Dear Daddy,

Disclaimer: While working through the emotions of living life as a 28-year old without a father, as friends get married and have eye-watering [sobbing] precious father daughter dances and walks down the aisle… sigh… My counselor asked if I’ve ever written a letter to my father. Interesting, I thought, super into personal development, how had I not thought of doing this before? It took awhile, but I finally penned it out, all the feelings – good, bad, happy, sad and even angry. I never thought I would be angry with him before, until I started writing.

It’s been a couple months since I wrote it, and though slightly overwhelming in the moment, I feel much better now, freer. The key moment was when I was home last month, I brought my notebook to his grave, and read it to him. I always felt his presence stronger there, because that is the only place I have memories of him. I sat on a blanket, as if we were having a picnic, and read him this.

I really connected to Amber’s character, in this scene (from Parenthood Season 2, “Do not sleep with your autistic nephew’s therapist), when she finally gets to snap at her father and let it all out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iu3Nc9EtOa0

Sometimes I wish I could. This is my version of that.

Hi Dad.

I hate that this is the place where I always have to find you.

It’s me, Sarah, your daughter.

It’s been nearly 25 years since you passed away, basically my lifetime. Had this been another story and you chose to leave, I’d say you are a complete stranger to me. I’d tell you of all the things you missed and how you left mom alone to raise two kids and work – in that case I’d want you to feel bad about your decision to abandon us.

However, that is not the case. I know you did not choose to leave, not from my own experience, but through others telling me. That’s also how I know you loved me, not through experience, but from mom reminding me.

Did you not know that as a 3 year old I wouldn’t remember you? That the only way I’d know you loved me or fought for me was through word of mouth? Out of the hundreds or thousands of times you may have said it, I cannot remember even one. I have friends who have memories of you, but I got nothing! My friends not only had their dads, but also remembered you! Why was I jipped?!

I’m trying to be angry with you, however, I just can’t.

Perhaps I love you because I never got to know you, but always desired to have you there – or maybe (hopefully) I would have still loved you just as much (or much, much more) had you lived.

Imagine that.

Growing up in a family with a mom and a dad. Mom’s friends would have included her more, and my friends wouldn’t need to apologize when discussing their dads. I wouldn’t have felt so uncomfortable around other dads because I’d be used to having you around. I’d probably worry for your safety as a police officer, but I’d never worry or even think twice (let alone hundreds of times) about who would walk me down the aisle, or dance to Butterfly Kisses during the father-daughter dance (or perhaps we’d even have our own song).

There’s no telling whether it’d affect my relationship with guys, though I know I wouldn’t have had to look in all the wrong places for someone to lead me and love me like you should have.

Would I still have a heart for Kentucky, and a desire to serve? Would I still be me and be me where I am?

How much of me is shaped by experience and what happened, and how much is shaped by who I truly am?

There are so many questions and never any answers, but the only question I really desire to know the answer to is ‘Why didn’t you write me?’ Why didn’t you think of me, 25 years later wishing she had some kind of personal connection to her father – NOT through someone else. Your coworkers took time to write letters to Matt and me about you – Why couldn’t you take 10 freakin’ minutes to tell me you loved me and why you loved me, who you were, what you struggled with and what dreams you had for me, perhaps even a memory of two…

I want to rationalize for you – and say I know it’d be tough – who wants to think about leaving their family behind, let alone the fact that your daughter will not have any living memories of you – none of her own. But if I’m completely raw and feeling all the feels fully, I will disregard that because you should have cared. But you didn’t, at lease not enough.

And perhaps that’s why when I hit bumps in the road, I wonder why no one seems to care to invest in my life, as I realize that the one who should’ve, didn’t.

So maybe I am angry at you after all.

I realized a couple weeks ago that the one thing I’ve wanted all along, the one thing I’ve desired is you. The one thing I can’t ever have.

What do I do with that?

And though I doubt my capacity to love and empathize with those suffering would never be as deep as it is now, I would trade everything to have you back and do it all over.

I know, to the core, I’d still be who I am – I’d still walk in faith, because you and mom did – and I’d feel a little less lonely all the time, and a little more loved; a little less broken, and a little more whole; a little less jipped, and a little more blessed.

However, this is no the case. So I will cry another tear whenever I need to, and otherwise hold my head up high. I will use my brokenness to deeply love others. And I will desperately yearn for the day when my Heavenly Father will take me home, wipe the thousands of tears from my eyes, and will set me at a table surrounded by everyone I desperately need to still be here with me. And whether or not you will still be my father in Heaven, I hope to be held in your arms and catch up on everything I missed out on while on this dreadful earth.

I wish I could have known you more.

This is a wish that I will always wish.

I wish I had gotten the opportunity to love you for you – not for who everyone else has told me you are.

These are my feelings and they demand to be felt.

 

Full Circle

This weekend, I found myself at the Woolly Worm Festival in Beattyville, Kentucky. It was my second frequenting of the festival, and one of many visits to Lee County. Beattyville is the location where I first fell in love with Kentucky, and where seeds of passion and service were planted into my heart and soul.

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My junior year of high school I made one of the best decisions of my life. It was a hard decision, as it was to quit an activity that I had enjoyed in a life-altering way the previous  two years, however said passion had began to fade because of extenuating circumstances [which are not of importance at this instance]. I didn’t like the idea of quitting. Perseverance was more my go-to choice, but something in my heart said it was time.

It was probably one of my first “adulting” difficult conversations as I told the director that “it just isn’t for me anymore.” She was disappointed, but grateful that I told her about it – and supportive of my future ventures. You see, since I quit New Wine, I was able to go on my church’s Kentucky mission trip! One decision to quit, to end something – however good it may have been in its time – radically changed my life for the better.

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Two trips to Lee County, Kentucky, my summers after my junior and senior years of high school, planted seeds that were nourished and grew during my college years. The desires of service helped me persevere through the mundane life of classes, homework, work and research papers. Many times in college, I felt blah, because I just wanted to be actually helping someone.

Towards the end of my senior year of college, one of my high school youth group friends [who I grew closer to through our Kentucky mission trips] and I were researching what to do after we graduated. She was looking into being a long-term volunteer with an organization in Kentucky. Thinking I might be interested in it too, she shared it with me. What’s the name of this organization you ask? The Christian Appalachian Project (CAP).

I probably procrastinated my discernment process, as college taught me well, but God didn’t let that stop him. The August after my college graduation, I found myself moving into a volunteer house with approximately ten strangers ready to invest in community and to serve God in Appalachia. I requested to live in the Jackson County house because it was the closest community to Beattyville, where part of my heart was already planted.

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The first month or two were quite difficult for me. I didn’t immediately transition into loving Kentucky. You see, the summer after I graduated Bethel (or Beth-hell, as I called it – clearly I wasn’t a big fan…) I found myself in a place of comfort. I moved back home, close to Duluth, Minnesota, where I was close to several friends I grew up with while still able to keep in contact with the friends I acquired in college. I didn’t have a steady job, but I occupied my time with leading a Bible study, investing in friends, and taking my Gma shopping. Life was good. Life was comfortable, and it’s difficult to trade comfort for something new, but it is also necessary.

. . .

A couple weeks in to my new Kentucky/volunteer life I wrote about “Trusting God with the what ifs” in my journal. These were my fears at the time:

My what if fears:

  • Grandma will die while I’m away?
  • I’m not good enough for this position?
  • God makes me stay a second year when I’m already homesick now?
  • What if I drive off a cliff?
  • I’m not a good enough housemate?
  • I never get over this homesickness?

Some of them were quite valid, while others were less rational. I ended up getting over my homesickness at orientation a couple weeks later. This is also when I started to invest more in my community and became a great housemate, for the most part. Practice makes perfect, and I have yet to drive off a cliff… ::knock on wood:: #racecardriver  Not only did I stay a second [and a half] year, but I also connected with my friend/twin on a dock who also had an inkling that she would stay a second year. (We both now work at CAP, and have been housemates and apartmentmates in and outside of CAP volunteer life. #justkeeptwinning) I was definitely good enough for the position, and the position planted seeds for future career opportunities. And finally, Gma did pass away in the spring of my second year. Though by that time I was so deeply rooted in my community that such a loss only brought us all closer together. Those months before and after her passing are when I felt the most connected to my community, and felt God’s love more fully than I ever had before.

God is so faithful.

. . .

Watching the Cumberland Mountain Outreach (CMO) float pass by, at the parade on Saturday, I clapped and hollered, and felt a rush of emotions overwhelm me. I could hear my voice choke back tears as I told my friends about the organization and the missionaries that inspired my love of Kentucky and my desire to serve here. This is where it all began, and that lady on the float, Cindy, was who I wanted to be when I grew up. However in this instance, they were more of gratitudinous feelings – as if things were wrapping up.

Mission trips to Kentucky consisted of so many things I loved. We stopped at horse farms, did touristy things and ate Fazoli’s along the way. Kentucky sunrises and sunsets were magnificently pressed into my memory. We square-danced and had a clogging lesson. I line-danced to a local bluegrass group (a key “falling in love with Kentucky” moment for me). We played tennis and swam. We led a day camp for local youth, and did home improvement work at the mission center as well as on participants’ homes. I made friends with people that I thought were too cool for me, and some of them became life-long besties (ahem Jordan 😉 #bunfactory #fruitfighters). We grew in faith and fellowship. #ephesians2:10  We shared and listened to testimonies. And as we listened to the story of Cindy and Bruce, I felt a similar rush of emotions, except these were of a new beginning, a heart-pounding desire to serve.

. . .

It’s funny how life works. In the middle of my CAP journey, I found myself at a meeting at Natural Bridge State Park. This was while I was the volunteer host for our groups during my second and a half year(s) as a long-term volunteer. CMO had used this facility as well, a couple times a week to take a our day-campers for a refreshing dip in the pool. We also hit Hoedown Island on Saturday nights to partake in the square dancing fun.

There, I experienced a full-circle moment. While on break from the meeting, I looked down from the lodge to the pool below. I saw my high school self looking back, proud that I had made it. Glad that though it all, my dreams had come true. I survived college and the rough patches, and I was actually doing it – I had given up my comfortable life, and became a missionary in Kentucky.

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. . .

In Karen Kingbury’s The Bridge (the movie version), at the end of the first movie Molly tells Ryan that it is snowing, and he asks her what it’s like. She says hopefully, “It makes all the lights feel magical. Makes everything feel like… Like a blank slate. New and promising.”

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That’s how felt at the parade. Like my Kentucky journey had come full circle. As the CMO float passed, I felt my Kentucky journey wrapping up, as my heart is opening up to a new door, a new dream… Ready to harvest another seed that was planted awhile ago… A new circle, a fresh opportunity, and an exciting adventure awaits.

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Shit, I miss you.

Shit.

I miss you.

. . .

It’s been awhile, but tonight I pretended you were walking right beside me.

Luckily no one was close enough to hear me talking to you.

Out loud.

They would have locked me up.

. . .

Speaking of being locked up!

Had I been driving a few mph faster,

I could have met the character, Jail Time!

Thank God, it was only nearly a misdemeanor!

. . .

I wish you would’ve been around to receive that call.

It probably would have been a whole lot funnier.

There would have been a whole lot less crying myself to sleep.

And somehow, it would have seemed okay, a whole lot sooner.

. . .

I wish I could tell you about:

  • The people who make me smile
  • The things that make me giddy
  • This Kentucky life I live
  • Adventures I’ve been on
  • My once-a-year display of epic courage
  • – – This year, you’d be proud
  • – – As I met James Taylor
  • – – No not the musician!
  • – – Well not the one you’re thinking of.
  • – – Funny, that’s the exact words I received in a text the next day.

. . .

  • – – The one from the Bachelorette!
  • – – I made him a rose out of a mini bourbon bottle.
  • – – He asked if the liquor was real.
  • – – Like are you kidding?!
  • – – Nonetheless, I got a picture for your wall of fame.
  • – – Him, and my bourbon he left for another James.

. . .

Shit.

I miss you.

. . .

You would always make me laugh,

about my not-so-adventurous adventures.

Or the ones that didn’t end as well as I’d hoped.

There would have been much less crying,

and much

more

laughter.

. . .

Shit, I miss you.

. . .

I even miss listening to your weekly update

on everyone in the family.

I have no idea what anyone is up to anymore,

because you’re not here to tell me,

or hold us together.

. . .

shit, i miss you

. . .

I miss driving you to the mall to buy things

you were only going to return.

It was job security.

I always knew I’d get more time with you.

. . .

I know you’re “in a much better place”

Hanging with the Almighty.

But I just wanted you to know,

That I remember you.

. . .

And my favorite word is still my favorite…

So one more time:

Shit, I miss you and

I love you the most!

the story i wish was not my own

Disclaimer 1: I started writing this earlier this week, because I thought a friend needed my help. It turned out she didn’t need saving, but support. It’s funny how we tend to turn to our own personal worst case scenarios when we think someone else is making a mistake in their life. What we really need to be focusing on, or at least, what I really need to be focusing on is simply listening. Sometimes love means asking the right questions, but usually it’s being there – because how can I judge the best step in someone else’s life if I have not walked in their shoes?

I waited this long [three days can seem like a very long time] to publish this post because of fear. But I’ll be darned if I let fear get in the way of my new dream. Finally, I have (re)found something that makes me feel alive and gives me purpose. I want to pen my life experiences in a way that my writings bring hope to others. I want to bring together a community of people through shared life experiences. I want to make a difference, and to do so I can’t hold back on the stories that hurt the most.

So I’m letting go of fear. I’m not going to worry about what people think, let alone what my close friends and family think. Sometimes our harshest critics are the ones we know personally. It’s easy to write for a room full of strangers, however the ones I know, now there’s a challenge. My experiences are past and done, no need for worry now. I don’t want people to hurt for me. Through my writings, I want people to experience hope and community, from my writings, and know you’re not alone. And the best way to start, is to get one of my least favorite stories out of the way.

So here goes nothing!

Disclaimer 2: When it comes to stories about people I’ve met along the way, especially stories that err on the more negative side of things, I am going to heavily use pseudonyms of people and places – Just because these situations shone dimly on my story, doesn’t mean they didn’t enlighten someone else. No excuses, but I don’t want my limited perspective to be the one that ruins someone’s reputation. I’ll leave that job to God (you’re welcome).

I spent a few of my college summers working at dude ranches out west. This story is from one of them.

This dude ranch was in a transition, and was very poorly managed. I worked in housekeeping and wait staff, and considering I spoke the best English (we had a handful of international staff), I was crowned Head Housekeeper/Wait Staff. So I got the honorable duty of working most closely with management, overseeing my fellow coworkers, fixing what they missed and doing my own portion of the work as well. The icing on the cake is I was never fully trained in, because our awesome managers, also seemingly were control freaks. The logic behind it is if I was never fully trained in, every time I made a “mistake” they could correct me. So you can tell already, that it was a really emotionally healthy environment to be in (joke).

A few weeks in, a wealthy businessman, in relation to the ranch, was flown in from a land far, far away. Thank God, and then again, not-so-much. He was well-off and clearly knew how to properly manage a business, and had exceptional people skills in comparison. He instantly took on the role of our fearless leader and comic relief. He was by no means attractive, however he was charming and great at breaking the tension served on a tarnished silver platter by upper management. I was immediately drawn to his humor and charm.

Our humors meshed well and it was nice to have someone to debrief the daily craziness with. Whether we were joking around with guests, or unwinding from a stressful day with a red solo sipper (or shot of something stronger), I was comfortable and comforted by our time spent together. Sometimes on the weekends he’d take me on dates to get ice-cream treats – for me it’d be Blue Bunny Neapolitan Ice-Cream Sandwiches and he’d get a Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake bars. In the evenings when we could sneak away, he’d take me out for a steak dinner. Not a faith-believing man himself, he respected my Jesus-freakness and desire to live a life of service. He would hold my hand, when I allowed it, and kiss me on the check and neck. We even dreamed up future trips where he’d pay for me, and our favorite guests, to travel to his castle in a land far, far away (this was very enchanting for an aspiring missionary, one not destined to be financially well-off).

But there was a major red flag all along. He was in his early 50s, and I was barely 20. I kept telling myself that finally, I had father to take me out on the town, proud to be seen with me. I resorted to my younger self, when it would have been age-appropriate to hold hands with my father on a daddy-daughter date. Eating ice-cream and steak together. Being loved on and feeling like something special. All my other co-workers were sleeping with each other, and I was being treated like a princess by my very own father-like figure.

Sometimes guests would joke around with us that we were like an old married couple, because we acted like that. Because. We. Acted. Like. That. Can you even imagine this? It sickens me to remember.

It wasn’t until the end of my stay at the ranch that I woke up. I was attacked by a rush of shame. What I thought was innocent and fatherly, did not align with what he was thinking. I internally combusted and completely excommunicated Mr. Charming from my life. I left the ranch and all of its happenings out west. I promised myself that if I looked back, it would only be through rosy retrospects.

I felt so naïve, robbed of innocence, shameful and all-around disappointed. Surely no one would ever understand. What man would ever pursue me knowing that I had been so naïve… that the only man I had ever “dated” (at that point) was twice my age and then some? I’ll admit, it felt good in the moment, like real something – surely not love, care perhaps? In the end, it felt like shit, but worse. Because despite all the father-like crap, there was a heck of a lot of drama and darkness that consumed the ranch, and when I left I was no longer me.

I was the worst version of me that I’ve ever been. My mom and Gma, who came to visit (and rescue) me knew it. My best friend, Tanya, who I visited directly after departing the ranch, knew it – and true to herself, told me. And I knew it. I knew I was broken. I knew I was different. I knew I was responsible, which is why I knew I couldn’t blame it on him, or tell anyone or complain. I was the one who assumed it was all innocent. I was the idiot. I was suddenly very alone.

. . .

The point of this blog is reaping strength through weakness, and this story is key to that mission. Had I not shared this story with my sophomore roommates, shaking voice and in fear of epic judgment, I would never have been freed from the shrinking box of lies. Had I not shared this story with one of my housemates while volunteering, I would have forever thought I was alone. Luckily, this is not the case. Several times now, I’ve taken a deep, deep breath, and shared this story. Earlier this week, I took a deep breath to pen these words. And now, I’ll take a deeper breath and click “Publish”.

NO MATTER YOUR STORY, YOUR EXPERIENCES, YOUR SHAME:

YOU ARE LOVED, LOVED, LOVED. AND YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

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Coloring is great therapy ❤

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