Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mary Had a Baby Boy

I had a baby boy, too.

He wasn't the Savior, but he saved me in many ways.

He helped me be better, smarter, kinder, bigger.

He made me laugh at myself, and feel and love more.

He was tall and gracious; he hugged people and cared.

He had my hair and my eyes and my curiosity, but he was better than me.

He sang his own unique song. His own voice.

I miss that sound now...long for it. Miss his face at Christmas.

Miss him always everywhere.

Time is measured differently now--before death---after death.

He is alive but I can't see him. Can't hold him. I dream him.

Like Mary, delighted at his birth and crushed at his death.

My beautiful boy.

Awaiting a new birth.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Handel's Messiah

One of my lifelong dreams came true last night. I have always wanted to attend a concert of Handel's Messiah, and last night I got my wish. One of my kind neighbors gave me her extra tickets. Wow.

This was our vantage point in the concert hall at Regent University. This place is really gorgeous with the deep olive color on the walls and the rich wood railings.

The VSO--aka Virginia Symphony Orchestra and Chorale arrived all dressed in their finery. The warm glow of the string instruments against all the black clothing made a lovely picture. The concert opened with the words, "Comfort, comfort ye, my people". Just what I needed to hear. Music for a broken heart.

The female conductor ( the first I've seen) did an incredible job. Look at all those intently focussed faces. Kind of different from the childrens' holiday programs we've been attending-- but each delightful in their own way.

There is a long tradition, dating from Handel's first performance in 1741, that when the Hallelujah Chorus is played, the audience stands up in honor of the King of Kings. That was the final movement in last night's concert, and true to tradition, the audience stood up. It was really very moving. It made you want to sing along, but it wasn't that kind of concert, so we listened in rapture.

When the concert ended, we exited to this gorgeous foyer. One of the most beautiful interiors I have ever seen. I could have stared at it all night long. I wish I had taken a closeup of the wallpaper. It was amazing. It looked handpainted and went so beautifully with that marble checkerboard floor. The chandeliers sparkled and shined as if nary a spot of dust was ever allowed to gather. The inlaid crest on center of the floor lent such dignity to the whole affair. I felt like I was in a very grand world for a couple of hours.

Inspiring music in an equally inspiring environment. How Heavenly.

These are the texts for the words to the Hallelujah Chorus. Maybe this will help bring up that familiar music in your head.

And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)
And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:16)
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Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Chris Tomlin Concert

When I am in the middle of a crowd of people worshipping God, I feel like I am connected with Heaven and communing with my son, who is doing the same thing there. I feel reassured that my son is alive and well, that God is who he says He is, and that this sorrow-filled world will one day become a glorious and joy-filled eternal reunion.

Last night Chris sang this song:
"My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior, has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, amazing grace..."

As he sang, for the first time I realized that my son's chains are gone and he's been set free. He is free to never again worry about the tragedies of this world--about brokenness in all its forms. Things like war, and politics, and injustice, and taxes and crime and poverty, and hunger, and disease and death. He never has to worry again about a broken relationship, a flat tire, or a toothache. This world hurts and disappoints and we all wait for the day when it's redeemed. And I realized, again for the first time, that for my son, the pain and misery are over. For the first time, I could step out of my personal loss, and imagine instead what he has found.

It was just a blessed moment of clarity.

Romans 8:22-24
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Our Last Christmas Together

The view from our cabin window looking out at the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.

We spent our cabin time trying to get a peek at this between the passing clouds. These beautiful peaks were the focus of so much of our conversation and seeing them became a quest.

Their raw beauty filled us with awe.

Joey and I doing some Christmas shopping between ski days.

He didn't like to shop, so he unknowingly gave me a gift that day-- just to hang out with me. It's a tender memory now.

Oh, to have those precious moments again.

Drinking beer and hot toddies at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson Hole, WY. This was much more to his liking. I bought him a t-shirt there which he loved.

His easy grin as he opened presents on Christmas morning. He basked in the pleasure of the moment. He was always good about being in the moment and exuded joy and contentment as he soaked life in.
How I miss his smile and his style

What a gift he was.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Riding the Waves

Joe and Joey riding those gorgeous Maui waves.

When I still lived in Maui, I could sit in my living room and look out my picture window to the beautiful ocean beyond. It was a veritable parade of sights--with whales spouting, and swimmers, snorkelers, and canoe teams paddling by. In the past couple years, we began to see a new sight. People standing on surfboards--paddleboarders--would glide by, rhythmically stroking their way through the water with a long oar. It looked easy enough, so I finally tried it with a couple of my sportier girlfriends. I fell on my first attempt to stand up on the board and a couple of other times thereafter, with one particularly nasty spill over the front of my board that left me with a 4" wide black bruise on my hip. But eventually, after several attempts, I was able to balance myself on the board in the water and relax just enough to enjoy the new experience. My more knowledgeable friends told me the waters were actually a bit too rough that day with little white caps all around us, and that people usually only paddle board on glassy waters.

I finally managed to keep my balance by keeping my knees bent and rolling with the waves. If a wave came in off the left, then I bent my left knee and then my right as the wave tipped my board and rolled on underneath me. If the wave came from the front of my board, I bent both knees to absorb the impact, and kept a wide sideways stance, steadying myself by going with the rise and fall of the board. I quickly learned that I couldn't lean on the paddle at all. It was only good for propelling me forward, and sometimes it was a distraction or the actual cause of my downfall, if it got hooked in the water at the wrong angle.

My life now, after terrible loss, feels very much like trying to keep my balance on a board in the midst of a rough sea. I am constantly attempting to roll with the waves that strike from various sides of the board, and to prevent myself from taking a fall in the deep seas of despair, doubt and lethargy. The board I ride now is my hope of Heaven, reunion with our beloved son, and that Shining Day when God wipes away every tear. I am in a constant balancing act, trying to stay on the board, absorb the waves that come my way, and using the promises of God to propel me forward.

I admit I get knocked off my board regularly, and do a lot of swimming and work to get back up on it. Last week was such a week. We had another water leak in our house, damaging walls, carpets, ceilings and floors. We had to endure another slew of gigantic high-decibel fans upstairs and down and prepare ourselves for yet another wave of dusty, noisy repairs throughout the house. At the same time, I am spending many hours at our new church facility, priming and painting, designing and problem-solving, motivating volunteers, trying to help create an inviting environment there for our opening in January. On top of that, I have been asked to join the board of the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia, which at any other time would have been an honor, but in grief I wonder if I have any strength to give to this worthy cause when I drain out so easily and frequently. And crowning it all, the once glad, but now sad, Christmas holiday season is upon us, and I am wanting to be present for my grandchildren and my daughters and yet I am missing my son and my previous life, when he was still here, so terribly.

Really, just one of those things all by itself would be a full load right now. All together, they have knocked me off my board, and left me treading water in the rough seas, trying not to panic, but hyper-ventilating, nonetheless. I am trying to wriggle myself back up on to my board, trying to regain my balance, trying to roll with the waves, trying not to lean on anything that won't support me, trying to get back to a place where I can gingerly paddle my way around again.

Today I am not sure how to do that. Every option, in every direction, lacks promise for relief. I can't seem to find the solution that will fix my life for this moment. So I'm bobbing in an overwhelming sea of confusion, crying out to God for help.

Today I have nothing more than a prayer for wisdom, strength, and hope. We shall see.

"And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep. And they went and woke Him, saying, "Save, Lord; we are perishing." And He said to them, "Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?" Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?"
Matthew 8:24-27 RSV

Monday, November 30, 2009

Joey's Besties

Joey's Best Friends
Thanksgiving 2009
At Tom and Melissa's house-- Joey's second parents.
With the Six Sons, with whom Joey grew up,
and their significant others.
With JR and pregnant Clara, and Theo--
friends and roommates at USC,
and Joey's beautiful Rachel.
I only wish I could have been there to give them all a hug and a thank you. They are forever faithful friends, and we love them all so much.
"It takes a long time to grow an old friend."
John Leonard

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Quilt of Comfort

When I started blogging in February, I did it as a way to remember our son, to keep him present with us daily through pictures and memories. Grief is full of turmoil and it's an agonizing and isolating experience. I found I could process some of my painful feelings through the blog and also interact with others on a simple level. It allowed me to keep facing and processing my grief, instead of running and hiding. I knew I would wear out those closest to me if they had to listen to my grief every day. With the blog, I could write it and they could choose to read it or not, and it relieved my sense of being a burden.

I had no idea that it would turn out to be such a place of healing for me. I also didn't anticipate that I would meet other grieving mothers also walking this same heartbroken journey. These women, only two of whom I've actually met in person, are such a help to me--Gannet Girl, Karen G., Chris, Mary Beth, Sharon, Ruthie, Jenny, Kay, and Caitsmom, and others that I am still getting to know. They are all women of faith who, like me, are trying to come to terms with an upside-down world, an empty place, a trauma, and an aching loss that will never be fixed till this life is over. We weep together and are writing our own book of Lamentations.

These women are mirrors to my own heart, and like members of a support group who tailgate on one another's insights, they write eloquently about feelings that I often can't put into words. Sometimes they express angry feelings, sometimes they are wrestling with unanswered questions, often they are forlorn and full of longing. Other times they inspire me and build my faith and hope in God. At all times, they understand, support, and remove me from the lonely icy cold of isolation. They don't rush me, they don't judge me, and they don't roll their eyes. They don't get tired of hearing about the pain that never leaves my heart.

So this Thanksgiving, I send a very big hug and thank you to all of them. They are my patchwork quilt of comfort, for which I am truly, deeply, incredibly thankful this year.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Last November

At this time last year, we were on the road. We had to move Joey's anthropomorphic VW bus, fondly known as "Gunther", out from a storage facility in L.A., where it had been languishing for six months, for lack of a better plan. We decided to drive Gunther cross country to its new home, and hopefully new term of service, with our grandchildren in Virginia Beach. It was stuffed full of Joey's life--his chair, his guitars, his backpack and ski gear, and his ashes. We had fears that Gunther couldn't make the trip, but Rachel reassured us that this dented, but sturdy VW was road-hardened from traveling round the Northern Hemisphere and would not fail us. And she was right. We made the long journey without mechanical incident, and arrived safely at our destination the day before Thanksgiving, just as planned.

At that time, my chest cavity was still filled to the top with leaden boulders of grief. I barely breathed. I lived in a heavy fog of shock and confusion, and could hardly think, move, plan or execute. I had no capacity for pressure or stress. I was in excruciating, heretofore unimagined pain, and each day was necessarily basic, simple and uncomplicated. It was as if all my bones were broken and I dared not move anything for fear of the pain it would unleash.

Gunther's gear shift knob and funky rastifarian foot pedals, just as Joey and Rachel found them when they bought it.

The sorrowful but necessary trip turned out to be an unanticipated blessing. It was hard leaving the safety of our home in Maui to go back to L.A., the scene of so much devastating loss. But as we drove away from L.A. out into the wide expanses of the West, away from people and cities and buildings, over rugged mountains, through long green valleys, peering down into paintbox canyons covered with rocks and trees, we began to lose our fear of the road and of change. We soon found we relished the start of each day's drive, sitting in the refuge of our son's van, experiencing some of what Joey and Rachel lived when they took a similar trip the year before; and particularly soothing for us: the peace of miles of solitude that stretched before us with no responsibilities except to fill the gas tank.

We had a modest time table, and so we could take each day as it came, making time to stop and smell and listen and feel the changing season as we moved east. One Sunday morning near the end of our trip, we had an especially magical drive through the Smoky Mountains. There were few other cars on the road at 7 a.m. , and the light was different--so clear, shimmering with life, so quiet you could hear it, so peaceful our raw nerve endings settled into a purr. And the peace touched our ragged souls, both of us, deeply, maybe for the first time since Joey left. We listened to worship music and let it soak into us as we drove wordlessly, through the most beautiful cathedral of them all. The trees spired high over our heads, and the most incredible blue sky sat straight above us, peeking in and out of the trees. It was a holy moment. It was one of those moments when you know there is something more personal and powerful and mystical to the universe than what we've pieced together so far.

My little camera could not do it justice, but these pictures will give you the idea.

We drove in a sacred hush, quieted by the beauty outside our windows. I was beginning to realize that nature could comfort me in a deeper way than anything else and more than I thought possible. No words, no music, no person, could give me the internal balm that the beauty of nature gave me.

I will admit I was suspicious of that. I have been trained to worship the Creator, not the creation. When our pastor recently taught on the book of Job, I got a new perspective. I've now concluded that at times of deep suffering, we can't see or hear the Creator. When Job's torrent of pain and confusion finally poured forth in despair and frustration, he got smack into God's face with his questions. And God smacked right back-- not with answers, but with his own set of questions: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"

Four chapters later, God's basic response to Job is "look at what I've made--look at Nature". It doesn't tell us "why", but it does declare the greatness of God and that He is big enough for all that we doubt. That makes sense to me and has freed me to do what I had already been doing, finding solace in the beauty of nature.

It was the most memorable segment of our 5000 mile trip, and it was the start of a turning point in our lives. We emerged from the mountain passes into the wide, grassy valleys below.

We had planned to stay with our daughters just through the holidays, but while we were there, we made the decision to pack up our own previously idyllic island life and move to Virginia. People are usually surprised by this and ask how we could do it. Simple. We couldn't bear any more separation from our beloved children. It was already too much that Joey was gone. And so began a new beginning...

A year later we know it was the right decision. Everything has changed, nothing is the same, yet we are surviving. We feel less heaviness. We shed fewer tears. We are settling in. We miss our son endlessly, and yet we are slowly trusting the Maker of it all that there is a bigger plan.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Till Death Do Us Part

so young
so much in love
never imagining that our future held
unbearable grief
we are learning
to bear
holding on
for better for worse
love you
husband of mine
Eccles 4:12
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

leaves fall

the leaves are falling now

at my feet

soft and damp

layered together

to be swept up

bagged up

tossed away

as if they never bloomed green and lush in my trees

waiting waiting


a long icy cold


I hear they will appear


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Sunday, November 15, 2009

My Entry Closet Transformation--Before and After Pictures

Ready yourselves. I'm going to reveal a dirty family secret. Just look at this mess!
Shoes, coats, scarves, all in a deplorable state of disorder!

Yes, it's true! We would just coldly and carelessly chuck our shoes inside the entry closet when we came in the door! What a mess.

This is what it looked like pre-remodel-- with the doors off and all cleaned out. Poised to start the remodel. Check out Carpenter Dan's plan below.

~Dan the Man's Plan~
Moldings, bench, beadboard, hooks, shelves.
Scroll down to see the finished product...

The Beautiful Afters!

~The Finished Product~

Gorgeous! 13 hooks, a shelf and a lift-top bench for the shoes. It also looks gorgeous from the inside!

Dan the Man, remodeler par excellence!

Another fantastic project by the ultimate craftsman.

We love this guy!

Please notice the padded lift-top bench.
Thank you, Dan! You're a genius and a gentleman!

Note that the shoes are now neatly laying in the storage bin below.

Last view of it empty...5-4-3-2-1....

This is how it looks now as we start to fill it up! Beautiful and orderly--the perfect balance between form and function.
Simply lovely!! Oh, I love this little nook!

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Little Heartthrob

I'm just sayin'--the kid is cute!
Happy Birthday Party Day, Aidan!
Your Nana adores you.
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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Beauty Will Rise

Steven Curtis Chapman and his daughter, Maria, who is now in Heaven.

I have felt linked to this family's grief, partly because they lost Maria the day before we lost Joey, and partly because I have always loved SCC's music. He continues to inspire and comfort me. His wife's blog is linked in my sidebar. She expresses feelings similar to my own and I am grateful for her honesty and transparency through the past 18 months.

Reported in CNN today:

"Chapman, who has been singing Christian music for more than 20 years, was now faced with a God he had not known before. Everything he thought about God was different, he said, and he began to wrestle with his beliefs.

His new album, his 19th, entitled "Beauty Will Rise," is his personal testament to Maria's life and the overwhelming belief that they will be together again one day."

"Reviews have been positive and respectful. The New York Times called it "stirring." Billboard said, "Never has a writer's pain sounded more achingly raw. ... The new set examines unfathomable grief, but also celebrates an extraordinary young life."

"Milligan said that he believes the music's meaning transcends the tragedy that inspired it.
"In recording these songs he knew they were going to bring hope to a lot of people," Milligan said. "And that is so much what he is about. These songs are timeless, people will always be hurting and these songs will always speak to them."