From my readings this morning:
“They forgot what He had done, the wondrous works He had shown them. He worked wonders in the sight of their fathers. …He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink as abundant as the depths. But they continued to sin against Him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High. They deliberately tested God, demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying ‘Is God able to provide?’ …People ate the bread of angels. He sent them an abundant supply of food. …Despite all this, they kept sinning and did not believe his wondrous works…their hearts were insincere toward him, and they were unfaithful to His covenant. Yet He was compassionate; he atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them. He often turned His anger aside and did not unleash all His wrath. He remembered that they were only flesh, a wind that passes and does not return.” (Psalm 78, excerpts)
I’m always so shocked at God’s extravagant mercy towards us frail and bumbling humans. God is merciful, not in ignorance of our humanity, but in the face of it. At our most indignant, He is mercy. In our most inexcusable, He is mercy. He initiates all compassion and atones for our sin before we have the sense to ask for it or appreciate it. He was merciful from the beginning. He is mercy. It’s all mercy, all of it. Our joys and our griefs and our suffering and our delights. It’s sheer gift.
My dad died suddenly this week. I’ve lived in fear of this day since I was 14, and no matter how much counseling you go to, or how much work you do, there’s no preparing for it. In the days to come, I expect far less than half of what I write to be legible, or worth reading, so feel free to unsubscribe now. I’ll probably come back and archive it, like other raw posts. But I am a writer; I write to make sense of this world, and to help others somehow make sense of theirs. And so I must write.
C.S. Lewis wrote about the death of his wife, Joy, in A Grief Observed;
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be around me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”
I haven’t read the book yet, as I was saving it for when my father died, and I gave my copy to my dear friend when her mother died. I’ve drawn strength from Lewis’ words during some of my more arduous trials; I know reading this “with” him will feel like going through it with a friend. I have to write the eulogy today, because the funeral is tomorrow. I’m going to write at barnes and noble, so I’ll pick up a copy there.
Grief does feel like fear. I don’t know why. But it does. The same weight on my chest, and racing heart, and that feeling of not being able to catch my breath. But not all the time. The worst moments are the doubling over, when the sobbing comes from my belly and I can’t quite bear up under them. But like the fear, those are mercifully infrequent.
Most of the time, it just feels like I’m under a blanket. But like Paul says in Thessalonians, it isn’t grief without hope. I have never felt so close to the Lord, so buffered and comforted by His peace. It’s thicker and weightier than ‘the blanket’. It’s not delusion, and it’s not a trite religious cliche; it’s the faithfulness of God, just doing what He promised in His word – being near us in our suffering, being our comfort. I feel the presence of God in prayer (and more often, in my inability to pray these days), in the space in between the errands and planning and trying to figure out the funeral, or when I’m the only one awake in those awful midnight hours – I feel Him. I feel Him near, and I feel the love and peace of God that surpasses all understanding. I sometimes wish there was a way to feel this close to God when we’re not suffering, but I don’t want to be greedy. It’s all a gift, and life is gift enough as it is. I am grateful for His presence.
Planning a funeral though, what a disaster. Who knew this was a thing? Smart people, probably. Planning a funeral feels a little bit like throwing together a church conference in 3 days with no budget, no headcount, and the main speaker is dead. Music? I don’t know. Flowers, and pallbearers, and bulletins, and photos. What are mourners going to eat? Also, it’ll be 34 degrees at graveside. Also I need makeup that doesn’t run. Also, maybe I put on ten pounds during an already trying year, and none of my dressy clothes fit, so make sure that comes together. It’s a special time, guys.
But so many “small” mercies have come together to make it all come together – most of them actually are not small, but rather enormous, extravagant mercies – and I will write of them in the days to come. For now, it is enough to say there is nothing like friendship, and I am the richest woman on earth in this regard.
I love my dad. God knows, and now I know my daddy knows. I love him so much. He was so handsome. He was so intelligent, and I think he was tender underneath it all. I don’t deny or repress the reality of how some things were; it’s just not important now. Mercy doesn’t take it into account, I think. It’s not like math, where it all has to add up. I don’t have adjectives like “good” or “bad”, and I’m not qualified to use them anyway; all I have is “mine” – he was my dad, and I love him.
I love you, daddy. It’s snowing right now, and you’ll get to see the leaves again this year. Hasta mañana.