How in the world are we here already? I feel like I write that every year. And yet every year I feel the same sense of disbelief and how-the-heck-is-time-passing-so-quickly? feeling. So far from where we were 5 years ago and yet, it doesn’t feel like it could possibly be that long ago already too.
You’re still so missed. So deeply missed.
Five years has taught me a lot, Dad.
I’ve grown up in this space in a way that’s hard to describe. Once cancer is part of your life, you can’t ever wash it away. You’re forever branded by its reality. There’s so much of it that we can’t control. It steals from us like the cruelest thief attacking both the old and the young, senselessly robbing us of years of life. It compromises the vigour and strength of so many who previously epitomized those very terms. And, at its very worst, it steals from us people we love, leaving us in its wake shakily trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces left behind.
For those of us left behind, though, the pain and grief remain a constant friend.
While the blows subside and heal with time, the word “cancer” is never neutral. It steals our innocence and at its worst, threatens to steal our wonder because the hurt and pain sometimes seems entirely inevitable and insurmountable - impossible even - to overcome.
Grief is a journey, it’s true.
They tell you that early on (but usually they tell you that when you’re so numb that you can hardly process anything). They tell you that you’ll never know when it’ll hit like a tidal wave or like a steady jab, or what emotions might come up in seemingly disconnected moments. And for five years I’ve learned that they’re right. Grief is about as inconsistent as west coast weather. And sometimes feels as relentless as this west coast winter rain.
But grief is also a beautiful mystery.
A beautiful, life-shaping, priority-setting, paradigm-realigning kind of mystery that strips away so much pretense and leaves us raw before God. Desperate in ways we don’t tend to go or can’t get to on our own.
It’s a profound mystery of paradoxical contrasts.
In suffering, we find peace.
In death, we find life.
In grief, we find celebration.
In lament, we find joy.
In agony, we find refuge.
In pain, we find comfort.
This isn’t only credit losing you, but I’ve learned and now know and emphatically believe this: the world is darker, more fundamentally broken, and more heartbreaking than we can handle.
The darkness is heavy. It's is all around us. It threatens us on all sides.
Grief has taught me that the darkness is more real than I gave it credit for before.
But consistent with the mystery of the whole process, grief and loss and pain has also taught me, in ways that few things could, that Hope is also more real, weighty, stunning, and absolutely necessary than I ever knew it could be before either.
What do we do here? How do we live in the middle space of hope and lament?
Honestly, I still don’t know.
But I do know that in the narrow vision of tragedy teaches us to look beyond what we can see, beyond what we can feel, and sometimes even beyond what we can comprehend. It teaches us to anchor our lives in the unfolding narrative of God’s goodness across all nations and all time and space. Pain teaches us to hold with desperation to the promises of Revelation 21. To root our lives and our energy in the reality that one day – one glorious day! – He will make all things new.
Pain teaches you that the road is hard and tough – longer and far more difficult than we often know until we have to walk it – but it also teaches you that nothing is made better when we don’t step up or step into authentic relationship. Suffering reminds you in a really tangible way that an imperfect offering is better than no offering at all.
Loss has taught me to slow down and take more time to remember His faithfulness: to linger in the remembering of all the moments and memories where God has met me, sustained me, and provided for me. It’s taught me to worship and it’s taught me to weep, and it’s taught me that those things aren't mutually exclusive realities.
Pain has taught me that weakness is both inevitable and unavoidable, but more importantly, that it’s not shameful – and often even looks like freedom. It’s taught me that in acknowledging weakness - reveling in it even - I can know Jesus in ways I couldn’t when I tried to hold it all together. It’s teaching me still what it means to be boldly weak and to rest and heal and come back to Jesus again and again and again in it all.
Grief has taught me to look to the life of Jesus. To look long and slow and carefully and to pay close attention to the way He taught us to live, the way He defines success, and the things he spent his time and effort and energy on. It’s taught me to make my home in the character of the Saviour King who governs over all of creation with compassion and justice and perfect love. It’s taught me to value the wisdom of the saints of old and to cherish the bold visions of the prophets. It’s taught me to savour creation – slowly and consistently and joyfully - and the ways it echoes and resounds with God’s power and sufficiency and intricate care.
It’s taught me – maybe more than anything else - that Hope has a name. And this Hope, anchored in the person of the Living God, is persistent and resilient and weighty. And, even when circumstances appear in opposition to that reality: Nothing can silence that hope. Nothing can outrun that love. Nothing can snuff out that light. Nothing.
You know that moment we talked about years ago – full of theoretical speculation and hope? The thing we’d talk about on hikes and around fires and that you loved to tease me about even though you never got to see even the beginning stages unfold? The moment we looked forward to that someday I might get to look you in the eyes and tell you that I found the guy you and Mom have been praying for my whole life? The moment you’d get to tease me that your daughter was in lovvvvvve and I’d get to tell you all about him?
Well. Yes to all of the above… :)
And there are a thousand things I want to tell you and ask you, but I’ll (try to) keep it to a few:
I want to tell you that you were right. (You’d love that, eh?) That the timing and providence of God unfolds in surprising and unexpected ways, but is absolutely worth trusting. That learning to love someone and getting to begin to build a life together is a wild and sweet and challenging and entirely incredible gift.
And, even more than that - you were right that love like this certainly isn’t a necessity. It hasn’t changed the depth and beauty of God’s heart for me at all. His faithfulness isn’t any more real now than it ever has been. Nick being in my life hasn’t changed the stunningly extravagant grace of God in any way whatsoever. God didn’t need to give me Nick, but He did and it’s humbling and overwhelming grace. And I’m starting to learn and see more and more of what you meant when you used to say that the love you got to share with Mum was a gift from God on a whole different level than every other expression of His love.
I want to tell you that you’d love him. There’s no doubt in my mind. You’d love his love for life and care for people. His deep kindness and chivalry and generosity. His sense of humour and the way he loves Jesus in a way that makes me want to love Him more - and lives His life as an overflow of that rooted love. You’d love that he loves the mountains as much as I do and rides bikes and runs long distances and he sees me and supports me and chooses me in ways that blow me away. And, you’d love that he’s a hockey player and sports fan, even though he is a loyal Flames supporter (hey, no one is perfect, eh?).
You have a lot in common, actually, which certainly isn’t a surprise. You’re both passionate and generous, men of integrity, have an insatiable sweet tooth, and devote so much of your time to serving and caring for other people – often as your default. You both have a rooted and steady love for Jesus. You’re both tall and athletic and remind me - by example but also with your insight and encouragement – to not take life too seriously and to savour joy and goodness and the right now.
I want to say thank you (for the thousandth time). I see this with a clarity now that I couldn’t fully when you were still here, but I learned the most about the heart of the Father by growing up with your love around me. And I'm learning more than I knew I would about the love of God that chooses and cherishes us through the love God is building in us. And hands-down the best gift in all of that is the way that the two men I love(d) the most point me to the heart and character of God Himself. There's nothing sweeter or more humbling than the way that He’s made Himself known to me in tangible, deep and entirely beautiful ways through the care and love of both of you.
And I want to tell you (in a way that carries a different weight now) that I’m even more thankful for the love that you and Mum built together. You both gave me a picture of a marriage pursuing the heart of Jesus can look like – and it’s an example that I’m carrying forward.
I want to tell you that every part of me hates that you aren’t a part of this. Nick hates it too. We’ve wept over the reality of you never getting to be a part of this. And, even though it’s not directly his story – he has stepped into the grief and pain of this with me. It’s our story now. Not just mine, but ours. And because of that I’m missing you in a whole new way now. Painfully aware of the gap of where I wish you could be and the relationships with you that will never be. I’ve wept a lot about you never getting to know him or him getting to know you.
What was theoretical before is real now: and that stings with a pain that’s hard to describe.
You’re supposed to be with Mum when I tell you guys all about this man that’s captured my heart. You’re supposed to give me your wisdom and share this excitement. You’re supposed to talk hockey with him and talk about Jesus together and I’m supposed to get to see the two men I love most in the whole world in the same space having a conversation. I’m supposed to get to ask your advice and insight on all of our dreams and plans and some big decisions that we have to make. He’s supposed to ask both of you – together – for your blessing over our lives together. You’re supposed to walk me down the aisle and dance with me when I wear a white dress.
But those “supposed to be’s” simply won’t be.
Five years later and the gap is still cruel and painful. The ripple effect is long. And every year the fullness of what cancer so cancer stole from us becomes more and more obvious.
Guess what? January 22nd is Nick’s birthday.
The same day that marks the end of your life is the day that marks the beginning of his.
When I first found out I didn’t really know how to process that reality. How could a day so marked by loss and pain hold the same space on the calendar as the celebration of the life of the man I now love?
But the more I think about it, the more I love that overlap.
You know why? Because it feels like a microcosm of life. The overlap of life and death. The constant tension of joy and lament. Of celebration and mourning. Of darkness mixed with light.
And it’s in that very mix and tension that God meets us. Where God always meets us. Where the joy of the gospel shines with the weighty goodness that it’s always meant to carry.
And it’s there too that I’m reminded that this day really is a day of celebration for you too. The deepest and most beautiful celebration of being-forever-in-the-presence-of-Jesus kind of celebration.
One of the things you left with me was the habit and reminder that, given the choice between celebrating life and marking death, the choice is simple: Choose celebration and choose joy.
I’ve tried to do that with the way I mark this day every year (immersed in creation, surrounded by good friends, and with delicious food), but now I have even more reason to celebrate this day. Who would have guessed that a single day on the calendar will forever be shared by the life and legacy of the incredible man who was my father and the incredible man I love?
With both of you, I’m baffled-and-blow-away thankful that you are (and were) mine.
I still hear you in my head a lot. There are still countless moments when I’d swear you’re still with us by how clear your advice feels in my mind. Except it’s not even all that much advice anymore, just a chorus of encouragement: to sink deep, to love deeply, to take risks, to savour Jesus, and to not be afraid to keep moving forward, even when – maybe especially when – that forward is away from you.
We are moving forward, Dad. And while the distance away from you still aches, the steps forward are lined with life and goodness and so much beauty. I wish you could see it.
We’re moving forward into deeper understandings of what it means to make our homes in His presence. Into deeper glimpses of His beauty and majesty and awe. Into more surrendered worship, even more desperation for Him, and a continual reshaping of identity and dreams in light of who He is. Inching our way closer to the day we get to see him face-to-face and the day we’ll be reunited in His presence.
One thing I ask. One thing I seek: to know Him. to taste and see of His goodness. To revel in the unfathomable reaches of who He is and the baffling & humbling reality that He dwells with us and makes Himself known to us.
Five years out from the last day we held your hand and told you we loved you, and I mostly just want to tell you that Jesus has never been more beautiful. And I want to revel in His goodness together. Or I guess more accurately, I’m coming to see and know and savour His beauty in ways I never have before. Maybe part of that is the life that comes five years into this journey. Maybe that’s the new song that’s coming out of humbling redemption. Maybe it’s the way it feels like so much of life used to feel like wreckage and war-zones and now is lined with wildflowers and more tangible beauty than I quite know how to wrap my head around. His redemption and healing and goodness are vast and deep. And there really is nothing that compares to knowing him and being known by Him.
Last week I couldn’t get the simple lyrics of the song “How Marvelous!” out of my head – singing and meditating on the line “How wonderful, how marvelous is my Saviour’s love for me!” over and over and over. There really isn’t a more beautiful or powerful reality, eh?
That’s the banner over our lives, Dad. That’s the banner over yours – a life marked by the love of the Father and a steady and passionate delight in that love. And that’s the banner over my life too: the unrelenting, unfathomable, and absolutely extravagant of Saviour Jesus.
His steadfast love is our anchor. His steadfast love is our delight.
Miss you always and love you forever, Dad.