DOWN THE AISLE IN A WHILE

New Years’ Eve 2016 was the best one ever of my so-far life.

Yes, I got to spend it on what’s been officially dubbed by unofficial me as “Giant Floating Disney World” (aka, the Disney Fantasy).

Yes, the first New Years’ party I’ve ever been to I danced with Mickey and the Whole Gang and four thousand of my closest friends from all walks of life and two of my closest fam from the same walk as me, all piled up atop that thirteenth deck.

And yes, that’s the day my bucket list item of “experience NYE fireworks on an NYC rooftop” was promptly edited, the phrases “cruise ship” and “middle of the ocean” replacing what I used to think would be my dream ringing in the year celebration.

But the reason this New Years’ Eve has been and forever will be the most irreplaceable and unforgettable of all was because I heard a distinctly clear answer to the question I couldn’t even put into words, acknowledged the feelings that I knew darn well were there but couldn’t quite pinpoint or define, and filled in a little part of the void in my heart that came about following the greatest loss of my life.

Normally, it’s my Heavenly Father who does this with a simple but clear movement or stirring in my heart, followed by a perfectly placed point to ponder. But this time, the answers was from my earthly father, my dear, dear dad who is approaching the fourth year anniversary of his homecoming to Heaven.

Actually, it was the two of them working in tandem; my Father and my father, the dream team I never knew I needed.

It was just a regular day in the best week of my life; nearing the end of the fifth out of seven days of our vacation with the Disney Cruise Line, I was becoming a pro at scrambling to scrub off sunscreen, look semi-presentable, and make it on time to the live show that they had each evening before our scheduled time for dinner. I entered the Walt Disney Theatre and was greeted by cute Cast Member Corey, one of the most magical parts of the entire week and, in my opinion, cute enough to be the Charming to the Cinderella that was scheduled to appear in that night’s Broadway-style show.

“Your collar reminds me exactly of pixie dust!” he noted regarding the sparkles that made my simple blouse-and-skater-skirt combo perfect for formal night.

I goofily (no pun intended) pumped my first triumphantly as I ducked into the velvety red seat next to my mom, brother, and the kind family that doubled as both our brand new friends and dinner mates.

Totes what I was going for!”

The lights dimmed, and I sat in anticipation for Disney’s Believe, totally unsuspecting anything from this show but hearing more familiar tunes that, if they hadn’t already been stuck in my head all week, were about to be; enduring the cringe-worthy cheesy & corny  that only little kids find funny but was admittedly the kind of stuff I live for; and being taken on the journey of a story where Disney characters came to life.

But I was about to realize something way more important: it isn’t just through Biblical passages, moments of the Mass, and prayerful ponderings that you hear from God.

Messages, hints, and little winks from God also come to you through the little things you love!

Little Winks Through Little Things

It’s easier to learn from the familiar, and God knows that, so he preps you for the big, hard to grasp stuff through, what is often in my case, the fangirl stuff. On that night however, it ended up that the fangirl stuff and the big, hard stuff were all the same stuff.

The description of Believe was just as simple and unsuspecting as I was: “A young girl, named Sophia, wishes that her father, Dr. Greenaway, would believe in magic. To make Sophia’s wish come true, the Genie comes and takes Dr. Greenaway on a magical journey with help from the most magical Disney characters. And on this journey, Dr. Greenaway learns (with the help of the Genie) that magic is real!” (The Disney Wiki).

I never knew that after flooding it with all the feels, this sixty minute show would rip out my heart, leave it on the red carpeted floor of the theater to beat its last, give a couple of tugs on the heartstrings just to make sure it was fully stopped, yet at the same time somehow totally steal it away like every one of Disney’s magical movie moments inevitably does.

However with its story completely revolving a daddy-daughter relationship, I should have at least mentally prepared myself for a little bit of waterworks since the only thing that had been on my mind lately was the fact that, in what is now less than a week, my dear cousin is getting married in a winter wonderland to her six-year sweetheart and childhood pal (#DreamWedding).

Even though I was filled with nothing but joy for her, I was also insanely jealous that she was going to get what I never would: escorted down the aisle by her dad.

All the past months spent working on quelling those feelings and trying to harden my heart just a tad so that no sad tears would be found on T’s wedding day were instantly transported out of my mind as if by magic carpet when the Genie whooshed in, ready to give horticulturist Dr. Greenaway a little dose of magical reality.

Forty minutes in, the only thing I was jealous of was the amazing journey the Genie took the doctor on: into the middle of the jungle for Baloo’s ballad, wading through the waters of Jamestown with newfound wisdom from Grandmother Willow and Pocahontas, a powerful pair, straight to the savannah to get a bit of a bop on the head from Rafiki, up in the air so that Peter Pan could bring him back down to earth with his childlike simplicity, down the bayou for a taste of Mama Odie’s truth, and to a tumbling halt as I pondered along with Dr. Greenaway what truly made one happy and what all your hard work should be aimed towards.

And suddenly, like the princess of the King that I am, I found myself transported to the middle of a ballroom by none other than Fairy Godmother herself! My eyes wandered in wonderment as one by one, classic Disney princesses made their debut, signature song and all, and took the hand of the prince who awaited their descent at the foot of the stars, in as much awe as all of us.

I geeked out along with Dr. Greenaway, kind of bummed that my girl Belle didn’t grace the ball with her presence ( … guess she’s just preppin’ for her big live action debut in March 2017!).

Then, Jasmine and Al’s harmonies trailed off, and the doctor and I were transported to a whole new world as an unfamiliar princess appeared at the top of the stairs and had everyone questioning.

“Uh, who is that, Fairy Godmother?!”
“Take a good look, Dr. Greenaway!” she trilled with excitement.

A simple prince in black and white arrived, taking the young woman by the hand, and Dr. Greenaway and I realized that Sophia, no longer in the red robe and Mickey-eared wizard hat that I too once wore one Halloween but in an evening gown ironically adorned with flowers, was being escorted to her prom.

“That’s Sophia!” he gasped. “She’s so beautiful!
“All grown up, and dancing with her very own prince!”
“Already?!” Dr. Greenaway sputtered in endearing objection.
“A childhood doesn’t last forever!” Fairy Godmother

Between the dream-like ball that was surrounding my sights and the relevance that was surrounding my heart, the tears had welled up at that point. I flashed back to all the mornings I looked over from kitchen table into the living room to see my dad gazing over the top of his coffee cup at gangly, mismatched me in all my school uniformed, mouth full of Honey Nut Cheerios glory. Irritated and introverted, I accidentally spewed a few pieces of cereal at my big brother who sat directly in the line of fire as my dad’s loss for words at my angry gaze told me he didn’t actually have anything to say and I briskly told him to bug off.

It was now, in the center of the Walt Disney Theatre and much too late, that I realized that my dad had been doing exactly what Dr. Greenaway was doing … beholding his daughter for the very first time.

Because for him and for every dad, every time was and forever is that precious first time!

As the promenading pair stepped out into the center of the ballroom that proms unfortunately never quite manage to look like, Dr. Greenaway put all my emotions into words I’d never quite have managed on my own, and we both longingly looked on while the famous fictional royals danced and swirled around high school duo (#DreamProm):

“I’ve been missing out on the best magic of all! My little girl …”

For a long, much too naive part of my childhood, I had similarly been missing out on the magic not of my daughter, but of my father. Suddenly overcome with much of my same emotions, Dr. Greenaway sang a reprise of Sophia’s song and gave me an insight into what may have been going through my father’s mind from his seat in the living room lounge chair:

“With the eyes of love, I can finally see all the magic here right in front of me!”
“Childhood holds a special power; every child, a precious flower. Watch them blossom; they will show the magic that it takes to make the garden grow.”
“Childhood magic is so fleeting; soon it’s gone with no repeating. Always let your children know you cherish every moment and you love them so.”

If I could have had one wish from the Genie, right then and there, it would have been to stop the show, take center stage, have my father somehow be right there in the the very front row, and sing Amy’s Reprise of Sophia’s Song at the top of my lungs, replacing every “child” with father, and trying to be as on key as the good Lord might allow.

The tears fled, but it was with a gentle, pretty roll that they flowed down my face, so I was still in the clear. I faced forward in my seat on the end, letting my curls fall to frame and hide my face; I was absolutely avoiding turning towards my brother next to me, who nothing got by, was absolutely avoiding giving myself away to my mom down the way who was probably crying too, and was absolutely letting on to our new friends hints of our family’s tragedy. They were, of course, too polite to ask, but the intelligent family of doctors and business women and ace college scholars undoubtedly noticed the metaphorically empty seat at the dinner table.

I was whisked from my thoughts back into the show (Shows, movies, any things that involve imagining are the places where I can pretend it all away). I blinked through the blur; Sophia’s prince had exited and from the opposite end of the stage, she turned around to behold her dad across the way. Together, they came together entered into perfect harmony to finish the song, and in his gardening apron, Dr. Greenaway took an adorable little bow, offering out his hand so he and his daughter could have their first dance.

Their gentle waltz brutally reminded me of the daddy-daughter wedding moment I would soon have to face for the first time and accept I was never going to have … The quiet hyperventilating that comes with trying to keep it all in began.

But it wasn’t until that darn Disney music began to swell that the tears truly did too; I’ve yet to delve deeper into the old-school, earlier Disney films, and so it was through the form of Dr. Greenaway’s crooning to his daughter resting her head on his chest that I first heard Dumbo’s “Baby Mine”.

Which, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard it. But it’s both the saddest and most endearing song ever … click the link above if you dare (And by “dare”, I mean “have tissues nearby”).

I was naturally straight up sobbing all the way ’till the end of the show; I specifically told my mom that I was going to run to the bathroom before dinner while the final bows were still taking place so the dark theatre would hide my face. I was the first person out of that theatre, even darting past cute Corey to lock myself in the stall of the art deco themed bathroom with hidden Mickeys all around and just sit and weep.

Because even with time nearing almost four years since, I surprisingly haven’t had a lot of opportunities to just sit and weep.

Eventually I got my sea-legs under me, wiped my face, plastered on a smile, and made my way to the Animators’ Palette. And as I slowly and shakily made my way down to Deck 1, the plastered smile became real, because I was in the heart of the ocean for the first time in my life, and in the heart of Disney on New Years’ Eve, and there was something truly once-in-a-lifetime magical about that that had to be beheld.

There was also something magical about the way that a simple kiddie show spoke such volumes to me with relevance on such a personal level. I’ve learned, as I’ve let my Heavenly Father begin to fill the void that the loss of my earthly one left, that His doing that is never at random, but just when you need it.

So what was there to be learned for me personally from Disney’s Believe? I started to think about it as the cruise finished its course, but it wasn’t until I got back to shore, and back to my firm foundation of prayer, Adoration, Mass, repeat that I got back to reality (I gotta admit, guys … having Disney themed entertainment and activities and adventures and tours and learning opportunities and movies available every hour of every day kind of trumped my determination to find a quiet space for fifteen minutes of prayer each day of my week at sea). Then, I was able to sense that clear movement in my heart and gain a clear understanding of what God and Dad were both working to tell me.

I learned from my dad that I was going to be okay at the wedding, that there is no set time and place for weeping. Sometimes, the weeping is going to happen at a show meant to appeal to four-to-ten year olds, and sometimes the weeping is going to happen on one of the happiest occasions of you and your family’s lives. Because if you never made time for the weeping in the first place, it’s going to work itself in where it can.

I learned from my dad that I now get to know him in a whole new light.

You know those pictures of St. Joseph where Baby J is just chilling, resting on his chest? Well, the heart-wrenching lyrics of “Baby Mine” totally reminded me of that!

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“Rest your head close to my heart, never to part …”

That is just what I get to do now! Even though we are apart, we are actually closer than ever! Now, I get to pray to my dad — thim, not just for him. If, God willing, he be in Heaven, my dad has the ability to intercede for me, you, and countless others as a saint. Because once you’ve made it to Heaven, you’re a saint! It is through constantly reminding myself through re-realization and remembering this revelation that I can’t help but let my frown on the inside turn into a beaming smile on the outside.

Partially dehydrated from all the crying and always absent-minded due to my efforts to always hide what I’m really going through from my family, I misheard part of the lyrics of “Baby Mine”, which actually ended up being the best thing ever. Instead of “you’re so precious to me”, I heard “your soul, precious to me”. And it hit me: I now get the gift of being able to get to know my father’s soul … Is your mind blown?! My mind’s blown.

Think of whose soul you may have the opportunity to get to know today, and it may just turn that void blown into your heart by a grenade called grief into an amazing opportunity.

Most of all, I learned from my dad that I am going to get those father-daughter dance/escort down the aisle moments, it’ll just be a while longer than when most girls get them. “… although now for a little while [I have] to suffer various trials” (1 Peter 1:6), my father is waiting for me at the foot of the stairs that lead to the gates of Heaven.

At first glance, he’s not going to recognize me, and we’re both going to appear unfamiliar to each other. But as I inch closer to him from the other side of that first stage of my life, we’ll behold each other for what will be the true first time.

For the first time, I’ll get to see the man God always saw and I never quite did. And he’ll get to see the the beauty of the princess he always saw and I never quite have, the princess of the King whose court he now serves with the everlasting goal of protecting and guiding the other lost princesses working their way back to their Kingdom with me.

Clothed in the full armor of God, he will escort me inside and down the aisle to meet my groom, Jesus Christ, the Prince of the Kingdom. Only after I meet the love I was made for, in the center of Heaven’s ballroom Dad will take an adorable little bow and offer his hand, and the saints, angels and loved ones known and new will swirl and sway around the pair that waited forever for their father-daughter dance. As we waltz, I’ll once again rest my head near his heart, but this time, it will be me crooning a song of thanksgiving for my father and the ultimate yes he gave that allowed the room I needed to say yes to God.

Through Disney’s Believe, God was straight up with me and gave a major proofread & reality check to the fairy tale I’ve been attempting to make out of my life.

First, my dad’s not the prince, and he never was! Rather, he was the knight in shining armor who gave the ultimate, almost most chivalrous sacrifice in order that this princess might continue on her hero’s quest. That quest is towards sainthood, which will lead me home to the Kingdom of Heaven. And I just can’t wait to get there and thank my knight, meet the Prince we all deserve, and finally fully embrace my Father, the King.

Guys, there are such wondrous things to behold! I may have just written my own Disney lyrics; I don’t know. But what I do know is that it’s up to me whether I truly behold the moments that make up my journey towards the kingdom. Because though the sad music may swell in the background for a while, even those moments are animating my world, painting it technicolor, and making it magical.

And the realization of just that is truly what makes the garden grow.

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