I am writing this as November 19th is quickly approaching, a date that always seems to come with so many thoughts, memories, and stories that I’ve heard over the years. Thoughts that seem to deepen every year, as I learn more. This year, however has felt very different from previous years. In my 28th year of life, so many reflections have come of my dad who passed away when he was only 28 years old. In the beginning of the year the Lord said to me that He was going to prepare my heart. I truly had no idea what that meant and all that it would entail. As I spent time off of social media for a couple of months out of this year, I began to see a lot of what the Lord was talking to me about. I began to have dreams, dreams that were so real and raw, that I would wake up with a heavy heart for many hurting and stuck in the world of injustice. So, I of course that was it, when I stopped having the dreams, I thought, ok God was preparing my heart for a deeper compassion for those that are still enslaved in the world of injustice. But, that wasn’t all He was preparing my heart for.I remember this one Wednesday I had off, and I was watching this show, and in the show there was a young girl who had phoned into the police, and said she was getting ready to kill the guy who shot her father. Tears immediately began to flow, and my heart felt like it had just dropped to the ground. I cried and cried and don’t think I ever finished watching the show, but I felt like I knew the pain she was in, although it was just a show. God at that moment told me to pray for the guy that shot my father. I did. He didn’t tell me to forgive the guy, because I had already done that. But I began to pray for him, and as I prayed for him, I saw this man balled up in a corner of this dark room crying. As I prayed God said this to me, “I love those that the injustice has been done to, but I still love those that have done the injustice”. I cried even more, because I know God’s love for people and wanting to see them saved far exceeds the love I could ever have for others. At the moment I was praying for this man not because I accepted what he did, but because God loves him and cares about him in a way that I probably never could fully comprehend.
I’ve had many moments like that throughout this year in particular. I would imagine what this man thoughts must’ve been knowing that he killed someone who had three kids and a wife. Around the same time, I would pass this particular hospital, and couldn’t understand why I kept getting angry when I passed it. I asked my mom if it was true that my dad passed away in the ambulance, and that the hospital that we were closest to when he got shot, if it was true that at the time they didn’t take gunshot victims? I never asked my mom this before, because we often times didn’t talk about the details of his death. I was only 4 when he got shot, so I only remember pieces of what I grew up hearing, but didn’t know if it was something I made up in my head or not. My mom confirmed that the hospital we were closest to didn’t take gunshot victims and my dad had to be taken further to MCV, but he died in the ambulance on the way. I had to realize that I didn’t think that was fair, that maybe that was the reason my dad died, if only they had taken gunshot victims, he may still be alive? These are not things that I can’t now change, but I had to deal with the fact that these were thoughts that were truly in my heart and that I had been holding onto.
Another thing that had been in my heart that the Lord began to walk me through was the amount of time the guy got that shot my father. During the time of year my friend’s dad had finally gotten out of prison after being in there for 20 something years, for doing something that wasn’t nearly as bad as the guy that had shot my father who had only gotten 10 years. I never really thought that was justice. I was angry at the system for allowing him to get out in 10 years but keeping my friend’s dad for way longer than that. It just didn’t make sense. But again I never talked about it, and God began to work in my heart and allow me to get through the anger I had against what I felt was injustice.
I kept asking God, why is all of this coming up now, I just couldn’t understand that after 24 years, this year is when all of this came to surface. God began to share with me that, I was very young when my dad passed, and just because I didn’t have much time with him, didn’t mean that I did not feel the loss of my dad, and that it did not impact my heart. You see, many people often think because I was only 4 when he died, that I don’t have much memory of him, and while that may be true to a certain extent, there is still hurt, anger, and grieving that happens. You don’t just get over a loss like that in an instant no matter how old you are or were when it happened. For me, my memory of my dad has always been put together by other peoples’ memories of him and what I’ve heard. Have you ever been doing a puzzle, and you are just missing certain pieces, and you can’t fully see the picture? That’s how my memory of my dad has been, I see portions of it. I remember not getting picked up from school that day he died, I remember walking in the house and seeing my mom crying, I remember the funeral and seeing him lay there with his Redskins jacket on, I remember when he hit me for peeing on myself, I remember him holding me upside down, I remember him stuffing me under the pillows playing with me like I was one of the boys, but those were just a few of the memories I had. The other pieces to the puzzle are from stories I had heard over the years, but even then those began to seem like they were so distant and maybe they weren’t true.
Well over the past couple of months, the Lord gave me more insight into my dad, his life, and even our relationship. I had spent time with a lady that was there the day my dad passed. We began to talk more about that day, and she told me her point of view. She had seen on the news that day that my dad had been shot, she recognized him because of his Redskins jacket. Her parents were our pastors, and she called them. Her and her sister were responsible for getting me and my brothers and keeping us out until we were allowed to come back home to my mom. She told me that it was so difficult to see us laughing and playing, when she knew that my dad had just been shot. She shared her memory of my dad and how he was the coolest guy, that as a youth she always enjoyed being around him, everyone did. I had never heard her side of the story and what that day was like for her and the struggles she had been through before that, or even her memory of my dad. I have known her my whole life and it wasn’t until this year that the Lord allowed me to hear that day from her point of view. Just a day or two after we hung out I was at my mom’s and we began looking at old pictures. It was just me, my mom, and my aunt, and I was seeing some of these photos for the very first time. Then I came across this photo of my dad and I on a horse. I always thought that it was a dream that him and I rode a horse together until I saw this photo, and that it had actually happened. I saw for the first time, pictures of my dad and my mom laughing, and running in this field on their wedding day, and even this photo of me, my dad, and my brothers at Putt-Putt. We went through these old pictures for hours, and then we came to old papers. We came across this court document that had the man’s name on it that shot my father. I was frozen. To put a name to the title, “guy who shot my father”, made him a person. I wasn’t sure how to feel at the moment, days later all I could do was pray for him by name. The same night I read an article that my cousin Danny had written. In there he mentioned how my mom would say that at night all we did was cry for months. I then began to imagine as a young mother of three children, how do you move forward in such a devastating time? All of that was so beautiful to me because it felt like God was allowing me to put this life together or pieces to the puzzle together by allowing me to see and hear from others.
So, just this past weekend, I had the opportunity to go to New York with my two older brothers, my youngest brother, and my mom. It was a very last minute trip, but it felt like everything was coming full circle. The days leading up to it, my heart had been really heavy. I had the anticipation of seeing my grandma during this time, but her seeing her grandkids during this time of year and all together as well. She lost her son that day on November 19, 1992 unexpectedly. I don’t know if as a mom you would really ever get over something like that. So as we made our way to NY to surprise my grandma, my brother Eddie and I had talked about all the things the Lord had been walking me through this year concerning my dad’s death and even my memory of him. My brother stated that in 24 years, this was the first time he heard how I felt, and first time we ever talked about it. I don’t think I ever really wanted to ask about my dad or bring anything up because I think we all got very good at trying not to cry about his passing, so for so long it was held in. It was held in so much that on Tuesday before we left, I kept unexpectedly crying, and I didn’t know what was going on. Someone said, “Tiffany’s in her feelings”, that’s how they described it, and I don’t think that describes it fully. But I’ll get to that later. So when we get to NY we have the great opportunity of just sitting around my grandma, hanging out with her, and even watching her cry as she stared at us, and we got to take pictures with her. We also had the opportunity to spend time with my mom’s two best friends from New York. I was really excited about this because they are amazing, and I used to always hear about them, and I feel like I’m connected to them because my middle name was named after them. I wanted to just soak in all the time we had with them. The laughter, the stories, seeing my mom around her friends, it was great. One thing I loved though was just quietly listening in on their conversation. They would share about their relationship with my brothers, and I would get especially quiet when they talked about my mom and dad together. They talked about how protective my dad was, and it kind of made me realize I would’ve never been able to date if he were alive, haha!
We then got to hang out with my dad’s best friend growing up in NY, and his family. It was like we were all just this big family, we talked and laughed together as if we had been around each other all the time. At one point on Saturday Anibal saw a photo of my dad and I, and he said, “man I miss my boy”. I turned around and acted like I was looking at the street, but I just smiled and cried. You see, I hadn’t heard much about my dad and how much people loved him from the people in NY, because I never got to spend time with them like I did on this trip. Walking the streets my dad walked, hearing stories about him, and being with my brothers and mom, and spending this time with my grandmother, uncles, cousins, and my mom’s best friends who are practically my aunts, just made this trip unforgettable. This scripture kind of summed it up for me.
“So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.” (Psalm 126:6)
But what made it more special was the year that the Lord allowed all this to happen. In my 28th year of life, the same age my father passed away, I’ve learned more about his life than I ever have. You see, many people say you just have to get over it, or you can’t still be grieving, or how can you talk about your dad when you hardly knew him, etc.. but I believe when you are walking with the Lord, if you allow Him, He will walk you through this journey of your heart in such a strategic and amazing way. I realized there was hurt and anger in my heart, and God helped me walk through that. But He gave me something back, He flooded me with memories of my dad from the people who walked and talked with my dad. He gave me the ability to spend time with those people, and his mom around the time of year that I think about my dad the most. God is such a loving Father, and I know loss can be the most painful thing in life. Whether it was recent or 24 years ago. One thing I want to pray is that if you have experienced loss, that you understand it is a journey, and there is no reason to feel bad about hurting or being angry, and allowing God to help heal your heart, and walk you through that process. There will probably always be that missing my dad during big celebrations or around this time of year, but I’m thankful that now I have even more memories to smile and laugh about, or cry about, and for the special people who will share their memories with me. I always heard, that my dad was crazy about his little girl, and I asked someone to share what their memory of my dad was today with me, and they said the same thing, they shared how he was a big brother to her, and that he was short but had a big personality. I laughed and cried. I never really thought I had much of my dad in me, but truth is, as she shared about my dad, I said yeah that sounds a little like me, haha. I’ll end with this, allow yourself to feel, allow God to walk you through what you feel, there will be times of laughter, there will be tears, there will be joy, and in it all never feel bad about it.
Just wanted to share a little bit of my heart journey, and I pray you do not feel bad for me. God has kept me, and ordered my steps, He has given me so much, he has been my Heavenly Father who has kept watch over me, and been with me, and I look forward to the day when my dad will embrace me again.