Guest blog: Summer to Winter

My guest blogger today is my very own big brother.

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Michael is 6 years older than me and over 6 feet tall.  He has always been the big and strong brother, but in the past year has been brave in whole new ways.  I remember the very first night we were in the hospital together.  Michael and I got locked out getting something from the car and had to take a long way around to get back to the small room our family would be sleeping in that night.  Michael told me he was feeling the pressure to be the strong one, to be less emotional and more fearless, despite the fact that he was just as scared as the rest of us.  I was so proud of his openness and have only been overwhelmingly proud since of the courage he has taken to be angry, hurt, broken, and lost, because that’s the road grief walks you down.  Michael got all of the creative genes in our family as you’ll see in his writing style.

Thankful for you.


“Learning to weep, learning to vigil, learning to wait for the dawn. Perhaps this is what it means to be human.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

This summer – I was reeling from the loss of my father, but found myself having to still do my job. I had flown to California for our largest annual event and had been assigned to filming and conducting some really personal interviews.

In this process, and between interviews, I overheard a conversation begin with a gentleman I did not know, about how his mom had just been diagnosed with cancer. So early in the process that they had no action plan yet, no treatment arranged. Just the sudden weight of it.

By the time we actually introduced ourselves to each other, it was a hug and not a handshake. And we were both in tears.

He and I have kept in touch, often, since that day in the summer. Me to check on his mom and his family, and he to check on mine.

Thursday night, I found out his mom passed away.

I wept for a woman I had never met.

I wept for my friend and his family.

I walked to dinner with my head swirling, unable to be a part of the conversations around me.

And when I made it back to my bed I turned out the lights and typed this note on my phone.

How do you offer “hope” when you can be so certain it cannot yet be felt?

Perhaps “hope” in these moments, is that you don’t hurt alone.

And that maybe, hurting is such a deep part of being human.

——
Weep. Mourn. Wail.
Freely. Openly.
Let no man question you for this.
Let no man doubt your marrow.
There is so much strength – in coming undone.
I was told grief is love’s receipt.
And I let it wash over me. Still do.
Wave after wave.
Left rooms to weep in solitude.
Restaurants. Bathrooms. Hallways. Pulled over and bottomed out. Head on my steering wheel. 
Stood sobbing in the shower. 
Still do.
The friends that know that broken, will stand tall when you cannot. 
Texts. Calls. Dinner. Silent moments sitting. Pain filling their eyes. 
An overflow of their own.
These moments are pure. 
Be carried and baptized in their wholeness.
And throw your rocks at the moon. 
Every question and hurt and pain and doubt and fear hurled into the night sky. 
Full force. 
Core to extremity. 
Unleash. 
Til you collapse exhausted on a tear dotted pillow.
And wake up only to find the first fleeting moments of the day, where you actually have to remind yourself how much you have lost. 
And how much you hurt. 
And you sink back into your mattress…
To weep. Mourn. Wail. Freely. Openly.

-Michael James Dalton

Dust

Today, I opened  Microsoft Excel to do a project and soon found myself weeping angry angry tears on my couch.

It’s just not right.  It’s not right that my Dad isn’t on the other side to be able to call when I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do.  It’s funny how the small things seem to cut the deepest.  You prepare yourself and build up your defenses for the big ones, but the small ones catch you off guard and cut deeply.

I missed being able to call you when I was moving into a new house.  I missed you being here to get everything perfectly set up and organized.  I missed you when I held a baby and rocked him to sleep and thought about what an incredible grandpa you would have been.

Gosh, I hate it.

I hate that there are no answers and only tears and anger and hurt and gaps.

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Big giant gaps with your name written all over it that only you know how to fill with your easy going, steadfast, long-suffering presence.  Your presence that carried a peacefulness that put everyone around you at ease, yet you knew that if you needed the slightest thing you would move mountains without asking questions.

Grief doesn’t make sense.  It doesn’t make sense that angry tears on a leather couch somehow mean progress.

I’ve found myself questioning and challenging everything I’ve ever believed, shaken to my core, and amidst all of it just missing you, your presence, your voice, and the way you saw and knew me.

Today is the start of November.  Another start to another month of another season that you won’t see and I hate it. I’m tired of trying to tell myself to look at the trees and tell myself that death is beautiful because it isn’t.  It’s painful and heart wrenching and it is a deep soul pain that I have felt in the most real and physical sense.

I wasn’t prepared for this.  Every book I read and movie that I watched was a story that involved some kind of conflict or difficulty or hurt but it always ended in resolution.  No one wants to go watch a story of a broken heart that just stays broken, a losing team that just keeps losing, or a Dad that fights with all of his strength for his life and dies a week later.

I’m tired of the mundane.  I’m tired of the clicks and ticks and noises that remind me that time keeps passing.  I hate the word passed.  I’m tired of telling people that you passed.  You did so much more.  You were so much more that you deserve a bigger and richer word.

I don’t get how to make sense of the lack of resolution, how to find a God that knows all and sees all and is in control of all and loves His children in the greyest of grey areas I have ever known.demolition

Even as the words are being formed from my mind to the tips of my fingers I’m telling myself these thoughts aren’t okay.  It’s not okay to not be okay and we aren’t okay with people that aren’t okay.  We aren’t okay with death, loss, grieving, and feelings.  We’re barely okay with someone responding “okay” instead of good when you ask them how they’re doing in the least sincere way.

But as much as stories with unhappy endings make us angry, we don’t know how to enter into our own, better yet the ones around us.  The loose ends confuse us and make us question what we believe and hold to be true.  So we stay away.

But You know my frame.  You remember that I am only dust.

I read these words in Psalm 103 and was honestly kind of offended at first.  Oh I’m only dust?  I am barely surviving by the 20 minute break that allowed me to rush to Starbucks and get an extra shot in my latte to do all that today asked of me and I’m only dust?!

But I am. I am only dust and the only context that my small, small frame has ever known and felt and believed is dust.  The dust that formed the world around me as You spoke it into existence.  The dust that you took to form a man to use his rib to create the woman who would become the mother of all creation, of all that I know, of all that I’ve loved, of all that I’ve lost.  Dust. 

Its make up makes it seem so very small, so minuscule, so inadequate of grieving, questioning, and beating up against all I have ever known.  But that is the very heart of the problem, that all I have ever known is dust.

But you are a God that knows all and sees all and is in control of all and loves His children enough to believe for them when they don’t have the framework that all we have ever seen and known and held dear is dust.  It’s vanishing, dissolving, frail, and messy.  You see us as the child C. S. Lewis describes satisfied making mud pies because she has never known a holiday at the sea.  You lead us by still waters.  You restore our souls because you have given them glimpses of more than the dust we have known.  Like the little pieces of asphalt that reflect and sparkle the light of the sun.  Amidst our mediocrity and inadequacy there are pieces of something more.

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So I’m done clinging to the old and the rugged.  I’m holding fast to believing that amidst the grey and the dust and the emptiness and my frailty, You understand that I am only dust.  But you know there is so much more.  And on the other side of dust and limited glimpses is resolution.  And in the dust, You are still creating.

Small.

Growing up with 2 older brothers will regularly remind you of your inferiority, primarily in terms of physical stature.  For me, this reminder was all the more in my face, and what was in my face was really their collar bones as both of my brothers grew to be around 6 foot and 5 inches tall.

I was always small and easy to throw around.  I always needed help with carrying heavy things and reaching tall ones.  I was the go to one to sit in someone’s lap when we only had 4 seats rather than 5.  I was referred to as “little one”.

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Recently, when my Dad suddenly passed away, I felt the very opposite.  Despite the fact that I was only 22 years old, 2 weeks shy of graduating from college, I was making life or death medical decisions, caring for my Mom in the loss of her husband, filing life insurance claims, and really having to be a big girl.

My mom and I talked about a month after everything about just how old we felt.  I told her I felt that on my birthday (the day my Dad passed away), I felt I had aged at least 10 years.  Nothing about me felt only 22.

But here recently, I’ve felt back in that place of being the shortest, the youngest, and the weakest.  I’ve just felt small.


I read a note a very kind and thoughtful friend wrote me the day after she had sat with me as I cried.  In it she said, “I want you to know you can always be small with me.”

And it’s exactly how I’ve felt.  Last week I moved into a new (to me) house.  I got all of my stuff inside and my family headed home and I had this moment when I had to make myself literally focus on breathing one breath at a time because everything hit me at once.  While I’ve had to be so big, inside I am still so small.  There was no part of me that had the energy to unpack and move in, no part of me that felt capable of managing a house and bills, and I just felt really overwhelmed and really small.

But there’s also a sense of being small I’ll never get back.

You see when you grow up having a Dad like mine, there is something about his presence.  Despite the fact that I always feel like I have to have a plan, keep my ducks in a row, and always make sure everyone is taken care of, with my Dad somehow all of that went away.  I knew he was capable.  With him, my mind could rest because I knew he had it all under control, had my best interest in mind, and would do absolutely anything to keep me safe.

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And I feel small when I miss him.

I feel small when I’m doing laundry and think for a second that something in the dryer is his, when I find a dryer sheet and remember how he always thought it was good luck to find a dryer sheet in your clothes.

I miss the feeling of being squeezed so tightly in his chest and knowing just how very safe I was.

I felt small when I popped a tire tonight and had no clue how to change it.  And I feel too small to go to get it repaired without a Dad to call on the other end to help me know what to do.

I’ve tried to tell myself that I’m feeling small so God can show up for me big, but I honestly feel like He just keeps making me smaller. And smaller. And the moment I start to feel like I have everything under control again, something else hits the fan to remind me that I don’t.

That nothing is predictable.  No part of creation is under my planning or supervision.  I am not in charge of my safety or capable of protecting myself.

So what do I do with that?

I’m learning to be small with Jesus in ways I never have before.
I am learning to stop coming to Him offering Him whatever I can muster up and keep pretending to be okay.  I’m coming to Him weak and empty and broken.

And He hasn’t met me in every empty place.

I know that’s not what you want to hear.  It’s not what I want to be saying.

He hasn’t.  Sure, He has been mindful of it and loved me in it, but there have been gaps that I have felt the depths of.  And I think He stays the satisfaction on this side of Heaven to remind us of the brokenness of the world we live in.  We feel the pain of it to remember that despite the beauty of His presence, it is not our complete healing and satisfaction.  Sometimes there are gaps.  Sometimes I sit in my car and cry because my heart gets broken and it just feels like it isn’t surprising anymore.

I’m learning to be small with other people.
I have fought since I could breathe to have it all together for everyone else.  I needed to be the leader, the front runner, the caretaker, whether or not in the spot light.  I have needed to perform, to prove, to measure up and sometimes the ground underneath your feet gets taken.  And I’ve been stripped of this to the point that I have been lost as to how to even interact with people.  I’ve wanted to keep people safe from the depths of the sadness and scariness of my heart, but thankfully blessed friends have pushed deeper.  I’ve learned that ministering to people doesn’t mean being invincible, but being broken with them.  I’ve learned to stop trying to be people’s Savior and remember just how much I need one.

I’m learning that it’s okay to be small.
I remember my brothers getting annoyed at having to help me sometimes.  They didn’t understand why I couldn’t just take care of myself or why I couldn’t just understand what they did.  I remember feeling so bad and telling myself I would just fake it and be big.  When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said “six feet tall.”  I felt shame for being needy and not being good enough and tried to muster up the strength to function at the same level of my two brothers who were older and bigger.  But you can’t function as what you aren’t, at least not without failure and difficulty.  And I’ve tried to be big and strong amidst feeling broken into a million little pieces.  I’m learning to accept that I’m not called to fill every gap.  And that sometimes, the best way to love and care for someone is for me to allow myself to be exactly where I’m at.

I’ve learned to empathize with moments people felt small in Scripture.
I love that God’s Word is not full of people who were constantly put together, but people who were very in touch with their emotions.  I’ve sat and wept with Hannah on the temple steps for her barrenness to the point the priest thought she was drunk.  I’ve felt the pain of Jacob’s heart when he was brought Joseph’s bloody clothes and told his son was killed.  I’ve agreed with David as he pours his heart out to God saying, “Darkness is a better friend than you.”  I’ve understood where Mary was coming from when Jesus came to town after Lazarus died and she didn’t go to Jesus, but stayed in her house.  And I’ve understood where Martha was coming from when she went right to Him and chewed Him out.

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I’m learning that “you can’t experience full recovery until you let your pain be fully uncovered”.
I’ve wanted to tie this up with some truth or hope.  We like resolution and happy endings that make all of the pain worth it.  The hard part, is sitting in the reality of not having a resolution.  Hard parts that characters of Scripture can empathize with us in, like Job, Stephen, Ruth, Jesus, etc.  I’ve wanted to “hide my crazy” and just be okay.  But you can’t be something you’re not, without failure or difficulty.  Our Western brains have been told to find whatever 3 step system we can to healing, wholeness, and wellness and sometimes the best thing for us is to just allow ourselves to be what we are- small.

Father’s Day

I’ll be taking a bit of a hiatus from the internet this weekend as much as possible.

It’s just too hard, too recent, too impossible to swallow.  And I think that’s how it’s going to be for a while.

Almost 2 months ago my Dad passed away suddenly from a heart attack.  He was truly the sweetest and most selfless man you could ever meet.  It was my 22nd birthday and I was 2 weeks away from graduating, yet there in the hospital none of that mattered as he breathed his last breaths.

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I loved that man with all my heart, as he loved me.  I still do.  He was the most selfless, kind, and hilarious guy.  I would give absolutely anything in the world for one more of so many things- to hear his laugh, to hug him, to hear him say “baby girl”.

I’m grieving all of the ways I’m having to learn to live without him, all of the moments in my future I envisioned him there for that will look different, and all of the memories that make me treasure and miss him all the more.  I just miss him.

I can honestly say that a day has not gone by in the past 2 months when I haven’t thought about him, when I haven’t cried, and when I haven’t felt like my world has been absolutely turned upside down.


There is a big part of me that has a hard time tying any of this into lessons to be learned, because it’s hard to place any kind of closure or conclusion on a hurt that feels so raw and feels that it deserves time to be raw.

But there are two sides of the coin that’s been specifically on my heart this week.

  1. Dads, please love your daughters.

To know me is to know that I deeply loved my Daddy. There were few moments I treasured more than going to lunch with him, seeing a movie with him, or just spending time with him.  I loved doing ministry alongside of him.  I loved watching him love and serve everyone around him so well.

But to know me well is to know that my relationship with my Dad wasn’t always easy.  I was always a Daddy’s girl when I was little.  He was just so captivated by me for no reason at all.  I kind of took advantage of it like any baby girl would.  I remember he got a brand new truck when I was 4 that terrified me because it was so tall.  So to get over my fear, he sat with me in the front seat and showed me how I could press all of the buttons on the radio.  All of his programming was reset and I was sold that I could ride in this big, scary truck after all.

But as I transitioned into being a teenage girl- a dark and scary journey- our relationship became all the more strained.  I blamed him for some issues in my own heart and he had to prioritize some things going on at work and we eventually reached a point that we weren’t even on speaking terms.  It’s hard to imagine now.

But I remember being wrecked by it.  I was so mad at him and so hurt by him, yet desperately craving a relationship with him.  And my Dad, being the loving, selfless guy that he was, talked with a staff member at our church and began pursuing me.  He wrote me letters about what he loved about me.  Things I never thought he noticed.  He found things we could do together and we did them constantly.  He gave me space to talk about ways I was hurt by him and he cried and told me he loved me.

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The thing is, you don’t have to be perfect to be a good Dad.  In a lot of ways, you just have to be there.  And please don’t give up.  Go to her games and recitals and look up from your e-mail on your phone.  Ask her how her day was at dinner.  Spend some time with some of her friends.  Your presence and your interest in your daughter’s life can truly make a world of difference.

The unfortunate truth is that we truly don’t know what tomorrow holds.  I watched my Dad fight for his life on a ventilator for a week until he breathed his last breath.  Despite the fact he was completely brain dead, he fought to keep breathing, until the exact moment I turned 22.  There is something innate inside of you that is roaring to love your little girls.  Don’t let it be stifled by work, busyness, pride, or unforgiveness.  Love her with all you have with all the time you have.

2. Absence teaches you a lot of things.

I never imagined to face an absence this real and this final so soon.   I selfishly would do anything in the world to reverse it.  But it has taught me so very much.

This past year I’ve focused greatly within the context of my job on “identity in Christ” and the concept that we are “image bearers” of Christ (Genesis 1:27).  I’ve said the phrase a million times and talked about how cool it is that we were created to reveal God.

This idea has truly become extremely tangible for me in the past 2 months as I’ve thought of all the ways I bear my Dad’s image.  I don’t exactly look like him.  I kind of look like my mom spat me out.  But gracious, does his personality come out in me more in more.  We are type A to the core, passionate about responsibility, always aware of time and scheduling conflicts, and always talking to ourselves while we work.  I’ve even grown to love the way my ankles sometimes pop just like his did, walking on hardwood floors.  I value these things and seek to resemble his humility, love, and passion to those around me because carrying on his legacy is so very important to me.

It wasn’t until now that I’ve felt not only the honor but the demand to be an image bearer not only of my earthly father but my Heavenly Father, carrying His character to a world that I want to know Him.

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Beyond this, absence magnifies the space that was once filled.  There was nothing about my Dad that was small.  He was a tall guy with a big heart.  He had great big eyes that welled up with great big tears whenever you shared anything with him.  He didn’t do anything small, whether it was loving and serving our family, our Church, or a stranger he came into contact with.

From this big absence, I’ve only come to know and wrestle more and more with just how much we were created for presence, for God’s presence with us in the garden, for the presence of the people around us, for death to never exist, and the grave to never be necessary.

But above all of this, absence makes you treasure.  You treasure what you miss and what you long for.  I treasure my Dad’s generosity and compassion.  I treasure his ability to fix absolutely anything.  I treasure his ability to make me laugh.  I treasure that I had a family for 22 years that was whole.

Absence has taught me that no one has resembled Jesus more to me than my Daddy did in loving me, caring for me, providing for me, protecting me, and relentlessly pursuing me.

Dad’s, you are one of the greatest image bearers of God in your children’s lives.  The week my Dad went on to be with Jesus, my whole family got tattoos of his last recorded heart beats.  I got mine on my right arm in the exact spot where he would have held my arm to walk me down the aisle, should I get married one day.  But right in the middle of those words, I had the word “faithful” written in cursive.  My Dad has truly defined faithfulness for me.  As I was writing his eulogy that I delivered at his funeral, I honestly had to go back and take the word out a couple times because of just how fitting it was.  He was faithful to give his all at work.  He was faithful to serve in the Church.  He was faithful to sacrificially love his family.  He was faithful to honor and love his wife.  He was faithful to always put a smile on your face with a terrible joke he would belly laugh delivering.  He was faithful.

If I’m honest, believing God is faithful has been one of the absolute hardest things for the past 2 months.  It hasn’t really felt true at all.  But if God claims to be faithful and it means anything comparable to the way my Dad was faithful, then I can trust it.


I would give anything for another Father’s Day with him, or any day really.  But as much as my Daddy fought, this was a lack I had to feel and a hurt I had to bear.  And it is one I know I would have never had the strength to face, had my Dad not strengthened me by his love and his presence.  And one I could have never faced without the strength and presence of my Heavenly Father whose image He somehow allows me to bear in my weakness.