Jelly Toast, Coffee, and Humility

Jelly Toast, Coffee, and Humility


I have Bible study tonight.  It’s something I started with some of my neighborhood friends three years ago, and it’s still going strong. We meet once a month to discuss different books, each with a faith-based plot.  Anyway, I’m feeling a little sluggish, and I know I have a long night ahead, so a cup of coffee sounds perfect.  As I’m waiting for it to brew, I reach instinctively for the bread.  As I get ready to make a piece of jelly toast to accompany my coffee, a memory resurfaces. 

I’m standing again with my Daddy, waiting for the toast to pop up.

I’m almost nine months pregnant.  Mason will be here in a matter of weeks, and I am suffering through the worst cold of my life.  I’m about 8 days into a virus which is depriving me of the one thing I need the most:  sleep.  When I lay down, the drainage down the back of my throat begins and so does the coughing.  I swallow over and over, trying to prevent it, but that only exasperates the heartburn I’ve had this entire pregnancy.  Chest on fire, flames climbing up your esophagus heartburn.  If the old wives tale is true, this baby will have a full head of hair. In an effort to stop the coughing and ease the heartburn, I sit up.  It helps with the cold symptoms, but it does nothing for my exhaustion.

I’m alone downstairs.  I’ve moved from my bed, to the recliner, to the couch, hoping to find a place where sleep will meet me.  I’m feeling miserable.  I’m feeling pitiful.  I’m feeling angry.  I’m feeling like a big ol’ hormonal, sleep-deprived cry.

I hear footsteps and the small light above the stove goes on in the kitchen.  I wait to see who else is seeking the elusive peace of a good night’s sleep.  My Daddy steps into the light.  I watch him for a minute.  He doesn’t know I’m there; the darkness of the living room conceals me.  I try to take in every nuance of his movements.  I try to memorize the expression on his face during this rare, unguarded moment.  I try, as I have for the past eight months, to cram as many memories of this man into my mind as I can.  As he shuffles around the kitchen, getting what he needs to start a pot of coffee, I know what keeps his sleep at bay.  I know why he’s making coffee at 3 o’clock in the morning.

I speak to him.

“Hey Daddy.”

He startles for a moment, then that warm, ever-welcoming smile breaks through the worry I saw on his face moments before.

“Well, hey girl.”

“Well, hey girl,”  an expression my daddy’s said to me forever.  A short, three word phrase which has come to hold so much meaning over the years.

Well, hey girl……interpretation, I’m happy to see you.

Well, hey girl…..interpretation, this is a welcome surprise.

Well, hey girl….interpretation, it’s about time.  It’s been too long.

Well, hey girl….interpretation, welcome home, I’ve missed you.

Well, hey girl….interpretation, you’re still my little girl and I love you.

So when Daddy said, “Well, hey girl,” to me there in the kitchen, he didn’t have to say anything else.  I got up and went to him, walking into his open arms and placing my head below his shoulder, letting it rest just above his heart.  Feeling his warm hug, my emotions broke, and I began to cry.  I cried a big, blubbering, hormonal cry while Daddy just patted my back and asked what was the matter.

And here’s the thing, I wasn’t crying about my stupid cold and my annoying heartburn.  I was crying because the shame I felt in that moment was overwhelming.  While I wallowed in my own self-pity about a cold which would heal eventually, my dad stood before me with a terminal cancer diagnosis.  While I tossed and turned, unable to sleep due to a simple virus, my daddy tossed and turned because a life-taking mass had returned eight months earlier.  As he held me, as my nose ran and my tears fell onto his shirt, recurrent pancreatic cancer waged war inside my daddy’s body.

Daddy knew why I cried.  He knew my tears were for him.  He knew and I knew that this moment and moments like it were numbered.  That knowledge caused us to hold on just a little bit longer, squeeze just a little bit tighter than we normally would.  When the tears stopped, Daddy gave my back one more pat and moved on to the one form of comfort every southerner is accustomed to:  food.

He moved to the bread box, took out two slices of bread, and popped them in.  I rummaged in the fridge for the butter and jelly.  Then I went and stood by his side.  Shoulders touching, he took my hand and told me he loved me.  With all the strength I could find, feeling humbled by his unwavering courage and determination, I took a deep, steadying breath and said, “I love you too Daddy.”

The toast popped up.

That was the last time my dad was in my kitchen.  He passed away four, short months later.

It’s only with time that God’s plan is sometimes revealed.  Many moments come and go, and leave us wrestling with the lingering question of “Why God?”  We often don’t understand God’s purpose, but the Bible is clear.  His ways are better than our ways.  His plans for us are always for good and not evil.  For me, a retrospective looking back on events leading up to my Daddy’s death reveals God.

I believe God worked in that wondrous, miraculous way of His to bring me a couple of stolen hours with my dad in the middle of the night.  A couple of hours to just sit together in the quiet.  Just him and me.  Uninterrupted. Sipping coffee and eating jelly toast.  Had I been well, I never would have heard him up and about that night.  I never would have joined him for those final, precious hours alone in my kitchen.

I now thank God for the circumstances of my cold, for the elusiveness of sleep that night because had I been resting peacefully in my bed, I would not have the wonderful memory of standing one last time with my Daddy, hand-in-hand, in front of the toaster, waiting for the bread to pop up.

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