November 20, 2014 by Renee Griffin
On the front row of a small church, I sat on a creaky, wooden pew hunched over with my eyes closed. I squeezed my eyelids tight in a feeble attempt to stop the tears. A band-aid against an exposed artery would have had a better shot of stopping the flow than my silly tries to pause the flood. I was a wreck, and my tears demonstrated the emotional bleeding in my heart. It was pointless to try to stop my cries. I really didn’t want to break down in front of my children or my parents, but I couldn’t stop the emotional response causing my body to shake and sob.
The finality of the moment slammed against me like the relentless tide.
My birthfather was gone.
This was the day we would lay him to rest.
My family sat on the pew beside me. This wasn’t an easy place for my daddy to be. He’d never met my birthfather. Sometimes, adoption reunion stories are not dreams come true for all the players.
Daddy was there only out of pure love for me.
I know that.
That’s what family does; they show up when they don’t want to, and share the pain with you even when it causes them pain, too.
My precious grandmother sat motionless in her wheelchair beside our pew. She and I represented the immediate family. We were two women together by a miracle who, by the grace of God, had found each other just in time. Who, but God, could have known a year before this day that we’d be here? Without her son, she had no immediate family members left.
Precious Father, Creator of all time, You are always on time.
The church we were in had become a big part of my birthfather’s life during his adult years. From what I know, he wasn’t raised in church. At some point, he gave his heart to Jesus. I wish I’d asked him about the specifics, but we ran out of earthly time.
All that really matters is he did.
We talked about his faith in Jesus Christ many times. In his personal belongings, I found Bible studies and journals full of evidence of his spiritual growth. He wasn’t perfect, but he was saved by grace. He would’ve told you that himself. He was honest-brutally honest at times.
He had requested to be cremated at the time of death. Before this day, I had never been to a funeral without a body. In the absence of a casket, I needed something tangible to be part of the service. I decided upon a picture of him I’d seen in the house. There was a big photo of him hanging on the wall surrounded with an antique ornate frame painted gold. I am pretty sure it was his favorite picture of himself or else it wouldn’t have been on the wall. It made quite a display perched on a giant easel in the front of the church beside the podium.
I stared at his picture during the service.
His hair was long, and the collared shirt he was wearing was unbuttoned in a hip, groovy, kinda way. Everything about the picture said “rebel” including the deep gaze of his eyes.
The man looking back at me inside the glossy rectangle was a much younger, wilder version of the black & white-haired old gentleman I knew.
The service was simple just like he would have wanted.
The musician strummed a guitar and sang “Amazing Grace.”
The preacher said a few words.
I cried my way through it all.
Some moments in life produce an abundance of tears. I loved him so much.
After the service was over, I mentioned the giant photograph to my family. I was curious about what daddy thought of the picture of his daughter’s birthfather. My daddy had never met my birthfather nor seen a picture of him. He was a bit confused at first. Daddy said he’d thought the picture was Jesus.
Like the graveside scene in “Steel Magnolias”, one of my favorite movies, my crying turned to laughter.
I laughed so hard.
Undoubtedly, my birthfather was in heaven doubled over laughing,too.
Surely, it was the first time anybody had mistaken him for Jesus. The smile splashing across my face reached up to the sky. Yes, Lord Jesus, he does look like you now. He’s looking at You, Father.
After the service, we drove to the next little town where his daddy was buried on the family plot. I’d felt the curious stares of the crowd coming into the church, but it was a bit more intense at the graveside when I walked up to the group gathered there wearing my birthfather’s black cowboy hat.
The eyes of the strangers around me were taken aback by the sight of me in his hat. Most had heard about me, but had never seen me. With his hat on, my identity as his biological daughter was definite.
It had seemed a little crazy to the hubs that I planned to wear my birthfather’s hat at the graveside. (I’m sure he wasn’t alone among my family members).
No matter what anybody thought, it seemed perfect to me.
I know all the way to my core that my birthfather approved.
You see, that hat was on his head the day we met. We stood in his bathroom looking at ourselves wearing black cowboy hats and celebrated the miracle in our reflection. It was beautiful.
Wearing the hat was a daughter’s tribute to a man she loved.
Our time was short on this ball of dust.
While it would be easy to get bitter over the limited time we had together, I choose to focus on the moments of unlimited love and thank God for them.
I’m thankful for time with a birthfather who said exactly what he meant. (His baby girl kinda, sorta has the same disease. Those who know me well know better than to ask me questions they don’t really want answered.) We’d only talked a few times on the phone when he told me he loved me. It was weird at first. One part of my heart was touched and the other part scrunched up its eyebrows and glared.
I barely know you, stranger.
Oh, how glad I am now that he didn’t hold back.
If he felt it, he spoke it. He didn’t wait on a perfect moment. He was quick to say he was sorry, and he was gut-level honest about the mistakes he made in life.
I’m thankful that he opened his life to me. He was a man all alone in this world who opened his heart all the way to me and my family.
I’m thankful I got time to see how wild and crazy and smart he was.
I’m thankful I got to hear his voice.
Raspy, deep tones of his voice calling “baby girl” still linger.
I’m thankful I got to see his love of music. He lived and breathed music. From time to time, I pull out his guitar, Maria, just to strum across the strings. Maybe one day I will learn to play. He wrote many songs including mine, Eyes of a Stranger. One day you’ll hear it on the radio. (Anybody know Danny Gokey? If so, I need his number. His voice would be ah-mazing.)
I’m thankful that he took every opportunity to live and give generously. For the one and only Christmas we had together, he gave me a ring. In our many conversations, he’d asked me every question he could think of about my likes and dislikes. He knew my favorite colored stone was the emerald. The ring he gave me was emerald & diamond ring. He said it was a little late, but it would’ve been the ring he’d have given me on my sixteenth birthday had he known me then. I kept touching the ring during the service thinking about life & death.
We’d learned as much as we could in the time that we had.
You never know how much time you will have with the ones you love.
The list of moments and memories I am thankful for could go on and on, but before I start sounding too “Polly-anna-ish”, please know that I choose be thankful.
Thankfulness is a choice.
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Seasons of pain and heartbreak sure do make it hard to be thankful.
I don’t make this choice all the time.
The scriptures say to give thanks. To give thanks means I have to offer thanks.
I must be willing.
Giving thanks in all circumstances is God’s will for me. It’s a form of surrender to a Holy, Perfect God who willingly offered His Son to die on a cruel cross for my sin. Jesus Christ gave His life as a sacrifice for me.
How can I not thank Him for the giving me the gift of time with my birthfather no matter how short?
Thank You, Jesus, for sending me back home before You called my birthfather home to heaven.