The First Time I Saw Him Cry

I suppose we have all had the experience of a memory of long ago popping into our minds; at times, apparently for no reason at all.  This happened to me this week.  Suddenly, and for a reason I could not explain, I was seeing in my mind’s eye the first time I ever saw my father cry.

I was 11 years old.  My Dad was 32. He was in his air force uniform with a duffel bag at his feet.  As he hugged my mom and then me and my sister, he stood back and that’s when I saw the tears glistening in his eyes.  I had never seen him cry before.  He made no apology for crying.  He didn’t even try to wipe the tears away.  Instead, he hugged each of us one more time and then he left.  I thought with my 11 year old understanding, that the tears were because he was saying goodbye for a while.  Now, with adult comprehension, I know the tears were for so much more.

He was leaving to serve the first of two tours of duty in Vietnam.  He first served in Danang and then TanSonNhut.  He was  there during the Tet offensive. He was wounded on an air field when a bomb destroyed the plane he was on, causing him to fall thirty feet to the tarmac. He had to lay on the airstrip for several hours while crossfire whizzed over his body.  He dare not lift his head for fear he would be shot for sure.  Once I asked him, years after the war, “Dad, did anyone you knew ever get killed while you were there in Vietnam?”  His answer, “Everyday,” left me speechless.

As I reflect upon the first time I saw him cry, I can now, with better knowledge of the situation, guess that they were for more than a goodbye.  He must have looked at our faces, cherished the way we felt in his arms, knowing that it could be the last time he would ever see us on earth.  He knew he was going to war.  He knew what was happening there.  He was in a situation in which there was no way out.  He was proud to serve his country, but the cost could be the greatest he could give.

Perhaps he also imagined the pain his death would bring to his young wife of 28 and to his daughters of 11 and 7.  He must have felt the weight of agony with the very thought, but there was nothing he could do about that either.  He could only let the tears come in his grief, but I know, too, he held on to prayer which was his connection to the heavenly places.  My father knew that his heavenly Father would bring us all through whatever the future would give.

As I have remembered this week, the first time I saw my father cry, a verse in Psalm 56:8 comes to mind: “You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected all my tears in Your bottle.  You have recorded each one in Your book.”  That’s such a beautiful and comforting picture.  You see, while you and I can share our grief with another, receiving comfort from those close to us; the fact remains, the only One who can truly know what we feel is Jesus Himself.

Isaiah 53:3-4 tells us that Jesus was, “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief…it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down.”  Isn’t that absolutely beautiful?  He knows the deepest places within us where pain crushes and grief tears us apart inside, perhaps causing such sorrow that we sense a loss of purpose; we become void of all hope.

If you are hurting today, if you feel no one truly understands, then please be reminded   that Jesus cares so much for you.  He treasures your every tear, holding them as a reminder, not for Himself because He never forgets, but to remind each of us that He loves us deeply.  He will take our pain and He will comfort us, giving us fresh hope and purpose for tomorrow no matter what the future may bring.

He really is our everything to get us through anything.

Surprised By Grief

It came with no warning.  There I was enjoying the day with friends.  I was sitting in the front seat of the car, passenger side, laughing and talking, enjoying the beautiful scenery of the rugged seascape of Wales.  Seagulls were floating, wings outstretched on the thermals of the blustery day.  The white capped swells of the ocean rushed to meet the shore, crashing in splendor, each wave gliding, leaving white foam etching patterns on the sand.  Kite surfers happily battled the elements, dog walkers tossed frisbees and balls to their tail wagging, canine friends, and children undeterred by the weather, licked ice-cream cones.  It was a perfect day.

I could feel the smile stretched on my lips as I gazed across this wonderful scene just below the craggy cliff tops.  The radio was on and we were singing along with the old songs of yesteryear.  I felt young again with the songs playing from my youth.  We sang loudly.  I knew every word from one song after another.  Then it happened.  A song began, and with just one line sung, a pain, deep and unexpected, struck the chords of my memory.

In only a moment I was transported to a time past, sitting next to my father.  Tears shot to my eyes, filling them, threatening to spill over my eyelids.  I turned my head to gaze out the window, hoping my companions would not see.  This was a very private moment and I wanted to share it with no one.  What had happened, I asked myself?  What a total surprise; an unwanted surprise!  But wait; no, it was not unwanted.  It was painful, but there was beauty in it, too.

As my thoughts raced to bring some explanation, I came to an understanding:  While the pain reminded me of what I had lost, the memory itself reminded me of the joy of what I once had with my father, and of what I would have again.  After all, the promise of life after death, a continuance of living with our loved ones in Christ, is the secure and comforting hope of every child of God.

The song on the radio continued, but with each verse, watching my father in my mind’s eye, the tears disappeared, and a smile, once again, came to me.  I was thankful to have experienced this beautiful pain.  It reminded me of the joy of love; love that knows no end.  Yes, it really was a perfect day.

“You keep track of all my sorrow.  You have collected all my tears in Your bottle.  You have recorded each one in your book.”  Psalm 56:8