One year ago,
I jammed the spare key Tina made me into the keyhole and used just the right amount of finesse and wiggling and praying it takes to open that stubborn door, dropped my bags down on the floor, started boiling water to make tea, and threw my phone on Tina’s bed before slumping down into the soft, warm comfort of that tiny apartment that had become such a home to me. No one else was home so my mind felt the freedom and space it needed to think and reflect on the last 10 days in Nepal; even farther to the last 365 days in Seoul.
Psalm 23, the chapter God put on my heart right before leaving for missions.
Wet nap showers.
Freezing buckets of water.
-The Lord is my Shepherd-
Myunghwa on the floor in the middle of the night trying to warm herself up with a single small candle.
Everyone with stomach aches.
All my time is gone to do ministry.
Can’t I just go back to school? Get my masters?
-I shall not want-
Seven jackets piled on top of my feverish body; I hear in the distant background Pastor Phurpu’s voice, quavering, as he tells us his disciple died sharing the Gospel in the Himalayan Mountains.
-He makes me lie down in green pastures-
“God healed my heart, and He brought rivers of living water into my life, where there was only wasteland,” I spoke into the sea of young eyes peering up at me.
-He leads me beside quiet waters-
A Year of Intimacy.
The most lonely year of my life.
The year Jesus said He would call me His friend.
“We are going to wait for the Lord to pour His rain down on us,” John Michael’s patient, sure words filling the bar lines of this symphony of beauty that God’s Presence was creating in the room.
A woman, the rain, the pianist, the youth, the people, the rain, everywhere, falling one by one, dropping to the ground under the weight of His Presence.
God’s Spirit reviving a generation.
-He restores my soul-
A year of coldness, barriers, isolation, disillusionment, masked behind indifference and a worn smile.
Bitterness closes my heart.
-He guides me in paths of righteousness-
“I think I made a mistake. Can I just go back home, to Arkansas?” Tears, pain, pleas escaping from the depths of me and losing life as they touch the air.
-For His Name’s sake-
Suddenly, stirring me from the world of thoughts barraging my mind, my phone lights up from its place on Tina’s bed.
“Rona, call me right now.” a text from my brother.
My brother who works for AT&T and never calls or texts internationally because he knows how much it’s going to cost him. Will texted.
One short breath in.
Something feels off.
Something, inside, familiar and distinct, startles me to alertness.
Hands, fingers, numbers, contacts, calling, ringing-
“Hello?” he says.
-Even though I walk through the valley-
“Rona. Rona, I’m so sorry to tell you this. I know you just got back from Nepal,” his voice, my big brother’s voice that is normally so calm, the voice I’ve always gone to for strength, begins to tremble and grow so distant I can barely hear,
“but dad just passed away. We just found out. It was…”
-the valley of the shadow-
The doctors had no idea…”
-even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death-
“…making the funeral plans, but we want to know when you can come…”
-I will fear no evil-
“…so sorry, Rona, that you have to find out like this. And you’re so far away from…”
-for You are with me-
“I love you so much. Mom loves you.”
-You’re rod and Your staff, they comfort me-
“And before dad passed away, I got to see him…Rona are you there? Are you okay?”
All the doctor visits.
Sitting in his lap.
Watching him play-wrestle my brother on the floor, acting like Will had seriously hurt him and hiding a chuckle as my brother smiled and danced around in victory.
Hearing his truck pull up late at night when everyone else was sleeping, sneaking out of my room in my pjs and sitting right down beside him. He’d pull ice cream out of the freezer, grab two spoons and with the same mischievous look of an 8-year old boy whisper, like it was the biggest secret in the world, “just don’t tell your mom or brother,” then grin and hand me a spoon.
Sitting next him in his pickup truck as we tore down the dirt road leading to our farm and he belted out the wrong words all at the wrong pitch to overly sentimental country songs.
Being at a complete loss for words as he looked straight into my eyes and said,
“ask for anything you want, Rona, and I’ll give it to you.”
“b-but I, I,” too much fear and shame from the words he spoke from the beginning, words that built me into what I had become, blocked my mind from imagining and my heart from daring to want,
“I don’t want anything, dad,” as I looked to the ground I prayed he didn’t see the tears falling from my eyes.
“Rona, ask me for anything, and I’ll give it to you,” he repeated.
This time something deep within me, something warm like the sun and scary like stepping into the ocean after a long and cold winter, something like hope and trust, flickered inside me and without thinking I blurted out,
“well, dad, it would be so fun to go to Disney World!!!” but as soon as the words left my mouth the fear and shame flooded into my heart and I began to plead,
“but it’s okay, I mean I don’t really want to go, I jus—“
“Okay,” he interrupted, “let’s go tomorrow.”
He picked up the phone book and his road map and immediately started plotting out our trip.
“Wh-whaaaat?!!!” I jumped up to my feet and squeezed his neck for just a second before tearing through the house to my big brother’s room screaming,
“dad’s taking us to DISNEY WORRRRRRRRLD just because I asked him!”
Walking through the store with him, had it been 3, 4 years since his last visit? I had grown older and harder and knew more things about the world.
He asked, with a voice that seemed so much more quiet and unsure than it did when I was a small girl and he would storm through the house in rage screaming.
He asked, with eyes first searching mine until he could see that I knew. I knew about his secrets.
He asked, with eyes now looking down toward the ground,
“Rona, is there anything you need? Anything you need for school? For your car? I’ll buy you anything you want.”
“No, dad,” I rolled my eyes, so annoyed that I had to drive him there in the first place, “there is nothing that I want. Nothing that I want from you.”
But inside, my heart screaming, don’t you know the one thing I want from you, dad? Can’t you know by now?
We walked side-by-side in silence, picking up his things, walking slower than usual because his left leg had started hurting recently.
“I know it’s not much,” he lifted something out of his pocket, “but I got this for you in Turkey on my last visit,” he said as he dropped a silver bracelet with blue stones into my hands. The four of us, my mom, brother, dad and I, stood and took in this one last moment together before he would walk through airport security. We all knew things would be different this time he left. He quickly hugged me goodbye but I knew this goodbye meant something more than it did all the times we said goodbye before, so I hugged him tighter and longer and a lump formed in my throat as he said, “you know, I love you Rona. I love you very much.”
“I love you, too, dad,” I tried to say as the tears streaming down my face betrayed the facade of apathy I tried to construct at his coming and going into and out of my life, but I choked on my words and nothing came out.
All eyes on me, on us. My arm through his as we walked down the field on homecoming night. Spending hours on my make up and hair and a small fortune on that dress with an open back and unique neckline. Finally, I had made it. Approval, acceptance, worth. No one would know all that lay underneath the makeup and overpriced dress. Walking off the field, flashes of cameras lighting up the night sky as I looked up at my escort and locked eyes with him before something caught his eye; he turned away and looked at a stranger walking toward us from the crowd,
“hey, isn’t that your dad?”
My heart sank and terror sprung up in my mind, had he come? Here? What is he going to do? Why is he here?
“Yeah, that’s my dad. I didn’t even know he was in the country,” I said under my breath as we walked over to this man.
I could immediately smell the alcohol on him.
“Rona, you look so beautiful. You’ve grown into such a beautiful young woman,” he said softly before turning and limping away. I watched him walk away and at each step he took, I wished it could all be different.
“So, uh, it’s been a bit hard for you lately, huh?” he asked nervously.
I clenched my teeth in anger, my whole body becoming stiff, “dad, yeah it’s been hard. You know exactly why it’s been hard.”
I surveyed my friend’s room that I had gotten so used to that year. The year my mom got sick and we lost our house. The year my dad remarried.
“Well, I’ll try to do what I can to help,” his voice was flat and lifeless.
I hung up the phone.
“There’s my girl!” he said with a huge smile on his face. He acted as if he was greeting an old friend from college instead of his daughter. But then, it had been how many years since seeing him last?
We sat at a table together in that small restaurant in Thailand, my missions team leader telling me to call her immediately if I needed anything.
“Dad, I’m so glad I could finally get to see you again. I just want to say that I’m so sorry for…”
I started the speech I had practiced and re-practiced with the Lord. Those years since meeting Him, each day on my knees He would tell me that this day was coming. That I’d be ready for it. That I’m His daughter. That I am whole. That I am strong. That I can love this man with His love.
“I’m sorry for not honoring you these last few years. For not picking up your calls or responding to you. I’m sorry, dad. “
-You prepare a table before me-
“And I want you to know that I met God that semester I studied in Korea.”
-in the presence of my enemies-
“You know, I’m a different person now and all the abuse and pain from when I was a kid, God healed me from it, dad.”
-You anoint my head with oil-
“And I want you to know that I forgive you.”
-my cup overflows-
“I forgive you for all of it. And I want you to live a blessed and happy life.”
-Surely goodness and love will follow me-
“And I want you to know that I love you and always will.”
“Rona, are you there? Hello? Rona are you okay?” my brother’s voice, I could tell he was crying now, asked from across the phone.
“yeah, Will, I’m here. I just, I just hope dad knew before he died that I loved him.”
-all the days of my life-
“Rona,” my brother’s voice grew strong and sure again, “Rona, dad knew you loved him. He definitely knew.”
-and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
This past year was filled with some of the most beautiful moments I’ve had in my life. Moments of such joy and connection interspersed with days when I would wake up with a heart so heavy from a weight that cannot be squeezed into these symbols called words. When the movement of reality in front of me became hazy and only memories of my dad were clear to me. The bus and subway rides full of reliving those moments with my dad, and also with God. It felt as if this year, Jesus walked next to me side-by-side. I don’t know what grieving and mourning are supposed to look like. But I do know one thing, that Jesus walked with me this year. He was there in the smiles and laughter. He was there in the tears and heaviness that no one could see or understand. And He told me that He knows of the valleys and He knows of the mountains. He has told me that I am no orphan, but will dwell in His Father’s house with Him forever.
It’s crazy to think my dad’s been gone for one year now. I wish only that I could share with him all the beautiful things God is doing in my life. I miss you dad and always will. Thank you for being the best father you knew how to be for me. And thank You, Jesus, for being my Good Shepherd.