My Daddy's Life (and Death) Lesson
Daddy was one of the most intelligent men I've ever known. His understanding of logic, science and math was immense. His passion for it made others want to learn their science lessons from him. He was also laid back and go with the flow. I rarely ever saw Daddy angry or irritated. I was the opposite, always looking for the next project or high emotion. I grew up seeing Daddy's "passivity" as a negative. Surely success, stability and safety only come from my doing, preparing, and performing.
Daddy would be a key teacher in a painful lesson. It seems I'm still learning this even today.
It was move in week for my senior year at college. Daddy arrived back into town after a work trip to North Carolina and called and asked me to come home right then.
Daddy needed to tell me of his experience in North Carolina. Just by the sound of his voice on the phone the previous week, I knew he had changed somehow. I had no idea how life altering his experience truly was.
"Liz, you know how sometimes when things get stressful and you go to pray and then you feel Him and His peace and you feel better? He showed up to me in the hotel room in such a way that I didn't have to go anywhere and seek Him. He was just there. His peace flooded me. I found myself making an excuse to run to the store, seek out someone that needed help and grab the opportunity to tell them about Him."
This was not like my daddy. Daddy was not known as the public seeker. His faith was always a quiet one, reveling in the science and mystery of the Creator. Their relationship was sometimes a private one. His desire to go seek others in North Carolina was a sudden, huge, transformation. He had learned a new layer of our Father and he couldn't hold it in anymore. My introvert daddy was seeking others out to share Him.
A few days went on like this and then one night, in his hotel room, he got down on his knees and prayed. "You can have anything you want - my job, my family, my belongings, my health. Just don't ever let this presence leave me. I want to feel you like this forever."
The next day he couldn't breathe and collapsed at his worksite. A trip to the ER showed he had a mass in his lung. (Talk about a response to that prayer. Little did we know just how He would honor Daddy's request and be so present to him over the next year.)
He cut his trip short, drove all night and sat with Momma, my aunt, and me around our kitchen table and told us this news that would forever change our lives.
For the next 13 months I went into fix it overdrive. Any prayer, any anointing, any charity gift, any tap dance I could think of doing, I did and mastered all for the chance of an approving nod from this God that I knew, but had yet to really know like my daddy did. We prayed and read scripture, begging and pleading for a miracle, a healing from this aggressive lung cancer.
I watched my daddy sleep more and more. Chemo zapping his energy, but never his smile. I stood in the bathroom with him and shaved his head because he wanted to chose when his hair would fall out.
I was with him when we found out the treatment was working. The cancer was shrinking and we heard the word remission. He was so excited we had to interrupt momma at school with a surprise visit to tell her about this amazing early Christmas present our family was receiving. "He liked my tap dance. It worked!" I would think subconsciously to myself.
The new year of 2005 began at a break neck speed. As Daddy began to regain strength, we cautiously put our guard down not realizing that the fear of cancer coming back is almost as gut wrenching as finding the tumor the first time.
I began to student teach, job hunt, take state testing and plan a wedding. My mind and heart a whirlwind of thoughts and feelings.
I would almost find myself getting mad at daddy whenever I would see him napping throughout the day. "You've beaten it. Quit reminding me of it and get up and do something." Those words are hard to type out, even now 12 years later. I did not want him to rest, but to get up and show off the triumph that "our family" had won. I wanted no reminders of the battle or any reason to fear it might start up again. I was tired and knew I had run out of my own strength to fight anything.
One of the first weeks of my teaching career, momma called to tell me she spotted a huge lump on Daddy's neck. I didn't want to hear it and tried to blow her off as worrying too much. There's no way it could be back. We were tested. Our faith and our tap dancing passed us on to the next level that would be full of no heartache or fear.
But deep down I knew.
It was back.
After a failed clinical trial, I took him to a follow up with his normal oncologist. Daddy made me wait in the hallway. I told him I knew he would ask the doctor about time remaining and I could handle it. He made me leave anyway. After ten minutes, my impatient self couldn't take it anymore. I opened the door and saw the doctor ripping up his final prescription, our last hope. I demanded to know what she thought she was doing. I fought. I collapsed. I cried out to daddy and kept asking why. Keep fighting!!! Don't give up! He just looked at me with tears, "I'm tired, Liz."
That was the final blow. My whole little world shattered. He was done.
Hospice workers told me that daddy didn't need me to fight anymore. He needed me to help him make his way over. I took that challenge head on. If I couldn't save him I would do everything I could to keep him peaceful.
Momma made me go back to work that Tuesday. I called about 9:30 to check on him. She told me It was time to come home.
I kept praying the whole ride home, hazard lights flashing, I'm coming Daddy. Wait on me. I'm coming Daddy. Hang on.
I threw myself up the porch steps and collapsed next to their bed. The family was all gathered around and I forced them to move so I could grab his hand. He had been unconscious for some time, but was still breathing.
I told him I was there and began to promise we would never forget him. We would think of him whenever we saw planes, lightening, nasty tuna fish sandwiches, NASA, races.
We all saw tears began to escape from his eyes and run down his cheeks. He was hearing us.
My sister began to talk and told him we would be ok. That he could go.
And he did.
I don't know how everyone in the room knew it was his last breath.
I know it seems crazy, but I saw/felt something rise up out of him. In defiance I leapt on top of his broken body willing his spirit to come back. Somehow thinking that I had the power to do that.
I felt like a failure. I spent years wanting to know why he didn't fight and why my fight for him wasn't enough to sway His mind to let him stay. Why didn't my tap dance work?
"Some God you are. You don't listen to prayers. You are cruel. Why would you take my Daddy? I've never rebelled and always tried to tow the line and this is how I get repaid? Why do I even try to dance?"
That's a good question. Why do I try to dance?
Over the next few years we all slowly tried to pick up the pieces of our lives and move on. Relearning how to walk and breathe with this hole in our lives. I never knew an absence could be so present.
The fear of another loss became heavy and overwhelming. So I polished up those dance shoes and did everything I could to keep Momma from going anywhere.
It didn't work. I wasn't enough. The tap dance didn't keep her around. She joined Daddy 7 years after he passed.
You would think I would have learned by now. But no. I then had to tap to prove I could handle being an executor of her estate. I had to tap to prove I would be ok. I couldn't let anyone else down. I felt I had failed my parents. I now had a husband and two young children depending on me. What dance would they need?
Throughout that tiring, lonely, fearful ordeal I kept hearing "Be still."
Be still? Ok. Is that the name of the new tap dance? Ok fine. For how long? An hour a day? Throughout the day? Like silence? Yoga? What? What else in this world do I need to do to earn enough of your favor for limitless protection??? Tell me the magic process for ensuring the safety and well being of the only remaining family I have left.
I was exhausted.
My soul was tired of dancing.
I was resentful and I didn't know how to do anything but perform for my needs and wishes.
The phrase began to irk me as I saw being still as passive and I equated passivity to dying, giving up, surrender, loss of control.
Over the years, I am slowly understanding that both of my Fathers were trying to teach me the same lesson since that hot August day at the kitchen table.
Yes, it does mean dying (to self), giving up, surrender and loss of control.
It also means trusting in something greater than yourself, allowing yourself to soak in the moment you have, knowing the outcome is not always up to whatever you may or may not do. But it lies in One so much greater at being in control than you are.
Daddy's passivity and acceptance ticked me off, but I realize he was content in His hands. He knew the situation would be ok regardless of the outcome. He refused, REFUSED, to spend whatever time he had left spending all of his energy on something that was not in his area of control anyway.
He did pray. He prayed for strength and healing, but he understood then what I am still learning.
God did not cause this to happen. He did not cause the pain and the fear. Daddy knew that there was no need to tap dance to try to get a certain result and obtain peace. He rested in the protection of the Almighty. He allowed Him to fight this battle in anyway He chose.
I saw his passivity as weak. It was actually an amazing strength to be able to walk into the furnace and say, "and if not...He is still good."
I desperately wanted him to behave one way and he knew the lesson his over achieving, fretful, people pleasing girl needed to see was one not of always working for acceptance, but trusting and accepting the life that has been given. Knowing that regardless of the trials and trauma He is near. Daddy, in his last battle, was teaching me to be still.
I'm so regretful and sorry that it has taken me all of this time to see that he wasn't being passive, he was being still. And that's NOT a weakness, but a mighty strength. To surrender. To trust. The outcome is not always all on my shoulders.
My job is not to do His job. He is not expecting me to. He understands my limited strength. My job is to TRUST HIM to do His job and accept whatever that outcome may or may not look like because I know that He doesn't waste hurt and He is FOR me.
My job is to take my eyes off of the trials and steady keep them on the one who remains unchanged. The one who was there when I yelled obscenities at Him after my daddy left the physical world. The one who was there at the piano when I cried my heart out in pain over losing momma. The one who enters our aches when we choose to be still and invite Him in. He never left, even when (especially when) I took off those tap shoes and threw them at Him. Could this be what He wanted me to do all along? For how could He dance WITH me when I was always trying to dance FOR Him? Maybe I needed to be still to learn that, surprise! Liz, He doesn't need your dance and performance.
I have had a paradigm shift. Success does not mean striving. It is ok to rest and trust. It is not always go go go. Thank you Daddy for that priceless lesson you have taught me in your life and in your death.
Be still. It doesn't mean giving up. Sitting still does not equal weakness or passivity. You don't risk "losing your place" if you are still.
What freedom. What peace. What acceptance. What a beautiful new dance partner. What a beautiful new dance that sometimes has very few steps.
I love you,