Some people have a hard time showing, giving and receiving love. Myself and my late father being two of them.
My childhood mainly consisted of many of the ugly things in life. Insecurities. Anxiety. Uncertainty. Fear. Many negatives. It was truly through those times of my youth that shaped me into the man I would end up being. It was through those experiences I became too broken to love. To either give it or receive it.
My father was a man whom I had very little time to spend with. My parents divorced around the time I had turned four. I remember those early years of them splitting and the very few weekend visits I would have with my dad. The trips to the restaurants. The overnight visits to his homes. The trips to his parent’s home. I remember the little things like the coloring books I would always color in as he would leave me with his mother for a few hours on Sundays. The cold orange juice she would always have for me to drink. My grandfather never really had much to say, and he spent most of his time in a little shed working on model cars. He made stationary glider swings, which I understand he actually designed himself. I remember my father taking me to Indian burial grounds. The museum. Church socials with amusement rides and games. Car shows. Going to ice cream parlors. Very specific things that I can clearly still remember.
I suppose it is those few times over the period of several years here and there that make them easy to remember. Those little things were the way he would show me love. But the way that I experienced love within those moments were short and fleeting. Temporary. Not constant like many children experience within a home that was never broken. Not easily remembered as I was growing older.
Between those times of he and my mother being apart, they would get back together for short periods of time. Maybe a year of two, then they would be apart again. It would always end up the way it had been before their divorce: a physically and mentally abusive environment that they would create for themselves. Unfortunately, there was a mentally disturbed kid in the middle of it all, watching it all go down. Hearing all of the hateful words and soaking up all of the destructive behaviors.
As I became a man, I suppose those early years were something that I carried with me. Those memories of my father showing me love were not what I had remembered. I only remembered the harm, because it far outweighed the good times. To this day, I still carry a lot of anger within, and it comes out at the most unexpected times. Throughout my teenage years, twenties and most of my thirties, my scarred heart from all of those years of battling a war that I did not ask for and did not want to participate in had made me into a very guarded and very reclusive man. I would work, go home and spend my evenings consuming the drugs and drinks with my very tight-knit group. My lady friend of nearly a decade, my best friend and a few of their cousins were usually the only ones I would socialize with. We made a great team, a very dysfunctional one, as we were all bringing our own sorrows to a centralized place and numbing the pain with the every night parties. It went on for fifteen or so years. After my best friend died, I became severely depressed and pretty violent. Arguments turned into physical fights. The drinking turned in alcoholism. The pot smoking turned into a daily necessity. An absolute necessity. We would all fight about just about everything under the sun. I was lost, they were lost, but myself and the others had no idea just how lost we truly were. We were so full of things that were doing nothing but covering love with lust.
One day I just picked up a few belongings, shoved them in my car while my fiancé slept, and I left. I had already found an apartment and made preparations. I was getting out of the life. It was time to go. No more fights. No more drug operations taking place in my home. No more of any of it. I made an abrupt decision to change my life. By myself. It was not a hard decision, it was a necessary one. I had to do something else.
The next few years consisted of being single or with a girlfriend here and there. It consisted of skipping around from job to job, hitting rock bottom because of my addictions, having hernia surgery and losing a good paying job, racking up credit card debt, moving back in with my mother and fighting a depression that was really taking its toll on me. A hardcore toll.
Through the help I received from my mother and stepdad and through the grace of God, I got back on my feet. I cried out to the Lord, found a good job, found a wonderful woman and married, got clean, received treatment for my depression and went through many hard but necessary ups and downs with my wife. I know that it was because of my willingness to follow the Lord that everything, good and bad, worked out the way that it did. It allowed me to be sitting here, writing, within a life that I never would have thought I would someday have.
Now that I’ve painted a faint picture of where I have been, and since most can now see how the majority of my life had been destructive, dysfunctional and full of the ugly things, I can tell you just how hard it has been for me to love.
But what is love?
I suppose I could start by saying that love defined, to me, is a feeling of deep affection. In my faith, it is defined as having the heart and mind of Christ. In my family, it is giving, sharing, showing empathy and taking care of them. It is showing my friends how much I care for them by always showing kindness and building them up. Of course, with a little sarcasm thrown in with my closest friends. It is reading His Word and reverently abiding in His wisdom. It is giving more than taking. It is caring about all of mankind and not just the people of my faith. It truly is as Christ said in Matthew 22…
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
It is about letting God do what I am not good at doing.
My life has been very difficult. Outside looking in, one may see that my life compared to another’s may have been a cakewalk, but to me personally, it has been a disaster. It is through the love that I have grown to see not only through my own eyes as I’ve grown in His wisdom, but also through the ways I no longer desire to carry along, that I am now understanding just what many learn far earlier in life. I really try hard to allow the Lord to speak to my broken and beaten heart. I truly do what I can to recognize the old ways and step up to the plate, giving a swing at the new ways. I do my best to live nowhere but in the present moment and to quickly take hold of the things that pull me away from the peace and love of God within. As I am sanctified, fortified and making a conscious effort to remain in the love I have described, the old ways of not recognizing love can be put away. The past can be the past, and the present can be filled with the love that everyone and myself deserve. The progress is slow, and the efforts are gradual, but I know that He is always coordinating this little life of mine for His greater good.
I buried my dad this past Saturday. I didn’t speak to him for the past several years, but I learned from my family that he really did love me. I also learned just how much I really loved him too. Even though he was, and I am not very good at showing, giving and receiving love, Christ remains. He remains within my late father, and He remains in me. It was all within His hands the entire time. Even in our failures to be as He had commanded for us to be, He still gave us unmerited mercy and grace. The Lord has given me a few more days to grow in His love. He gave my dad just the right amount of days for him to make an impression on myself, and the world, through his personal battle with love. Even though my dad wasn’t very good at loving, Christ in him was the love that he left to the world before he passed.
My personal battle was redefined as we placed my dad in the ground yesterday. I saw just how precious life is again. I’ve buried many, but my dad’s passing really spoke in a unique way. I recognized just how limited the time is that we have to spread the love of God to the dying world before reaching our eternal home. I saw the love of Christ within the day of sorrow as I gathered with my family. I saw, showed and gave the love throughout the day as I felt at peace, remembering the good, the Lord’s good, within my dad and within myself.