Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Kýrie Eléison

Dear Daddy,

You've been gone for one human year now. I miss your laugh and your smile. I miss your singing voice and your music. I miss your hugs and your hands. I miss your face.

H. Norman Wright says it takes at least four years to recover from loss by suicide. (Unless it was your child you lost. From that, you never recover in this life.) Do you know what this first year has been like for those you left behind? Has God allowed you to glimpse us? Have you seen our sorrow? Our gut-wrenching tears? Our crippled functionality? Our nightmares? Our confusion? Our bewilderment?

Sometimes I am very cranky at you, Daddy. You abandoned my mama. You should not have done that. She was the best wife and companion in the history of the world, and you broke your promise to her. That was not nice, Daddy.

But I am only cranky at you sometimes.

I wish I knew what in the world you had been thinking that day. Whenever I verbalize that wish to anyone, they answer without fail, "He wasn't." They remind me that it wasn't Rational Dad who took his own life.

Were you crazy? Were you mentally ill? Or were you completely sane? Was it your final, artistically spectacular renunciation of life?

No. You didn't die in defiance. You died like Judas. Remorseful. It was your final, artistically spectacular renunciation of yourself.

Oh, but Daddy. There was grace for that. There was grace for you.

I read in 2 Corinthians 7:10 the other day that Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Oh, Daddy. Whenever you were sorry for your sin, your sorrow was characterized by self-loathing, self-condemnation, mountains of regret, and severe depression. That is worldly sorrow. That is hopeless sorrow. That is the sorrow that leads to death.

It led to your death.

But that is such a tiny sliver of the bigger picture. The picture I think God is allowing you to see more of now, and the picture He has given me another tiny sliver of this first year of loss.

I want to tell you what your death has taught me so far. Are you listening, Daddy? Can you hear me?

God hears me. He is listening.

Here's what God has shown me.

The first thing I learned is that I have unanswerable questions. "What was he thinking?" No answer. "Why?" No answer. "If only..." No answer. "Could I have stopped it from happening?" No answer.

I would have, Daddy. I would have followed you out to the woods and wrestled you to the ground and screamed my brains out and pleaded and begged. I would have stood below you and put your feet on my shoulders so that you could draw air. I would have saved you, Daddy.

But I could not.

The second thing I learned is that I can leave my unanswerable questions in God's hands. He knows the answers, and He knows me, and He loves me, and He is a big God who doesn't have to tell me anything, but chooses to reveal to me all the things that won't fry my brain by being beyond my ability to comprehend.

The third thing I learned is that God is more sovereign than I thought He was. I had this idea that God had a plan for my life, but if I deviated from it, He sort of said, "Whoops," and had to play catch-up to get me back on track.

Not so. God knew you were going to die, and He spent years preparing me for it. I see that.

The fourth thing I learned is that God does not have to allow evil, and that He often does not. Balaam's donkey is a great example of that. The angels freeing Peter from prison before his planned execution. The parting of the Red Sea allowing the escape of Israel from the storm of Pharaoh's approaching army. Divine intervention all throughout Scripture. God staying the hand of evil. He does it all the time.

Therefore, the fifth thing I learned is that God ONLY allows evil if good can come from it.

That's hopeful.

Your death was evil, Daddy.

But God allowed it. He could have stopped you. You and God only know how many times He stopped you before. He could have gotten you into a fender bender on your way out to Deer Creek. He could have made the branch above you snap. He could have made you run out of gas. He could have done any number of things that, again, probably only you and He would have known about, just like the many times before.

But He didn't.

This time, He didn't stop you.

I am sad for my sake, but I am glad for your sake. What incomprehensible experiences you must be having now! How free must your perfect laughter be! How smooth and peaceful must be the hard lines life had etched into your sweet face! How full of merriment and pure joy must be your ever-twinkling eyes!

You are healed now, Daddy. It's really not fair at all that your healing wounded so many others. But whenever I say to anyone anywhere that something is not fair, I invariably hear your voice in my head, "Who says life is fair?"

I'm so thankful I can still hear your voice in my head. That is a gift from God.

What does His voice sound like? Have you heard the song He is singing over you? What does that sound like? Do you love to hear God sing the way I always loved to hear you sing?

More unanswerable questions.

All of the things I have told you about so far I learned in January, within a month of your death. I can't describe the miracle of knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that God only allows evil if good can come from it. You have no idea how many times I have repeated that phrase to myself these past months. Like a mantra. A lifeline. A bridge from despair to hope. God only allows evil if good can come from it.

And then, over time, I learned something deeper. That God only allows evil if good WILL come from it.

That's different.

Way more hopeful.

That comforting thought carried me right straight through to November. There were even brief moments that I had peace about your dying, and two or three times, I even entertained the notion of letting you go. I certainly learned that one day, my mourning will be turned to dancing.

But not yet.

Not as the one-year anniversary of your death approached and the flashbacks intensified, leaving me spent and incapacitated. Not as the darkness oppressed and the crankiness increased. Not while I have only begun to scratch the surface of healing. Not a mere quarter of the way through Wright's prescribed recovery time period.

Not yet.

But some things have changed. I can walk several miles at once. I am cooking now. Seems trite, but it's not. It's grace. I wish I could hike with you now, Daddy. I wish I could cook for you. I think you would be proud of me.

Are you proud of me?

Please say yes.

Hmm... still no answer. But that's okay. God is proud of me. In fact, He is enamored with me. Enthralled by my beauty, Psalm 45:11 says.

You said that I would always be your girl. You told me a week before you died that I would always be your girl. "You'll always be my girl," you said softly and gently, holding me close and stroking my hair.

I am God's girl now, Daddy.

Always have been, as a matter of fact. You did leave me in very good hands. And I'm in those good hands because of what you spent my entire life teaching me about God. Thank you, Daddy.

Well, partially because of what you taught me. God used you to propel me toward His hands. But mostly, I am in His hands because of the incarnation, sinless life, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection, ascension, reign and imminent return of Jesus Christ.

That's happy.

Mid-November, God gave me another tiny sliver of the big picture of your death. It has seriously rocked my world, and I'm sure it'll be months and months before I can handle any more slivers. Years, probably.

But I want to try to tell you about it, if I can. I'm not sure if I can. It doesn't quite make sense to me yet and it might be tough to put into words. That you might never read. But I am pretending that you're listening. I picture you sitting nearby, picking your nose, trimming your nails, rubbing your bare feet together, interjecting "Uh-huh" at opportune moments, chuckling now and then.

Okay. I'm just going to say it.

Here's the thing.

There is a specific good that will come from evil. There's not just any ol' good that comes from it. There's a specific good.

Our church is going through Genesis, which is a book about God's sovereignty. We're studying Joseph. Sold into slavery. Falsely accused. Imprisoned. Released. Given control of Pharaoh's kingdom. Saw his brothers bow down to him. Didn't say, "I told you so."

His brothers freaked out. "He's gonna get revenge on us!"

But in Genesis 45, Joseph told his brothers about God's sovereignty. He said that God sent him before them.

That doesn't mean the brothers didn't sin, and it doesn't mean they were not responsible for their sin.

God's sovereignty in allowing your death doesn't mean you didn't sin.

But God planned for Joseph to go to Egypt, and He allowed him to get there in a sinful way.

God planned for you to die someday, and He allowed it to happen in a sinful way.

But why?

Why did God plan for Joseph to go to Egypt?

To save many lives.

By allowing Joseph's brothers to sinfully throw him into the pit, sell him into slavery, and lie to their father about it, God saved not only Jacob's family from death by starvation, but ultimately, He redeemed the entire nation of Israel from captivity.

Again, this does not mean the brothers did the right thing. But it does mean that God's plan to redeem Israel succeeded.

This teaching about the interaction of God's sovereignty and man's sin freaked me out, because if Josephs' brothers' sin was part of God's plan, then your death was part of God's plan.

I can't wrap my brain around that.

But that's not the gist of it, Daddy. There's more.

Why use sinful means to accomplish good? Why not just use good to accomplish good?

Romans 11:32 basically explains why God allows evil. Listen to this. "For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all."

Did you catch that? God has bound us to disobedience SO THAT He may have mercy on us.

God allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery SO THAT He could show His mercy to the entire nation of Israel by redeeming them.

One theologian puts it this way: God allows us to sin because it is the ONLY WAY He can demonstrate to us His unfailing love. He allows us to mess things up catastrophically SO THAT He can save us, because He loves us. His salvation demonstrates His love and His power. Psalm 106:8 says, "Yet He saved them for His name’s sake, to make His mighty power known."

That is the specific good. God only allows evil if good will come from it, and the specific good that will come from it is the pouring out of His great mercy. On us all.

Do you get what this means, Daddy?

It means that God allowed you to die in order to show mercy to me.

NO!! My heart and my mind scream out against this idea!! The cost was far too great!! I don't want you to have died so that I could receive mercy!! Couldn't God have shown me mercy another way?! Please, God!! Another way!! Please!! Not my daddy!!

For this, I have sensed an answer. The answer is no. There is no other way I could have been shown this specific kind of mercy. The mercy poured out on those who've lost a parent to suicide. It is a singular mercy no one else is shown. But it has been shown to me.

I have seen tiny glimpses of this mercy during this first surreal year. In the peace that I can feel thickly but not explain. In the knowledge that my Abba Father will never abandon me like you did. In the compassion God has given me for other people who are grieving. Even in the stripping away of Christmas commercialism which leaves only the remembrance of the God who came to die.

I cannot stand before that God and say I do not want this kind of mercy. I do want it. I need it. It is life and breath to me. And oh, Daddy... I beg you to understand what I mean... but I want this mercy... more than I want you back.

And that breaks my heart. It breaks my heart that God's mercy is better than you. It breaks my heart that God's mercy shown to me cost your life. It is too much. Your life in exchange for God's mercy.

But you are not the only one, Daddy. Another gave His life so that God could show mercy to me. And His cost was far greater, because He died sinlessly.

Titus 3:4-7: But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Ephesians 2:4-7: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

That is a sovereign God. That is a loving God. That is the God who allowed the evil of your death, Daddy, so that the specific good of showing specific mercy to me would come from it. And not just to me, but to all those who lost you.

I hope this makes sense. It is completely mind-boggling. Right on the edge of things God doesn't reveal to me because they would fry my brain. I'm just sitting here in bewilderment, pondering this idea.

Which is why Romans 11:32 is followed by Romans 11:33-36.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!
"For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?
Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid?"
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.
To Him be glory forever.

I am on my tenth wedding anniversary trip with Jeff. We chose to celebrate during the anniversary of your death because we thought it best for me to be in a completely quiet, dimly lit room void of responsibility or interaction. Hotels have rooms like that, so it just seemed fitting.

That's a joke, Daddy.

Last year, we didn't do much at all for our anniversary, beings as how it fell two days before your memorial service. Last year, I spent all of our anniversary creating your memorial slideshow, and then we took Ruth out to dinner.

This anniversary is the first "second". All of 2010 was a year of firsts. First birthday without Dad. First 4th of July without Dad. First August 24 without Dad. First Thanksgiving without Dad. First Christmas without Dad.

This is my second wedding anniversary without you. I miss the card you would have sent us.

If I had only known, Daddy, that you would be gone just nine short years after you walked me down the aisle and pronounced Jeff and me to be husband and wife. Oh, Daddy. If I had only known.

And now, here I am, remembering the first anniversary of your death. What a year this has been for those you left behind. A year of mercy. I wonder what kind of year it's been for you. A year of mercy, indeed. The fullness of grace. The presence of God. The depth of His riches and wisdom and knowledge.

Happy first anniversary, Daddy.

I love you.