My Dad, Pearly Gates, and Perfect Love


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This story is about my Dad. My crazy-sanguine-embarrass-me-much-Father … who walked with great depth of emotion and like a pendulum it swung him to heights of great passion and then plummeted him to the opposite end of  his regrets in this life. This is part of his story, a bit of my story, and some of our story. The story of his journey to the end of this life, and to the beginning of his next. It is a memoir of an ending, but I believe it is the beginning of a better story that one day I’ll hear in heaven where, hopefully, a better me will see him again.

So being in my thirty some-things … I’m finally in a place where I can write this story. There is something about being in your thirties and finally having a clearer view of the past, being in a place where you can finally come to terms with your faults and those of the ones you love. The insecurities of a younger self begin to ebb away as the pride and invincibility of our youth is traded for wisdom gained from lessons learned the hard way; ones that have led us to greater compassion solely because we realize our desperate need for it.

My mom and dad were divorced five months after I was born. To my father’s credit I didn’t know a childhood without him, he was always faithful to come see me or fly me out to see him. He bought my back-to-school clothes every year and my Mom bought my summer clothes. He doted on buying my Easter dresses and trying to culture me with name brands. My Mom and Dad were opposites in every way. My Mom shopped at Mervyn’s, my Dad shopped at Macy’s. My Mom was non-addictive, my Dad was highly addictive and somehow that seems an understatement. My Mom was socially friendly, my Dad was extravagantly charming (Look hard enough and you can find me perfectly in the middle.) That’s the way it’s supposed to work … right? Opposites attracting? I didn’t get to hear the stories about how much he loved my Mom and why he was drawn to her until shortly before he passed, I think somewhere deep inside I needed to know they loved each other when they had me; and if he hadn’t struggled with rage and acting on that rage that we could have had a chance at being a normal family.

I lived with him off and on during some adolescent hard patches. I’ve never met anyone quite like him. He was so charming … people were drawn to him and he always dazzled a stranger … calling waitresses “Sweetheart” like they had been friends forever. He wore strong expensive cologne and insisted I wear a nice perfume from a young age. He was so yuppy in every way. I remember all the girl’s volleyball games he took me to at the local university and the plays put on by the local community theater. He also sent me to etiquette school, at the time it seemed silly but now I look back and see what a gift it was. He was always concerned that my Mom wouldn’t raise me to be cultured enough. He gave me the opportunity to embrace the creative element in me and I did. My love of the arts started young and it was in these moments it began.

I think back on these memories and all the painful things I’ve had to go through in my life. I’m not afraid anymore of being broken, like I was in my twenties, trying desperately to hold my life together like I had the power. I see the beauty of the mosaic I’ve become … if I had not been broken on the rock that is Christ … I would not have been able to take only the good pieces leaving behind the bad, becoming and being the art only God can create. These memories are among my favorite pieces.

My dad really struggled with anger and managing it and a lot of his relationships were ended because of it. My heart is to honor my Dad with this story, so I’m not going to go into all those details except to say when I was twelve he sought prolonged counseling and thereafter was without incident until he passed away. Which in my eyes makes him an overcomer… anyone who finds fault in themselves and fights for change and sees that change become a reality deserves a standing ovation.

He overcame some great struggles and carried others till the day he died. He started smoking when he was in sixth grade. I don’t remember ever seeing a picture where he wasn’t smoking or trying to hide a cigarette behind his back. His mom died of emphysema and ultimately that is the disease that took my Dad’s life as well.

I found out when he was in his late forties he was beginning to have some chronic lung problems and around the time he turned fifty he received the emphysema diagnosis. Shortly after he got his breathing machine I received my hand inscribed copy of Tuesdays with Morrie: a book by Mitch Albom. He said it would help me deal with the levels of accepting his looming death and how quickly he would physically weaken. I resisted reading the book for months thinking, “My God is bigger, He can help me … I don’t need to read that book.” But then God said, “Honor your father and read the book. You’ll find wisdom in the book and then I’ll strengthen you with truth.” I read the book non-stop for two days, taking moments off to weep and prepare my heart for the journey ahead. I talked to my Dad about how God heals. But heaven became the healing he wanted and during this time he truly gave his heart to the Lord.  He had been so wounded in this life, now that he believed in heaven, it just sounded like a better place. As he opened up his heart to the Lord, the Lord began to restore the relationships between my dad and his children.

I know when the Lord spoke to me in the middle of freaking out in a Texas tornado, sirens going off, this Cali girl flipping out, crying out to God, “I’m all alone! I’m scared! Well Jesus, I guess you’re here …” Then His presence came in like a flood and I was humbled by my unbelief. All I wanted to do is repent but He asked me to shush because He wanted to do the talking. He told me to go back to California to see my father alone without my husband. He showed me I had some giants to kill on the way to my promised land of emotional health and wholeness. I had to go this one alone with the Lord and the victory was already mine. I thought of the emotional work this would require and wondered if I could handle going where the Lord was asking me to go. Could I say what I needed to say? Could I show greater love then the pain I knew as a child? Could I extend grace and accept love the way my father was capable of showing it and not be disappointed that it never looked or felt the way I wanted it? Could this look like healing? I was so lost in His presence and the commissioning of this divine assignment that when I opened my eyes I had totally forgotten about the tornado and the storm had passed.

The hardest thing for me to come to terms with during this time was that I so desperately wanted him to see the real me before he passed. The greatest pain I felt from our relationship was the pain of being misunderstood or not known. Always trying to change this perception of me that he had made up in his mind … that I was reserved, that I was emotionless, and sometimes cold. As my husband knows all too well … I’ve always been very in touch with my feelings and love adjectives, so explaining how I feel has never been hard for me. By golly, I can tell you what color my feelings are and every shade in between, for that matter. I wanted him to see that. I can’t say for sure that he did but I can say we had long healing talks and revisited memories where we both offered each other grace and respected each other’s truth (although differing slightly) of the same painful situations. We shared our current struggles, how we wanted to see God in them. He wanted his children to remember him, I just wanted to have children. My husband and I were in the midst of a year and a half battle with infertility (the pain of not knowing what was wrong with me and longing so dearly for one to call my own.) My dad took this on as his prayer assignment. His prayers were so precious with the fervor of a young Christian. I would actually hear him praying for us from his shower when I was visiting. My husband said I came home a new woman from that trip, he could tell God had healed and shifted things on the inside of me. I didn’t carry the daddy pain into my relationship with my husband anymore, the wounded little girl in me had let go of the pains of the past and was able to grow up.

I wasn’t there when my dad passed. My older brother was there and told me he had taken a nap and as he was breathing after he exhaled, the breaths became farther apart until finally he exhaled and never inhaled again. I had a dream about him two weeks after he went to be with the Lord, only I was the one in the room with him when he passed and everything was happening the way my brother explained. Except after he took his last breath, I saw his spirit leave his body and ascend to heaven to stand before two Angels at the entrance of heaven. They asked him what prayer he’d like answered on his way into heaven. As he asked the angels of the Lord for his daughter to get pregnant I began sobbing in my dream and woke up to a wet pillow and was sobbing hard in my bed. It was the first time I had ever been crying in my dream and really crying at the same time. We found out two weeks later we were pregnant with our first son. I knew God was letting me know my fathers heart for me and that when he had entered heaven, the environment of perfect love, he was healed from the pains of this life and through the eyes of perfect love he finally saw me and how much I loved him.

You see, this is a testimony that God is in the business of redeeming everything you will give to Him. We all have had relationships in our lives that aren’t perfect because there are no perfect people. We have been hurt by people we love and we have hurt people we love. But God is able to heal our hearts as we extend grace and walk in forgiveness. I hope you find hope in this story that He redeems. I pray hope gives you the strength to trust your own struggles into the hands of His perfect love. I will testify … He can be trusted!

With Great Love!

~ Ris

You can also see this post at: Destiny in Bloom

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