Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Birthday Resolution

(warning:  long, sappy post ahead.  You may need a tissue)

Today is my Dad's birthday.  He would be 61 years old if he was still with us.  The last 3 years without him have been pretty hard, and I'm sure there are still many hard days ahead.  This has been my first real experience with grief.  Yes, I have had to say goodbye to many other loved ones over the years, but I never experienced true grieving until I lost my Dad.  This grief has affected me in ways I never expected, and I'd like to share a little bit of that with you today. 
My faith began to be shaken up while Dad was still sick.  I think the grieving process began before he even left us.  If you've been through this, you know what I mean.  Watching his health decline over a period of 5 months was really hard, but I'm glad I was there to go through it.  During this process, I began to reexamine what faith really is.  There is this little saying that keeps popping up all over the place.  It says, "Faith is not knowing God can, it's knowing God WILL."  I truly hate this saying.  I get this knot in my stomach every time I see it.  When you pray in faith for God to act in a situation, you have no idea whether he will or not.  Remember these words from Daniel 3:  "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  We prayed night and day for Dad's healing, but it didn't happen.  Does this mean we throw our faith out the window?  Of course not!  We can plead with God all we want, but we really never KNOW that He will do what we ask.  Instead, I have come to view faith as knowing that God can do all things and that He is always in control.  I trust that his will is greater than mine, and his wisdom far exceeds what I could ever imagine.  So my idea of faith has changed over the last few years. 
More than just the idea of faith, grief has affected every aspect of my spiritual life.  Emotion never played a big role in my religious life until my Dad got sick.  After his passing, I was sad, but the greatest sadness always hit me in spiritual settings.  Let me explain...
1.  Spiritual songs-  Do you realize how much we sing about heaven in church?  A LOT!  Singing about heaven used to bring a smile to my face, now it only brings tears to my eyes.  Heaven now means that I am separated from my Dad.  I picture Dad in heaven singing with the angels, and it makes me sad because we are apart.  Also, there are many songs that take me straight back to my childhood and I am standing in church singing with my Dad.  I can still hear his voice as if he were standing right next to me.  Tears start to flow. 
2.  Prayer-  Praying nearly always brings me to tears now.  Praying for the sick, praying for my Mom, praying for emotional healing- it all makes me cry. 
3.  Reading the Bible-  I cannot even begin to tell you how many verses remind me of my Dad.  Goodness, there are so many.
4.  Taking communion- I can't take communion without thinking about my parents.  There is something special about taking communion with your spouse, and it breaks my heart that Dad is not there to share communion with Mom each Sunday. 
So you can see how grief has affected every aspect of what I consider spiritual activities.  Here's my confession:  I have totally shut down my spiritual life for the last 3 years.  Yes, I still go to church every week.  Yes, I still talk to God throughout the day.  Yes, I still believe and have faith.  But I have shut down.  I have not been reading my Bible, because it hurts.  I have not been praying deep meaningful prayers, because it hurts.  I have ignored the words to songs when I sing, because they hurt.  I have stopped thinking about the meaning of communion, because it hurts.  I have cried more in church than at home because my Dad lived a life of faith that molded me my entire life. 
So here is my birthday resolution.  I have been thinking about this for a few weeks, but today seems like a good day to make it public.  I am sharing this because I need encouragement and support.  I am not someone who can handle this alone.  My resolution is to check back in to my spiritual life.  I want to mean the words I sing.  I want to pray with purpose.  I need God's word to guide me.  I need to feel communion with God and his people. 
This last Sunday was a huge step for me.  I'm sure Josh was the only one that understood how important it was for me.  I said my first public prayer since my Dad's passing in class at church.  I got choked up a little and had tears in my eyes at the end, but I made it through.  I even prayed for a woman beginning chemo and a woman who was in her last days.  It was not easy, but it was a big step for me.  I have been a part of group prayers and prayed at meals, but this was very different.  I'm glad I did it. 
So today, on my Dad's birthday, I am vowing to start a new chapter.  I'm sure there will be many more tearful days ahead as I miss my sweet Dad and long to see him again.  I made "Dad's Stuff" for lunch today in honor of him.  If you knew my Dad, please take a moment and thank God for his precious life.  Thank you for reading and being such dear friends.  Please remember those who are grieving, there seem to be so many right now (or maybe I'm just more aware of them now.)  Mourning can be a very long process and the smallest things can trigger waterfalls of tears.  Be sensitive to their needs and gentle with the words you speak.   


April said...

Thank you for your sweet, sincere words! I am praying for you!

Jordan said...

I think you and I have been in the same place for different reasons. I haven't been grieving my dad, but I've been grieving the life I had always wanted, I think. I heard my own voice through your words and even through wanting to be renewed. Thank you for being so open and honest. You are an encouragement and a kindred spiritual spirit. I hope you see a little peace and comfort today on this hard day.

Kelly Elliott said...

Amber, I really appreciate your honesty in this post, and I really appreciated your prayer in class last Sunday. Jeremy and I agreed afterward that it was such a loving and heartfelt prayer for so many people who are hurting, and I loved hearing you speak those words. I'm so glad that you're part of my community of faith.

Ogday in Montana said...

That scripture from Daniel is one of my absolute favorites. So often we expect God to answer our prayers THE WAY WE WANT HIM TO not the way that is best for us.
We need to understand that even when God says No, He still loves us and is doing the best for us.

Alan Taylor said...

Amber, your reflections on your Dad and your willingness to share your feelings brought a tear to my eye.
Learning to trust that "all things work together for good" even when we don't understand how all these things could possibly be construed as anything but evil is the essence of faith in a Good God.
May God bless you on your journey to a greater faith. And be assured that your Dad would be extremely proud of you.

Shelly said...

Amber you are so much stronger than you think! You have gone through so much in the past 3 years (and not all Dad stuff!) Thank you for your heartfelt post and for having the strength to recommit yourself to your Faith. ALthough I didn't have quite the same experience with my mom's death as you did with your dad's, I see a lot of similarities in the way we both have processed our grief. I can't believe my mom will have been gone 8 years this summer, but from that perspective, I can offer you the hope that things will get better! It was around year 5 I noticed a lot of things that would trigger grief started triggering happy thoughts instead- my mom's Bible, songs we sing... Not that I still don't get choked up on occasion with a certain verse or song- but it's no longer an absolute! I think Doreen is right in that knowing 'God will' doesn't mean He will do what we want, but rather He will do what is His will and we need to know that His will is what's best, even if we don't understand it right away- or ever for that mater. To me, that's faith. I love you!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. I have had a lot of the same experiences since losing my parents. Church can be very emotional and I always hope those around me don't notice.


Anonymous said...

It is so hard and, if nothing else, I hope you know that others have gone through this, feel this, and I think the devil uses these times or it's just a test of our faith when we have to handle our grief. Like you, I was mourning my dad's decline, but he was 88. I still wasn't ready to be without him. God took him and though I know he lived a long life, it doesn't make losing your dad any easier. I have to believe, though, that he's pain-free and in God's loving arms. I'm thankful for your dad and thankful for mine. And I'm thankful he created a daughter in you that wants to carry on his spiritual legacy. Hang in there and know you're not alone.

Lara said...

Thanks for sharing this, Amber. It struck a chord with me in so many ways. One of my favorite sermons (heard roughly 15 years ago) was on that passage of Daniel with the same point being made. It is a beautiful statement of faith that is far stronger than that other saying.
I also relate to the deep connections between Church and the people we have loved. When my Grandfather died this summer, I spent much of the following Sunday service downstairs in the kitchen crying my eyes out. In some ways it was worse than the funeral. I'm not sure if I'll ever again manage to get through "When all of God's singers get home" without choking up. I guess God meant us to be one body and it just really hurts to lose a part of it.
And last, for reasons very different from yours, these last couple of years have been a time of serious spiritual drought. I'm trying to dig up the courage to face my issues head on, but it isn't easy. Thank you for sharing your struggles and resolution so openly. I should have heeded your warning and grabbed a box of tissues before I started reading. I try to remember that even some of God's greatest servants went through black periods of grief, fatigue, and spiritual numbness. He made us, so He understands our weaknesses.
I'm glad you had your Dad in your life. I didn't know him directly, but he helped raise up a wonderful daughter who has been a blessing to me. May God grant you peace and strength and courage.