I sat across the table from my dad and looked closely at the way time is shaping him, the hands of the clock deepening lines in his skin, draining color from his hair, barley noticeable in the day to day, but always changing.
And the guilt crept in quiet, slow.
We had just come from the funeral of a family friend, our humble show of support to loved ones still in shock. A husband taken unexpectedly, without warning. A dad gone after only 62 years.
The same 62 years as the dad sitting across the table from me. My dad.
But we get more time.
He took my car through the car wash, because my dad doesn’t do dirty cars. I get more of that. More clean car moments with him.
My dad loves to take my kids out for lunch and dinner. They cheer wildly at the mention of the buffet. And I shudder. I’d rather have a root canal than take 4 kids to the buffet. My blood pressure rises, pulse quickens, at the very thought.
People who can’t quite be trusted to balance a plate, may very well sneeze on the exposed smorgasbord of food, are likely to crash waist-level into any unassuming adult and may very well OD on a combination of slushies, jello and endless ice cream? Yes, I’ll take one root canal please.
But my dad? He’ll say yes every time. As if there is a tiny bit of an 8 year old still trapped inside him, he hasn’t forgotten the magic of endless soft serve ice cream. He’ll put up with the antics of 4 young kids and a buffet, with a smile. He doesn’t just survive these moments, he loves them.
And while another family must say goodbye, we get more dinners at the buffet.
A few days ago a friend gave me the book The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts (affiliate link, more info here.) The true story of a brave young mom who fought a difficult and yet uniquely beautiful battle with cancer. She was a mom to 4 young kids, a blogger who shared her honest heart with the world and sought to see Christ in every moment of it.
But my own heart quieted as I read her simple desire for more time.
“I want to see my kids grow passionate about something—anything—and I want to watch them struggle through the articulation of those passions as I once did, as I still do. I want to be there to pick the wedding dress and help Lake choose the ring for his love…I want to see Jason more gray, more wrinkled, more gentled by love and time. I want to see the little legs enter our bed night after night. I want to hear their excuses to keep from going to bed on time: thirst, tummy ache, potty, I’m scared, one more snuggle, please—just one more. I want to wrestle through these beautiful irritating moments of life.”
I live there. I’m wrestling, daily, with those beautiful irritating moment of life. The moments she longed for? I’m still here doing them. My four kids still have a mama to wrap them tight in blankets, to listen closely to their dream and hopes, their complaints and excuses and desires. Her children? They no longer have that.
And again, a form of guilt creeps in. It could have just as easily been my dad we said goodbye to. It could just as easily be my children left without a mother.
I feel guilty for how many times I have declined my dad’s invitation to the buffet. Guilty for how annoyed bedtime drinks can make me. And guilt for how I rush and take for granted, how I live like there is an endless supply of time, as if the days will always be there.
The feelings are reminiscent of Mexico, when I was face to face, toe to toe, with my wealth and glaring poverty. It’s uncomfortable.
But the emotion is misplaced, even if the discomfort is not. Guilt does nothing to remedy. It diminishes and shames.
Guilt does no more to honor the days we’ve been given than it does to honor those whose days we feel have been cut short.
What if we turned guilt into gratitude – for the days, for the moments, for the lunches, even the buffets? What if we turned the shock of an unexpected goodbye into an honest appreciation for the hellos we still get. Maybe this is how death gives way to life, to something richer and fuller. Maybe staring mortality head on, in all of it’s hard and short and weak, maybe then we become more fitted to truly begin living in light of eternity.
When death knocks, it rattles us. As well it should.
Let it rattle us well. Rattle us awake. Rattle us alive.
So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12
Could this, all that is uncomfortable and the awareness driving the guilt, be part of the teaching? Part of our numbering?
What if we exchanged guilt with a hunger to live our days well? What if, in the midst of what we deem as uncomfortable, we began to catch a glimpse of the form and shape, the very nearness of eternity….and we sought to live, truly live, in light of it?
Kara Tippetts got that. She fought and found beauty in a very ugly disease. She figured out how to see beyond a hard I cannot even imagine, how to number her days, and live them courageously hanging on tightly to the hope of eternity.
What might our lives look like if we did that as well?