Sitting in the Helena, Montana, Regional Airport, I have just wrapped up my second “Goodbye Event” of the summer, and I am tired. I am a jumbled mess. I am full of love and full of sorrow, and the two combined have rendered me as a sort of emotional pizza, with everything on it—even anchovies. Nobody likes anchovies.
I delayed saying “Goodbye” to my youngest daughter, Emma, for as long as I could. I even threatened to not conclude her wedding at the end of the ceremony that I officiated. “I don’t want to say ‘Amen’”, I said to Emma and Ben, standing regally in front of me and the audience—not because I had any reservations, but because I knew it was a huge part of the Goodbye Event. I felt like if I did, I would be the guy christening a fancy new ocean liner with a bottle of champagne—“Enjoy your maiden voyage, but I’m not going with you anywhere anymore.”
Full of love and full of sorrow, I somehow said it. And she was gone.
And now it’s Ellen. In the same 24 hours that Emma left me, my wife, Sarah and I learned that Ellen would also be moving. Not to New Zealand, but to Montana which, if it can’t be in her bedroom in my house, is just about as far away. Together, we’ve crammed in movies, peach hunting, carp bombing, car repairs, road trips, fly fishing, grizzly bear avoidance singing, and home furniture shopping. Frankly, if she had asked me to shop with her for some fresh, heather scented wall spackle, I wouldn’t have missed it.
But this morning, I hugged her 817 times and sobbed all over her. She did too, so that seemed about right. And then we said it: “I love you. See you on FaceTime.”
Since then, eight people related to the airport have asked, “How’re you doing?” as a way of greeting. I blubbered my response to the first two: “I’ve just moved my daughter here, and I’m going home without her.” I didn’t even finish what I really wanted to say because I couldn’t. Now I have modified my response to grunts and nods in the attempt to indicate, “I’m fine. Don’t ask anything more. You have been warned.”
Maybe by now you’re thinking, “Geez-Louise, Ralph! Get over it! Buck up, man, and be thankful you’ve had your daughters around for as long as you have. You’ve given them roots, now give them wings!” I don’t blame you, if you are. But one of the greatest treasures I have ever found is how God is with me when I’m a mess—an extra large, everything-that-shouldn’t-be-mixed-up-on-a-pizza, mess. “Nobody’s gonna want to deal with that! Change your mind! Get a new attitude! Re-order your life, Ralph!”
But while there’s certainly a time and a place for that kind of thing, I’m “dealing with this” not by changing my mind, but by directing my messy thoughts and feelings to the Holy Spirit. In my mind, I’ve yelled, “Come on! I hate this! If I have to give them wings, is it wrong if I clip them short—you know, like parakeets? Then they can only fly around my house, but not to freaking New Zealand or stupid Montana!” and “Jesus, I didn’t have kids for this! What were you thinking, hooking me up with that woman, Sarah, who wanted them in the first place?!” and “Bleeeeeeeep! I hate this! What are you going to make out of this, anyway? I don’t care about nice places to visit, I want them near, where YOU put them in the first place, where they’re supposed to be!”
And in the combination of love and sorrow expressed to Him, emotions and thoughts all jumbled up and ugly, the Spirit appears in the mess, and comforts and loves me. He knows that I’m not heartbroken, but that my heart is revealed. He loves that! He knows I’m full, and He’s all about love and sorrow and repairing people leaving each other—for good and for bad reasons, leaving jumbled, emotional pizzas behind.
And—shocker—when I don’t tidy myself up and pull it together, bad stuff doesn’t happen! My mind says it will be bad, but the Spirit is attracted to such neediness. He’s better than anyone or anything in it. And because He has shown Himself to be so good with Ralph, the pizza, I’m going to tell you what I’ve found when your mess emerges from behind the curtains of your attitude. Or bursting out, as it is with me.
He’s not telling me to tidy up—He’s telling me that He is with me. Right here, inside—for the long haul. For what’s to come. For the dad I will be now. Dad at a distance. DAAD.
I’ve got that to look forward to, and He will be with me in all of it, mess and all. I’m on my way home, now. It’ll just be Sarah and me, but I know—I KNOW—we’ll be good because He is with us.
P.S. I made a little slideshow of events beginning in early summer. It's set to a song written for one woman, but frankly, my dreams came true in three.