That’s All

I miss my dad. Not every minute of every day, but when I do and I do when I don’t always expect it. I miss his support and comfort and consistency and presence. I miss his ear. I miss his completely reliable willingness to hear me work through things. I miss his humility to not need to know or say the answer, but instead just be willing to be and be willing to let me be me.

This deal is difficult. Life, that is. There is stuff that piles on top of stuff and it comes flying at you faster than seems possible, at times. Sometimes it’s Kingdoms colliding, sometimes it accusations calling to any exposed insecurities, sometimes it’s just gravity. Stuff falls when you drop it.

My dad was in for whatever it might be and always welcomed the thought. There was joy in the silence of his listening and encouragement in his gentle assurances.

I really don’t know what the point of this post is other than to value the time I had with a man who was always there but now isn’t. The unthinkable has become the surreal as the urge to call to talk or listen bubbles up in the unfolding of time and it won’t yield to the finality of death.

There’s no fixing it and faith gives hope but grief has its say, too. Faith and hope are incredible beacons of eternity in the here and now. They occasionally get drowned out by the deja vu of imagination about seeing him or talking to him as I consider calling or turn the corner towards the house where he used to be. Then the punch of the disappointment that comes with the realization.

He couldn’t have fixed it but he did take the sting out of it. Whatever the it was, the him gave it some context. Context that came with being there every day, even if from a distance. I just miss him, that’s all.

Walking Through the Pain Hand in Hand

Just after Thanksgiving, I was driving down the road by myself and a memory captured me. I remembered back 18 months when my dad had heart surgery. In my memory, we were standing in pre-op and I was considering counsel someone had given me. “Don’t leave anything unsaid,” they told me.

As I considered their advice that day before the operation, I couldn’t come up with anything. There was nothing unsaid, as far as I could tell. We had experienced some significant times and some routine times where the messages of love, respect, affirmation and appreciation were communicated.

That surgery went well, yet my dad coded afterwards. They revived him quickly, but it was a scare. I couldn’t understand why this memory was coming up to the point that it brought tears. Is there something I should have said that I didn’t?

It was within 24 hours from feeling and considering that memory that I got a message from my dad saying that he had to have heart surgery again. Now the memory had my attention as it came right on top of the news. Going into this one, is there something that needs to be said?

As the second surgery approached, I was incredibly uneasy about it. Was it just worry or was God stirring me prophetically?

Two nights before the operation, we had dinner with my dad and details he shared regarding the operation only left me more anxious. I was somewhat disengaged as I battled through the discomfort of disagreement.

The next morning, the day before the second surgery, I sent my dad a text, telling him basically; “I don’t have peace regarding the surgery. Please consider every possibility and it’s not too late to change the plan during the pre-op consult with the surgeon (to be held later that day).”

The grace of God was with me as I sent that message. My dad had the surgery and he died from it. What I believe was God’s prompting to not leave anything unsaid was for me, not him. He was going to have the surgery and his rationale was sound for why he was going to have the surgery. The outcome was tragic, but the torment of “what if” was disarmed from the exchange my dad and I had.

There were other “prophetic markers” leading up to the procedure that weren’t completely clear without the benefit of a retrospective view. Various touch points of God’s insight and presence even as we walked closer to the pain. The pain still came, but it wasn’t as surprising as it would have been otherwise, and I wasn’t alone.

God will walk with us and talk with us and let us in on what’s going on, but He won’t guarantee the outcomes. He’s not a genie, but He is a friend. He’ll be there when trouble comes, and trouble will come. Knowing God isn’t a lottery ticket; it’s the comfort of a Father’s hand to hold. There is comfort in His presence.

 

Community of Comfort

I was gathered with family recently and in the normal course of an abnormal time, one of the family members became sad and began to cry. The rest of us shifted our attention to the grief of the one and, before long, several were weeping. Nobody escalated the scene, but they assimilated with it. The gathering became a gathering of grief, at least for a while.

The family member that initiated the crying kind of apologized, but one of the others said they were thankful. They were thankful that they didn’t have to grieve alone. The grief was over the death of my father and everyone is feeling it, but differently. This particular time, everyone ended up feeling it simultaneously. It was there all along, but one person expressing it gave permission to the rest.

The health of the group grief was obvious. Nobody tried to fix what couldn’t be fixed. Nobody diverted with humor or “encouragement” that shortcuts the healthy processing of emotions. There was simply comfort in the community that agreed that the emotion of sadness and expression of grief was valid.

Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

God is a God of comfort. In 2 Corinthians 1:3, it says that God is “God of all comfort.” Some form of the word “comfort” is used nine times in that passage. God is interested in comfort for those who are mourning, not fixing them.

All too often, we are uncomfortable in the expression of healthy emotion and we try to hijack it. Humor, re-direction, and other techniques might be employed to divert. For those that are religiously minded, we may want to preach, teach, testify or prophesy to avoid the uncomfortable.

Preaching and teaching engage with logic and logic doesn’t speak to emotion. Emotion speaks to emotion.

Testifying (“When that happened to me . . .”) makes it about us. It’s not about us in that moment; don’t rob the moment.

Prophesy of what God is going to do or how things are going to get better jumps ahead in the process of grief. It puts things out-of-order.

Just comfort by meeting the other in their emotion. Mourn with those who mourn. They are going to be comforted by the Comforter, so it’s best to just agree with Him and not try to fix them.

The Pain of Sutherland Springs is Real

I have to admit that when I when I initially hear news like the news out of South Texas yesterday regarding the shooting at a church, I am numb. The scene, reality and ramifications are abstract when I begin to consider them. The hurt is hard to imagine from the distance of the circumstances.

To make it more challenging, the frequency of these stories has numbed the pain of the reality. Las Vegas was just a few weeks ago and now this. There seems to be one right after the other and it’s hard to get your head around, much less your heart.

Yesterday as I was considering the situation in South Texas, I heard that the pastor of that little church was in Oklahoma with his wife yesterday but heading home. I also read that the pastor and his wife confirmed that their 14-year old daughter was among the dead. That did it for me; the abstract was tangible and my heart broke.

I am a pastor and I have a 14-year old daughter. I wept as I considered their pain and felt the reality of this tragedy. I prayed differently as I processed the human processing of grief. Their lives will never be the same and hers was robbed.

Part of my initial distance was the distraction of gun rights advocates and anti-gun advocates posturing on social media; hijacking the need to connect to the human reality. Political reasons, blame, rallies and reactions make things a Power Point presentation for the purpose of supporting a position. The task at hand is compassion and comfort, not convincing.

In this world, there is going to be trouble. No matter what. We are in a dark world and our only hope is the Light within. That Light within does not have a political agenda, He has a people agenda. He hurts for people and we are invited to agree with Him at times where tragedy seems abstract and politics seem relevant.

FIFO

accounting_office-515984_1280It’s there whether we realize it or not. The reaction to the action is certain, even if we suppress it and pretend we are immune to it. Experiences yield emotions no matter how little or how much we express those emotions. If they are not acknowledged, but just jammed down, they pile up to leak out at the most inopportune of times.

We process life through our emotions. The path of our processing starts at the back of our brain and works its way forward. Our first stop along the way is our emotional processor. Many of us, especially men, would prefer not to acknowledge the reality of that stop. We prefer to pass that one by.

From there, the process leads us to logical reasoning. We can evaluate the experience and make future decisions from the knowledge of that experience. Our logic is formed by the information it has to work with to connect the dots for future choices.

If we are making decisions without all the information then we aren’t making the best decisions. The most logical of us would agree that the more information the better for decision-making. Yet, the most logical among us may be the most susceptible to the trap of ignoring the emotions that accompany the facts. The emotions deserve a voice to avoid the piling up of one unexpressed emotion on top of the other until there is some kind of eruption.

Road rage isn’t about traffic, it’s a culmination of emotions brewing over and triggered by the anonymous other driver. Anger is a secondary emotion typically born and fueled by hurt. Anger doesn’t just happen; it comes from another emotions that gives it life. Unresolved hurts or fears show up and are misapplied to present situations since old situations that caused the hurt are finished and done.

Emotional inventory keeps the storage space of our soul in order. Giving voice to the reactions that are certain from actions maintains internal order where chaos would like permission to accumulate. There is a method of accounting that is called “FIFO,” which means “first in, first out.” That’s the appropriate method to inventory emotions from experiences; when they happen, take note of them, give them the credit they deserve and don’t just put them back on the shelf to spill over one day.

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Life flows from within us and within us needs to be tended to. Above all else.

The Orphan and the Son in the Father

man in the mirror

I came face to face with a real life orphan recently and the results were surprising to me. Let me clarify that this was a normal interaction in the routine of life and not a mission trip to an orphanage in a third world country. This was me offering of myself to help someone else with good intentions of mentoring and affirmation. The reaction, however, made it clear that they didn’t want what I was offering and didn’t mind offending me with deception in the process of them walking out their rejection of my attempted rescue.

Orphans are all around us and sometimes they are us. It is the thing within each of us that scrambles to protect ourselves or provide for ourselves without trust that others will accept us. It’s the void within us that causes us to choose behaviors that are illogical outside of the context that reveals that the choices are being made out of wounds rather than reasoning. The deeper the hurt or more desperate the loneliness, the more confusing the choices to the outside observer. Orphans are not limited to belief or unbelief, but contingent more on healed, unhealed and the extent of healing.

I want to be a father to the fatherless. I want to invest in the next generation. As such, I extend to reach others with the sincere intention of investment and multiplication. From a logical perspective, those that are hurting or needy should be willing immediately to receive what I or others like me want to give them. The problem is that logic isn’t the lens for how they view the offering.

When those that want to invest in others are rejected, deceived or otherwise manipulated, the intention of investment is tested by the reality of the problem. Even the well-intentioned mentor is a human and a work in progress themselves. The reaction that they choose will be critical to the future of the relationship and any hope for impact. The investor has to be a father first and foremost. A father doesn’t reject the son but gives grace to allow for the return of the prodigal. A father doesn’t take offense.

If the potential father doesn’t have tolerance for the choices that are sure to come out of the deep wounds of the orphan, then the father won’t father at all. He’ll spin his wheels  in good intentions and pile on the disappointments that have already had their way within the orphan to re-affirm the lies that the orphan currently chooses as their operating platform. If the father doesn’t know that he is a son and remember as much when faced with the depravity of another, then the father actually becomes the orphan, as well.