The Farm

Another blast from the past about family and land.

farmp

About two weeks ago, Bryce and I were walking down Davis Road (my family’s road) in Slippery Rock, PA. As we walked hand in hand, talking about my past memories in PA and future ones we both dreamed of having together, we stopped by an old farm. We watched the cows peacefully graze, filled our lungs with fresh country air, and enjoyed the wide expanse of scenery before us. Then I noticed a young calf had somehow broken free of the pasture fence and was hanging out in the middle of the driveway a couple dozen yards away.

I was worried at first and wondered aloud if the owners needed to be told of this little one’s escape. But when Bryce suggested I walk up the long rocky driveway, knock on the red home’s door, and tell the current owners about the situation, all I could was say, “I can’t do that,” pushing the statement past the hard lump that had suddenly formed in my throat.

To so many other passerbys, it’s just another house, another plot of farm land with some old farm buildings. But it’s more than that to me and my family. And for that, I can never again go back inside that house.

Not because I’m forbidden or because I’d be arrested if I tried. I can never go back inside that house, because I need to keep my memories of my own time within it perfectly intact. It’s my family’s farm, you see, and even though we haven’t owned the property for almost 10 years now, we still call it ours. And since it’s still ours, I cannot allow in any new memories that confirm to me forever that this beloved farm no longer belongs to me or my family.

famfarm

I cannot go into the first home I knew as a baby, the roof under which my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and older cousins would care for me while my mom was at school or work. I cannot walk into the rooms where my cousins and I spent countless hours playing, nor can I enter the kitchen or dining room where we shared so many delicious meals together. I cannot see new furniture or decorations in those rooms my grandparents made their own, and more than anything, I cannot see people who are not my family making their own home within those walls.

How can I even begin to describe what this farm is to me, to my family? How do I begin to describe all the memories this place has held for my grandparents, my mother and her 5 siblings, and all of my cousins? How do I explain to you how this was more my home than any other roof I lived under or address I occupied? How do I describe how its gold and green fields gave my mind and heart ample room to dream and ponder? How do I explain the unity of family I first felt within those walls? And beyond all that, how can I explain the great hole that remains in my heart when my refuge, sanctuary, and one true home was taken from me and my family?

farmfam

The last time I ever entered any of those farm buildings was after my Poppy’s funeral. It was a time of great grief in our family, laying our great patriarch to rest too soon. It was a time when, as painful as it was, Mom and I just had to get down to the farm and see the place where Poppy and the family had spent many hours throughout the years. Things were a bit different, obviously, but the smells of hay, sheep, and even manure brought me back to a much simpler and happier time, when the barn was my own and my cousin’s playground. Mom and I went to the attic, which had always been a forbidden place for me and my cousins. Of course, we didn’t care about restrictions; we still walked across the ceiling rafters, searched for litters of kittens, and tried to dig holes in the hay for the others to fall in.

Mom and I took in the scene. We shared memories. We wept. Then, we went back to VA, and for 8 years, that was the closest I ever went to the farm.

The truth is, I’m scared to go back, because I’m scared to move forward from a past that held so much beauty in it. How do I hold onto my past and still move on to make new memories? How do I learn to cherish my memories of the farm for what they were while still making room for new, beautiful memories for this younger generation of my family to hold, cherish, and remember?

herd

Some days I do this whole moving forward thing better, but that’s what my family does, even when I don’t have the strength to do it. We persevere. We move on. And through it all, we remember the past. We remember that we are family forever. We hold each other together, we mourn together and travel together (hence our name, The Herd). As I continue to celebrate and mourn my past and look forward to the future, their wisdom and love will guide me.

So I guess you could say we never really lost the farm. Wherever our family gathers, our memories gather with us. And these memories cannot be bought or sold for any price.

Advertisements

My Mama: The Icon

mama

This Throwback Tuesday is in honor of my mother, Elizabeth, who celebrated her birthday on Monday. Read ahead to see why I love and revere her so much!

*****

In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to share this post I wrote about my amazing Mommy back in February. We had just returned from a weekend at her hometown of Slippery Rock, PA, where she had been inducted into her high school’s hall of fame for athletics. Just to brag, she has a 33 year old track record! But that’s not all that makes her amazing. Keep reading for more!

This weekend, I couldn’t help but think: My mother is an icon.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, members look at icons for hope, deep spiritual experience, love, light, and guidance. They’re beautiful, glitzy pieces of artwork that are made by expert hands to evoke a sense of wonder and divinity, as if by gazing into these portraits, we become closer to the divine and the saints who have gone before us.

And while this ideology struck me as odd when I first learned about it, this weekend it all made a little bit more sense. Although my icon isn’t a 2-D painting composed of oils with a canvas backdrop. This icon is the beautiful embodiment of grace, wisdom, love, and perseverance that is my mother.

I draw guidance from her stories of raising me on her own, of the nights she couldn’t sleep because she was worried that her last cashed check might bounce her whole account, of the days she went hours without seeing me because she was working and going to school to earn her degree, of the nights she woke up at 3 AM to study while I slept soundly. 

I draw hope from her resilience, her stubbornness, her work ethic, her trailblazing ways. I draw inspiration from the fact that she was one of the prominent athletes, male or female, at her high school, during a time when female athletics were in their infancy. I draw love from her undying devotion to me, all of the concerts and games and martial arts belt testings and plays and school trips and fundraising events  and horseback riding lessons she attended because she wanted to be involved in my life.

When I snapped this picture of my mom on Saturday night (as she made an acceptance speech that she did not expect to give for an honor that she never sought to receive), I captured an icon that even my iPhone 4 cannot fathom. The speech my mother wrote up in thirty minutes, which was more like a quick list of bullet points that she still presented better than the other people who had prepared their speeches days in advance, couldn’t even capture everything about her, her story, and who she is. Neither did the man who introduced her. 

But when I look at this picture, and the comments and likes and congratulations it generated on my Facebook account, I see my icon. I see her determination, resilience, grit, love, and all the good and bad times she went through to get where she is today. And I know that living through a lot of those days with her have been the food that has sustained my soul in my darkest hours. For all the differences we have today, for all the pain we’ve caused each other, my mother is one of the greatest icons from which I draw immense amounts of love, support, guidance, and strength.

I study her, and her life is the icon to which I often look to know what to do next. I wasn’t awake with her while she studied for classes. I didn’t wait tables by her side. I didn’t stay awake at night worrying about bills with her. I didn’t train my body to break track records and become an All-American athlete with her. I didn’t cry with her at her oldest sister’s first wedding when she realized the sister she loved so dearly was staying with a man who treated her awfully. I wasn’t in the car with her when she hit a deer as she was moving stuff from the house she shared with my stepfather to her new one in Inwood. I wasn’t there with her when she broke down after receiving the phone call that because my stepdad hadn’t been paying for their insurance, the damage from the aforementioned accident wouldn’t be covered by her policy.

But I was awake to hear her sing “Silent Night” to me so I would fall asleep. I have fond memories of books we read together at night that fostered my love of words and stories. I still have a photo booth picture of us at Jammin’ Jim, the Winchester version of Chuck E Cheese, that still makes me smile to this day. I remember squealing with delight as a four year old when we rode the Dumbo ride at Disney World, and I have fond memories of all of the Christmases and birthdays that she made so special. I saw her videotape all of my concerts and take pictures at all of my horse shows. I was in the car with her when she raced home from school and took me to Burger King on her way to tutor a student, and I was there when the person on the intercom told us that we were late for our regular dinner time. 

She was the first person I called after my dad contacted me. She was the one whose arms I fell into after my first serious relationship went to hell. She was the one who didn’t always understand my angst and anxiety, but always did what she could to make sure I got the support I needed.

I saw her cry when I tried to run away, when my Poppy died. I heard her cry over the phone when the insurance fiasco occurred, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was the one who needed to support her. I received her concerned questions and thoughts when I decided to study Philosophy and Religion, and I received her help a few months later when I was looking at seminaries to apply to.

Together, we have gone through transformation. We have pushed each other to become the people we are today. We have made each other grow and stretch and live lives we never thought we’d have to live, overcome obstacles we never dreamed would be thrown our way. It’s never been easy, but there’s been so much good in it. There’s a lot of beauty and love in our stories. And there’s always hope. Mom made sure to include hope for me, even if it wasn’t hope in its most cliché form.

The fact that she kept getting up and choosing to live and learn each day was hope enough.

“You Have Stept Out of Your Place!”

I never thought I’d experience empowerment while doing a research paper for class. Then again, I’d never written a paper about a trail-blazing woman like Jarena Lee, the first female African-American preacher in the States.

Imagehttp://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson/2012/02/jarena-lee-the-pioneering-female-preacher-you-never-heard-about/

Her story is incredibly powerful to me. A woman who spent most of her young life struggling with guilt, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, Jarena Lee had a powerful conversion experience at the age of 20 that inspired her to embrace the call of God to preach the Gospel. With great fear and trembling, she approached her pastor, the Rev. Richard Allen of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a denomination born of a desire to flee oppression, with the news of her calling from God. Unfortunately, Allen told her that the denomination knew nothing of ordaining women as preachers.

God didn’t let that stop her, though. As years went by, during which she married a pastor, bore six children, lost all but two of them, and then lost her husband, Jarena felt the call to preach burn fiercely within her. Eventually, Rev. Allen gave her permission to preach, and she became a widely popular traveling preacher throughout the 13 colonies and even in parts of Canada. Although she was never ordained, it is safe to say that Jarena Lee made a path for women in leadership in a strongly patriarchal and racist society, and she used her conversion story to validate her message along the way.

And then suddenly, as with the stories of so many other women in the church, she vanished. Neither I nor many of my Methodist friends had ever heard of her, despite her influence in and beyond her time. And I cannot help but ask, as I have many times before, why? Why has the voice of Jarena Lee, and the voices of so many other passionate women in Church history, been silenced?

While doing further research on Jarena Lee, I found a book at  the EMU library called “You Have Stept Out of Your Place:” A History of Women and Religion in America by Susan Hill Lindley. The quote from the title comes from an indictment made by a Puritan minister to Anne Huthinson, a woman who had the audacity to believe that God could reveal God’s self personally to anyone, even a woman, without the mediation of another.

Imagehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Hutchinson

This incident happened centuries ago, but the minister’s message is still alive and well today.

I heard the message when Ephesians 5:22-33 was first preached to me and, at the age of 18, I was taught that this female submission was ordained by God. I heard that message when I looked at my church bulletin one Sunday, and the only names and contact information listed under the various ministry opportunities were those of men, not including their wives or other women in the ministry. I heard the message at Campus Crusade for Christ “Men’s/Women’s Time,” in which the men learned about discipleship and leadership, while I and my female companions were lectured on how to maintain our physical and spiritual purity as we prepared to (inevitably) get married to adventurous, Godly, authoritative men. I heard the message very loudly and clearly in the absence of women’s voices behind the pulpit.

But the most consistent, and the most heartbreaking, voices who spoke this message to me were the women of faith around me, the ones who told me that my desire to preach and lead was beyond my proper, God-ordained place. The women I revered and looked up to, who simultaneously told me I could be anything I wanted to be yet told me to squelch the fire within me, did more damage than any man behind the pulpit ever could.

This faith community that had provided me with spaces to experience and grow more aware of God’s love also told me to sit quietly behind the barriers that kept me from fully pursuing God’s calling. I, like Jarena Lee and Anne Hutchinson before me, felt empowered by God, Christ, the Gospels, and the Church but had the doors to leadership slammed right in my face. The same community that propelled me forward in my faith journey hung millstones on my neck that dragged my eyes and heart from heaven.

And so throughout my college years, I wrestled with these two contradictory experiences and messages. I wrestled with tradition and dogma, conservatives and liberals, culture wars and calls for ceasefire, all in the hope of better discerning God’s call for me as a woman. There were days of encouragement and hope, and days of exhaustion and despair. There were days I remembered why I fell in love with the Church, and there were days that I wanted to pack my bags and move to greener pastures.

But I did not wrestle alone.

I had many mothers and sisters, fathers and brothers, before and with me, who journeyed with me and spoke love, life, and strength into me, and fanned the flames of my passion until they could no longer be contained.

Image

 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/12/review-of-rachel-held-evans-a-year-of-biblical-womanhood.html

Because the truth they have helped me realize is, I have not stepped out of my place. I have stepped into it. I have been called into this place and embraced it like a lover. My place and I are one, just as the God who called me to this place is one with me. My place is wherever I go. My place burns within me. How, then, can I step out of my place?

You may call me into my place. You may call my place out from within me and draw it out like water until it runneth over. You may help me give birth to the place within me until the Love of God expressed through my calling is born into the world.

But you cannot call me out of my place. You cannot take my place from me, nor can you kill the flames that burn within my soul and course through the blood in my veins. You cannot tell me I have stepped out of my place. Because you cannot tell me to step out of my skin. God has given me this. And neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor demons, neither the past, present, nor future, nor the powers that be can steal from me what God has given. 

Image

 So, like the women who have gone before me, from my spiritual grandmothers and mothers like Anne Hutchinson and Jarena Lee, and my biological grandmother and mother pictured above, I will continue to blaze the paths ahead of me, claim my birthright from God, and proclaim God’s love, grace, mercy, and justice from the mountaintops.

Image

 And I will share the journey with some amazing sisters in Christ, like my good friend Michaela, who was one of the first women in my life to share in and embrace the calling from God.

ImageAnd I will continue to forge the paths for the women who will come after me, like this beautiful, spunky child. God has not given up on me, nor shall I give up on you, my mothers, sisters, and daughters.

And just as God has not given up on me, neither shall I give up on you, Church, the Bride of Christ. I will not give up on you who have hurt me, although you may continue to stifle my voice and try to put me back in my place. No, I will not give up on you, even though you may want to give up on me. I cannot abandon my own self, and my own self is inevitably drawn up in you, this big, beautiful, broken body of Christ. And what God has joined together, I pray God will continue to hold together, in a way that only God can bind that which is broken, in love.

Trent

When I saw my cousin Trent this summer, it was the first time I’d seen him in 5 years.

The last time I saw him, in the summer of 2008, he was 11. He kept drumming on every single surface in my grandmother/his great-grandmother’s house with his hands like he was preparing to be a world-class percussionist. He picked blackberries and baked blackberry pie with Juma. When I was at work at the Renaissance fair, he would take my camera and take goofy pictures of himself. He wore my aunt Brenda’s (his grandmother) wigs around the house and at one point wore a wig, a pair of sunglasses, and a throw around his neck, walked outside and to Juma’s front door, and tried to convince his Granny that he was someone selling Girl Scout cookies. And he helped me pull a prank on our cousin Michael.

This summer of 2013, he was 16. He had grown immeasurably and it freaked me out that he was now taller than me. We kept trying to fight each other on the beach (with his height and strength, I was easily defeated). During a nightly family walk on the beach, as my boyfriend and I stood hand in hand, he came up to us and asked if we were going to get married. He gave everyone big hugs. He rode the waves with our cousins. He poured Mountain Dew on top of an alligator’s head to see how it would react.

I figured I’d see him again the next time I went to the beach, maybe in a year or two. I could not have possibly known that it would be the last time I’d ever see him.

My mom called me on New Year’s Eve with the news. A car accident. Trent didn’t make it. The goofy cousin with the contagious smile was gone. I heard the words but I didn’t believe they were true. I still don’t believe it.

What I do know is that my heart is broken. For my family. For his brother Trevor and his sister Savannah. For his mom, my cousin Erin, who shouldn’t have to bury her youngest son. For his grandmother, my aunt Brenda, who shouldn’t have to bury her grandson. For my Gammy, his great-grandmother, who shouldn’t have to bury her great-grandson.

None of this is fair. None of this is ok. None of this is the way it should be.

I have no inspirational words. And I refuse to say this is part of God’s plan, because I refuse to believe in a God who plans horrible things like this. I refuse to believe it is God’s plan for a mother to bury her son, and grandparents to bury their grandbabies.

All I have to say to my family is this: I am so sorry. I loved Trent and wished I could have had more time with him. I hate that we are going through this. And I will love and hold and support you as well as I can. We’re family, and distance doesn’t change that. Because one thing I do believe, is that love is stronger than death and fear.

To my family, I offer you my love, support, prayers, and strength. To Trent, I will miss you dearly. To my community, please hold us in your thoughts and prayers as we navigate these rough waters.

Image

Spark Plug

Yesterday was supposed to be uneventful and routine. All I had planned on doing was my daily writing, working maybe 3 hours at Jimmy John’s, cleaning some stuff up at the RISE House, having dinner and maybe a nap, going to sunset prayer, and watching a Disney movie or two with my friend Matt.

My day was going to be busy, but it was busy with stuff I had planned. I didn’t expect anything to throw a wrench into all of this.

You know what I didn’t plan on? Getting a kitten.

But as I write this, a tiny orange furball is walking across my keyboard, begging to be heard and demanding my attention. When he’s not exploring my room or bathroom, he’s curled up on my lap or climbing my arms, stomach, and shoulders. When he’s being really sweet, he gets close to my face to nuzzle it in love and thanks. Every time he wanders under my bed, I have a mild panic attack. And I have already emptied my savings account to get supplies and arrange a vet visit for this little one I’ve only known for 24 hours.

I’ve named him Sparkplug. His name has everything to do with the circumstances that brought us together.

I woke up around 8 AM yesterday to a text message from my roommate Ashley:

“Don’t start your car! Evan [our apartment manager] said they saw a cat climb in your engine! Go down and talk to him, they can help get it out. Don’t kill the cat!!!”

What a wonderful start to my day. I couldn’t head to work without my apartment manager fishing a kitten out of my engine, lest I start the car and barbeque it.

About half an hour before I planned to head to work, my apartment manager Evan and I went to my car to see if this little kitten was still hiding in my engine, because I did not want a fried abandoned kitten to weight on my conscience.

I popped the hood. Evan lifted the hood. And there, curled up right over my battery, was Sparkplug. The little kitten that, had I not been warned of his presence, would have been very “sparky” indeed.

Sparkplug took one look at us and gave a quiet hiss. Evan picked him up by his scruff to avoid his teeth and claws, then put him in the apartment management bathroom with some food, water, and a litter box. About ten minutes before I had to head to work, I went to pay the little fur ball a visit to make sure everything was ok, and this is what I found:

Image

He was so scared, so trembly, so adorable. I was half in love with him by the time I went to work.

That two-hour shift at Jimmy John’s took forever to be over. And to be entirely honest, I spent most of the shift running to the back room to text Bryce, his sister Shannon (a vet tech), and my roommates about whether or not I should invite the little one into our home.

Of course, the general consensus was a loud and resounding “Yes!”
So I ran to PetsMart, and following Shannon’s advice, I bought kitten food, a cardboard kitty taxi, a toy to cuddle, and a cheap plastic food dish. I even ran back out for Dawn dish soap after my roommates found that the poor thing was crawling with fleas, and my roommate Sarah and I gave Sparky his first bath (which he did great with, by the way. He didn’t try to run or maul us alive. I’m guessing he was so itchy that the bath actually felt good). Afterwards, I wrapped him up in a couple of towels and snuggled him until his coat was dry and he finally stopped shaking with cold and anxiety.

And now as I type these words, little Sparkplug is pawing and nibbling on my fingers, playing with them as they tell his story. He has almost erased this post at least twice, took a small nap on the Shift key making all my letters capitalized, and typed random letters and symbols as he strolls along the keyboard, blissfully unaware of my need for “productivity” and wanting nothing more than to have a snuggle and a scratch from his new mama.

Image

He’s been such a distraction. He’s already made me make compromises on my money and my time. He’s already made me worry to death about his own health and the health of my roommate’s cat, whom I dearly love. He’s made my skin itchy with the fleas he brought with him, and he’s making me worry about all the fleas that are probably breeding in my room and bathroom now. He’s cried when I’ve left him alone in the bathroom, and now he’s making any hope of productivity today impossible.

He’s also made me take inordinate gobs of time out of my day just to hold him in my lap while he dozes off. He’s made me sit in awe as I stroke his sweet soft fur and listen to his happy purrs, content in the fact that he has a roof over his head, food in his belly, and a warm soft lap to sit on. He’s made me take the time to look for fleas that still need removed to make him more comfortable. He’s eaten food off of my fingers and crawled all over me and slept on my lap. He’s even let me give him a bath to wash off the dirt and fleas that clung to his skin. He’s made me walk, talk, sit, stand, and move more slowly and softly.

I didn’t expect this. I asked for it, but I didn’t think I’d actually do it. I’ve grown up with cats, but since I’ve been on my own, I’ve wanted my own little pet, a kitty I could save from a shelter that would already be fixed and dewormed and medicated against fleas.

I never expected Sparkplug. And his unexpectedness has made the gift of his presence that much sweeter.

Sometimes, it’s the gifts we never expected to receive, the ones we weren’t sure we wanted, that are the sweetest ones we are ever given.

So even though my productivity will be at an all time low today, even though my bank account is nearly depleted and working my short shifts at work now seem agonizingly long, it’s all worth it when I come home to a snuggle from this sweet thing.

Because sometimes, all it takes to make God slow me down is a little kitten curled up on my car battery. And sometimes transformation begins when God gives me the opportunity to make the slightly ludicrous decision to take in someone in need, whether or not it’s convenient, and especially when it’s inconvenient.

Father’s Day

dad

This day is a gift.

For most people, it’s a reason to shop frantically for ties and coffee mugs with “World’s Best Dad” on them. For others, it’s another commercial holiday with the sole purpose of buying stuff. And for some, it’s like being a single person on Valentine’s Day.

For 16 years, I celebrated in the spirit of the final category.

I grew up knowing how to celebrate Mother’s Day, with breakfast in bed for Mom and giving her the day off from chores and maybe even going to her favorite restaurant. I knew she didn’t like Hallmark cards very much, but she loved the ones I hand wrote and drew for her. Mother’s Day was familiar, like my mother herself.

But Father’s Day…I didn’t know what to do on that one. I barely even acknowledged its occurrence for most of my life. Like those single folks, I didn’t have a reason to notice its existence, and when I reached my teenage years, acknowledging it only gave me pain and longing for what others took for granted: their father’s presence.

My dad was there when I was born. But I didn’t know his presence again after the age of four.

dad2

I didn’t even want a dad that badly until I was in middle school. I still remember the conversation that started it all. It was the last day of sixth grade, and I was talking with some friends from my class. I don’t know how we got on the topic of my dad, but somehow we did, and I mentioned that mine wasn’t around. I didn’t care. I’d never had a reason to care about my absent dad. My mom had just gotten married about a year ago, so having a stepdad was the next best thing, right?

But one girl said something that, to this day, I have not forgotten:

“You don’t have a dad? That’s so sad.”

Wait a minute…sad? Why would I feel sad about that? I was fine without him.

My dad was just…not there. I had mom. I had my extended family. I had a new stepdad and stepbrother. I was normal. I was happy. It didn’t matter.

Suddenly, her words made it matter. It was as if her words flipped the switch that had been turned off for so long. I was no longer normal, no longer happy, no longer fine. I was fatherless, and that I had to be…well, sad.

Suddenly, I started wondering what he was like, gleaning every ounce of information possible about him from my mom, family members, and old videos and photos I had from when I was a baby. I’d always known about my dad, knew I had one, even knew what he looked and sounded like. I just didn’t know what it was like to have him around.

Having a dad that raised me, disciplined me, helped me with schoolwork, came to my band concerts and other extracurricular events, held me when I cried, gave any boys that came over “the talk,” or so many other life events that daughters and dads go through together were foreign concepts to me. The title “Daddy’s Little Girl” was a label I was never given. The Father-Daughter dance at weddings gave me the most mixed emotions, because I thought that dance would only ever be an evasive dream for me.

I hadn’t thought about being sad over my dad’s absence before. After that conversation, any thought of it broke my heart to pieces.

That all changed about 3 and a half years ago.

I don’t know what stirred in me, but I took a chance. It was as if I finally grew tired of wondering and became bold enough to actually do something.

I wrote him a letter. I wrote to a few addresses I found online that bore his name. I sent him photocopies of a picture of us at an aquarium. I was about 2 years old. He was holding me, looking at me, smiling, and pointing to the camera, to my mom, trying to make me focus on her and smile at her. I loved that picture. I couldn’t remember that moment in time, but the fact that it had been captured gave me hope that maybe he’d still want me after all this time.

He did.

A few weeks later, he wrote back. A few more weeks later, we talked on the phone for the first time. I still remember hearing his voice on the phone, how surprised I was that his voice sounded just like it had from those tapes so many years ago. How surreal it was to be hearing my dad’s voice, not from a home video, not from faded memories, but on the other line, right there.

I remember the first time I saw him at the airport, waving his arms so I would see him, and running into his arms and receiving a hug from my Dad for the first time in 16 years. I remember the joy in his eyes, how he laughed in happiness, how surreal and wonderful that moment felt.

dad3

I remember how excited I was to learn I had two sisters and a baby brother on the way. I had always wanted siblings, and now I finally got to be a big sister.I remember being nervous that my stepmom wouldn’t accept me, and how pleasantly surprised and overjoyed I was when we forged such an awesome relationship. I remember cooking with him and using all these herbs and spices I’d never head of before, and how I worried that my pickiness would make me abstain from them. I guess I inherited some of his sense for flavor, because it was all delicious!. I remember how he taught me more on how to cook in a week than I’d learned in any Home Economics class.

dad4

But most of all, I remember noticing how similar this man I now called Dad and I were, even though we had spent most of my life apart.

It’s been a gift to see the qualities I inherited from him: my blinking habits, our facial features, our love of justice and compassion for those around us, our do-everything-at-once-ness, our love of sharing and hearing stories, our outgoing natures. Even the fact that he put a banana pepper in with the batch of green peppers in the grocery store because he decided he didn’t need it anymore.

(Yeah, we’re those people. I apologize to any grocery store employees on behalf of your annoyance with us.)

It’s a gift to hear the stories from him about the family I didn’t know, the great-grandmother who fled first from Russia and then from Palestine. It’s a gift to see him in prayer, playing with my brother, teasing my sisters. It’s a gift to discuss our religions, Christianity and Islam, with him, something I feared would hinder our relationship but brought us so much closer.

I worried he wouldn’t want me. I worried I had done wrong. But life has continued, life has moved forward, and somehow, we both got to share the ride.

I can celebrate this day because I wrote to my dad three February’s ago, asking him to be part of my life. I can celebrate this day because he wrote back. I celebrated this day for the first time in my life three years ago, with a picture frame (with this picture included) and a card.

060

Yes, I wish I could have had more of these days. Yes, I wish he could have been there for more of my life. Yes, I wish I would have contacted him sooner. Yes, I wish he had never been gone in the first place. I wish for a lot of things to have been different.

But today, I’m thankful. Today, I’m thankful that this day means something to me now. I’m thankful that I can call my dad today and hear his voice and wish him happy Father’s Day. I’m glad that he’s here now, and that I can call him Dad today.

And I’m thankful in a way that all of this has happened the way that it did. Because we get to share the here and now, something I’m not the best at doing. My dad and my journey to find him has led me to be more grateful for the Dad I have now, the family I’ve always had, and the family I can now cherish for the future.

So when I texted my Dad today to wish him a Happy Father’s Day, and he told me he loved me and hoped I would one day forgive him for his absence, I responded in the most honest way I could: “I forgave you long ago, Dad.”

Because forgiveness is all about moving forward, showing love, and mending pain. We can’t change what’s happened; we can only keep going forward. We can show grace and hope to receive it back, and we can continue to love without reservations. We’ve got regrets between the two of us, but there’s tons of hope, grace, love, phone calls, text messages, and visits.

And because I’m reminded of the power of love and forgiveness on this day, because I’m reminded of the gift I’ve been given that is my Dad, today is a gift.

dadlast

Two of my dear friends from the amazing nation of New Zealand posted this on their Facebook profiles today. To be entirely honest, I don’t know exactly what it “means.” What I do know is, it’s beautiful, and peaceful, and it kind of makes me want to cry for some reason.

In more honesty, I watched this video because I wanted to write on my blog today and had no idea about what to write. I figured a video featuring the moon would hold some inspiration, and amazingly enough, it did.

I want this blog to hold my thoughts and dreams, but more than that, I want my writing to inspire, lead, encourage, and comfort others. Yes, writing parts of my story can help people in that, but I don’t want it to be all about “me” in that. Instead, I want this blog to give back to those who have given me so much, who have given me love and support and encouragement in so many ways.

So in this time, I want to say thank you, and here is how this little film inspired me to do this.

The light that the moon gives off is merely a reflection of the sun’s light reflecting off of the moon (or something like that. I’m sure there’s a more scientific way to explain this, but science is not my thing. Not because I don’t respect or “believe” science, but because I equate it with math in things that simply baffle me).

So essentially, the people in this film are illuminated because the sun illuminated the moon. The moon needs the sun’s light in order to give us light in the night. In the same way, I believe that in order for each and every one of us to shine light and love on others, we must first have light and love shone on us.

It’s the reason that the “receive love” on our RISE T-shirts comes before the “give love.” You cannot give of what you do not have.

So here’s a shout out to some of the brightest suns in my life, who have shone their light on me so that I may shine it in return:

Mommy: From day one, you have shone strength, sacrifice, love, and support. I would not be the woman I am today without you, and I am so thankful for your example.

Dad: Having you back in my life, hearing your stories, and seeing how much you are a part of me has opened my world to more than I could ever imagine.

Layan, Razan, and Sami: I always dreamed of being a big sister. And while I don’t see you as often as I’d like, you have taught me the joy of being both a doting friend and an obnoxious prankster.

Gammy: Your love, whimsy, and wisdom have carried me through the darkest and most joyful of times.

My aunts, uncles, and cousins: You have always bee there when I have fallen, either because you knocked me down for a laugh or because I had fallen and couldn’t get up. Either way, you were always there to love and support me, and with lots of laughs and great memories!

Bryce: You have believed in me even when I would not believe in myself. And you have stayed when I have wanted to run.

My dearest and most loyal friends: You have been there with me through tears of laughter and tears of pain. And you have taught me so much about life and love and living through it all.

RISE Faith Community: You have illuminated in me the leader I always dreamed of being but never dared to try to be before.

My past faith communities: You have shown me love and The Source of Love always, and even when I couldn’t receive Him, you still modeled Him for me.

My Little Sister Laney and my Sister2Sister girls: You have opened my eyes and arms to loving and embracing you for who you are and as you are, and in doing so, you have helped me to embrace myself for who I am and as I am.

My S2S mentors: You have shown me the joy involved in making new friendships and how important persistence and consistency is in all things.

My friends from various trips, workplace experiences, and foreign visits: You have taught me the importance of working together, being with and for each other, and seeing things in new and beautiful ways.

To all of you and so many more, in the immortal words of Anne Lammott…

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Full Moon Silhouettes