Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beautifully Normal

Here's #3 on our list of Top Ten LifeNotes of 2008, "Beautifully Normal." My father was preceded in passing on to Jesus by mother, who, if life is a race to see Jesus, beat my father by a nose. By I doubt she's gloating about it. Well, maybe just a little.

"Beautifully Normal" is about life and mourning and how things play out from here. I hope you enjoy it.


While tapping my foot to some oldie-but-goodie tune in my head yesterday, I reached for my phone. Holding it in my hand, I was suddenly shrink-wrapped and frozen by a shocking realization: I can't call my dad. He won't answer. He's not there.

For a moment I couldn't breathe, but warm saline filled my eyes and seemed to jump-start my mind and mouth. "How's my dad?" I stammered. "Jesus, how's my daddy?" While the Spirit filled me with rest and peace in the moment, still yesterday was more about missing my dad than celebrating him. So far I've had both.

As I begin again to write (you may have noticed a lack of communication lately), I'm sure the longings and loves connected to my father will well up from my heart and spill out on paper--well, cyber paper anyway. I hope you don't mind, because that's a lot of how writing is for me, a sort of lowering of the bucket into the well of my heart. What I find is really good, but there's effort and hope and fear and thirst involved, so the process is not always easy.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions, particularly during this season of my life. It's often difficult or awkward to be around people who are grieving or sad or longing because we want them to be, well, normal. But you probably know that that's the game no matter how you play it. Normal is a place you visit on the way to somewhere else.

My daughters are figuring it out, too.

After yesterday afternoon's frustrated phone incident, my family and I were lying around together doing something that didn't revolve around a funeral. What a change. What a relief. In full command of the remote control, I was flipping back and forth between the World Series and a movie I remember liking very much, Driving Miss Daisy. Naturally, my daughters didn't seem to value how important a 3-2 game in the eighth inning was, and I soon knuckled under to, "Da-a-aad! Can't we watch the movie?"

It wasn't long before I was driving Miss Daisy. The grumpy senior citizen (Jessica Tandy) chauffeured by the younger servant (Morgan Freeman) in the movie became my father and me. As their relationship progressed and deepened from boss and employee, superior and subordinate, to friendship and family, trust and reliance, so I saw that my relationship with my father had too. And the last scene got me. Abilities failing, the once rigid and standoffish elderly lady shows she has utterly accepted the servant when, warmly smiling, she allows him to feed her. He serves her with grace and kindness—he wants to—when he could easily be doing something else.

As I teared up, one of my daughters noticed and began making jokes to rescue her struggling father. With all the gentleness and care that were welling from my heart, I said, "It's okay. It's alright. I love my dad and he loves me, and this reminds me." She understood, and it was one of those great moments time will not erase.

In an otherwise abnormal life, it was beautifully normal.


  1. Anonymous10:15 AM

    Ahhhh, the warm saline is filling my eyes as I read your LifeNote. It was so touching. I hope your revelling in the love of the many who care for you, but especially your three girls. We're praying for the Harris Family. We love you! And thank you for sharing your heart with us us month after month, week after week. Keep 'em coming.

  2. Anonymous10:16 AM

    Ralph, I know I don't know you too well... but could you please pray for my husband and spread it to whomever you think might be willing to pray for him. He was in a terrible accident a few weeks ago. Here is the story:


  3. Anonymous3:39 PM

    Hi Ralph…so sorry to hear about your dad (and mom). This must be a tough time for you and your family. I imagine you are happy they are with Jesus, but it sucks to be down here. I’ll be praying for you all…


  4. Anonymous7:56 PM

    Oh, Ralph, I am so sorry for your loss of now, both your parents, who are obviously in a much better place and, once again, with each other. It shouldn't be too much longer that we will all be in that better place as well. Your blogs were so touching. God really gave you such a gift for writing and conveying your feelings as if we were there with you.

    My prayers are with you and your family.

    God bless,

  5. Anonymous7:57 PM

    I haven't yet had a parent die, (I can't fathom) but I have lost grandparents the past few years. It's funny how those little moments get me worse than the big ones. I didn't really cry at my grandaddy's funeral, but one day I was visiting grandma and he wasn't where he was supposed to be. He was always in his chair with his thermos of sweet tea and would say "hey, baby" whenever I came in and I would give him a hug. It was then that I realized how much I missed him. I hope this isn't too sad a thing to talk about to you just now.
    It is a beautiful thing that your family is so close both here and in eternity. You are very blessed.


  6. Anonymous10:00 PM

    Great! Liked the “Driving Miss Daisy” bit….

  7. Anonymous10:02 PM

    Hello Ralph,

    Just got your Life Notes newsletter, about the news of your Father. It just seems like a few weeks ago that you were telling us about your mother and her ailments.

    May the Lord bless you and give you peace as you wrestle with this loss. They say that we men grow up upon the death of our fathers. So, I would expect there will be some growth in your life, which will be of major benefit to your family as well as to others.

    God's best,


  8. Anonymous10:03 PM

    Hi Ralph,

    I read your words about your father on your website. What a man! What a privilege you had to be raised by such parents. I cried as I read your words. I am so sorry for your pain but so overjoyed that you had such love in your life. No wonder you are able to love the way you do. I have always felt very loved by you as a brother. You are very special to me. I am so glad you married my special friend, Sarah. I wouldn't have wanted anyone else for her or you.

    I will be praying for you. I love you very much, Ralph. You are a brother to me.


  9. Anonymous9:18 PM

    Dear Ralph,
    I'm really sorry to hear about your dad ... and your mom. I'm not sure how I missed the message about your mom ... Her passing seems to have happened while we were on furlough in the States, I guess. I'm really sorry that I missed such a mammoth moment in your life. I really do care. I can't imagine the whirl wind of emotions and memories amid trying to keep everyone and everything afloat while you pass through such a time that doesn't really allow you to "go on."
    I'll be sure to let the kids and Erin know at breakfast tomorrow and we'll remember you together with the great affection we have for you.
    I really enjoy your mailings and usually save them until I have time to really read through them. Tonight was one of those times.
    God bless you Ralph and may he heap extra grace on you as you experience more of those “shrink wrap” moments of those sobering hard-to-wrap-your-head-around realizations. I’m glad that they are both better off than we think or have the capacity to even imagine.
    Big, long, hard, virtual hug to you Ralph.

  10. Anonymous6:33 PM

    Ralph, you have such a special way of describing what is in your heart! I was glad to hear that you are coming to Atlanta!

    Tracy Sims