In Honor of Father’s Day… My Dad planted so much joy, creativity, adventure, and determination into my childhood. I’m yielding a harvest of a lifetime… with horizons still calling. Thank you, Dad, I’m forever grateful. -Heidi L. Paulec
… the memories sneak into the present from time to time, and I remember well.
Funny thing about growing up as an only child on a farm, I spent most daylight hours outside alone…
My parents, still hopeful siblings might come (although biological ones never did, foster ones did stop in here and there in later days), often make play dates with cousins to help facilitate socialization. However, today is not one of those days.
This particularly ordinary day dawns with chores calling. Dad’s working around the homestead as baking occupies Mom in the kitchen. On such occasions, they send me outside after eating a hot homemade breakfast (usually bacon and eggs, pancakes or oatmeal served with milk and orange or grape juice) until cold-cut lunch (on homemade bread) is served. Then outside again until the evening cool beckons more clothes or day light disappears ~ whichever comes first.
While I don’t recall Dad’s full agenda for this day, I can still see him motioning to me his four-year-old feisty princess. Wearing his worn work jeans, leather belt with buckle, and his dusty creased cowboy boots, he waves his glove bidding me to come.
My initial itinerary, to board the family boat parked next to the fence presently sunning canvas cover free -demanding I sail beyond the plowed horizon, immediately clears at my Dad’s invitation. Pretend play can wait. Dad needs a helper. Skipping to him as fast as my knobby-knees will carry me, I notice the old wooden ladder propped up against the west side of the barn.
“Heidi, climb on up!” He says as he points up the ladder. Now this is not the first time I’ve seen a ladder or even climbed one as we often check for damaged shingles after hail storms. But, the ladder isn’t resting against the side of the single-story ranch house. Something within me stirs.
“How far are we gonna go, Dad?” Before he can answer, I grab on to begin the climb.
“All the way!” He replies holding the ladder sturdy then follows me.
Hand-over-hand, step-by-step, rung-by-rung, I reach the top of the ladder only to discover just how much higher this old barn towers over the land. The sides float, only slightly higher than the house, while the center section seems to flirt with the clouds and winds.
As my feet propel the rungs under foot, my brow tightens, “Um, Dad, are you sure we can go to the top? Maybe just a little way up?”
His reply, “Ah, come on! You can do it! I am right here.”
Despite his reassurance, hesitation mounts within me as I side-step off the ladder onto the green shingles of the old barn. I notice the Wyoming breeze pressing against my face and chest as I attempt to stand up right. Peering to my left, I see the freshly plowed field. Slowly, apprehensively, I squint to the right where the house squats.
As Dad dismounts, he says, “Go on up, Heidi.” As my childish legs slowly lead the way, the whisper inside grows louder. “Ok, I’ll venture to the middle of this hill, but I’m NOT climbing to the top!” Seriously, the steepest section looks like playground slide. Surely, such an attempt will result in a slipping disaster like sledding off a cliff.
The hesitation swallows me as we reach the end of this set of shingles. The incline steepens. Walking upright is no longer an option. I entertain a timid contentment. We made it this far. Far enough. For me. But not for my Dad. He embarks on the next section propping himself up like one might push out of a swimming pool. My Dad demonstrates and says, “Take it one steady step at a time. Step with your feet. Steady with your hands. Step. Steady. Step. Steady.” Then, he quickens his pace to the top with ease of mind and lightness in his carriage.
As he smiles down, his tenderness remains. Continually he calls.
“Wait ‘til you see the view from up here, Heidi! Nothing like it!”
The sandy-textured shingles beg my delicate hands to flee. As the doubts, fear, and loneliness linger with resounding clamors, questions race within my mind.
Do I reject his calling? Is avoiding these piercing feelings an option?
How can I control this situation? Where can I hide?
The sun beams down on me in a blink as the clouds continue racing overhead. In a moment of delicate stillness, my response speaks. Step by slow step, trembling…sipping on the breath “How can I doubt my Dad?” He’s calling. Time and again he’s lead me on adventures to overcome my fears. And every time, despite the difficulty, gratefulness overflows. Not because the journey’s easy, but because he leads me to the glory yet to be.
Over a decade later when the blackest clouds, fiercest tsunami of confusion suddenly summon me to the whirl of devastating grief ~ the realization beyond my darkest fears pricks every ounce of my being like a frenzied school of piranha. Dissimilar to joyful biddings, this pirate offers a sinister welcome to me. The brilliant wonder of life spoiled after the suicide of my fellow seventeen year old cousin (“He Stopped Laughing”). He had roamed this land with me. Together we’d gathered a satchel of memories. Together we’d dreamed of growing up. Determined, we’d vowed to make the world a better, fairer place. All suffocated in a moment. I squeeze my eyes shut and hold my breath as the shards of questions berate me. Minutes, days, weeks, months march past. The previously predictable precision vanishes.
The coma of loss tempts me to linger. “Don’t look up! Stay right here. Don’t trust the voice calling you to the spectacular view. Feeling joy will only heighten the depth of pain you’re bound to endure again. Don’t go. Think of the risk. You might slide right off the cliff with the storms that are bound to come…”
Yet, again the mysterious compassion and intervention of the Abba Father beckons me to step off the ladder of my selfish ambition and vain conceit. He calls me, step-by-step, to climb higher listening to His voice. Against the elements of doubt, fear, and loneliness hailing down, some steps seem to glide beneath me while others threaten to devour me. Still others, so mystifying, I cannot recall any details…but teetering, I turn to look. His emboldening words bid my self-will to submit to Him when all within me boils to fight in bitterness or to tuck and hide. Simply, His whisper, beyond the clamor of my own emotions, persuades muscles to respond one at a time. Higher and higher…all while becoming less about the height, but more about the process.
Step. Steady. Step. Steady. Step.
The perspective from the peaks of grief calls me to the Cross. My Savior suffered an agonizing, humiliating death. Difficulty beyond comprehension is elemental to Who He is and Why He Acts as He does. But defeat wilted with His Glorious Resurrection. He Reigns. He composes murals and symphonies to restores beauty from ashes – stroke by stroke and note by note.
…funny thing about growing up, the process reveals I am not alone. While melancholy tones of self-protection track me still, His faithful majesty in the midst of my humanness bids still ~ step by step. “How can I doubt my Dad?” When He calls me into the overwhelming, the uncomfortable or even the mundane, He also mysteriously shines hope for the glory yet to be.
Heidi L. Paulec
August 22, 2010