Killing a Snake

I believe that in our darkest hours, when despair surrounds us, we are put in situations that show us how courageous and brave we truly are. Even if those situations are not fun or easy to deal with.

I believe this because God has shown me that it’s true.

It was hot and I was tired. It had only been 3 days after Dad’s funeral when I set out to cut the lawns for the first time. I did not enjoy cutting the lawn as a general rule of thumb, but the idea of cutting two lawns was very, very tiring. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I live next to my parent’s house, our yards adjacent to one another. Compared to the newer subdivisions that offer a backyard the size of a postage stamp, our neighborhood offered very spacious and comfortable yards for each resident. But with a bigger yard comes bigger responsibility…and on a hot day comes a bigger pain in the rear end when you have to cut your grass in the stifling July heat and humidity.

My Dad did a great job of taking care of the lawn. In fact, unlike his son, he actually enjoyed yardwork (there are so many better things to enjoy in this life, but I digress…). My Dad was always planting new trees, adding new pots of flowers, building patios and firepits, and doing something to improve the essence of our backyard at my childhood home. It was a backyard paradise, and I think I often took it for granted when he was around. When I bought my own home, I definitely had a greater appreciation for his green thumb.

But now, the thought of increased yardwork combined with the trauma I felt in my heart after Dad died was difficult to bear. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that my Dad had finally lost his battle with depression, a victim of suicide, and the reality and weight of that truth was still setting in. I was exhausted, emotionally spent, and questioning everything—including my ability to be successful in this new chapter of my life.

I was feeling overwhelmed and very scared—how was I going to manage not one, but two huge lawns all by myself? And would I have to do it forever? It might sound like a trivial concern in the context of the larger loss we were suffering, but when you are in the midst of a family crisis, you tend to amplify all of the minor obstacles into major challenges. Life seems unbearable without your loved one, so molehills always look like mountains in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic loss.

Fortunately, some friends from our old church were buzzing around my lawn and my Mom’s lawn. They had shown up on that day to help me take care of the lawns, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been more grateful. I remember feeling so relieved when they all showed up with a trailer that hauled three riding lawnmowers. I had dispatched them to different areas of our yards, and I had taken on the unpleasant task of trimming with a weedeater.

Let me preface the rest of this story by saying this: If I hate mowing the lawn, I utterly loathe and despise trimming with a string trimmer. It is probably my least favorite lawn chore of all. I’m constantly being pelted with rocks and sticks that get caught in the whipping strings. My shins get whacked over and over again, and I usually mumble unsavory words under my breath and curse Mother Nature. And I am in a constant, ongoing battle with how to properly load string onto the head of the string trimmer without it getting tangled (I’ll gladly take any suggestions from my green-thumbed readers).

Reluctantly I took on the trimming, starting with my yard first. As I was walking through the yard, my mind would not stop racing. I felt overwhelmed without my Dad. I had cut my yard many times, but there was something about doing it knowing that I wouldn’t see my Dad smiling and waving from the yard next door. I wouldn’t get to see him stop over and chat about things I could do to improve the landscaping. My face was streaked with both sweat and tears. He had taught me how to mow the grass and how to maintain the yard, and now I had have to do it without him. I didn’t like this new reality.

Then, as I was getting ready to trim around a large boulder in my side yard, I looked down at my feet and nearly fainted.

A snake slithered its way between my feet. Right in between my legs.

I hate snakes. I hate them. I hate snakes more than string trimmers. I hate snakes more than anything. Folks, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that it was a snake that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden causing the subsequent Fall of Man. Those animals are pure evil, and they have been since the day God created them. I haven’t liked them since I was a kid and that one snake, Kaa, tried to hypnotize poor Mowgli in The Jungle Book. I used to be attracted to Britney Spears. Then she did that thing with the snake at the MTV awards, and I could never look at her with the same admiration that I once did. They are corrupt, vile, sneaky, horrible creatures, and in my opinion are the embodiment of the devil on earth.

The snake that slithered through my legs on that day was a massive, hulking, likely-venomous son-of-a-gun that could probably swallow a small child with one gigantic gulp. Okay, I’m embellishing slightly because I think it was a common black garden snake…but that’s how they get you! They look all small and get you to let your guard down and before you know it….BAM! They’ve got their fangs in your neck and you’re a goner. I had no doubt this snake was out for the kill.

I needed a plan. I had nearly dropped the string trimmer when I saw the snake, and I was frozen, unable to move as I watched it raise its sneaky little snake head off of the grass. Suddenly, panic set in. When I thought to myself “What do I do?” the first thing that came to my mind was “Go get Dad!”

In the past, anytime I had encountered a snake, I would run to my Dad and have him catch (and hopefully kill) it. He would laugh at my fear of snakes and tell me that it wasn’t going to harm me. I would then tell him that he was not a snake mind reader and he had no idea what it was going to do to me. In most cases, my Dad would catch the snake and release it in the canal by our house, laughing and shaking his head the entire way.

But in that moment, the gravity of the situation suddenly washed over me. My Dad wasn’t going to be there to catch that snake. He would never be there again to catch that snake. To help me with anything. My Dad was gone, and he was gone forever.

I wanted to collapse. I really wanted to give up. I felt a pit in my stomach that is very hard to describe. The weight of all of my emotions was triggered by a seemingly mundane situation in the yard. If I couldn’t handle this, I thought, how would I handle all of the challenges that would face me in the aftermath of losing my Dad?

As scared as I was, I wasn’t about to let my Dad’s death defeat me. I knew that I had to use that moment to start taking a step up the mountain. I knew what Dad would want me to do.

*Note: If you are a snake lover, you might want to skip this next part of the story because it gets a little graphic.

**Note About the Note: If you are a snake lover, you should also have a psychological evaluation or an exorcism to take care of that problem.

I found an untapped source of fury and an anger that bubbled up from deep within me, and I found a courage to face my fear. Rather than run from the snake, I ran towards it. I took the string trimmer, gave it some gas, and got the strings spinning at full speed.

I hit the snake with the string trimmer. And then I hit it again. And again. And one more time, just to make sure the strings were doing their job. #MowglisRevenge

After that, I threw the string trimmer down onto the ground, and I sprinted into the greenhouse in my backyard. I grabbed a shovel and returned to the area of the attack, and just to make sure that snake was good and gone, I gave him a few nice little love taps with the shovel. His slithering days were done. His reign of terror had ended. Our long national nightmare was over.

I sat on the boulder nearby, and cried from exhaustion. For some reason, I just fell apart. There was something about not having my Dad by me to help me face one of my fears that made the situation very overwhelming.

Then, I looked to the Heavens, and I cried out with a decent sense of anger and frustration. All I could think in that moment was “God, why are you doing this to me? In my darkest hour, why would you let me see this snake which you know I fear?” I’ll admit that I felt anger towards God in that moment. “Isn’t it enough that my Dad is dead?!” I remember yelling. “Isn’t it enough that I’m hurting? Now you have to scare me, too?” It felt like God was kicking me when I was down. When everything already seemed so scary and so hard to deal with, God threw a snake into the mix.

But I sat there and thought, and I began to pray and talk with God as I tried to collect myself. In the conversation that ensued, I started to see my encounter with the snake in a new light. I started to understand that God was showing me that I was stronger than I thought. By bringing that snake into my yard, God was showing me that I could face my fears, and that I underestimate my abilities. God was showing me that I will be able to survive without my Dad. And there were many days after his passing where I thought I wouldn’t be able to. Satan wanted me to be afraid of that snake, throw in my cards, and give up in that moment. But God was helping me place a foothold on the mountain. God knew my breaking point, and he wanted me to overcome it.

By allowing me to go after that snake, I think God was not kicking me when I was down, but that He was allowing me to experience a victory when I needed it most. He was showing me that, yes, life was going to be difficult in the days and weeks and years to come. There were going to be snakes that slithered into my life and moments that seemed completely unbearable. But God was showing me that he would always be there to give me the courage and strength I needed to kill those snakes and tackle my fears.

I think God was also showing me that it’s okay to release my emotions when I feel them. I had heard so many people tell me during the funeral that I needed to “stay strong” for my Mom and my family. But I just didn’t feel strong. I wanted to cry and I wanted to yell and I wanted to throw things. God knew these emotions were real, and he knew I needed an outlet to let them escape. I think God was showing me that it’s okay to grieve, and that in my moments of desperation he actually wants me to cry out to him. I did on that day, and I’ve been doing it many days since then.

I needed God to push me to the limits so I would realize that all my weaknesses and emptiness would be completely fulfilled through Him. I am stubborn, and God has to work a little harder with me than He should have to in order to get the truth to set in. God was telling me all throughout my Dad’s death that I would get through it, and I refused to believe Him. So He showed me, in a small, seemingly simple encounter with a snake, that I would do more than just get through it. I would thrive. I would conquer. And I would win.

I sat on that rock in the yard, and the defeat I felt began to give way to a new sense of empowerment and inspiration. I began to feel a wave of bravery wash over my heart—not because of my own strength, but because of the strength of the God I believed in. When I was too afraid to chase after the snakes, God would give me the courage (and momentary insanity) to do it anyway.

As days gave way to weeks and weeks gave way to months, I continued to experience those little victories. I found little victories when I least expected them, and in moments of darkness and despair, I would find ways to put on the armor of God and fight on through the storm when I never thought I could. I constantly thought about that day after Dad’s death and my battle with the evil snake. I remembered that when I am weak, my God is strong, and that when I ask for the courage to overcome the heartache I felt, God would provide. In my Dad’s absence, my Heavenly Father would always provide. I’m still reminding myself of that each and every day. And I think I’ve been able to chase the devil away. And I’ll point out…I haven’t had a single snake in my yard since (that I know of…).

I imagine that God and my Dad are in heaven having a good laugh watching me pound on this snake with a shovel more times than I needed to. But after their laughter, I also imagine that they look at each other and say how proud they are of their son—and that gives me a really, really good feeling. I am thankful to have a Father on Earth who fought the snakes when I couldn’t, and I’m glad to have a Father in heaven who reminds me that I can.

Dad on Porch with SB LogoDad, There have been so many days when life has seemed unlivable without you in it. There have been moments when I’ve completely collapsed under the weight of my own worry and troubles, and I wish more than anything that you were here to encourage me in those moments of doubt and frustration. But in a sense, you are here with me. The lessons you taught me throughout my life were always lessons of empowerment. You taught me that I am always stronger than I think I am, and that when I am weak God is strong. You also showed me that it’s okay to have feelings and emotions and that I can express those when I feel them. You showed such bravery in your life, and I hate that in your final moments you doubted your own courage. Dad, you were the most courageous man I’ve ever known. You fought so hard for so long, and I’m glad you’re not fighting anymore because that enemy that you faced is defeated once and for all. I’m so thankful that you are completely at peace, completely healed, and completely perfected in God’s love and image. Dad, you deserve eternal rest in paradise (hopefully free of snakes), but boy do I wish you were still here with me to help me in this imperfect world. Keep giving me that courage when I need it most. And until I can thank you in person, seeya Bub.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Ephesians 6:10-11 (NIV)

“Let The Young Guys Play: Guest Blog by Dave Hicks

Ty: There is a deep mystery in my life. One that plagues me to this day…

How is it possible that my Dad could raise a son who was such a terrible, horrible athlete?

I’ve written on this topic in a number of different posts, mainly because so many of my childhood exploits involve my failures as an athlete. I should probably link to a post so you can sample it, but it’s impossible to link to so many different stories, because my lack of athleticism has been a frequent topic of conversation on this forum.

This probably surprises you if you knew my Dad, because he was a naturally gifted athlete. My Dad was a super-speedy runner, which served him well at about any sport he tried. My Dad absolutely loved playing basketball. Even as he aged, he could beat most of the younger players up and down the court at our weekly church pick-up games on Monday night. He was a natural wide-receiver for backyard football games because he could outrun any coverage. Even when he played kickball with my neighborhood friends, it was easy to see just how fast he really was. He could scoot around the basepaths quicker than anyone. I guess the moniker “Scooter” was well earned.

More than any sport, however, I think my Dad excelled at baseball and, later in life, softball. I will always remember my Dad as a softball player. From the time I was little, I remember tagging along with him to the North End softball diamonds on Joe Nuxhall Boulevard and watching him play with our church teams. I remember the countless weekend tournaments he played in, usually always playing for a team that had a legitimate shot to win. At least once a week, and usually multiple nights, my Dad was having fun at the softball diamonds: playing in some games, and usually talking with his teammates for hours after.

I, on the other hand, just hoped that if I went with him as a little boy that he would take me for a Flubb’s ice cream afterwards.

Most guys who play softball annoy me beyond belief because they think that being good at softball means being able to hit a ball over the fence (even though it’s an underhand pitch, but I digress…). My Dad, however, took a different approach to the game of softball. Never the power hitter, my Dad learned how to “hit it where they ain’t.” He could place his hits, which is extremely valuable in softball when defense really isn’t a popular option. Then, my Dad would speed around the bases, legging out doubles and triples on a regular basis. In fact, my Dad never hit a homerun over the fence one time in his entire career…but he had a few inside-the-parkers which, in my opinion, is even more impressive.

Where most softball players begin to tire out as they age, my Dad just got better and better. Always wearing an 11 across his back (he only wore numbers that were “symmetrical”), Dad continued to play softball until the week he died. I made it a regular habit to go and watch his games as often as I could (still, secretly, hoping for that ice cream). I look back on the times that I didn’t go to his games for one reason or another, and I wish that I could turn back the clock and see him play once more.

As he got older, however, my Dad did a curious thing. He would take himself out of the lineup. I would show up to his games, knowing he was just as talented as anyone on the field, and I would see him sitting on the bench with his hands by his side in his uniform, watching the game intensely.

When that was the case, I would always go and sit next to him and ask him why he wasn’t playing, and I would always get the same answer from him:

“I’d rather let the young guys play.”

I would shake my head at my Dad and get mad at him when he gave me this answer. Oftentimes, I would look out onto the field and see the player who had taken his position in left center. And usually on cue, that particular player would misplay a routine fly ball or miss the cut-off man on a throw to the infield. It was infuriating because I knew my Dad, even as he aged, was better in every aspect of the game.

Late last week, right when I needed it most, my pastor, Dave Hicks of Walden Ponds Community Church, sent in a story about my Dad using the “Scott Stories” feature at SeeyaBub.com. It gave me a different perspective on why my Dad did what he did, and it reminded me of why he was such a special person. I’d like to let Dave share that memory with you.


Dave: I met Scott Bradshaw in 1987 at a softball tournament in Hamilton, Ohio. I was asked to play with a bunch of guys from his church. It was the first time I played with that team before, so I was a little nervous. I remember being casually introduced to the team by the guy who asked me to play (coincidentally, he was the same guy who set my wife and I up on a date for the first time) and I put my stuff on the bench. I hadn’t warmed up yet, but was too shy to ask any of those guys to throw before the game started. My plan was to just to pretend that my shoes needed to be re-tied so I could keep my head down and wait for the first pitch.

As I was trying to be inconspicuous, Scott came over, introduced himself, and asked if I needed to warm up. I accepted his offer and, at that moment, began a friendship that would last for decades to come.

As I got to know Scott more and more, I noticed that his friendliness to me that summer day was just another day in the life of Scott Bradshaw. I know it sounds like a cliche, but Scott literally never met a stranger. And if you remained in his presence for more than a few minutes, he quickly became someone you wanted to know better.

Scott has his mischievous side, as well. One time, I attempted to install a piece of linoleum in the kitchen of my in-laws’ house. I am not a handy guy at all, but I gave it a shot. When I finished, it couldn’t have been more of a disaster if I had done it blindfolded. My father-in-law called Scott and he came over to help salvage the project. As soon as he arrived, Scott started laughing, along with my father-in-law, at the mess that I had created. And, because it was Scott, I laughed along with him.

You see, a person couldn’t get mad at Scott because you knew it was never malicious. It always came from a place of love. So, from that failed project on, Scott managed to work that story into conversation as often as possible. And, as I did that day, I would laugh with him every time he told it.

Normally, people don’t enjoy being teased. But, today as I remember those moments with Scott, I would give just about anything to laugh with you again, even if it is at my expense. And, I would give anything to be able to say to you, as you always said to your son, Tyler, “Seeya, bub.”


Ty: I look at Dave, who is now the pastor of my church and someone who challenges me to be a better follower of Jesus each and every day, and I see the impact that my Dad made on him. I see how a simple gesture, like saying hello to the new guy on the softball team, could make a huge difference. And it makes me feel bad about ever questioning why he would voluntarily sit out of a game.

To my Dad, softball was fun; but life was always bigger.

My Dad made a habit of letting the young guys play and making them feel welcome on the team because he knew how much it would mean to them to have somebody as good as my Dad give up his spot for them. He was validating them. He was making them feel that they mattered. And he knew that, even if they made mistakes, they needed to play and learn to get better.

But my Dad didn’t just give up his spot for that player. You could watch him and you knew right away that he was making an effort to support and coach that player from the dugout as he sat and watched. If they made a good play, Dad would run out of the dugout during the middle of the inning and give them a high five and a pat on the butt. If they made a mistake, he would talk to them when they came in the dugout and give them some pointers—but people always took his criticism well because they knew it came from a heart that wanted to make them better, not a heart that wanted to show off how much he knew. Dad would shout base-running instructions or coach third base, and even though he wasn’t technically in the lineup, he was still in the game.

I have many words I use to describe my Dad: thoughtful, considerate, kind, loving, hardworking, faithful, hilarious, and many, many more. But if I had to pick just one word, I think that word would be humble. My Dad was well-liked by so many people because he was one of the most humble individuals I’ve ever met. And although there were many places throughout our community where my Dad was well-liked, he was extremely admired by those who played softball with him—and even those he competed against.

The beautiful part about all of this is that my Dad found a way to be humble while never losing his competitive spirit—and never failing to teach those younger players. One of my favorite memories of my Dad is when he played on a church team that had a number of young players (mostly high schoolers) who were some of the most egotistical athletes I have ever seen. They thought that softball would be easy because they had some athletic ability, but time and time again at the plate and in the field they showed athletic ability was not enough to outweigh stupidity (yes, I said it). They swung for the fences every single time…and 90% of the time their swings would end in an easy fly ball for the opposing outfielders. They would make simple base running errors, and my scoresheet was absolutely littered with “E’s” from their mistakes in the field. And they would often violate one of my Dad’s cardinal rules by failing to run out a ball in play regardless of whether or not you were likely to reach first base.

There was one player in particular (I’ll call him Shawn here) who had a sense of arrogance about every single thing he ever did. My Dad would often get frustrated with him because he was living in a dream world in which he thought he was God’s gift to softball. Oftentimes, he was God’s gift to the other team.

One night, Shawn made a comment about how he could outrun my Dad. My Dad just smiled, but then Shawn continued to make the comment. So, having heard enough, my Dad told Shawn he would race him down the line after the game was over. The team gathered eagerly, and I said a quick prayer that Dad wouldn’t injure himself. Shawn ran harder than I had ever see him run in his life once we said “Go!”, but he was still a good two lengths behind my Dad when they crossed the finish line. Shawn’s face was red and strained, but my Dad looked like he was just getting started. He made it look effortless. He did a little strutting and a dance I can still picture today, gave out some high fives, grabbed his ball bag, and we got in the truck. I’ll admit (and ask for forgiveness) that I probably said a few “non-Christian” things about that little jerk adversary on our ride home. But Dad just smiled, knowing he had proven his point without completely humiliating his competitor.

I think my Dad did this, to show that young punk…I mean, child of God, that he wasn’t all he thought he was. My Dad did this not to show him up, but to show him humility. To show him that in life, there is always room for improvement.

My Dad really was playing some of the best softball of his entire life right up until his death. He played with Dave on the Walden Ponds Community Church team, Dave often in left field with my Dad next to him in left center. When the team got word of my Dad’s death, the coach of the team, Mel, went out and bought a bunch of white sweatbands, just like the ones my Dad always used to wear on his arms. Mel sat down and drew the number “11” on each of those sweatbands, and with a heavy heart, the team went out and played for the first time without my Dad—each player wearing those handmade sweatbands.

I have one of those sweatbands that I’ll cherish forever. I have trouble going to softball games now, because it’s just too hard for me to go and look into the outfield and not see my Dad. But I hear memories from people like Dave, and I think back to the numerous people that Dad came in contact with, and I know that he played the game the way it was meant to be played. And I’m not talking about softball. I’m talking about the game of life.

Dad's Softball CollageDad, Even though you weren’t able to mold me into a terrific athlete (yes, I’m going to blame this on you), you never quit teaching me that athletic competition was just a vehicle to deliver some of life’s most important lessons. You taught me about humility, hard work, dedication, courage, and competition. You knew that, when you compete, there are lots of people watching how you react to adverse situations. And you always, always made sure that your character was on display. I wish I had been a better athlete because I wanted to make you proud, but I hope you know how much I enjoyed watching you compete…and how much I desperately wanted to be like you. Dad, you made a tremendous impact on people each and every time you played. Thank you for being a character-giant in my life. Thank you for always giving me a solid example of Christ-centered love to look up to. And thank you, seriously, for putting up with my pathetic arm when we would toss. When I’m perfected in Heaven, our games of toss will be a lot more fun. And until that day, seeya Bub.

“Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the Word should share all good things with their instructor.” Galatians 6:6 (NIV)

 

Dave HicksDave Hicks

Senior Pastor, Walden Ponds Community Church of the Nazarene

Dave serves as the Pastor of Walden Ponds Community Church of the Nazarene, located in Fairfield Township. For decades, Dave has served in youth and adult ministry at the local and district level, preparing the hearts and minds of young Christians, and encouraging them to serve others. Dave’s belief that “God is good, all the time” drives his work in the church, as he continues to grow and serve the local congregation at Walden Ponds with an innovative approach to Christian ministry.

When You Aren’t Here

“We had no idea.”

It was a constant refrain in the days and weeks after my Dad’s death. People had no idea he was suffering. People had no idea how much he was hurting. People had no idea that my Dad was so sick that his life could be in danger.

I was one of those people, too.

Families that are unfamiliar or untouched by suicide often have misconceptions about depression and mental illness—I know that I did before it hit home for me.

Those who are unfamiliar with suicide often believe that there are unmistakable warning signs. They believe that family members must have missed something along the way, or that they weren’t paying attention to the needs of their loved one. Wrongly, they believe that in circumstances involving suicide, there are always major and apparent signals that should send up a red flag.

Well I’ve been there, and I can say this with the utmost certainty. There may be instances where warning signs are there, but in my scenario, there were none. There was no red flag. There were no sirens and flashing lights saying “Save your loved one before something terrible happens.”

And this might be hard to understand, but I firmly believe this: my Dad didn’t see them either.


When I bought my home at the age of 25 (there’s more stories about this experience in earlier posts here and here), I knew that there would be some significant do-it-yourself projects that I would need to take care of. Virtually every room needed to be painted. Television sets needed to be hung. Furniture needed to be assembled. The pond needed to be cleaned out and the pumps needed to be repaired.

There was one problem (big is an understatement). You see, I bought the house knowing that these things needed to be done…but I didn’t know how to do any of these things. I didn’t know how to paint rooms. I didn’t know how to hang television sets. I didn’t know how to assemble furniture. And I wasn’t crazy about the idea of cleaning out a pond that hadn’t been touched in nine years.

But I bought the house knowing this because I had an ace in the hole: my Dad. My Dad knew how to do all these things—and a whole lot more. I’m confident that I’m a terrible do-it-yourselfer because my Dad inherited all the genes necessary for home repair and a builder’s mindset, leaving none of those genes left for his only son. My Dad could do anything—and I really mean anything. Small projects were easy for him, like hanging a shelf or assembling a piece of furniture. The shelves in my room as a child that hung on the walls were actually handcrafted and built by him. No childhood toy was victim to complete destruction, because Dad always had a way to repair them. Christmas morning was always a joy because the “some assembly required” warning that frustrates and frightens so many Dads was a welcome challenge to mine.

But he made the big projects look easy too. He constructed a beautiful deck that entirely surrounded our backyard swimming pool that was the envy of our neighborhood. The deck had a beautiful grand staircase and meticulously-arranged spindles all around it. He built a garage and foyer addition onto our house, completely changing the look, feel, and functionality of my childhood home. From drawing plans and pouring concrete, to constructing frames and roofing the addition, Dad knew how to do it all. When it came to building and repairing, my Dad was a true Renaissance man.

For my entire life, I had really relied on my Dad (sometimes unfairly) to just take care of all these things for me. I took for granted that I had a live-in Bob Vila at my home who could fix anything I needed. But when I bought my own home, something in my soul changed that told me I needed to start taking some responsibility. No, I didn’t know how to do…well, anything. But my Dad did. And I could learn from him.

Upon a closer review of the house after I took ownership of it, more and more problems began to appear. One day, I noticed a rather large crack down the wall above the sliding glass door in my family room. I called Dad one day to tell him about the crack, and he used a bunch of words that I didn’t understand to basically tell me that he could fix it. He said he would come over later that night to fix everything. Not only was Dad talented, but he was always reliable.

Dad came over later that night with his toolbelt on—it was a look that he wore well and had been wearing for as long as he’d been my Dad. Whenever I picture my Dad, I usually picture him in that outfit—a dark blue work t-shirt with his name above the pocket, light and worn carpenter’s jeans, steel toed work boots, and a rugged brown toolbelt. That toolbelt had everything he needed—and if he needed something else, he could easily buy another pouch to fasten onto the belt.

Dad looked at the crack, ran his hands over it a few times, and then ran back to his truck to get all the additional items he would need to fix it. He came back with a ladder, a jar of drywall patch, and a smile on his face—“This is an easy one. I’ll have it fixed in no time.”

Dad climbed up on the ladder and began to work, and I sat behind him watching intensely. I watched him work in a way that I never had before. I wanted to watch him closely, because I knew there were going to be other drywall cracks in the years to come, and I wanted to be able to fix them on my own.

After a while, Dad could feel the glare of my stare, and he looked over his shoulder hesitantly. I think he was a bit surprised because, and I’m ashamed to admit this, I had never really taken a big interest in his work and any type of physical labor before this. I just smiled at him, and Dad just kept on working.

He sanded the portions of the wall that were near the crack, and then he took out a netting material to…well, I really don’t know what he was going to do with it. So, I asked him.

“So, what are you going to do with that netting stuff you’ve got there?”

At that point, Dad must have thought I had been drinking or that his son had been abducted by aliens and replaced with a Tyler-twin who was actually interested in carpentry and home repair.

He told me what he was going to do, as my Dad was always a great teacher. But then, his curiosity got the best of him.

“Why are you asking me that?”

“Well, I want to know how to fix it on my own, you know…in case you’re not here.”

Dad smirked, shook his head, and turned around and went back to his work. As he resumed the job at hand, I’ll always remember his response:

“I’ll always be here to help with stuff like this.”

That moment stands out to me for so many reasons, but I always think about this simple fact: When my Dad promised made that statement, it was less than one year from the day that his life would end from suicide. Less than a year.

You see, people might think there are warning signs for loved ones and close friends to observe, and in some cases those signs may be there. But they aren’t there in every case. Even the person at the heart of the storm can believe that suicide will never affect them. Even the person who is suffering most might not see the warning signs. Even the victim of suicide believes with all their heart that suicide will never be their end.

I firmly believe that my Dad honestly believed he would always be here. My Dad had plans for his life that stretched long after July 24, 2013. This wasn’t something that he put on a calendar or contemplated. This was something that, I’m sure, shocked him as much as it shocked everyone who loved him.

We must start realizing that suicide is a decision made when the mind is in a malfunctioning state. Those who die from suicide do not make this decision in the right frame of mind. They want to be here with us forever, but something in their mind tells them that being here forever will bring tremendous pain—not just for themselves, but for the loved ones they feel they will be a burden to. There is a malfunction at the brain level that warps the thought process so severely that rational thought seems irrational.

Had we known my Dad was hurting so severely that it would threaten his life, we would have moved heaven and earth to save him. My Mom and I would have done anything we could to help him weather that storm and the ones that might have followed. We never would have left him alone at the house that day. But we never would have thought that suicide was within the realm of possibility for my Dad.

And I believe this: Had my Dad thought that his life was seriously in danger, he would have done everything he could to save it. For himself. For me. For my Mom. For everyone he loved.

That’s why I can’t, and I never will, hold my Dad responsible for his death. I know his true heart. I know where he wanted to be. I know he wanted to be here with all of us. He told me that he would. And my Dad never lied to me. He told me on that night, and so many others, that he would always be there to help me when I needed him. He told me how much he was looking forward to me finding someone to spend the rest of my life with…and how much he wanted to be a Grandpa. He had plans for things he was going to do to our house and for things he wanted to do, like going to certain concerts or going on unique trips. Do these sound like the plans of a man who welcome death? No, they don’t. Because my Dad didn’t want to die. He wanted to be here for as long as God would allow him too.

Even though I strongly believe that my Dad gave no indication that he was suffering so severely that it could lead to suicide, I still feel tremendous guilt. Guilt for not knowing what could happen. Guilt for not seeing what was happening in his mind and heart. Guilt for not doing more to protect the man who had always been my protector.

I know this “survivor’s guilt” is irrational, but it’s there and it’s real. There are days when it weighs me down so severely that I can’t function. It hurts me that I couldn’t do more.

But maybe, just like the crack in the wall and the other home repairs, I wasn’t equipped to fix that problem. I wasn’t prepared to heal the hurt and illness my Dad suffered from. Either way, I’ve struggled to come to terms with the fact that my Dad is no longer here, even though he should be. The tremendous guilt and the overwhelming sorrow are a hallmark of the survivor’s life, and I never quite understood just how intense this was until it affected my life. It’s expanded my heart to be more empathetic to others. It’s made me feel better prepared to help other people.

And even though I still can’t fix any cracks that appear in my wall, I’ve got the memory of an inspiration and a great Father that will motivate me to pay attention to my own emotions.

Dad with Baby Lucy and SB LogoDad, I never thought I’d have to experience life without you so soon. I had images of you growing old, and I was excited to see you enter new chapters of your life, because you always had a sense of adventure. There are days, many days, when I feel helplessly lost without you. It always feels like something is missing when you aren’t around—it’s like there’s a gaping hole that can never be filled perfectly, even though good things are happening all around me. You brought such life to my life, and now I try to use your memory to fulfill that. I look forward to life in Eternity when the “you aren’t here” times are simply a thing of the past. Until that day, I’ll continue honoring your memory and loving you with all my heart. Seeya, Bub.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

Yes, He Loves Me

The tiniest, simplest books are often the best books.

Love Is CoverWhen I was a kid, one of my favorite books was one that my Mom bought for me at a library book sale called “Love Is Walking Hand in Hand.” The 1965 book is about as simple as you can get. Written by the famous illustrator Charles Schulz, the book features the Peanuts gang (Charlie Brown and Snoopy and all your other favorites) with simple but practical examples of what love can look like in our everyday lives. Each page features a new example: “Love is walking hand in hand,” “Love is having a special song,” “Love is messing up someone’s hair,” “Love is wishing you had nerve enough to go over and talk with that little girl with the red hair,” “Love is letting him win even though you know you could slaughter him” (There’s more awesome gems from this book at brainpickings.org).

I loved that book because it was easy. I loved that book because it took a complex and nebulous idea, like love, and made it easy for me to see and understand. That book put hands and feet on love for me. That book didn’t just tell me what love was—it taught me how to love other people.

Isn’t it funny how we often come back to those simple little lessons as we age to deal with some of life’s most complex issues?

It’s true, my life after Dad’s death has been vastly more complicated, but the answers to those complicated questions can sometimes be beautifully, wonderfully simple.

Lately, I’ve been reading and revisiting a number of different books and articles written by survivors of suicide. Some of these books resonate really deeply with me, but others describe scenarios that I’m truly unfamiliar with. And it should be that way. The experience of each survivor of suicide is entirely different, and we all struggle with different feelings at different seasons. There’s no manual or “right way” to grieve. There’s no perfect way to do this because each person who suffers is imperfect in their own way.

One thing that we all have in common as survivors of suicide loss, however, is dealing with questions. And one of the worst ramifications of a suicide involves the many unanswered (and sometimes unanswerable) questions it creates in the lives of those left behind.

There is one question in the “life after your loved one” that is particularly haunting. It’s a question that gets to the roots and the motivations of suicide in general.

Oftentimes, whether reasonable or not, suicide survivors often wonder “If my loved one died by suicide, did they ever really love me?”

It’s heartbreaking for me to even write these questions down, mainly because this is a question that I’ve always been able to answer easily. Yes, I know that my Dad loved me. I know that he suffered from a debilitating brain illness that warped his mind and hacked his thought processes. I know that his decision was not a reflection of his love or lack thereof. It was uncontrollable. It was out of his ability to handle. He loved me so much that he couldn’t bear the thought of letting me (and the rest of his friends and family) down.

But even the most rock-solid faith in God and love can be subject to temptation and doubt. No matter how strong my belief, I have to admit…there have been moments in the three-and-more years since Dad passed where Satan has gotten the best of me. There have been moments so sad and heartbreaking that it’s made it hard to function, physically and emotionally. And yes, although I hate to admit it, there have been moments where (even temporarily) the pain of losing my Dad so suddenly and tragically have called into question everything I believe.

Alright, I’ll say it…I’ve always been the guy who rolls my eyes a bit at a wedding whenever the minister says “Our reading is from the 13th chapter of the book of 1st Corinthians…” Mainly, I used to think that people chose this particular passage because it’s the easiest one to understand. It’s easy to reprint on a coffee mug or desk sign. (Don’t act like I’m the only one who’s thought this.)

But suicide changed my life in dramatic ways, and that particular passage of Scripture took on a whole new meaning after Dad died. You’ve heard it before, and just to help you prepare for the Summer wedding season, you’ll hear it again here:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (ESV)

I think people love this verse because, just like my Charlie Brown book from my childhood, it makes love a tangible thing. It puts hands and feet to love. We can look at any scenario in our life, evaluate it against these standards, and judge accurately whether or not love is there.

For this reason, I often go to the version in The Message (MSG) that I think puts a perfect “Charlie Brown” picture with the original text:

“Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always ‘me first,’ doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end. Love never dies.” 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 (MSG)

So, like I’ve done so many times when the storms have come upon my soul after Dad died, I did just that to help reaffirm and strengthen my beliefs. Did my Dad really, really love me? Of course he did. Did he love me even though he died from suicide? Yes, undoubtedly. Even though life might have seemed unlivable to him, did he still love me?

Yes, yes, yes. I can answer that question with the firmest of faith. And it’s not just a whim or a feeling. It’s a fact. I can evaluate my Dad and his actions as a father against this beautiful, poetic Scripture, and I can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loved me…and loves me still.

“Love is patient…” (v. 4) Boy, was my Dad ever patient…with me and with everything in life. All throughout my childhood, my Dad never tired of doing things that I’m sure weren’t all that exciting for him. I think specifically of the hours we used to spend each night wrestling on the floor of our family room. Much to Mom’s chagrin, I would often jump off of the stairs or the arm of a couch and Dad would catch me and body slam me. I think of all the times that Dad would take me to the playground or toss me off the deck of our backyard swimming pool. I’m sure that there were other things he would have rather done as an adult. But he always took the time to let me be a child. He was always patient with my constant pleas for entertainment. He was patient in everything he did, but I never once felt like I was a burden or distraction for my Dad.

“Love is kind.” (v. 4) I remember from a very young age, that my Dad always taught me how to be gentle. He didn’t tell me what being gentle was; he simply showed me in the way he lived his life. My Dad had a heart for other people. In my opinion, kindness is often judged by how you treat people who can’t ever pay you back for your kindness. My Dad had a heart for those people—especially the physically disabled. I remember how special his relationship was with Madelyn, a young girl from our church who suffered from Down’s Syndrome. He loved seeing her and each time, he would bend his neck to let her rub his bald head as she smiled. My Dad also loved pets and animals of all kinds. Dad was never too busy to pet a dog or play fetch with it. He got so much enjoyment giving joy to other people (and many four-legged creatures as well).

Whenever I think of my Dad’s kindness, I think most about the times when I was hurt or injured as a child, and how he could make me feel safe, secure, and steady again. Dad often took me and my friends on bike rides to Rentschler Park when we were kids. My friends and I loved it, because Dad would often take us on the most challenging trails, encouraging us to pop wheelies, ramp small hills, and navigate particularly treacherous trails. One evening, I rode down a very steep hill, and the overgrown grass had concealed a rather large and raised manhole cover. I hit the manhole cover hard, went head over handlebars, and landed on top of the manhole cover on my back as the bike slammed down hard into my chest. I got the wind knocked out of me, and I had a lot of cuts and bruises to show for it. Without blinking, my Dad threw his bike down, came and scooped me up in his arms, and carried me all the way home. He enlisted my friends to help push our bikes so he could carry me. That’s kindness. That’s love. That’s my Dad. I miss feeling the kindness of his hug.

“Love does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude.” (v. 4) The message translation of this portion says “Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head” (v. 4-5). I love that! My Dad was one of the most humble men I’ve ever met, and his entire life was centered around telling people how proud he was of me—sometimes to the point that it embarrassed me! Although he didn’t have much to brag on when it came to athletic achievements, there were the few miraculous Saturdays where I had a good day in the net as the keeper and he would tell everyone about my achievement. Whether it was a great report card, an award I won at the school, or a particularly strong drawing I had made as a child, I always knew that Dad was my biggest fan. He loved me for who I was, and he loved telling people about the things I was doing. It made me feel important. It made me feel special. My Dad’s love was always, always about other people.

“It does not insist on its own way.” (v. 5) My Dad always gave me the freedom to figure things out on my own. He loved me by letting me make mistakes. Ultimately, he loved me by letting me be me. Dad and I were similar in many ways, but we were also very different. Dad was a stellar athlete. I was…less than stellar. Dad was a builder and knew how to work with his hands. I complained about most physical labor and threatened to call Children’s Protective Services if he forced me to work. Dad enjoyed riding dirtbikes and motorcycles, and although he bought me my own to ride many times, I was often too nervous to ride them well. But Dad, in spite of all these differences, always loved me. He never made me feel inadequate because I enjoyed books or puppet shows or coloring or things that I’m sure he didn’t have an interest in. I think Dad loved that I was like him in many ways, but I know that he also loved me because I wasn’t a carbon copy of him.

“It is not irritable or resentful.” (v. 5) I am a lucky child in that I can’t really remember my Dad ever losing his temper with me. I look back on my life, and yes there were times where he was upset with me, but I never felt unloved. For the most part, I was a pretty good kid—but even the best of kids do something every now and then to send their parents into the stratosphere. Even when I made mistakes, Dad never let those mistakes influence how he felt about me or how he perceived my character. My Dad was the parent who could get his point across just by saying he was disappointed in me and the way I behaved. He loved me, and yes he disciplined me when I needed and deserved it, but he never lost his temper. I strive to be more like him in many ways, but especially in this way. I know I need more of his coolheadedness.

“It does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.” (v. 6) In everything he did and taught me, my Dad encouraged me to be a good person. I know that sounds simple, but because he loved me, he wanted me to love other people and do what was right by them. Dad’s actions were always evaluated in the context of how it might affect other people. It might sound like a minor lesson to some people, but my Dad refused to litter. And he also refused to let his son do the same thing. At the time, I didn’t understand how throwing a gum wrapper out the car window could be a big deal, but Dad cared too much about the planet and other people to make his garbage their problem. And yes, if I threw down a candy wrapper or Coke can behind my Dad’s back, he would make me walk all the way back and pick it up. In even the minor, day-to-day actions of life, my Dad taught me to think about other people. He loved me by helping me love others and care for their well being.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things…” (v. 7) The Message translation from this portion of the passage says that love “always looks for the best” and “never looks back.” My Dad was an eternal optimist, especially when it came to seeing the goodness in other people. I’m thankful that my Dad always saw the best in me, even when I didn’t always show him my best. When it came to emotions and arguments that happen between a father and son, my Dad had an unbelievably short memory. If Dad and I had a disagreement on Friday night, Dad would be completely back to his normal, smiling self by that Saturday morning. He never, ever withheld his love, because he knew love could solve all of our problems. He knew that he could reach me by loving me, not by shunning me. He let love cover every interaction we ever had. I wish I had always done the same.

“Love endures all things.” (v. 7) I can think of few things that could have devastated my life more than losing one of my parents, but strangely enough I still felt that the love my Dad showed me each and every day could carry me through the pain of losing him. Strangely, the love he showed me helped prepare me for eventually losing him. I watched the way my Dad treated me when I was hurting, and in turn I learned how to better comfort my Mom and other family members when they were grieving. My Dad had the uncanny ability to nurture me authentically, and when he died I knew that one of the central callings of my life would be to love people the way he did.

“Love never ends.” (v. 8) My Dad’s life here on Earth might have ended, but I know that his love never has. It’s still with me. I feel it every single day. On certain days, I can still feel him talking to me. I don’t know if it’s Scripturally or theologically sound, but I’ve felt messages of love from my Dad numerous times since he died—especially in the dark moments where I needed them most. I think this is the greatest reflection of a person’s capacity to love—the body may be gone, but the heart and the soul are still here when you need them. When I lack confidence or feel nervous, I can still picture my Dad standing there with a huge smile on his face saying “I’m proud of you, Bub.” That’s all I need. That’s all I’ll ever need.

I’ve often heard that the best way to fight the Devil and the doubt he creates is to attack him with Scripture. This battle tactic isn’t a speculation…it’s directly evidenced when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4 or Luke 4). When Satan tempted Jesus with food or power, and even pushed him to test God’s love for him by jumping from the Temple and calling on Angels to rescue him, Jesus fought back by quoting the word of God. Satan tried to create doubt, but Jesus relied on the unfailing truth of God’s Word to bolster his spirit. And it worked.

Doubt is, unfortunately, natural in the life of a suicide survivor. When something as unthinkable as a suicide happens to someone we love, it’s easy to question everything that previously seemed to be real or true. “If that could happen,” the suicide survivor says, “then how can I trust anything else I’ve ever believed?” It sounds dramatic, but I’ve experienced it myself…as have millions of others who are left behind with this heartache.

I’m so thankful, though, that in the midst of all my heartache and doubt and confusion I can know without question that, yes, my Dad loved me and that, yes, he still loves me.

My Dad’s death from suicide was not a conscious decision, but one that occurred in the middle of a terrible storm and illness that took over his thought processes. If anything, I think my Dad’s love for us might have been so strong that he didn’t want his illness to be a burden to me or Mom or the rest of our family. I wish that I had told him that he would never be a burden, and that one of the greatest gifts in my life was receiving his love.

Why would I ever let one defeat like my Dad’s death erase a lifetime of evidence that proves he was loving and caring and kind? One moment does not define a person’s entirety. Suicide, although permanent and irreversible in this situation, does not tell my Dad’s story. The love he showed is what defines him. The love he gave made him the man he was. It’s making me into a better man even though he’s gone.

So yes, amidst all the doubt and confusion that a suicide creates, I know my Dad loved me. I know that he still loves me. It’s there in the pages of my Bible. It’s reflected in the moments of my life. It’s in everything I do, and it always will be.

Me Dad and Lucy at Picnic with SB LogoDad, I hate that the confusion over your death would even lead to any doubt about whether or not you loved me, but I’m glad that I can quickly rely on the truth of God’s Word and the example you gave me each and every day to reaffirm your love. You were the epitome of a loving Father. I try each day to love people the way you did, and no matter how hard I try I know that I’ll always fall short—that’s how high you set the bar. You made love your mission. You made love your calling. You let God show you how to love, and then you showed God’s people how to love in everything you did. I pray that I’m able to become more and more like you as days go by. As those days pass, I rest assured knowing I will get to see you again. I’ll get to feel your hug and see your smile and know that everything about you is right, even though your circumstances here on Earth weren’t. Keep loving me, Dad. Keep watching over me and pushing me to be a better man. I’ll never stop loving you. Until I can tell you in person, seeya Bub.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)

Words Matter

“How do you tell people…how your Dad died?”

I sat across the table at a Panera from a good friend of mine. Unfortunately, we sat at that table together as victims of a similar tragedy, having each lost a parent to suicide. We talked that night about many things, especially the difficulties we encountered as grief stayed constant while life moved on.

I closed my eyes and nodded my head, because I remember asking myself this same question. I remember struggling to find the words when people asked why my Dad died so young. When I looked across that table, I saw a man walking through the same horrible questions and doubt that I had been dealing with. I would have done anything in that moment to take his pain away, because living a life after suicide makes even the most simple moments ridiculously complex. It’s hard to find the words to describe the death of a loved one when suicide enters the picture.

I thank God that, although eventually and painfully, I found the words I needed.


“My Dad committed suicide.”

“My Dad took his own life.”

“My Dad died from a suicide.”

I just didn’t know how to say it.

In the week or so after my Dad died, as crazy as this might sound, I would stand in front of my mirror at home and I would practice saying these things aloud. I would look at my own eyes, often swollen and tear-stained, and say these words to myself. Each and every time, they would break my heart.

No matter what variation I came up with, however, I just couldn’t find a way to do this. I couldn’t bring myself to say these words, mainly because they felt so unnatural. I never, never convicted my Dad of his death. I never, at any moment, held my Dad responsible for what happened to him in his battle with depression. I know that every survivor of suicide can’t say this (and that’s completely okay), but I was never at any moment mad at my Dad for what happened to him. He was not responsible for his death—depression was. Depression, a horrible and difficult to comprehend illness, stole him from his family and everything he loved. My Dad didn’t “commit” anything.

During my years in graduate school, I learned many things about life that extended far beyond the training I was receiving for a career as a college educator. One of the lessons that our faculty members constantly tried to drive home is a rather simple one: words matter. The words we choose to use each day matter. The words we use to define other people and their identities are important. It seems like a simple lesson, but I don’t think I realized just how meaningful this truth was until it hit home with my Dad’s death.

Now, in the midst of the greatest turmoil of my life, I found myself struggling each and every day to tell people how my Dad died.

I didn’t want people who didn’t know my Dad to have a wrong impression of the man he was. I didn’t want all the negative stereotypes and stigmas typically associated with suicide to discolor my Dad’s memory and legacy. If anything, I wanted people to know that even the strongest amongst our midst still suffer and still succumb. I wanted to convey this in a simple phrase—and like I do in so many areas of my life, I turned to a good book to help.

The gift of a good book is one of the most precious things you can give someone, in my opinion. I’m thankful that members of my family feel the same way. My grandmother, Pat, is an avid reader like me, and a thoughtful reader at that. Pat was my Dad’s step-mother, and in the aftermath of my Dad’s passing, Pat was extremely gracious and loving as my Mom and I continued to grieve. At the same time that she was suffering, she made sure to watch over my Mom and I, helping any way she could.

Grieving a Suicide BookOne of her most thoughtful gestures during that time came in the form of a book that has helped me in more ways than I’ll ever be able to thank her for. In an attempt to cope with her own sadness after losing my Dad, Pat came across an amazing book written by Albert Y. Hsu called Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers & Hope. Pat was kind enough to read the book and recognize how helpful it was, and she bought two more copies: one for me, and one for my Mom. (For this book and others that helped me cope with my Dad’s death, visit the “Library” section of Seeya Bub.)

As soon as I received the book, I stopped reading what I currently had on the docket and made this my priority—and I’m so thankful that I did. This book was sent from Pat, but I know that it was also sent from God. I received the book from Grandma Pat right in the midst of my struggle to verbalize my Dad’s death. Like all good books, it came at just the right time.

In the understatement of the century, I’ll say this: Albert Hsu’s book is a real blessing and an inspiration—especially for everything I do on this blog. Hsu lost his father, Terry, to suicide. On an everyday Thursday morning, Albert received a call from his mother that is all too familiar for so many families in our country. Albert’s Mom had discovered Terry’s body, cold and lifeless, in their family home. In such a perfect way in the pages that follow, Albert describes each and every emotion that he felt and still feels and all the unique struggles he encounters as a survivor of suicide. His story is one of the most helpful things I encountered in the aftermath of my Dad’s death, for so many reasons.

And just as I was struggling with how to describe my Dad’s death, I came across a section in the book titled “How To Talk About Suicide”. It was like a message sent directly from God through another loyal follower. It was exactly, exactly what I needed in that exact moment.

Forgive the long passage, but understand how vitally important these words were for me in my struggle to grieve. Hsu wrote:

Survivors are hypersensitive to the topic of suicide. It punches us in the gut if someone jokes, “If this doesn’t work out, I’m going to kill myself!” One survivor told me that she challenges coworkers who say things like that, asking them if they’ve ever considered how painful those flip comments might be to others. Suicide is no laughing matter.

How should people describe the act of suicide? This has been an ongoing debate for some years. The traditional phrase has been to say that someone “committed suicide.” Survivors reacted against this, saying that it implies criminality, as one would commit murder. Is suicide a crime that is committed, like a burglary? In some cases, perhaps, but in many cases, no.

In the past few decades, psychologists and suicide survivor groups have moved toward saying that someone “completed suicide.” In this parlance, suicide is not a single act but the final episode in what may have been a period of self-destructive tendencies.

The problem is that in many cases, suicide is a single act, not one of a series of attempts or part of a larger pattern. Furthermore, to say that someone “completed” suicide sounds like noting a laudatory accomplishment, like completing a term paper or college degree. It also comes across as somewhat clinical and cold.

So more recently, grief organizations and counselors have suggested that we use more neutral terms: for example, someone “died of suicide” or “died by suicide.” The Compassionate Friends, an organization dedicated to helping families who have lost children, officially changed its language in 199 so that all its materials reflect this. Executive Director Diana Cunningham said, “Both expressions [‘committed suicide’ and ‘completed suicide’] perpetuate a stigma that is neither accurate nor relevant in today’s society.”

I resonate with this. I find it difficult to form the phrase “My dad committed suicide.” And it seems wholly unnatural to say that “my dad completed suicide.” It is somewhat easier to tell someone that “my dad died from suicide”… (Hsu, 2002, pp. 145-146)

I put the book down, and in that very moment I knew that I would never say the phrase “committed suicide” when describing my Dad or other people who suffered the same fate he did. I just couldn’t do it, because it didn’t accurately describe what happened to my Dad. “Committed” gave the impression that my Dad did what he did willingly and with a sound mind. That he welcomed death, even though I knew he fought against it each and every day of his life. Even though I have many questions about his death, I knew this was not the case.

I wanted to find language that reflected the fact that my Dad’s life was stolen. Stolen by a terrible disease that attacked his mind and his well-being. People don’t commit death by cancer. They don’t commit death via car accidents or strange and inexplicable illnesses. And they don’t commit suicide either. They suffer, and there’s no guilt to be felt by those who suffer from diseases that we don’t quite understand—whether physical or mental. I liked these phrases that Hsu suggested, but I still found myself searching for the perfect phrase.

And then, in the midst of all these thoughts, I heard someone say it for the first time. I don’t remember where, and I don’t even remember who said, but I heard someone refer to their loved one as a “victim of suicide.” Their loved one was a victim. A victim of a horrible illness that attacks and hijacks our thought processes to make life appear unlivable.

I knew, in that moment, that would be the phrase I used to describe my Dad’s death. I knew that that particular phrase captured the way I felt about my Dad’s death. It would send the most accurate message about my Dad’s death—that his life was cut short by a terrible disease and illness that stole his life prematurely. That I didn’t hold him responsible for that July morning in 2013. That I never, in any moment, blamed him for what happened.

So, whenever I would speak publicly about my Dad or talk to someone who asked why he died, my phrasing was always consistent and purposeful. My Dad, a strong, sturdy, and stable man was a victim. A victim of suicide. It didn’t remove the tears or the hurt, but using that phrase helped me honor my Dad each time I shared his story.


Sitting in Panera a few years after my Dad’s death, I found myself speaking passionately and purposefully to another young suicide survivor about this very topic. And I realized, in that moment, that God led me down that journey to describe my Dad’s death for a reason. I realized that words, no matter how innocuous or mundane, matter more than anything.

I admit, both selfishly and with regret, that before suicide impacted my life I never gave a second thought to how this language might bother or hurt those who were suffering. Before Dad’s death, I had a very different understanding of suicide. I would have willingly and readily used the phrase “commit suicide” without giving it a second thought.

But now, in this new life of mine, just hearing the word “suicide” causes me to stop dead in my tracks. I get goosebumps, still, every time I hear it. Because suicide has touched my life. And now, those words are personal.

To some people, this is nothing more than semantics and mental gymnastics. A meaningless attempt for someone who is hurting to cover their wounds with a bandage until the next wound surfaces. But to me, it’s everything. I believe words hold a unique power, because both the richest and poorest people in our world, separated by miles of inequality, still have stories and still have words to describe them. The psychologist Sigmund Freud said “Words have a magical power. They can bring either the greatest happiness or deepest despair; they can transfer knowledge from teacher to student; words enable the orator to sway his audience and dictate its decisions. Words are capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men’s actions.”

And I hope, with the words I choose, that I can sway someone else from meeting the same unfortunate end that my Dad found. I hope that the words I use, even those so seemingly simple as the way in which I describe his death, will cause someone to think differently about suicide, mental illness, and the need to fight against depression with everything we have.

This may sound simple, but the fight begins with the words we choose regarding suicide and mental illness. Our biggest obstacle in this battle, one that I hope you’ll join me in, is helping fight the shame and stigma of mental illness—and in order to get people to talk about how they feel, we have to make them feel that it’s okay to talk.

My words, your words, the words of hurting people—our words matter.

Dad and Lucy at Pumpkin PatchDad, Each day I wrestle with telling your story and making sure people who never knew you know the type of man you were. I want them to know you were strong. I want them to know you were thoughtful. I want them to know you were caring and loving and everything a Father should be. I hope that the words I choose to use convey the love I have for you and the love you gave to all of us each and every day here on Earth. You never inflicted pain with the words you chose. You built people up by telling them and showing them how important they were to you. You and I had many wonderful conversations together, and we shared so many words. I’m sorry for the moments that my words may have hurt you. I wish I had spent more time telling you the words you deserved to hear—that I loved you, that I was proud of you, and that I was always there to listen when you were hurting. I know that we will have these conversations again. I wait longingly for that day. But until our words meet each other’s ears again, seeya Bub.

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 (NIV)

Think to Feel: Guest Blog by Jeff Yetter

Ty: I can say this with the utmost certainty: I have never once blamed my Dad for his death.

I have never once been mad at my Dad for leaving us earlier than he should have.

I have never once been angry at my Dad since his death.

But that doesn’t mean there are things I wouldn’t change about my Dad’s struggle. 

When I look back at my Dad’s experience with depression and his eventual suicide, there are definitely moments of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” that I would return to and reverse if I had the capability. I think back to my first response to learning of my Dad’s depression, and how I wish I would have treated him with more love and compassion (read more about his in an earlier post). I think back to all the moments where I told him I didn’t have the energy to go on a bike ride or toss in the yard, and given the opportunity to change it, I would have put down the television remote and spent more time with him. I would have never left him alone that morning that he died. I would have prayed with him.

But if there is one thing above all that I wish my Dad would have done differently, it’s this: I wish my Dad would have gone to see a professional counselor.

Let me reiterate: I’m not blaming my Dad for his untimely end. I’m not even saying that this would have definitely changed the final chapter of his life, because that’s for God to know—not me.

What I am trying to do is understand the things that went wrong in our story in an attempt to prevent these same situations from happening to other fathers, other sons, and other families.

I’m trying to understand the reasons why my Dad wouldn’t go see a professional counselor, and they are reasons that aren’t unique to his situation. As a culture, we are often afraid of the stigma or stereotype that comes along with going to see a mental health professional. We are afraid that it makes us look weak. We are afraid to admit that we have a problem. This, coupled with a masculine cultural reinforcement that we simply need to buck up and hide our feelings kept my Dad (and plenty of others) from getting the help they need.

But there’s one more reason worthy of our exploration together: the fear of the unknown.

I know this fear all too well. The first time I decided to go to a counseling session, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had seen depictions of therapists in movies and on television, and I worried that it was all hokum designed to make a quick buck.

I’m so glad that my counselor proved all of these stereotypes wrong.

If my Dad knew what counseling really was, he would have gone. If he knew what actually happened in those sessions, he would have gone. If he knew that getting help was not a sign of a weakness but was, instead, one of the boldest, bravest decisions an individual can make, he would have gone—if not for himself, for my Mom and I.

Which leads us to this post. Welcome back my friend (and I hope yours) Jeff Yetter—Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, and the man who has walked with me “arm in arm” through so many struggles. He is the counselor who helped me realize the power and potential of going to see someone who can provide help. Jeff is a sincere, authentic, man of God who has provided so much brightness in the face of the evil that has invaded my life. Jeff’s first post detailed how we came to know each other and how we’ve come to walk together through the trials of my life. Now, I’ve asked him to provide a description of his unique counseling style—a theory he created called “Think to Feel”—in an effort to destigmatize the counseling profession.

So, if you find yourself needing help but are too afraid to pick up the phone and schedule that first appointment, I hope this message provides the ultimate encouragement you need.


Jeff: I am so humbled and grateful to have been asked by Tyler to contribute, again, to this amazing blog. What an incredible ministry this is for Tyler, and for all who come here to read, and share, and learn, and love! It is an honor to be with you all once again…

For this post, Tyler has asked that I share with you all the way that I “do counseling”. He has asked that I share my primary method of working with the folks who come to see me, because he believes this has been helpful on “our walk”.  I sincerely hope you find it valuable as well.

A Little History…

As a first-semester graduate student in counseling studies, way back when, my earliest recollection was being directed by department faculty to decide what theory of counseling I was going to practice when I completed my degree. In other words, I needed to decide what I believed about human beings and their behavior, in order to know exactly how I was going to do counseling when I got out in the “real world”. Sure, there were courses on counseling theories and techniques, and I learned about the greats in the field, like Freud, Jung, Adler, Rogers, Skinner, and Ellis (to name a few). But where did I fit in this picture? I knew I wasn’t going to be a “clone” of one of these theorists, and I had an inkling that I believed in Cognitive Behavioralism (“thinking” as it relates to behavior), but I was pretty uncertain as to which direction I was going to go as a practitioner. So, I left grad school with three wonderful gifts: excellent grades (all grad students do well, academically), a beautiful diploma (fit for framing), and infinite confusion with regard to theory and effective techniques of counseling practice. So…

The Birth of a Theory

I entered the counseling profession determined to help people. True, the notion of “helping people” emanates from the minds and hearts of nearly every recent graduate in the health care field, but I really believed it was possible – I just didn’t know exactly how to go about it. I needed to think about what I believed about human beings, their behavior, and what, if anything, produces change in human behavior. So, I started to actually practice counseling. I was nice. I listened well. I could paraphrase and re-state what I heard with the best of them. But this wasn’t enough to me. Not to mention, I was placing an incredible amount of pressure on myself to heal my patients. This was not going to work well for me, if I wanted to be in the field for very long. So, I began to consider, “What makes me feel?” Seemed like a logical place to start. And that was it – “makes me feel”. I realized that NOTHING “makes” me feel. Things, people, songs, movies, situations, the weather, do NOT “make” us feel. We actually “make ourselves feel” by the way we THINK about these things. And a theory was born. My “theory”. Simply put, we “Think to Feel”.

Think to Feel

Ok, Jeff, what are you talking about? We think to feel? What?? Like I said above, nothing “makes” us feel. People come into my office every day with the belief that things, people, situations, movies, music, etc. “make” them feel. Have you ever said, “a sunny day makes me happy”? Or, “that movie made me cry”? Or, “he really makes me mad”? Well, that’s not true. Any of it. And believe me when I say this, that’s GOOD NEWS! Allow me to explain…

If a sunny day “made” people happy, EVERYBODY would be happy on sunny days. If movies “made” people cry, EVERYONE watching the same movie, at the same time, would be crying. The entire audience. All of them. This simply does not bear out. There is always variation in an individual’s response to his/her environment. Different people “feel” differently, because they “think” differently. In other words, it is the way we “think” about the sunny day that produces the way we feel about it. For instance, I may look out the window and say, “thank you Lord, for this day. I have my twins (9 year old son and daughter), my health, and I’m doin’ ok”. So I feel ok. Someone else may look out the window and say, “yeah it’s sunny, but it’s still too cold out there”. So, he/she may feel less than enthused with the weather, and therefore he/she does not allow for a positive impact on his/her mood. Similarly, when watching a movie, it is what we are thinking when we are watching that produces how we feel about the film. We may be engrossed in the story, identify with a character, or relate it to something in our own life, and ultimately shed a tear. Someone else may be watching the movie, thinking of all he/she needs to do at work tomorrow, and has no feelings about the movie, whatsoever. Thoughts “produce” feelings. Things do not “make” us feel. Let’s continue…

Powerful

The foundation of my theory is one of “empowerment”. I want people to feel strong and empowered. I want people to know they actually have a choice in how they feel about the things they encounter in their lives. And this is the crux of “Think to Feel”: THE ONLY PERSON IN THIS WOLRD YOU CAN CONTROL IS YOU. Think about this for a second. “I can only control me”. Pretty cool, right? Also happens to be true. We can only control ourselves. Consider this: God gave us Free Will. He made us, He created us, and yet, He doesn’t “control” us. He allows for us to make choices. His will, yes. His plan, absolutely. But our choice. Free will. I figure if this logic was good enough for the Lord, it probably makes sense for us as well. Therefore, we cannot control what another person says, does, thinks, or feels. And conversely, no one controls what we say, do, think, or feel. Pretty powerful, if you allow for it to be. The only person who can “make you feel”, is you.

Feelings are choices. Not like choosing a flavor of ice cream, but choices nevertheless. Because “choice is power”. Think of this example: if I say “Joe Blow makes me mad”, who has my power? Joe does. Now, I am mad, but powerless to do anything productive about it, because my power resides with “Joe”. However, if I say, “I’m mad at Joe”, I am mad, but my power still resides with me. May sound like “semantics”, but rest assured, it is not. Two very different and distinct subjective experiences. One: you are mad and powerless. The other: you are mad and “in charge” of your feelings. You have “chosen” to be angry. And that’s fine. Feelings aren’t always pleasant, but they are always a choice.

To further this “power” example, I use the sport of football. Many years ago, I was a quarterback, and in the huddle, when I would call a “hand-off”, I would kindly remind the running back to “hold the ball”. Meaning, don’t fumble. Don’t put the ball on the ground. Don’t toss it up in the stands to your friends. And don’t hand it to the linebacker trying to tackle you. Seems logical. But my point is, the football represents the team’s power. Without it, you can’t score. For metaphorical purposes, I refer to “holding the ball” in life. Don’t give it away. It’s your power. Don’t give your power to the weather, to a movie, or to another person. That “ball” is yours. It’s your power. Hold onto it. Hold the ball!

Positive Thoughts: That’s It?

Ok, now some of you might be thinking, “Alright Jeff, if we “Think to Feel”, all we need to do is just ‘think happy thoughts’, right?”  We just need to “look on the bright side, and all will be well?”  Nope. Believe me, if thinking happy thoughts worked, I would be unemployed. Everyone would simply walk around thinking positively, and all would be well. But of course, that is not how life works. Bad things happen. Sadness and depression are part of life. People get anxious. Sometimes we feel lousy. Negative feelings occur all the time. See, even though we “think to feel”, and feelings are a choice, sometimes the appropriate or even necessary way to feel, is to feel “bad”. “Thinking to feel” is not a “cure” for feeling bad. It simply allows for the “ownership” of those feelings. “I feel bad”, versus “it makes me feel bad”. A choice. Therefore, empowered to do something about it. It’s the difference between “having bad feelings”, and “bad feelings having us”. The difference between “having depression” and “depression having you”, etc.

Although life doesn’t “make us feel”, we are still very much “affected” and “impacted” by life. I always say, “if you jump in a lake, you get wet”. Life “affects” us. We are “impacted” by things people do and say. It’s just that those things don’t “make us feel”. We get to “hold the ball”. Keep our power. And now, life becomes a little more manageable. And in essence, that’s what I do each and every day. I teach people how to “hold the ball”, keep their power, and learn how to “think” in ways that allow them to “feel” better than they did with their old way of thinking. So, each day, each session, each person who comes to see me, learns that we “Think to Feel”.

Always Help

Like I mentioned in my first post, we all have hurt, confusion, pain, and issues. But it’s important to remember: you’re not alone. Because we “think to feel”, it’s important to remember that we are never alone. It is times when people believe they are “alone”, or no one understands, that they feel hopeless. That “thought” of being “alone”, produces the “feeling” of hopelessness. But as I said, we are never alone. There is always “someone”. Whether a family member, a friend, a clergy person, a coworker, or even a professional. There is someone. Let’s all find that “someone”, and maybe even be that “someone” to others. The thought that there is someone out there, produces hope. And that’s the goal of “Think to Feel”. To offer hope…

Bless you all. Until we speak again.

– Jeff

“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he…” Proverbs 23:7


Dad Smiling Against StairsTy: Dad, you would have loved spending time with Jeff, and more importantly I’m confident that he would have been able to help you find a level of peace and comfort in the midst of your depression. I have many regrets in this life, but one of my biggest is that I didn’t encourage you to go seek professional help more vigorously. I know that his style of counseling is something that would have resonated with you. I know that you would have been comfortable talking to him, and I have no doubt that you would have befriended him, just like you did with nearly everyone you crossed paths with. I wish that, as a family, we could have found a way to make you more comfortable with the idea of counseling. But, I find peace in the fact that you are now in a place where you no longer experience the pain of depression. You are living in a beautiful paradise with our Maker in a land where the trials of this world are long forgotten. I long to see you experience this peace, but until then, seeya Bub.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV)

jeff-yetter-headshotJeffrey Yetter, M.Ed., LPCC
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor

Jeff Yetter has practiced in the field of counseling and psychotherapy for the past 24 years. He has worked in both the public and private sector, and is currently in Private Practice in Middletown, Ohio. Jeff has also been an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate School of Counseling at Xavier University. Academically, Jeff completed his undergraduate study at the College of Mount Saint Joseph (now, MSJ University) in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. He completed his Master’s Degree in Agency and Community Counseling at Xavier University. He completed his Post-Master’s Endorsement in Clinical Counseling at Xavier University as well.

Quietude

“You better slow down.”

It was a constant refrain from my Dad when I was fifteen-and-a-half and he was teaching me how to drive. I was planning to inherit my first vehicle: My Dad’s old 1992 Chevrolet Sierra pick up truck. It had a single bench seat, manual windows and locks, and roared pretty loud any time you hit the accelerator.

“Is this the pot calling the kettle fast?” I would reply. It was ironic that Dad was telling me to slow down, because he was the family member with the heaviest leadfoot.

Dad enjoyed driving fast because he enjoyed feeling the power of a vehicle. He never drove fast because he was in a hurry. He drove fast because…well, he just enjoyed driving fast.

Whether I realized it or not, I inherited the gene that causes leadfoot syndrome, and like my Dad, I enjoy driving faster than I probably should.

But Dad also had an uncanny ability to slow down—and I’m not simply talking about his ability to ease his foot off the accelerator. My Dad was a pro in slowing down at life and eliminating the noise that so often crowds our minds. Dad was very good at embracing the quiet and simple moments of life, and I’ll always envy his ability to do that.


My Dad was a man who could enjoy the simplicity of everyday life. The moments that so many of us take for granted were moments of complete serenity and clarity for my Father. When things were quiet, my Dad was at an extreme peace—a level of peace I hope to obtain someday.

I think some of it may have been a result of his vocation. My Dad was always a physical laborer. He started out in construction, and during his life he was able to build remarkable structures: from the garage and foyer addition of our family home to a handful of wooden crosses at our local cemetery’s veteran memorial. Where there’s building there is often banging, and the sound of a hammer pounding a nail was a natural one for him to hear.

After his career in construction, my Dad worked in a number of different steel plants as a maintenance technician. If you’ve never been inside of a steel plant, they are notoriously noisy places. Machines bang and whir as they roll out steel and cut it into pieces for customers to use. Cranes fly overhead and forklifts zoom across the floor, picking up steel while honking, buzzing, and beeping to alert pedestrians of their impending arrival. Dad, being a maintenance technician, was very close to all of the machines in the plants where he worked. It was his job to know that machine inside and out; to capture the intricacies of how it worked so he could fix them when they didn’t. Dad was very, very good at his job; but being good at his job required him to be in the midst of constant noise.

So when Dad came home, he got very good at finding ways to escape the noise and enjoy the peace and solitude of our life in suburbia. And Dad enjoyed finding that quiet peace outdoors.

The weather can be a bit of a mystery in our corner of Ohio, but from mid-April to September you can usually rely on a nice evening with a beautiful sunset rather regularly. Where most families like to eat at a dining room table, my Dad was always fond of eating outside. When I was young, he built a beautiful brick patio that became our family’s private backyard oasis. Dad would often grill (I mean burn) our dinner, Mom would salvage the meal with a handful of delicious sides, and we would all settle in to share a meal. Dad, often covered in the grease and grime of a hard days work in a steel plant, would sink back in his patio chair, eat his meal, and throw back a can (usually two cans) of ice cold Coca-Cola. There was nothing fancy about these dinners, but you could tell Dad enjoyed them.

And although he would talk and converse with us, we didn’t have to say much for the dinner to be enjoyable. Dad would enjoy listening to the sounds and sights of birds flying through the air. He would watch clouds as they moved across the sky. He would laugh as a squirrel tried to steal food from our bird feeders, or watch our family dogs as they meandered across the back lawn. Simple things brought him extreme pleasure.

On a nice summer night, Dad usually enjoyed a bike ride. My family was fortunate enough to grow up within biking distance of Rentschler Park, a beautiful hidden gem in our neck of the woods. Rentschler Park is full of hiking trails, natural woods, and a waters-edge view of the Great Miami River that is hard to beat. Whenever I take a bike ride, I will nearly always have a pair of headphones in, listening to my favorite music; but Dad’s bike rides were different. My Dad was never a big fan of headphones. He enjoyed taking in the natural beauty and wonder of the world around him without the noise of every day life. He would ride his bike, yes, but he would also make a stop near the river bank and listen to the wake of boats as they lapped against the shore. He would stop and listen to the stream near the hiking trail, or watch the waterfall as the cool water meticulously pelted the gray clay of the streambed. He would listen for birds as they chirped, and talked with any stranger who had a dog—always eager to steal an opportunity to befriend a puppy.

And when he would come home from these bike rides, usually after an hour or so, Dad had a favorite spot in our backyard. It was around the fire pit that he built for all of us to enjoy. My Dad enjoyed so many sounds, but I think he enjoyed the pops and crackles of a wood burning fire more than any other. Using the flame thrower that he “engineered” (an extremely dangerous toy that is hooked to a propane tank which I was fortunate enough to inherit after his death), Dad would start the fire, toss on lots of wood, grab our family dog and a lawn chair, and settle in for a few hours of quality rest and relaxation. He would try out new burning materials to see what interesting sounds they might make. He became a particular fan of bamboo which, if you don’t know, makes a loud explosion when it burns. Or pine tree limbs which, after a significant drying period, will burn faster than just about any other material. For hours my Dad could sit in his chair with the warmth of a good fire on his face. He would drink yet another Coca-Cola, eat a few popsicles or Klondike bars, and stare at the night sky above him. He would wonder at the marvel of the moon and the stars overhead, pointing out obscure facts he had learned about them over the years. No frills, nothing fancy—but completely and utterly at peace and happy.

Not every night was like this for Dad. There were nights where my Dad would have to work late or get called in after returning home. There were nights where he would go out to eat or come to one of my baseball games. There were nights where Dad would work side jobs in an effort to support our family financially. And on the unfortunate night that the rain and foul weather would prohibit any outdoor enjoyment, Dad would be relegated to the couch for another night of UFC reruns.

But I have no doubt that my Dad was happiest on the nights where he could enjoy nature and the peace and solitude they provide. I have no doubt that my Dad experienced a slice of heaven on those nights where he could escape the noise of everyday life and marvel in the joy of the world around him.


Mister Rogers popularized a unique phrase: “quietude”. Quietude was the act of withdrawing from the noise and constant chatter of the world we live in to embrace the beauty of God’s creation and listen as He speaks to us. Mister Rogers was a tremendous appreciator of silence, and he found ways to make quiet time for himself each and every day. Mister Rogers would wake up early each morning to pray, and then he would swim laps relentlessly. In one of his books, he even talks about a day he spent doing nothing but reading, praying, and listening to the world around him. He said that that particular period of “quietude” led to a restful night’s sleep and an extremely productive day of work. Fred Rogers said that his moments of quietude were an opportunity to “stop, reflect, and receive.”

I like to think that my Dad was able to achieve this same state of quietude pretty frequently in his life. Although he may have lost his final battle with depression, I like to think that he was able to fight of the mental illness for so long and so successfully because he was able to close off the distraction and noise of the world around him and embrace quietude. He was happiest listening to a bird chirp. He was happiest listening to a river flow. He was happiest listening to a dog bark. And he was happiest listening to a fire crackle. He didn’t need to talk to be happy. He didn’t need to be productive twenty-four hours a day to enjoy God’s creation. He took God’s command to relax and enjoy life seriously. And he lived it in a way that we should all strive to do.

Although it’s been many years since my Dad gave me that initial driving lesson, I think he’s still telling me that I better slow down. I think my Dad is still telling me that I need to find ways to take my foot off the accelerator of life and strive for a level of quietude that will brighten the world around me. There are so many times where my “to-do’s” distract me to the point that I can’t enjoy anything else I’ve already done. I’m constantly thinking about what’s next, what I can be doing to be successful, and all the ways that I can be productive and contribute. I rarely think that the best way for me to be productive might be to slow down, but I’m still learning this lesson from my Dad—even if he’s been gone for over three years.

There are days, less frequently than I’d like, where I’m able to replicate the life my Dad led. I’m trying to take more bike rides and make more backyard fires. I’m trying to listen to the natural world around me and pay attention to the amazing things that God has created all over. There are days where I’m able to hop on his bike, pedal my way back to the park, and enjoy the sights and sounds of a sunset over the river bank. In those moments, I find myself hearing the still, small voice of God that is so often described in the Bible.

But I also find myself hearing my Dad’s voice. We have conversations with one another. I’ll ask him questions about the tough things I’m dealing with in life. I’ll ask him to help me fight my feelings of doubt and insecurity and uncertainty and hopelessness and fear. I’ll tell him that I still don’t understand why things happened the way they did. And I’ll tell him how much I miss him and love him.

And I know I’ve found Dad’s quietude on the nights where I hear him answer back. And more than anything, I always hear him say “I miss you, but I’ve always been here and always will be. I love you, and I can’t wait to see you again, even though I see you in every moment of every day.” I hear it in the break of a wave against the shore or the flap of a bird’s wing overhead. I hear it in the crackle of log in the fire, too. But there are many times where I hear it in his voice. Speaking to me, from the heavens.

When I force the world around me to slow down and get quiet, I hear some of my favorite noises. I’m thankful to God for all that He’s created, but I’m especially thankful for my Dad for showing me how to slow down and enjoy it.

Dad Leaning Back in a ChairDad, I know that there were so many times when I didn’t understand why you would tell me to slow down, but now it all makes sense. I look back on the moments when you were happiest here in this life, and it seemed to be the moments when you were unplugged, disconnected, and severed from all the chatter and distraction that we think is important. You found what was really important in life, and you embraced it head on. You found ways to enjoy the beauty and simplicity of God’s creation, and you found a state of quietude that led to happiness and rest. I’m striving to be like you in so many ways, Dad, but I’m working especially hard on slowing down. You’d be proud to know that I still drive a little fast, just like you, but I’m slowing down to enjoy the things that were important to you and are important to me. Until we can enjoy them together in heave, I’ll seeya, Bub.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.” Psalm 23:2 (NIV)

First Responders: Guest Blog by Dr. Bob Rusbosin

Ty: There were voices, I’m not sure whose, asking me questions.

“Who should we call immediately? Who do you need here right now?”

I had just been told minutes earlier that my Dad had passed away, a victim of suicide at age 50. My mind had been cloudy, foggy, overwhelmed ever since I heard that horrible news. There seemed to be a haze hanging over me. I knew that time was ticking on, but I felt like I was standing still, unable to progress forward.

But to that particular question, my mind cleared in an instant and I was able to form a response. I knew right away, in the eye of that storm, the people outside of my immediate family that I wanted there in that moment.

“I need my pastor, Harville. And I need Dr. Bob.”

Harville Duncan had been there through so many ups and downs of my spiritual journey. He knew the ins and outs of my struggles and my triumphs, and most importantly, he knew my family. He had ministered to my Mom and Dad since they were young. He had been there for us whenever we needed him. It makes sense that a Christian would call for their pastor in the immediate aftermath of a family death as tragic as ours.

But it probably makes less sense to an outsider looking in for a four-years-ago graduate of college to call for their Dean of Students. But to me, it made all the sense in the world.

I came to know Dr. Bob Rusbosin as a nervous college freshman when I started at Miami University’s Regional Campus in Hamilton. Pure chance inspired our first meeting. After leaving my geology class in Mosler Hall, I spotted a sign with flyers below it that read “Interested in Joining the Student Government Association?”

I had never participated in student government before, but I had always wanted to. My nerves and general shyness in high school had bested me in that chapter, but I refused to let it beat me in this new one. I flipped through the packet, read through the guidelines, and spotted a contact number: Dr. Bob Rusbosin, Dean of Students, Miami University Hamilton.

bob-rusbosin-muh-timeline

Once I arrived home, I picked up the phone and called Bob. I told him who I was, that I was interested in joining the Student Government Association (SGA), and hoped he might be able to answer a few questions. What I thought would be a ten-minute phone conversation quickly turned into 30 with the promise of a meeting on campus the next day.

I immediately knew I liked Bob from the moment I met him. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but he was unlike anybody I had ever met before. He was in a powerful position of authority at Miami, but he was humble and full of generosity. He was in a position to be a teacher full of knowledge to impart to his students, but he asked more questions than he answered. He was responsible for overseeing and attending to the needs of thousands of college students, but in that moment he made me feel like I was the only person who mattered.

At his urging, I ended up joining the SGA. And I ended up hanging around Bob’s office as long as I could—for the next four years. Bob was more than a student government advisor. He was a teacher when I needed to learn a lesson. He was an encouraging coach when I doubted myself. He was an advocate for me whenever he saw an opportunity I should take advantage of. Ultimately, Dr. Bob was always the person who would be there for me whenever I came calling. Just being there is one thing, but being entirely there to support someone else in every single moment is a trait we should all strive to develop. Bob embodies this trait better than anyone.

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 Bob: When Ty called me that fateful morning in late July 2013, he was completely devastated, distraught and beside himself in a way that I had rarely experienced ever before in my life.  Ty was able to tell me through his uncontrollable sobbing that his Dad was dead.  He told me that it had just happened at his Mom and Dad’s house, that Becky was at work when it happened but was now there but in a state of shock and that his grandfather was there with him.  I was in my office at Miami University Hamilton and I told him that I would come over immediately.  He thanked me profusely.

I did not hesitate in telling Ty that I would be there for him in his time of need.  Tyler and I forged a bond that started at the end of his senior year in high school.  He is the only high school student who ever called me to set up a meeting to discuss the Student Government Association (SGA).  Needless to say, I was duly impressed with this aspiring leader’s interest and enthusiasm in being a young activist on campus.  Little did I know that Tyler was someday going to be a model SGA President who would lead the organization with honesty, integrity, compassion and skills that were truly remarkable and noteworthy.

Tyler and I also bonded on a very personal level during our first meeting in my office shortly after that first phone call.  The meeting was going quite well and it appeared that Tyler was the real deal for the SGA until he suddenly realized that he was meeting with the proud father of an amazingly talented son from his bitter rival Hamilton High School who had scored a last second, game winning three point shot against his beloved alma mater four years earlier. He told of the intense hatred that he felt towards my son over the past four years because of that shot.  I told Ty how proud I was of Nate (and our daughter, Anna) for being great children and for their many amazing accomplishments including Nate’s memorable shot against Fairfield.  Ty was listening (one of his greatest attributes I later learned) and he immediately was able to put the dreadful shot into perspective and went home with every intent to filling out the SGA application.

Tyler was an exceptional student leader at Miami whose accomplishments always seemed to eclipse one another.  For example, he gave the best speech ever of all of the Communication 101 students as a freshman and this included all of the Oxford students as well as the regional campus students.  His communication skills were and still are top notch!  He developed the highly successful Campus Pride Initiative with the SGA on the Hamilton campus that was transformative and hugely significant in making the campus more vibrant, dynamic and visible.  He spontaneously presented on the Campus Pride model at a national conference for student government leaders and advisors in St. Louis.  He led campus-wide memorials for both 9/11 and the death of our hometown hero, Joe Nuxhall.  He was presented the notable President’s Distinguished Service Award for his service to the campus and the community.  He was the Voice of the Harriers for the basketball, volleyball and baseball games and was eventually tapped to fill in as the Voice of the RedHawks on the Oxford campus. This is when I first met Scott and Becky.  They were proud parents of their son and rightly so!

Ty told me a lot about Scott through the years.  I knew he was still playing basketball as was I and I kept thinking we would be meeting up somewhere on the courts but it never happened.  Ty told me about Scott’s tremendous work ethic and his ability to work with his hands on just about anything.  Ty told me about the love he had just being with his Dad that sounded so much like mine for my Dad.  When Ty called, I just had to be there.  Ty hugged me like he never wanted to let go.  I tried to console him and Becky as best I could.  Both seemed to be grateful for my presence.  I was so pleased that his grandfather and his pastor were there.  They were both saying good things and helping me feel welcome at this most challenging time for the family.  More relatives began to arrive and I eventually retreated to allow the family love and compassion to freely flow.

I see Scott in Tyler in many ways today–funny, loving, devoted, accomplished and very compassionate.  I was honored to be a mentor to Tyler during his undergraduate years at Miami and I am even more honored to have Tyler as a friend for life and now an almost brother to Anna and Nate!


Ty: I remember when Bob walked in that day. I saw him come through the foyer of our neighbor’s house, donning a blue polo and a look of complete, utter sympathy that I had seen him show to me so many times before. I broke down and fell into the arms of a man who had been a father to me at Miami. That hug lasted for a long time, but although our embrace did eventually end, the support, love, and care he exuded in that moment never has.

Yes, there were medical first responders and law enforcement officials on the scene who did an outstanding job attending to the situation. But there were also folks that I think of as emotional first responders that were there to support and care for me, my Mom, and my entire family.

Some people make good first responders, and others are born for it. Dr. Bob Rusbosin was born for it.

It’s no surprise that Bob Rusbosin is originally from Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Latrobe, for those who don’t know, is also the hometown of television icon “Mister” Fred Rogers. Dr. Bob and I have always had a mutual admiration for Fred Rogers, so much so that we traveled to Latrobe and the Greater Pittsburgh area to conduct research on our favorite television educator as part of my graduate studies. We met with people who knew Fred, including Bill Isler from the Fred Rogers company, Fred’s high school classmates, and many others.

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Fred Rogers had an uncanny ability to talk about tragedy and make folks feel loved. Take a look at your social media feeds the next time that a large-scale tragedy strikes, and I’m sure you’ll find one of his more famous quotes posted and reposted over and over again:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” (Mister Fred Rogers)

People say that Fred Rogers was one of a kind and that we will never see anyone like him on this earth ever again, but I have to disagree with those people. Those people haven’t met Bob Rusbosin.

In so many ways, from his personality and mannerisms to his genuine heart for others, Bob Rusbosin has always reminded me of Mister Rogers; but the similarity was even more recognizable in this tragic chapter of my life. Bob Rusbosin is the helper that people should always look for, and he was the person I knew that I could count on in my darkest, scariest moment.

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I rarely speak in absolutes, but I will on this topic: It’s impossible to grieve and cope successfully in complete and utter isolation. We aren’t built that way. You can consult any psychologist or scientist, or you could also read your Bible, but either way you’ll come to this same conclusion. We need great people in our lives—people I call “emotional first responders”—to help us navigate these treacherous waters. Bob Rusbosin was, and still is, that person for me. Bob became an ideal helper and first responder for a number of different reasons:

He was there. I had no doubt that I could call Bob and he would drop everything he was doing to come help me. I wasn’t guessing that he would show up; I knew he would be there. I was confident that Bob would be there because he had a track record of being there. Over the years, I had dealt with questions and moments of uncertainty, and Bob had always been there to listen to me and care for me. He had developed a level of trust with me in a way that no other educator ever had. And I saw that his trust was more than a professional promise.

He accepted me for who I was in that moment. As you can imagine, college students deal with all sorts of different crises, from small disagreements with friends and family to larger, existential questions about their career and life purpose. Bob had seen me at my best, but he had also seen me at my worst numerous times. Bob is authentic and he is always genuine, and I knew that there was no wavering when it came to his core values. That reliability provided the stability I needed in a moment where it felt like my world was falling apart.

In the aftermath of my Dad’s death, I was (predictably) a mess. I was having trouble breathing. My vision was blurred. I would collect my emotions and then sob uncontrollably when someone else came into the house. I am thankful that I felt the freedom to be myself, my grieving self, in front of Bob. And it was only because he had spent so much time and honest energy getting to know me as a student that I felt free to be this unpolished version of myself in front of him.

He didn’t try to solve the problem. When Bob came into my neighbor’s house, he didn’t try to take control of the situation. He didn’t try to collect information about what had happened. He just came in, said hello to me, and hugged me. He sat in a chair across from me, and as he had done so many times, he just listened. No one had answers in the aftermath of my Dad’s death, and as much as Bob wanted to be my protector, he didn’t pretend to have answers either.

For an educator, it only seems natural to want to help people and try and solve their problems—but Bob understood that the best way he could help me was not to try and provide answers but to instead support me as I tried to find them on my own. There would be no quick answers, and there definitely wouldn’t be any just an hour or so out from the tragic news. So Bob, always patient and always kind, let the grieving process slowly unfold in front of him without trying to put a band-aid over a fatal wound.

He asked how he could help. In moments of tragic loss, especially death, I think we all feel a little uncomfortable when we ask grieving folks “Is there anything I can do to help you?” It seems strange, but in my situation it was particularly reassuring to have so many people offer to help me—even if my response to them was no.

Before he left the house that day, Bob made sure to ask me if there was anything I needed his help with. The gesture alone was enough to tell me that although my Dad, my provider, was gone, there would be people that would attempt to try and fill the voids that were now left in my life. And to my surprise, there were some things I needed immediate help with and I knew that I could trust Bob to accomplish them. I needed someone to communicate with my colleagues at Miami and let them know what was happening—and that I wouldn’t be at work for quite some time. I needed someone to call my graduate school faculty advisor, Peter, and alert him to the emergency happening at home. There were a few other folks who I needed to notify, and Bob agreed to take on all of this responsibility. I couldn’t imagine making some of those calls to try and explain to people what had happened when I couldn’t even explain it to myself. Bob was willing to shoulder this burden, and it made me feel so loved.

He called later to follow through and check on me. Bob is one of those rare individuals who thinks about others more than he thinks of himself. Bob fulfills the commands of Scripture that tell us “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NIV). Bob didn’t just show up that morning to be there for me in the moment—he showed up to show me that he was there for the long haul. Later that day, Bob called me to see how I was doing and how I was coping. He also updated me and let me know that he had fulfilled his promise to help me reach out to folks at Miami. But he was more concerned with how I was doing and what I was thinking, and he also shared some great memories of my Dad. It was unbelievably encouraging to hear his voice and know that he would always be there to help.

And yes, he brought ice cream. Bob knew that I loved ice cream. Specifically Graeter’s ice cream. Later that evening, I awoke from an unsuccessful attempt at a nap to learn that Bob had been back to the house to check on me and my entire family. He had stayed, getting to know all of the folks in the house that had visited that day. I had missed getting to see him, but his gestures of kindness were still there even though he had left.

“Ty,” my Grandma told me, “Bob brought you some ice cream. Your favorites from Graeter’s. The pints are in the freezer whenever you get hungry.” There are few things in this world more beautiful than a pint of Graeter’s ice cream, and Bob knew how I felt about this. Although life did not feel normal in that day, there was something beautiful about knowing that some of the things that represented a normal life, like ice cream, would still be there even though my Dad wasn’t. I didn’t eat much that day, but I did take a few bites of ice cream. I’m glad it was there, but more importantly I’m glad Bob was there.

I thank God for a lot of reasons each and every day, but near the top of that list I thank God for leading me to the stairwell on the campus of Miami University Hamilton where I picked up a student government flyer. I thank God that he led me to call the number of the Dean of Students and go meet with him. I thank God that he used my time in student government to help forge a friendship with one of the finest men he has ever put on this earth. And I thank God that he gave Bob Rusbosin the heart of an emotional first responder: authentic, vulnerable, and genuinely loving in every sense of the word.

We all need someone like Bob in our lives. When you hear the words that tell you your Father (or any loved one) is dead, you need people to surround you who can help you walk when you fall and who can help you stand when you feel as if you might never stand again. I’m thankful that God prepared Bob for that moment and chapter of my life by giving him such a tender and thoughtful spirit. He has been there ever since, and I know that any time I call, he will always be there to respond first.

In the days where I need my Dad and realize that he can’t be here for me, I’m grateful that I have Bob Rusbosin—a man who has become a father-figure to me whenever I need him.

Dad, Your death has left a huge hole in my heart and in many areas of my life. There are particular voids that will never be filled until I’m reunited with you on the other side of Eternity. But I am so thankful and so grateful that God positioned certain people in my life, like Bob Rusbosin, to help be there for me when you couldn’t. I know you’re in heaven watching over me, and I know that you are making sure that there are good people and helpers to fill in for you while you’re not here. Keep watching over me, Dad. Keep connecting me with your angels here on earth. I may be grown, but there are days when I need my Dad more than ever. I know how highly you thought of Bob, and I know that if you had a chance to hand-pick someone to fill your shoes, that man would be Bob. We all miss you, Dad, but we are all thankful that you are in a place where the pains you experienced in this life are no longer there. Until we are together again, keep watching over me like you always did when you were here. Seeya, Bub.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15 (NIV)

bob-rusbosin-headshotBob Rusbosin

For nearly 30 years, Dr. Bob Rusbosin served as the Dean of Students for Miami University’s Regional Campuses. In this capacity, Bob supported tens of thousands of students as an advisor for the Student Government Association, and oversaw all aspects of student life services, including student activities, athletics, counseling, disability services, career services, diversity and multicultural services, new student orientation, judicial affairs, and child care. A lifelong proponent of civility, Bob helped a group of students at Miami found “Project Civility”, which dramatically improved the campus climate at Miami and became a national model for character education. After a successful career in higher education, Bob is now enjoying his retirement in Venice, Florida where he lives with his wife, Sharon. Bob earned his Ed.D from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, his MAT from the University of Pittsburgh, and his BA from the University of Dayton.

Questions

“How could God let this happen?”

Nearly eight hours earlier in the day, I had been told that my Dad was gone. Just like that. A victim of suicide. I sat on my bed, completely exasperated—full of pain, and full of unanswered questions. Across my darkened bedroom sat my pastor, Reverend Harville Duncan. He sat in a chair, looking directly at me, shoulders hung low with a face full of sympathy. This was the man who had dedicated me as a baby. This was the man who had baptized me as a young believer. This was the man who had led me through so many spiritual battles and questions.

Now would come one of his tougher tests.

Reverend Duncan has been in the ministry longer than I’ve been alive. He has more spiritual knowledge in his thumb than I have in my entire body. He has probably read thousands of books on God and Christianity throughout his life. He has earned multiple degrees and has studied theology with reputable Christian scholars. He has done everything he could to position himself to answer life’s toughest questions.

But as I looked at him across that room, I could tell that he was at a loss for answers just as much as I was.


Just like I tried to do in the aftermath of Dad’s death, I’ve tried to get out of writing on this topic. In all honesty, I’ve avoided writing this post and put it off until the last minute because I don’t enjoy facing these questions. I don’t enjoy facing them because I don’t have answers for any of it.

Ever since my Dad died, I’ve been flooded with questions big and small. They come in waves, but they come every day. And it’s rare that I’m able to provide an answer to many of them.

The death of a loved one, especially a parent, is a pivotal juncture in one’s life journey, particularly as it pertains to spiritual matters. When that innocence is shattered and when that familiar protector and provider is no longer there, it creates serious unrest in the lives of those left behind. How will I survive without that person? Why did this have to happen? What will life look like without the joy that person brought into it?

Suicide, however, adds and additional layer of questions that I never expected I would have to deal with. How could my Dad think that life wasn’t worth living? Could I have done more to convince him that this wasn’t the end? What factors made him think that life was unlivable? How could God let one of his believers, a man who lived the truth of the Gospel, meet such an untimely end?

I don’t know that these questions will ever cease. I don’t know that they’ll ever disappear from my life, because the pain of losing my Dad will always be there. Even though life has had it’s wonderful and bright moments since we lost my Dad, there’s been a dullness that sort of clouds every good thing that happens to me.

I have so many questions for my Dad; but I have so many more for God.


When you start to question God in front of a veteran minister, you wonder what kind of reaction they will have. I don’t remember all of the particular details of my conversation with Reverend Duncan on that day. But I do remember this—at no point did Reverend Duncan try and make me feel like I was a bad person for questioning why God would let something so tragic happen to my family. At no point did he belittle me, make me feel inferior, or try to minimize my pain.

We sat together in that darkened room for nearly an hour. Reverend Duncan mostly talking, and me mostly listening. I could tell that on a different level, Reverend Duncan was heartbroken. My Dad had been one of the original congregation members at our church when Reverend Duncan began his ministry there over thirty years ago. He enjoyed my Dad’s company, and my Dad enjoyed his.

In a way only he could do, Reverend Duncan assured me that the pain I felt was real. We talked about bad things happening to good people. We talked about God’s ability to take something bad and make it into something great. We talked about suffering and the pain my Dad must have felt trying to combat his depression on a daily basis.

And Reverend Duncan assured me that both my Dad and my God still loved me dearly.

But Reverend Duncan did something really unique on that day that has set the stage for so much of my healing. He let me ask questions, and he didn’t pretend to have all the answers.

Yes, a studied and learned member of the religious clergy told me that, together, we were going to encounter many questions on this side of eternity that we would never have an answer for. We would probably never know why my Dad did what he did. We would probably never know why God allowed him to suffer. We would probably never know why God allows something as horrific as suicide to weave into his master plan for our lives. We would probably never know why God thought we were all strong enough to live life without my Dad.

Together, there in that room, Reverend Duncan prayed over me—one of the most beautiful prayers I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s a private and unbelievably special moment that I’ll remember forever. I don’t know that I’ll remember the words or the phrases he spoke, but I remember a feeling of God being there with us in that room. And just like Reverend Duncan, he wasn’t mad that I had questions.


I don’t know if this is theologically correct or sound, but I’m of the mind that God is completely okay with us asking him questions.

Let me explain what I mean before I start getting messages from people who might cringe when they read that statement.

There is a difference between questioning God and asking Him questions.

When we question God, we are essentially telling Him that He doesn’t know what He’s doing. We are telling Him that we know better and could figure this out our own. When we question God, we are practically telling Him that His ways are wrong and our ways are right. This type of questioning comes from a deeply-rooted proclivity for disobedience. Questioning God means you doubt whether the promises He delivers through the Bible are actually true and actually accurate. Instead of Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” it’s “Jesus, I’m So Sick of Being a Passenger Because You Drive Like a Maniac” (doubt she would have won a Grammy on that one…).

But when we ask God questions, we are doing something entirely different. We are coming to Him as humble servants. We are expressing, honestly, the innermost workings of our hearts and minds to the one who already knows them.

When we ask God a question, we acknowledge that He exists. Would you ever ask a question to someone who didn’t actually exist? You could, but it would probably be a pretty quick conversation. When we ask God a question, we validate that He is there with us. But more importantly…

When we ask God a question, we acknowledge that He’s in control. Even if we don’t understand what He’s doing. Would you ask a question if you already knew the answer? Most likely not. When we ask God a question and are legitimately seeking answers for the tragic things that happen to us in our lives, we aren’t doubting God. In fact, we are doing exactly what He commands us to do. We are submitting to Him and saying “God I don’t have any idea why you would let this happen. I don’t know how to reconcile this with the truths of your Word. Help me understand.” We are recognizing that God knows more than we do or ever could, and that only He can provide answers to the questions we have. And…

When we ask God questions, we are drawn into a closer relationship with Him. Let’s face it! If you’re having questions, God already knows them. Psalm 139:4 says “Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely” (NIV). In even simpler terms? “You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord” (NLT). If you’re feeling guilty because you have questions for God about the things that are happening in your life, don’t feel that way or don’t try to hide them. He knows you inside and out, and He’s known you forever, and even though He knew that you would have all these questions about how he can grow love in a darkened life, He still sent His Son to the cross to die for you.

When I was little, my Dad always loved it when I would ask him questions. Whether it was about a game or a car or something completely irrelevant on television, my Dad never tired of giving me answers. He never once told me to be quiet and quit asking him questions. When I asked him those questions, I acknowledged that he was important to me and that he knew more than I did. And I think that made him feel loved, and important, and worthy.

I imagine our Heavenly Father has that same smile on His face when we ask questions.


I definitely know this part isn’t theologically sound, but I’ve often envisioned my first days in heaven as an episode of Gruden’s QB Camp (except God will be nothing like Jon Gruden…I think?). I imagine that God is going to take me into a small film room, just me and Him, and he’s going to hit play on the tape reel that sits in the table between us. Then, the two of us will sit and watch my life play out in front of me. We will see all the bright moments, and all the moments of defeat.

But then, the tape will get to July 24, 2013. We will watch the heartache of losing my Dad. We will experience the moments of shock and horror that accompanied his death. And then, I’ll slowly reach across the table and pause the tape. I’ll look at God, not with accusation but with a desperate longing for wisdom, and say “Can you explain what you were doing there?”

I imagine that God is going to come around the other side of the table. He’s going to put His arm around me. He’s going to embrace me in a way that only a loving Father could. And He’s going to explain how my Dad’s death fit into His ultimate master plan.

And I’ll finally have answers to the questions that plague me.

But to get to that point, I’ve got to trust that He has the answers. I’ve got to trust that the questions I’m facing now will be answered eventually, but not on this side of the grave. I’ve got to find comfort and solace in the fact that, in the times where life seems to be bursting apart at the seams, God is there to stitch everything back into place.

I’ll live my entire life with questions about my Dad and why he had to leave us so soon. But I’ll live in heaven knowing that my Father knows them all and loves me still.

dad-and-me-in-pool-with-sb-logoDad, There are so many days where I can’t get the questions about your death out of my mind. There are moments where the questions are so tense and overwhelming that I can’t seem to let them go. The more that the days go by since losing you, the more unanswered questions I seem to have. But I know that you’ve found peace in Heaven. I know that you’ve found comfort in the arms of God. I know that each day, I am one step closer to seeing you again and having those questions answered. Until that day, I’ll rest easy in the fact that God knows exactly what He’s doing. And until that day, seeya Bub.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart for my holy purpose. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5 (GW)

Olives

To say that my Dad was a terrible cook is a gracious understatement.

dad-turned-around-in-chair-with-sb-logoOf all the talents that God gave my Dad—and he gave him many—cooking was not one of them. As a youngster, my Dad often worked second or third shifts, which meant he would usually pick me up from A.M. kindergarten. We typically arrived home around noon, and I had always worked up a healthy appetite from all the finger painting and make-believing that had occurred that morning. After getting home, Dad would head into the kitchen to embark on a culinary expedition, perusing the items in the fridge and freezer, but always deciding on the same entrée for our lunch menu…

Corn dogs.

Yes, corn dogs. An American classic with all the nutritional value one can pack into cured and processed meat. Dipped in batter. Deep friend. Frozen. Packaged. Transported. Microwaved. And heartily consumed, usually covered in mustard.

Yes, corndogs are usually individually wrapped with heating instructions on each package, but even as a youngster part of me secretly worried that Dad was still going to burn them.

I once heard a rumor that he burned soup. I don’t even know how that happens, or whether or not it’s true. But if anyone could burn soup, I think my Dad was the guy to figure out how.

When he would grill burgers or hot dogs or steaks on our back patio, you had two temperature options to choose from: “well done” and “I didn’t know steaks could char that much”.

As I grew up, Dad’s cooking skills didn’t get any better, which was mostly a result of his not needing to know how. I rarely saw him in the kitchen, unless it was to reheat something my Mom had made us. Thankfully, for our entire family, my Mom has always been an outstanding cook—and I mean truly outstanding. I was fortunate enough that my corn dog lunches were always supplemented with something delicious on the dinner table made by my Mom each night. From lasagna and casseroles to childhood staples like burgers and tacos, Mom always knew how to satisfy our tastes. I hate meatloaf, but even her meatloaf is good (when she leaves the ketchup off, that is). Her desserts, especially the chocolate strawberry pie that Dad and I would devour together within hours of Mom cooking it, were next-level extraordinary. My Dad always made sure to tell me how smart he was for choosing a wife who was such a tremendous cook. I argued it was more lucky than smart, but it was probably a bit of both.

All of this created a bit of a problem, however, on the nights when Mom wasn’t home. There was always the rare occasion that Mom had to work late, or had plans to go out to dinner with friends or family, leaving her boys stranded and empty-stomached. Dad’s lack of cooking acumen left us only one real option. There’s a void that’s created when you love to eat but can’t cook that can only be solved with one solution—going out to eat. It usually didn’t take us long to decide…

“Hey boy, want to go get dinner at LaRosa’s?”

For those of you who aren’t fortunate enough to live in the dining mecca that is Southwestern Ohio, LaRosa’s is a Greater Cincinnati pizza chain of epic proportion. LaRosa’s has always been one of my favorite pizza spots, and my Dad felt the same way. Whenever he and I would grab dinner together, LaRosa’s was nearly always our first choice. We would slam back Cokes (his regular, mine diet), order calzones or pizzas and a salad, and enjoy a meal with one another. It was a tradition that I loved, and one that is desperately missing in my life after Dad.

As much as he loved the pizza and calzones, and as many Cokes as he might have drank, I think Dad’s favorite part of the meal was always the salad. Ironic coming from the man who based my entire childhood noontime diet on battered hot dogs on a stick, but yes, the salad was always his favorite. He told me time and time again over our dinners that his favorite salad was the one from LaRosa’s. A bed of green lettuce, shredded mozzarella cheese, diced tomatoes, red onion rings, olives (one black, one green), croutons, and dressing (Dad went with French, I usually went with Ranch). It was always a great combo to go along with a hot pizza.

larosas-salad

The salad was great, but I particularly disliked two of the ingredients: the tomatoes, and the olives. For as long as I can remember, I’ve never liked raw tomatoes. I don’t eat them on burgers, tacos, nachos, and the thought of ever eating a slice of tomato completely on its own makes me nauseas as I type. The tomatoes at LaRosa’s were particularly pesky because they were always diced. I always asked them to leave off the tomatoes, but if they forgot it would take me a good twenty minutes to pick them all out of my salad.

After the tomatoes, I always directed my scorn at the olives. Whether black or green, I showed no discrimination in my hatred and utter contempt for olives. I’ve tried them from time to time, and each time I attempt to stomach one, I am overcome by how such a little morsel can pack such an overwhelmingly disgusting flavor.

My Dad liked tomatoes, but he absolutely loved olives. Not just at LaRosa’s, but anywhere. If we were at a party with a vegetable tray, Dad could decimate a bowl of olives in just a few minutes. He would pop them like Skittles while I looked on with utter disdain. He would eat them at the house as a snack, which is shocking considering we had so many better snacks than that in our house for him to eat. When we ate together at Grecian Delight, one of our all-time favorite restaurants located in Middletown, Dad would savor the Greek olives that were in his salad, even with those annoying pits.

For Dad, olives were a precious treasure. The fact that he got not one but two on his salads at LaRosa’s made him almost giddy.

And thanks to his son’s hatred of those tiny morsels, Dad actually got four olives every time we went to LaRosa’s instead of two.

Whenever we went to LaRosa’s together, I always ordered my salads without tomatoes; but because the olives were easy enough to pick out of my salad without contaminating its overall flavor, I would always allow the servers to put the olives on my salad. Once they sat the bowls down on the table, my process was always the same—I would pluck the olives from my salad, put them on a plate, and slide them over to my Dad. He would always smile, offer a “Thanks, Bub”, and eat them with glee. I could see him eyeing them the second they sat my bowl down, and I would never disappoint him.

But sometimes, the smallest of vegetables (or are they fruits?) can cause a tremendous amount of pain.

One evening shortly after Dad’s death, Mom and I decided to get LaRosa’s takeout for dinner. We ordered our dinners, and I drove to the restaurant to pick them up. After returning home with boxes in hand, we set the table with our meals in the bright, windowed sunroom of our family home. We had done this so many times before, but this particular time there was a noticeable and looming absent place setting at the table next to me. That table felt vacant and empty, but I was afraid to say anything to my Mom about how I was feeling for fear that I might upset her.

Mom and I sat down together, justifiably more quiet than we typically were, as this was one of our first meals alone together without Dad. We were trying to preserve any semblance of normalcy that we could in a new world for us that felt so different and so much emptier than it had been.

I sat down to eat my meal, opening boxes and taking off container lids. I moved from my calzone to my salad, and after opening the lid and shaking up my dressing, I did something I had done during so many meals before.

I picked out the olives, put them on a plate, and instinctively pushed them away from me towards the spot where my Dad always sat.

I didn’t even realize what I was doing in that moment. I was so used to removing the olives and giving them to Dad that my body had trained itself to do this involuntarily, even when he wasn’t there to take them.

Immediately, a flood of emotion overcame me—intense and uncontrollable. I felt a wave of tears overtaking me, and before I knew it, my head fell into my hands and it took everything in me to not collapse in my seat. I broke down at the table, sobbing, with two small olives sitting on a plate in front of me.

Without hesitation, Mom got up from her seat and made her way over to me. I didn’t even have to say a word. She knew right away what was going on. She knew that for years I had always passed my olives to Dad, and now I would never be able to do that again. Mom, crying along with her son, put her arm around me and just said “I know how much you miss him, Ty. I miss him, too.”

I couldn’t stop the crying, all because of two seemingly inconspicuous olives.

Although my response isn’t as intense, I still think of my Dad every time I pick those olives out of my salad. I don’t break down and cry each time, but I still think about him and long for the days when I could pass them over to him. Now, I try to order my salad without the olives to avoid some of the pain, but I still think of him each time I go to LaRosa’s. Because it was such a special place for the two of us, I just can’t envision a day where I’ll ever go to LaRosa’s without thinking of my Dad.

But olives aren’t the only foods that make me think of him—there are so many more. I can’t eat a corn dog without thinking of a simpler life that existed when I was much younger and my Dad was an invincible hero. Even a kid gets tired of eating corn dogs, but I wish I could go back and live in those days forever.

Whenever I make a bag of popcorn, I’m reminded of him. It was his late-night snack of choice, and the smell that invades my house from the microwave makes me remember him. I’ve never been a big fan of popcorn, but every now and then I will make a bag at home and eat a few kernels just to remember him.

We used to fight over pints of Graeter’s black raspberry chip ice cream in the freezer. On occasion, Mom would splurge and buy us each a pint, which would last any normal person a week or so if they ate an appropriate serving each night. It was a miracle if our pints survived for 24 hours. If I was feeling particularly pesky, I would stake my claim by digging my spoon into his pint before he could get to it. It was a solid attack because Dad was such a germophobe that he would never think about eating a pint of ice cream that I had defiled—even if it was Graeter’s.

Now, I get all the pints of ice cream to myself—but I would give anything to have to share them with him once again.

The death of a loved one creates a weird phenomenon where the most seemingly insignificant aspects of life and our relationship take on an entirely new meaning. Mundane things, like olives in a salad, become symbols and reminders of the love we’ve lost and the pain we experience. But for me, those olives have also become subtle reminders that I had an amazing Father who made a tremendous impact on me for the 26 years we spent on this earth together. Whether it’s olives or popcorn, corn dogs or ice cream, I’ve found ways to cherish the positive memories associated with those foods. And the progress I’ve made from tears to treasured memories is evidence that God works in all things—even if it’s something as seemingly regular as the food we eat. I’ve always associated food with great memories, and God knows me better than anyone. I’m amazed at how He has been able to comfort me when something as insignificant as an olive causes my emotions to overtake me. And I’m reminded of this profound truth: If He cares about me in a moment as mundane as a meal, then I have to believe He cares about the big challenges of life without my Dad just as much.

Dad and I always enjoyed our meals together, and now I have to enjoy them differently while remembering all of the great ones we shared together. There are nights when I eat alone, and I’ll often look across the table and see my Dad smiling there after a hard day’s work. I’ll see him pouring a Coke (or two) into his glass of ice. I’ll see him smiling and laughing about something I said. I’ll see him thoroughly enjoying the food he’s eating, but even more I’ll see him cherishing the people he’s eating with. I’ll look across that empty table, and every now and then I can picture him popping an olive into his mouth—and I smile. I’ve still never acquired his taste for olives, and I don’t think I ever will. But I have learned to be grateful for all of the wonderful meals we shared together, and I’ve accepted the fact that olive-induced tears are my way of saying how much I miss my Dad.

Dad, I’m grateful that you always made it a priority to share a meal together. A weeknight dinner at LaRosa’s just isn’t the same without you. Every time I go to Graeter’s for a dip of black raspberry chip, which is way more often than I should, I think of you. Certain foods make me miss you tremendously, and the heartache of losing you so unexpectedly is sometimes too much for me to take. But you taught me to enjoy good food and good company. You taught me to share a meal with the people I love whenever I had the chance, and your inspiration continues to guide my life each and every day. You taught me that life is never too busy for a pizza and a fun night together. I’m looking forward to the day when I can pass my olives across the table to you once again. Until then, seeya Bub.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20 (NIV)