BY LIBBO CROSSWHITE
I wanted this month’s article to be about anything but this. I searched. I procrastinated. I hoped that maybe something else would come to mind. I even tossed around doing some summer recipes— WHAT? If you know me, you know my favorite cookbook is a take out menu.
I want so much to pretend that June is about anything but my dad. His death. How much I still miss him after 22 years. How his absence still shapes the very person I am and the mother that I have become. But this year is harder than any of the 21 before.
In the midst of a difficult week, I had a co-worker share a very specific vision. She walked into my room one afternoon and wanted me to know that God had spoken a very direct message that He wanted her to share with me. She looked me in the eyes and said, “God is using your dad’s death in your life. Let Him use it to guide you and others.” I was so thankful for her faithfulness to share His word because she and I had never spoken of my dad—this message was out of the blue and totally ordained. So, I wiped my eyes, put up my recipes and surrendered to the message God has been laying on my heart.
A painful message is what I have to offer. And it’s a message for anyone that’s hurting. Not just from a father’s death, but any gut-wrenching, incessant pain that you wake up with and can’t sleep because of—pain that can seem to completely wash over you and knock you down on your knees, a pain that stops you in your tracks and leaves you grasping for air.
So for me, a time of celebration of our fathers is so very bittersweet and downright painful. I want to be okay, but the honest truth is that I’m just not. How scary and yet, totally refreshing that I can finally admit that. In a world that hates honesty and weakness, our God says, “Come to me; the weaker, the better. The greater the pain, the more love I have to give.” And God has provided me the sweetest relief from the pain of losing my dad in my children and His Word.
My best guess of this tough season is that I’m watching Mary Thomas grow into the age I was when my dad was first diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. I hold tight to the memories of my dad and realize that my memories are of me at her age. Nights spent in his recliner watching COPS and eating Frosted Flakes replay in my head when I let her stay up a little later to watch TV with me (no judgment on my dad, but we do tend to watch shows that are a little less scandalous).
I see the way Mary Thomas loves her dad and I can feel my heart ache for my own. My Russell is turning into a complete hand full—and a big one at that. He has my dad’s legs, the kind that are just absolute solid chunks of meat and you aren’t sure where the thighs end and the feet start. He has this laugh when he knows he did something bad, but he can’t help but enjoy it—that’s got my dad written all over it. And it seems as if he’s going to be left handed just like my dad.
Mary Thomas is starting to ask about “my husband,” which took us awhile to sort out that she meant my dad.
“Where does he live?”
“What does he look like?”
“Why doesn’t he have any hair?”
“What do I call him?”
So, I am walking through introducing Mary Thomas and Russell to their granddad, Pops, who they won’t meet until they see Jesus. Mary asked for a picture of him in her room. She now has a picture of my dad and me from Halloween when I was her age in a tiny hot pink frame on her bedside table. We look at it just about every night before bed; she talks about him, asks the same 5 or 6 questions and it does my soul good. I cry just about every night afterward, but what a sweet time of continued healing for me.
I don’t know exactly why this season has impacted me the way it has, but this pain has literally brought me to my knees and yet, I praise God for a time of total despair that has lead me to the sweetest reliance on His Word. This kind of grief that can only be subdued when I am completely immersed in His promises. The only refuge I can find from the longing of my earthly father is to be completely wrapped up in my Heavenly One.
In one of the beautiful ironies of life, we find ourselves only being able to raise children, or for that matter, be human, by having a child-like faith. Ignoring what’s right in front of our eyes in this world and looking up to Heaven for our answers. God is still good in our utter despair. God is still good in our gut-wrenching grief. God is still good in our weakest moments.
In fact, almost all of Psalms is written from a place of urgency for God’s healing and refuge. And so I find my sanctuary from my pain in Psalms like 143. Below is a prayer from a few nights ago in my journal based on God’s promises in this particular Psalm:
“May I no longer dwell in the darkness, Lord.
I must meditate on Your word.
I consider what Your hands have done
I spread out my hands to You.
I thirst for You alone.
For You, I entrust my Life, for you are MY GOD.
For my eyes, thoughts, heart, everything, is set on You.
You have been my Father for a long time.
May Your good spirit lead me on level ground.”
With great pain comes a great promise from our Creator—when I am weak, He is strong.
Libbo Haskins Crosswhite and her husband, Clay, live in Brandon and attend Pinelake. They have one daughter, Mary Thomas, who is 3 years old and a son, Russell, who is 1½ years old. She is the high school guidance counselor at Madison-Ridgeland Academy.