By Stacey Philpot
In August of 1997, a “commencement speech” blew up the internet with its wisdom and sage advice, beginning with “Wear sunscreen.” These wise words were penned by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich. Her words were put to music and became an instant hit.
I was particularly struck by the truth of one line the first time I heard it: “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.” I hoped that, for most people listening, the words sounded poetic and nothing more. I whispered a prayer for all those who summoned the image of a day when their lives changed forever.
Of all the things I’ve found to worry about—and there’s an ample number of them—none included the possibility of my younger brother being hit by a car on his way to work. I’ve worried about my husband falling asleep at the wheel, and as a former public school teacher, I’ve both prepared for and worried about school shootings. But my brother being hit by a car? This I had not considered. Yet the words sat in my phone, staring back at me. “Ben’s been hit by a car, in ambulance en route to hospital.” It was a random weekday, around 4 p.m. Mary Schmich is a wise woman.
Throughout the evening, details trickled in as I waited states away. Ben had been riding his bike to work when an SUV knocked him into oncoming traffic. He lay on burning pavement too injured to move. A construction worker came running to his aid, instructing Ben to remain still, asking him if he needed something cold to drink. He did.
My younger sister, Hannah, got the dreaded, “Your brother’s been hit, please come to the hospital” call. She made that drive not knowing if he was alive or dead. She arrived to find a very alive Ben writhing in pain and in need of surgery.
Unable to be physically present, I bought the internet and sent it in my stead. I ordered flowers as a physical representation of me in his hospital room, telling him, “I love you.”
While I waited for the flowers to arrive, I felt anger rising to the surface. Was it more like a rage? It was. It took a few minutes in prayer for me to discern with whom I was so angry.
My dad. Where was he?
While I was begging a flower shop around the nation to take a representation of me to my brother and buying out Amazon, where was my dad? Yes, he’d been absent from our lives for years, missing weddings and graduations, the birth of babies, and dreams realized, but somehow this absence felt more abhorrent.
Vividly, I remembered my dad holding me up to show me my tiny, newborn brother through the NICU window, struggling for life. I heard him explaining each tube. I saw tears streaking his cheeks. “Where are you?” I yelled at him now in my grown-up bedroom, an angry, almost-forty-year-old woman.
That night my teenage son came into my bedroom looking ghastly. “She responded, but I haven’t had the courage to open it yet,” he explained. We’d been talking through his fears about sharing his heart with a girl and possibly falling on his face for weeks. I finally told him he’d never have the answer—especially the one he wanted—if he didn’t ask the question. This evening he’d summoned all his courage and asked. When the response came in, he saved it so he could open it with me.
His simple act of choosing me to share this moment cracked my heart open like a walnut, allowing truth to come rushing out in a torrent.
My son opened the sacred message, and I whispered sacred words. “It’s time to let you go, Dad. It’s time to forgive you. It’s time to open my hands and release all the times you chose something else over me. I forgive you. Wear sunscreen.”
I looked up to see that the color had returned to my son’s face. The message contained all the words his heart longed to hear. I’d chosen him on all these nights of stewing, and he’d chosen me on this fateful night when my siblings and I were not chosen by my dad.
Whom do you need to forgive? Whom do you need to release from your prison of expectation? Do it today. Our heavenly Father chooses us time and time again and waits with bated breath, in hopes we’ll keep choosing him. Let’s let the rest go.
And don’t forget the sunscreen.
Stacey Philpot is wife to Ryan and mother to Hayden, Julie, and Avery. She is a writer, goofball, and avid reader. Stacey has ministered for over 15 years to youth and women in her community in order to equip them to go deeper in Christ. She blogs at aliferepaired.com and chronicallywhole.com.
Photograph © Hermes Rivera, used with permission