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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Losing Dad, Uncategorized

grief is a jerk.

Today I was driving down a tree lined suburban street. The weather was perfect, the sun was out, and it was still morning. I pulled up to a stop sign and an older gentleman waved to me to indicate he was about to cross in front of me. I smiled and waved him on. I watched him as he slowly walked in front of my car. He was tall, handsome, and probably in his early 70’s. He was wearing white socks pulled halfway up his calf and white sneakers. His face was wrinkled from years of smiling. He was exactly what I imagined my dad would look like today. And grief, that sneaky little jerk, made my heart swell up and tighten my chest and made the tears burst from my face. The ugly crying began and I lost control. Just like every other time grief sneaks in, I was completely unprepared for his visit.

When you lose someone you love, people start talking to you about the stages of grief and even giving you books about the stages. They make you think that you just have to 

FullSizeRender_3work your way through each stage and then you will be good to go. I feel like the stages of grief are more like the stages of cancer. The moment my dad took his last breath I felt a dull ache in my chest. From there, things inside just started rotting little by little. It didn’t effect just one part of my life, it slowly crept into every inch of my being. We had more than three years to prepare for my father’s inevitable death, but we could have had twenty years or one day. It made no difference. Just like there is no preparation or warning to what happens to your body after childbirth, there is also no way to prepare to lose someone. Like cancer, grief is this little ass hole that just goes around hurting innocent people and flipping their lives upside down.

We are closing in on 6 years since we lost Paul Wilcox. I honestly don’t feel any better about it. You can still find me crying, “It’s not fair!,” when I look at slideshows of my dad. I still hear his voice and that contagious laughter. I still want to wake up and find out it was all a dream and see him walk through the door. FullSizeRender_1I still want to see him lift up my daughter and swing her around the room or even just read her a book. I still have moments of shock, denial, and bargaining. I still see sweet old men with their socks half way up their legs on a hot day and burst into tears. The stages of grief keep looping around. There is nothing final or linear about them.

Grief is hoping you never have a wedding because the thought of walking down the aisle without your dad is too much. Grief is buying figs at the store even though they are

FullSizeRendertoo expensive and you only kind of like them, but they remind you of your dad’s fig tree. Grief is watching your daughter blow out birthday candles for the fourth time and still wishing your dad was one of the people standing there singing to her. Grief is finding it hard to go to church because you can’t go there without thinking of your dad and all those Sunday mornings of him standing in the pulpit. Grief is wishing you had asked more questions or taken more videos or spent more time listening back when you had time. Grief is wishing you had said “I love you” just 10 more times.

The best explanation I have heard to explain this unfortunate part of life is that losing someone is like losing a leg. You do learn to walk and run and dance again, but you do everything differently now. You still feel pangs of pain from time to time and you still long for your missing limb and reminisce about the days when you felt whole.  

No matter how grief hits you or no matter how long it stays, I pray you let it do it’s thing. Even when it is painful, it reminds us that we once loved and loved deeply. We loved someone deep enough that even years after they are gone, we still remember that love and long for it.

 

dad fishing

“Down the middle drops one more
Grain of sand
They say that
New life makes losing life easier to understand
Words are kind
They help ease the mind
I’ll miss my old friend
And though you gotta go
We’ll keep a piece of your soul
One goes out
One comes in”

~Jack Johnson

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life lessons, Losing Dad

Dad’s Birthday 

These are my wonderful parents. The picture was taken on 11/22/1998, my 21st Birthday. My parents came to Philly to take me out for my birthday because that’s the kind of parents they are. It is one of my favorites because you can see the true love that we all got to see when they were together.
Tomorrow would have been dad’s 69th birthday. It’s the hardest day of the year for me. I revisit the anger, denial, and deep sadness that came from his sickness and eventual death. That physical ache in my heart shows up and I can’t eat or breathe right. The gaping hole that was left when we lost him pulses to remind me that it will never be full again. The crying that is accompanied by hyperventilation and then complete fatigue returns. Each year, it is his birthday that makes me feel like I’ve lost him all over again. Grief is funny that way. It likes to creep up on you and remind you that it’s still there to torture you.

My daughter never met her grandfather. However, I tell her so many stories about him that I sometimes have to remind her that he is gone. I like that this is the case. To her, he is still very much alive. He always said he would live past 100. In some ways, he was right. He lives in the old hymns. All I have to do is listen to “Come Thou Fount,” close my eyes, and I can feel him there singing along with me. He is in my head during a snowstorm when I realize my gas is on “E.” How many times does he have to tell me not to let it go below half in the winter?! He is in my daughter’s smile whenever she is really happy and her whole face lights up. I see him in that joy and excitement for life that fills her every being on a daily basis.

Because of this, I let her decide what we will do to celebrate him tomorrow. She said we should go for a hike and have a “Charlie Brown Birthday party.” So, we will do just that. Or, we will go for a hike, eat peppermint patties, and then search the city of Philadelphia for a cupcake or cake with Peanuts characters on it. I think my dad would approve!

Happy Birthday Dad! We love you and miss you tons!!

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gardening, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, Uncategorized

raw and open

Eight years and a few months ago I told a friend that I couldn’t imagine being happier about life and more excited about my future. I felt amazing. I was in the first semester of Grad school, I had just moved into a new house, I had gone from being a couch potato to running races and practicing yoga regularly, I had a new job as the executive director of an organization that brought me joy, and I was in the beginning stages of a new relationship with the first man I ever loved. I felt like I was on top of the world.

Then, like a sledgehammer to the skull, we got the death sentence diagnosis for my dad. He was dying. That’s it. There was no hope given. They could help him live a couple more years, but cancer would kill him and it would kill him soon. My dad. The man who lived his life serving others and would literally talk about what he would be doing when he was 100. He enjoyed life so much that it was contagious to be around him. He had already had cancer twice before and would joke about it. “I don’t get sick, I just get cancer,” he would say with pride.

A church friend recently talked about a garden being the metaphor for our lives and God being the Master Gardener. I have taken this idea and used it to help myself work through this season of my life. As I have highs and lows with my literal garden, I see the parallels with my life. Before the diagnosis, my garden was lush and full of herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Heck, there were freaking butterflies and honeybees fluttering around. You get the picture?

My dad’s diagnosis was the first nasty weed. What followed was three years of watching my father struggle and hope and eventually die. My relationship of three years, the one that was supposed to last forever, died four months later. It was a relationship that might have lasted had it happened at a different time in my life, but sometimes grief has a way of killing things in its path. Three months after my relationship died, I  jumped into a summer fling with a man who I thought I knew and who I thought was an old friend, only to find out he was a complete stranger, was not at all who I thought he was, and I was left to face a pregnancy and eventually parenthood, alone. My lush happy garden slowly rotted and turned into a heaping compost as I blamed the Master Gardener and kicked him out.

Even moments before my daughter was born, I was sitting in the middle of my compost pile thinking the garden and life I once had would never happen again. I was admittedly, angry, hurt, defeated and hopeless. Then, the moment they put that baby girl on my chest and I saw those crystal blue eyes, a small but strong bud popped out of my heap of mush and began to bloom. Trying to keep this “bud” alive and blooming has required months of fighting a broken legal system, three years of pinching pennies and constantly worrying about money, learning how to ask and accept help, and inviting the “Master Gardener” back in.fullsizerender-3

A few days ago, in my actual garden, I spent the entire morning pulling up weeds, removing broken glass, ant hills, and dog poop, and pulling up dead tree trunks. It was the end of a weeks-long project that I was starting to think would take the rest of my life to complete. As I stood in the sun covered in sweat and dirt, I felt the most amazing satisfaction seeing the raw and open earth that I uncovered. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time. Aside from a single strand of purple Morning Glories, everything that had been there was now gone. I immediately started to cry. This garden was me.

My neighbors told me that this garden was once home to beautiful grass, vibrant rose bushes, and lush green trees. After years of trials and neglect, it became the weed covered trash-ridden lot that I purchased a few months ago. It was so bad that one of my neighbors suggested it was beyond repair and I should just fill it with concrete and call it a day. What it is teaching me, however, is that nothing and no one is past redemption. Like my garden, I reached a point in my life where I had to realize that in order for that one flower to grow and flourish, I would have to rip out all that was old, dig up the soil, remove the trash, and start again with new seeds. I would need expert advice and help with the hardest parts of the job. Most importantly, I had to stop focusing on what once was and what I thought it “should” look like. I have to accept what has happened, mourn any loss, and focus on each seed as new life grows and a whole new garden appears.

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gardening, life lessons, Losing Dad


FullSizeRender (1).jpgA few weeks before my dad passed away, I caught him eating a raw potato. A RAW potato. I jokingly asked him if he’d like me to cook it for him. I will never forget his response, “No. I like it this way. It tastes like earth.”

I lived in six different houses in six different towns growing up. Each one of them had an ample amount of Earth. At each house, my parents were adamant about having a garden, fruit trees, and plenty of green. My mom covered the house with plants of various origin and my dad focused on vegetables and fruit trees in the yard. From birth, I have watched the magic that happens when a seed becomes a sprout and a sprout becomes a plant, a flower, a vegetable, or a tree. It has always amazed me and been all the proof I need that there is something greater than myself. I remember living in York County, Pennsylvania, where we had a huge vegetable garden, and hiding between two rows of peas with my best friend. We would lay in the dirt and giggle as we filled our bellies with fresh sweet peas. There is nothing like biting into a crisp pea pod on a hot summer day. It tastes like Earth.

One of the reasons I love the garden and gardening is because it is one of the few places I can still sense my dad’s presence. Just as I can feel him smiling every time I open up a new book, my dad also lingers in the sprouting of a new seed and in each shovel full of Earth as I turn it over to start something new. When I found a house in the city with a big back yard, all I could think about was the garden I would be able to have. It would be the perfect way to honor my dad and share a part of him with Bella.

I definitely have my work cut out for me. In the first year of Bella’s life, I celebrated keeping a human alive while I mourned each plant and vegetable as one by one, they died a slow and painful death. Now I have a toddler that I still have to keep alive(not an easy task) and a yard full of weeds and random treasures that must be dug up and sifted one shovel at a time before I can even think of sowing any seeds. The process is slow and has required quite a bit of texts to mom, consults with experienced urban gardeners, and googling. I’ve also discovered that, for the most part, my gardening will have to be in containers and raised beds; something totally new to me and not exactly what I had hoped for.

There is actual scientific proof that having contact  with the earth through standing in your bare feet, sitting, or lying down on the earth, known as earthing or grounding, actually improves your physiological and electrophysiological health. In fact, when stressed or depressed, direct contact with the earth has been shown to improve your symptoms. I suffer from anxiety and depression and have actually been told that regularly walking through grass or soil will eventually improve my symptoms and balance the cortisol levels in my body. It makes sense. I spent much of my childhood barefoot and covered in grass and mud. There were many times my parents didn’t know where the earth ended and I started. “Earthing” is in my blood, but I have not done much of it in the past few years. It is a therapy I am willing to try and willing to create space for in my backyard.

This piece-of-earth project is not only for me. I want Bella to have the opportunity to ground herself daily. I want her to know what a tomato seed and flower look like. I want her to remember happily hiding in the rows of peas while she bites downFullSizeRender.jpg on a piece of earth. I truly believe an essential part of good parenting is figuring out a way for your child to connect to the earth somehow. Most people my age grew up “earthing” daily and we didn’t even know that what we were doing was actually beneficial to our health and well-being. Today, however, many of us have to work to make that happen for our kids. We are fighting against computers, and smartphones, video games, and bigger flatter TVs with more to entertain our kids every day. We need more hikes, walks in the park or on the beach, and weekend camping trips. And, if we have the space, or even just a pot of soil in the kitchen, we can fight that pesky technology with a nothing but a seed, some soil, and a little water and sunshine.

So, despite the fact that we may not see our first sprout until sometime next year, I’m looking forward to the hours of digging and weeding that Bella and I have before us this fall. I’ll be doing it with my dad’s old garden tools while I think of all his corny jokes and remember how excited he was the first time his fig tree produced fruit. Hopefully, by this time next year, I will be telling you about our very first potato and how Bella and I sat in our garden and ate it raw while we talked about Grandpa Wilcox and how truly delicious the earth tastes.

 

“For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light;  
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”

 

 

It Tastes Like Earth

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, Losing Dad, Preggers

The Absense of a Father

My father called me just to see how I was doing. He called me often. Sometimes he texted. There was never a reason, he just called. He got me. He understood me. He always seemed interested in what I was doing even if he didn’t quite agree or understand what I was doing. He asked me about my art. He remembered all of my friends names and usually remembered details about them. Sometimes he asked how specific friends were doing even if I hadn’t seen them in years because he knew I liked to keep in touch even when I wasn’t around them anymore. To my dad, I mattered. He called me to warn me about icy roads and dangerously hot weather. He always wanted to make sure I was safe and knew how to handle any weather that came my way.

My dad made me meatloaf and oatmeal. He took me out for Chinese and we always had to order more duck sauce. He took me to the Indian buffet and we’d sweat through the spices while we caught up and laughed. he hung my pictures. He fixed my doors. He was the man in my life when I didn’t have one. He drove me out to Chicago when I decided to be a nanny one year. It didn’t work out and he knew it wouldn’t work out, but he drove me out there anyway. He told corny jokes and he wore silly ties sometimes. He told me he was proud of me.

I lucked out. I had an amazing dad who was also an incredible man. A lot of people can’t say that. A lot of my friends don’t say that. When he got sick, I had hope  and believed they would find some cure. Having to imagine this world without him in it was something I couldn’t comprehend. I also knew how much time he spent caring for other people and loving other people and loving God. He was honest. He was kind. He gave to others and helped others. He was a man of integrity. Surely, I thought, God would have mercy on him and give him more time.

When he died, I went numb. He was sick for so long that it just seemed unreal when he wasn’t there anymore. It’s been more than a year and I still think I am going to see him walk through the door. More than anything, I want to see him walk through the door of my hospital room and sit in the chair to hold his new grandchild. If I could have him for just one more day, that would be the one.

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Losing Dad

The Magic Hat

When my dad dies, there is one thing I want. It is not a trust fund or a car. It is not his computer or his cell phone. It is not the expensive Turkish rugs or antique furniture or house. No, when my dad dies, I want the old wool dress hat in the closet. You see, for a long time, I called it “the cancer hat.” I was four and five the last time he had cancer. He lost all his hair and he wore this hat. As a child, I believed that it was magic somehow. I believed he survived because he wore this hat.

I cannot tell you how many times I have taken that hat out of the closet and smelled it. The smell has remained the same for the last 30 years. It NEVER changed. It is, by far, the best thing I ever smelled. I believe it is the smell of magic. I believe it is the smell of hope.

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