-C.S. Lewis (A Grief Observed)
When I returned to the Central Bible College Campus just one week after unexpectedly and very suddenly losing my dad, I realized on a deeper level what it meant to call those people my family. It's a term that we like to use in churches and Christian circles because it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but for me it became a reality that I clung to in the months and years to follow. These people that I had met just two Augusts before had lived up to the claims that they made. They said they were my family. They acted like my family on a daily basis and when I was the most broken and the most in need of family, they stopped at no lengths to be that for me.
(This of course is not to discredit all of the other amazing friends and family who were there for me during that time, but to highlight the beauty that is being a part of the CBC family.)
Professors and faculty at the school who spent their off hours and late nights on the phone with me praying with me and encouraging me and reassuring me to take my time in getting back. Friends who skipped classes and drove 16 hours through blizzards and other undesirable winter weather to help me walk through some of the hardest, darkest days of my life. When I thought I couldn't stand anymore, they were on my doorstep without a word hugging me and holding me up. They did dishes, were patient with me as we found the perfect (not black) funeral dress, painted and made picture collages. And I am sure they did much more than I will ever even know. Bouquets of flowers, endless texts and cards in the mail. My dear friend who stayed up every night on the phone with me when sleep wasn't an option and didn't hang up even when all I could manage were choked sobs and long sighs. Who was there to get me at the airport and sit with me over sandwiches as I attempted to return to some sense of normal. A hall full of girls crowded into my dorm room late into the night with flowers and balloons and handmade blankets waiting for me to return. Who filled my heart with laughter and stayed until I fell asleep. The same girls who were there for me the rest of the year when it was my job to be there for them. Who slid notes under my door when I wouldn't answer or come out even when they knew I was there. Countless college friends and acquaintances who carried weights that I could no longer carry without saying a word and others who came along side of me and helped bear the weight of some things I simply couldn't put down.
Emily. My sweet RD (Resident Director) was the first person who heard me utter the words, "my dad died." Over the phone from a side hospital hallway in Boardman, Ohio to the college campus in Springfield, Missouri. I could hardly get them out. I thought they might choke me. They were probably barely audible.
In the midst of all of the people flooding into the hospital hugging and praying and tears and tears and tears, I had continued to smile. I had hugged them all back, heard their prayers, and choked back my own tears for the sake of my mom who I was sure might break apart into a million pieces. When I could not manage any longer, I slipped into a hallway and began calling my three best friends and Emily until someone answered.
In her sweet, gentle voice, she brought peace to my heart in that moment. Her prayer was genuine and her words were real and raw. She didn't just say all of the things that you are supposed to say, she said the things that are hard to say and a little uncomfortable but just the things that helped me stand up again.
After a week at home finalizing funeral arrangements and cleaning out the fridge full of pasta of all shapes and sizes and varieties, I said the excruciating goodbyes to my family and boarded the longest most painful flight of my life. Looking out the window over those puffy, white clouds, the tears seemed like they might never stop. Like I could water the entire earth from my little seat on a Delta 747.
I sat down in Emily's office a couple of days after returning to campus. She didn't say much. I don't actually think I did either. I liked that she just let the silence be there and that for once I didn't mind. After a little bit, she asked me if I had ever read the book by C.S. Lewis called A Grief Observed. I told her I had not and in my head decided I probably wouldn't. I don't read books on things like grief. It's not my style. Grief was a word that I was not so familiar with and I liked it that way. I hadn't experienced much of it in my 22 years of life and I didn't plan to give it much attention now either.
I didn't need some guy helping me wallow and stay stuck here. What I needed was to put my big girl panties on and get moving.
But I loved Emily dearly and I trusted her wisdom and advice.
So I found a copy of the book in a larger volume of C.S. Lewis books that I had in my little dorm room library and I decided to give it a read.
Still to this day, I am so glad that I did.
Never have I read anything else that captures the essence of grief so vividly and in such a real and raw light. I couldn't believe how he had taken my darkest most depressing thoughts and expressed them perfectly and so eloqently on paper.
The above quote I have found to be more than true in the past five years of life lived without my daddy.
Grief is the most unpredictable emotion. Truly. I try to set aside time to grieve and when the time comes, I do not feel the least bit like grieving. But, without warning it comes to visit on random Tuesdays in the middle of May. Occasionally, purchasing a gallon of milk will bring a lump to my throat as I remember the moment that I poured the end of the milk down the drain the week after we buried my dad. The gallon of milk from our last grocery store run together. The last gallon of milk we would ever share.
It's like that though. There when you would rather it not be and nowhere to be found when you wish with all of your heart that you could just feel the sadness.
Today is one of the planned grieving days that just won't be had. I've been stood up. I want to feel sad and I want to reflect and sort of just sit in the pain. But the sadness and the tears are nowhere to be found. Even though I dig for them and sometimes try to conjure them up, they are stowed away hiding and waiting to show themselves on a different day.
All that to say, I wasn't sure what to do today.
I have traditions. It's been five years now, enough time to create traditions around these sorts of things. Usually there is grape juice and tubs of frozen cool whip and binge watching home videos just to hear my dad's voice again. But today none of that felt right.
So, I journaled.
I could only manage the words, "Thank You."
I read some of Job. My favorite book of the Bible and the book I was reading when I lost my dad.
And then God reminded me of something that I needed to hear. That He wanted to speak to me in a new way from something He had put in my heart a long time ago.
My senior sermon.
The culmination and capstone of your Bible college career.
Speaking in senior chapel. In front of the entire student body and all of the professors.
I preached October 7, 2010.
Exactly three months to the date I would lose my dad.
I get shivers down my spine to think about God's timing. It could not have been coincidental that this message was stirring in my heart and taking root so deeply inside of me when such events were just around the corner.
Of course I had no idea, but He did.
He knew that this was crucial for me to take hold of in light of what was about to come.
Today, as I look back on five years without my dad, I am inspired by the words Jesus put in my heart all those years ago. They ring true even more so in my life and in my heart since he is gone.
I hope they will encourage and inspire you and that you will recognize from it God's hand and purpose in all things. That He is always orchestrating and working behind the scenes on our behalf and for our good and for His glory.
(Normally I wouldn't share something like this, but I am just so moved by the way that Jesus so gently speaks and leads us along, that I couldn't resist sharing it with you.)