Three Years Ago, Today

Last week I spent some time writing to process and reflect on the three years that have passed since I lost my Dad. Although it was therapy for me, encouragement from a few friends led me to share these thoughts here as well. As a prelude, as an encouragement, as a thought to accompany these words written with love here during this Holy Week, I would love to tell you that there is always death before there’s Resurrection. Those hard places in your life are often a God-ordained part of a bigger picture. He sees you. You are precious to Him, and hard is a well-worn path to holy. Instead of promising us a journey without tribulation, He laid down His life with a promise that He’d be with us through anything. 

So nothing–nothing–can separate us from the love of God.


It was three years ago. Exactly three years ago, today.

There’s a baby sitting across from me at the table, on my husband’s lap. I’m ladling tiny scoops of applesauce into her mouth on a tiny spoon. Her eyes are tired but her mouth is eager. She patiently gulps tiny spoonful after tiny spoonful while I catch the slurps that slip out of the corners of her happy little mouth.

She’s the only one he never met.

Grief is like water in so many ways. When it first hits you, it’s like you’ve been dropped into rapids. The waves are swirling around you, and you feel flipped upside down and uncertain which way you need to turn to swim up. Where is the surface? When can I breathe again? When will it stop hurting?

I wipe the baby’s applesauce face and carry her to the changing table to slip her into a onesie that reminds me of him. The baby he never met. This striped yellow onesie I passed on to a friend when she had her first baby; she’s passed it back. “Arrgh” — it stares up at me, the scull and crossbones centered across her tummy — “Wipe me booty!” He would’ve loved it.


Everyone’s in bed and I’m standing at the sink when my son comes in. “Mama, I need to go to the bathroom and I have to tell you something.” My heart freezes with worry of what the next sentence will be and tears start rolling down his cheeks. I lift his seven-year-old frame up onto the counter and stare into the watery eyes that glance up at me and return to the crumb-covered kitchen floor.

“You know that movie we watched the other night?” I nod, thinking of the PG-rated, animated film he saw one afternoon the week before. “It had some scary parts, and I don’t want to go to sleep because I’m afraid I’ll have nightmares and my dreams are so real.” He erupts into a puddle that brings tears to my eyes. I want to kick myself for not screening the movie to find out about it before letting him go.

His Dad and I give hugs, give encouragement, talk about fear and about faith, and reiterate the words we hope sink deep into his heart — you’re safe. We hug, wipe tears, say good night again and as I turn back to that one pan in the sink that still needs my attention, my thoughts are there to greet me.

Applesauce. The baby had applesauce for dinner.

It seems half a world away, the night one of my worst fears came with a phone call. We were on the couch eating ice cream when my Mom’s voice was at the other end of the line. The next moment I remember, my husband is driving and I’m sitting in the passenger seat for the hospital journey and it feels like my heart, my head, the whole car — it’s all ablaze with fear.

I remember seeing him lying there on a stretcher, somehow so much like the movies and yet, so strange and foreign because this is my real life, and there in front of me is my Dad.

I’ve only been back in town for eighteen months and it feels like this new chapter in our relationship has just started, and it’s so good. I just saw him that morning and he was so, so happy, it seemed like he was going to burst at the seams.

Did he know something I didn’t?

“You should talk to him. Tell him you’re here.” My husband whispers to me with sympathetic eyes.

I look at him lying there, but it feels more like his body is there and he’s not. “Hey Dad, I’m here.” Words escape me. There is only fear.

They’re starting another treatment and I need to leave. I find out later his friends performed CPR in a parking lot. His heart stopped. His brain might’ve been without oxygen for some time. Medical terms whirl around inside my head like those little water spouts we created in science class in grade school. How do I catch anything to put it in order and make sense of it? Everything is swirling.


My oldest daughter wore a Pirate dress to church this morning. A cross the pastor and his son made together, this big wooden cross that presided over his son’s wedding, it’s front and center. He speaks from the heart, from the little stage, behind the cross, and my mind wanders.

We’re in a different waiting room and I look down at my phone and open a Bible app and stare down at the words, this eery promise I’m not sure what to make of.

Romans 8:38-39 is the verse of the day. “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

The love of God — can it find me here? And what does this mean? Neither death nor life, nor angels… I want to take these words and make them into the promise I want from them: the promise that there won’t be death right now. That this won’t end in death. That’s the promise I want and try to cling to, heart and soul.

Turns out, that’s not the promise at all.

A new treatment begins and text messages crisscross the country and my brother and sister find their way to the bedside, too, and we all just sit and wait.


The cross is in front of everything at church this morning, right in the center of the service, and nearly every head in the room is bowed to pray for this pastor in town with cancer, so beloved, one we’re all rooting for. His daughter and I went to school together and it’s three years since I saw my Dad lying on that bed in that hospital room and I don’t want her to go through the same thing. I feel like if I bow my head the tears will flow, will just gush right out, so I stare up at the ceiling instead, until the incandescent lights make me close my eyes.

It was three years ago, today.

When I can open my eyes again, we move onto other prayers and my thoughts drift to the hospital room and my brother and sister far away, and my phone vibrates with a text message from my sister — Thinking of you guys today.

I’d only been home eighteen months. Dad promised if we came home he’d buy a boat so we could all enjoy time on the river together. We moved back and he held up his end of the deal, drove up one day, pulling a boat on the trailer behind him. We were delighted.

Grief changes from white-water rapids to a stream. The water’s still moving, and you’re still on the journey, but it’s slower. It’s calmer.

I remember looking at my two little boys at the time, my Dad steering that boat, the bow cutting through water, watching our sweet little town go by from the water. Two dear friends from Germany were visiting for a few days and everything just seemed picture perfect.

A little less than a year ago, friends invited us down to their house on a lake and we packed up swimsuits and children for the weekend. We rode their boat around the lake and my heart ached a little. That Saturday afternoon my youngest son made a joke and turned his head to look at me sideways, with a half-smile-half-smirk proud-of-his-joke face and a nod. It was the spitting image of my Dad and as soon as he wasn’t looking, I burst into tears.

It can feel like those smooth grief-waters unexpectedly drop off into some falls that dash you around for a moment or two, and spit you out again, so that you can just keep on floating down the stream.

It was three years ago, we paced around that hospital room for six days. We cried. I prayed for a miraculous recovery and an amazing Renaissance — the beginning of a new chapter for my Dad. We watched him breathe, and it sometimes seemed like every breath was a little harder to take than the one before. I rubbed hand sanitizer between my palms again and again, going back out to the lobby to nurse my three-month-old little girl.

My Dad was away the day she was born — returning to the town where he was born for the first time ever, at the age of sixty-four. Down in Louisiana when we sent the news that she arrived safe and sound. Funny how things happen. We took pictures the day he returned, the day he met her, her jet black hair and tiny infant eyes taking him in, him always wearing a hat and something purple. Every picture we have of him meeting one of our children for the first time, he’s wearing a hat, and something purple.


I squirt more hand sanitizer between my palms and a doctor is standing there to greet me. His long white coat reaches to his calves and he’s not much taller than me, but he has the look of a man who knows what he’s talking about, even if he isn’t able to be very gentle in the way he delivers it.

Applesauce. He says applesauce.

Normal brain activity looks like something. I can’t remember the words he used to describe it. Maybe lines? Maybe waves? Maybe sparks? It must look like some kind of purposeful action happening.

But this brain activity? It looks like applesauce.

Applesauce is not good.

“Basically, everything that made your Dad who he is is gone. We can keep him alive like this, but there is almost no likelihood he could recover. He could be in long term care like this for years, but he would probably never wake up.”

I’m a bit like that eldest son of mine, afraid to go to sleep because I don’t know what my dreams will be like. I’m scared.

It feels like that hospital room was a fish bowl, and we swam around in it for nearly a week. It was hard to come up for air. But that tiny whisper from that one verse I wanted to cling to — I heard it there and I felt it there. Maybe right now it feels like I can’t breathe, but maybe somehow it is still going to be okay. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Infection spreads to his lungs and it looks like his body is doing what it seems to have done his whole life — it’s working so hard. But now it’s working so hard, just to breathe. Six days have passed and we all sense it — there is going to be a letting go.

We gather around his hospital bed and a chaplain comes in to pray with us. She says after talking with so many folks about him, it seems like he was a Renaissance man — she uses that very word I’d prayed and I think it’s a whisper from above, that the Renaissance I was praying for already happened. I realize he wasn’t the same Dad I had growing up. He’d become so gentle, so different. He found faith and it mattered to him.

The chaplain prays Renaissance and I cry because I know we are going to say goodbye.

It was three years ago today. My husband suggests we go out to lunch after church and I enjoy the break from arriving at home and trying to think of something for everyone to eat as quickly as possible. At home the children play outside. The boys run around with friends from the neighborhood while the girls nap the afternoon away and I strum my guitar for a few minutes and let my thoughts wander where they may.

An afternoon thunderstorm rolls in and we watch a movie together. It’s three years later and I nurse this new baby girl, the one he hasn’t met yet, and life keeps moving. The baby has just started solids and she slurps applesauce and sandwiches toast in a pan for dinner. I wash the pan in the sink and think about fear and kids’ movies and applesauce and the water running from the tap.

We pile onto a bottom bunk for prayers and give thanks for friends to play with and food to eat and reflect a bit on all the good things about the day.

I sit down to write and reflect on it all: the day, the three years, the journey through grief. I remember the U2 song Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own playing in the background when I sat at the dealership to sell the boat. I remember the purple dress I wore as we all stood around his bed, in agreement that he would be an organ donor, and we watched him take his last breath. I wore purple and I left behind yellow flowers. My oldest son sat beside me at the funeral and told me it was my turn to put my tulips — yellow ones that hadn’t opened up yet — on the casket. I asked him to do it for me, and his four-year-old legs promptly carried him up to lay them gently where they belonged.

Grief is more like a cold, gentle stream around my ankles now. The loss still stings like cold water, time flows and I feel further from remembering the sound of his voice, the light in his eyes. But I can, I do, remember the gifts. How he applied for a passport and braved the journey when I lived overseas. How he met half his grandchildren in airports, his face beaming with joy underneath a purple baseball cap.

Counting the gifts has shown me the steady hand, the steady love of God that I never lost throughout the ordeal. The still, small voice that warned me at the start of it all: death cannot separate us, was the voice that whispered at the end of the week, “Your Renaissance prayers have been answered already.”

I’m left in awe of how something so bad can somehow still be… good. How something so bitter can make all of life seem that much sweeter.

Like a smile from a toddler, proud of a good joke, the streams of life seem to keep flowing sweetly on, even if they are interrupted at times with white-water rapids.

The love that promised not to leave me found its way just a little closer.

It was three years ago, today.





Get Back Up

It’s unfortunate. It’s painful. It’s lousy. It hurts.

Life knocks you down.

You know what I mean?

The thing happens that you were praying wouldn’t.

Those words are said and they cut you so deep your heart physically hurts for a while.

He is sick or she is sick or you are sick and it is scary and it is hard and it hurts.

You’re forced to say goodbye way before you expected, and you just weren’t ready.

One way or another, one cause or another, sometimes you’re on your back, looking at the ceiling. And sometimes, you’re not even completely sure how you got there.


At first, it hurts to be on the floor. It hurts to be down. It hurts to be laid low, and it hurts to feel it affect how you live. The light in your eyes is gone. The joie de vivre is missing. Your hope grew feathers and flew away without you.

After a while, you wonder how long you can stay down. And, sometimes, you think… maybe I should just stay down. Big dreams end with big heartache, so I’m staying small, you think. It’s not so bad laying low, being close to the ground. Less likely getting hurt down here anyway.

You’re still breathing, sure, but sometimes, you kind of stop living.

A few decades late to the punch, I devoured the Rocky films a few years ago. I loved the portrayal of the inner fight so much more than anything happening in the ring. The story (in Rocky I) of somebody who felt like a nobody pouring every ounce of himself into a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change his destiny — it was a story about heart that someone who didn’t care an ounce for boxing could still relate to.

We’ve all at some stage felt like a nobody who believed they had more inside of them to live for and to give to the world, than just this.

But the most compelling aspect of the story (for me) at nearly every turn, was watching Rocky’s decision to get back up.

When he faced a super-trained Soviet giant, (Rocky IV) and all the odds were against him, and he was outmatched in size and strength and he had nothing but his own determination to avenge the death of an old friend, he got in the ring. He took the hits that came his way, and sure, steady, consistently, he fought round after round after round, winning a crowd who began the match completely against him — simply because they were amazed by how he fought with heart. How he got back up.

What compelled him to get up again and again, what compelled him to keep going, every time he was clocked or decked or nearly knocked out?

I can only think that he kept getting back up because he still believed he had a chance at victory. He fought to win. And he always fought with everything he had in him.

We get knocked to the mat in life, too. And it can feel like we’ve got an opponent standing over us, willing us to stay down.

And the truth is, we do.

Paul warned the Corinthians — Our enemy will try to take advantage of us. We cannot afford to be ignorant of his devices. (2 Cor. 2:11)

It would suit our enemy well for us to get knocked down and to stay down.

To choose safe over brave.

To choose comfortable over purposeful.

To choose to keep breathing, but to kind of stop living.

But what a wild thought is this: could the victory be the thing that gets us off the mat?

Could hope be the thing that challenges us to forsake safe and dare to be dangerous?

And don’t we have the victory already?

It was two years ago today, when I said that hard goodbye to my Dad — a heart-heavy see you on the other side.

And I remember the haunting words of that song about Home — the ones that felt like a God-whisper:

The trouble, it might drag you down,
if you get lost, you can always be found…

And I see fresh truth: the troubles we experience in this life can literally drag us down. Pin us to the mat. Convince us it’s okay to stop living and just keep breathing.

I’ve walked that road a time or two.

We can get lost, wandering through those troubles. Grief, and hurt, and heartache — they can be winding paths that feel like labyrinths we can’t find a way out of.

Sometimes the decision not to cry anymore is also a decision not to laugh anymore. Numb is the easy route.

But friends, there is always hope. With God, nothing is impossible. Do you believe that deep down, in your soul?

When the odds seemed completely stacked against us, when the Saviour of the World was crucified, dead and laid in a tomb, when anyone who believed would’ve been sure the Light of the World had been extinguished — and when it seemed like hope was completely foolish — by the power of God, the Spirit of God brought about a Resurrection.


“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” {Romans 8:11}

There is a power at work in us — there is a hope that we can hold onto. Because we are not just the servants of the Crucified King — we are also those who worship the Risen Lord.

There is nothing too hard for God and there is no reason for His children to live pinned to the mat.

Have you let a place in your soul give up and lay down?

Get Back Up.

Have you decided to stick with safe at the expense of stupendous, stellar, spectacular?

Get Back Up.

Is there any place in your heart that has been given to despair?  Or just quietly resigned to the fact that “this is how I’m always gonna feel, and this is how it’s always gonna be?”

Get. Back. Up.

It’s written in Black & White: If His Spirit lives in you, He can give you LIFE.

He came to give you LIFE, and give it to you MORE ABUNDANTLY.

And? He is the way, the truth, and the LIFE.

Troubles might drag you down, but if you get lost, you can ALWAYS be FOUND.

Because you can never be separated from the love of God, poured out for us in Christ Jesus.

Find yourself in Him today, and there you will find the strength — no matter what — to get back up.



— For Missy

Two Kinds of Homesick

Two Kinds of Homesick

It was a year ago today. Perhaps even a year ago this very moment, as I type these letters, that the phone rang. We were sitting on the couch, eating ice cream, just HH and I. Kids in the bed, life peaceful, lots on our minds, lots to think about, but it was the happiest day I’d had in a really long time.

My Mom came over to stay with the kids and we drove through the dark, long half an hour, full of minutes streaming on, second after second until at last I was in that emergency room — so sterile an environment with a doctor encouraging me talk to him, we’re putting him on ice. Intravenous cold therapy. Cardiac arrest and stroke. Dizzying words in a dizzying scene.

Maybe he can hear you and maybe he can’t.

It was all a year ago, today.

The week that followed was the longest, the hardest, I can count among my days. Hand sanitizer and in and out of the Cardiac ICU to nurse a four-month-old so full of life and stand beside the bed of my dying Dad.

On the Seventh Day, he rested.

With Dad

And here a year has come, has gone, with lows and highs and milestones and some days just wondering in between.

My brother and sister and I exchange text messages and memories. How he hated to wear socks. The times he got himself in a bit of trouble with his words. Miller Lite with a lime. Beach music and grilled chicken wings.

And a whole full year — it just goes, life, like the good water, the water that flows, 365 days I’ve lived without one of the three who had a tangible hand in my beginning.

It has been hard. Finding closure, about his life. And in particular this time — so many meetings, so much paperwork. Selling the boat he promised to buy when we moved back from South Africa while U2 played over the radio — Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own — I got in my car and wept.

Questions that won’t be answered this side of heaven pile high in far corners of my mind. No sense in writing them down — you can’t take it with you, can you?

But there is this truth I’ve known through all of this. There is this God, available and near to the brokenhearted. Who won’t extinguish the flame of a dimly burning wick.

In two days time, we’ll begin a journey back to South Africa. Back to the Beloved Country where HH first asked and I first said yes. The country where the Bear learned to walk and the Tank cried his first cry and learned to breathe.

I am joyful — so joyful to be going.

We’ll introduce the Belle to a Goo-Goo and Gammy who’ve only ever seen her on Skype. Two aunts and one uncle who’ve enjoyed the photographs but not yet the presence. And we’ll meet one precious little niece for the first time.


There’s a kind of homesickness I have for this place — and it’s funny to explain, but true.

It may seem strange to be homesick for the place you weren’t born, lived twenty years before setting foot on. But the soil’s been on my shoes and in my heart and a children’s book called Grandfather’s Journey actually put it perfectly:

The minute I am in one place, I am homesick for the other.

Three countries on earth I have the privilege of longing for and loving dearly. I find joy where I am, but I also look forward to going again, with a deep, unexpected longing.

And here is an amazing thing.

I found joy on my kitchen floor not too long ago. I can say for sure: Even after loss, there can still be so much laughter. Even after change, there is still space for so much hope and joy.

These 365 days have been unexpectedly full. Grace to grace and strength to strength, joy to joy. Hard times, sometimes yes, but still — I am learning to see the gifts, and thereby learning to better see the Giver.

Somewhat like the homesickness you might feel if you live in a place for a while and fall in love with it, there is another homesickness, a different one.

It’s where you find yourself when someone you have loved so deeply is gone and you are left — you know you can’t renew your passport and buy your plane ticket and make your way to the place where you are together again.

It’s a homesickness not of this world.

Such powerful words, whispered gently in the movie The Gladiator — to a soldier who has lost his wife and son, and must carry on to live the rest of his days: You’ll see them again, but not yet.

Not yet, indeed.

Until I’m called home to the One who dreamed me into being, I’ll be here — and after last year’s loss, I am a little more homesick to be there.

Because this is what I’ve heard about it:

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” {Rev. 21:3-4}

The best. The best is yet to come.

Our lives can change so quickly, friends. It is profoundly, unbelievably true. I’ve stayed still this year. Cried hard this year. Breathed deeply this year. Made painstaking efforts to say yes to Will you play with me? more often than I say no — though I fail, sometimes, I fail. Pressing on toward that beautiful call I was created to hear and respond to. I’ve aimed to be intentional, loving the people who mean the most to me, extending with grace and gentleness to the world around me.

Could we all be flowers unfolding, in a way? Petal after petal, peeling back so gently, so slowly. We extend and stretch out ourselves toward the world around us, if we’re willing. Isn’t it beautiful when a flower opens up? At the very center, they’re pointed up toward the sun.

Where is your life pointing? Where are your arms stretching? Don’t put the day after tomorrow among the things you count on. Live knowing this moment is important, because you don’t know how many more you have.

And if you’re homesick, let that homesickness remind you how fragile and fleeting our days truly are. How quickly things change.

Today could be the day everything changes — like me, last year — a day you might feel homesick for later on.

Love deep and live well, dear ones. This is the time that you have. Make it count.



Messy Grief

For the first time last night, I had a dream with my Dad in it, and I understood, in the dream, that he was no longer alive. But then the strangest thing happened. Somehow, in the hodgepodge blur I remember, he wasn’t alive, but I could still see him, as if he was, and we were dancing.

And strangely enough, we weren’t dancing, like I might remember as a little girl, with my feet on his, or like I might remember from my wedding day, when my fluffy dress made me feel like I was floating on a cloud, and I paused a few times in our dance to get my steps together again, with a little side to side arm action and a twist thrown in, with hopes that it didn’t look like I was a mess.

It wasn’t a classy snapshot memory at all. Instead, we were on a tennis court, but I think indoors, and I think at a party, and he was at least ten or fifteen feet away from me, and we were doing the electric slide. But that line down the middle of the tennis court was between us, and neither of us could cross it. But it was still somehow good, us both dancing.

I have absolutely no memory of my Dad doing the electric slide, ever. But I have to admit, in my dream last night, he was throwing some sweet shapes on the dance floor. And he looked younger and he had more hair, and, it’s honestly hard to believe, he did not have an ECU baseball cap on.

I suppose it’s safe to say this little snippet of my life, this snippet of a dream where I felt confused but I think happy at the same time, is a bit like grief itself.

Strange, and messy.


I’ve cried more tears than I thought I was capable of crying. I’ve laughed harder, fuller and deeper than I thought I would for a while. And somewhere in between trying to figure out the work of settling an estate and supporting my talented hubs (you need family pictures soon, right?) and loving and nurturing and raising three kiddiddles, I am walking the road of this really messy thing called grief.

‘Messy’ is as best a term as I can muster – for when you will erupt in tears at a simple question for no particular reason, when you will avoid things you know need to get done {ahem, thank you notes} because you just know they’re going to be less cathartic than you hope, and really just downright hard. For when you find yourself simultaneously wanting to cheer and to cry when you realize your two-year-old still sometimes pretends to call G-pa on his “cell-phone” {calculator} or he cheers when he sees G-pa’s picture on your Facebook profile.

Grief is just plain messy.

At this stage in it, I’m running more errands than I want to and writing a lot less than I want to. (And probably need to.) But I’m focusing on staying focused, {ironic, hey?} and trying to make sure the tasks on the estate-settling list get crossed off, and I still get wholesome meals on the table. But sometimes it’s Dominos.

The busy is probably good, even though it’s hard. And the memories I’m making with my kids, cherishing them and creating opportunities for love and laughs and learning, this is where the best stuff, the most-healing stuff is happening.

God whispers gently: there is so much good still to come. He is also whispering hope and life and faith, through the voices of Sunday sermons, blog posts, His amazing Word and strong and solid teachings, like this gem by A.W. Tozer.

The most beautiful reminder of all, in my Dad’s absence, is the constant reminder of the Lord’s presence. I’m aiming to fix the gaze of my soul on God. {Thanks, Tozer.}

Perhaps it’s a valley I’m walking through, that somehow still has some beautiful hills to climb — it’s messy to describe, but it is a place where I know there is a God who makes every path smooth by His grace.

Next Sunday I’ll be sharing about my Dad’s faith journey at the church he called home for a good while. Appropriately, it’s Father’s Day. My heart is certain there are some stories to tell, my hope is that the Lord will give me the grace to tell those stories — and communicate the greater truth behind them — well. {I’d appreciate your prayers, and if you’re local, you are welcome.}

Right now the truth I’m aiming to cling to that I offer to you as well is this: He loves us. Oh, how He loves us.

That night, in the hospital, when the end was beginning and everything was a messy blur, this was the Word, when I opened the Bible on my phone:


He was there for me, an abiding Presence, through the toughest week of my life.

Friends, He loves us. Amen.


When Theology Meets Reality, Part III

This post is part three of a wee series. Part One is here and Part Two is here. If you’re keen. 🙂

Losing someone you love doesn’t cause you to ask a question no one has ever asked before, although it can sometimes feel like it. I think most questions about God can basically be summed up in just a few, and this is one of them:

If God is good, then why do bad things happen?

And here’s my best attempt at explaining what I believe about how this bad thing has been allowed to happen inside the will of a good God.

In this case, the bad thing was the loss of my Dad just now, at the age of 64, when I wish we’d had more time, when I felt so much good stuff was still to come. When I was counting on writing the book he inspired by simply speaking words of life about my gifts to me, and when I was planning on dedicating that book to him. And when these little grandkids were just getting to know him. And I kind of felt like I was, too.

{I still will dedicate that book to him, in case you’re wondering.}

Dad & Bear

{Dad & the Bear, before my sister’s wedding in 2009}

There’s a basic building block on which a lot of things hinge for me. And it’s the belief that free will is a dignity bestowed upon us by a God who loves us enough to let us choose whether or not to love Him back. If I held a gun to your head and said Tell me ya love me, sweetheart, you’d probably oblige me pretty quickly. But the intrinsic value of your answer — my guess is it’d be pretty meaningless. Right?

Love can’t be forced.

So, in the wisdom of God, He created a world where we all have the ability to make choices. Lots of different kinds of choices. Like the choice to exercise, to eat peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese, to name one of our kids Hamish or Apple.

One of the choices my Dad made was with regard to his health. He was working toward getting healthier — trying to diet and exercise — but he didn’t really listen to the warning signs, the bells and whistles his body was sounding off to say “Things aren’t right! Things aren’t good!”

These were signs like shortness of breath and chest pains, the inability to walk uphill for an extended amount of time without losing his breath and needing to sit down for a while, issues with his blood pressure.

I guess he thought he could take matters into his own hands, and he tried hard: but counting calories and pedaling on his bike each day wasn’t enough.

There’s a very real possibility that my Dad’s decision not to go to a doctor when he was exhibiting signs of heart disease cost him his life.

Knowing this, who is there for me to shake my fist at, except my Dad, really? Yes I wish I’d said more, cajoled more, made a bigger deal about it when I was first told that he was having chest pains and I talked to him about going to the doctor and he said “He’d get around to it.”

I have regrets.

Ultimately, a 64 year old man who is exhibiting chest pains and showing other concerning signs needs to do the grown-up thing: visit a doctor. But my Dad didn’t.

He exercised free will. He made the choice to postpone, to procrastinate, to put off.

To that, I don’t feel right about saying Why, God, why?

The appropriate thing to me is more like Why, Dad, why?

For the sake of further explanation, let’s say the circumstances were different. Let’s say he was minding his own business, driving home one evening and an absentminded driver was texting instead of steering, shot through a red light, and that was the end of the story.

Well, I’d still point to choices. I’d still point to free will.

It would’ve been someone else’s free will, in that scenario — but still, I’d point to free will instead of our Maker.

Of course, your next question might be, there’s disease. There’s famine. There’s poverty. There are hungry kids dying… whose free will do we point to then?

And the thing is, if I believe the account of creation that starts with In the beginning, then I believe that God created a world that was really, very good. Paradise even.

Our own decisions, one after another, from the beginning, contributed to the fall — the change from Paradise to arguments about gun control, hunger, disease, a bomber at the Boston marathon.

It all started with one big word I can’t escape using: Sin.

The decision to deliberately choose something other than God’s goodness completely changed the game. Changed the world forever. Introduced not good into a world that had previously been always only ever wholly good.

And our individual, daily decisions affect each other more than we realize. We want to buy clothes at a good price, so manufacturers look for cheap labor to fit the bill. Sure, you and I don’t want children in Thailand to head to a sweat shop for the sake of our cheap t-shirts. But, we’re more connected than we think, and in a way, we’re all partly to blame.

Our individual decisions to use disposable diapers for decades could mean a world-wide problem for centuries. Our individual decisions to vote like this or like that have consequences that affect us all.

And for a very long time, the world has been full of people, making their own choices. Our choices are often not good, and the consequences, well, they naturally follow suit.

I hope you hear me. I think this is big.

So now, I sit on the other side of this loss, and this experience like nothing I’ve ever felt before. But I don’t see God as the problem — I am certain He is the place from whence come the solutions.

Am I disappointed a miracle didn’t happen the way I hoped?

For sure. I really loved my Dad. I don’t want to live the rest of my life without him.

And there is still an unresolved why? I think there always will be. Why did I bump into an old friend at the hospital whose Dad had a heart attack the same day? Why did she get a miracle… and why didn’t I?

But I have tasted the sweetness of redemption before. I know the Redeemer, and I picture Him at the loom, already weaving this dark, harsh thread into a bigger tapestry, and it’s something beautiful.

He didn’t cause this. In infinite wisdom, He did allow this. He can use this to create something beautiful.

Dad & Asher

This morning I danced in the living room with my boys. And when I say I danced I mean I all-out danced. Like no one was looking. Hair-flying, kid spinning, air guitar rocking, sore-cheek grinning.

I breathed deeply, excited about the possibilities of life that lay before my little family.

I will cry some more. But I will laugh more, too.

From loss I already see so much gain — there’s fresh purpose in my heart to guard the relationships with my Mom, my siblings, my husband, my precious kids, recognizing we will only walk the road together for so long.

I am hungry again to refuse a faith that goes through the motions, to plunge deep into the bottomless well of God, to drink deeply and to love the world around me fully again.

It’s as if this cloud descended, and I got wrapped up in the minutia of life, returning to North Carolina and trying to figure out how to do life again here.

But as the grief lifts, little by little, so the clouds lift with it. I’m looking up more than down.

And with wholehearted assurance my Dad is in a better place, I look forward to the day when I see him again, the day when there are no more whys for asking.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. {I Cor. 13:12}

If you’re reading this, and you’re also grieving, I hope you believe me when I say life is still beautiful. Hold on to the things that are truly valuable — and take the time to figure out just what those things are. Guard your heart, put your hope in the right place — let it anchor your soul through the storm.