Be lit.

5.24.2022

Dear dad,

Right now I kind of feel like a candle getting close to being burned up. You know when you light it for the last time hoping you can get at least an hour or maybe just minutes more of the fragrant aroma. I’m there. And I don’t know whether I’ll last for minutes or hours. I don’t know if I want to last for minutes or hours. Part of me feels I have given all there is in me to give. Another part says there is still more to do. I think both are true. The flame may be failing but the light lingers. How though? How can there be enough? How can I be enough? I had no idea these two years in Denmark would be as full as they were. No way I would have said in the beginning I would have enough in me for all that was coming. If someone would have told me I would play Barcelona and Arsenal in my pro career, I would have politely thanked them for the flattery but dismissed the reality of something of such high, HIGH, hopes. “I’m not good enough to play Barcelona or Arsenal.” On paper, this is just the truth. But not everything works on paper. If someone would have told me leaving Denmark would mean leaving a home, people I love, and saying some of the hardest good-byes I have ever experienced, I would have seriously doubted they were talking about me. “I don’t have that kind of emotional depth. I don’t have it in me to love so much and so hard. I’m not loving or social enough to form such deep relationships using a language I can speak let alone one I feel a fool trying to speak.”

I’m glad I didn’t know. Because the measuring stick I use for myself would have told me there is no way. For any of that to happen. On the pitch or off. The good news is things don’t work according to my measuring stick. The bad news is we often do this to ourselves. Measure up what we think we can do against what is presented to us. Or what we dream about. We forget about hope. Or maybe we are scared of it. We all have hopes and desires that are maybe a bit daring. A bit dangerous. They might welcome difficulties or disappointments. And this thought often causes us to adopt tamed hopes. Safe hopes. But is there such thing really?  

Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. [Romans 8:24-25]

Hope doesn’t answer to “how.” It answers to “who.”

Part of my favorite nighttime routine is lighting a candle before I go to bed and either reading or praying or honestly just watching the flame dance to its silent song. I know this isn’t the best idea as I have often fallen asleep to then startle awake and blow out the flame. But there is something so comforting about the light. You know I was that kid with the night light all growing up. Still am to a certain extent really. I have these cool soft lights I turn on while I sleep even now. Not quite the glow-in-the-dark ceiling solar system I had in my room when I was young but definitely still a calming vibe. Most nights this time of the year in Denmark the sky is clear, so I can see the real stars through my window. Perks of living in the far green country.

I try to take it slow with special candles. Those holding some other significance besides a favorite scent. Don’t let them burn too long at once. What ends up happening though is the good old “time flies when you’re having fun.” Why do the best candles seem to burn up quicker than the rest? Similarly, when you don’t want time to move fast, it does. As sad as it can be, I believe this is a good thing. The best candles seem to burn faster, and the best times don’t ever seem to last long enough because we get lost in them. We let ourselves go. We lose ourselves in the moments. Time may seem short, but life is full. We receive all that it has to give. The highs and the lows. The joys and disappointments.

“I tend to not let myself actually hope for what I want and what I desire out of a fear of being more hurt when it doesn’t happen because I had gotten my hopes up. But is being disappointed actually bad? Is it a bad thing to feel that pain and that hurt? Or have we just taught ourselves that our emotions are bad and something to shut down? Maybe the truth is that our emotions are good—gifts from God—even when they can hurt. Maybe we are denying our heart’s their full capacity to feel and embrace the fullness of life in our attempt to avoid pain.”

[Gracie Muraski, BIS]

As painful as it can be to have high hopes, I would rather live a life full of hope than fear of disappointment. Disappointment is a part of life just as time is. Maybe the truth is the boundaries of time are actually good. We can’t control time, but this doesn’t mean it’s bad. The end of the candle is sad, but the aroma was abundant for every moment it lasted. And I think it would be less so if it just lasted forever. If there was no end. Maybe we are able to receive the fullness of time when we recognize there ought to be an end. There has to be. The wax will run out eventually and the question will be, “Did I enjoy all the smells of Parsley Lime? Did I take in all of the moments I was given?”

When you are forced into an end, have no choice but to say good-bye, anything else can seem better. When you are taken off guard, have expectations shattered, anything else can seem better. One moment flips your life upside down, and the long hard road of denial and acceptance begins. After my dad died, I felt like I was living in an alternate reality. Physically, I may have been there. My body was in the same space and functioned the same. But when it came to interacting with people, for a long time, I was split in two. I was watching myself do the things I had always done. I watched myself lie about being okay to people who cared about me. I watched myself go to class, study, practice. I watched myself meet with the psychologist and try to feel sad because I was supposed to when really I couldn’t feel anything at all. And that scared me. I was scared to admit to myself and anyone else I was numb because surely it meant I didn’t love my dad. How could I not feel anything after the death of my father? After that morning my dorm RAs found me and told me my mom was on the phone and through tears, she could barely choke out the crushing reality a moment brought, “Dad is dead.”

I remember wanting to drop the phone and immediately run away. Away from these people who didn’t really know me or know my dad but were now immersed in one of the most intimate and traumatic moments of my life. I think this is when my life split into a movie. My body didn’t run but my soul did. Everyone was looking at me. Watching me to see…to see what? Anything? Something? The old Lauren? I was watching me too, and I was empty.

I had no choice but to say good-bye to my dad. I just couldn’t do it for a long time. I couldn’t accept time had run out. The flame burned out way before I expected it to. I hid within myself to avoid the reality. Acceptance meant I was okay. That I wasn’t in pain any longer. That I was “back to normal.” I’ve since learned this just isn’t true. Acceptance means the painful moments will still come and there is no going back to before. Acceptance is daring in the difficulties. Daring to still hope. To still love. Daring to still care. To still have faith.

The brook near where Elijah was hiding ran dry,
because no rain had fallen in the land.
So the LORD said to Elijah:
“Move on to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there.
I have designated a widow there to provide for you.”
He left and went to Zarephath.
As he arrived at the entrance of the city,
a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her,
“Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.”
She left to get it, and he called out after her,
“Please bring along a bit of bread.”
She answered, “As the LORD, your God, lives,
I have nothing baked;
there is only a handful of flour in my jar
and a little oil in my jug.
Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks,
to go in and prepare something for myself and my son;
when we have eaten it, we shall die.”
Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid.
Go and do as you propose.
But first make me a little cake and bring it to me.
Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son.
For the LORD, the God of Israel, says,
‘The jar of flour shall not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”
She left and did as Elijah had said.
She was able to eat for a year, and Elijah and her son as well;
the jar of flour did not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
as the LORD had foretold through Elijah. [1 Kings 17:7-16]

This good-bye is my choice. Leaving Denmark at this time is my decision. I didn’t realize the road of denial and acceptance was again mine to travel. I thought choosing meant acceptance on the front end, not on the back end. Turns out accepting the decision happens before and after. At least it has for me. I embraced it. Embraced what was coming after playing professional football abroad and returning home to Chicago. Looked forward to it and still do, but not without the toil. Or the denial. Or the anger. Anger at myself for all the hard good-byes. Because it wasn’t just one. I wasn’t just saying good-bye to playing football at a high level, but even more difficult, the people football brought me to. Relationships I cherish dearly. Maybe it isn’t a true good-bye for some but a see you later. Or maybe it really is a good-bye. The thing is only time will tell. Time is up for now. The pain is raw but so is the beauty. I would rather be in pain from love than indifference from fear. Rather feel deeply the fullness of life. Burn up the candle and smell all the smells. I’ll be disappointed when they’re gone because of how amazing the time was but know the disappointment will soon give way to stronger things, joy and hope. Joy from living the moments so fully they will always be a part of me and hope there are more to come. More flour and oil. The widow trusted Elijah. Trusted the Lord would provide when she had nothing left. When her candle was almost spent. And He did.

“Dear friends, as I conclude, I would like to add one more thought about light and illumination. On Easter night, the night of the new creation, the Church presents the mystery of light using a unique and very humble symbol: the Paschal candle. This is a light that lives from sacrifice. The candle shines inasmuch as it is burnt up. It gives light, inasmuch as it gives itself. Thus the Church presents most beautifully the paschal mystery of Christ, who gives himself and so bestows the great light. Secondly, we should remember that the light of the candle is a fire. Fire is the power that shapes the world, the force of transformation. And fire gives warmth. Here too the mystery of Christ is made newly visible. Christ, the light, is fire, flame, burning up evil and so reshaping both the world and ourselves. “Whoever is close to me is close to the fire,” as Jesus is reported by Origen to have said. And this fire is both heat and light: not a cold light, but one through which God’s warmth and goodness reach down to us.”

[Pope Benedict XVI, Easter Vigil 2012]

My candle here in Denmark is almost spent. The flame is almost burned out. But the silent song continues. The light will remain because it is alive in the people I have come to know and love. The Light from the source of Life will never run out.  Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to hope. To be seen. To live your life so deeply the pain of good-byes is only the consequence of loves. To let your light shine without the fear of burning up. He gives a new candle to burn. A new time to be wick’d. To be lit.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5: 14-16]

Amen, Amen.

I love you dad,

Lauren

larry_saj6Author

"Surely man at his best is a mere breath." -King David I am a mere breath God has graciously gifted to be His daughter first, a daughter and sister, a friend, an athlete, a writer, a coach. I hope to be a full-time professional soccer player, write a book or two, be a lifelong learner, work for a sports and faith ministry, coach college soccer, have a family and maybe even pick up the guitar. My dad died when I was a sophomore in college. Writing became especially important to me after his death, helping me grieve and heal. I find writing letters to him has helped me process deep emotions and pain I didn't really know what to do with. My hope is the letters will share experiences that speak to and shine a light into the lives and stories of others in some way.

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