So much of me can’t even believe that I’m writing this, but today marks three years.
I drove out to the north shore this morning and went for a run in one of my favourite places – a small cove-side community in North Vancouver that hugs the water and boasts all the quintessential and wonderful parts of coastal life. Everyone was decked out in gum boots and rain jackets and quickly ducking inside cafes and their cars to avoid the rain, so despite being completely soaked within the first few minutes of being outside, I was almost entirely by myself on the path by the water.
It’s pretty staggering to me how much the past three years has unfolded in these water-meets-mountains spaces, and how these oceanside rendezvous have been and continue to be some of the most sacred spaces where I’ve met with God, wrestled with with him, cried with him, and (re)fallen in love with him again and again and again. How golden summer sunsets by the water and colourful autumn drives up the sea-to-sky and subtle spring sunrises curled up with tea and a blanket at Porteau Cove and these moody and rainy winter runs would be the places where grief would happen, where worship would happen, and slowly and often in ways I couldn’t even see or feel – where healing would unfold too.
This morning as I pounded out the familiar rhythm of one foot in front of the other, tears blurred into the rain on my face. I so wish that I could show you this place, that I could share these spaces where my heart has come alive and these places too where I’ve faced things harder than I ever knew I would face. I wish I could show you the city that’s captured my heart and introduce you to the friends and community that have made it home in all the ways I dreamed it would be and in ways deeper than I expected too. I wish that I could tell you in person (or even over Skype or the phone) about all the things that have happened since you’ve been gone, about how brave and strong and wise Mum has been, yet weak too in a beautiful way that’s shown how tender and compassionate that golden heart of hers is; how big Marty-man has gotten, that he has an adorable little brother named after you now, and that there’s another little one on the way; and all the ways God has continued to meet us and lead us each forward. I wish I could laugh with you about all the ways I’ve fallen on my face, and stand in awe of God’s graciousness and power in all the ways I’ve grown too.
Sometimes I wonder if you would have lived differently if you knew you'd only get 54 years. Or if I would have approached our relationship differently if I had known that my time with you would be short. I never come up with an answer.
It’s a bit strange and almost a bit cruel that it’s death more so than anything else that inspires us to ask questions about what it means to live well. In the wake of war, we ask how to rebuild with more equitable, empowering, and humanity-honouring policies. In the wake of tragedy, we write preventative strategies and revisit questions of proactive ethics.
Death is a powerful teacher, but the cost is high.
I picked up a book this past week, “When Breath Becomes Air”, the memoir of a young and brilliant neurosurgeon who died of lung cancer at the age of 35, leaving behind a young wife, newborn daughter, and professional credentials left largely unutilized. I started reading at 11pm and finished it by the middle of the next day, barely sleeping because the story was so powerful and beautiful and I cried my way through the rawness, honesty, and power of this young doctor’s story. He spoke of learning to live well and facing death with honesty and bravery. He wrestled with the wonder and value of life.
But the thing that lingers the most in his story and in yours and in watching what feels like a few too many family members and family friends die at what feels like too young an age, is what every single person holds on to and savours and deems important in the moments when they know their life is fading beyond the horizon and soon to be reduced to little more than memories.
It’s not the “big” moments or the professional credentials. Instead, it’s these sacred, ordinary days and the people who fill them. They hold on to the joy of knowing and pursuing Christ and meaning and beauty and fullness – even within the confines of limitation and limited time. They savour the day-in-and day out faithfulness, where life unfolds both in rhythm and routine and in spontaneity and adventure. Where some of the most beautiful an impacting moments unfold on sun-lit back porches, around campfires in summertime, lazy Saturday mornings in the places we make our homes, cozy kitchen tables full of food, and moments of connection at the end of long (seemingly ordinary) days.
You often said that the Gospel came alive in your heart and life only after all of your own plans fell apart. That God truly became your delight and your joy after you wrestled through and finally surrendered (and surrendered over and over and over) your own ideas of how you wanted your life to go. You always called it your defining “be still and know” or “sit down and listen!” moment and I got to spend the whole space where your life overlapped with mine watching you wrestle and rejoice and live in the freedom of the stillness and the joy of knowing that He is God and endlessly good and extravagantly gracious and always worth pursing with everything we have to give.
I think I’m starting to understand that a bit more, in ways I didn’t know that I would. And you’re right: it does take a bit of a storm, eh? You haven’t seen the past few years unfold and it’s been a bit surreal to face all the joy and challenges that they’ve held without your wisdom and support and ridiculous humour. They’ve been tough. They’ve been beautiful. They’ve held more tears than I knew they could, but they’ve also been home to more laughter and beauty than I expected would come out of that kind of a context. They’ve shaped and moulded and humbled me in ways that I can’t articulate, though I suspect you would understand that space well. At times I thought my heart might not recover and I’d be forever marked by the pain.
But this grace that meets us when things feel like they’ve completely fallen apart? This hope that points us back to him in the midst of heartbreak? This truth that we’re loved more deeply and wildly than we can ever understand? It really does change everything.
You used to say these kind of things too and I remember listening and admiring you for it and also never quite understanding. I couldn’t quite see things from that angle (yet), but I saw that it was the most real thing to you and I saw the way it increasingly shaped your thoughts and words and actions. I saw how it made you able to love God and love people and love life better all at the same time.
But, I’m starting to see and feel and know the crazy upside-down reality of this a bit more.
Because, right here: in the mess and wrestle and the pain, He’s never been so beautiful. I’m still wrestling. Still rebuilding. Still healing. This redemption thing is a slow and hard process. But, I’ve never been more in love with Him than I am now. Never found his unchanging character to be so profoundly comforting. Never found the power and audacity of the gospel so captivating.
I don’t know how to tell the story of who I am without telling the story of who you are. But maybe that’s just a tiny glimpse of what Jesus meant when he said to live our lives in such a way that speaks and points to who our Father is. Where His story becomes our story and where His character settles into our very DNA and overflows into the way we live.
You did that so well. I hope I do too.
I think about our Tetons trip all the time. It was my eighteenth birthday and you gave me the best gift I could ask for: a week of exploring and time together. At the time it just seemed like a wonderful adventure, but looking back now with the knowledge that that space represented some of the last (and incredibly rare) one-on-one space I’d get with you, I see that space as an immense gift to me from God.
We hiked behind waterfalls and up mountains and mountain biked down intense trails and even though I know you didn’t like the water like I do, you let me spend a whole day in a kayak on Jackson Lake. We made campfires and laughed. We laughed so much that week. That was the week that it hit me that you were not only my Dad, but also one of my very best friends. And as much as I miss you for all the quintessentially “Dad” things, I frequently find myself just keenly missing the friend you were too. You told me the familiar stories of how and why you fell in love with Mum and all the things you’d come to love and respect and admire about her even more as the years had progressed. We talked about sports and art and big life decisions and living in the aftermath of your cancer diagnosis and my injury and as the summer sun danced with strong rays on the windshield as we drove, we listened to U2’s The Joshua Tree.
What I only realized in shadows while you were here, but I now see with more and more clarity, is that the way you loved me so clearly and repeatedly showed me a glimpse of the love of God. His is not a love that demands perfection or keeps a track-record of performance, but rather a Father’s love that demands nothing and authentically and joyfully delights in time with us and delights in who we are – as we are right in that moment. I’ve spent so much time demanding high-achievement, impossibly high-standards, and non-stop hard-work from myself both in an effort somehow “prove” my love for and devotion to God and to somehow make him proud. But that’s never been true of the the love, grace, or freedom that I found in Him, and that was never true of the love you showed me either. You always responded by giving me your time, your unwavering support, your continual reminder that “Lider, I love you, I’m proud of you, and you don’t have anything to prove.”
Sometimes, I still crumble under the weight of realizing you’re never coming back. That what is now three years without you will slowly turn into a decade without you and then a life without you. That Mum won’t ever get you back. I still burst into tears knowing that if God gives me a husband someday that you’ll never get to meet him, that I won’t get that dance you owe me on my wedding day, and that if I get to have kids that you’ll never be their Opa.
I find myself wondering if I’ll ever stop missing you. Or if I’ll ever forget the sound of your voice. It scares me a bit to think that someday I might.
The first year after you died I thought that January 22nd was the cruellest day on the calendar. I figured that I’d always hate this day and I’d feel the need to run away because it marked the day when we lost you and I couldn’t wrap my head or heart around ever seeing the pain of that as a good thing.
But as we approached the one-year anniversary two years ago, I felt God asking me to spend this day differently. “This is a day you celebrate my faithfulness,” He whispered. “A day you celebrate that I beat death (forever), that the pain you feel here is temporary, and that beauty resounds far wider and deeper than the grave.”
I think of the way the Israelites piled up rocks in the wilderness as a sign, for anyone who walked by and all future generations to come, that here – right here - God was faithful. It’s a pretty random practice, really. But it spoke powerfully in memoriam that both in the midst of obvious deliverance or in the midst of the dry and exhausting wilderness: God was/is always worth trusting.
I sometimes wonder if the practice of remembering was more for the sake of others, for the benefit of future generations, or was a practice that the Israelites themselves needed to do to remind themselves of who God had been (even though they had just witnessed God’s faithfulness and power first-hand) and who He would always be. I’m more and more convinced that it’s both.
Seems more and more to me that both grief and celebration are always both.
January twenty-second marks my most hated day that I’ve lived so far, yes, but it also marks the day you were set free from a broken body and the day you got to enter fully into the majesty and power and glory and goodness and absolute perfection of Jesus’s presence (I’ll admit. I’m quite jealous.)
This day was an end and this day was a beginning. This day was healing and this day was loss. This day was power and this day was pain, none (incredibly) to the exclusion of another. This day reminds me of God’s faithfulness and gentle care and compassionate goodness to us in the wake of losing you. Of the depth of community around me and with me and all the ways that life still unfolds in a palpably beautiful way.
Here – right here - God has been and always will be faithful.
Thanks for living so well and dying so well too. For being real and honest with your own weakness. For giving me space to dream and training me in what it means to be wise too. For believing in me, praying for me, and speaking truth into and over my life. For making me laugh and passing on your goofy smile and thirst for adventure. For loving Mum so well. For pursuing Christ with such steady and rooted passion. And most of all - in all of these things and more - for continually pointing me to Jesus.
Your life echoes with how much you loved Him and how His love changed you. I’ll never know how to say how thankful I am for that or how much that has shaped me.
I’ll always be your little Lider,