Finding Grace in the Missing Parts of My Story

I reflect on pictures my mom kept of me posing on grandma’s front porch, my three-year-old little body donning a Fiesta dress with intermingled colors. They dance with each other far from lament. Dad’s sailor cap is tipped over my face, covering my left eye, making me giggle as I reach up to catch it from falling. Under my left arm, I clutch the American flag that was used to drape over his coffin. It’s nearly the size of my entire body and it is folded in half the way I would soon find myself doubled over with questions about why God would allow me to grow up without a father.

My father died in what was then America’s largest peacetime tragedy, an accidental plane crash on the U.S.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean on May 26, 1981. He had just turned 25 years old. I grew up not knowing what records he enjoyed, what his favorite books were, or what his life was like before the military. His death left a gaping hole inside of me, and I searched for decades trying to find him in every face, every man, every granddaddy’s laughter. I tried to fill the empty ache with relationships I had, hobbies I filled my time with, and buying things I couldn’t afford.

My mother and grandmother coped by thinking he hadn’t really passed away, and they thought I would process it better if I had some hope he was alive. They would comment, Maybe he has amnesia, or Maybe he’s that viejito who sits in front of the mall and just stares at your mother until she walks through the door.

With their well-intentioned hopes, I kept searching. I wanted to find him, but instead I kept running into God. I repeatedly tried to go around Him, to avoid Him. I blamed Him for what I could not find, and I stubbornly kept looking past Him for another answer, but He reminded me time and again that what I needed could only be found in and through Him.

Three months ago, my dad’s friend contacted me through Facebook. Social media can do grand things in the midst of broken links and missing stories. He had been the one who had escorted my father’s remains home, and now he had something more of my father to give me. He told me the story of how my dad died, why he died, and the hero that he was. The documents containing this information had been declassified, and I got to hear him tell the stories of that 50 page document.

My dad should not have been on the flight deck. He may have lived had he not been “helping.” I choked back tears when I heard this. It took a few minutes to really process what was being said. The possibility of my dad surviving the tragedy shocked me. But as the news sank deeper into my heart, relief swept over me. I had a piece of my dad’s story, of my story, and the ache I used to feel started to heal. I knew then that no matter what other pieces I was missing, I would have to trust that God would help fill them in.

Healing happens in miraculous ways— through photos that give a glimpse into a lost part of time, through people who tell us the stories we didn’t know. I had so many unanswered questions about my dad, but God, in healing my wound of fatherlessness, gave me a picture of my dad I can hold onto. My dad was a helper. His life ended because of it, but now I find him not in faces or things but in serving others. I see him in me whenever I help someone else, and though stories are still missing from my life, I know God is the one who can fill in those spaces, that it’s His grace that can heal my innermost parts.

Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros

Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros is mom to a fabulously creative teenager, a master Lego builder, and wife to a hip hop educator. She is a writer, poet and keeper of her blog at Cisneros Café. Earning a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Texas at San Antonio, Texas has allowed her to remain of lover of words. Her soul work is about finding God in the mess.

Latest posts by Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros (see all)

  • Wonderful to read words about God-healed wounds and the DNA of helpfulness. All our deepest stories seem to find their way toward pointing to the search. So thankful that He found you.

    • Amen, Michele. I’m so grateful you stopped by, fellow Bud. May our stories always point up and out and not down and in. <3 xx

  • Kate

    Such a moving story, Carolina! I’m so grateful for the way you’ve chosen to share it with others and bless us with your dad’s legacy.

  • Karen Gonzalez

    Carolina, thank you so much for your words. I related so much to your story–the feelings of loss and the search for answers & missing pieces. I lost my mom when I was a teenager, and my family coped by telling us, during her long battle against breast cancer, that she was just a little sick and would get better any day now. It’s wonderful to hear that God continues to heal you. Much love, amiga

    • Gracias, amiga. I’m so comforted by knowing you could relate to this. Bless your mami. Our family is always trying to protect us, huh? 🙂 <3 Wrapping you in hugs. xx

  • Oh thank you for sharing this intimate piece of yourself. Just like hearing your dad’s story for the first time, I know that writing and editing this piece was healing and opening wounds all at the same time. It’s amazing how sharing stories can heal and unite us. This is truly beautiful, Carolina!

    • Thank you, Nicole! <3 He's always working on me. I'm truly grateful for that. I've met some incredible people in the process. All God!

  • I love that God was drawing you nearer to Himself with all the questions that haunted your youth — and then brought the answers to you at the moment you would use them for their greatest potential. I know they were a soothing balm over deep wounds, and I’m so glad they brought you a little more peace. Thank you for sharing this, Carolina. It’s absolutely beautiful. I pray you discover even more and that God will use it to work many blessings in you, and through your writing. Romans 8:28!!!

    • Thank you, friend. First, I want to thank you for being so incredibly supportive of me and my stories as I walk out my calling. You don’t know how grateful I am for you even though I don’t say it enough. I owe you a thousand gifts to your mailbox. I hold you so dear to my heart. Thank you for who you are. xx

      • *tears* you took the words from my heart, friend. Same to you!

  • Stephanie Thompson

    Carolina, what a blessing to enter into this place in your soul. I love the picture you shared in the beginning of you wearing your dad’s hat and carrying the flag. It demonstrated your attempt to connect with to his legacy in some tangible way. Your story took me through the repeated attempts to find your place in his story but as you so beautifully pointed out-it’s found only through God. What a gift you received from that man! Our answers come in unexpected ways, don’t they? “I see him in me whenever I help someone else.” Sometimes we look all around for what we seek and then find that it’s been visible all along. Beautiful story, friend!

    • Oh, friend. Isn’t that the absolute truth!? Seeking answers in every place but right where we are. God meets us right there. I love you and I appreciate you. xx

  • Joanne Peterson

    This is more than beautiful in the way God filled your need to know the why of your father’s death, and His peace to the missing pieces of your father’s story and your story.

  • This is wonderful, Carolina. I love how you describe seeing your father in those who help others. That’s an amazing gift. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Tara Ulrich

    So fun to see my friends here. This is such a beautiful post; learning more of your story. I can’t help but think of Brene Brown’s quote “The bravest thing you’ll ever do is tell your story.” There is a holiness in knowing and learning and sharing our stories. Love you sweet friend!

    • Love you, my friend. Wrapping you in love and hugs. So glad you stopped by. Here’s to learning more of who we are. <3

  • Mary Hood

    Such a beautiful story of the healing of so many pieces of your heart. It’s those missing pieces of our lives that God wants to fill, not with only the facts, for they all may not be heroic, but with His tender balm of grace that spreads over all of it. Thank you for sharing with us.

  • First, I loved your descriptive writing. It wasn’t overdone, but beautiful in its simplicity. I love that time has given you some answers to your father’s death. Grief never ends, but stories from those who remember our loved ones are such a gift.