My grandfather died on Christmas Eve. He was 92, a decorated World War II veteran, and an overall former badass.
Yes, I can say words like that even though you aren’t allowed to.
In my memory, he was a calm, pinochle-playing, itchily-mustached, white-haired handyman who, right on cue, hollered “What?” whenever I declared “Red” was the color I wanted to play in Uno. I never knew the tough guy he used to be: the red-haired, hard-drinking, angry, physical beast he was before he met Jesus. Those were a lot of the stories we heard at the funeral—stories that woven together spoke of a life of transformation.
During the service, some of my cousins shared poems they’d written about him, and afterward an old friend of the family approached me. “I was surprised we didn’t hear anything from you,” she said. I hadn’t shared anything because I hadn’t written anything.
The truth is, I haven’t written much this last year.
I’ve painted and colored and brainstormed and blogged and read lots of really good novels, but my own creative writing has been a struggle. It’s been a difficult year to be present and attentive, to cultivate the practices necessary for introspection and revelation and seeing the world sacramentally.
Whew. This last year. It was a doozy.
I’m sure it was a beautiful year, too—your first school year, first haircut, first flower girl dress for the eldest; first words, first steps, first birthday for the baby—but it’s hard to remember all those moments of grace. As much as I hate it, the beautiful moments are not the ones that stand out in my memory. It’s the heartache I most remember, I most carry with me. It’s the sobbing on the phone with friends and family who are hurting. It’s the texting conversations about mental illness and unspeakable pain, the sitting in doctors offices to try to share burdens, the taking food to friends who have suffered so much this year. It’s the insomnia and what-if’s and not understanding how yet another person in my close circle of friends could possibly be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, could possibly be carrying this pain for so long, could possibly…could possibly…could possibly…
That was what 2015 felt like to me, girls.
And then Pappy died Christmas Eve and I went back to Pennsylvania to be with my family, to give hugs, to be present. And in the midst of mourning, I heard stories of hope and transformation, stories of courage and Coca-Cola, stories of heartache, loss and love, fatherhood and forgiveness.
These were stories of faith.
I hear those stories and I’m a little bit jealous.
It’s not that I don’t have faith. I do.
And it’s not that I find it harder to believe in, say, the tenets of my faith or God’s faithfulness or the redeeming narrative of scripture, when I am confronted with the world’s pain, with my loved ones’ pain. No, my instinct is still to believe.
It’s just that, well, some days it’s hard to remember how to have faith. Hard to know what that looks like.
Sometimes, I think it simply looks like surviving the day.
2015 was full of a lot of those days. Days of mere survival.
And that’s okay. We made it through, girls.
We made it.