Below is what the Lord gave me to share at my dad's funeral on Monday. My heart is broken and grieving so many layers of loss right now, but I am learning to chose to trust and rest in the love, promises, and nearness of my Heavenly Father through these days.
Around the time the sun began to fall over the trees he would tell me we were going on an adventure. I would grin from ear to ear, run to get my shoes on. Though there was little mystery in the destination of this adventure for me, I always loved that he made it into a big deal. Sometimes, I even pretended I didn't know where we were going. Mostly because he loved to surprise me. And I loved that he loved it—that it meant he must love me.
Windows down, hair streaming across my face. Cigarette in his hand, we were off. A quick stop at his gas station, the one where they called him boss and responded with yes Sir. Over-sized slushy in my hand, our adventure continued.
Just up the road and a few turns later we would slow down. The curvy road weaved throughout thousands upon thousands of white headstones. We weren't here to see dead people. Or to cry over a lost loved one, though I did often see people doing so. The men and women buried;/ across these grounds were all war heroes, brought home here to be laid to rest. Sort of eerie, when you think of our adventure climaxing at a place full of dead people.
I don't often remember thinking that in my little girl mind though. I remember gazing across the sea of white rocks, always attentive with my head out the window as we crept along. Sun blazing closer and closer to the ground, a little more brilliant and beautiful with each tick of the clock. Then, just on the edge of the sea of white, coming out from the tress all attentive and hungry we would see one. Then two. Then a whole herd.
I loved when there were babies. "Look at that little one!" I would point my hand far out into the air as his foot would come down firm on the brake pedal. Courtney, do you remember what we call those? He would ask. "Oh yeah, they're fawns, right dad? Baby deer are fawns." Yes, that's right. "And those big ones with the horns—those are the dads right?" I would ask. Yes, those are the bucks. he replied.
Knowing the answer didn't change the fact that I loved hearing him tell me again. It didn't change the fact that I tasted his love for me in these moments. I was starving. A rare glimpse into a life I longed to have—life with a daddy who knew how to love me. This daddy-daughter experience breathed into the depths of my emptiness, this hunger for his affection that I still struggled to satisfy well into adulthood.
You see, we are all created with this capacity and need for love. We all feel it. I have no doubt my dad loved us kiddos probably more then anything else in his life. I just don’t think that He knew just how loved He was, by a perfect heavenly Father and how such a love changes everything.
For years of my life, I, like my dad, tried to satisfy my pain and emptiness in all the wrong places. But none of it ever filled me for any lasting time. After I spent years trying to gratify that emptiness inside of me that even my dad’s imperfect love couldn’t touch, God gave me another option. There was a PERFECT Father who had created me in HIS image and made the greatest sacrifice for me because He loved me that deeply.
God is holy and perfect and fully in control. He created the heavens and the earth and everything in them. He even created man in His image and likeness. Sadly, man chose to turn away from God by disobeying His instructions. As a result there is now a separation between man and God. You see, all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God! None of us are perfect, we have all messed up, we’ve all blown it. But a holy and perfect God can’t stand in the presence of imperfect and broken people. So He chose in His grace to intervene on my behalf, on YOUR behalf. SO, while the wage of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ! His Word tells us we can receive that gift if we simply confess with our lips and believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. And one day is coming back and we will get to spend eternity with Him.
All I know is that decision has changed the entire course of my life. Since that day, God began teaching me about Himself through His word and others who walked with Him. I learned He was a PERFECT FATHER even though none of our earthly dads can be. And now nothing, not even this really hard season of loss, not even death itself, can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus!
A couple years ago, I was driving along in the big white van with a family I lived with at the time, when all of a sudden in the back little voices began to cry out, "A buck daddy, there’s a buck! There's another one!" As the car slowed to a stop and began backing up, the boys climbed over the rows of seats to get to the front, real close to daddy, up in his lap, pointing out the open window, pure bliss in their eyes.
Watching these little ones hunger for this moment with their dad and the deer awoke that little girl in me too, even at twenty-two years old. At the time, my dad was in tough spot in life and I was wrestling hard with his decisions and their implications in my life. Upon reaching the safety of home, I ventured out into the darkening field and wept.
I think there is a legitimate and appropriate grieving that takes place when we lose something—something we were created to need, at that. This time, though, the tears weren't so painful or so personal. They weren't as angry. They didn't lead into hours or days of introspection. There was no bitterness or resent. They were simply little girl longings and adult needs finally being met by incredible grace, as I recognized just how deeply I was loved by my heavenly Father, sweet forgiveness and redemption dripping down my cheeks.
You see, that little girl searched for the love of her daddy for years. Yet that whole time, he had no ability to satisfy the needs of that little girl like her heavenly Father did, and honestly I think he knew it too.
And even as there are many tears today, I find myself grieving both the loss of a man who was my dad and the loss of what could have been, knowing through all of it that God is a good and gracious Daddy, perfectly in control, and the sufferings of this present time WILL NOT compare to the eternal glory of being with Jesus one day. Life is hard and messy but He gives us hope that truly does defeat the grave!
We weep and laugh and wrestle with much fear and trembling as we each are forced to consider life and death and eternity and love and hope.
In the days and months to come, the tears will fade but the Truth will stand unmovable. So even as we all grieve different loss, I also rejoice in this sweet memory of watching deer. I rejoice that even as we put dad’s ashes in the box tomorrow at the same place we used to watch those deer, the unfathomable grace of the Lord doesn’t change. So let’s life our eyes to hills from where our help does come, from the Maker of heaven and earth.
For today, maybe grace is simply slowing down to count the bucks and thank Him for them, as they point us to redemption and grace of our Heavenly Father, to whom we cry out Abba Father!
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.
Of course, when we buried dad's ashes yesterday, we were greeted by deer when we first pulled in!