January 7, 2014

When You Put your Heart in an Envelope

(Dad, at Christmas, with one of his greats! (Photo by my sister,  Leanne)
The sun warmed us, made us sleepy, as we rode the highway home from our morning appointment at Infusion Four. The sky said it was close to noon.

I made a beeline to the kitchen to mix liquid potassium with water, stir a packet of essential minerals into a cup of cran-grape. Tomorrow Dad will get an infusion of some of the 30 million stem cells harvested from his blood back in November. They harvested the week of the ice storm. 

Shucking my coat on the way to the kitchen, I dropped a white envelope on the table beside his recliner. 

Today is my Dad’s seventy-second birthday.

When I came around the corner back into the living room, his shaky chemo hands were slipping the card back into its envelope.

Dad looked up at me from his chair. I had written in the card last night. I didn't have a birthday card and I realized this way after dark when the date popped into my mind. Pulling my boots back on just before half-time of the football game, I left my place curled up under a blanket. There was little motivation to go out. It was eleven degrees. The temperature was sure to drop even more by morning. That was enough motivation to get me moving. My prince of husband put his clothes back on and went out with me, dropped me at the door of the grocery store. (I know. I'm spoiled.)

Of course, the perfect card didn’t jump out at me from the tiered shelf on the back wall by the pharmacy. I found one that would do. It was created for a father from his daughter. It wasn’t particularly visually appealing (it was ugly), but it had a sweet sentiment. 

Later, I washed my face and put on my pajamas, and then I opened the card and wrote on the shiny right flap with my gel pen. 

I took a deep breath before I started to write, because I was about to put down my heart in words.

I wrote down my heart because I have embraced vulnerability. Not because it is easy, but because it is powerful and true. I think God honors vulnerability over pretense. It also leads to connection. Connection is something I want and need, something I am willing to risk to have. I believe it is a necessary ingredient of the abundant life I have been given in Jesus Christ. It is His way.

True love takes risks. Love is always risky. We know it in our bones. We need love like we need water. We can’t live… truly live, without it. 

For much of my life, my relationship with my Dad happened at a distance. Not an emotional distance, but a real one. We didn’t live in the same house after I was age eleven or twelve. The times we did spend together were good, but almost always in the company of others. I wrote in the card that the only real gift of this battle with his cancer has been spending time with him one-on-one. It was a gift to me to be with him today on his birthday even if it was in Infusion Four. 

He said he’d been thinking the same thing, about getting to spend time with his kids. This same sentiment had been on his heart. His eyes told me he meant it.

I have come to know my Dad in a way I have never known him.  And he has come to know me, the grown-up me. God redeems time.

He looked up at me and said, “Thank you.” 

I told him the words I had written were true.

Even in the bad things, you can find the good. And this, what you wrote, this is true about the good--- getting to be with you, your sister, and brother in all this.”

He went on to tell me that he wanted to express these thoughts about the good he found in the bad on Christmas Eve. He wanted to tell us, our spouses, our kids. He didn’t. He was happy on the afternoon we all gathered in the living room and sipped on hot chocolate, opened envelopes stuffed with greenbacks. 

He decided not to say anything because he didn't know if the kids would understand.

I wish he had. Not for my sake, but for theirs. The truth is some of them wouldn’t have understood. They would have squirmed in their adolescence, or in the new awareness that those they love are not immune to what is common to man.

I assured him it was okay that he hadn't said what was on his mind. They’d understand someday. They are like all of us, on the learning curve. They will know the lesson in time. Time is a great teacher.

That was it, a conversation that lasted less than three minutes but one I won’t soon forget.

Say what needs to be said in the living years. Write down your heart on paper or cards---cards that cost a ridiculous amount of money and never really say what you mean. Buy the card. There's always a place to write what you really feel. Write in it your heart, and hand it over in an envelope. 

Even better, speak what you think might break you. Say what might choke you up, cause you to pause and collect yourself, to hunt words, get them out of your heart and onto your tongue. It’s hard. You will get through it, and you’ll be glad you did.

True love takes risks. Love is always risky. We know it in our bones. We need Love like we need water. We can’t live… truly live, without Him. 
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:18-19, ESV)
So thankful for this day and for the blessing of spending a part of it with Dad and with you. Have you embraced vulnerability? Do you need love like you need water? God loves you. He is Love and He is Water. Open your heart to him and He will fill you up.

Linking with Jennifer (#TellHisStory) and Emily (Imperfect Prose
and Holley (Coffee for Your Heart Encouragement Challenge)

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