Waiting

If you’re an impatient kid, the wait for Christmas can always be a bit of a struggle. If you have a parent who is slow to get out of bed on Christmas morning, however, that struggle escalates to an epic, herculean test of the human will.

For as long as I can remember, Christmas morning in our family home was always tremendously special. As an only child, Christmas was particularly fun because…I didn’t have to share it with anyone else! Nothing says “Season of Giving” like relishing in the fact that you get to keep everything for yourself, am I right?! As an only child, there was never that moment of frantically grabbing a package only to have the smile fade from my face after seeing a sibling’s name. On occasion, our family dogs might have got an interesting package, but because my parents wanted to make Christmas so special, they always had plenty of gifts around the tree for me. I felt like a little prince on Christmas, but in all honesty, my parents made me feel loved and valued every day.

In my childhood, I was always a bit of an early riser. I would often wake around 6:30 or 7 on most days—what I wouldn’t give to rise with that same ease and energy as I had as a child. Nonetheless, I learned early on that it was always best to let my parents—both of whom had jobs and worked hard—sleep in a little later if they wanted to, especially on those precious Saturday mornings. Being an only child often teaches you how to entertain yourself, and I got pretty good at that on those early Saturdays. I would turn on the TV and watch Saturday morning cartoons, play with toys, draw and color, or entertain myself with any other activity that was quiet enough to not disrupt my slumbering parents. I was a good kid, and I knew my parents worked hard and deserved as much time to rest as they wanted, so I tried my best to make as little noise as possible.

On Christmas morning, however, there was no chance I would ever sleep in to a reasonable hour, and there was an even lesser chance that I would let my parents sleep in either. The excitement and nervous anticipation would wake me up long before the sun would rise in the hopes I might catch a glimpse of Santa’s sleigh has he scurried to the next home. Sometimes, I’d lay in bed and try to force myself to go back to sleep so the hours wouldn’t drag on at a soul-crushingly slow pace. On most Christmas mornings, I would give up and head downstairs immediately. I would turn on the TV and watch Christmas shows and movies until I heard movement from my parents.

Let me rephrase that: I stayed out of their hair (or the spot where Dad’s hair should have been) until I heard the slightest movement from my parents, and that would serve as excuse enough to wake them up. If I heard a cough, a tussle, or a snore that I could mistake for a parental foot stepping out of the bed, I would bounce up the stairs, stand in the doorway, and stare at my parents as they lay there, still sleeping. Then, after a few minutes of realizing they were still asleep, I would make some type of innocuous noise that I thought might be enough to wake them up. Oftentimes, a repeated heavy sigh was my course of action. I’d fake a cough, or a sneeze if I was feeling particularly ambitious. I might be able to get a door or floorboard to creak loudly to create enough noise that I couldn’t be blamed for.

No matter what mechanism of noise-creation I used, Mom was always the first to wake up. She would always come down the stairs, wish me a Merry Christmas, and kiss me on the forehead or on the cheek as I played in the family room and pretended not to know where all those disruptive noises had come from. For as long as I can remember, Mom would usually head straight to the kitchen on Christmas mornings to whip up a special breakfast for all of us. Her famous breakfast quiche was always a tradition, with a nice big glass of sparkling cider poured into our family Christmas glasses that were decorated with red and green holly berry. Meals which are that good always leave an impression, and those flavors will always taste like Christmas morning to me.

But after she got a good start on breakfast, the waiting game would often continue because Dad was always the last one up on Christmas morning. Always. I can’t think of a single Christmas when my Dad was the first person to wake up. Don’t get me wrong—my Dad wasn’t lazy, and he wasn’t usually a late sleeper. When it came to work, my Dad worked very difficult schedules his entire life, laboring as a steel plant maintenance technician. His shifts would change from first to third and back again, yet he never complained about having to rise or fall at these different hours. But when Dad did have the opportunity to sleep, he savored it—just like he savored everything in his life. He enjoyed sleep, and if he had the opportunity to sleep a little later, he was going to enjoy it, Christmas morning or not.

The mind of a child, however, doesn’t recognize that perspective on Christmas morning. The mind of a six-year-old child is screaming “Why are you not waking up?! There are presents to be torn apart and insanely complex toys that need to be put together and broken within minutes of receiving them!” Dad’s leisurely pace on Christmas was infuriating for a child who enjoyed opening presents.

On Christmas, and in life generally though, Dad operated on his own clock. Dad reserved speed for the times when he was behind the wheel in his truck; in most other segments of life, Dad rarely sped things along. He took his time doing the things he loved, because why rush happiness to simply get on to something else? If Dad ate a good meal, he ate it slowly and drank a second can of Coke so he could linger a bit longer. If Dad was at a family get-together, he was always one of the last ones to leave the company of a family he loved. If Dad was at a baseball game, there was rarely a time when he left before the last pitch was thrown. And especially when wrapping Christmas gifts, Dad took all the time he needed to make sure the gifts were intricately wrapped, creatively inspired, and adorned with just the right mix of bows, ribbons, and other decorative elements. In all things, Dad took his time—and on Christmas morning, he took his time to make his way down to the tree, which drove me absolutely bonkers.

Dad would sleep in for a bit on Christmas morning. Looking back, I realize just how few days he had to actually sleep in, but Christmas creates an unbridled impatience within the heart of a child that is difficult to squelch. On those Christmas mornings when he slept in past 8:00, I would sit on the couch with my arms folded, huffing and puffing as loud as my young lungs would allow, hoping my sighs of frustration would drift up the stairs and cause such guilt that my Dad would immediately come downstairs and encourage me to rip open every gift and a few of his while I was at it. When the aggressive breathing technique failed to work, I’d simply yell up the stairs. “Dad! Are you ever going to come down here?”

“Maybe by next Christmas,” he’d joke back, turning over to see if he could squeeze out another few minutes of rest.

As the minutes ticked on, each one seemingly more painful than the one before, I would roll my eyes and shake my head with fury, channeling the impatience of a man 80 years my senior. Even as a child, I was a bit of an old soul—an old, cranky, impatient little soul.

Eventually, after much pestering that didn’t affect him whatsoever, Dad would eventually come down the stairs. Every year, regardless of how much pestering I had done, it was largely the same image. Same dark, matching sweatsuit. Same thick, woolly socks. Same oval-rimmed glasses. Same wide smile when he saw the tree, his wife, his dog, and his red-faced, annoyed son eager to become a human gift-paper shredder. Dad would hug us, and he would keep smiling, and he would soak up every single moment of time we spent together on Christmas morning.

And then, after all of those presents were open, I’d start waiting for the next Christmas.

And now, here I am, many years removed from those Christmases of my childhood, and I’m still waiting. I’m waiting on something I know I’ll never have on this Earth again.

It’s strange to wait on a Christmas that I know will never come. I’m waiting on a Christmas when my Dad comes down the stairs in his elastic-ankled sweatpants and takes way too many pictures on his camera. I’m waiting on a Christmas that occurred so many years ago—a Christmas I likely took for granted as a child. A Christmas that I likely thought would occur forever and ever and ever, but was suddenly and unfairly ripped from my life forever. It’s absolutely maddening to know that, when we are young, we beg for time to move on; but once we age and lose the things that really matter in this world, we beg for God to turn back the clock.

That guilt of taking those Christmases for granted tears my heart into pieces every time I think about it. I think of all those Christmas mornings where I would get annoyed with Dad’s extra 15 minutes of sleep, or his obnoxious obsession with taking pictures of our family dog opening gifts. I would give just about anything to spend another Christmas with him, and even though we had 26 wonderful holiday mornings together, I desperately yearn for 26 more.

This will be my sixth Christmas without my Dad. I keep thinking that Christmas without him will get easier, and more normal, but it never does. There’s always an awkward absence when he doesn’t come down the stairs. There’s always a longing to give him another gift, to share another laugh, to just be in his presence once more. On certain years, that sadness and waiting for Christmas with him again has completely overtaken and overwhelmed me to the point when I couldn’t enjoy the things that were right in front of me. During certain years, those moments of sadness have paralyzed me.

But there are also beautiful, loving moments when I’m able to remember him again and smile happily as I think back on those splendid Christmas mornings we spent together. Mom still uses tags that my Dad wrote out in his precise, all-capital print, so I still get a gift labeled from my Dad every Christmas. Just seeing his handwriting soothes my soul in ways that are hard to describe because it reminds me how real he was. I’ll look around the tree and see ornaments that he always hung, like the Elf Carpenter, and it reminds me how much humor and personality he brought to all of our lives. I’ll hear a song from the Christina Aguilera Christmas album—yes, you read that right—and I’ll laugh thinking about how much he enjoyed listening to that while he decorated the tree (he said he just listened to it because Mom liked it, but somehow he mysteriously knew all the words and ridiculous runs in every single song). There are lots of wonderful memories around this time of the year that, fortunately for me, have yet to fade.

Coupled with those happy recollections, however, is an extreme pain. There is a pain every time I look at the staircase leading to my parents’ bedroom, knowing that he won’t come bouncing down the stairs on this morning or any other. There is a pain knowing that I won’t be able to watch A Christmas Story six or seven times with him, and knowing I won’t hear his bellowing laughter every time Flick sticks his tongue to the flagpole. There’s a pain knowing that I won’t be able to see him unwrap gifts and eat Christmas cookies and nap on the couch. There’s a pain knowing that, no matter how many gifts might be under the tree, the only gift I really want is one that I’ll never have in this life.

There’s joy, however, in knowing that we will celebrate a more perfect Christmas once this life is over. That day is a long, long time away, and I won’t let the anticipation of a Christmas to come completely overtake my desire to experience the life I’m living. My Dad’s death has taught me that I can live in the moment, simultaneously experiencing happiness with the people I have in my life and sadness with he ones who are gone. I can know that there is a joy to be experienced in the life to come and joy in the here and now. Life is not divided into purely happy and purely sad—and neither is Christmas. Life after losing a loved one is perpetually characterized by that dichotomy: a happiness rooted in the memories that fill our hearts, and a sadness that those same memories will fail to come to life again. That balance between legitimate joy and deep despair has been difficult for me to navigate in the years since losing my Dad, but it’s especially tough on Christmas morning.

For these past six Christmases, I’ve tried to slow down. Partly to honor my Dad, and partly to give myself the time to experience Christmas in the moment, just like my Dad always did. I know that Dad wouldn’t want Christmas to be less enjoyable for his family, but the reality is, he lived a life that was so big that it inevitably leaves a gaping hole now that he’s gone. There will always be a tremendous sadness in a season known for joy, but joy will always prevail. And joy will prevail because, although I’m waiting for a Christmas with my Dad now, there is a promise in Heaven that, someday, I’ll never have to wait again.

Dad Lucy and Me at Christmas with SB LogoDad, I really miss Christmas with you. I miss so many things about the Christmas mornings and holiday seasons we spent together. I miss seeing your smile as you opened tools and other gifts that Mom and I bought you. I miss watching you laugh at and take videos of Willow or Lucy as they tore open dog bones and puppy toys wrapped in shiny paper. I miss the elaborate and precise details of your gift wrapping, and I really miss watching you try to explain why you bought Mom certain gifts that puzzled us all. You showed all of us how to find joy on Christmas, and you never took a moment for granted on those special holiday celebrations. For that matter, you never took any moment in life for granted, and I’m trying to do that more and more each day. Thank you for teaching me, in the way you lived your life, how I should live my own. Thank you for helping me remember, even in your death, that the moments we have in this life are meant to be savored and enjoyed. Dad, I’m really looking forward to that first Christmas that we will have together in the life after. I’m looking forward to a reunion unlike any other. And I’m so excited to see you again, that I might even let you sleep in an extra fifteen minutes. Thank you for being a great Dad on Christmas, and a great Dad every single day of the year. Thank you for continuing to watch over me, and thank you for always reminding me what matters most. Love for God, love for family, and love for life are lessons you’ll never let me forget. One of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received is having a Father who made life count each and every day. I love you, Dad. Merry Christmas, and until we can celebrate again, seeya Bub.

“As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. ‘Let’s get over toe Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.’ They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby living in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed. But Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.” Luke 2:15-19 (MSG)

Dad’s Rules: Socks

Dad's Rules Banner

(This is the newest feature in “Dad’s Rules”, a recurring series at SeeyaBub.com. To learn more about the “Dad’s Rules” series, check out my first installment.)

Dad’s Rule #119: Socks are part of a specific pair. Therefore, they shall be numbered.

“Dad, I’m seriously afraid to even ask you this question, but…why do you have 5’s written on the bottom of your socks?”

I don’t remember when the craziness started, but my memory tells me I was in college or had just recently graduated when I noticed Dad’s newest quirk. I was sitting on the couch watching television when Dad came bouncing down the steps in his usual, peppy way.

“Hey, Bub!” he said with his familiar smile and sparkling personality. I returned his greeting as he moved towards the recliner that sat in the corner of our family room. Dad loved kicking his feet up in that recliner, but this time, there was something noticeably different once his legs were kicked up.

For as long as I could remember, my Dad had mostly worn big, thick, fuzzy, wool-type socks around the house. Yes, on occasion he would wear typical white, athletic socks made by Nike or Under Armour; but mostly, the big woolly types were his favorite. Maybe it was a function of his years working outside in carpentry settings accompanied by frigid temperatures. Maybe it was a function of him just trying to embody the whole “Dad’s Wear Weird Clothes” stereotype. Regardless of the origin or motive, he wore them most of the time—especially during those unpredictable Ohio winters. He would pick up new pairs at Bass Pro Shops, Quality Farm & Fleet, or other outdoorsy stores that he frequented (mostly outside of Mom’s purview). Some of the socks were white, and others came in different colors, usually with a gold or other-colored toe and ankle patch complete with a colored ring around the top of the sock. I can picture them as clear as I saw them on that day when he popped his feet up on the recliner; but on that day, there was something drastically different about the socks he wore.

Written on the bottom of each sock in black, permanent ink in Dad’s familiar, precise script, was a huge “5” for no apparent reason.

This had to be good. Or extremely embarrassing.

“Dad, I’m seriously afraid to even ask you this question, but…why do you have 5’s written on the bottom of your socks?”

socks.jpgLike Sherlock Holmes getting ready to divulge the certain facts of a case that only he could divulge, Dad took a deep breath with a smug look on his face and launched into his explanation. “Because socks wear differently. Over time, the heels and toes start to get worn thin, and you can’t be comfortable in one thick sock that’s brand new and one thin sock that’s about to get a hole. So, I number them, and I don’t have to worry about that problem any longer.”

For one of only a few times in my life, I was literally at a loss for words.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I sat up calmly on the couch and began to ask Dad about his day at work. Had he inhaled any fumes in high doses? Had he excessively sniffed the permanent marker that he had used to write on the bottom of his woolly socks? Blunt force trauma to the head? Did he have a new side-job working with fashion line whose goal it was to create clothes for Dad’s that would absolutely mortify their children?

No matter how hard I pushed, Dad continued to act like he had a legitimate reason for writing these numbers on the bottom of his socks. As I began to howl like a hyena on laughing gas, convulsing at the completely ludicrous nature of his newest fashion choice, Dad kept trying to explain his line of insanity.

“I’m not making this up!” he said through a wide, mischievous smile. “You mean to tell me you’ve never had discomfort from wearing two socks that weren’t from the same original pair?”

“Dad, I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty that’s never once happened to me,” I answered, still in shock. “I really feel like there are bigger problems in the world right now than uneven socks.”

With his usual sense of expertise in all matters, Dad kept pushing and told me why it made sense to number your socks. In response, I continued to tell him that he was crazy and that he was closer to the nursing home than I had originally thought. Then, to my disbelief, Dad went into his dresser and pulled out the other socks that he had numbered. I laughed hysterically when I realized this wasn’t just a one-pair-trial. Dad had gone into his extensive sock collection and meticulously numbered each pair with thick, black numbers.

There was just no way any of this could be real.

I laughed for hours. And after the laughter, I prayed with every fiber in my being that my friends did not come over and see these numbers on the bottoms of Dad’s socks. I had a hard enough time making friends. I didn’t need my Dad running around explaining the physics of sock fabric to make my social interactions even more infrequent than they already were.

Over the next few years, and to my explicit frustration, Dad’s sock numbering became a ritual as steady as the ocean waves. Every time Dad bought a new pair of socks, he would sit down and number them with a thick, black permanent marker, picking up with the number right where he had left off with his last addition. As more socks were added to the drawer, the number grew and grew. And the more I protested and ridiculed, the bigger the numbers became. Before he knew it, his sock pairs grew into the thirties and forties.

And as the numbers grew, so did my utter confusion. Every time Dad would kick his feet up onto the recliner, I would be staring at a set of “17’s” or “6’s” in my face. I never, ever let it go unnoticed.

“Ah, I see you’ve got the 8’s on tonight,” I’d joke. “Solid choice.” Or “Oh, you going with the 14’s today? Must be feelin’ lucky.”

“Joke all you want,” he’d smugly respond, “but when you’ve got a sweaty left foot and a right foot with frostbite on the same night, you won’t be laughing then.”

“I’ll be sure to let the pigs I’m flying next to know they should be numbering their hoof covers, too,” I’d shoot back.

No matter how much I ridiculed him (which was frequently), and no matter how often Mom would protest about how frustrating it was to have to sort through the laundry while folding to find two 12’s to match up into a ball, Dad continued to fight the good sock fight. He never let our teasing deter him from his battle to eradicate uneven socks from the face of the Earth.

And then, one day, his line of defense hit an all-time low.

Dad and I often found ourselves sitting together in the family room watching episodes of comedic sitcoms like Home Improvement, Everybody Loves Raymond, Seinfeld, and The Office on an endless loop—a tradition I’ve carried on in his absence quite well, if I say so myself. On this particular night, our show of choice was The King of Queens, a recurring favorite in the family room of our humble home. One of our favorite characters on the show was Arthur—the nearly-senile father/father-in-law of Carrie and Doug, who lived in the basement and caused more problems than any one human should. For those who haven’t ever seen the show, Arthur is…completely crazy. He burns down his house using a hot plate and has to move into Doug and Carrie’s home. He screams about…well, absolutely anything. He is “walked” by a neighborhood dog walker, and he creates altercations with anyone who doesn’t give into his ridiculous demands. He completely infuriates Doug with his random obsessions and eccentricities. And in the cold open of the episode Dad and I were watching that night, Arthur walks into the room, sits in the chair, and throws his feet up on the coffee table. Emblazoned upon the bottom of each of his white socks? Bright, flaming-red 4’s.

“Shut up,” I said in complete bewilderment as I stared at the television. Dad began gesticulating towards the screen as he let out a victory shriek that sounded like it came from an other-worldly language.

With the same look of confusion I had the first time I saw it, Doug begins to question Arthur about why his socks have huge numbers on the bottom.

“It’s my new system,” Arthur responds in his usually odd diction. “I label them so I don’t mix them up with my other sets of socks,” as he points to his head to show what a brilliant idea he’s had.

“I TOLD YOU THIS WAS REAL!” Dad had jumped up from the recliner, legitimately shrieking and cackling with excitement. “I’M VINDICATED!”

“Dad,” I said, still feeling like I was living in an episode of The Twilight Zone, “you realize you’re identifying with the crazy guy on a television sitcom, right? That’s probably not a good thing!”

He didn’t care, because just seeing that he wasn’t the only person in the world—real or fictitious—who thought numbering socks was a brilliant idea gave him all the security he needed to keep on keeping on. He had proved the naysayers wrong with the opening minute of a family sitcom.

Still confused, Doug begins to ask Arthur why he’s doing this, which opens up a whole new line of ridiculous reasoning Arthur describes as “Toe Memory.” He explains that over time, a sock either evolves into a left sock or a right sock, taking on the unique shape and curvature of each respective foot. Wearing a sock that has evolved into a left sock on your right foot is enough to drive you mad, Arthur argues. All the while, Dad is nodding along as Arthur explains the method behind his madness. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing.

“How do the 4’s tell you which one is a right and which one is a left?” Doug says.

“Look, Douglas,” Arthur responds as he raises his voice, “my system has its flaws. But I’ve come at this from every angle and believe me, there is no better way!”

“Mhmm, mhmm…” Doug says as he falls back into the couch, getting ready to drop a bombshell on Arthur. “Or you could just label every sock with an L or an R.”

“Well, THERE GOES MY FUNDAY!” Arthur shrieks as he jumps up from the chair and retreats to his basement dwelling.

“Again, Dad,” I said as we laughed at what we were watching, “you want Arthur Spooner to be your co-defendant on this one?!”

Dad and I laughed about that moment for a long, long time; but something even scarier happened. Dad actually began to realize that his system, like Arthur’s, was also flawed! Like Arthur, although the socks were numbered, he hadn’t been able to crack the whole left/right conundrum.

That’s when the two-component sock labeling system was born, adding fuel to my critical fire.

If my shock could’ve grown more, it did. Now, not only was Dad labeling each pair of socks with a number; each sock within the pair was also being labeled with an “L” or “R” after the number. From this point forward, within the set of 15’s (for example), there would be a “15L” and a “15R”.

Insanity had reached a new peak, and it was the two-component sock labeling system.

For the rest of his life, any time I saw those black, hand-drawn number/letter combos on the bottoms of his socks, I made fun of Dad. And every time I made fun of him, he would always shoot back with a witty (and completely insane) retort. No matter how much teasing occurred, he never quit. His resolve was steeled with every insult, every jab. Until the day he died, every sock he bought was appropriately paired and labeled, much to my chagrin.

His feet were always warm, and my heart was always full of laughter. In the end, I guess it was a win-win.

My Dad had a lot of those quirky little idiosyncrasies: numbering his socks, weaving his extension cords into perfect chains to prevent tangling, writing on graph paper to make his already-precise, all-capital printing even more precise than it already was. When he was alive, those peculiar behaviors were sometimes perplexing, sometimes endearing, sometimes annoying, but always seemingly mundane. Now that he is gone, I miss those little ticks in his behaviors and personalities. I miss how way he always cut apples into two large halves while still extracting the core and preserving all of the fruit. I miss the way he’d organize tools or clean his truck. And yes, I even miss his sock numbering, ridiculous as it may have been. I miss every single thing about my Dad, but as much as I miss the big and memorable moments, I think I miss the little quirks more because I took them for granted while he was alive.

And sadly, but also beautifully and completely against my will, I realize how I’m becoming more and more like him—no matter how hard I might fight against those quirks.

The other day, a crazy thing happened that reminded me how much I missed him while completely terrifying me. I was putting on one of my black ankle-cut socks to head to the gym. (I’m a bit ashamed to admit that during the winters, I’ve started wearing those hideous, wool socks that Dad used to wear—he really was on to something with his choice in foot coverings.) Nonetheless, on this day, as I was putting on my gym socks, I was running through what clothes I was going to wear to the gym in my head. I put the left sock on, and before I could even stop my internal dialogue from churning, I felt the phrase cross into my line of thought:

“This sock feels kind of weird. Maybe I should put it on my right foot instead.”

The shock of what I just thought hit me hard. My eyes were as big as the 2’s that had once been written on the bottom of my Dad’s socks. I had to stop getting dressed and collect my thoughts before I started hyperventilating. There was no way, no way Dad could be right about this one. It just wasn’t possible. And as I sat there on the edge of the bed freaking out and questioning everything I’ve ever believed about socks, I could hear Dad’s laugh. I could see him looking down from heaven and laughing hysterically, pointing and shouting, “I told you, Bub!”

And after the shock wore off, I laughed through a few tears as I realized how much I missed his weirdness and everything else that made him so real and so special.

I’m glad that the nature of my Dad’s death from suicide has not prevented my ability to appreciate those happier moments. I’m glad that the questions I have about why Dad died on that July morning in 2013 haven’t completely darkened the beautiful, vivid intricacies of his personality that made him so exceptional and unique. I’m glad that I can still remember the good days and moments in spite of the one bad day that ended his life. I’m glad that I can look back on numbered socks and laugh, because his death has taken enough from me and from all of us who loved him. I’m glad that I can look back at my Dad and remember him for the man he was for 50 years, not just the man he was on that last, painful day. I’m glad that I can still laugh with him and reminisce on those mundane yet elegant memories. I am really looking forward to the day when I can laugh with him about those moments again.

And along with those streets paved with gold, I hope that Heaven is home to socks that no longer wear thin unequally.

dad-lucy-and-me-with-seeya-bub-logoDad, I still laugh when I think about your sock-numbering-insanity. I still smile when I think about all of the times I would rib you about putting numbers and letters on all your socks, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I really miss seeing those numbers. More importantly, I miss seeing you kick your feet up on the recliner in our family room. I miss laughing with you while we watched television together. I miss hearing you snore as you napped in the recliner wearing your lucky pair of 14’s, and I miss those moments of levity and peace that we were able to build in our family home. Your personality was a force for good in our family, Dad. Through the big moments and the little, everyday behaviors, you made our home a better place. You made all of us better people—even though you couldn’t get anyone to join in on your sock-numbering. Those beautiful little moments gave life vivid color. You gave us entertainment and joy in seemingly simple ways, and I’m glad that I remember the quirks of your personality. I’m glad that I can focus on the simplistic beauty of your life without obsessing over its tragic end. Dad, thank you for always making life more beautiful. Thank you for giving to all of us more than we could have ever given you in return. I miss you tremendously. I miss you each and every day. And if I get to Heaven and you have numbered socks on, I seriously don’t know what I’m going to say to you. I’m sure you’ll keep me on my non-numbered toes. But until I can tease you again, seeya Bub.

“Even in laughter a heart may be sad, and joy may end in grief.” Proverbs 14:13 (HCSB)

Lucy (Part 1)

“Dad, I told you. I don’t want another dog!”

Dad gave me a mocking smile and placed his hands on his hips to feign being an adolescent know-it-all. “Well guess what? We’re getting one anyway!”

Dad continued to smile, and I stomped out of the room with righteous indignation. It was the opposite image of what a grateful son who’s getting a new puppy should look like—but I played that part really well. And leave it to my Dad to do the thing I didn’t want—which ended up being the completely right thing to do.


My family has always been a dog family, mainly because my Dad was always a dog person. Don’t get me wrong—we all loved dogs; but Dad had a special connection with the canine world. Throughout our family life, we’ve always had dogs.

In fact, my parents got our first puppy, a dog named Muffin, before I was even born. Some of my earliest baby photos show Muffin trying to climb into my baby carrier to get a sniff of her new housemate. I don’t even remember what breed Muffin was, but she was one of the kindest and gentlest dogs I’ve ever met.

Muffin was definitely Dad’s dog. She loved him more than she loved any of us, and she would follow him around throughout the backyard any time he was home, always traipsing within a few steps of him everywhere he went. And Dad loved Muffin, and he always tried to make her feel special. Dad used his carpentry talent to build Muffin a beautiful, sturdy doghouse in our backyard—which I saw her use only a handful of times throughout her long life as the inaugural pup of the Bradshaw family. Muffin loved Dad, but if it was even possible, I think Dad loved her more.

Even though I am a dog person, I must admit that Muffin and I never had an extremely close connection. Maybe it was a function of my age and youth, and my failure to recognize any other needs outside of my own. Or maybe she didn’t like me because I was the human baby that knocked her off the pedestal of parental adoration. Muffin wasn’t an extremely active dog, which probably contributed to our lack of connection. She didn’t fetch or run, and all the dogs I saw on TV fetched and ran, so I was jealous. I still have great memories of Muffin, like seeing her pass our family room windows in the well-worn path that she repeated thousands of times in our backyard. Or the moments when I would entice her into the house on cold winter days using miniature Reese Cups (who knew chocolate was bad for dogs?!).

Muffin lived for an impressive 16 years (maybe that whole dog/chocolate thing is a myth…), and when I was in 8th grade, my parents had to face the difficult decision of having Muffin put to rest. Her hearing had completely disappeared, and a large tumor on her leg made it painful to walk and maneuver around. I can only imagine how hard it was for my parents to make this decision. Muffin had been their first real “child” until my arrival disrupted the family two years later. She was their very first dog as a married couple. What an emotional loss it must have been to know that she was approaching the end of her life.

On the day she would be put to rest, I remember my Mom signing me out of school early so I could come see her one last time and say my goodbyes. When I got home, the scene that I witnessed is one that is still burned into my memory bank. I saw my Dad laying on the floor next to poor Muffin, tired and beleaguered, gently stroking her coat as the occasional tear rolled down his weathered cheek. Dad had decided to give Muffin the most perfect dog day she could ever have. Having taken an entire day from work (a rarity in Dad’s life), he had cooked her breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast and hand fed it to her from a plate in our family room. Dad had spent the entire day petting Muffin and combing her coat, telling her how much he loved her. Midway through the day, he grilled her a steak and fed it to her bite by bite. They had eaten snacks throughout the day and spent time resting nearby one another. My Dad wanted to be there next to her to let her know that he was there until the very end, in good times and in difficult times.

I said my goodbyes to Muffin and even told her how much I enjoyed giving her all those Reese Cups when my parents weren’t looking. But my memories of that day aren’t nearly as much about my own pain. Instead, I vividly remember seeing my Dad suffering more than I had ever seen him suffer before.

Dad was rarely helpless in his life, but in this moment I saw how much it pained him to know that there was truly nothing he could do to help. Dad just laid next to Muffin, staring at her and slowly patting her head. My Dad didn’t cry very often, which made it even more difficult to see tear after tear drip from his eye without him ever making a sound. I could tell that all of the pain about Muffin’s death was bottling up inside of him, and it broke my heart to see how affected he was about having to put Muffin to rest.

As the time for the veterinarian appointment approached, Dad eventually collected sweet Muffin in his arms. He put her in the front seat of the truck, and drove off down the street. The car vanished in the distance, and Mom and I cried back at the house, but I often wondered what that last ride was like. I wonder what Dad said to Muffin.

A few hours later, Dad returned home with Muffin’s lifeless body. For the next few hours and deep into the night, Dad toiled away digging a proper grave in one of our backyard gardens. In a way, I think that my Dad doing physical labor was his way of grieving, so Mom and I tried not to disturb him as he labored deep into the night. From an upstairs window, Mom and I watched Dad dig with work lights shining over his shoulders, and we talked about how sad he must have been. Long after the sun had set, Dad had buried his pup and said goodbye to the dog he loved so much. And I wondered if we would ever have another dog again after watching how hard it had been on him.

I don’t remember how soon it was after losing Muffin, but something very unusual had happened. Our neighbors, Jim and Deena, had recently approached us about their beautiful puppy—an Airedale terrier named Willow. Willow was a much bigger dog than Muffin was (around 80 pounds), and she had a very different spirit and personality as well. Our family had admired Willow from the fence line since Jim and Deena had brought her home. She was less than two years old, and she was one of the most beautiful, friendly, playful, intelligent pups we had ever interacted with. Numerous times while doing yardwork, I would see Dad reaching over the fence to pet Willow’s bristly coat. Or I would find him grabbing a tennis ball from her mouth and throwing it deep into her yard. Deena had trained Willow to sit and lay down and do other commands, which always impressed my Dad. In fact, Deena had even trained Willow to retrieve the newspaper from the end of the driveway each and every morning! Dad had always talked about how beautiful she was. Airedales were a breed we were unfamiliar with, and we loved watching Willow run and frolic in the yard adjacent to ours.

Jim and Deena—wonderful neighbors and even better dog parents—had approached us with a unique situation and one that no one in our family had expected. Jim was being transferred to Florida for a new job, and the family was planning to move. Knowing that Willow was used to having her space and plenty of room to play and be active, Jim and Deena were worried about confining her to their new Sunshine State residence—a smaller condo. So, completely unexpectedly, they asked my Mom and Dad if we would be interested in taking Willow. They wanted to give us their dog!

I honestly could not believe it! I was so excited about the thought of having another dog, and both of my parents were too after they thought it through. I think their hesitancy faded because they knew what a great dog Willow was and how perfectly behaved she appeared to be. My parents thought things over for a few days, but they excitedly told Jim and Deena that we would love to have her.

And boy am I glad they did.

Willow was a tremendous dog. We had a few “trial runs” before Jim and Deena moved to make sure Willow liked us and that we felt comfortable with her, and she took to our family quicker than anyone anticipated. In fact, I remember Deena feeling so saddened because, after only a few of our brief afternoons together, Willow began to sit at the back door of Jim and Deena’s home, staring towards our house and waiting for us to come get her again! It truly was treasonous behavior, even for a dog. Deena had even fed Willow with a bottle when she was a tiny puppy, so I can only imagine how that betrayal must have felt!

After Jim and Deena said goodbye and made their way down South, Willow immediately came into our family and changed it for the better in so many amazing ways. I enjoyed taking Willow for walks—except for that one time she saw a rabbit, pulled me face down onto the street, and took off running for what felt like 47 miles. After about 30 minutes of complete terror thinking I had just lost our new family dog, she eventually came back. Willow’s excitement when we arrived home each day was so memorable. Upon hearing us on the porch, she would begin slamming her nose into the doorknob repeatedly until we opened the door. Typically, we would stand on the other side of the door for a few seconds, jiggling the handle and waiting for her to jiggle it back. Her wiggles and waggles would bring a smile to anyone’s face. Willow was also very affectionate and always gave “hugs.” If you laid down on the floor and told Willow to come give you a hug, she would run over and put each of her front legs around your shoulders. Then, she would lay her head down and nuzzle her snout in your neck and give you kisses, all the while leaving her constantly-wagging tail high up in the air. Getting hugs from Willow was the best feeling ever. I can still picture it—I can still feel it.

Willow was a funny dog who was extremely intelligent and had unique little quirks that made her personality so charming. A reluctant fetcher, Willow always knew how to make me laugh while fetching one particular toy. She had an oversized, squeaking set of rubber dentures that she would fetch in the backyard. All of a sudden, you would have an 80-pound dog running at you with these televangelist teeth and a smile from ear to puppy ear. I can still picture Dad laughing at her while she galloped through our backyard.

Or there was the bone-shaped toybox that we kept for Willow in our family room. Willow would attack that plastic toybox with her paws and snout until it popped open and she got what she wanted. She was the fun dog that I had always wanted, and she brought so much life to our house.

More than anything, I loved watching my Dad’s games of hide and go seek with Willow. You read that right, folks—hide and go seek. With a dog. It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. Dad would tell Willow to sit, and then he would scurry up the steps. Sometimes Willow would break from her typically-obedient nature and sneak after him, but Dad would return until he got her to sit and stare at him as he made his way upstairs. You could almost see the panic setting in on Willow’s poor little puppy face as Dad made his way up the stairs. Once he made it upstairs, Dad would choose one of a few hiding spots: behind the door, under the bed, or in the shower. Then, just when poor Willow couldn’t stand his absence any longer, Dad would shriek “OKAAAY PUPPPPPY!” in a high-pitched squeal, and Willow would go charging up the stairs. She would run around from room to room searching for my Dad. Sometimes, she would find him quickly; but most of the time it took a few minutes of sprinting around looking for him. On occasion, she would miss him entirely and charge right back down the stairs, looking for him everywhere. Eventually, she would find him; and Dad would go crazy. He would start yelling “You found me, Puppy! You’re so smart!” He would hug Willow and rub her ears, and she would try to lick his face and jump around in excitement. The two of them would keep this up for longer than any dog and human should be able to, and the joy never dissipated.

You haven’t seen joy until you’ve seen a grown man play hide and go seek with his loyal companion.

Whether they were playing hide and go seek, or taking walks, or sitting by bonfires in the backyard together, there was no mistaking one fact that was irrefutable—as much as Willow loved me and my Mom, she loved my Dad more than anyone else. End of story. No debate necessary.

Willow’s love affair with my Dad was stronger than any other human-dog relationship I had ever witnessed. Willow was always wonderful to Mom and I when we were at home; but the second my Dad got home from work, my Mom and I ceased to exist in Willow’s eyes. She would follow my Dad around for the entire night, rarely (if ever) leaving his side. If he laid on the couch, she laid right at his feet. If he got up to go the kitchen, she went. If he went to the bathroom, she would sit right outside the door and whine and occasionally claw at the door frame until he came out. If Mom and I would call for her, she would lay even closer to Dad. It was unbelievable—and Dad absolutely loved it. It’s fun to the be the favorite, and only my Dad knew just how much fun it was.

And now that Dad’s no longer around, I can admit this truth: Mom and I were very, very jealous. We wanted Willow to like us just as much as she liked Dad! In fact, I was the one who fed her dinner every single night, nearly puking every time I had to empty out a tin of that disgusting dog food in a can. How was it that I provided the food, but she still liked my Dad better?

Looking back, it’s easy to see why. My Dad always had a connection with animals—especially dogs. I think it was because he had a ridiculously tender heart. My Dad was a gentle man when it came to any human interactions, but he was just as gentle when he interacted with animals. Whenever we would visit a friend or neighbor’s home that had a pet, Dad instantly became the favorite guest. He would constantly pet them and play with them, and he never got tired of being an animal’s best friend. My Dad did a lot of construction side jobs where he would work on people’s homes, and if the homeowner had a dog, Dad was in heaven. During the time he would spend there, he would get to know the dog of the house, and he would always come home and tell Mom and I stories about the animals he interacted with. He would even bring pictures! His tender heart allowed him to establish an immediate connection with any animal he met.

Dad also had a mature patience that made him the perfect companion for a dog. If you know me well, this may not come as a surprise: I’m a rather impatient individual. I don’t always have the most even-keeled temper when things don’t go my way. I can say this with the utmost certainty: I did not inherit Dad’s patience, and I really wish I had. Dad was one of the most patient individuals I’ve ever known. Sometimes to the point where his patience was annoying to me! (See, I wasn’t lying…)

Dad’s patience really paid off when it came to animals and pets, however. Dogs, like humans, are imperfect—but in their own unique way. They bark when they aren’t supposed to. They pull and jerk when they’re supposed to walk calmly. They get afraid of fireworks. They use the restroom in non-restroom locations. Any of these things were enough to send me over the edge; but Dad rarely lost his cool with our family pets. He was stern when he trained them and disciplined them, but that direction always came from a place of love, not frustration. He understood that it might take a while for a dog to learn a particular command or behavior, and he never went ballistic if a dog behaved in a dog-like fashion. I know that made pet ownership fun for him.

But more than tenderness or patience, Dad always made our dogs’ lives fun. He never got tired of the cute and adorable things that dogs would do. Their tricks never ceased to amaze him. Their playfulness never got boring. If Willow wanted to walk further, he walked with her. If Willow wanted to play tug with a rope in the backyard, Dad would play until his arms were sore. If Willow wanted to play hide and seek for the 83rd time, Dad would just keep going. He had a sense of wonder when it came to dogs that I don’t see in many people.

That sense of wonder he had with Willow never faded over the many years that she ruled over our home, which made losing her many years later that much harder.

Let me start by saying this: there is never a good time for your dog to pass away. No matter how long they live, you just want more time. No matter how much they might frustrate you, you long for their eternal companionship. No matter how many squirrels they bark at, you never want that bark to cease. There is no good time to say goodbye—ever.

Losing a dog is hard at any time—but it’s especially hard around the holidays. Especially on Christmas.

Willow was 14 years old on Christmas Eve a few years back, and when I awoke that morning and saw my Mom enter my room with tear-filled eyes, I knew something wasn’t right. She came in and told me that Willow was not well. Her respiratory issues were making it nearly impossible for her to breathe, and after a consultation with the veterinarian over the phone, my Dad had made the decision that it was time to have Willow put to rest. As I sat in my bed and cried, Mom hugged my shoulders and told me that we didn’t have much time. In the time we did have left, she wanted me to have an opportunity to say my goodbyes.

I walked out of my room and down the hallway, stepping over Willow’s bed which sat right outside of my bedroom door. For the past twelve years since she had become ours, she slept outside my room on a pillow-style bed, waiting for my Dad to rise each morning so she could traipse behind him until he left for work.

I wondered what that next morning would be like. I wondered how horrible it would feel to walk about of my room and not see Willow laying there. To not be able to reach down and pet her head.

But as much as I worried about me, I worried so much more about my Dad.

Willow had been his best buddy in life. For twelve years, they had been inseparable any time he was in the house. In fact, my Dad always had a favorite Dad joke related to my sibling rivalry with Willow. He would grab me by the shoulder and look me square in the eye and say “You know, if it wasn’t for Willow, you would totally be my favorite child.” (I think it was a joke. I think…) I was worried about Dad losing his best friend.

As I came down the stairs, I saw Willow and I could tell that she was clearly in pain. She could only sit for a few seconds without getting up and needing to move, but she couldn’t move without being unable to breathe. It was so difficult to see our once vibrant, active dog experiencing such pain and feeling completely helpless to do anything about it.

And when I looked over by her side, I saw how much pain my Dad was in watching her suffer. Dad had clearly been crying—hard. His eyes were swollen behind his oval-shaped frames. With our family Christmas tree glistening nearby, he sat next to Willow, gently stroking her side and telling her it was going to be okay. I’ll never, ever be able to erase that image from my mind. I’ll never be able to unsee the pain my Dad was in during that moment.

I had my final moments with Willow where I told her how much I loved her. I told her what a wonderful dog she had been for so many years. I apologized to her for yelling at her when I got frustrated, and I told her how much joy she had brought to all of our lives. I told her that she had been the absolute best dog I had ever had—and I meant it, even if she did like Dad better.

I hugged my Dad and told him how sorry I was. I remember him saying that he just didn’t want to see her in pain anymore, and I could tell what a difficult decision this had been. Dad asked me if I wanted to go with him to the veterinarian’s office, and I told him I didn’t think I could. He understood, and told me Mom would be going with him. I watched as he loaded poor Willow into his truck like he had done for so many rides around town together (which she loved), and when he and Mom were clearly out of site, I completely lost it.

But just as he had promised, Dad stayed with Willow until the end. He just couldn’t leave his best friend—that was the type of man my Dad was.

Needless to say, Christmas that year was tinged with an unbelievable sadness. My entire family—my Grandpa and Grandma, my aunts and uncles, my cousins—had all loved Willow just as much as we did. We didn’t feel right having our normal Christmas Eve celebration, so we had to postpone it for a few days until the initial grief wore off. That Christmas was a rather bleak one, because Willow had always made Christmas so much fun for us—especially Dad. One of her favorite things to do was opening Christmas gifts. Dad and Mom would buy Willow all kinds of wonderful doggie Christmas gifts—snacks, toys, collars, more snacks—and they would wrap them with ribbons and bows. Somehow, Willow seemed to be able to sniff out which presents were hers. She would grab them and put them between her paws and unwrap them with her teeth one-by-one, leaving little shreds of wrapping paper all round her.

I have never seen my Dad as entertained as he was when he was watching Willow unwrap Christmas gifts. He would laugh, and laugh, and laugh some more as she pulled tiny strips of paper from her gifts. He would tell Mom and I over and over again to look at her—and we would tell him we were watching as he smiled along. I swear the man took more pictures of the dog opening her gifts than he did of his only son! But he loved it—and I knew this particular Christmas was going to feel so empty without her. We had to remove her gifts from around the tree before Christmas morning because we couldn’t bear the thought of finishing our morning and seeing only her gifts left behind.

Dad loved Christmas, but he just wasn’t the same that year—rightly so. He still enjoyed the holiday with his family, but his sadness was palpable. He just wasn’t himself that year because he missed Willow so very much. I even offered to open a few gifts with my teeth on Christmas morning. Dad laughed, and then we both talked about how much we missed Willow. He talked about how his mornings just wouldn’t be the same without having her follow him around. My heart broke for Dad.

Which is why I was so surprised when, just a few short weeks after losing her, Dad said he wanted to get another dog.

Surprised probably isn’t the right word. Because I was a know-it-all young adult, I was actually outraged. Furious. Upset that he could just “forget” about how special Willow had been.

Mom and Dad had told me sometime in January that they were talking with a breeder who had a litter of Airedales being born soon. They were planning to get one of the puppies. I couldn’t believe it! We had just lost Willow a few weeks earlier, and I didn’t see how it would ever feel right to replace her so quickly. I was still grieving her, and I didn’t understand why they wanted to get a dog so quickly.

So, I did what any self-righteous adolescent would do—I told them they could get a dog, but I refused to be nice to it or accept it. I told them that my days of scooping retched dog food out of a can were done. I told them that I was going to stand my ground, and that no amount of puppy eyes would ever be able to sway me. I may have even called my parents heartless for wanting to get another dog so quickly (talk about dramatic!). I told them that I wouldn’t budge.

And when my Dad brought Lucy home and I opened the front door, I saw two little black eyes peeking out from inside a tightly wrapped bundle held in my Dad’s arms. And I didn’t budge.

I completely caved.

Dad with Baby Lucy and SB Logo

Stay tuned for the continuation of the “Lucy” series in the coming weeks at SeeyaBub.com.

Faith Answered

Childhood time is interesting.

Think back to your days as a grade schooler. Do you remember staring at the calendar thinking about how eagerly you anticipated the beginning of Summer vacation? And then do you remember staring at the calendar in August? The starting day of school stares at you, looming in the horizon. Grade schoolers stare at a calendar that is short on time but long on intimidation. I remember that feeling. I remember those fears. And I remember a summer when the fear almost got the best of me, and the lesson it taught me many years later when I would need it most.

“Auntie,” I said, “I don’t want to go to fifth grade.”

My Great Aunt Vivian, or “Auntie” as she’s always been to me, is the most faithful, steadfast, encouraging woman I’ve ever known. I’ve always heard that I should look for strong examples of faithful women all throughout the history pages of the Bible, but I’ve honestly never had to search or wonder because I’ve always been able to watch Auntie. My Aunt Vivian is an example of faith that knows no bounds or limitations.

Dad and AuntiePositive, upbeat, and always smiling, my Aunt Vivian was more like a grandmother to me when I was younger. Both of my parents worked (and worked hard) to provide for our family, which meant I was often in the care of family members like my grandparents. And of course, Auntie was always in that rotation—and I couldn’t have been more thankful. Early on in my life, and during the summer months as I aged, I spent many a day under the loving and watchful eye of my Auntie. I’m a better man today because of all those days I spent with her growing up.

And probably a bit more spoiled as well….

When I went to Auntie’s house during the summers, I was a little prince. Each and every morning, shortly after my arrival to her home, Auntie would give me a great big hug, lead me back to her corner television room, and ask me what I’d like to eat for breakfast. Since the time I was little, I’ve always loved food. Where most babysitting aunts and grandparents might offer a simple breakfast. Auntie offered a delicious menu unlike any other. Nearly every morning Auntie would set up my TV tray and bring me a hearty breakfast: a cheese omelet, perfectly cooked strips of bacon, two slices of buttery toast under the broiler, a bowl of strawberries or fresh fruit, and an ice-cold Dr. Pepper on the rocks (my addiction started young, and I never shared this part with my Mom). After eating breakfast, I would lounge in front of the TV or play with toys, occasionally following Auntie around her house until The Price Is Right came on. After acting like I actually knew the price of cars and everyday grocery items as a grade schooler, Auntie would eventually bring me a lunch just as delicious as the breakfast that I had consumed earlier. We would then spend the afternoons playing games, napping, and eating ice cream. Auntie’s wonderful husband, my Uncle Ray, would return home in the afternoon from his job as a barber on Main Street in Hamilton. Just like me, Auntie always took care of Ray and made him feel special. I remember all these days so vividly—and my taste buds can still take me back to one of those wonderful summer days. While my Mom and Dad worked hard at their jobs, I lived the life of luxury at Auntie’s house. It’s good to be prince.

This particular summer, however, wasn’t as luxurious as the past ones had been. As we turned calendar page after calendar page, I eventually saw August and could feel the anxiety building in my young heart.

This wasn’t just any summer. This was the summer between fourth grade and fifth grade, and in Fairfield, that signaled a big year. In the fifth grade, I would move into a new school. A new school with new teachers and new kids and new challenges. Although I would be in a regular classroom all day, there would be sixth graders with lockers and changing classes. Because the school was so much bigger, I had no idea if I would see my friends from Fairfield North Elementary. I had always been a pretty nervous, anxious, cautious kid. This big change, however, took everything to a whole new level.

I hadn’t let on to anyone—including Auntie—that I was nervous. For the most part, I had always enjoyed school. I was a good student. I always liked my teachers. I enjoyed learning and reading and all the things that go along with school. I couldn’t share with them how scared I was. Even as a little guy, I knew that weakness is bad. Weakness should be hidden.

Auntie, however, wasn’t just a caretaker. She was a caring caretaker. She loved me, and it showed in everything she did for me each and every day. And she was there right when I needed her. I can look back on that time, and I think that Auntie could see something was wrong with me. I think she knew that she could help.

Eventually, the day that all school children dread arrived. That particular Friday would be my last day at Auntie’s for the summer. The following Monday I would go back to school. Not just any school, but the new and scary school. During our morning conversation before breakfast, Auntie asked me if I was excited to start school. Never the greatest actor, I could no longer hide my fear.

“Auntie,” I said, “I don’t want to go to fifth grade.”

“What’s wrong, honey?” Auntie said as she came and sat next to me with the loving, careful tenderness that I’m sure she’s been doling out to members of our family her entire life. That tenderness made me feel safe and secure, and I let it all out. I don’t remember if I cried (knowing me, I probably did), but I shared all of my fears. I shared all of my apprehension. I told her that I just wanted to stay with her every day. I had planned to make it to at least 8th grade before dropping out, but maybe I could strike it rich as a contestant with Bob Barker. I mean, I had those laundry detergent prices memorized perfectly…

As I talked, Auntie listened. And she didn’t make me feel silly. She made me feel like I mattered. She didn’t minimize my feelings. She validated them. But she also told me that there was something bigger and more true to help me overcome those feelings.

Then, Auntie did something that was completely perfect. She did something that she did with me before every single meal I ate. She did something that I’m sure she has done so many times in her own life—both when the sun was shining or when the storms were rolling through.

“Ty, let’s pray for you,” she said.

Auntie came over and put her arm around me. I don’t remember the words of that particular prayer, but Auntie has always had a beautiful voice for prayer that I’ve admired since I was a youngster. For me, prayer has always been difficult. I stumble over my words, I am easily distracted, and I try to use flowery language that God probably can’t even decipher. My Aunt, however, is a prayer dynamo. She speaks to God the way we all should—she simply has a conversation with Him. She expresses her love for him. She thanks him for watching over us. And then, she boldly asks God to provide. She prays audaciously, without reservation or doubt. And that day, as an apprehensive and scared fifth-grader-to-be, she prayed for me as tears streamed down my suntanned cheeks.

I don’t remember how long she prayed, and I don’t even remember all the things she said; but I will always remember the way I felt. As Auntie asked God to watch over me, naming me directly to the Ruler of the Universe, I felt the mask of pretend courage I had created begin to melt away. The fears I had were all bubbling to the surface, and although the anxiety was still real, it felt less threatening because it was being exposed to the light. As Auntie acknowledged my fear, she asked God to give me the real courage and capability to overcome it.

My Auntie kissed me, she told me that she loved me and that she believed in me, and most importantly she told me that God would watch over me—in fifth grade, and in every grade that followed thereafter.

After that prayer, I made my way into her back yard to sit in the grass and soak up the last few rays of summer sun before the docile confines of a school classroom would rob me of my golden-brown skin. I sat there in the grass staring at the sky and looking into the clouds, trying my hardest to picture God resting above them and looking down over me. I wondered if He had heard the prayer that Auntie had just prayed for me—and I wondered if He would actually do all the things she had asked Him to do.

Eventually, the cloud gazing got boring and I shifted my attention lawn-ward. I looked at the green grass that surrounded me, and here and there I noticed tiny patches of clover. I combed my fingers through the clover slowly, wondering if there were any four leafers in the midst of all those threes. As I ran my fingers through the dewy lawn, something perfectly miraculous happened. I jumped onto my shins and tried to locate what I had just saw.

There, on that summer afternoon, I found my very first four leaf clover.

I couldn’t’ remember ever having found one before, but on that morning when I felt ridiculously weak, I felt like I found a symbol of encouragement. I plucked it from the ground, ran inside the back door, and saw Auntie standing near the stove.

“Auntie!” I exclaimed. “Look what I found!”

Auntie took the four-leaf clover from my hand and smiled. “See Ty,” she said in that same loving voice that had called out to God just a few moments earlier. “This is a sign of good luck, and it’s a sign that God is going to answer your prayers.”

As a ten year old with an ounce of wisdom and a million pounds of fear, there was something unbelievably reassuring about having found this sign of good luck. I believed it, but just in case it was a fluke, I turned to Auntie and said nervously… “Think there might be another one out there?”

Auntie did what only a loving great aunt would do. She went out into the August heat with me, got down on her hands and knees, and helped me search the entire backyard for another sign of good luck.

And because God loves to encourage His people….Auntie helped me find another four leaf clover. For all the fears I had on that day, I also had eight little green leaves worth of encouragement.

I was beaming because, in that moment, I felt like I had an army of angels on my side. I was overjoyed because I felt like this was a sure sign that things were going to go well. And on that day, even if it was just for an hour or so in the backyard as we searched for a four-leaf clover, Auntie put all of my fears and nerves out of sight and out of mind.

Auntie took those four leaf clovers and said she would keep them safe until the end of the day for me. I didn’t pay much attention to what she was doing with them, but I’m thankful that I had an aunt who understands that love packaged in a simple gesture can change a heart forever and ever.

I counted down the minutes anxiously as the day ended, knowing that my Mom’s arrival to pick me up and the end of summer were imminent. A few minutes before the day was set to end, Auntie came back to the television room and sat down on the couch next to me.

“Ty,” she said sweetly, “before you go, I want to give you this.”

With a glowing smile on her face, Auntie handed me a tiny card. Knowing that I loved dogs and puppies, Auntie picked a notecard with two Dalmatian puppies resting cutely in a fireman’s helmet. I opened the card, and inside I saw the two, four-leaf clovers we had found earlier in the day perfectly preserved under a sheet of plastic wrap. Underneath the good luck clovers, I saw a message written in Auntie’s familiar cursive writing.

“Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered and no one was there. Always remember this Tyler. I love you. Auntie.”

IMG_0631

Who needs good luck when you have an Auntie like mine?

With God’s love and Auntie’s prayers, I left her house that day still nervous but encouraged. I left her house believing that there was a greater power on my side, rooting for me and pushing me along. I read that card the entire way home. I put it on display on the bookshelf in my bedroom. I read it again the night before I was set to start fifth grade. I went to bed loved by so many, including God and Auntie, and I felt that love wrap its arms around me. Love was real because of that card, and so was my faith.

And guess what? I survived fifth grade! Although I did have to have my tonsils removed, nonetheless…

I don’t write this post because of my fifth-grade struggles, however. I write this post because that card would carry me through so many more difficult times. The card, its message, and the love of my Auntie would last for a lifetime—especially in the moments when I needed it most.

I awoke on a different summer morning years later with a sense of dread much worse than the one I had felt as fifth grade approached. I pulled my black suit and dark tie from my closet. Slowly and wearily, I found myself getting dressed and trying to understand how life could have fallen apart and shattered so unexpectedly. I was readying myself for a pain I had never experienced before.

In just a few short hours, I would be standing next to my Dad’s casket.

I didn’t know how I was going to do this—the funeral, or life in general. How could I ever live life without my Dad? Life with Dad was all I had ever known. Life with Dad was all I ever wanted. I didn’t want to enter this new chapter of life without him. His death from suicide had put me in a very dark, very anxious place. The fear of fifth grade seemed so distant and so inconsequential compared to what I would now have to go through.

Back then, fear had knocked at the door, faith had answered, and no one was there. Fear, however, was knocking again.

I knew that although the situation was much, much worse, the same faith would always be there. The same God that carried me through that trial would carry me through this much bigger one.

Thankfully, I still had that card and those clovers to remind me of His power.

The day of my Dad’s funeral, I carried two items in my suit pocket: a handkerchief that had once belonged to my Dad, and the card that Auntie had give me many years before. The clovers have since browned (although they’re still amazingly well-intact), and the corners of the card are slightly bent, but the words written by my loving Auntie are still as bold and powerful as they ever were. I opened it on that July morning, and cried when I read her words again:

“Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered and no one was there. Always remember this Tyler. I love you. Auntie.”

Standing next to my Dad’s casket, I just kept repeating the words that my Aunt had given me. Fear knocked. Faith answered. No one was there. Fear knocked. Faith answered. No one was there. Fear knocked. Faith answered. No one was there.

Occasionally, I could close my eyes and visualize it. I could picture the spiritual battle. I could see Satan with a crafty, wry smile on his face, rapping his knuckles on the door of my soul. Then, I could see that door creak open as the bright rays of faith in a loving Savior exploded through the door frame. I could see Satan, once cocky and arrogant, shielding his eyes from that blinding light of faith. I could see him running away from that doorway.

Fear knocked. Faith answered. No one was there.

Satan had hoped to defeat me and my entire family through the death and suicide of my Father. But if faith had answered back then, faith would answer again. And my entire family would find a way to answer with faith.

There were many moments standing by that casket when I would tap on the chest of my suit pocket, knowing the power of the card that was held near my heart. I would look at my Auntie, who was there for my Mom and I each and every moment we needed her in those days after losing Dad. I would see her and I would know that, although life looked dark in the current morning, faith was waiting just on the other side of the door to shine its light. Faith would answer. And fear would flee.


IMG_0629I have a few prized and cherished treasures in my possession. They aren’t the things I’ve spent the most money on. They aren’t the name-branded and logoed sweaters I can’t afford but buy anyway. They aren’t the pieces of sports memorabilia I have accumulated. They are things that are truly irreplaceable. One of a kind. Sacred.

They are items like this card—a simple card with two aged four-leaf clovers and a message that will last a lifetime. Just like Auntie’s love. Just like God’s love for me and all His people.

That card and the message that Auntie inscribed within it carried me through the days, months, and years after losing Dad. I’m not trying to sugar coat life, because in the aftermath of a traumatic loss it isn’t always easy. There are days that are near impossible to make it through successfully. There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed. There are days when I obsess over how all of this could be part of a redeemable plan from God. There are days when I can’t eat, nights when I can’t sleep, and seasons when the heartache overtakes me.

After my Dad’s funeral, I remember feeling completely paralyzed. I had been in bed for many hours, and I just couldn’t bring myself to even stand. That’s when Auntie came into my room, pulled up a chair, and did what she had done back then. She prayed. She prayed with all the power and belief and courage of a time-tested prayer warrior. She called upon God to do what He said He would do. She called on Him to help my entire family answer with faith and chase fear away.

Auntie and GrandmaEventually, I got out of bed. Although there have been other days when I can’t. And during every one of those moments, I remind myself. Fear is knocking at the door. Faith must answer. My faith has led me through the challenge of my Dad’s death on days when I just couldn’t do it. It breaks my heart to watch families impacted by suicide or traumatic loss who turn away from their faith, because I know that my faith and the love of Jesus Christ has been the most important component of my survival in life after Dad.

And on days when I need that reminder that my faith will always answer, I slip that card into my pocket. My Auntie’s inspiration and her amazing faith mean more to me than any four-leaf clover (or twin set) ever could. Fear will continue knocking. I’m grateful that I have my Auntie and a wonderful reminder of her faith to chase it away.

Dad and Auntie with SB LogoDad, There have been so many days after your death that have been full of fear. I didn’t know what I would ever do without you, because you were such a rock for our family. While you were here with us on Earth, however, you gave us all a great example of what faith and courage looked like. Dad, you fought so hard for so long. I can’t imagine how many painful days you must have had and how many times you pushed through when life seemed unbearable. I wish that I could have done more to help you. I’m thankful that we’ve had wonderful family, like Auntie, to help us in your absence. But I know you’re still watching over us. All of us, each and every day. I love you, Dad. I continue to be afraid of what life will be like without you in the years and decades to come, but I know I’ll see you again. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“God didn’t give us a cowardly spirit but a spirit of power, love, and good judgment.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (GW)