It’s been nearly a year since I wrote God will give you more than you can handle. A whole year. I can hardly believe it. It still surfaces as one of my most-read blogs of all time and I don’t … Continue reading
This is one of those blog posts where I’ve written the first sentence about thirteen different times and I’ve deleted it just as many times. Here goes sentence number fourteen. I think it’s because deep down inside I dread talking … Continue reading
Some people have been wondering why I haven’t written about the shooting yet that occurred right in my backyard at Marysville Pilchuck High School. I’ve wondered that myself. But something like that–well, it’s safe to say that it froze my … Continue reading
Here I sit in the early morning light and my whole house is still asleep except for me. There is a decorative pumpkin already on the coffee table and a candle that smells like cinnamon. And every now and then … Continue reading
I write this while flat on my back on the couch. The World Cup buzzes in the background and I catch myself just staring at it every now and then, almost too weak to type. I’ve been laid up in … Continue reading
I bet everyone can agree that there’s always beauty in beginnings.
Driving to the hospital to meet my newborn nephew the other day, getting the keys to that first apartment or the brand new cherry-red car on my 16th birthday. Putting a veil on and carefully tying the back of a brand new wedding dress, accepting that much-prayed-for job offer, the first day on a brand new campus that’d be home to my lifelong memories. Beginnings always carry a sweet smelling perfume of a memory to me. But endings? No. Normally, *unless it’s a boring movie or a canker sore* endings are the stuff that tragedy is made up of.
At least it seems like it.
Recently I got the news that my sister-in-law’s best friend Logann was diagnosed with cancer for a second time. But this time, it’s in its final stages. My sister-in-law had cancer too and died just two years ago. Logann’s sister, Lauren, reached out to me with pictures and memories, and before long I was scrolling through her facebook page, blinking back tears and reading statuses that hint at worsening symptoms. I don’t know Logann much, but I know how it feels to face an ending.
I carefully clicked through the photos of the young faces of the kids she’ll soon leave behind. The ending for their family is coming, just as it had for Natalie, who didn’t even make it to that last trip to DisneyLand with her kids. Just as it had for my Dad who hadn’t even had the time to acquire wrinkles. Just as it had for countless faces and names from my readers who share pictures and stories throughout my inbox–people who share the general ache of having been through an ending of some sort.
For some, it’s the ending that comes with seeing a child move across the country with a new husband and a U-Haul. For some, it’s the loss of a career or a divorce that leaves empty drawers, empty halls, and an empty heart. For some, it’s the ending that comes with a severed friendship or a miscarriage that leaves you with empty arms and a few loose ultrasound pictures to prove that a child ever even existed.
Time can seem like a relentless, cruel train that moves fast and uninterrupted. Time stops for no one and quickly reminds us that every day we’re dying or nearing an end of something. Some of us just know when that time will be, others of us have no idea.
It all just ends in an ending, we think.. And the only beauty we can possibly hope for is that there will be a beginning soon after.
But what if we decided to find the beauty before that eventual beginning? Is it possible? Well, today–I learned it is.
Today was General Conference in my church. General Conference is a time when leaders of my church come together to talk about a wide variety of things that they’ve prayed about or felt inspiration to teach. No matter where you are in the world you can listen in by internet or television or broadcasts in meetinghouses. One talk in particular today reached me in a way that made me wonder if Heaven itself wrote that message just for Kayla. But of course not–we all needed to hear it.
The talk was by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. He spoke about gratitude throughout the pains of life, understanding in all things, and before ending his talk he simply stated,”There seems to be something inside of us that resists endings. Why is this? Because we’re made out of the stuff of eternity. Endings are not our destiny.”
Endings don’t sit well with us because there’s often no such thing. We feel the need to keep existing–to keep connected with those we love and to always have another sunrise. We often forget, I learned today, that we’re not dying every day. We’re just continuing.
And if we believe in eternity, then that means we believe that nothing–not even death–can be considered an end.
As children of the creator of a universe dotted with galaxies and stars and life still undiscovered that goes on and on and never hits a wall, we also follow the pattern of creation. We don’t end either.
Sometimes it’s hard to see simply because we don’t comprehend the magnitude of it, just as we can’t wrap our minds around the nonexistent walls of universe that stretch on forever. But every now and then, like those words that hit me today, the spirit will whisper a reminder.
Lauren sent me a note recently tagged along with the photos of her and her sweet sister that states she’s grateful for time that she has left with Logann–the gift that reminds her this isn’t where it ends. It’s simply a pause. She said Logann spends her days talking about eternity with the kids–a concept that is almost impossible to understand now, but something that will be the only comfort someday and the only truth.
There’s a beauty in knowing that we’re more constant than the sun–that our eternal value is more dependable than the tides. There’s a beauty in being reminded that what we call endings are nothing more than a flicker of pause in a seamless fabric of eternity–the same fabric that makes up an ever-stretching universe. The same fabric made from our Father’s hands.
When we look at it that way–at least for me–it’s not just the beginnings that seem beautiful. It’s the continuing.
I had the strangest dream last night.
Now, I have some pretty off the wall dreams at times so for me to say it was the strangest is kind of a big deal for me.
In my dream I joined the search of the hundreds of people right now trudging through debris and mud and toppled cars and fences in the Oso area here in Washington, lifting piles of unrecognizable filth to find the victims of the horrific mudslide. This area is close to where I grew up in Arlington, barely a fifteen minute drive, so I had spent time in this place. I had spent summers along these now flooded riversides and jogs against the backdrop of these now crumbled hills. In my dream I vividly saw the stillness of the pastures and the emptiness of the flattened landscape–a grave now to all of those who walked here or drove or worked nearby when the mountains gave way just nine days ago. Oddly enough, even though in reality it’s not this close, I saw my old backyard in my dream as well–flattened. Overturning branches and muck and fighting through tears, I frantically searched and searched. Then suddenly, I heard someone calmly say to me, “He is not here.”
I woke up from the dream this morning knowing fully well why that voice in my dream had to tell me that. It was about my Dad. And that voice will soon be whispering it to the hearts of all of those still trudging through the remains of the landslide, clutching shoes and wallets and remnants of children and parents.
On the news last night a firefighter, with his hat drawn off his head and dirt surrounding his eyes, said mournfully, “We know this isn’t a rescue mission anymore–it’s a recovery mission. But in our hearts, for a long time, it’ll be a rescue mission.”
Tears raced to my eyes when I heard the man say that–and the reality of what a rescue mission is followed me into last night’s dream. No matter who you’ve lost–or how you’ve lost them–your spirit goes through a period of time where you’re on a rescue mission. Not usually literally. You’re looking for ways to feel them or sense them close by to bring them into your “present”. You’re hunting through memories and retracing their face over and over as to not forget. You’re half-expecting them to come through the door again, only to be devastatingly disappointed when there are moments that you realize they won’t. Of course, they won’t, you’ll cry. And it’ll hurt all the same. You’ll also relive memories of the moment they died or the place they died or the last time you held their hand–and that moment seems to be where they forever lay.
But it’s not.
To minimize the devastating effects of the Oso and Arlington area landslide is not my intent. My heart breaks for the people who lived a stone’s throw away from me–people who lost children and parents and siblings and neighbors and pets. People who now sit and rest against what used to be a rooftop, looking out at a dismal landscape made up of mud and tears. The loss is indescribable.
But at the same time I can draw a simple parallel to the words of that one firefighter. Maybe you can too. Maybe those words rang true for all of us who have gone through the sting of loss in one way or another.
The moment where you know for a fact your loved one is truly gone doesn’t always occur at the same time that your heart figures it out. And for a while it just remains a rescue mission. For a while you trudge through the debris of the unrecognizable world around you. For a while you’re looking for the dead in all the wrong places.
As for me, I know I have been. I’ve been angry at times for not feeling Dad as much as I’d like–and have been praying for him to be part of my life again in any way I can muster. I’ve been vividly remembering the day he left us, reliving the night painfully, stuck in that pocket of time as if Dad were stuck there too. But just as the angel told Mary as she leaned against a rolled-away stone and peered into any empty grave for the Savior, “He is not here; for he is risen, as he said.” (Matthew 28:6)
I pray for peace for all of those who still search and wander the debris near my hometown. I pray that their rescue mission can come to an end and that they too will remember that their loved ones aren’t there–but in a place that has risen far above shallow graves. I pray for your own rescue mission to end too. I pray that the angels will find us all at empty tombs, reminding us gently of where we should look instead.
The voice reminds me of it when I look for my Dad in painful memories of his last day in hospice. He is not buried or stuck in folds of memory or fenced into the past. He is not laying idle on a hospital bed. He is not sick. That echoed voice of an angel from the scriptures gently reminds me to leave the debris and remember the promise of eternal life.
That gentle voice reminds me to look up.
My dad was an ordinary man.
He rose at dawn to go work at an ordinary job, tossing his lunch pail in the back of a maybe less-than-ordinary pick-up truck that lacked a solid floor on the passenger side.
He was quiet and attentive to conversations already begun–and he could pass through a room quickly without gaining much notice. He had a daily routine of reading the paper at half past six and watching every Seahawks game in his chair–it was only interrupted by play time with us kids–an ordinary hobby for many dads.
When I was a child I remember feeling sorry for my Dad. He mentioned he used to want to be a doctor before he decided it wasn’t for him. And in his youth he didn’t make much of a stir in his hometown newspaper or in sports–he just spent afternoons at the river’s edge with a fishing line and a can of worms. Ordinary things, really.
But me? I didn’t want ordinary. Not at all! I wanted to be extraordinary. I paraded around in dancing dresses, hosted backyard carnivals in the summer, auditioned for every school play, and dreamt of the day I’d see my name on a hardback book. I wanted to leave a positive legacy behind. I wanted to be ANYTHING but ordinary. And I loved my Dad so much–I used to cry that he could never be an important doctor.
And that mindset followed me well into my life. It wasn’t a mindset of pride or self-love. It was the desire to change lives and be known for something good–something special. But that desire, I’ve come to learn, is the desire of so many others who leave nothing behind except for a granite stone, piles of money, and bylines that quickly get shoved into archives. The desire to be great, if that desire is a sole purpose, will completely cloud over what really makes you someone to remember. But the desire to just live life fully and completely with love for people being your main purpose–THAT desire and THAT quest can change your life forever.
As for my father with his “ordinary” life–I’ve come to understand the beauty of such ordinary things now, and the importance.
Since his passing, I’ve began to take notice of things he left behind. Ordinary things. Sifting through his things after his passing, I noticed old notebooks filled with notes from church sermons and past General Conferences–notes that he took to heart and lived. Notes he never shared.
My mother found stacks of receipts from his monthly tithing slips–tithing that she never knew he paid when she stopped going to church for a short time and he would sit alone in the pew every sunday.
Friends–from the job that everyone said he was “stuck in” for years and years–have filtered through the front door and across our social media pages, telling stories of a man with quiet faith, great love for those around him, and kindness. Always kindness. Even my father’s insurance agent from five years back called with tears in his voice, just to tell us that he’ll always remember Dad and the way he was so patient.
Ordinary watches and worn-out wallets–thin from years of use–are now our flecks of gold. Yellowed photographs of summers at the river and tanned arms against a lawnmower are now precious heirlooms.
The ordinary, simple things that I once thought were like “every other dad”. But now, to me, are extraordinary. And he never tried to be.
I think it’s easy, since we live in a world dedicated to proving how “special” we are or how “unique” we are, to measure ourselves at the end of the day by how many awards line our desk or how many nods of approval we get for special projects at work. But putting all of our efforts into that kind of journey distracts from the truly extraordinary. We shouldn’t give up on success within the world and careers we hold, of course–but we should also remember where true success lies.
Like being the mom that finger paints with her toddlers and doesn’t care that some hair dipped into the blue. Like being the friend that sits at the lunch table with the bullied kid in complete silence, just offering a presence. Like being the dad that works a 9 to 5 at a completely ordinary office and always makes sure to make every single ballet performance. Like being the artist that paints, that writes, that sings, that creates–just to make life more relatable, or more beautiful, for at least one person.
How beautiful the world is when we count the little moments that make up our memories, our goodness, our friendships, our faith. How beautiful it is to leave behind something much greater than anything tangible, even while losing ourselves in ordinary tasks.
How beautiful that is. And how extraordinary.
There’s a certain phrase I’ve come to really dislike.
All my life, I’ve heard this phrase whenever I go through a rough patch. *And by rough patch, I mean a prickly, gnarly patch that leaves me bleeding to near death*. You’re probably familiar with those kinds of “patches”.
“God will never give you more than you can handle” is the phrase I’m referring to.
And it’s a sweet sentiment, really. The people who say it are speaking from caring and concerned hearts.
BUT–it isn’t true.
I know that sounds harsh, but I promise I haven’t suddenly lost my mind or have become an angry-with-God bitter woman who hates the world. Actually, when I realized the simple fact that God can–and will–give us more than we can possibly bear, it got easier.
And it all started to make more sense.
I’ve often trudged through trials that overwhelm me. Ever since my childhood there have been trials that have made me “grow up” pretty fast. But granted, I know for a fact you’ve had your own fair share too, because that’s the reality of life. But this last trial is the one that shook me to my core and had me searching like a mad woman for answers as to why it was happening–and how I could possibly even survive it.
I lost my Dad to cancer last month–if you’re a follower of mine, this is old news. But–it was absolutely horrific.
Every day leading up to his death was like walking through every level of hell–slowly– for lack of a better term. There’s no other way to describe it. The images…the sounds…the sleepless nights…the cries for God while we look on, helpless…the torment of rubbing morphine in his cheeks, praying it’ll absorb–but to no avail. The horrible, wrenching pain that came with lifting him up, laying him back down, lifting him up, laying him back down…because he became so restless and cried out for “home” every few minutes. And all along, in the back of my mind, I reminded myself that millions of people go through this, and have already gone through this, very thing. And it is simply unbearable. If you disagree–it’s because you haven’t been there.
This trial was so consuming that I hate to even put it in the past tense–sometimes it still consumes me. Yesterday, at my Dad’s memorial service, it consumed me all over again.
I’ve suffered from nightmares where I relived the memory over and over mercilessly–I sometimes see his face on strangers that pass and worry that I’m going crazy. I cry over sad songs in the car and torture myself with stacks of pictures and yellowed photo albums. It’s beyond just missing him. And even with a firm testimony of the gospel and with peace that he is exactly where the Lord prepared him for, it is still too much for me to handle at times. It steals my breath–and it can steal my joy.
So, the other day, I turned to the scriptures. I needed help.
I wanted to know where that phrase was that people kept repeating to me in church and at work and over the phone. Why did the Lord “trust me so much”?! Why did He think I could handle these kinds of trials?
And then I realized: I couldn’t find that quote because it isn’t there.
It never mentions anywhere in the scriptures that the Lord won’t give you more than you can handle. Yes, in 1 Corinthians 10:13 it speaks of Him giving us an escape from temptations so that it’s not too much to bear. But when it comes to pain, trials, heartache, and burdens– not once does it say it won’t be more than we can bear. Instead, it beautifully says this instead:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me…for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11: 28-30)
The words struck my heart, as you can imagine. Christ is speaking to those of us who are carrying burdens much too heavy for our own shoulders. And in that one verse he simply states the reason why we are given more than we can handle: It’s so we can come to him. It’s so we can trust him enough to hand over our heavy, crippling burdens and let him carry the load.
You might be heavy laden right now like I was before reading and re-reading and re-reading once again this scripture that has never stuck out to me as much as it has lately.
You might be shrunken with sadness or drowning in debt. You might be overwhelmingly angry at someone at church or aching under the pressures of raising children or maybe the inability to have them. You might be dealing with a terminal disease and you still have young children. And chances are–you might need your Redeemer to find you on the path and take up that heavy cross you’re dragging. Besides, even he tells us that he’s more equipped to carry it, so why not hand it over?
I’ve come to learn–slowly but surely–why I need Him.
I suppose it’s because of pride that I always thought I could just do things on my own. I’m strong, I’d say. I’m a tough cookie. I can help others through their tribulations while carrying mine all by myself. Well…wasn’t I wrong.
I didn’t really know what needing him meant until I had no other choice. I didn’t know what it meant until I wrapped my arms around my middle so I wouldn’t fall apart–or the time I choked on tears and yelled toward Heaven. Or the times when I was utterly alone, and the silence was too much to bear. Those are the times that taught me he’s not just a want or a convenient symbol of love or a reason to do good deeds.
No, he’s the very air we breathe.
And he’s the only one who can make it bearable when life is simply anything but.
Writing, to me, is synonymous with healing.
I suppose that’s why I’m here–writing–just a day after you took your last breath, Dad.
People are telling me to go lay down. Or rest. Or watch a movie. But all I want to do is write about what it was like for me. For all of us, really. As my fingers tap the keys my eyes flicker to the bracelet I have on my wrist. It’s the one you wore ever since your diagnosis last November. “No one fights alone” it says. And my spirit can’t help but agree. No one fights alone. Or loves alone. Or struggles alone. Or dies alone.
We’re all walking each other home.
It was Thursday night when I got the call that I should come. “Dad doesn’t have much time,” my teary sister said. And I knew it in my heart, even before the call came in.
But it took three days of sleeplessness, tears dripping from sore eyes, holding you up as you walked around in confusion, sponging water onto your lips, and prayers by your bedside before you took that last breath. And I realized–as soon as your labored breathing went silent and your Savior greeted you somewhere near the top of the Christmas tree, a spot I looked toward as soon as your blue eyes did, hoping I’d find him there too–that the walk is always worth it. Leaning near your still face and kissing your forehead, that’s what I said too. “It’s worth it”. Even though I want you to know my heart wasn’t feeling it, Dad. My heart screamed “Come back!” instead. Because I didn’t see Jesus near the top of the Christmas tree. My faith just had to rely on the fact he was there.
Now, digesting the memories–memories that haunt me in my dreams and awaken me from sleep with tears and a racing heart–I want you to know why I was honored to walk you home.
The walk home started on November of 1989…when I was born.
I’d like to think we chose to walk together–that before we even came to earth we knew we’d be walking in unison along with some very special others–taking on the challenge, and the joys, of mortality.
During the walk home you taught me many things. You taught me how to play. And in turn, I think I taught you patience 😉
The walk home entailed some discomforts–some trials that required me to cry in your arms or vent to you–or get so mad at you that I slammed my bedroom door. I tried to say sorry about that later on–you didn’t let me though.
During the walk home you showed me how to walk on my own at times and forge a new trail when others get to their own trail’s end. You showed me how to change oil. How to respect my body. How to be a good friend. How to listen more than I talk *although I still have problems with that*. How to put family first.
During the walk, sometimes it rained. You showed me how to play in it.
During the walk–you showed me to dance always *Even if you’re not very good at it* And to “Sing louder!” as you’d always say when you caught me humming to myself.
There were a few times on the journey I didn’t feel I was good enough. But you pushed me to bring home the A’s. To aim high. To be everything I want to be simply by living as if I’m already there. Oh–and I love that you always bragged about every single goal we met. You loved when I’d write and you’d read my blog. You hung my first poem on your cubicle wall at work and kept it there ’til you died.
During the walk you taught me what kind of man I should choose–simply by being that kind of man. And in turn you finally got the son you always wanted to have one day.
You loved my mom–even when lighting struck and rain hit and rocks in the trail made you two stumble. And that’s the greatest gift to give to a daughter.
During the walk you encouraged my sister’s restless, wandering heart. You taught her faith and courage–you nourished the light in her eyes into something much greater in her heart. She said it was all because of you, Dad.
During the walk home you taught me not to fear the trailhead coming up–the part of the walk home that splits the trail in two. The part where we would separate for a time. You told me it would come–and it was okay. Because you knew that if we kept walking, the two trails would join as one again.
During the end of the walk home I had to carry you. I held you like you held me when the dark scared me and I couldn’t sleep. I rubbed your back the way you’d rub mine when I’d sit on the floor in front on you or lay in your lap. I was strong simply because–well, so were you.
I’m sad, Dad. I miss you so bad that sometimes I can’t breathe. And when I do, it hurts my lungs. I miss you so bad that sometimes I hear your voice and jump to a start in the middle of the night. I miss you so much that I get angry that we already came to the fork in the road–sometimes I get mad at God. Sometimes I get mad at myself that I didn’t hold you a second longer the last time you hugged me.
But then I remember, like I remember now. No one walks alone.
No, even though we came to that place in the walk where the trail splits in two–I still feel you guiding my feet. I still feel the same Savior that took you home and held me at the same time. I’m not alone.
I’m honored I was one of the people to share the walk with you, Dad.
You’re my hero.
And you will be until our trails meet up again somewhere on the horizon–and I’ll meet you there at home.