Absence and presence

‘Each moment of our existence we are either growing into more or retreating into less. The spirituality of wonder knows the world is charged with grace, that while sin and war, disease and death are terribly real, God’s loving presence and power in our midst are even more real.’
Brennan Manning

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So…….there goes Summer!

We’re back to a 7.30pm bedtime and deciding what to make for lunches (sliced cheese or grated?). Once again Clarks have robbed us blind and there’s a shed load of school notes stuck to the fridge door. The nights are already getting darker, but hey ho, at least Bake-Off is on again.

We enjoyed a trip up north this year along with some time spent in Lusty Beg and a few day trips. And it felt like enough. I don’t think I needed the stress of too much this summer.

I think my heart needed a little room to feel and pay attention.

Because this was a summer without my dad. And that’s been hard. At times I found grief to only be a subconscious niggle and yet, on other occasions it became piercing and I was left wondering what the last few months have even been about.

This summer I have found the beach days and garden days and even the first school days both simultaneously great and difficult. I’ve thought about those of us who smile and wave and talk and yet hold a secret sadness. I’ve held space for those who on the journey home from the beach or the school gate or the garden feel a little heaviness return to their heart.

Because grief and loss can leave many of us feeling changed somehow, where everything is the same but different. Great days just used to be great but now, they are often tinged with sadness, too.

And we must find a way to sit honestly with both.

*

My dad died suddenly five months ago and I’ve been thinking about grief as loss but also as change. It’s change because things are never going to be as they once were. For me, one of the hardest parts of grief has been sensing the loss of a connection. My Dad was a very positive presence in my life, constant and unconditional and good. Sometimes I just feel the loss of that presence, that connection.

It was more powerful than I ever realised at the time.

And so now I must make room for the long, slow reality of living a life altered by the absence of someone I loved.  I am left to consider how I am going to experience and accept the changes that come.

I find the only way I can experience grief as true lament is to acknowledge the place I find myself in to be okay. I am learning to allow myself to feel whatever rises to the surface, be it quietness or anger or ambivalence.

Resisting the perpetual urge to explain and deny is not an easy thing.

But what is even harder is trusting God with this difficult and mysterious space of change. What takes courage is trusting Him with my soul which is often tangled up in fear and uncertainty and regret.

I have trust for milk in the fridge and a coat on my back but how can I trust God with the pain of losing my dad? How can I continually trust in his goodness when my heart is often heavy with sadness? How can I know I won’t be trapped by my own feelings forever?

This is how.

I encounter a life outside of material blessing and wealth and success and I still find God to be good.

I end up in a crappy valley of grief and discover His goodness is nothing much to do with the absence of my sadness, but rather it is in His nearer-than-near presence. I realise that yes, I am blessed with His gracious gifts but I am blessed further still by a God who is found way beyond what I can hold in my hand.

And it’s in this place that He offers me a peace that gives trust a new meaning.

Trust is not naivety or holy nonsense. I know it only to be the reality of a broken hearted daughter stumbling forward in the light of a God who keeps His promises. Promises of comfort and presence in a life that was never meant to be easy.

It is not even a spectacle to behold. I know it to be the persistent choice to look up, moment after moment, quietly believing in the guts of faith I have professed for over twenty years..…’The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.’

And so, there are no fireworks but there is unexpected peace and undeniable comfort from being held and known and loved. I can watch my children squealing in the sprinklers and realise there is joy and there is sadness and there is God. I can sit on a step and wave at my kids and miss my dad all the while whispering prayers of thanks and struggle to a God who knows me better than I know myself.

And there’s a birthday in our house and a party without my dad. There’s a card from my mum signed, ‘Love Nanny’ and the tears sting at the absence of my dad’s name and my kids continually getting older without him. And I hear it. God’s voice. It cuts through the excitement and joy. It cuts through the bravery and ache. ‘I know about all of it. Your joy today. Your struggle. I know you. I’m with you.’ And I find courage to pay attention to that voice and trust it.

And there is a local library where my dad spent so much of his time. I go there and sit on tiny plastic chairs, reading with my kids and thinking about my dad. I feel his absence. And I feel God’s presence. It’s just a local library but sitting there I am both honestly broken and lovingly healed. It is not an easy thing. But my soul encounters the grace and peace of a God who is faithful.

And He is good.

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