Creating New Memories of Dad

Creating New Memories of Dad
Ashe Gold

Have you ever revisited a memory only to discover that your recollection was, in some way, skewed?

This happened to me recently.

I was thinking back to when I was 12 or 13, spending a day with my dad. We were in Morocco. Epcot’s Morocco.

My folks had recently divorced. At the time, my sister and I were living in Jacksonville, Florida, with my mom but for reasons I can’t remember, this day-trip to Orlando was just for Dad and me.

We were having a blast – “hoofing it” as Dad always said – walking quickly all over the park to take in as much as we possibly could in 12 or so hours. Just before dinner, we stopped at Morocco, and as we admired the leather goods in the shops, I told Dad I needed to visit the ladies’ room.

There, I discovered what every adolescent girl dreads.

And dear God. I was not prepared. No purse. No supplies. Nothing.

Feeling slightly nauseous, with butterflies in my stomach, I marched outside. Dad was standing by a dim streetlamp, basking in the sunset over the man-made lake.

“Dad, I need a quarter.”

He looked down at me with his calm, bright blue eyes, smiled and asked, “Why do you need a quarter?”

“Uhmmm. For the machine in the ladies’ room.”

His forehead wrinkled and lips puckered in perplexity.

Time stood still for me.

Perhaps a millisecond later, he began to fumble ferociously for a quarter, patting his shirt pocket and the pockets on the front and back of his shorts without feeling anything. Finally, he found the handful of change, opened his palm, and fished out one shiny 25 cent piece.

I took it from him without a word.

When I returned, he was fidgety. There was a crisp air of uncertainty about him.

“So,” he tried to sound casual, “Where would you like to eat? We can go anywhere in the world!”

So Dad. So typical of Dad to attempt humor just then. And I showed my gratitude with a grudging smile.

We settled on Japan, where, over my first-ever bowl of udon I also felt for the first time that necessary parting of ways – the separation that comes between the child and the parent, and in this case, between a girl and her father. Things would be unsaid. Experiences would be unshared. Life would be lived separately.

But there is more.

I used to think this story was about me and the time my monthly cycle began at Epcot Center. And it is – in a very small way. What’s more important however, is that Grace showed up that day, and taught me a lesson for life about men.

My dad is a gentleman through and through. That doesn’t mean he always responds with composure or perfect words the first moment of a challenging situation; it means that he will respond correctly when given the fullness of an opportunity. The distinction is important.

This little incident was a building block planted by Grace in my life. How do I know? Because my father’s response to me – initially awkward, but full of love and tenderness – was a foreshadowing of interactions I would later have with my husband. By looking back on this memory, I can see that I was being taught that today I am to give my husband room and time to respond with the love and compassion I know he has for me, even if the circumstances of any given situation take him by surprise.

Men get a lot of bad press these days, and yes – there are more than a few out there who are behaving poorly and thus becoming fodder for headlines, memes, and tabloids. But I’ve been blessed to know many good men – righteous men who through their actions, big and small, show their love and concern for the women and children in their lives. Fathers especially, who shepherd their families with perseverance and thoughtfulness. They aren’t showy or prideful about their contributions; they do it out of the purity of their hearts, and we would do well to honor them appropriately and regularly for it.

The love these men express is a reflection of the bigger Love – the eternal Love. The One that brought all of us into being through the free gift of Grace and uses individuals to do work in the world. Love is an unparalleled force that we cannot escape, and we desire it above everything else.

Relationships with parents can be complicated. Holidays like Father’s Day can stir up a whole host of emotions. But deep within, many of us want to feel or say something more than, “Have a beer on me, Dad!” “Play some golf!” “Take a load off!” or the generic, “Enjoy your day!” Even if our dads have passed on and our interactions were troubled, we want to have hearts of gratitude for these men who touched our lives so deeply.

The not-so-secret secret that Grace teaches is that gratitude is a practice that can be learned. So here’s an exercise for building gratitude for your dad (and indeed any man in your life) that you can try – today.

1) Think of time when he was tender to you. An isolated incident.

2) Visualize yourself through his eyes. Remember that you were his child. Consider how he must have felt as he looked at your face. However imperfectly he expressed his emotions for you, try to imagine the stirrings of his heart.

3) Add the emotion you feel from this “imaginative view” to your databank of knowledge about your dad. Assume his best intentions. Grant him a bit more grace in your heart and you will want to act toward him accordingly.

Can the past teach us about the present?

Does Grace always show up in our life’s story if we look closely enough?

I believe the answer to these questions is ‘Yes.’ And we can respond with gratitude today if we can gradually come to believe that there’s a God who was walking with us then, and who walks with us still.

Rock Steady Dad

Rock Steady Dad

It was like I had been kicked in the gut by a World Cup player. My abdomen was screaming and I couldn’t turn in any direction.

I felt cold (why are hospitals always cold?), and must have mentioned it to someone in the room, because the 49-year old man at the end of the bed was gently putting socks on my feet and tucking blankets around my legs while telling me a story in his soft bass voice – that one voice that always soothed me more than any other.

I don’t know what he was talking about, exactly. My eyes were growing heavy. But I was faintly aware of a smile on my face.

“Jim – I don’t think she’s following you,” said my mom.

“That’s ok,” said Dad, looking away from me for just long enough to give Mom a grin and a nod. He continued in a lilting sing-song way. “It’s not the words that I say that matter. I’ll go on talking like this for as long as I need to.”

It was January 1995 and I was lying in New York University Hospital after an emergency appendectomy. I was 22 years old, 8 months out of college, and living in New York City when I was gripped with acute stomach pain that mystified doctors for three days because I failed to have the normal appendicitis symptoms. (That’s a whole ‘nother story. Since NYU is a learning hospital, let’s just say we all still wonder if they’re keeping my appendix in a jar somewhere, filed under ‘bizarre cases.’)

My folks had been divorced for more than a decade. Mom had driven 100 mph from Philadelphia the day before and Dad came up by train from Washington, D.C. that morning when I was in surgery. I will always be grateful that after their divorce they could come together gracefully whenever necessary for the sake of my sister and me.

I can count on my dad to be a voice of calm when I’m upset, fearful, or hurting. He is like a shelter in the storm – a steady presence who knows that a willingness to listen and sympathize is most often the first thing people need to make it through a tough time.

Dad and me. New Orleans, 1991.
Dad and me. New Orleans, 1991.

He’s ready to serve – ready to help – and in the most self-effacing kind of way. He’ll happily do whatever is needed for whomever asks. I’ve seen him spend hours patiently fixing broken appliances, detangling necklaces, and running small errands because he knows it will make life easier for the family he loves. He doesn’t need the flashy job that would garner applause from others; he’ll do the one that’s most necessary, no matter how unglamorous it is. And he’ll do it with a grateful, loving heart.

And that’s really the point of this post.

Today is my dad’s 70th birthday. I knew it was his birthday when I woke up this morning. I mailed his gift to Texas earlier this week, and I plan to talk with him today. But he isn’t a guy who demands attention in any sort of way. He’d never in a million years ask you to throw him a party. And we’ll hopefully be getting together in the next couple months.

So – to be totally honest, I forgot this birthday was a milestone.

70 years. Seventy decades of being the rock that so many people who love him rely on, and KNOW they can rely on because he is the most dependable, good-hearted guy around. The kind of guy who deserves a standing ovation, and is probably the least likely to get one.

Dad – today I just want to thank you. For being the father I could always count on. For being there. For doing what was necessary, whenever necessary, for me. For being someone who loves without limits. May your reward in heaven be spectacular, because God knows we all fall short of loving you enough here on earth.

Claudia’s Day

image“Mom – Why is God’s plan so hard to understand?”

It is the penultimate question. Asked on a big day. But my daughter had no way of knowing that. I haven’t told her that today marks one year since my stepsister Claudia entered heaven. That Claudia is on my mind. In my heart. And always will be.

“I don’t know.” I answered honestly. “But God is much smarter than we are, and we have to trust him. He wants the best for us – to keep us with Him forever. And while bad things may happen in our lives, He just wants us to lean closer to Him when they do, because if we do, He promises to protect us always in the end. Because while our bodies hurt, our souls are protected. Forever. When we choose Him.”

I was preaching to myself as much to her.

September 13, 2014, my family lost Claudia to complications following childbirth. Over the course of 3 1/2 weeks as Claudia fought for her life in the ICU, my family and I spent hours on our knees, and I posted prayers for her on Facebook. And when she passed, I was emotionally exhausted for weeks.

What many find strange is that I didn’t know Claudia all that well. My father and my stepmom had been married at that point for 12 years, and had 7 grown children between them when they met. My stepmom is from Chile, and over the last decade or so, most of her 5 children had remained there. So, I only met Claudia in person about 3 times. Nevertheless, we were family, and when family is in crisis, family comes together. 

It’s nearly impossible to describe the power of the Holy Spirit when He  intervenes. And it was completely His work in using me to pray for Claudia. I felt a love for her like I would for my blood sister, whom I’d known for 39 years. I was ready to pray for Claudia day and night. I wanted to know every detail about her health status, the care of her baby, the welfare of all those closest to her. There was a holy fire lit in me that I still can’t explain. I just loved her. And I knew that Jesus had called me to this privilege. And the next thing I knew, I began to write down my prayers on Facebook.

I had never before done something like that. Never before had I put my faith before a public audience. And I was completely unafraid. I felt the boldness and confidence of the Lord in my heart and it brought me joy and peace to appeal to Him daily on behalf of Claudia.

Within a couple weeks, I felt another nudge from the Holy Spirit to begin this blog, and I know without a doubt that if I hadn’t been primed for the experience by writing prayers, I either would have ignored this nudge, or backed down from it out of fear.

So that’s what I want to say today. I want to thank my sister Claudia for opening a new door for me. I have always thought it was the Holy Spirit that prompted me to write this blog, to accept that 31-day writing challenge that started it all. But the other day, I had a passing notion – ‘Hey – What if she was the one who came up with the idea? Maybe whispered it in Jesus’s ear? Hmm? Can these things happen in heaven?’

I don’t know. But this last year of writing and following through on that holy nudge has been her lasting gift to me, and I am really looking forward to meeting her again someday.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:38-39

They are Yours…

Saturday night I received this photo from my dad via text message.

Then he wrote:

“Just left Seattle for 7 day cruise to Alaska. Our first real vacation since 2002….Have a great week!  We will!!” 

There was a party hat emoticon at the beginning of the message, and a smiley face at the end. I think it’s safe to say he and his wife were looking forward to this trip.

And at 8:15 last night as I was cleaning up the kitchen, I realized that at that moment, both my mom and her husband, as well as my mother- and father-in-law were flying over the Atlantic Ocean. One couple to Dublin, the other to Budapest. It’s my mom’s first trip to Ireland – place of her grandparents’ birth, and yesterday was my mother-in-law’s birthday. Great way to celebrate, right? Special days for two women I cherish.

I’ve known about these three trips for quite some time; they’ve been marked on my calendar for weeks. But having all three sets of our parents out of the Continental U.S. at the same time feels a bit strange. At 43, my husband and I are grown-ups (at least our kids think so), and we have been for awhile, but a part of me still wants to know that Mom and Dad can be accessed easily. If we need them. I know we are very, very blessed to still have all of our parents.  But knowing something doesn’t always protect you from your emotions. And with two sets above the Atlantic, anxiety started to rear its ugly head.

The churning inside only lasted a couple of minutes, as my mind started to explore the what-ifs. But I cut off the worries by reaching higher.

“Lord, I trust in You. I know You love them so much more than I do. Lord, I trust in You. Please keep them safe. Lord, I trust in You.” 

The peace which surpasses all understanding came, as He promises us it will when we put our faith in Him. And when my mind starts to get the better of me, I’ll repeat that truthful refrain.

Lord, I trust in You. 

Pocket Cross

A friend of mine told me that her parish priest once asked this question in a homily:

“If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Great question.  Ever since I heard it, I keep revisiting it, because really, if I’m a Christian, does my life demonstrate my love for Christ?

I thought about this question today when I opened up my wallet – not to give away money, though maybe I should be doing more of that.  No, I thought about it because the light bounced off my little stainless steel cross, and the minute I saw it I thought about my dad.

My dad is an intelligent man. An engineer and former military officer.  A man of principle.  A man of faith.  He can certainly explain his belief in Scripture, but for me, his quiet, reverent heart has always spoken most clearly to me about The Lord.  And if he were accused of being a Christian, his life would turn up lots of convicting material, but hidden on his person would also be one thing in particular…

When I picture my dad stepping up to pay for something at a cash register, I see his gentle hands cupping three things: coins, a silver pocket knife, and a stainless steel cross.

That cross.  It has always been there.  It serves as an outward sign of the personal relationship he’s been ready to share – freely, as it was given to him.  Over the years, he’s witnessed silently to countless clerks who saw that cross, one at a time, as he opened his hand to pay for groceries, meals, hardware, craft supplies, gifts, newspapers, sodas, and more.  It’s evidence of a Christian that just keeps turning up, and for my dad – a reminder to himself that his God is Emmanuel – always with him.

 

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