The year after my mother died I couldn’t sleep. I would dread bedtime, dragging feet toward the inevitable. Empty hours stretched ahead of me and I couldn’t see my way toward the sunrise; the night was dark and dense and filled with loneliness.
I hated to be the only person awake in the house.
I remember sitting by my dad’s bedside and talking with him into the wee hours. Just rambling on and on about anything and nothing, but always punctuated by the regular question, “Dad, you’re still awake, right?”
And his heavy eyes would crack open in my direction and he’d sigh an exhausted “yes” and I’d keep on talking.
He and I have travelled miles since then.
They have not always been smooth.
They have been bumpy and hard with deep ruts and deeper misunderstandings over the years. Physical distance can both complicate and help the healing and for years I lived an ocean away.
I ran as hard and fast and far away as I could – from my mom’s death, from the quickie remarriage and divorce that followed, from the house that was no longer mine. I played ostrich and buried my head in college life and course work and crushes trying to rewrite my story in a way that read more romantically than the original.
But of course, at the end of the day, we are none of us the sole authors of our stories.
We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. Proverbs 16:9.
The gravitational pull of the southern hemisphere kept me coming home and my father and I wrestled through a journey together that moved forward in fits and starts, stunted as it was by distance and our respective choices that the other couldn’t understand.
We must have hurt each other quite a bit during those years judging by how little of that time I choose to remember.
But someone was always writing our stories and making sense of our mistakes and moving us into second, third, fourth, fortieth chances to start over. And finally we began to take advantage of them, one slow conversation, one hot summer at a time.
I told my dad that sometimes when I cried I just needed him to let me, not be frustrated by his inability to fix me. He must have heard. Because I remember the night I was overcome with sadness and all he did was listen and make me tea.
We drink it together now, over a decade later, and when I look back over my shoulder I’m astounded to see how far we’ve come. I barely recognize either of us. My sons crawl all over him and listen to his stories of lion hunting with big believing eyes and I’m staggered by the gift of these best parts of him that I get to pass onto them.
If someone had shown me the road map between there and here I don’t know what I would have thought. Asked for a short cut, perhaps? But it seems to me that God enjoys the long way around.
The long, slow way around.
And when we’ve been climbing for years and find a moment like I have these past few weeks to stop in the lee of a rock to look back and down from where we’ve come, the view is simply staggering.