I just realized I havent celebrated Christmas in two years. It’s been over 10 months since my father passed away suddenly on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2007. He had been sick, but we didnt expect to lose him so soon. I remember what I was doing that Sunday. After service, where we exchanged ‘white elephant’ gifts, I stayed downstairs in the basement to pray with two of my college youth. We were down there for a good 2 hrs. No phone reception. So, it wasn’t til almost 4-5 hrs later that I received the text message from my sister telling me to call her asap. She gave me the news over the phone. I was in shock.
Grief is a very elusive entity. It creeps up on you. In the beginning, I went on with business as usual. My sister was handling my dad’s affairs, so I didnt feel I could take off of work for ‘no apparent reason.’ I celebrated my 30th birthday a week later. It was bittersweet. My dad left behind 4 of us kids – me being the oldest. I couldnt believe he didnt make it to my 30th bday. I began to get sick. A cold here; an allergy attack there. Being usually sickly, I didnt think it was related. But, there were days when I would sit and let myself remember… and I would feel numb. I didnt get angry at God, or question his sovereignty or anything. But, I also couldnt pray, couldnt sing, and couldnt worship. As a worship leader for almost 15 yrs, this was shocking to me. I would just sit there and say in the driest, most tired voice I’ve ever heard come out of my heart, “God, you know I love you. I just cant function right now. I’m here… but, I cant function.” I’ve never been more relieved to worship a God who can keenly identify with grief and suffering.
A month later I began to be romanced by one of the guys in my prayer group. An additional month later of constant communication, prayer meetings and dinners would eventually bring us into a dating relationship. How could I get into a dating relationship when I was at my lowest point in life? How could I be happy and love someone when I couldnt even manage my emotions properly? I dont know how I got through that time. But, I know that Tom, (who would ask me to marry him a month later), was key to my being able to begin to heal and recover. I never would’ve imagined that out of my greatest pain would come my greatest joy.
In my short time as a pastor, I’m beginning to see just how overlooked the grief and suffering of people in the church really is. In my pain, I kept silent. No one could help. Even my closest friends forgot about my dad’s death because I rarely mentioned it. Who could blame them? Even I forgot! I went to work everyday. I led worship, preached, organized prayer meetings, spoke at youth conferences, and finished graduate school. It’s easier to forget. It’s much harder to enter into grief and allow yourself to feel. As I reach this one year mark, and even as I plan for a wedding that my father will never have the privilege of attending, I find myself remembering. At church, at home, or while at work, I will suddenly see my dad’s face. Or I’ll hear him call my name. I’ll want to burst into tears, but more often than not it is neither the time or the place. I hold it in. I breathe. I recover. I forget. Only Tom, because he’s with me everyday, can wipe away my tears. And with the tears gone, I forget once again.
As we near to Thanksgiving, I cant help but be incredibly grateful that Jesus knows what it’s like to lose not just one, but two fathers. His earthly adoptive father, Joseph, who must’ve died before the crucifixion, as he’s never mentioned in Jesus’ adult years. And for just a short period, he ‘lost’ his Heavenly Father on the cross when he cried out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” Oh yes. Our Jesus is intimate with those who suffer. He’s close to the broken-hearted. As I get closer to my dad’s death’s one yr anniversary, I will appreciate this quality of God more. I will sit and open his word. I will allow him to comfort me. And I will remember.