To be honest, I don't even want to attend my own funeral.
Truly there are few things I dislike more than attending funerals, but until recently, I couldn't really tell you exactly why this is so. Since Thursday night (October 10), after a lot of thinking, and soul searching that came about do to a rejection I suffered, I have finally come to the realization why that is. There is a very good reason why I don't like attending funerals, other than for the fact that they are sad affairs. To be perfectly honest, I have come to realize that it is also because I despise the hypocrisy that most of them bring, as well as the flippancy of turning what should be a private moment of grieving due to a devastating loss into an impromptu family reunion. And so I am writing this post because I am mourning not only the loss of my father, but the loss of truth; more accurately, the desire to hear truth.
Concerning the general topic of funerals, how many of us have attended funerals where the dearly departed wasn't so dear? As if that wasn't bad enough, how many of us had to sit through many "fond" recollections that were so carefully devised as to make us wonder who the eulogist was referring to? Why is it so taboo for us to be honest about the person in the casket, or urn? Why is it deplorable or unacceptable to be honest about who they really were, and what our real feelings for them are? I believe we have some how allowed this sobering human affair, of what should be an honest moment of soul searching, to be turned into a whitewashed sham of spin doctoring. I'm sure this revelation will be met with mixed feelings, because not all funerals are like this, but one thing I assure you, my father would agreed.
As it stands, me and my siblings won't be attending my father's memorial service in the great state of Florida this Sunday (October 13). There are many reasons for this, not only because it is so far away geographically, but because I also believe, for many of us, emotionally speaking, we are still world's apart from him. What do I mean by that? Please understand that each of us loves our father, because he is our father. But we knew and grew up with an entirely different man than the one the people in his current family and friends knew, and believe me, we are very glad of that. It takes a little something called time in order to cultivate feelings and emotional attachment to a person. Even so, each of us have learned from our past experience as being one of his children, and we have been better for it; well I think so anyway.
Speaking truthfully, for me personally, it would be very awkward to hear stories of how great he was, knowing what I know about the past. Sure, I would be glad to hear that he genuinely turned over a new leaf, and became the man he should have always been, and a wonderful faithful Christian. But a part of me would also be somewhat saddened by it. I know I would experience a slight feeling of being a bit cheated, and I don't like the feeling of being cheated. I'm just being completely honest here. My siblings and I would have to sit there with painted smiles on our faces and nod politely as people we don't know, fondly reminisce about the good times they had with the good man they were laying to rest. What would happen when one of them asked me what kind of a father he was? Speaking for myself, I would be tempted to lie through my teeth just to make them feel good, and that is something I just can't do, not many more. I would like to point out that omitting the whole truth, or varnishing it, or candy-coating it, is the same thing as lying. As painful as it is, the truth spoken, or blows of correction given by a friend, are far better than kisses and flattery from an enemy. Should being polite take precedence over the truth? It shouldn't, but it often does.
That's why I was so proud of myself for squeezing everything I wanted to say on one page -- dear reader I assure you; that is a monumental accomplishment! And as usual, I had my husband read it carefully, just to make sure it was appropriate, and understandable. After reading it he smiled and gave me a hug, that means I had his stamp of approval. And that means a lot to me, because he has caught me many times saying things I shouldn't, or being too high minded. He is a fair and good editor of my written material and I trust his judgment. So, I dutifully sent it off to my father's wife via email. A few moments later I received an accusing text message, which totally blind sided me; I didn't expect that kind of reaction at all from someone who claimed to love the truth. Apparently, my husband and I both failed miserably, me on clearly expressing my feelings, and he on his editing of them.
Then she wanted to know what horrible things he had done to us, his first family. I was dumbfounded. I couldn't think. So, I just told her that it didn't matter, and told her that man didn't exist anymore since he had been saved; really saved. To be honest, I couldn't even think of any examples to satisfy her inquiry, because, well, I had forgiven him 20 years ago, even though we were not in contact. Apparently forgiving and forgetting is indeed possible. I'm sure that if I really tried hard to remember the bad stuff I could, but why would I want to do that? I currently just have a knowing that he wasn't a nice man- that's enough. I told her I would rewrite it, but then I quickly decided not to. In classic emotional retaliation, I told her that she never could accept the fact that he was not a good father or husband, no matter how many times he himself had told her, so what good would it do, if I did? So I abruptly told her to forget it, and that I now had no desire to change what I had to say, and being that I was now greatly upset, I was in no mood to write anything else, and the time constraint would have elapsed before I could've calmed down. So I hung up, I think, I hope, after saying good bye. Had she taken the time and effort to ask me to make my thoughts more clear, instead of accusing me of being reprimanding and unforgiving, then I would have gladly complied. Had I also been a mature adult and not let my emotions get the best of me, then I could have done the right thing and rewritten the letter regardless. I hate it when I let my emotions get in the way; I'm still working on it, Lord help me.
Thinking Is A Dangerous Pastime, Ya Know?
In my letter, I wanted to convey the fact that my father wasn't a good man in his early life, even up to 20 years ago; that is the simple and plain truth. But I also wanted to drive home the point that Jesus is in the human renovation business, that is or should be the whole point of becoming a real Christian. Jesus takes a wretched sinner, and turns them into a righteous saint, that is if they are willing and dedicated to go through that process. If a Christian can't understand that, or rejoice in that, then what good is it to be saved? Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Will everyone in that room be oblivious to the time when they were lost and in need of a Savior, who called them to repentance and salvation, or were all of them already righteous when they were born? My desire was to encourage them in what I knew and experienced, to testify to those who had erring and lost loved ones, that there is hope through example and prayer in bringing them to Christ. I also wanted to deal with the dreaded subject of regret and what to do about it, and that is.....learn from it!
All of this good stuff completely escaped her, because she only saw the negative comment she picked out. She didn't hear what I was trying to say in context. Instead, like most people, she wanted candy coated spin doctoring in the human tradition of funerary protocol. Were there good times in my life when my dad was in it? Yes. But sadly, they were very few, and far between, and are almost as hard for me to remember as the bad times are for me to recall, especially since I had forgiven him long ago.
Even though I am hurt that she would rush to such a conclusion, and harsh accusation, that I was reprimanding my father by being unforgiving, without first clarifying my intent, I now understand why. Yes, even after all that we had been through together, apparently she just doesn't know me very well, and the reality is that she's grieving. She has just lost a wonderful man, a man I knew very little about, and the topic of honesty is not something people are used to, or inclined to hear at funerals. You see, traditionally it's mostly about hypocrisy and whitewash. With some help from my youngest sister and brother, and, especially thanks to my husband, I'm feeling better about this whole disastrous affair. I have decided that it doesn't really matter that my letter will not be shared on Sunday, not really. My husband reminded me that my father understood and shared my love for the truth; that he loved me and accepted me before he died, and that he would have approved of what I had to say, and that is what really counts. His wife just needs time to process things, after all she has been through so much pain in a very short amount of time--I get it. I don't think she intended to hurt me anymore than I intended to hurt her, or my father. Understanding, empathy, and forgiveness are wonderful fruits of the Spirit to possess, and mercy most of all, and I'm still working hard toward cultivating more of them in my life.
And so dear reader, I will post my letter on this blog with changes. Changes, which I believe help refine and better express what I originally wanted to convey, without completely changing the original theme. This blog is mine after all, and it's a place where I can freely speak my mind without censor. This is the final product of the first letter, that I would have gladly reworked and turned in, if I had not let pride and my heart, that I wear on my sleeve, get the better of me. I hope you will read it carefully, and think about what I have written from my point of view, that being of a woman who lost her father before she really got to know him; the new man which Christ had wrought. Think. That is all I every ask of anyone. Amen.
I knew Him When:
“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: “It might have been!”
Regret. It can be a heavy load to bear, I oughtta know, because I have bore my fair share and then some, like many of you have I’m sure. What I want most of all in this sad time of loss, as we feel death’s terrible sting, is for us to no longer suffer at the hands of regret, but rather to learn from it. The biggest regret I now have is that I can’t tell you all that much about the new man who replaced the "old" man I knew - because I have been denied that joy in this life; sadly I ran out of time. But I have determined to learn from this. I’m determined to make the effort to spend more time in getting to know the people I am fortunate to have in my life. I wish that we would all:
- Tell and show the people in our life that we love them right now, while it is today, because we are not guaranteed tomorrow, so don't take time for granted.
- Teach and show our children how to live godly lives, something that is of infinite worth.
- Tell and show our spouse that we appreciate them, and be kind to one another, because life is so short. Yes, cherish every precious moment, the good and even the bad, because we just don’t know what tomorrow may bring.
- Share our love for Jesus to all who will hear, but don’t just talk it; also live it for real.
Greenleaf's famous poetic line has since inspired many similar laments, and there is one in particular that I would like to share that speaks of the past, of our lives before Jesus got a hold of my father, and before I got to know him again recently. It is from Arthur Guiterman which reads:
“Of all cold words of tongue or pen
The worst are these: ‘I knew him when – ’”
However, in this case, I will not share any cold words with you about the man I knew when…because that man no longer exists and my thanks are unto Jesus for that. And so that brings me to say this: If you have a loved one who is running from the Lord, or seems to be a devoted sinner, then I beg you…don’t stop praying for them; never quit! My dad is a testimony to the power of those kinds of prayers; the fervent prayers of the righteous, because they truly do avail much!
Yes, it is true, that the man you know and love, is not the same man I knew when I was a child. I am here to testify that the man you have come to honor, is not the same man I knew when I was a teenager. The man I hope you will all fondly remember as a good and godly Christian man, is not the same man I knew when I was a bride, or as a young mother. And I'm glad.
I am so grateful to our Lord Jesus Christ for the brief time we were reunited after many years of separation, and that we could express our genuine love for each other in that small sliver of time before he left this world. I am grateful to Jesus, who has made the way for us to live eternally with him, and with those who have trusted him to save them, and transform them into new creatures before they left this earth, like he did for my father. It is because of that, one day there will be no more regrets, no more sorrow. Then I will have all eternity to finally get to know, really know, the man who is my father, Amen!