From the beginning of time to the end of the time, the Creator of the Universe moves. He was when there was nothing, and He will be when there is nothing. The Alpha and the Omega. A God of Love. A God of Grace. A God who loves creation and everyone and everything in it. All things a reflection of His infinite and incomprehensible Glory. Each living thing representing a piece of Him.
I was asked some challenging questions the other night...about God. About creation. There being an ultimate purpose to life. How I know that there is. And it got me thinking...how do I know? How can I verbally express something that I not only feel, but have always felt? That feeling of knowing even in moments when I felt most alone, that I really wasn't alone. That even if I was all by myself with an aching heart, that there was something and someone so much greater than me always present. Always close. Always listening.
Sadly though, I didn't always trust that "voice" when I heard it. That peace that not only would things be okay, but that I was okay and served a God who was working things out and had a plan for my life. It was how He picked me up when I was down that I felt that redemption and grace over my life. As time went on, He continued to give me more and more reasons to trust Him.
I made the decision at 18, in the summer of 2008, that I wanted to get re-baptized as an adult through my church at the time, Kensington. It was a beautiful evening of brightly painted skies at Stony Creek Park. I had found a deeper faith, and I was ready to take that plunge to continue serving a life of faithfulness to our Lord.
And less than a month later, at the start of my freshman year of college, I dove head first into the beginning of the darkest season of my life. I had known many heartbreaks from my earliest memories, growing up with divorced parents and a dad who needed help. But the thing that tore me apart the most (at that point in my life) was the divorce between my mom and stepdad that began when I was 18.
I had a happy childhood with my mom and Todd (my stepdad). We took family vacations every year. I had a brother and a sister. A dad who worked full time, who came home to delicious home cooked meals every evening prepared by mom. We always hung out as a family after dinner. We played games. We watched movies. Every Friday or Saturday we did our chores. Life with my mom and stepdad was normal. And growing up, it had become my saving grace, unbeknownst to me.
And then after 14 years of marriage, they decided it was time to part ways.
My brain could not mentally process or accept this. My stable family and safe place was no longer stable and safe? What?
Growing up going back and forth between my mom's and dad's homes was my normal. It was all I had ever known. I accepted that my parents weren't and would never be together. As I got older, new challenges arose with my dad, and I began to find more and more peace in the stability that living with my mom and Todd had brought. Even though my biological parents were divorced, I imagined myself years down the road, bringing my kids over to my mom and Todd's house. I wanted my future children to be able to experience a taste of the happy parts of my childhood. I was looking forward to normal things, like family holidays together. I had even imagined what it would be like to combine family functions and have my dad Kevin and his family take part in things with my mom and Todd.
But then to lose another family unit was more than my 18/19 year old brain could comprehend.
I grieved a lot. I grieved not only the loss of the marriage between my mom and Todd, but the loss of my childhood family that I loved so much, and the loss of dreams and what I had hoped would come down the road. I just couldn't accept it. My life took a downward spiral as I struggled to cope with the loss.
To gain some control in my life, I began to work out excessively and cut my calorie intake to less than 1,000 calories/day. I couldn't control the loss of my childhood family, but I could control how I took (or didn't take) care of my body. I lost 20 pounds in just a few months. Which was a lot for me, especially considering my normal weight was around 115-120 lbs. It got to the point where the only clothes that fit me were dresses.
Also during this time, I experienced extreme anxiety and found myself struggling to fall asleep almost every night. My thoughts would race and race all night. Most nights I would end up crying myself to sleep. I was absolutely devastated and heartbroken. I felt so alone.
I knew that God was there. But I was angry. I was so confused. How would this happen?? How could this happen? I felt the spark going out inside me.
I began taking pills every night to help me fall asleep. I basically took whatever I could find and in varying quantities. Benadryl. Motrin. Migraine medication. Anxiety medication. I even began misusing Vicodin when I had been given a prescription when I had my wisdom teeth extracted. I just wanted something to take the pain away.
I basically turned to everything but God during this time. God obviously had no control over my life. But I did. Or so I thought.
I guess His timing was interesting, because although I was at the absolute lowest point in my life to date, I was also getting ready to make a trip overseas to Israel. The Holy Land. The trip that changed my life and brought me out of the sea I was drowning in.
(To he continued...)
No matter where you're at in life right now, I want you to know that you're okay...and everything will be okay...one way or another.
I've been struggling lately to find inspiration for my blog. I find myself in the midst of the grief process where the shock has passed, and I feel sad a lot. Some days I don't really feel like doing much or talking to anyone. Sometimes I even find myself feeling slightly guilty about smiling or laughing about things when inside all I can think about is my dad and how our days together ended before they really even got started. But when joy comes in the moments of sadness, I let it come. It's what my dad would want. He would want me to keep busy, keep smiling, and continue moving on, in a healthy way.
Life is hard sometimes. I know I constantly speak of hope and the hope of our Savior, which is all true...but life just downright sucks sometimes. And it's okay to be and feel sad. It's okay to feel the grief you may be experiencing. You will never be able to let it go if you don't let it wash over you. Feel the pain. Cry when you need to. Listen to that song a little longer that makes you feel close to that loved one...
It's the strangest thing, but I find myself getting the most emotional when I am in my car driving somewhere. Sometimes it is a song. Usually one from the mid-late 90s that would be playing on the radio during the drive to my dad's house when he would pick me up for the weekends.
I can't tell you the relief I felt as a little girl to be with my dad again after not seeing him for days. Our first moments of reconnecting would be in the car. With the radio on.
Growing up with divorced parents came with it's fair share of struggles. Some I didn't even realize until my adult years, along with years of introspection that came in the form of books, church, mentorship, and therapy.
But one thing that has never been far from my thoughts about my dad is how eagerly I would wait for him to come pick me up as a little girl. I would sit in the window of the living room of my old house in Sterling Heights...and wait. Wait for his car to come down the street. And wait for him to pull up the driveway.
I was always so afraid that if I didn't run outside the second he got to my mom's house that he would leave.
After years of therapy though, I realized in my early 20s, that inside, I was still that little girl in the window waiting for her dad to pick her up on the weekends. I spent my whole life waiting for him to come through and really pursue me.
I think that goes back to one of God's very beautiful and unique designs for men--to be the leaders, protectors, and providers. Not just within the marriage relationship, but within the relationship between fathers and daughters. It can be such a blessing for a girl to have a dad who leads, pursues, and protects...someone who exudes strength, and with that, the peace that everything is taken care of. On the flip side, it can also be damaging to have a father who struggles with those things.
I looked up to my dad very much. And the closest and most pursued I felt by him were within those moments following him picking me up from school, my house, or dance class. The moments when he came through. The moments that regardless of how our time would be spent on the weekends, that in those moments, he was intentional about spending time with me.
I would sit in the passenger seat of his car and feel loved.
And then as an adult, I would spend quite a bit of time in the car on my way to see him. Usually at work, to bring him food for dinner when he worked his midnight shifts at the hospital. I wanted him to feel loved and taken care of by me.
I think about the time spent in the car on the way to the hospital during his last days, not knowing when would be our last. I kept having dreams about him dying during those few days. If I wasn't with him, I would be constantly checking my phone in a panic...not knowing.
I know I refer a lot to the time I spent at his bedside in the hospital. That time was so profound for our relationship. Up until that moment, I was still that little girl waiting in the window for her dad to show up.
And then he did. He showed up in the form of an honest and sincere apology. And I eagerly got into the car for the very last time. I forgave.
That little girl who was so broken and torn is still a part of me, but she has been healed in so many ways.
Through the grief, God continues to show up and remind me of how deeply loved I am. So I let the grief in and let it wash over me like a cool rain. I feel the pain when it comes...and when the joy comes, I feel that too.
"In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." 1Peter 1:6-7
Life. The birth of a child. One of the most memorable moments of a parent's life.
June 1st 1990 was the day my journey on this earth began. A journey that began shaping me from day one. A journey filled with vast amounts of love...and also tremendous heartaches and losses. Even thinking back to my earliest memories of my parents' apartment together, I had no idea what would lie in store for me. The bumpy roads. And the amazing Grace of a faithful God.
I came into this world through unique circumstances. I would like to believe that God had a specific plan for my life from the beginning. Choosing me to be born at this specific time. And choosing Kevin and Maria specifically to be my parents.
Growing up having no real memories of my biological parents together made me never really miss them being together. Traveling back and forth between homes every other weekend was my normal. I was never even sad about my circumstances because that was all I knew.
The one constant though was this underlying tension of feeling the tension between my parents. I carried it with me for a majority of my life. A weight that I never knew was there until it was gone.
I loved my dad very much. I can't say that enough. Probably more than he knew. But it was because of that love that I began to grow distant from him as I got older.
It's hard to say when it really started, but growing up with an alcoholic parent took its toll on me. And honestly, it was not even until church yesterday (months after my dad's passing) that I finally accepted that alcoholism is a sickness and that my dad was sick the whole time I knew him. First emotionally and mentally. And then of course physically when he was diagnosed with cancer.
But again, growing up, I never knew how to put words to my emotions. I hated seeing my dad in pain all the time and knowing there was nothing I could do to help him.
To be honest, the happiest I remember seeing him was when he was at work as a nurse in CCU (and then later working in bed operations). He loved his job. He loved his coworkers. He was a leader and was very proud of his work. It was a relief to see him there. And looking back, what a blessing it was that my dad got me a job at Troy Beaumont so I could spend so much quality time with him in his environment. I always knew visiting my dad at work was special, but didn't realize how much until recently. That was how I spent about half my time with him since I graduated from high school in 2008.
October 2013. The beginning of my journey with my therapist, Renee.
My mentor, Leslie (who has been such a HUGE blessing in my life) recommended that I start seeing someone professionally after some extreme anxiety and panic attacks. Renee was her friend who was also in a Bible study with her, so I trusted that it would be a good fit.
What I thought would be a quick couple sessions turned into a weekly journey that lasted almost 2 years. I knew I needed help, but I didn't realize until months in that my anxiety stemmed from the abandonment I felt from my dad.
Let me clarify, my dad NEVER abandoned me. In fact, he always made sure to be a part of my life through everything. The abandonment I felt was emotional.
So I began working through my "abandonment" issues...the aftermath of having an unpredictable and emotionally unhealthy parent. He did the best he could. Of this I am certain. But he never received the help that he needed to experience real healing on this side of heaven. And because he never really faced his own issues, he remained to be emotionally distant and sarcastic most of the time.
I don't remember a specific timeline of when I began to work through different things in therapy. But I do remember one of the first things Renee encouraged me to do was to let myself feel the pain of not having a "normal" relationship with my dad. She told me that I would never be able to let go of the disappointment and pain if I did not first let myself experience it.
Sometime in high school I grew pretty numb to my dad after a series of bad experiences. Again, a new "normal". So to feel any emotion at all was painful. But I did.
I remember pulling off into a 7-Eleven parking lot one day in tears thinking about all the things that had happened between my dad and I...all the things I wanted in a healthy relationship with my dad, but probably would never experience. For the first time, I began grieving the loss of what I didn't have and accepting and grieving the fact that I would never have a normal and healthy relationship with my dad unless he got help.
I also learned to accept the fact that it was not up to me to help my dad. I could pray for him and spend time with him. But it was not my job to be his confidant and therapist.
Then, after a year and a half of therapy, my parents finally made amends to each other.
And what transpired from that was the one day, at age 24, that I finally, for the first time, grieved the loss of my parents' marriage to each other. I stared at this photo of my parents holding me as a baby wondering what it would have been like had they stayed together. Their marriage was brief. I know deep down they both wanted the best for me, despite their differences.
And shortly after that was when I finally realized that despite the ways my dad had hurt me, that he really did love me the best he could. He was a hurting man who never got real help for his issues. But he loved me deeply despite of them. I will never get the image out of my head of looking at my dad across the diner table over breakfast and understanding the reality of the situation. I had worked through the hurt enough that I was beginning to forgive. All the pain I had allowed myself to feel through therapy was finally leaving my heart (because I had finally allowed myself to experience it instead of suppressing it). You need to feel things in order to let them go sometimes. And in feeling and letting go, I was creating a space to learn how to love my dad more freely again, without the fear of being hurt.
And then months later, I finally felt ready to share with my dad the ways I felt hurt by him growing up. I was always so scared to be open about such things for fear of creating a bigger space between us. But I knew in that moment that in order for that space to heal, I needed to be open and vulnerable with him. And so I was.
We cried together, sitting side by side on the front porch of his house. He kept saying over and over that he didn't want to go to the grave thinking that I thought he was a bad person. I kept telling him I didn't think that. I told him that I worked through a lot with Renee in therapy and that I wasn't upset anymore and that I had learned to let go of a lot. I'm not sure he believed me, but that is what I felt.
Then he was diagnosed with cancer 2 months later.
November 8th, 2016 was our last day together. A day I replay in my head several times a day...the way he looked as I wiped blood off his mouth as his body was shutting down. The way his hand felt as I held it tightly. The way I cried on his shoulder as he took his last breath...telling him over and over that I forgave him.
The rest of the week following that night I spent planning the entire visitation and funeral. I picked out a coffin I thought my dad would like, a floral spread at the funeral home to match his love for America, and went to the cemetery to design a tombstone personalized with an American flag on it. I then coordinated the funeral service and put thought into each specific song that was to be played. I put my heart and soul into planning everything the way I felt would bring my dad the most honor. A testament to the healing God brought into my life. I wanted my life that week to be a reflection of all God had done for me. I still do.
We don't get to choose our number of days on this earth or the amount of time we get to spend with the people we love. But we are called to love. And one way of loving is to forgive. And sometimes we need to reach out for help in order to help our hearts heal and learn how to forgive.
One thing I want to stress is to not wait to seek healing. And to not wait to experience real love, joy, and intimacy in this life.
I continue to believe that God had a specific plan for everything. And I thank God everyday for bringing Leslie and Renee into my life to send me on a path towards healing at just the right time. God knew. And God made a way.
26 years, 5 months, and 1 week.
That was all the time I got with my dad on this earth. And in the space between the day I came into this world and the day my dad left it, God extended an infinite amount of grace over my life and heart.
I found this bracelet in my bathroom drawer this week while I was cleaning. Slightly covered with some dust and makeup. I haven't look at it in I can't remember how long...I received it sometime after my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Purple is the color for pancreatic cancer awareness. I guess that's the point of these bracelets...to spread awareness and to keep people who need prayers on your heart. To me though, it represented mortality.
I wore it to contribute to a cause. But in my mind it was a constant reminder and symbol that my dad was dying. I carried that thought with me all day, everyday. I spent 13 months trying to mentally prepare for the inevitable. It's amazing how your mind can't comprehend the thought of someone close to you dying. It's too big a thought to even process. You can't even fathom how you will get through it. But when it happens, you just do.
It's amazing how your mind goes into a combination of shock and survival mode during times of tragedy...
I remember sitting down with the funeral director and my uncles, 12 or 13 hours after my dad's passing. The whole time, my mind was like, "Is this really happening right now?"
I remember so many months ago my dad talking to me about funeral arrangements when I would visit him at work. I hated when he talked about that stuff. To me, it felt like he was giving up. But, he was being realistic, and I knew that too. Even when I was sitting at his bedside at the hospital, I kept looking at him, thinking about how he was alive right in front of me...and how it wouldn't be much longer until I would be at his funeral...but again, you can't even wrap your head around it.
And here I was, sitting with my uncles, planning the funeral and visitation for my dad. Something he never asked of me when he was alive, but something I knew I had to do for him. It was my last way of giving back to him and commemorating his life. Or so I thought...
I also remember spelling my dad's name as the funeral director wrote it on his death certificate. That took me back to all the paperwork I filled out growing up that would ask me for my parents' names. Kevin Shalawylo. My dad.
As we got further down the death certificate, I looked to my uncles to try and remember the time of death. That whole night was blur. I guess those 3 days my dad was admitted to the hospital were a blur.
The time my dad's body gave out. The time he took his last breath. The time my whole world changed as I knew it.
I cried. I kept waiting for him to breathe another breath, but also dreaded it since he was in so much pain..gasping for air. And then, he was gone.
I cried on his shoulder, feeling his warmth for the last time. Knowing it was the last time I would ever hug my dad. Ever again. I knew I would miss him deeply... miss those random texts saying hi or telling me to not be out driving on nights when roads were bad... texts asking me to bring him dinner to work. That text or phone call at 10:08pm on my birthday; my birth minute.
It had been a process, but I had also been preparing myself to let go of my dad. Which was so painfully difficult since I only began to really hold him close and have real hope for our relationship just a few months before his cancer diagnosis.
I was so confused. I couldn't understand why God would allow such a thing to happen to my dad at such a time when I thought things were starting to look up for him...for us. It just didn't seem fair, and to be honest, it still doesn't seem fair. It brings me to tears at the most random of moments thinking about how much my dad suffered in this life.
Even though I was angry and deeply hurt over the situation, I never felt angry with God. I knew in my heart that God doesn't cause cancer and pain. How could a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son to bring us eternal life cause death? The truth, is that God doesn't cause death. We caused death by not listening to Him in the garden at the beginning of time. We fell short. And God created us to have free will knowing that we would fall short.
And God also didn't send His son to earth to die. To quote my pastor, "When God came, we put Him on the cross. We killed Him." But what did God do? He sent His beloved Son to us, knowing that we would kill him at just 33 years of life, and in turn used that very moment of death to complete the greatest Love story of all time.
I also don't believe that God causes us to go through these trials for the sake of testing us. But rather to teach us how to learn how to cling to truth, even in the midst of seep sorrow. Can we still see the Light, even while we feel stranded in some of the darkest of places? And the answer to that is yes. That Light never leaves us. It is always there, waiting for us to move towards it.
In my dad's final moments, although the most unbearable of my entire life, I still felt wrapped in Love, and I knew my dad was finally in Good Hands. And maybe he always was and just never knew it.
Even though it didn't feel fair that my dad was diagnosed with cancer at a time when things started looking up for us, I am clinging to the truth that God planned for this very time, each of my dad's breaths had been measured out. And within that space of time measured out by breaths, God brought that healing with my dad; it was God's gift to me. I was able to let go of my dad with total peace, knowing how much he loved me. And trusting that he knew how much I loved him.
I remember sitting in my dad's room with him the day he passed away. He kept pulling his oxygen off. He wasn't listening to anybody. But finally, I gently yelled at him and said, "Dad, leave your oxygen on!" He looked at me and nodded. He listened. And I'd like to think that gave me a few more hours with him, anyway.
I don't know what lies ahead. But I am still trusting that God is Good. I would like to believe that my dad knew how much I loved him and that my dad found peace with God and within himself his last few days here.
Even though some days are still difficult for me as I grieve, I still have hope in the promise that this life is not the end. And maybe, when it is my time, and I get to the other side, my dad and I can pick up right where we left off. He will still be annoyed that my hair always looks crazy, and we will finally be in total peace...no pain, no fear, no sorrow.
I would like to think that somehow these trials here really are preparing us for what is to come. To be in complete and reverent awe of the beauty of eternal life with the total understanding of why it was so important to trust Him on our way there. May we all continue to step Heavenward together.
He was. He is. And He is to come.
Some days I just sit back in total awe at the amazing transformation that God made in my life...in my heart.
God is infamous for doing the impossible and making miracles happen. For me, that miracle came in the form of being broken and stripped to the core...so much so that I was able to finally surrender all the fears that held me back in certain areas of my heart. Although it wasn't in the way that I hoped (on my dad's deathbed)...healing came. And I found peace and resolve. Finally.
As I mentioned before, I spent years on and off in therapy throughout my life. I knew for some time that I struggled with anxiety, but I just never knew to the extent and the "why" behind it.
I struggled a lot in my relationships with men too. Growing up, I wanted so desperately to fix my dad. I wanted to take away his pain, and I wanted to feel loved and accepted by him through his pain. Even when he was there physically, it didn't always feel like he was there emotionally. He had his issues that held him back from experiencing real happiness and intimacy in this life...issues that broke my heart for him, and subsequently affected me and how I responded to the opposite sex and my relationships with them.
I was always afraid in my relationships...I feared not getting what I wanted in the timline I wanted (this isn't solely because of my dad. I have just experienced much heartbreak and divorces of parents). I also struggled with abandonment issues. So much so that I dated men who were emotional reflections of my dad. Subconsciously, I knew there were parts of my heart that needed healing, and since I couldn't seem to work through my issues with my dad directly, I sought men out that needed saving and and unsuccessfully tried to heal my heart that way. If I could receive the validation from men that I never got from dad, that would be ok right?
Let me just stop here for a moment...even if God had not been so gracious as to allow healing with my dad on his deathbed, I still would have recevied healing in my heart through Christ. He is enough. His salvation and love are enough. I always have and always will continue to believe that.
And so, time went on. I eventually made peace with myself and told myself that I wouldn't date guys for the purposes of a) working through my issues with my dad, or b) for the sake of being with someone to fulfill a timeline I once had. Both reasons were me wanting to maintain some level of control in my life in that area. But I was at peace with giving up control. I surrenedered it to God. I learned to even be content to not ever truly date again if I was going to enter into it for the "wrong" reasons.
And then Jared came into my life in September of 2016. Well, technically he came into my life sometime back in 2012, but neither of us had any real interest in the other at the time.
But something about him felt so intriguing, and I was actually kind of waiting for him to ask me out when he did.
My dad was set to start another round of chemo the week of mine and Jared's first date, so Jared asked if I needed a raincheck. In my head, I was like, "Are you kidding?? I waited for a month or so for you to ask me out, and I will not under any circumstances reschedule!" On the outside, I was like, "I'm still up to going out!"
So we went out. I enjoyed myself. I definitely wanted to go out again. But there was still that weight of my dad being sick...the restlessness that came with it. Not knowing. And the weight of unresolve.
Then one Saturday, just 7 weeks after mine and Jared's first date, my dad was admitted to the hospital for the last time. My dad always said that if he ever got admitted to the hospital again, that he would be going to the hospital to die. He knew. And so did I. But I went on another date with Jared that night anyway despite the stress. Things felt right with him, and I felt better being around him.
The following day, which was a Sunday, began the time with my dad that I waited my whole life for. Time spent without fear or wondering what things should have been like for us. Time that I could spend totally in the present with my dad...fully present. Time where I could be emotionally vulnerable without fear of being hurt. Because I was hurting. My heart ached for him every second I spent at his bedside. But I felt a peace that only God could bring. A trust in God and vulnerability that only being so broken by someone else's suffering could bring.
I can't tell you what it's like to meet with hospice and have them tell you that your 50 year old dad only has weeks to live...nor can I tell you what it is like to have your dad's oncologist tell you the following day that he only has days left.
After his doctor left the room, after telling my dad to sign the hospice paperwork, I just sat at my dad's bedside, and for the first time in my life I cried in front of him without feeling guilty. I put my head down on his lap and cried. Something I had not done since I was a litte girl. He put his arm around me and told me that he was sorry for all the crap that he put me through. His only regret was that he wished he could have spent more time with me through the years. And for the first time, I told him that I forgave him. For years, I wanted so badly to tell my dad that I forgave him whenever he apologized. But it never felt right. He was usually drinking and emotional. If I forgave him, I wanted it to be honest and sincere in both of our hearts. A moment I envisioned, but never thought would happen. And then, in that moment, less than 12 hours before my dad took his last breath, it happened.
I was finally free from any unresolve that I felt in my heart with my dad. I also felt that freedom of knowing that I didn't need to psychologically work through my issues with my dad with the men in my life, since I had actually worked through them with my dad directly. It was a beautiful feeling that I don't even have words for. It is still a beautiful thing. God's gift to me...another one of the greatest and most precious gifts I have ever received in my lifetime. Peace. Comfort. Wholeness. Everything that God already is. And everything that He has ever wanted for me to experience. Everything He wants for us all to experience.
Even though Jared and I had only had a few dates before the passing of my father, he stood by me. I would have actually understood if he didn't want to. I even thought about telling him not to for fear of burdening him. But I let him. If he wanted to be there for me, I would let him.
As I move further away from the last time I saw my dad, I am moving forward with Jared. The projects around his home keep us busy. Even the day to day things like drinking coffee in the mornings are a beautiful thing for me. I have never in my life experienced such tremendous loss, but simultaneously so much joy. As I am grieving and healing, my life in some ways has never been sweeter.
I really can't put words to it. Just try and imagine receiving something you always wanted, but never thought you would actually get. For me, I received 2 things that are both so interconnected to one another. I received healing with my dad and was given an opportunity to forgive him. I also have been given an amazing opportunity to have a healthy relationship with a man who brings so much love and joy into my life. But I never would have been able to experience the latter to its fullest had I not experienced the resolve with my dad; the resolve my heart needed to really move forward in grace and love.
So just how great is God's love for us? I don't have an answer to that...just that I know that it is infiintely vast and wide...incomprehensible. And though this life is just a small fraction of eternity, and this season of my life is an even smaller fraction...through it I have experienced God's grace abundantly and continue to.
As I write this, I am totally at peace...savoring the quiet, warmth, and steady rhythm of the rocking chair I'm sitting on...reminding myself of all the ways that my life is a reflection that miracles happen and hearts can heal. And to that, I say Amen.
Although this movie didn't get the best reviews... it completely and utterly touched my soul. I left the theater in tears on a winter night in 2014. It was like a version of my life was set on the big screen, and I unexpectedly watched it without knowing or preparing for it. Although filled with a mixture of emotions, including pain, the thing I appreciated the most about this film is that through the pain, you are hopeful of the healing that would eventually take place...the healing you longed for the main character to experience with her dad. The healing that eventually came.
That is the word that comes to mind when I think of Saving Mr. Banks. It is also the word that comes to mind when I think of my dad and my relationship with him. A friend once told me years and years ago as I was struggling through some things, "you will be the one to redeem your father." This thought was never far from my mind when I thought of my dad. Which was often. Redeem him? What did this mean exactly? Spiritually? Literally? How was I supposed to do that? I pondered this for years...literally.
Then a whirlwind of things happened when my dad got sick. Everything happened so quickly, and yet so slowly. Quickly in a sense that I knew the clock was ticking and things felt so unpredictable. Slowly in a sense that it seemed like my dad's suffering was only getting worse and worse. Because it was. And it was so unbearably difficult to witness. It was heartbreaking.
I knew my time with my dad was precious, even though it was so difficult at times. Not because of any tension he and I had. There wasn't any since we had our handful of deep conversations over the years. But it was so hard seeing my dad in so much pain, so thin, starving...and knowing there was nothing that I could do about it. Only listen, watch, and pray.
I prayed about him a lot. I prayed about what to do and how I was supposed to reach him. I prayed for him--that he would have some relief in his symptoms and peace. I prayed that his heart would draw near to God in the process, amidst the suffering. The Bible tells us that God is present in our sufferings and close to the brokenhearted, so I wanted my dad to believe it.
My dad wasn't always the easiest person to reach out to either...and anyone who knows him knows how stubborn and specific he was. Ha. Even in the hospital during his last days here he was giving us all a run for our money. So I did pray that I would figure something out and that my heart would be open in God's timing.
And it was.
I joined a small group/women's Bible study in June 2016 of last year. I told the girls right away about my dad, how sick he was, and how complicated our relationship was. We prayed for him every week together. As time went on, I began asking for prayers specifically about having the courage to invite him to church with me. You're probably thinking, "Church? Big deal...it shouldn't be that difficult to invite someone to church." But I was so afraid of my dad saying no, that it made me afraid to even ask.
Until one day during the Bible study, I worked up the courage and texted my dad. I invited him, and he was surpringly ok with it. I was so excited.
I reached out to my pastor, Father Kenneth, several times throughout the summer as well. Asking for prayers. Asking that God would direct the situation. Father Kenneth was always so supportive. I couldn't wait for my dad to meet him.
Then the day finally came for my dad to meet me for church. Conicidentally enough, he came to church straight from having a CT scan done. The CT scan that would tell us a few days later that his cancer was starting to grow again.
I was so nervous that Sunday. I hadn't been to church with my dad in years. In fact, he hadn't been to church in years. I am not sure how long it had been for him, but I do know that it was his first time attending a service since his cancer diagnosis.
And to be honest, I couldn't even tell you what the service was about. Only that it was important for me to bring my dad to church. That's all I could think about in that hour and a half...that I did it. That I had the courage to invite him. And that he came.
I was asked to lead the prayers at the front of the church that day. And shortly after, my dad took communion for the last time.
Little did I know that in 2 short months this would be the very church that I would organize his funeral at, with Father Kenneth leading his service. The place where my family and I would see my dad's body and touch his hand for the last time.
So did I redeem my dad in this life? The short answer is no. Only God can do that. But like the main character in Saving Mr. Banks who wanted to redeem her dad through the story of Mary Poppins, I am going to do through this blog. That is my plan...to continue to share of God's faithfulness. To share of His goodness in my life throughout time, despite many trials. And to share of His sweet redemption of my relationship with my father on this side of heaven.
"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."
As the new year is officially upon us, I find myself reflecting on God's timing. There was a certain timeline underway (going back years) that I could not see happening at the time, but when my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in September 2015, it all made sense. God was in control, and He made Himself known over and over.
I spent many years on and off in therapy throughout my life--starting in high school after a falling out with my dad. I didn't always know why I felt led to go, but I knew it would ultimately be healing to me. 6 months in high school, 2 years in college, and 2 years post college (fall 2013-summer 2015). The last 2 years of therapy were definitely the most significant to the healing in my relationship with my dad. It was a lot of hard work, a lot of emotions, a lot of grieving, and a lot of learning to accept reality. I will write a post more about this at a later time.
Also during the last 2 years I was in therapy, in the summer of 2014, my dad received a new full-time position at Beaumont working in bed operations. He was ready for a change after 15 years as a nurse in CCU (Critical Care Unit). His new job was a desk job, so I was able to visit him often, or as often as my schedule would allow. I would bring him dinner or just hang out and check emails or do work on the computer next to his.
And then, in February of 2015, one of the most significant things to happen in my life...happened. After over 20 years of challenges for various reasons between my dad and mom, they finally apologized and forgave each other, both agreeing that I was the best thing they did and how proud they were of me. Reading my parents' texts back and forth brought tears to my eyes. I can't describe what it is like to carry the weight of knowing things were never quite right with your parents....2 people that you loved most in the world. It weighed on me more than I even understood until the weight was gone. My mom decided during a bible study on "Life's Healing Choices" that it was time. My parents had finally made amends. Such a beautiful thing. One of the most special gifts that my mom has ever given me (and there have been many).
Because I was so moved at this, I reached out to my dad just to tell him that I loved him. Since I didn't do that too often, he asked me why I would say that out of the blue. I told him about the conversation that I had with my mom and how special it was. I felt my heart beginning to really open to him for the first time in a while.
This was the first of many turning points in my relationship with my dad. And because of the therapy I had been receiving up until this point, my soul was ready to finally begin building a healthy relationship with him.
Shortly after, about a month later, my car stalled on the way to work. In a panic, I wasn't sure who would be able to help me out at 7:30 in the morning. But then I remembered that my dad would likely be getting off work at that time. I called him, and to my surprise, he was only a mile away. We spent the morning together. I savored this time, though I wasn't really sure why at the time. Maybe it was just nice having 1:1 time with my dad outside of work. I kept apologizing to him that he had to go out of his way to help when I knew how tired he must have been after working a 12 hour night shift. He kept telling me to stop apologizing and that he was glad he could help me.
One week later, I met my dad and grandma for breakfast at a diner. I had the morning off work, and my dad wanted to see how my car was running. He offered to pay for some additional repairs as an upcoming birthday gift. I am not exactly sure why, but this was the very moment that I realized for the first time that my dad loved me as much as he could and as best as he could. He truly wanted to help me. He wanted me to be safe. His words made me feel cared for and protected. The reality was that even though he was broken and responded out of fear many times in his life, he really, truly loved me as much as he was able. And for that, I was thankful.
A few short months later, in July of 2015, my dad and I had difficult talk that was incredibly crucial to mine and his healing (I may write about this at a later time as well). It was the most meaningful and vulnerable talk we had ever had up until that point. The talk that the 2 years of therapy had been preparing me for. A complete breakthrough in our relationship. We were both a little sensitive after getting things out in the open after so long, but in time, our relationship began to grow, and I learned to be even more deliberate in mine and his relationship. Things weren't perfect. But they were good.
And 2 months later, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Nothing really prepares you for something like that. But somehow, God did. Because of the healing that had taken place during 2 years of therapy, there were no longer any "elephants in the room". My parents were at peace. And my dad had a full-time job that he could keep up with that was separate from the rest of the hospital as he went through 12 rounds of aggressive chemo.
I took more trips to Beaumont to hang out with him, texted him more, and made sure to tell him I loved him whenever I had the chance.
My dad even went into remission for a few months. Something I never expected, but continued to praise God for. I knew his diagnosis was not good, so I never felt it was realistic to pray for healing for him. I knew what was going to happen. The thing that I prayed for most was peace. I did pray, however, that he would feel well enough to go to Florida at the end of July. And he did.
I believe that we are given a certain number of days and breaths on this earth that only God knows. And though I wish my dad had more time here, God knew what was coming. He knew, and I firmly believe that He did absolutely everything in His power to prepare my heart for it. For 13 months, I trusted in God's timing while grieving an impending loss. God brought the most amount of healing into my heart and life that was physically possible given the complicated relationship my dad and I had, and his short time here.
It is so bittersweet for me when I think about it. The grief comes in waves. When I do grieve though, I continue to with praise for God for all that he did for my relationship with my dad in this life, and I hold on to the hope that I will see him again. And when I do, he will be totally healed, and that will be another beautiful thing to praise God for.
I am so thankful to serve a God who promises us that this life is not the end, but the beginning of an eternity with Him.
St. Pete's Beach, Florida/August 2016. Our last family photo...something told me this photo would be special to us when I asked a stranger to take it.
And in the middle of a winter solstice, when the world is coldest and darkest, God sends Himself, His Son, in the form of a tiny infant to be a light, partake in our suffering, and bring salvation for mankind.
Wow. I heard these thoughts by Kirk Cameron on Christmas morning during a TV special, as I was crying on my mom's shoulder thinking about how much my dad loved Christmas, and how much I missed him. How much I still miss him.
But then the mourning instantly turned to praise as I reflected on what that very morning represents for all of humanity. The day when Christ came--the day when Love came down. The day that the Jews spent centuries preparing and waiting for. And after 400 years of silence (the time between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament), Jesus comes. He comes to us fully God and fully man, from the womb of a virgin, a teenager, who was scrutinized for carrying a child outside of marriage. God loved us so much that he made Himself man to join us in our brokenness. To join in the brokenness His own mother must have felt when the people who knew her were not able to understand the significance of what was happening. He came to us in unique circumstances to spread a message of love and truth. To spread a message of hope.
Christ came to comfort us in our weakness. He felt what we felt, so He was also able to fully empathize with us in our suffering.
When I think of the events that transpired the evening my dad passed away, I think about how much Christ loves us. My dad, lying in a hospital bed as weak and helpless as he was, down to 113 lbs, was a living representation of humanity. He represented the reason Christ came. He represented the fragility and weakness inside all of us that can only be made whole through Christ.
Myself and my family, we represented Christ in those final and precious moments. We loved without condition. We cried. We held him, fearing the thought of ever letting go. And I think that is exactly how Christ loves us, but even so much more than that. He weeps when we weep, He joins us in our praise and holds us and lifts us up in our suffering.
It is amazing how partaking in the raw experience of being present with someone in their deep suffering draws out this whole other side of you. Any earthly conditions leave, and you feel nothing but unconditional love for that person. The amazing thing is that the love and salvation Christ offers is not conditional. Not even for a moment. Salvation is freely given to those who accept Him as our Savior. He invites us in and draws us towards a life of eternity with Him, every moment of every day. Life is a series of us taking steps towards heaven. Each day we get closer and closer. And that is a beautiful thing.
I started writing the beginning of what I thought was going to be a book about my journey of faith and healing. Instead, I will post it here as my first blog post.
“But the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:6
I felt motivated to begin writing about my journey in faith and healing shortly after my father passed away, just shy of his 51st birthday.
I have dealt with a lot in the past 26 years...specifically in terms of my relationship with my dad. The wounds with him ran deep, and for most of my life. So much so that my dad spent years apologizing to me for all the things he had done and put me through. He always said he didn’t want to go to his grave feeling like I was upset with him and thinking he didn’t love me. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I ever would have the courage to tell him I forgave him. To me, forgiveness meant vulnerability, and I wasn’t sure if I could let my heart go there with him.
But because of the therapy I received in my life at various points, my faith, and the immense support from people, particularly my mentor, Leslie, I was able to help comfort my dad as his soul transitioned from this life to the next. I was able to sit at his bedside, hold his hand, and remind him of how much I forgave him...telling him that he could let go whenever he wanted. I was able to take care of him, ask questions to his nurses, and wipe blood off his mouth as he struggled to breathe his last breaths. All these things hurt and traumatized me, yet gave me so much reason to praise God. I had finally been healed and made whole. This wholeness evident in my selflessness and vulnerability. I had finally been freed of the deep wounds that had bound me to a life of fear and questioning.
Because of my vulnerability in my dad’s final hours and moments, I realized that every step I took in my life to gain healing, wholeness, and work towards the forgiveness of my father was worth it. It all led to and prepared me for the 3 days I spent at his bedside at Troy Beaumont Hospital (the place where he faithfully worked as a nurse for 17 years and where I worked for 8). Waiting. Watching. Praying. Loving. It meant having a deep and safe level of closeness and self-sacrificial love for him for the very first, and very last, time on this side of Heaven.
I don't know the direction in which this blog is going to go--only that I felt led to begin writing and sharing my thoughts with everyone.
Going through 13 months of watching my dad slowly whither away from the effects of stage 4 pancreatic cancer came with its fair share of disheartening and discouraging moments. What gave me courage and hope though was reading about other people's journeys of faith through suffering...if they could get through it and continue to draw near to God in the process, then surely I could/can too. Writing will not only help my soul to heal from the trauma of watching a parent pass on from this life to the next in such a terrible way, but it will also be my way of giving back and bringing hope to other people--the hope and promise that God is not outside of our suffering, but right there in it with us...comforting and restoring along the way. And in my life, that is exactly what He did.