Sermon: It is Hard to Say Goodbye

Saying Goodbye is essential to our walk with Christ. It is essential in our relationships with each other. And, is essential in our own growth as living, loving, spirit-filled human beings.

We all say goodbye in many ways and in many different settings: the death of a loved one; the loss of a job or a retirement; College Graduation; the birth of our first child; the end of a relationship. All of these mark the end of one chapter in our lives and the start of another.

Saying “Goodbye” recognizes that something we value, something that is essential to who we are right now, is ending.

Most of us have had to say “Goodbye” to loved ones who died. And someday, those we love will say Goodbye to us when we die. With death, all that we are slips beyond human grasp. All that is left of us here in this world are the memories of those who knew us – good memories and bad; memories that those who love us will carry with them as they move forward into their own future.

Death means saying goodbye to those we love.

The loss of a job or a retirement is another way of saying goodbye: it marks the end of a way of life or a career. We must say goodbye to the friendships and the community and sense of self that are all wrapped up with that position. We are no longer a teacher, or a manager, or a police officer, or a writer – or a preacher. Part of our identity dies, and will never come back again in exactly the same way.

Leaving a career means saying goodbye to a big part of how we see ourselves, and what defines our place in this world.

College Graduation is another way of saying goodbye. …Yes! School is done! But what now? Get a job?? Be responsible?? Rent an apartment and get a car??? OMG, I have to “adult” now??!!  …Nah, I’ll just move back in with my parents!

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Lost But Not Forgotten

This image is of my daughter taking a bow after dancing to the song “I Will Follow Him” in a talent show at our church in October of 1995.  I pulled this from one frame of a shaky and out of focus video of the performance, shot by a very poor videographer (me), using a video camera that was old and tired even then. The video’s quality has not been helped by its later conversion from VHS to DVD and then (recently) to MP4.

Despite the faded and poor quality imagery, my memory of her performance that day is sharp and clear, and always will be.   She was only six years old at the time.  She selected the song by herself and used what she’d learned in her Ballet lessons to choreograph the dance on her own.  And, she selected her outfit for the performance – a red “twirly hoop dress” – all by herself, too.

She did a fabulous job, and kept her composure even when an excited toddler ran on to the stage during the dance.  The congregation let her know their appreciation with a rousing ovation and cheers.  She did great.  I was a very, very proud father that day.

But, it is also a memory tinged with sadness.  A few years later, our relationship was destroyed in the death of my first marriage: I was shut out of her life without any choice or voice in the matter, and know almost nothing of her life since.  I doubt that this rupture will ever be healed.

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Remembering Carrie Fisher

carrie-new-hi-resIt was the Spring of 2002; and Lucasfilm was hosting “Star Wars Celebration II” at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.  My [then] wife, daughter and I travelled there in our camper: joining 75,000 or so other people to celebrate all things Star Wars, and especially the upcoming release of Star Wars “Attack of the Clones.”

My 13 year old daughter was a huge fan, and had been preparing for this trip ever since we first heard about it, developing her “Jedi Jaina” character: purple and black hair; lavender costume, purple light saber.  She’d written a script and put together a sound track as the background for a solo performance at the talent show that would be part of the convention’s many events, and hosted by Anthony Daniels. (I was the voice of Yoda for her sound track: the worst Yoda voice-over ever!)  Even though she did not win the talent show contest, her pluckiness and costume were a huge hit.  And, she got to give Mr. Daniels a big hug in front of about 5,000 people.  I was so proud of her: her dreams had come true.

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Happy Birthday My Sweet Daughter

I came across this poem the other day, which I wrote and emailed to my daughter when I was on a business trip about 15 years ago.  The sentiments expressed within it are just as true and strongly felt now as they were then.  I thought that you, my readers, would appreciate it….

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The Pain of Father’s Day

Fathers Day is a day that is both joyful and painful for me, as it is for many.

AJCardFathersDay2015Father’s Day is meant to be a happy time, and so it is for me – in part: a time where my wife and son conspire to present Daddy with some nice little momento, usually (at this point) a card with artwork, to tell Daddy how much he is loved by his youngest child.  And I love it: he and I do the same thing for Mom on Mother’s Day.  All such things speak of the love and care that is within this home and our life.  It also speaks of the importance we attach to family, and modeling for our son that it is important to tell those closest to us how much we love them, in many ways, all the time.

Unfortunately, Father’s Day is also a day of sadness for me, as it is for many.  In my case, it is a stark and painful reminder of the long separation between my daughter (who is now 26 years old) and myself.  July 12th of this summer will mark ten years since the last time I spoke to her, or had any idea of how her life was going, where she was living, or anything else about her.

Now, I could dwell on the events surrounding my divorce from my first wife, which began with our separation on July 10th of that year (2005), but that would be doing her a disservice, since she is not here to defend herself.  So, I will merely say that my separation from our daughter is the outcome of a great deal of dysfunction in that relationship, magnified by a legal system that grants custody to the mother as the default, on the assumption that doing so is in the best interest of the child; and made worse in turn through my own ignorance of how to navigate that same system.

Now, assuming the mother (and children) are the ones who need more (and immediate) protection when accusations of abuse are being made is not a bad thing.  In fact, it should be that way, since they are (generally) much more likely to be the ones at risk in a dysfunctional relationship.

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Remembering My Daughter

My daughter in late 2004

February 12th is both a happy and a sad day for me, happy in that it is the day I celebrate the birth of my daughter, but sad in remembering that our relationship has been sundered for well over 7-1/2 years now.  She has now been lost to me for nearly a third of her life.

Every parent constantly worries about their child – are they healthy, will they succeed in school, can they make the team…  I do too, but sadly, there is no feedback.  I have no way of knowing anything about the state of my daughter – where she is, what she’s doing, whether she’s healthy, happy, sad … anything.  All I know is that for some reason, a couple days after her mother and I split, all communication stopped.

Without communication, there cannot be relationship.  Without communication, there cannot be reconciliation.  Without communication, there cannot be healing.  And, in my case, without communication, I do not even know what caused this break, nor what I can do to resolve it.  It is a position of powerlessness.

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