Sinking Sand

I wasn’t sure what there would be left to say today. These last two weeks have left me feeling emotionally drained, numb even. Some days it still feels like a dream, like I’m watching it happen to someone else. And other days, the heartache is a raw, nagging pull that leaves me looking for a piece of daddy anywhere I can find it. Some of the hardest moments are those where my mind has tricked itself into forgetting, until a memory, a smell, or something that reminds me of him brings my conscience slamming back to reality.

Grief can teach you a lot about yourself. It is not until your heart and soul experiences overwhelming grief that you realize just how powerful of an emotion it is. If you let it, it can wreck your existence and leave you feeling empty and neglected. If you spend your days dancing around the edge of its cliff, pretending it’s not there, you will eventually suffer a misstep that sends you flailing into the very pits of its darkness. And if you fight back? You’ll win, for a bit. But your energy will dwindle and when you are at your most vulnerable layer, it will strike with a vengeance.

So how do you cope?  This post isn’t a message to those mourning, telling you that you’ll be defeated by your grief. It’s not a post to say that it never gets better and you’ll spend the rest of your days plagued with sadness. I am writing it to tell you that grief is something that you cannot manage by yourself, something that we as human beings do not have the strength alone to handle it. It isn’t something you can just push aside for another day, hoping that time will take the sting out or knock the edge off. It’s sinking sand, and the only way to survive is to keep your head above the sand.

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

For me, that wood plank that I am teetering on is made up of grains that represent my relationship and faith in our Lord and Savior, and the love and prayers of the people in my life. I can’t imagine anything more humbling than what I have experienced over the past few weeks, and throughout this journey from those that care about me. The unwavering support, concern, and love has lifted my head off my pillow on the days that I just wanted to give up. It has given me strength to stand on days my feet failed me. And it has held my hand while my Lord and Savior has carried me through these past few weeks.

I was taught to pray at a very young age. I attended Sunday school, church, vacation bible school, all of which helped ingrain in me a knee jerk reaction to pray in times of strife, and in times of need. Over the years, I have grown in my relationship with Jesus and every day we talk. Sure its praying, but I have evolved to a place in my heart where I talk to God about my worries, my fears, my pain and it’s a place of comfort for me there in conversation with him. But what I now realize is that I have never quite grasped the power of other people’s prayers until these past few weeks. But believe me when I say that I felt every single prayer that was uttered on behalf of daddy, me, and all my family. Those prayers, on their way up the heavens, reached out and touched my heart as they passed by. They provided protection from the grief, a cushion to soften the blow. They were a blast of strength when I needed it most, even if I had no idea where it came from at the time. Coupled with the love that so many people have shown us, it is so humbling to consider the effect that the support of friends, family, and those who loved daddy have had on my life.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14

So today, I say thank you to anyone that has prayed for us. For those prayer warriors who have spent hours on their knees praying for God to comfort us. For those who included us on their church’s prayer list and asked complete strangers to pray for our family, and in turn those strangers who felt compelled to prayer on behalf of us. And for those who just simply whispered a prayer when they heard the news. I truly felt every single word you uttered. I could never find the words to say thank you enough.

Sometimes it is hard to find the flower for the weeds, but if anything has come from the loss of daddy, I pray that his life was a testimony to those who may not have the love of Christ in their hearts. I hope the faith and humility with which he paved his journey with cancer speaks to each and every person whose path he crossed. And I truly think it has. I don’t know why God has laid this on my heart, but I can’t help but wonder if maybe for some of those folks who have been praying for us, this is the first time they have talked to God in a while. Maybe they felt so strongly about helping us, that they realized the Lord is there when there is nowhere else to turn, and nothing left you can do. And so now it’s my turn, to pray for all of you.

“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 17:6

I pray that God continues to touch your soul in a way that only he can do. I pray that if there is anyone out there questioning if they prayed enough, or said the right things, that you know without uncertainty that your prayers worked. For it wasn’t the end result that you were praying for, it was the comfort as God’s will for daddy’s life unfolded exactly in the fashion that he had written for him before he was even born. I pray for comfort for you, as you mourn the loss of a great man in your life, as well as in mine. For I know the impact he had on those he met was great, and that you are grieving with me. But most importantly, I pray a prayer of thanks to the gracious Heavenly Father, who has seen enough favor in me to bless me with each and every one of you. From the bottom of my heart, I love and am thankful for you every single day.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” Ephesians 1:18

For you, daddy.

I’m not ready to write this, but then again I don’t think I will ever be. This past week was one of the hardest things I have ever experienced, and yesterday I spent Father’s Day in a funeral home making arrangements to bury my daddy. It is only by the grace of God that I am still standing on two feet today; but here I am.

Grief is an odd thing. It comes in waves that drown you, then recedes back down into your soul, leaving behind this hazy fog that makes you question whether what you are experiencing is just a dream. But tomorrow, I know that fog will part and I, alongside my family, will have to face the truth; he’s gone. And while my heart is shattered, I can’t help but praise God for the nightmare that we experienced last week. Because in the midst of that darkness, I found the strength to do something I never thought I could do; say goodbye to my daddy.

My prayer from the beginning of this journey has been for God’s will to be done. As hard as it was to not beg and plead for him to just get better, I spent many nights lying in bed just praying that God would allow his good and perfect will to be. And that it was. He needed Daddy in heaven more than we needed him here and he prepared me for what was coming by allowing me to be with my dad the final days of his life, surrounded by the people I love most. We sat by his side, we talked even when we wasn’t sure if he could listen, and we let our hearts be known to God in the most vulnerable way. And in return he gave us the most precious moments we could have had together and the strength to say “You can let go now, daddy.”

There is nothing that can take this pain away and life will never be the same without him, but I smile a little every time I remember that my father and my Heavenly Father are now together watching over me. With that kind of love watching over me, what could I ever fear?

The darkest days are yet to come as we face life without him. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that we will get through this, and we will see him again one day. Until then, I will treasure every  memory I have of him and every glimpse of him I see in my own face. One of my favorite song lyrics of all time is from a country song and says “When somebody says I hope I get to meet your dad, I just smile and say you already have.” We shared a special bond because of the part of himself he bestowed to me. I loved how we could communicate without talking, and that understanding could be left unsaid because we knew it hung there in the space between us. And sometimes that space was bigger than I wanted it to be, as miles separated us. But I always knew he was only a phone call away. I have always valued every piece of me that came from my dad, and today I hold those pieces even closer than before. My only hope is that I can be half the person he was, because he was one of the best people I have ever known.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lordand on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water

that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3

I may be a day late, but that would not surprise him. After all,  I am always late, for everything. But yesterday I just couldn’t find the strength to post this. But today, I woke up and put two feet on the floor. The pain that had pooled in my veins while I slept rushed through every inch of my body, and my heart broke all over again. But I got up, I thanked God for another day and I let him carry me, because that’s what he does when we can’t walk on our own. And today, he gave me the strength to say, Happy Father’s Day daddy, this is for you.

 

Tony Alan Cruse – June 22, 1957 – June 17, 2017

Daddy was a man of few words, but those that he spoke left imprints on the world because they were full of knowledge, justice, and love. He was strong, on the inside and out, and served as the fortress of our family. There is not a moment of my life, looking back, that I don’t remember leaning on him. He loved his family deeply, and he was loyal to those who he cared for most and kind to those he didn’t even know. He was intimidating at first, but once you knew him, you knew a soul that loved deeper than most people I’ve have ever met.

His work ethic was unmatched, and he worked hard for everything he had. He had a knack for taking a stone and building a rock, and fixing a splinter into a bridge. His hands and boots were worn, but that’s how he liked them because familiar was his safe place and labor was his tonic. To some, land is simply an existence of nature, but to him it was a haven. Farming was leisure and though his land was not vast, what he had was his heritage and it stood for all he had done. 

He was the husband that women pray for each and every day. He put his family first, and treated his wife as the queen of his heart. He did for her all he could, and loved her to his death. He put her before himself, and saw in her what God had created for him from the start. He was the father that God called him to be, caring for his children as if his own livelihood hinged on their happiness. He taught them to trust, to love, and to labor. He showed them how to live, how to have courage, and how to be proud of who they are.

He was inquisitive, and always wants to know how things worked. He would take things apart just to put them back together. And just as he could assess the most minute problem on one of his flea market treasures, he could detect a restless heart with just a glance. He always knew when someone needed him, and he was always there when they did. He took broken things, tractors, machines and other toys, that most had written off and brought new life to them. His knowledge was not just great in value, it was tremendous in expanse, for he knew something about almost everything. Although many knew little about him. 

But what everyone who knew him could attest to was his integrity and the truth that clothed his being. He was honest, fair, and wore the full armor of God every single day. He was who he was, and to him that was enough. Those who knew him were blessed to do so, and those who loved him are better because of it. 

I love you daddy, and I will miss you everyday.

 

*Lyric from “Song for Dad”, Written by Keith Lionel Urban • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

In Loving Memory…

Death hurts. Not for those who pass on, but for those of us who are left here picking up the pieces of a shattered heart, trying to figure out how to move on. This week I sat beside one of my very best friends with tears streaming down my face, trying to find the words to say to comfort her as she laid to rest one of the most important people in her life.

But sometimes there aren’t words. Sometimes there is a just a feeling of loss and despair that you can only acknowledge and offer a shoulder to cry on. I remember when I got the text message of the news, I was at work and completely shocked. I stood over the phone where I expected to see just another notification from my favorite store and instead read one of the most heartbreaking text messages I have received in my 26 years.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

If you had told me ten years ago as a high school junior that she and I would be facing the things in life that we are now, I would have chosen not to believe it. I would turned my head and pretended that such heartbreak didn’t exist and that the worst thing we would ever experience would be the woes of teenage love. Yet here we are, saying goodbye to people we love, along with so many of our friends. And had we known, what would we have done? Would we have lived our lives differently? My heart clings to the fact that our Lord and Savior knew our teenage hearts , and he knew what was ahead for us and he let us live our innocent lives, all the time preparing our hearts for what would come. Because what I would have believed had you told me this ten years ago, is that we would be here for each other through all the hardships in our lives. And what I know now is that God is our Savior, our ever-present help in times of need. And it is only through his love and salvation that we can lay our head down at night.

Wednesday I wanted to cry, I wanted to sit down right there in the middle of the floor and break down. But I didn’t, I sat my phone down, I took a deep breath and I walked away. But as I did, I started praying for my friend, for her family, for their loss, and for their comfort. I started praying for strength to help her through this, and grace to handle it in the way God would have me handle it. And I ate a little more ice cream that day, because the world just seems a little easier to handle when you have ice cream in your belly.

People always say that time heals, but maybe it doesn’t. Maybe each day that we live past the hole left in our hearts from loss, especially a daddy-shaped hole, we learn that we can still wake up everyday, put one foot in front of the other, and make the most of what we do have. The Lord gives us an amazing strength when we need it most, it is the love of God that holds us up during times of grief. And I saw that in full force at the funeral home as I saw the strength with which my second family carried themselves through one of the hardest days of their lives. And I know that it is only for the love of God that they were able to do that.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

Mourning is something that there is no recipe for making it easier. There is not material things, or vice that will allow us to move on faster or easier. It’s an ugly process but we have the Creator of Heaven and Earth to lean on during those times. He can’t take the pain away, but he can hold you, lift you up, and find a way to remind you of the life your loved one lived. And the life that my best friend’s dad lived was a glorious one. He was blessed with a beautiful family, enough love to build a bridge to the moon, and most importantly the grace and Holy Spirit of God. The only sadness he had at the end of his life was that he couldn’t do more for the Lord as his time here on Earth was cut short. What an amazing testament of a man he was. And because of that, the ones he left here on Earth know that his heart is shining with the love of God in Heaven today.

At this stage of my life, I don’t have the knowledge to write about how to make it through grief. What I do know is that the only reason I am able to pick myself up after things like this is because I have my Lord and Savior close to my heart. But I was reminded of perhaps one of the greatest hymns of all time that speaks to the true purity of a heart of God and is the best representation I could come up with to honor someone that I thought so much of. It comes to mind from one of the most powerful testimonies I have ever experienced from a man who attended Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He told of his battle with cancer and his decision to be at peace with whatever happened to him. He played the most glorious performance of this piece that I have ever heard on the piano and it struck my soul. I can’t think of more fitting words to honor those we love who have passed on. So, I pray today for my dear friend and her family, and I leave you with this beautiful tribute. Share it, cherish it and remember it, because this is the life he now has. May God bring us even a taste of the peace he has.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4

In loving memory of Garry Caswell.

It is Well with My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

Written by P P. Bliss, Gloria Roe • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4