for granted.”

It felt like a personal affront, when of course she didn’t even know me.  Grief is like that, especially in the beginning – every dad holding his little girl’s hand on the street, every Facebook post w/ an ode to dads, every father-daughter dance at a wedding –  it all seems personal, pointed, cruel – like a knife jabbing your heart and getting twisted deep.

And I’d be lying if I said the pain had gone away, that this year, seven years after losing my Dad, the sting of missing him is any less acute.  It’s different, but it still hurts.  Thinking about how different my life is now  – how different I am as a person – than when he was alive, I am so sad that he’s not here to walk through life with me: to cheer on my successes, to talk through life decisions, to threaten to break the legs any man who doesn’t treat me well (or  – let’s be real – the legs of any man who talks to me, ever).

The lead-up to Father’s Day this year was hard – I felt sad and lonely and adrift.  I drafted a long missive of reasons I missed my Dad, and sobbed through the entire writing process (quick plug for writing – sometimes just as effective as therapy, and cheaper!).

But something extraordinary happened today, on Father’s Day itself.  I woke up early and sat sipping my fave Peet’s coffee (bc I thought on today of all days I needed to treat myself to the good stuff, to honor the man who made certain coffee would run in my veins – literally and figuratively).

I sat there and sipped and looked out the window in to the early-morning light and I thought about my Dad.  I thought about the great big, strong,  teddy-bear of a human being he was, alive with joy and laughter and contagious enthusiasm, with hugs for everyone and genuine interest and joy in people’s lives – even totally strangers.  I thought about his passion for justice, his deep love for Jesus, his delight in loving people well.  I thought about his love of wise words and of learning, his deep respect for great thinkers and do-ers like Mother Theresa, Philip Yancey, NT Wright.

And what I felt as I sat there wasn’t grief or sadness or bitterness – what I felt was deep, deep gratitude.  I felt grateful for the life he lived, for the incredible dad he was to me, for the love he poured into my life.  And I felt grateful for the gift of life I had, a gift that was so much due to him: a day before me to live and move and breathe, a day to enjoy the sunshine and spend time with one of my “sisters from another mister” (aka one of my oldest and dearest friends).  A day to simply live.

I always try to plan something special for Father’s Day, something to look forward to – dinner with friends, lunch in the park – a way to redeem a hard day with the balms of friendship and sunshine.  Today I ran my first 10k, and when I started to get tired and thought “this is hard, I can’t do this” that same emotion came flooding back again – gratitude.  I looked up at the clear blue sky, let the sun kiss my face and got choked up as I thought “Thank You.  Thank you Lord that my legs can move, that my lungs can fill with air, that when my brain tells my feet to move forward they move, that I am healthy and strong and alive – fully alive.”

At church tonight we joined the thousands of congregations all over the country praying for South Carolina, for healing for the victims’ families, grace and redemption for the perpetrator, healing and reconciliation for our country.  Our pastor talked about how moved and challenged he’s been by the reactions of the victims’ families – men and women who have responded with such stunning forgiveness and grace towards the man who took their loved ones from them, it takes my breath away.

It made me think about how something profound happens in the midst of grief and sorrow that just can’t happen in joy – there is a tenderness, a meaning, a depth of love and care for one another that it beautiful.  It hits a deeper, truer, purer register than anything can in the midst of the light, euphoric moments of joy.

Today I received so many words of love and encouragement and prayer from friends who know and love me, and know that today is a hard day.  Their words of love, their willingness to stand with me in the space of grief, mean more to me than any birthday wishes or congratulatory cards I’ve ever received.  There is a love there, a willingness to mourn with those who mourn that fills my eyes with tears and my heart with gratitude.

I know the best way I can honor my dad’s memory is to fully live my life – to run as fast as my legs can propel me forward, to savor every sip of rich coffee and Hobee’s blueberry coffee cake, to laugh with abandon at baby giggles, to sob with my whole heart when missing my Dad overwhelms me, because there are so many wonderful things that are worth missing.

Today my head and my heart are full of so many things, but the greatest of those is Love – and for that I am so profoundly grateful.

I love you, Daddy.  Happy Father’s Day.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. – 1 John 4:12

What I learned riding a roller coaster 7 times in a row

 

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I spent a lovely  – and surreal – two days at Disneyland this week, and at one point found myself in line for the California Screamin’ roller coaster in California Adventure.

It’s been a few years since I’ve ridden a roller coaster, but I remembered that I enjoyed them – conceptually – and was caught up in the festive mood around me, so didn’t think much about what I was getting myself into.

Once I was strapped in my seat and we took off, I had my first glimmer of doubt – “Hmm, this is faster than I remember.”  As we dipped down the first incline, my stomach lurched and I felt a wave of fear wash over me – I may have let slip a few very un-Disney like words in my panic.

Climbing the first hill slowly, knowing that what comes up must come down, I gripped my handlebars tightly and felt total panic and fear overtake me – all I could think was “I don’t like this, I don’t like this…”  I wanted out, like pronto, but that wasn’t an option so I tried to take deep breaths and convince myself it was going to be ok.  I literally spoke the words out loud in an attempt to reassure myself – “You’re ok, you’re ok.”  Thankfully the ride was loud enough to mask the fact that I was talking to myself and being totally uncool in my panic.

The fear continued through the hills that followed, and as we approached the loop in the center of the roller coaster – which I had totally forgotten about – all I could think was “Nope, no, no sir, this is not what I signed up for.”  Insert a few more not-safe-for-innocent-children’s-ears mutterings here.

I squeezed my eyes shut as our car turned upside down, and when I opened them we were right-side-up, and – spoiler alert – I was alive, still safely strapped in my seat, and with all my appendages intact.  It was at that point that a lightbulb went off and I thought “Oh, I’m actually ok.  The worst is over and I’m fine.”  

When the ride came to a halt I had one, strong, unequivocal thought: “I want to do that again.”  

Now that I knew what to expect, now that I had (unwillingly and unwittingly) faced my fears, I wanted to have that same experience all over again and actually enjoy it.  The first time around my fear was so pervasive it robbed me of any chance of enjoyment – the spectacular view from the crest of the hill, the pure joy and exhilaration of the free falls, the laughter and delighted shrieks around me – all were lost on me.  I didn’t want to miss all of that again.

I rode that roller coaster six more times, and each time the fear to fun ratio shifted in fun’s favor.  It was a 95/5 split the first time, and by my final ride it was 5/95 – so much so that I was getting a little bored. “Seriously, you call that a drop?? Can’t we go a little faster? Throw in another loop? Bring it on!!”

By the end of the night I was high on adrenaline and so, so thankful that I’d had the opportunity to have a “do-over,” that I didn’t miss out on such a fun and joyful and exuberant experience that I go to share with the people around me.

It made me think about the fears I have that are much more rational, and much more terrifying than any roller coaster: the fear of failing, of being rejected, of wasting the precious gift of life I’ve been given, of losing the people I love.  These are real fears, and unlike the statistical improbability of something going wrong on a roller coaster, I know these fears can happen because I’ve seen and experienced them, because I’ve walked through the heartbreak and pain that comes with them with so many people I love.

One of my favorite verses, lovely and powerful in it’s brevity (I appreciate when other writers are succinct bc I am so not) is this:

“Perfect love drives out all fear.”   – 1 John 4:18

Fear and love can’t co-exist – they are oil and water, flame and flood – one must overtake the other.  I know this is true because I’ve experienced it in my own life time and time again – fear shrinks my heart to place of small selfishness with no room to care for those around me, while love expands my heart to encompass all the best and most glorious things in life – joy, gratitude, compassion, care, empathy.

Fear is a crappy trade-off for joy, and as I rode that roller coaster over and over again, the cool night breeze ruffling my hair and the lights of the park sparkling over the water below, I made a decision.  I decided fear can shove it – I’m done.  Not done feeling fear or acknowledging it exists, because there’s plenty to be afraid of in this broken world of ours, but I’m done letting fear win.  I’m done letting fear take me out of the game.

The next time I find myself afraid  – or failure or rejection, of being hurt, of losing what’s most precious to me –  I’m going to take some deep breaths, say a prayer, and ride the damn roller coaster.  I’m going to say what I think, ask the hard questions, give my honest option, take the risk and the road less traveled, tell people I love how much they mean to me, stand up for what’s right, love outrageously with my whole heart because life is too short and too precious not to.

2015 so far has been full – full of joy in the form of new beginnings marked by  weddings and precious babies, and also full of pain in the form of unspeakably tragic loss, broken relationships, heartbreak and sorrow.

As I look ahead to the fullness that the second half of 2015 holds – watching dear friends move away, taking on new challenges, the mixed emotions of turning 30 and marking the year my dad would have been 70, and all the things I can’t yet predict will happen, I want to face it all with a spirit of love that drives out fear.

So thanks, Mickey, for the life lessons,  Also, for the churros – so many churros.