Yesterday, for the first time this birthday someone asked me “Lisa, how are you doing with your birthday and the anniversary of your Dad’s death?”
To be honest. I hadn’t thought too much about it, but I was glad he asked. Many skirt around the day and topic all together. I’ve learned it’s a difficult day to explain, as it’s full of mystery. So I went home thinking how am I doing? Gee, it’s only year two. I have no idea? How am I supposed to feel? What are the chances of being born on your grandmother’s birthday and your Dad dying on your birthday? I’m not sure, but I think I’m beating some odds for many reasons that remain a mystery to me. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. That I know.
Then today, I woke up thinking about my dad. How God has positioned him to show up in the strangest and most unexpected places. On the street, in the pew, and at the coffee pot in Peru. Somehow I saw my dad in all these gray haired men in Peru. I saw my Dad in their smile, their concern for me, their gentleness, and joy. It was in the way they walked, the way they dressed, how they sat and listened to me in full attention. It was in their hand gestures inviting me to sit and talk, how they opened the door for me to walk through, when they made a safe passage through the crowd for me and the way they waved and yelled hello Lisa!
What was it about these guys that so reminded me of my sweet old Dad I often wondered? It was as if my Dad’s spirit lived in them, incarnate and in the flesh. So much about them felt like home to my heart when they were near. But for the life of me, I couldn’t put my finger on why during my time in Peru.
When I woke up this morning and thought about today being my birthday and missing my Dad on this second anniversary of his death. It hit me. I realized what I saw in these men was the risen one, Jesus Christ. They all exhibited the fruits of the Holy Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Holy Spirit in me recognized the Holy Spirit in them.
They were all so kind and generous toward me both in their hospitality and friendship. It was I who encountered Christ in them. Only I didn’t know it at the time, I just knew I saw something powerful, familiar, attractive and truly of God. I saw holiness. A true gift to this girl who was spending two months alone in Peru with no specific reasons as to why other than – I must go.
There’s no man who’s looked out for my well being more than my Dad. Then once again, there alone in the middle of the desert my Dad showed up and was guiding me by the power of the Holy Spirit. I wasn’t alone after all. But this time there were no words of wisdom from my Dad, it was the wisdom of my heart I had to silently listen to and where God was leading me.
When I said good bye to each of these men they thanked me for the gifts I’d given them. Gifts?? What gifts? I thought. I didn’t give them any gifts. Anything material at least. It was each of them who gifted me with something so precious and mysterious it to me it took me all these months to figure it out. I was on the road to Emmaus and didn’t even know it. Just like those early disciples I was going the wrong way and in the breaking of the bread my eyes were opened by the Jesus I saw in each of them.
Ironically one of these friends wished me Feliz Cumpleanos – Happy Birthday in Spanish the last day of August. Just mind blowing to me at the time. It was as if my Dad was sitting next to me three months early saying, it’s your birthday Lisa! Just enjoy it. At one of my last masses in Peru, Fr. Joe put in the mass intentions that it was my birthday. I argued with this friend and told him, “No, my birthday is in December.” He said, “no mistake, Padre says”. I smiled and then realized the gift being given – 10, 20, 30 or more people circling around me, loving me, hugging me, thanking me, and blessing me. It was in fact a birthday and birthdays do give life when we are open to receiving. It was a beautiful gift to receive.
And so how am I today? Well, I’ve smiled, I’ve laughed, and I’ve cried through many of the messages I’ve received. But in order to feel close to my Dad I made the decision to get lunch at this sandwich shop on the way home from work. Something I used to do often for my Dad.
And in an unexpected opening of the door on my way out, there he was, my Dad in a familiar face with a huge smile saying “Well hello! Come on now!” as he held the door open for me to walk on through. When I got back in my car, tears rolled down my cheeks. This time I knew who it was I was encountering. I saw Jesus immediately in this man of faith that I knew at my Dad’s favorite sandwich shop. God knows what He’s doing when He want’s to get your attention.
My Dad gave me life both in my birth, but in his death too. Part of the mystery of the gift today is my Dad saying you were special to me. You gave me so much life with your love and joy. Thank you you Lisa, for just simply being you. This day will be both of ours, share my death and resurrection on your birthday and everyone will know – tell them all the life of Jesus Christ is real! And so here I am telling you all. I saw my Dad in the life of Jesus in a man on the street, in a pew, and at the coffee pot in Peru!
St. Lucy whose feast day is today. Pray for us and for all those who are blind to you Jesus.
Thank you to all near and far for the birthday wishes, the prayers for this joyful and sorrowful day, and the many warm affections that fill my heart. I’m truly grateful for the gift of each of you. You all give me life.