Today I am savoring my Cuban pastries a little bit longer and listening to Bob Dylan and George Harrison in the car. I’m taking more of my time in garden centers and missing Jupiter, my hometown, a little bit more. I would give just about anything to listen to a story I’ve heard countless times; to hear what store he snuck the dog into this time; to have The Concert for Bangladesh up to full volume on the living room TV; to pick up the phone on a lonely lunch break and hear a “love ya, kid … call your mom, she misses you. We both do,” or to have to pull the phone away from my ear to protect it from the blaring laugh coming through the speaker. I want to tell him the name of a band for the fifth time or be forced to figure out a forgotten name with the mere description, “you know him, he’s a young kid from church.” I want to rant together about theological disputes that people care too much or too little about. Selfishly, I want him back.
My dad was my first and longest best friend and he was a darn good one, loving me well regardless of circumstances. He knew first-hand the effects of the redemption and grace we receive in the midst of deep struggle, and he used it to bring forth the best in others. He was a giver.
Selfishly, I want him back.
Our evening beach trips and his love for fishing gave life to my love for the ocean.
Each meal made me a fellow foodie.
His career gave me all the green in these thumbs.
Our car rides gave me an appreciation for music.
My knack for belting out every word of a song with zero musical talent and my unique way with words, that’s from him too.
Through his growth, I was given a glimpse of grace and the gospel in my own home.
The loss of one so close, my very own dad, is the most unique and unanticipated event that has yet to happen in my 23 years. The near 48 hours spent in an ICU waiting room and the days following have been swirled with fear, joy, overwhelming thankfulness, laughter, deep sadness, sweet remembrance, tears that seemed to come from every part of my body, and the most covering comfort I have ever known. The prior, present, and post, has been woven with sheer goodness. I’ve said to anyone who asks, that nothing about this ripping-away was easy, yet it was as easy as it could have possibly been. I think I’ve coined the phrase “oddly peaceful” at this point and I really cannot understand how anyone could endure such a loss without Christ and the community He provides. But what captivates me most is how the Lord completely flips this world upside down—right side up, rather. He led my dad to finish well, so well.
Some knew my dad’s deep love for any urban youth and the students at church. The man in preppy shorts and Ralph Lauren shirts could actually relate. He poured into them whether they wanted it or not and connected in a way so life-giving and genuine. The rarity of consistency was found in him and many boys may just have a brighter future now because of the crazy, old, white guy who didn’t give up. Only the Lord could write such a story.
What many people didn’t see, though, was how my family grew in sisters and brothers throughout high school and I had very little to do with it. I am forever thankful that he walked me down the aisle, but gosh, I can’t help but tear up when I think of the other daughters who won’t have him at theirs. He was a good dad to not just the three he fathered, but to any young man or woman who spent time in his home.
What even fewer saw was his marriage to my mom. I cannot think about my parents’ marriage without recognizing the sheer faithfulness of God. He kept them together whether either one of them liked it or not, and my Lord did they finish well. He called my dad to work even harder at being a husband in the last few years and He grew my mom, too. My dad paid no mind as to how this is done precisely, he just pressed on in full force as usual. I could feel the effects of his growth without even living in the same house. I remember my dad telling me multiple times over the phone how proud he was of my mom, how much he loved her, and how he felt closer to her now than he ever had in the last 24 years. I had never been so glad for them. The Lord had answered my longest prayer. In the past few months my mom stopped working for a while and now we can see the kindness in God’s plan. My parents got to go away together, which nearly never happened. While it was not the “hippie road trip” my dad dreamed of, in an RV and colorful tie-dyed shirts, it was perfect for them. It was long overdue and I’m sure more healing than I’ll ever know.
…the Lord completely flips this world upside down—right side up, rather.
From the moment my dad suffered whatever happened in his brain that Friday morning, God put His own goodness on display. My mom was certainly not alone; within hours the Tardonia family and friends took over the waiting room. For you Parenthood fans out there, imagine the Bravermans times ten. My dad didn’t suffer long. He was likely just waiting impatiently as ever—for us to let him go. We are forever grateful that his doctor was a friend first and that we were certainly not lacking in medical training, encouragement, or food (of course) among loved ones. God immediately used His people to fill us with exactly who and what we needed for each moment—answering countless prayers for peace and comfort. Never in my life have I felt prayer for me so deeply, and my faith was strengthened as a result. God filled that waiting room with feeling—allowing tears to flow, laughter to replace worry, and His own breath to soothe our aching hearts.
In those cold, plain hallway moments of attempting to process my sad reality, I could not pray all the prayers I so needed, but the Spirit would do what my family and I could not do for ourselves. He surrounded us when we wanted to hide or run away.
Many have said that my mom and I are so strong. We’re not. Any strength we are able to exude comes from who we’re surrounded by. This is not what we wanted at all, but God has proven that His plans are better over and over again, so much so that we can believe Him still even now. Even in loss, rather than searching for why’s, we can rest and rejoice because beyond our understanding, He prepared us for exactly this.
Isaiah 61 says:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified…
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.”
And that’s just what He did and is doing for His aching and questioning people.
I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to describe the experience of letting a most loved one off of man’s machines and watching as their heart flutters and they go Home, but I can say that it sure does make somebody feel completely powerlessness. It goes so much deeper than trusting in a “better place” in which one now rests. It’s as sad as it is beautiful.
And among other lessons, God has used this time to show me just how much I cling to this earth. I wasn’t worried about my dad; he was going where he was made to go; he was finally, fully okay. I was not okay. I was hurting like never before, but as I feared about how my family and I would heal and start tomorrow without the largest personality in our home, He was already enabling us to do so. Feeling my dad’s absence still comes in waves and I suddenly start to feel all the peace being pulled away … but then He reminds me that while my good, earthly father is no longer present, He, my ultimate and greatest Father, is present and His presence has never changed. While my dad was so close to me, he was not ultimately mine to keep. I’m struck with the understanding that if I’m more excited to go home to Heaven because my dad is there, I’ve missed its glory and true lure all along.
It’s as sad as it is beautiful.
Admittedly, yet un-purposefully, I tried to make this something close to conclusive when it cannot be. I’m thankful, however, for all the good shown to me in the worst of times and the opportunity to share it. In this great loss, I have seen first-hand how God’s lovingkindness is truly all-powerful and truly enough. It’s sufficient to break through the worst of the worst and it’s exactly what can cause anyone to see any good at all in the most dreadful of days. For even darkness is as light with Him (Psalm 139:12).
But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.
I will thank you forever,
because you have done it.
(Psalm 52:8-9, ESV)
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