Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Brave and Beautiful Wedding

The gorgeous bride is Cassandra. We've known her since she was twelve, and we watched her grow up into this beautiful woman. One day many years ago, with Joe's help, she made a
"top ten list" of the traits she was looking for in a husband. On this day, she's marrying a very impressive Marine, whom she says has at least nine of those traits!
But this fairy-tale Maui wedding story has a little twist...

This is the little twist. Meet Kaia.

She is Cassandra's niece, and she's been in a Seattle hospital since she was born three months ago, waiting, waiting, waiting for a heart transplant. You can read more about her by clicking HERE. Isn't she so adorable! Her mommy and sissy flew to Maui for the weekend to be attendants in Cassandra's wedding, while Daddy Jared, Cassandra's beloved brother, stayed behind to be with Kaia. He's a sacrificial and noble husband and daddy.

Meet Marina. She's Jared and Cassie's lovely and gracious mama, and she's Kaia's grammy. As much as she loves Cassandra, and as much as she is celebrating this long-awaited wedding day, she's sad. You can see it in her eyes. She's sad for little Kaia who desperately needs a heart, and she's sad for her son Jared whose life has changed forever, and today she's sad they all can't be together for this big day. Postponing the big day wasn't an option. You can't schedule around a heart transplant. It's a waiting game. And Cassie and Nate are more than ready to get married and finally move in together. They've waited for this day.

Since life doesn't come in neat boxes marked "Joy" and "Sorrow", and it's a messy mix of both, (sometimes at the exact same time) you've just got to roll with it. Difficulties often inspire creative solutions, and this day was a case in point. How can they have Jared and Kaia, when they can't have them?

Oh, yeah! Technology!

In a stroke of genius, they skyped Jared on their laptop and... here they are talking to him. The computer sat in the seat where he would have sat, and he got to watch the wedding in streaming video! He also got to toast his sister at the reception, and we got to watch and hear him in real-time from the hospital room in Seattle. It was very touching.

And the very best use of technology.

And because of that, he got to see this: Cassandra walking down the grassy aisle on her wonderful father's arm...

And this: Cassandra and Nate and the swaying palms and the puffy clouds and the blue seas of Maui...

And this: Joe leading them through their vows (using his Droid as a Bible) (another good use of technology)...

And this: his wise, but introverted dad delivering a rare and wonderful speech.

Words of blessing to his daughter and her new husband.

I love the joy on these two faces.

What a brave and beautiful celebration!

Oh, how I love a happy ending.

And please keep little Kaia in your prayers.

James 1:2-5
When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reacting to Reactions

"Bleeding Hearts"

Being back on Maui, after a year away, brings up the inevitable question of how we are doing now. I tiptoe through the questions. I have learned in the last year to balance my grief carefully, holding it in when necessary, and releasing it only when it feels safe to do so. When I'm alone or around other grieving people, I feel safe. Around most others, I keep it in.

Sometimes like a flood, it overruns the banks, but that happens less and less. I think I look normal on the outside most of the time now. I smile and nod, and go through the paces of life. Every once in a while, something triggers me badly. I shut down when that happen, stop talking, pull inside like a turtle into its shell. That is almost a reflex now to any badly worded or insensitive comment. The pain in those moments is acute, like a knife cutting through my soul, and I just brace to dull the pain so I won't react back. I push away anything I can't handle now. Self-protection has become an unwelcome but necessary habit.

Being back on Maui is wonderful and difficult. I pick up a variety of impressions when I am here around familiar people. Most people have just embraced us with warmth and love without asking questions. They seem to understand that there are no easy answers and none needed. I'm grateful for that. These people seem to understand that we are different now and just need to be accepted and held.

A few are impatient with our process--the vibe is indifferent or worse, "get over it already". This is most disturbing to me and I avoid these people determinedly. I don't know why people want us to get over the loss of our son. I can't fathom why that's important to them. We function, we pay our bills, we obey the laws, so what's the problem? I think some of them are simply revealing their own uncomfortability with the messiness of life. They don't want to deal with any human suffering that doesn't have a quick and clean solution. And obviously, they've never been laid so low they couldn't function. Not yet, anyway.

One of our younger friends asked me on Sunday, "Are you over your grief now?". I wasn't offended by his question--it was innocent and honest. My answer, equally honest, was this: "No, we aren't over it. We miss our son every moment, and this is more difficult than anything you can imagine from the outside looking in. It is more difficult than I could ever know before I went through it and it still shocks me."

He is a devoted father himself, and he dotes on his young children. I thought later that I should have explained it to him this way: "You know how your life changed forever the moment your son was born? Nothing was ever the same again. That's exactly how completely your life changes when your child leaves. It is an equally powerful, monumental experience--only sad instead of happy. "

Perhaps he would connect with that.

Yesterday, as we walked along the beach, we passed a stranger who stopped us and introduced herself. She attends our Maui church, but we'd never met. She said she recognized us from our pictures on this blog. She thanked us for our blog and then explained why. Two of her closest friends have lost children this year, and one was widowed, and she told us that she had referred them all to our blog where they had found comfort. Hmmm. Good, good. Another friend who came to Maui after we left, had herself lost, within a few years, first her parents and then a sister who was murdered by a boyfriend. Aaargh. Unbearable deep pain. She told me she turns to our blog for comfort when she is filled with her own grief. Hmmm, good. Again.

I've heard a few other similar comments in the past ten days, and they've all touched my heart deeply. It's a fellowship of mourners that I embrace and with which I humbly and openly link myself. We need people who understand and are there with us. So I am again thankful that I have written of my pain, despite the pressure to "move on", because people need a place to go to feel it, think it, integrate it. I am renewing my commitment to continue blending the irreconcilable joys and sorrows of life on my blog. All mourners are learning a new way to live, and we need others, their ideas and example. If I can do that for someone coming behind me, then I feel privileged.

II Cor 1:4

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Outside My Maui Window

I picked up the dreaded Airplane Cold/Flu Virus on my flight over, and I can't decide if the cold or the cold meds are worse. I'm sitting at home drinking lots of fluids.
Tea always helps. Tea and sympathy.

This is my absolute favorite tea in the world. But you have to come here to get it. Even the box is beautiful.

I'm staying inside to spare the world from my germs, so I have to be content with the view from my windows. Here's my view to the, sand and the deep blue sea.

...and a little beyond, our neighbors' front yard. They watch the sunset each day from this vantage point.

My view to the right: Pastor Craig preparing his Sunday sermon.
I know I'm making all the Minnesota pastors jealous with this shot.

And beyond him, little dots of people in the water. Waiting to catch a wave.

It's a bit gray right now in Maui, and I hope that makes all the rest of you who aren't here feel just a little bit better. It matches my flu bug much better than sunshine does.
Nonetheless, the blues and greens are still vibrant.

Out in the distance, 3 shades of gray and the island of Kaho'olawe, a little bump on the horizon. Up close, our wonderful friendly lawn, the setting for many fine games of sunset bocce ball.
My grandchildren liked to relay race around the palm trees.
Out in that water, Joey's ashes are scattered.

Through the side window, I see this.
My favorite tropical flower--red torch ginger. Joey's memorial flowers.

A gray day matches my mood.
Funny how it never stops the surfers. Here I count at least a dozen of them vying for the waves. They will sit here for hours, rolling with the swells, taking it all in.
My son would do the same, and loved this spot for that very reason.
I get that, now. Waiting for the perfect ride.
I'm waiting too.
I miss him here. His mana (spirit) is everywhere here. I miss his surfboard on the porch. I miss his long legs stretched under my dining table, drinking coffee and taking this all in with a warm, contented smile on his face.
I love you, son.
It comforts me deeply that you are in a place called Paradise.

Very Special Visitors

Meet Chris and Amanda and their VW van. Chris and his brothers, Mark and Michael, were Joey's friends growing up.

Chris and Amanda are taking a 30-day van trip around the US of A, inspired by Joey and Rachel's year-long trip. They planned their trip so that we could see them and get a hug or two.

I remember how much a shower, a bed and a homecooked meal meant to Joey and Rachel when they were on the road, so it was more than a privilege to have these two overnight. It was also a time to reminisce and hear again some of the trouble these boys got themselves into when they were crazy teenagers...

and thanking God they didn't get caught shooting fireworks off from the roof of the local elementary school though the cops were out looking for them.
Sorry, Chris, the secret's out.

(Chris is a firefighter now, so he does know what a crazy thing that was!)

Here with Jaime and me, we posed in front of Gunther, Joey and Rachel's famous VW Van.

Here I'm chewing out my husband for the open windows and messes inside the van.
He wanted a picture of me at my best.

These two are adorable. They're engaged and Chris is planning a very special romantic evening when they get to NYC. That's all we can say, because we don't want to tell that secret and ruin the surprise.
Happy travels to two very endearing and wonderful people.
And much love from the Johnsons to you both.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spring Break Grand Finale

Izzy and Clare as happy as two frogs on a lily pad.

For those who are new at the art of grandparenting, I will let you in on a secret. There is a quick path to grandmother sainthood, and it's as simple as revealing a willingness to tote your beloved grandchildren to and from theme parks. This will make you instantly adored, and paying for season's passes will enthrone you in the holy spot in your grandchildren's hearts.

Lucky for me, Busch Gardens is nearby, so the drive is brief. Not only that, it's a place that can make everyone in your group happy--roller coasters for the kids, flowers for the women, and beer for the men! Oh, and Clydesdales. Some true marketing genius thought of that and I thank him for it.

I like the flowers.

This here is a sacred moment. Isabel is finally, finally tall enough for the rides!!! After years of being turned away at the gates, and many attempts to speed things up with high-soled tennis shoes and high ponytails, she is finally legitimately sizeable enough for the roller coasters. No longer condemned to the gulag of kiddie rides, she is out there with the big people waiting in the long lines!

Here all the girls lock themselves in place for the Mother of all Roller Coasters, the Griffon. Isabel needed some moral support for her first ride, and the girlfriends came through for her. You'll notice I am quite content to stand on terra firma and shoot the pictures.

Here they are at the tip-tip, on the front row, about to make the 90 degree drop.

Note that Isabel is the 4th set of legs from the left--the short ones... with the short head attached. She looks way too small to be on a roller coaster of these proportions, but don't tell her

I said so.



Ya know, I just don't like that feeling in my stomach.

Here they are coming off the ride, just like they do it every single day.

And that reminds me that come summer, they probably will be doing it every single day, or as close as they can make it to that mark--

since Nana is such a saint.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

High Anxiety

We'll be leaving sometime soon for Maui. For most people, this would elicit happiness and excitement.

For me it represents a mixture of dread and fear and sorrow.

So even though this is what will greet me on the other end of my flight...

And as much as I love eating here at Joey's favorite Maui restaurant...

and as much as I love these special friends...

and these....

and these...

and so many more that I can't picture them all...

and as much as I have missed this beautiful woman who has wept so much for us and for her beautiful daughter, Rachel...

I know I am going back to the spot of my son's memorial

and my broken heart...
right outside my window every day.

It's a place I try not to think about too much because it just hurts...

So I'm praying God will meet us there and take us by the hand and walk with us through our dark valley and speak words of comfort all the way along.

Pray for us if you can.

Isaiah 41:13
For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A Hero's Welcome

The house is decorated...

Sean and JoAnne arrive...

To a warm welcome from grateful friends...

And a very proud family.

We love you Sean and are so glad you are home.
We can never thank you enough for your sacrifice for us all.

Friday, April 02, 2010


Thomas Caravaggio

Revelation 1:18
"Fear not; I am the First and the Last.
I am the Living One;
I was dead,
and behold I am alive for ever and ever!
And I hold the keys of Hell and death."

Titus 1:2
... a faith and knowledge
resting on the hope of eternal life,
which God, who does not lie,
promised before the beginning of time...

Thank you, Jesus.