Nearly three years ago I received a random e-mail, “What do you think?” In the e-mail was a picture attached of a little white house with black shutters and a beautiful large tree in the front yard. The e-mail was from dad. Usually dad’s e-mails were short and to the point. This one, while short, was so exciting, special even. You see, for years my dad had lived adrift. My parents didn’t have much and they lived from one apartment complex or facility to another. My dad even spent the sum of a year living at a Rescue Mission shortly before my mother passed. He was broke and broken. When my mother did pass from her own battle with cancer my dad chose to live in the same over-crowded, smoke-filled run-down apartment they had shared together while she was sick. He spent the following years after losing my mother lost in grief. We had urged and encouraged him to move and just couldn’t understand why he didn’t. Granted, my dad had lost more in his lifetime than most of us can even begin to understand. More than I can understand. He had been knocked flat so many times that I think he just gave up on living. Until that e-mail. That e-mail to me was years of prayer answered. It was the picture of hope. The picture of the bud of new life in my dad. It was more than a house. It was a picture of a fresh start, a return to living, a return to things my dad had always loved.
And the e-mails continued. Pictures of progress. My dad was getting his hands dirty breaking ground, shattering hard concrete and tilling dirt to make it fertile again. He built a garage and laid the foundation for it nearly all on his own. He planted a garden. He went fishing. He e-mailed and asked my opinion on apple products and finally purchased an iPod and then an iPhone, I think, in part because he knew how much our family used them and he loved getting pictures and face-time messages from us with a certain sweet little face dead-center in the frame. I don’t think I quite realize fully just how important his grandson was to him, or really, how important we were.
But we were. He was dad and he was beginning to live again, as was our relationship, slowly growing, like the Garden he put his green-thumb touch to.
That’s probably why the past two months settling my dad’s estate has been so draining, so tiring, so HARD. Piece by piece a life that was being rebuilt was slowly being de-constructed, sold off, and fading away. For the most part I compartmentalized everything into the business at hand that was necessary to get things done. We had the estate sale and for the first two days I held up incredibly well. In some regards being released of the burden of stuff was freeing. Some of the overwhelming began to lift with each box that disappeared. Subconsciously I think I left the clearing out of his room to the last. It was full of all the clothes and everything that was the sum of how I remember my dad. The smells, how he looked, his height, his clothes. At Christmas we sent him a care box with a couple flannel shirts and I was quick to notice that they looked well-worn. Those I kept. But the rest, the rest we had to let go of. Towards the end of the sale a tall man came back and found use for a lot of my dads things, including the coat that he always wore. As I watched this man walk off with my dad’s coat in hand, all I could see was a picture of my dad’s back to me, wearing that all familiar coat, tall thin frame and slightly hunched shouldered gait that my dad always carried himself with. I saw a picture of dad walking away, disappearing. That’s when the compartmentalized dam broke. I’ve been a slight emotional mess off and on ever since. I’m learning that’s OK. I’m learning that’s normal. I’m learning that I am not alone. I’m learning that some of the hardest words to vocalize are the simple ones. I’m thirty-six and I miss my dad. That’s OK. That’s reality. I’m broken, but I am not broke. Far from it. Life is so incredibly rich, even in grief.
Yesterday we closed on dad’s home. New life is returning to that little white house of hope on Garfield Avenue. A small home on a quiet block in the same small Kansas town where I was born and also said goodbye to the individuals who brought me into this crazy world. We left dad’s house with a bible on the shelf and circled-up and prayed for the new owners before locking the doors for the final time. The new owners have plans to lay fresh carpet, paint walls, and expand the kitchen. They have a lot of plans for that little home. At the same time my dad’s house is inhaling life again and being re-built into something new, so am I. I am slowly sifting through the remnants of a life that has passed and acknowledging that while broken, God is shaping something out of these strange ashes I find myself attempting to make sense of. We shouldn’t fear the ashes. God uses those to paint and craft something altogether new and beautiful. God makes the broken whole. No cracks, no dust, no mistakes. His craftsmanship is flawless.
From a little white house to God’s most precious purpose and promises, hope. Always hope. In Christ we are irrevocably anchored in it. Though the storms my threaten, blow and pound, we are anchored. In the ashes, tears and smoke, we are anchored. In health, sickness, for better or worse, yes, even in death, we remain in Christ “anchored”.