Monday, February 15, 2016

D is for Dad (always and forever)

The last time I blogged my way through the alphabet, my dad's death anniversary ended up falling on the day I was scheduled to write on "D".  And here I am, four years later, opting to switch the order to accommodate the fact that it is eleven years ago today we said good-bye to him.  I can't imagine writing about anything else.

At the end of a hike, leaning on Dad like always.

Some of you won't know what to do with this, but my dad has spoken to me across the Great Divide during these months of my leave.  It's usually not as strange as that: mostly I just remember in greater detail things that he said or things that our family did.  Other times I recall wisdom he once shared that I haven't been able to apply until this season of desolation.  But, at least once, Dad spoke to me and it was clear and shocking and exactly what I needed to hear.

I was in my counsellor's office.  I had just been given the first of what would be three letters from my doctor advising my church that I needed to be on medical leave.  She had also recommended I immediately resume counselling, which meant this first visit back was an intake of sorts.  I had stopped seeing my counsellor the year before because I was too overwhelmed with the other demands of life--a first sign, looking back, that things were not going to end well!  At this visit, she and I went over my symptoms: their severity, the length of time they had been present, etc.  I cried throughout the visit, as I had I cried the four days prior, mourning the need to surrender, mourning my inability to press on.  I was ashamed to have failed to keep it together (though, let me be clear: I am well enough now to know there is no shame in being broken by life).

When all had been said for a working diagnosis and an advisory to extend my leave to three months, my counsellor made me do something that, inwardly, I rolled my eyes at: she told me to take a moment of silence and stillness and observe my inner state.

At that point, my "inner state" was a mess.  My symptoms of panic and anxiety were double-teaming me, focusing on my chest and throat, rendering eating and breathing difficult.  I didn't WANT to look inward! It was STUPID to look inward!  But like the good student-soldier-patient I am, I did it.

To my surprise, an image came to my mind:  a dark, hollow space.  Not a room, per se; it was clearly inside of me and the walls had the curve, contour, and colour of flesh.  But jutting out, or rather, hanging just a foot or so from the rosy walls, were thick electrical wires.  The ends were frayed, the inside wires exposed to the air (if there was indeed air in that emptiness).

The image disturbed me, cognitively, because wires are for machines and I had no desire to be a machine.  And perhaps I would have abandoned the image as quickly as I saw it, but my counsellor asked me to name it, and I did; and then she asked me to observe it, which I also did.

In the observing--in that forced silence and sitting with this image I did not like--I remembered suddenly that my father, in his life, had been an electrician.  I said this out loud, the tears falling fresh and fat down my face.

My counsellor asked in reply, "So your dad would know how to fix it?"

"Yes," I whispered, covering my eyes with my hands.  "He would."

She pressed me again.  "What can you receive about this image?"

(I'm covering my face as I write this, and tears are falling fresh again).

"That I can be fixed."

"And what," she asked, "would your dad say to you now?"

This question did not elicit an immediate answer because it raised my level of anxiety.  Dad had been unsure about my forming pastoral identity (as he was about the question of women in ministry in general).  Our last conversation before his diagnosis had been about my impending interim pastorate at a church plant in which Matt and I were involved.  He had been concerned back then about how I would manage it all.

But something burst through that initial anxiety, a truth beyond my fears of critique or condemnation.  If Dad were to speak now, it would not be only with the voice and wisdom he had in the final weeks of his life.  His perspective would be different; how could it not be?  Dad would undoubtedly see me with the compassion of the eternal where he was now, on the Other Side.  And Dad, whose life was cut shorter by burnout, by overwork and over-stress over a building project he would not live to see finished, would speak to me with that knowledge as well.

So I answered with the words that came clearly and which I knew to be right, and still know to be right.

"He would tell me not to kill myself for the church."


A blessing for you, and for me:

God of all comfort, 
Comfort those who mourn:
Whether dreams or dads or delusions of endless strength
Let us receive the Words of Life,
Lovingly given,
From wherever and whomever you choose to speak them.

1 comment:

  1. Amen.
    So much good here . . . in YOU!
    May the Spirit within you re-imagine, re-create, re-new.