death, faith, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Losing Dad, loss, parenting, religion, Uncategorized

dear dad.

I wrote this letter today, on the eve of the 7th anniversary of my dad’s death. I’m sharing it because it made me feel better and maybe it will help other people who have lost someone close.

Dear Dad,

It’s been seven years since we said goodbye to you. Seven years since we sat around your bed and told you it was ok to go and that we would be ok. I remember that day in the car after your doctor’s appointment a couple months before you passed  when you told me you were ready to go, but you were worried that we weren’t ready. You were probably right. I can only speak for myself, but I think we have all been managing as best we can, just with an ache in our chest that won’t seem to go away. I’d give absolutely anything to get you back or to just chat for a few hours. Even though we knew you were leaving us, there were so many things I forgot to say. There were so many questions I forgot to ask.

I’ve struggled with that question of why good people like you have to die so early when some really crappy people get to live so long. It’s a hard question and it’s left me with a pretty cynical and unfair perspective of the world. It’s left me with a lot of anger towards God. Maybe those people are still around because they need more time to figure out howsleeping to get things right. Who knows? You told me once that God is ok with us being mad at him because it means we are still engaged with him in some way(that probably isn’t verbatim, but that’s how I understood what you said). God and I haven’t been right since you left, but I’m still trying.

I heard Anne Lamott speak a couple years ago and she said when cancer takes someone from you, it’s like an atomic bomb goes off in your life. She couldn’t be more right. For me, it meant running a lot, then hours of yoga, then so much alcohol that I started to think it was ok to put vodka in my coffee in the morning. I would say I should have stuck to the running and yoga, but the drinking led me to get pregnant unexpectedly and though that was pretty scary at first, becoming a mother has forced me to grow in ways I never thought possible. I became a mother at 35. Talk about an atomic bomb! The nurses actually said I was of “advanced maternal age” and whispered it every time they said it like I had leprosy or something.

I named my daughter, your granddaughter, Isabella Grace. I read that the Hebrew meaning of the name is “God is perfection.” It’s such a perfect name for her. I chose her middle name because as she was growing inside me, I felt like she was God’s grace for everything I had ever done wrong in my life. We have frustrating moments from time to time, but no matter what, we tell each other “I love you” at least a dozen times a day. She tells me I am beautiful every morning and I think I’ve actually become more beautiful inside and out because of her. She brings out the very best of me.

We moved to Philadelphia and are living in the city now. She does really well with city living, but she loves the country and our visits to Central PA. You can tell it’s in her blood. She loves horses and animals in general. She especially likes to pretend she is one. This makes her come across as a little weird sometimes, but I absolutely love that about her. She doesn’t have a father in her life which is hard for me sometimes since I had such a good one, but she is surrounded by so many people who love her that she doesn’t seem to mind. She is an incredible artist and likes puns, so I know you would really like spending time with her. Sometimes she smiles or laughs and I feel like I’m looking right at you. Today was an emotionally rough day for me and I went to pick her up from her art school. I walked into the room and she was laughing and dancing to music and just fully enjoying every ounce of life without a care. Then, she saw me and ran across the room and gave me a huge hug. That made me think of you too. I wish you could meet her. I think you two would really like each other. I tell her stories about you all the time.

Aside from Isabella, my other big news is that I am finally working full time at a theatre. I’ve been there just over four years. It’s not always easy and the pay isn’t impressive, but I love the work. I think you might be able to relate. 🙂

The trees are changing here and it’s so beautiful. I remember that day just before you left when we drove through Cumberland County to see all the beautiful colors on the trees. I remember the brisk fall air and the feeling like life would go on and things would be ok. I hope the trees change where you are and that you are able to hike and fish and read all day. We sure do miss you here.

Love,

Rebekah

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Bad Ass, faith, life lessons, Uncategorized

Mangia.

Tonight I was struggling. So much is going on in my life so fast and I was trying to process everything in a somewhat coherent way. I scrolled through my phone and called a few people, but I only got voicemails. We moved to this city four years ago and have built up an incredible village of people who support us through good and bad, but tonight I needed someone different. The stuff I am dealing with is deeper. I’m aching at my core and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why I am so lost about who to call and talk to about this. Then I remembered a time before when my panic attacks led to blackouts and life seemed like more than I could handle. I remembered who got me through heart monitors and death, unplanned pregnancy and big break-ups. It was that family I had created once, the family who called me Wilky.

At one point in my life, I started each evening walking into a dark and empty restaurant. The only sounds I heard were coming from the kitchen where fresh herbs and vegetables were being prepared with extra precision and care and fresh burrata and mozzarella were carefully crafted while spanish music played in the background. It was food preparation that took hours and was truly an art form. Each bite of food in this restaurant created a memory. It was to be savoured and enjoyed like an Italian Opera. It was not mass produced or created elsewhere. No. This food, these masterpieces, can only be found in a still small dining room in the heart of Pennsylvania.

That time of setting up before guests arrive was my sanctuary. My coworkers and I would prepare fresh whipped cream, dressings from scratch, and a fresh batch of sangria filled with crisp apples and juicy oranges. Silverware would be checked and double checked to be sure it was perfectly placed on the crisp white table cloths. Marinated olives would be stirred and hot Focaccia would be pulled from the ovens and placed on the cooling racks, filling the room with the smell of sea salt and rosemary. Candles were lit and small jars would be filled with dark green Italian olive oil. Every night brought new and exciting guests and experiences, but the set up was always the same. Like the routine of a liturgical church service, it was a holy process for me.

A shift in this restaurant often meant constant moving on my feet for 7 or 10 hours, but I never noticed, even when I was nearly 8 months pregnant. Our job there was to create an atmosphere where guests could come and forget everything else in their life. Or perhaps it was to celebrate the good in their life or share the sorrow. It was not a place to get a quick bite. It was a place to come and stay awhile and drink good wine, specially crafted cocktails, and the most incredibly prepared seafood, game, and exotic vegetables. It was a place where we took the time to learn about our guests’ lives enough to become the guests at their weddings and parties. It was a place where the desserts were so delectable, guests were talking about them for days and asking us to make them again. It was a place where professional upscale guests would be caught licking the bowls of their nero pasta because dammit, it is just that good! Guests left feeling like they had just visited family in another land.

I flourished in this environment. There is joy that comes in serving others and guiding them through an experience like nothing they have had before. There is joy that comes in creating a cocktail that perfectly fits their description and helps them forget any troubles they had in just one sip. There is joy that comes in working as a team to bring this experience to several hundred people on the busiest nights of the year, sometimes in masks and costumes. There is joy that comes in memorizing a menu in Italian or Spanish or knowing how to describe the difference between 20 different dry red Italian wines. There is joy that comes from serving the food of the most talented and creative chef many of us will ever experience in our lifetime.

The real joy, however, came at the end of our shift. Most nights, we would say goodnight to the last guest, clean the dining room, and then sit at the bar and have our own glass of wine. We shared stories of the night and stories of our lives. No topic was off the table and advice was always given with love and understanding. This was the life giving part of our day. This was our confession booth, therapy couch, and late night phone call to a friend all wrapped into one. These people, this family of mine, got me. I belonged there. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I felt like I truly and completely belonged with them. We fought sometimes. We judged each other sometimes. We disagreed often. In the end though, we pumped up the music, moved the tables out of the way, and danced it out. No matter what happened between us, we were always able to end an evening with dancing and laughter: pure joy. There was nothing a little Aretha Franklin couldn’t fix.

We recently lost a family member and his name went by as I scrolled through my phone. That tightness in my chest made me long to hear his voice and talk to him about what I am going through right now. He would know exactly what to say. He always did. I can’t talk to him. I can’t sit at that bar with those people and talk to them tonight or dance out the pain that life brings, so instead I decided to listen to Nina Simone while I drank too much wine and reminisced about a group of people who I love and miss dearly.  

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faith, life lessons, Losing Dad, politics, religion, Uncategorized

The Pastor’s Kid

When I was growing up, I thought the worst thing a person could be was a pastor’s kid. For me, being a pastor’s kid meant going to church every Sunday and being there most of the day. It meant going there on other days too. Lots of other days. It meant moving to different towns and schools and always having just enough, but having to go without some things like annual trips to Disney or having huge birthday parties or an exorbitant amount of gifts at Christmas. It meant teachers would remind me that I should be better, do better, act better, because of who my dad was. It meant always feeling like an outsider among friends. It meant denying my faith over and over in an attempt to fit in. Trying to be someone I wasn’t never won me any friends, but when I was young I thought that all of my problems stemmed from my father’s occupation. So, distancing myself from that seemed like the only way to survive. But we are all adults now and if there is anything we should know by now, it is that being who we really are is the easiest way to live and thrive.

Tonight my daughter was restless and asked me to sing to her to help her sleep. I laid beside her in the bed and sang eleven songs. ELEVEN! It was an entire concert in the dark for my only fan. It was a concert of hymns. Each time I looked over and saw she was still wide-eyed, I thought about how lucky I am that I grew up in a pastor’s home. I probably know a hundred hymns and camp songs and I can sing them nonstop for my daughter until her spirited brain finally rests.

As an adult, these moments happen often. I now realize just how lucky I am to be a pastor’s kid. I can still smell the dozens of burning candles on Christmas Eve and the wood pews that filled the sanctuary. I remember rainy days when we sang All Things Bright and Beautiful with all of the doors to the small country church wide open while the rain poured down outside adding its own harmony to the song. That smell and that song remind me that there is something greater than all of us. I can still taste the varied, and sometimes odd, flavors of the church potluck dinner. That rainbow colored plate of food made with a dash of competition and pound of love was more a part of who I am than any foodie dish I eat now.

Being a pastor’s kid means that I have seen the top of the bell tower and the back of the organ pipes. I’ve rung the church bells at improper times and I’ve paid the price for doing so. I’ve laid down under the back pew and rolled down under all the pews until I slammed into the altar rail. I’ve had the church giggles hundreds of times. You know the ones when you or your friend says something wildly inappropriate during church and in trying to hide your laughter, you actually break into an uncontrollable laughter that has to squirt out of your eyes because you can’t stop? It probably happened that time you peed your pants in church. It’s a common side effect of church giggles.

Being a pastor’s kid meant driving across the country, through Canada, and up to Alaska when I was five and making the return trip when I was nine. Our parents told us how magnificent creation was and then they showed it to us. When you see the Badlands, The Grand Tetons, Wild Horse, Glacier National Park, the Yukon, and the miraculous Denali before you even hit 4th grade, it is hard not to believe in God or some higher power. Religion or not, there is a spiritual element to seeing these places.311149_10150294264747005_289428017_n

Being my dad’s kid meant living in a small house in the woods of Alaska that ran out of water. It meant a family of five practically living on top of each other and riding to the mountain spring together to fill jugs of water so we could eat and bathe in the dead of winter. It meant our parents waking us up in the middle of the night so we could stand out in our wooded  driveway in moon boots and nightgowns to hear the crackling of the rainbow colored aurora borealis that seemed so close we could almost touch it. It meant running across snow and ice in our swimsuits to jump into the hot springs when it was 20 below zero outside.

As a young child, I remember visiting hospitals with my dad; waiting in the hallway and listening to him pray with people who were sick and lonely. I remember praying for the mean kids in school because my parents said they were the ones who needed it the most even if I didn’t like them. I remember saying thanks and saying thanks again and always being taught to be grateful for what I had. I remember visiting shut-ins with my mom when she worked with meals-on-wheels. I remember welcoming people from every race, ethnicity, and economic status into our home. I remember my parents treating everyone the same. From the suicidal teenager to the prestigious Bishop from Nigeria, our doors were open and there was always a place to stay and food on the table.

I was raised by a pastor who put love first and didn’t focus on hell-fire or political issues. He (and my mother) taught us that our faith meant giving, caring for, loving, and thanking. It meant welcoming others and being empathetic and learning about those who were different from us. Our faith meant seeing injustice and fighting against it. Our faith meant removing hatred from our vernacular. Following Jesus wasn’t about getting into heaven or avoiding hell, it was about loving everyone. 
I will be 40 soon and I honestly have been struggling with whatever my faith is now. Religion in general has angered me and the people who claim to be doing things in God’s name seem to be missing the whole point.  I belong to a church family, but I find it hard to participate or show up because of the pain I see coming from “the church” as a whole. The complete lack of empathy and love seems to come from a dark place that I am not familiar with. Still, when I am coming to the end of my day and trying to settle my daughter, nothing works better than singing Be Thou My Vision, or His Eye is on the Sparrow, and I still cry when I sing Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing because I can hear my dad’s voice in the words. Those old hymns slow my breath and my blood pressure and remind me of the faith I once knew and help me believe it is still possible.

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