Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Beautiful Boy

I remember the day I gave birth to this beautiful child. I didn't know I was having a boy, but having had our two darling girls, and pink everything and rhinestones and princess costumes,we were ready to walk on the wild side over snips and snails and puppy dog tails. Joey came home and snuggled immediately into the family circle. There was no 3rd child adjustment--he just slid in and sync'ed into the rhythm. And he was always that way, wherever he went. He seemed to slide into any new environment with ease--kindergarten, youth group, his new school in Maui, his college dorm. He made friends easily and knew how to make strangers laugh. He was easy to know and love.

 Here he is at one, with a bump on his forehead, sitting on his big boy flip-down chair. I loved that little jacket with the wooly collar. I guess that's why he's wearing it with his shorts! Loved the knees--so round and smooth, and the little folded hands. That was before his limbs got all long and gangly. He eventually grew into his ears, but the soft eyes and the smooth line of his smile never changed.

Sitting by a campfire, 27 years later, on the road someplace north,  maybe Alaska. He was never so happy as when he was sitting in the great outdoors, breathing it in. Trees, campfires, stars, beaches, waves, mountains, snow. All of it. Staring at it and thinking, absorbing. Thanks to Rachel's artist eye and quick camera, we have many of these treasured moments preserved.

His heart and soul were big enough for the sweeping beauty behind him. He fit there and celebrated it.
And because of this, I believe he is having a very similar experience in Paradise. Celebrating and exploring a universe of unbelievable sights.

He lived with zest and passion. He could make fun in a split second. He was highly verbal, especially for a boy, and always had a story to tell. He was a typical family baby--he loved to entertain, and he vitalized any gathering with his humor. I miss his wit and energy so much...and his wisdom and wry insight too.

He was an explorer. He was curious. He was an adventurer. I am so glad he got out and saw the world, and encouraged me to do the same. He was so vibrant and alive that it was contagious. He widened my view. He lead the way. He continues to do that from Heaven, as he has opened my eyes to th world to come.  I have come to an assurance that even though he is far away, he is all the more alive, and he is waiting with family and new friends for the day we join him.  

His other happy place: in a studio, or on a stage, with a guitar in his hands. He was a singer, a song writer, a musician at his core. This was what he was doing on the final night of his life, and at around 2 am he went to bed... and woke up in another world. Did he smile when he understood? Did two angels whisk him up into the stratosphere and beyond?  And that moment of being in the presence of God? --on his knees, face down, grateful and awestruck. What a rush of reality. We are waiting with faith and hope for that moment of reunion and our own inevitable merciful encounter with the Holy One.

For now, we are earthbound. We are trying to live despite our loss, and love those around us better than we ever have.

On Joey's last birthday before he died, the last we ever shared with him, we had a big poker night at his sister Jaime's house. Hours at the green felt table, joking, strategizing, bluffing his way through-- seriously intent on winning a pile of colored chips.  He was always competitive.  I can't remember now if he won, or if he came in second, but what mattered was this: we all won. It was a rich night of friendship, companionship,  laughter and love. It was good. A memory for the decades to come.

It's so important to make sweet memories with those you love. You never know when they will  have to sustain someone for the rest of their earthly lives.

Vintage Joey. Long limbs, t-shirt and jeans, sitting in the woods, breathing deeply in the cool, green-filled air. I picture him like this now. Peaceful, appreciative, thoughtful, content, alive to what stands before him, alive to a universe full of love and beauty, and waiting for us.

I have spent the past three years trying to understand the mystery of life, the whys of my own journey, and the purpose of Joey's short life. Through the tears and the sorrow, my heart has broken open. New things have been planted in that fertile ground. My faith has grown. I sometimes wondered if I would ever trust God again. But I do, and more than ever. We are a candle in the wind. He is eternal. He will explain it all someday and it will make sense. For now, Jesus loves me, and faith, hope and love abide.

Happy Birthday, my precious Joey, my beautiful son. Thank you for all you gave to all of us. Your mother loves you, loves knowing you are safe, misses you deeply, and longs for you with hope and a promise of the world to come.

We are gathered in a circle of love today, our family with Rachel and Kevin and Molly and Josie and Ryan, and remembering beautiful you.

John 14:1-3
 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I never realized, till Joey went to Heaven, how much music, art and literature are really about that beautiful place. I began to see it everywhere, and this song, originally made famous by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, and then re-birthed with a Hawaiian vibe by Bruddah Iz and his ukulele,  is one that stands out in particular.   There is such a deep longing for Heaven in every human heart. And if we long for it, then God has not only created the longing, but He has also created the fulfillment--the Place.

This artist has taken liberties with the lyrics. Where he has put the word laughter, the actual lyrics say, "Where troubles melt like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops..." Troubles, not laughter. Troubles seem to be a very important part of the transforming process of life. Laughter is nice, but it doesn't change a thing in us.  The sufferings and trials of life, and how we respond to them,  are the telling thing.

The mystery of suffering is a big one, and needless to say, I don't pretend to understand it. But I have concluded one thing:  troubles are intended to make us fit for Heaven. If we walk through them in simple trust and obedience, even when we are crushed, filled with questions, filled with doubts and fears, we will be transformed. But if trouble turns us away from God, or we attempt to fix it our own way, or surrender ourselves to hedonism to make the pain go away, it locks out its necessary effect.

 Suffering, in and of itself, will not improve us. We have to make a choice about the suffering for it to make us better. If it is painstakingly borne as being permitted by a loving heavenly Father for a good purpose, it will eventually produce character, perseverance, and love. Then, we can know that troubles are doing a good work in us--a work that's essential. Because frankly, and this is the heart of the matter, most of us would ruin Heaven, and create another tragic earth,  if we are not transformed on some level before we get there.
Don't you agree?

So now I am often saying, "God, transform me. Use my suffering to make me better." 
And though it's not easy, I try to really mean it. Cuz in my deepest heart of hearts, that's what I need.  

 Somewhere over the rainbow, I'll wake up in a place where there are no more troubles...this NOW is my only moment to be changed by them.

II Peter 1: 5-15
 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Freedom Isn't Free

Our community is devastated by the loss of 22 SEALs in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan yesterday. We know and love the wives and children of these incredible men, and yesterday their lives were changed forever. It is beyond heartbreaking for so many to be lost at once. America's finest have incredibly brave, sacrificial wives and children as well, but this collective loss goes farther than any of us ever imagined. The community and local churches have mobilized to bring comfort and help, but there is nothing we can do to take away the visceral pain of this loss. They will have to learn to live on without their beloved husbands and fathers, sons and brothers. Please keep these precious families in your prayers. Every American owes them a debt of gratitude.

You can donate to the Navy Seal Foundation at; or to the families of the fallen at

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Surprised by Joy

Last week, something amazing happened to me.  I went along on mission with our church youth group. We drove ten hours to Tennessee to work with Operation Backyard. This organization repairs the homes of needy people for free, using volunteer labor and materials purchased by donors. I went along as the cook for our exuberant group of 30 high and middle schoolers and  their leaders. I had never done such a thing before, but I knew they would need some healthy food to fuel their efforts. I packed my good knife and cutting board, my apron and my pillow, and headed out the door, driving through VA, NC and through the Appalachian Mountains into TN.

My daughter (front right) was a chaperone/project manager, and my three granddaughters and their friends were part of the crew. They were all the incentive I needed to make this trek. I wanted to be there for whatever they needed. Their team prepped and painted this house for a wheel-chair bound man, whom you can just barely see in the frame of the door.

They climbed the roof to scrape under the eaves. She, of course, has never done such a thing before.

They painted while balancing themselves on top of ladders. No mattresses underneath to catch them if they fell.

They contended with dust flakes from old paint. It had been many, many years since this nearly 100 year-old house had been painted.

Days and days of back-breaking work in 95 degree temperatures. Nary a complaint.

Meanwhile, the second half of our team was in another part of town, re-roofing another house. Yup, our high schoolers just ripped off the old roof and completely replaced it with a new one.

They were also up in the stratosphere, climbing around like pros.

They nailed hundreds of new shingles on to the roof, guided by a roofing professional from our church.

After being in the hot sun day after day, one wonderful night they got a refreshing cool-down in the fountains of Knoxville's World's Fair Park.

Back at our host church, we all slept on the floor and the girls did so without complaint. These are my roomies. They made me laugh. Lots.

Here they are the next morning, eating the breakfast that I got up at 5:15am to prepare, so they could leave for the job at 7am each day. I had never cooked repeatedly for this size of crowd, but loved every minute of it. Spaghetti, pulled pork, stuffed potatoes, baked chicken, french toast, turkey bacon, mexican scrambled eggs. The usual. They were so affirming and grateful, and I felt a joy and enthusiasm I haven't felt since Joey departed. These kids were such an encouragement to me.

Here is our incredible team of leaders and chaperones. They prayed, counselled, encouraged and lead by example. They all hammered and scraped and painted right alongside of the kids. And laughed. Lots of that.

All done with their labor of love, the kids take a picture with the homeowner. See that neat roof behind them? They couldn't have been more proud if they had just won a league championship.

Our second group,  also smiling from ear to ear. It feels really good to help people...
Who knew?

With the work done, we headed to our pastor's parents' house at gorgeous Lake Norris in TN. A day and half of lake swimming and jet skiing--such a nice refreshing drink after a  a job well done.

Two of my granddaughters and a friend waiting for morning devotions to start. This was the highlight of each day. I loved hearing how God was working on the hearts of these kids.

It was such a sweet time of sharing thoughts and experiences. Each one answered the question, "Where did you see Jesus this week?". I, of course, saw Him in each of these loving, giving kids.

Praying together.

A final photo before heading home.
This group was so bonded, so full of love and joy, and high on what they had just accomplished. I felt so privileged to be part of this team. That's me in the front, third from left, and my daughter next to me on the right.
I came home with new memories, new friends,and  new hopes. Perhaps it's possible to live again with joy in this world.