What Cowlicks and Warriors Would Tell You about Living Well

The fir tree has a cowlick. Spouting out from conical symmetry is a two-foot-long branch, and I want to snip it each time I see it, but it’s twenty feet up and in my neighbor’s yard. The branch points north to my neighbor’s front yard where at night Orion the Warrior is tangled in a tree.

Photo Credit: Flickr user Erica Franck, Creative Commons cc license

One month into my Dad’s stage IV terminal cancer diagnosis, and I find myself scrolling websites, scrawling notes at doctors’ appointments, and counting calendar months. Chest tight some mornings, I pull my Bible closer while Daniel sits beside me untangling addition problems, and I wonder about subtractions.

Yesterday we took a break from math and phonics to refill bird feeders. Charcoal-colored sunflower seeds spilled dusty from the bag, whooshing against my fingers on cold metal frame. I sliced old juicy oranges into halves for the orioles. Crushed citrus a fragrance on my skin. Daniel and I placed vivid orange slices between lines of drizzled seeds on the deck railing, then slipped back inside to watch the birds come. Black-capped chickadees soared tremulously close, skittish but hopeful.

And I remember it, recounting the ways that God has tenderly laid bread crumb trails of hope and wonder for me this spring, long before I even knew I would need them. I line them up in my mind, and shake my head in gentle wonder. He is so good. In January, I stepped out and chose my very first Word of the Year —Brave –thinking I meant it to be moving more boldly into my writing and speaking ministries. God knew of Dad’s impending cancer, though, and kindly tucked the word inside me. Earlier, in November Mark and I co-taught a sermon at our church, stating that joyful thanks-giving is always possible, even in the darkest nights. We mentioned our daughter’s young cancer scare when she was five years old, and other crises over the years. Meanwhile my Dad’s cancer grew in silence. The breadcrumbs continue in my mind, and I see it clearly, God’s loving trail for me.

Pulling my Bible nearer, I pause to answer Daniel’s math question before sinking deeper into God’s words. “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand,” his book tells me, and I lean into that.

“Mom, I listened to Grandpa’s song a lot yesterday,” my tall twenty-one year old said quietly to me. Jeremy Camp’s song “Reckless” has become my dad’s mantra these months. He air drums away to it, nodding his head.

“Can we play it again?” my Dad says softly. “I’m not afraid to die. I know where I’m going,” he smiles. Jeremy Camp sings about wanting to love and live recklessly, boldly, because of Jesus’s love for us.

“I want to die well,” my Dad says, thinking of a Henri Nouwen quote. He and Mom have been sharing their stories of God’s rescues and passionate love all the more boldly now to the people they meet.

Outside my window, I can see it, the fir tree with a cowlick. Beyond the Warrior Orion hangs the Big Dipper constellation.

“If you’re ever lost and need to find north,” my Dad had taught me, “follow the mouth of the Big Dipper. It will pour out into the North Star.”

And now it changes how I see the cowlick. It’s directing me to a poured out life that always points me home.

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  1. Jana Botkin on March 24, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    Jennifer, your courage is a beautiful attitude to witness. You are facing reality with boldness in this tough time.

  2. Michelle Barringer on March 24, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    Hi Jennifer,

    I'm so sorry about your dad. My heart hurts for you. Oh how I know your pain. My dad passed away 19 years ago. He suffered from MS for 35 years and died from complications of MS. It is difficult for sure.

    I wasn't sure how to encourage you after I read your post today, but then a thought came to me, "Share with her the words you have posted in your office."
    That's where I am right now, in my office at Bethel.
    Here is what I see and read every day from handwritten post-it notes to framed artwork:

    "Dare to believe who you can be because of him." – Susie Larson
    "Palms up!" – Bob Goff
    "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might." – Ephesians 6:10
    Step by Step
    Choose joy!
    In everything give thanks!
    Jesus loves me!

    May you be blessed today, Jennifer.

  3. Bill (cycleguy) on March 25, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Thanks for the encouraging words Jennifer. After two bike wrecks (one hit-and-run car and one of my own which I have no clue how it happened) in a period of 3 months, it has stopped me in my tracks and led to much reevaluation. I admire your dad "I'm not afraid to die" and choosing Reckless as his song. Thanks for reminding me where my focus ought to be.

  4. LOLITA on March 27, 2017 at 4:40 am

    So deeply touched, Jen. I am sorry to have missed lots of growing in your page. Praying and aching with you, but hoping in the strength of our Great God.

    "His ways are higher than ours."

  5. TC Avey on March 27, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    Your post brought tears to my eyes.
    I thought back to the death of my own dad. Being a nurse I took care of him in the final weeks of his life. God used experiences I had had in my career to prepare me for caring for my dad and I'm so thankful He did. It was a blessing to us all, God knew we needed it.

    Like a loving Father, God prepares us for things we cannot see. Just like I'm struggling to teach my son the importance of learning to read. He doesn't see it right now, but he has to learn to read. Later, he will thank me for the extra time we spend on flash cards and site words.

    You and your family will be in my prayers. My heart goes out to you. It's never easy seeing someone you love in pain. Even if you know you will see them in heaven, it's still painful letting go.

  6. Leanne Mills on March 28, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    I'm so sorry to hear this! What a testimony your father has! Will pray for you all! Hugs!

  7. Cheryl Barker on April 15, 2017 at 5:00 am

    Jennifer, when we lost my mom so unexpectedly we could see so many ways that God blessed and prepared and gave us signs of his love and presence throughout. A friend called them his tender mercies. I loved that. I'm so glad he's showing you his tender mercies during this heartbreaking time. Sending hugs.

  8. Jennifer Dougan on November 12, 2017 at 4:51 am

    And now the warrior over my neighbor's house has disappeared…

    On the three week anniversary of my Dad's death, the irony is not lost on me.

    Jennifer Dougan

  9. Anonymous on November 12, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    oops, two week-anniversary, I mean.

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