I drove out to one of my favourite spots by the ocean this morning, catching glimpses of the foggy sunrise over the city and just sitting there, wrapped in a blanket and hugging the second travel mug of tea I had brought with me – one for the drive, one for this space. The funny thing is, my formula for the best days and the worst days is exactly the same. I celebrate by coming to the ocean and driving to the mountains. And on the worst days, the days when my heart needs to be reminded that His beauty resounds louder than any heartache, however loud it may feel, I come to the ocean and drive to the mountains.
This week represents a combination of both. (mountains and ocean. Celebration and hard days.) This week is the celebration of welcoming my new little nephew, John David (JD) Oegema, who surprised us all with his early (but healthy) entry on Sunday evening. And it’s also the one-year mark of my Dad’s death and the unforgettable memories of those last few days.
If I didn’t believe it before, I now do more than I thought possible: one day can mark our lives forever. The single space of 24-hours can act as a catalyst that impacts us so significantly that we’re never the same, even if we wanted to pretend we could be. The best days change us and the worst days change us - in the most beautiful and most heart-breaking sort of ways. And sometimes both at the same time.
January has slammed against me with emotional intensity I didn’t anticipate. Amidst all the hope for a new year, I realized this year will be the first year completely devoid of his voice and his laugh and his wisdom. This is the first calendar year of my life where I’ll never hear the words, “Lider, guess what? I love you a whole bunch” or get a big, dad-sized hug that had a way of making the whole world better and me more brave. I’ve never wanted to talk to him so badly as I have this month. About nothing. And about everything. But I can’t. All the “firsts” of holidays and special days without him, weren’t some cruel dress rehearsal, they are life now.
This is our new “normal.”
On one hand, this day stole so much from us. This day reduced the once healthy body of my Dad to ashes in a small wooden box and one-dimensional pictures that will never fully convey the passion and wisdom and steadfastness that characterized his life. This day robbed me of a dance on my wedding day. This day robbed my kids of the joy of ever knowing him and my future husband of meeting the man who so significantly shaped the person I am. This day showed me, through the sobs of my stunningly strong mother when she had to say goodbye, that the “as long as we both shall live” part of wedding vows is actually far more painful than it is romantic.
But on the other hand, this day is also a celebration. This is a day of healing. For Dad, this is the day that marks the end of broken body and the beginning of shalom in its fullness and perfection.
This day stand as an example, not of God’s distance, but as a testimony of His goodness and sufficiency.
This day is an entirely tangible reminder that, despite the sadness and the ache, death has no power.
This day invites me to come and rest again in the arms of a God who himself knows pain and loss – to come and weep with the God who weeps with us. This day reminds me that God didn’t become any bigger or more sufficient or more present in my life because of death and cancer or loss, these things simply illuminated the depths of the Saviour He has always been and will forever be. Cancer cannot thwart the promise of God. Death cannot silence the power of His gospel, nor can it diminish the goodness of His love for us.
People talk a lot about the first year. And I think for good reason. The first year is numbness and ache and reality crashing to the floor and desperately trying to pick up the pieces of this “new normal”. The first year is finding strength you didn’t know you had and crying more tears than you knew you could cry. The first year is disbelief and still thinking/wishing that they’d show up somehow or answer the other side of the phone. It’s the bittersweet first steps of looking forward and dreaming past this year, praying continually for the renewal of joy and newness of life in this part of your story.
But the first year - this past year - has so evidently revealed God to be the most steadfast anchor amidst the heartache, and the safest and most peaceful harbour. It has shown Him, again and again and again, to be the beacon of light in the storm guiding me – always – back home. Back to His heart. And back to His gospel that turns all things around and upside down and points – always – to enduring hope.
January 22 changed a lot of things, but it didn’t touch the foundation.
This day represents a life so incredibly well lived. This day show us that despite the never wanting a life without him, we’re living it. And it’s still good. It’s hard. But, It’s still really beautiful.
And, louder than any pain in my heart, this day sings that Jesus is still worth everything. His love is bigger and deeper and wider than we can imagine. and His Kingdom unfolding, in the small and seemingly inconsequential space of our individual lives and resounding in all the earth like the most majestic song bellowing from the mountains and emerging in the margins - is absolutely the most beautiful and worthwhile thing to pursue.
I think my Dad caught that vision more/deeper than most people I know.
For whatever reason, lots of little girls seem to develop and live by the belief that their dad is a superhero of some kind. He’s strong and good and safe and He’ll take care of everything. For many, the illusion doesn’t last. For some, it’s shattered by heart-wrenching moments and resounding failures. I’ve sat and wept with friends over the ways their dads have failed them and the ways their fathers have hurt them – in both what was said and done and what was never done and left unsaid. For so many men and women alike, the idea of God as a Father is tainted and painful because their own fathers were so far from that place.
But some of us – the lucky ones – get a glimpse of God as a loving Father through the men who are our fathers. I’m humbled by the immense gift I got in my Dad. I feel like I won the lottery on the parenting front (and even got the added bonus of being both the youngest and only girl which awarded its own perks). To stand and honestly say that my parents, collectively and separately, were/are two of my best friends and biggest inspirations, is a blessing I can’t even fully comprehend or adequately convey.
Because for me, no person taught me more about the love of our God who is a good Father than my Dad. To me, he never stopped being superman.
He wasn’t superman. I knew that. But yet, he kind of was. Not because he tried to have it all together or had any illusions of “saving the world”, but because he was the type of ordinary, everyday hero who laid any claim to a cape and independent ability before the cross. He lived his life largely devoid of titles or recognition, but so absolutely saturated in the gospel at work. He loved us well because he loved Jesus well.
He made me feel safe. And loved. No matter where I went or what I did, I knew he had my back. And that made everything better.
He was 6’3” of lanky athleticism, charisma and dry, self-deprecating humour. He had an insatiable sweet tooth, couldn’t talk without using hands and his always distinguishable Ottawa Valley accent and he couldn’t tell you he loved you without a goofy smile on his face. He was was steadfastness and consistency, Dutch work-ethic, immense generosity, and laid back charm.
I credit my dad with a lot of things: my (intense) love for sports, my ability to change a tire, build a fire, set up a tent, and how to balance a budget. His passion was theology, mine is politics and social justice, so we spent countless and seemingly endless hours caught up in conversation and debate between theory and practice. He reminded me constantly that we love God with our hearts and our minds and our feet - and none to the exclusion of another.
In so many ways we were two peas in a pod: deeply in love with life and possibility, and in other we couldn’t be/have been more different: with a quintessential head vs. heart and pragmatism vs. idealism kind of divide, but he always pointed me to Jesus. He taught me to think and gave me grace to wrestle. He’d help peel back the layers of complexity and anxiety that I’d assign to life and decisions until I remembered who I was, whose I was, and why I started. He was a weigh the pros and cons, and always look at the possible return on your investment, whether in time or money or emotions, kind-of-guy. He’d rarely tell me what to do, He’d just challenge me with hard questions and add perspectives I idealistically wanted to ignore, never to make me feel immature or foolish, but to teach me to make grounded and thoughtful decisions.
My dad believed in me. I often wondered what he saw in me that I couldn’t see in myself, but my Mum always said that God gave him special eyes to see both the person I was and the person I could become. He loved me for both. He had a knack for tearing down all the lies I struggled to believe and He continually saw past my youthful zeal to the heartbeat behind it. We were both goal-oriented and high achievers, but I actually think he fully believed I could do anything I put my mind/heart to. The last thing he told me was that he had endless faith in God’s goodness to lead me and complete trust in my willingness to listen to His voice. I wish I could tell him a thousand times how much that meant to me and thank him until I ran out of breath for the ways his love and prayers inspired me. He told me my writing mattered. He told me to never stop running, even if it took years to fully recover from my injury, and he encouraged me to never stop taking pictures, for the simple reason that I love it. He told me to never stop dreaming "those Lider size dreams" and chasing the things on my heart. He reminded me constantly that I never had to settle – for anything or anyone less than what filled my heart with complete joy, even if (& especially if) it took a lot of hard work, long days, and unrelenting prayer to get there.
My dad was my friend. I don’t know exactly when we hit that rhythm, but somewhere in the midst of soccer and basketball games, track meets, hours watching hockey and football, camping trips, and late night conversations (in retrospect, maybe his insomnia was God’s gift to me), he became one of my best friends. He’d rebound every shot when I wanted to practice free-throws, he’d play in net when I wanted to practice penalty shots, and he’d dream with me about breaking records and winning races and qualifying for the Olympics. We’d mountain bike together and he’d always tease me that he could beat me on the uphill, only to always get frustrated by my flying past him on the downhill. Looking back, a lot of my absolute favourite memories involve camping trips, mountain ranges, and hiking with him. Between he and my Mom, I had no secrets, and they never betrayed that trust.
My dad taught me what love looks like with the way he loved my Mom. After (nearly) thirty years of marriage he still had nothing but "that look" in his eye when he talked about her - the look that speaks emphatically of love and admiration and fondness. He showed me that romance has little to do with big gestures, and everything to do with day-in-and-day-out sacrificial love. He showed me that sometimes love looks like financial provision, sometimes looks like taking on roles and responsibilities you never wanted or expected, and always looks like affirming the strengths and callings of the person you love. He showed me that hierarchy in marriage doesn’t exist if you believe in and honour each other as equals. And he taught me that when it shines the brightest, love looks like centering your lives on Jesus together.
Sometimes I’m surprised by how much He was still a part of my life, despite geographic distance. I haven’t consistently lived in the same city, time zone, or often even country, as my parents for nearly 6 years now, but prayer and love and simple words built on a firm foundation go much farther and deeper across distances than one could initially imagine were possible. Skype is a beauty. Phone calls can be one of life’s best gifts. E-mails make a difference. Time together, whether it’s a weekend or a week or a month, matters immensely. Every word and moment matters. Because I never knew how much of an absence one life could leave. Or how everything could change so dramatically with the removal of one piece.
There are so many memories. So many things that make me laugh. So many things that make my heart ache because they’re all in the past. So many tears for what will never be. But continually, throughout the space of this year, God has continually whispered his stunning grace over the sadness and reminded me that love is a good reason to cry.
Love is a good reason to cry.
Love – deep, deep love that testifies to the enduring grace of Jesus made manifest in imperfect human relationships – is a beautiful reason to cry. Love – that aches across loss and distance and separation from people who matter to us – is a beautiful reason to cry. Love – made manifest in a breathtaking, how-the-heck-did-I-get-so-lucky kind of gratitude – is a beautiful reason to cry.
To love deeply is to open yourself to the possibility of hurting deeply, but loving deeply is still the most worthwhile endevour.
If you had given him the choice, my Dad would have chosen to be labeled God’s fool. (Credit the lyrics of one of his favourite songs). He loved the craziness of the gospel. He loved that the wisdom of God was foolishness to the world. He loved that losing his life meant finding His life. He loved the scandal of grace. He excitedly and continually celebrated the paradox between the death we deserve and the grace we receive in Christ.
Today, as I sat listening to the waves slowly lapping against the rocks and pulled my blanket a bit tighter around my shoulder due to the cool January breeze coming off the water, I couldn’t help but think of the parable Jesus told in Matthew of the wise man who built his house on rock and the foolish man who chose the sand. For the wise man, circumstances changed nothing. His foundation was firm and secure and the storm would not silence His worship. In that way, my Dad was amongst the wisest in the world. He built his house so firmly and unwaveringly on the Rock.
In doing so, he gave me the best gift.
He wasn’t perfect, but he understood his failings so well that he embraced grace with full desperation. I think that’s part of what makes his story so beautiful. He was entirely ordinary. He was a “nobody.” He was trapped in a broken body and held back by the limitations of a disability that changed his life so profoundly he likely wouldn’t have recognized the way it would unfold had you told him ahead of time. And yet, he’d ask me to scrap everything about him and just talk about God, until the whole world would hear, not realizing that his own story and life spoke so loudly of the message he wanted to convey.
Because, more than anything else, my Dad really loved Jesus.
His centred his own heart and his own story on the unshakable refuge that is Christ. In his own ambition, he wrestled and he failed, but he found God faithful there. And he found such contagious and unshakable joy. He gloried in grace. He had no fear in death and no doubt in God’s sufficiency and sovereignty to lead and sustain our family – whether he was a part of it or not. He simply fixed his eyes on Jesus and built upon the foundation of God’s faithfulness across generations as much as he knew how to do. And he did it well.
He showed me that 54 years, if you live it well, is more than enough to leave a resounding legacy.
And so I tentatively approach this week and January 22nd - likely for a long time - with both tears in my eyes and celebration in my heart. This day tangibly represents the both/and of beauty and pain. It situates itself firmly across the entire spectrum of celebration and mourning. And it absolutely represents the far-reaching and enduring hope of a God who loves us so unfathomably well - no matter what.
Because one day did change a lot of things, but it didn’t touch the foundation.