When Theology Meets Reality, Part II

This is the second post of a wee series discussing the recent loss of my Dad. You can read the first post here.

I’ll be honest with you. The unexpected loss of my Dad felt like a suckerpunch to the gut. I was looking the other way. I didn’t know I was in the ring. I didn’t know I was in a fight.


And grief is this spiraling, strange whirlwind of the mind. You begin to feel a little better, and then you feel bad for feeling better. You aren’t sure which emotions are valid, you aren’t sure where irrational departs from rational. You secretly want to punch people for telling you they know exactly how you feel, but you’re not a violent person.

And yet, death has this way of making your entire life seem clear as an empty wine glass — even just for a moment.

Do you know that moment, when you walk on the beach, and past a pier? You look out towards the ocean while you’re under the pier and all the pilings line up, and the moment seems clear. Everything makes sense.

This is why we left South Africa sooner than we thought we should have. 

This is why the gift of our third child being born right when she was makes so much sense.

And wow, when she arrived, my Dad was several states away — he returned to visit his birthplace for the first time in his life. A few months before he died.

What a gift that our finances were so tight, and we were offered this place to stay in Washington, and we didn’t decide to move to Greenville. Wow, wow, wow.


Life lines up, and there’s a lot of stuff you just ‘get.’ Instantly, you see the wisdom, the structure, the logic. It builds your faith and gives you hope.

But the grief journey continues. When you walk out from under the pier, the pilings don’t look perfectly organized anymore. The waves are crashing, surfers are scattered about, dropping in on each other’s waves. Seagulls are squawking. The glare from the sun is bright. You’re squinting, wondering, wishing, thinking.

If I’d really, really made a big deal out of the fact that he needed to go to the doctor, would it have made a difference?

Why couldn’t we have come back sooner? 

Why did I say “no” so many times when Dad asked me something? Let’s garden together… Let’s decorate the tree at my house… Should we do twice-baked potatoes?

You struggle to form complete sentences in your own thoughts. You absent-mindedly stare into the distance. You get into your Dad’s car, and the smell reminds you of him. You listen to the voicemails he left you last month.

You cry. At the drop of a hat.

That’s the journey. Those are the cards in my hand.

I’m going to do my best to explain how I’m making sense of all this in my mind, how I’m dealing with it. Because I think it matters.

Even if it doesn’t matter to you, per se, it is an exercise in processing through grief for me. When I have little else, most times, I still have words.

And I want you folks, new and old, who read here to know that I stand on the other side, more confident than ever that what I’ve been saying about this Jesus guy is true.

I’m certain God is good. I’m certain there is hope, there is good ahead of me.

And I’m certain, thanking Jesus as I type, I will see my Dad again.

More soon…


Have you ever had a pier moment? Are you trying to make some life-sized decisions and struggling to figure them out? Try thinking about what would be most important to you if you lost someone close to you today. Death has an amazing way of putting life into better perspective.



When Theology Meets Reality

I imagine the time has to come, at least once, in the life of any person who professes that Jesus was Who He said He was and is Who He says He is. It’s the time when the Theology you’ve been studying and thinking and believing and writing about and talking about has to either be the Truth you cling to in the fire, in the storm, or else it becomes the curtain that gets pulled back to reveal a poor, tired soul whose only hope was placed firmly in something akin to smoke and mirrors.

My Dad meant a lot to me. And in our last few years together, I felt like I was getting to know a man I’d never really been acquainted with. Sure, I have great memories from my childhood, of a Dad who loved his Miller Light with a slice of lime, would rather have been at the beach than anywhere else, who sang along, just a little, to Beach Music on the radio and wore RayBan Wayfarers long before they a throwback making a comeback.

I also remember a Dad who could get pretty angry pretty quickly. Who I was a little scared of. Who sent my childhood best bud running home for supper when we heard his car coming up the driveway. I think I hear my Mom calling…

But the man I met when I came back to North Carolina was not exactly the same man. This was the Dad who held onto a pen from the days when I worked at a Pawn Shop so that he could stick it in my Christmas card one year, a card filled with life-giving words about my ability with words, his belief that I would write words that would matter. He became a cheerleader, an advocate, an encourager.

And one hot summer day when we were overwhelmingly busy with trying to start our photography business, trying so hard to get things off the ground, juggling life and kids and transition, I heard a big noise, and looked out the window to see that my Dad had towed his lawnmower over to our house — we didn’t have one yet — and there he was, in the heat of the day, riding his lawnmower back and forth to cut our grass for us.

The Renaissance Man was cutting my grass. He was a different Dad. I loved him more than ever before.

And that last day came, when he bounced the baby on his lap while I typed away at the keys of the computer for him. And I can’t explain it, but my heart was so happy that day. And I told him I loved him and he left and I remember thinking about walking outside just to tell him again how much I loved him, how thankful I was for him. I sure do wish I had.

Stuff was just happy. I was so thankful.

HH came home that evening, and I looked around our mess-of-a-house with a smile. And, beaming, I said something like this: “Even though our house is a mess, and Blakey had a poop accident that went everywhere, and I don’t like where we live, and everything feels crazy and today was really frustrating, I think I’m finally content. I think I’ve finally found contentment.”

And four hours later, while we sat and ate some ice cream together, children asleep down the hall, my phone rang with the news.

It was the beginning of the end.

So the question has to be asked. The Why question.

Why now?

Why my Dad?

Why when I think I’ve finally learned contentment, finally discovered so much peace and joy nestled inside a heart so grateful for the love and support of being near my Mom and Dad again?

If God is X then Why?

And this is where the testing happens, where you find out if that faith you’re claiming to hold onto gets tossed in the fire, and you find out whether or not it’s fireproof.

My endeavor for the week in the hospital was to stay fully present. To honor my Dad by not just physically, but also mentally, emotionally, staying present in everything that was happening. Not to let go of hope if there was hope to hold onto. Not to check out at the register when I was still supposed to be on Aisle 3.

My best efforts were symbolic gestures — the things that work in my mind, that make sense to me, that say “I’m still here” inside my head. I wore a purple dress on the day we said goodbye. I wore it again to the funeral. I brought yellow flowers to the hospital that day. I made sure I got the chance to stroke his head one more time. I spent ages trying to make choices about the funeral service.

I sensed an abiding Presence through it all. I might do my best to try to explain that another day.

Once the week was finished, the funeral and the celebration of life all gone, I began to face reality without my Dad. And the real testing began.

My longwinded explanation of how I’m handling the “Why” might take a bit, so bear with me… 

To be continued with love,


Has life ever forced you to find a Z at the end of a big Y? Do you think you managed to find one?


Ready for Part II? — You can find it here.

Here’s Three at Half Past Four

Seems I’ve gotten a little behind on sharing the monthly photos of the new addition around here. I keep on keeping on (with the photos) because I love knowing our precious family further away enjoys seeing the month-by-month progress of our sweet small people. Love you folks… thank you for your patience… I tell you, I understood and believed before, what Psalm 127:3 says about children:

“Children are a gift from the Lord;
they are a reward from Him.” {NLT}

But after walking through the hardest month of my life last month, I just had no idea how much of a gift they could be.

I took these pictures of this little girl in February, when life seemed a little simpler. The task fell to me again, though I’d always defer to the Hubs’ superior camera skills, because he was out of town for a few days. Perhaps since things went will with the two months photos, the Belle trusted me this time, and things continued to go well…

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The thing I learned about children being a gift, in the time that followed this picture-taking session, had a lot to do with appreciating for new reasons that irresistible joy that comes so naturally to children.

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On those long, sad days in the hospital, while I was just waiting and hoping I’d get to see my Dad again this side of heaven, this little girl was a very visible and constant reminder that life does keep going, life will keep going, even if there is loss.

Belle3Mth 007She brought joy to other people in the hospital, perhaps in similar positions to ours, waiting and wondering.

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She already started living up to the things I said before about her name. Meaning “Beautiful Altar,” I was hoping she would be a place where heaven and earth collide.Belle3Mth 004

And in that week of heavy grief, where I was weighed down with emotions I didn’t know my soul was capable of enduring, leaving the room where my Dad was dying, returning to the lobby, where she was learning and smiling and growing and beginning… it was hard, it was beautiful.

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It was like seeing all of time in a single moment, like watching a drop of water fall to the ground in slow motion. This life and my Dad’s collided for such a brief period of time. He bounced her on his knee, made her giggle and smile. She returned the favor with peals of laughter and grins, her gift to him was joy. I thought about whether he’d be able to dance at her wedding.

And the gift that children are has everything to do with hope, hope for the future. When times are hard and people are discouraged, they often say “I don’t want to bring children into this world.” Children begin to be seen as burdens to bear, small people who will soon need college educations and car keys.

But an aging society is not a healthy one. Kids are the future innovators, the brave ones who’ll plow forward when we’re gone. They’re a gift to us, and we love them and teach them and grow them and then give them as gifts to the world, in hopes that by being here, they’ll make it a better place.

Heaven touched Earth as this precious little girl looked up at me with smiles, with trust, with the kind of faith that I want to have. Sure she cried some in that lobby, fighting falling asleep in a new environment, waiting for me to come back from a conversation with doctors when it was time for her to eat.

We all cry sometimes.

But that irresistible joy, her peaceful nature, her happy hope, were a gift to my soul to remind me there’s still so much good ahead. Somehow, just maybe, the best is yet to come.

I didn’t know when she arrived last November, full of need, to be fed and held and changed and clothed and loved, that I might turn out to be the needy one sooner than I expected. And she became a gift from God at a time when I needed Him to touch my life in the most tangible, physical, I can hold onto this until I can hold onto hope again way.

For all these months I might not have thought too much about it, might not have observed. But how fitting, all along, I have been receiving this unwrapped gift from heaven, and adding my own bow.

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To God be the glory.




What To Say

The time finally came, when that last breath was breathed, and the next moment I had feared the most was upon us.

We sat all four years of him down, on his Da-da’s lap, on the couch. Three of us together – sit down your cars sweetie and let’s talk for a little while.

I heard the words I never wanted to say come out of my husband’s mouth, tears on his cheeks, tears on mine.

The Bear listened quiet, intense. Turned away slightly, leaned his curved back deep into HH’s chest.

We saw a face on him we’d never seen before. He was deep in a far-away land, the synapses in his brain weaving together an understanding of what all this really meant.

They tried the best they could, but G-pa’s gone.

With Dad

Based on what we’d read and heard, we did our best not to be confusing – to say it all straight. Using real words like “death” and “died” instead of “passed on” or “no longer with us.” Strange how simple words just made of letters can feel like sharp swords on a tongue. Especially if you have to say them to ears so small, ears so young.

He thought for a long time. We tried to do more to explain, we stayed quiet, three of us together.

He turned, resolute, but gentle, faith like a child said, “But, I’m going to save the day.”

If only. If only.

My heart swelled, proud, blessed, sad, sad.

Trying to explain my tears a little later on I offered, “G-pa was my Da-da… so I am very sad.”

He took it in, straight to heart. And hope counter-offered, “Uncle Russ can be your Da-da now.”

I wasn’t ready to let go of the tulips in my hand at the burial – green stems and leaves, buds still closed so tight I don’t know what color they were going to be. He turned and said, “You can put your flowers up there, Mama.”

“Will you do it for me, my boy?” I asked.

Gently, careful, there he laid them with Aunt Dodi’s, Uncle Russ’s.

I stared for a long time, stayed still and wiped tears.

Here we are with a new day, a new week, and there is hope. Always.

We talk of Easter, and he comes home from church with brightly coloured eggs in a carton, numbered to stay in order, each symbolizing a moment of the Easter story. I’m trying hard to re-engage. We rehearse what the things inside mean – the donkey, because Jesus rode one into Jerusalem, the cup, wine from the passover meal, a thorny branch, the crown of thorns.

Gloriously beautiful – number 12 is empty.

I’m surprised to see a toothpick-sword, and stumble to explain Jesus on the cross. How the blood and the water flowed from his side — a mighty declaration: we are forgiven, our debt is paid, we are free, we are clean.

It’s only later he stops me with the question: Did they poke G-pa’s side when he died?

Oh, no, I’m eager to explain. Looking for words, think quick, think quick. When G-pa died, it was very peaceful. I breathe slowly. In—out—in—-out—-. I close my eyes. It was just like falling asleep. A few more breaths, eyes still gently shut, I smile.

So dying is like going to sleep?

Kind of, yes. It was very peaceful.


Not long after, some words found me. About a man and his wife, at the hospital and all was well. She’d given birth the day before to their first, precious baby girl, and she’d rested from her c-section and twenty-four hours passed, and the time came, joy of joys, the wheelchair came to take her to meet that face she’d probably dreamed of. She stood to take the seat, complained of being dizzy, passed out and was gone. A pulmonary embolism, and that was it. He was left to head home from the hospital, precious baby girl, Mama gone.

He says he used to be a cynic, but he’s not anymore. He finds himself giving motivational speeches to bank tellers.

And all of this swells my heart, near breaking to say: Hope, there you are. Hope, you keep on finding me. I could sit right here and count 10,000 gifts in those 64 years. Oh the stories I will tell — there was lots of time, and a lot of it was spent well. I have less regrets than many, maybe more hope than many more.

This is life and there is loss, but gosh, if you can frame it all with thankfulness, then you’ll see hope, then you’re see the whole picture.





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On the Seventh Day, He Rested

I have some really beautiful memories of time well spent with my Dad. For some reason, one of my favorites is from my dance recital days as a little girl. It was always a chore, getting on the itchy tights that would go under the costumes we wore at dance recitals. But once my feet were in the right place, my Dad could grab those tights by the waist, hoist me up into the air (just holding the tights) and with a couple of bounces, my tights were exactly where they were supposed to be. I can remember laughing, feeling joy, feeling small and safe with my Dad.

He often let me stay up past my bedtime — a treat I always relished — on the condition that I sit beside him and brush his hair. Sitting on a couple of pillows so that I was tall enough to reach, he may have gone bald sooner than he should have because I’d brush his hair, sometimes even add some hair clips, and absent-mindedly laugh at the jokes I didn’t get while Sam Malone wiped up the bar as Norm made a wise crack on Cheers. Every once in a while, just in case I needed reassurance, I can remember him patting me on the knee, and saying Daddy loves his Caroline. He’d get back to watching the show, and I’d continue putting the few strands of hair that still bedecked the top of his head into clips, or I’d just smooth them down for a while.

I absolutely felt loved. And even though getting in trouble made me terribly afraid of him, still I knew my Dad loved me. I knew it for sure.

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Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated TigerTank’s second birthday. After a wonderful lunch, cake and candles and gifts, we went outside to blow bubbles. I came in and saw my Dad asleep in a chair. He was so full of peace I didn’t make a sound. I just smiled. Life was good.

Last week, my Dad’s body stopped working. My brother and sister, his girlfriend, and lots of friends were by his side. We watched as they poked and prodded. We waited as they ran tests and looked at screens. We cried and prayed. We wept and hoped for a miracle.

Throughout his week in the hospital, nearly every day, I took an opportunity to stroke his hair. It was often disheveled as he lay propped up on a pillow in the hospital bed, and I felt transported back to my childhood as I smoothed it across and settled it down.

We all talked to him. We played him music. I read Scriptures, said prayers, played videos of our three-month-old laughing, our four-year-old reciting the pledge of allegiance, right by his ear, in case he could hear them.

The doctors said everything about his mind that made him him was gone. They ran tests and said his brain activity looked like applesauce.

People came and told wonderful stories I’d never heard. I wanted to ask them to hold on while I got a pen so I could write them all down.

One of his first days in the hospital, I stood beside his bed and prayed for a miracle. I prayed that this would be the beginning of a Renaissance for my Dad. A second chance. That he would miraculously recover, and go on to do awesome things for the glory of God.

The days ticked by and he didn’t wake up.

The tests came back and there was no good news.

In the midst of the storm, there was a sense in me that he was gone. That he was already with God.

And I felt like I could hear the faintest whisper in my heart: that Renaissance already came.

I thought about the Dad from my childhood and the Dad I spent the last eighteen months with. I thought about the stories coming from all around about his thoughtfulness, his kindness, his quiet acts of service and generosity. I pondered the amazing realization that he almost never darkened the door of a church during my childhood, and yet, now, he was known as the “Holy Grillmaster,” so involved in enjoying and serving his church family.

That whisper was true. That Renaissance happened. My Dad was a changed man. The prayers I’d started praying over a decade ago, when I started taking my faith seriously, were answered. Not in a flash-bang-wham-pop moment, but in the way God very often moves. A small seed falls in good soil, with water, with sun, with time… it begins to bear fruit. Thirty…sixty…a hundredfold of what was sown.

Be still, take off your shoes, Caroline, observe before you miss it.

In the midst of the these heart-wrenching days that seemed to string together in a blur, hours in the lobby, hours in the room, I believe God met me with a sense of peace. Leaving aside theological conversations about His will in all this for another day, the basic long and short of it is we knew our Dad was gone and we had to let him go.

For six days there were needles and tests and anguish and waiting. My brother spent his nights in the hospital. I spent nights in a dark hotel room with a sleeping baby nearby, where I’d lean hard into Hero Hubs and cry until I ran out of tears.

We listened to him breathe. The nurses explained the injury to his brain resulted in his rapid breathing. His body looked hard at work with every breath, shoulders turning in, his whole middle moving up at down, often twice as many breaths as necessary, each and every minute.

Even in dying, we’d expect nothing less than hard work from our Dad.

For six days there were tears and prayers, visits with folks who ministered just by being present, stories, hope and heartache. Sometimes we laughed, more times we cried. Most times it hurt to think about the future, to remember the past.

I worked hard at just staying present.

Near the end, a chaplain came to pray with us. She prayed for him, for us, asked questions about his life, and concluded that he was a real “Renaissance Man.” My heart swelled with this precious word choice – she didn’t know what that meant to me.

Then we stood by his bedside, a woman he loved, three children who see him in the mirror and cling to his name, and a pastor who’d washed his feet and helped his heart find a home. I held yellow flowers and stole a chance to stroke smooth the hairs on his head one more time, slipped my hand into the hands that lifted my tights and me high into the air a couple of decades ago.

Slow and peaceful and gentle, like an afternoon nap after a two year old’s birthday party, the hard work of breathing settled down to look more like sweet sleep.

We listened to each breath, now pausing, now breathing. I held my breath, we all held hands and prayed.

Sixty-four years of hard work. Six days of hard work, breathing.

They slowed and slowed until there were no more breaths to be breathed, and on the seventh day, he rested.


With gratitude to the Dad who called out the words in me, before I knew I had them.


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