Painful Anniversaries, Part 2: Birthdays

chris-at-age-2Remembering my brother is not an option for me. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t wonder how he would look, what he would be doing, who he would be impacting, what kind of prank he would be playing on a friend or unsuspecting acquaintance. Celebrating his birthday is one of those days that cannot be overlooked, despite wondering if others think it is weird or creepy to celebrate the birth of someone who has died. At this point, I really don’t care what anyone thinks. In the short fourteen years he served as my brother, his part significantly impacted who I am, and I can’t forget that. Ever.


I have a feeling he would rather have had a brother, but that didn’t stop him from teaching me to read before I entered Kindergarten. He brought home the old Dick and Jane books and took the time to tutor me.


He broke his arm one summer and wore a cast, but that didn’t stop him from holding tightly to my hand at the edge of the lake while our family was on vacation.

He didn’t have to take me out sledding one snowy day when all his friends were sick, but that didn’t stop him from borrowing their runner sled, telling me not to go down the hill by myself, then yelling at me because he cared when I did so, only to cut open my forehead as I slid under the barbed-wire fence at the bottom of the hill.

chris-and-vicky-portraitHe didn’t want me playing with his toys when he wasn’t around, but that didn’t stop him from inviting me to his room for hours on Sunday afternoons to build Hot Wheels barricades (from C batteries, toy car tires, popsicle sticks, and army men) and watch the cars crash them or laugh as the cats chased them down the track.

He didn’t allow me to play his records, but it didn’t stop him from playing them for me, despite the damage I could have caused him had I mentioned to our parents that he was the reason I knew all the words to the songs on a Carpenters’ album.

He didn’t have a lot of money to buy me birthday gifts, but that didn’t stop him from giving me just what I wanted: a shipping box with a string tied around it that he quickly cut with his switchblade to let out his cat’s kitten. (He loved animals so much, I think he just secretly wanted to keep one and that was the only way Mom would let him.)

He didn’t have to tell me what was going on with him, but that didn’t stop him from sharing how much it hurt him to spend so much time working and studying (because he thought it was expected of him) to not be able to join his classmates in sports and fun activities.

He didn’t have to have me in his wedding, but that didn’t stop him from asking me himself, even though his bride-to-be wanted the same thing.

He didn’t have to spend his money to give me a fabulously fun 14th birthday, but that didn’t stop him, even when he wouldn’t ride some of the rides because he struggled with motion sickness.

He didn’t have to take me to school on his motorcycle when he stayed with us just weeks before his accident, but that didn’t stop him from making his little sister feel like a million bucks riding up on campus with her very handsome big brother.

He didn’t have to be a friend or show kindness to those who felt less-than, but that didn’t stop him from loving the underdog and wanting them to feel like someone cared.

Today he would be 60 years old. And he is not forgotten. In his 20 short years, he impacted far more than most people do in three times that many. I only hope to live my life to show that a life cut short was not in vain. To impact the world in his memory and make him proud to have had a little sister. Today I celebrate Christopher Alan Boggs.

Invitation to Your Life

Today I had the privilege of speaking to a group of more than 50 men who have worked hard to complete a substance abuse treatment program inside the local jail, 14 of whom were my direct clients. Many would wash their hands of the chemically-dependent, writing them off as the lowest of society. However, they are sons, brothers, and fathers, and I’m honored to hear their stories and help them see there is hope for a different future. This is what I said to them:

“I am currently reading a book called Love Does by Bob Goff. He writes short anecdotal stories that he relates to the action of love rather than love as a feeling.

One story was particularly interesting to me as I read it and thought of you all and the work you’ve been doing to change. He calls the chapter, There’s More Room, and says, “I used to think I needed an invitation to get into most places, but now I know I’m already invited.”

The shortened version goes like this:

He explains that he has been to the White House to visit on numerous occasions, especially around Easter because of the “swanky” Easter egg hunt happening on the White House lawn, but has never been invited to it. His family would show up and hide eggs along the fence that separates those on the “inside” from the rest of us. They’d dress up and pretend to be part of the “distinguished gathering.” He was always tempted to roll an egg under the fence to see if guys in suits might tackle him and talk into their sleeves. They would use a small area to hide eggs, so they were easy to spot, but his kids were young and probably just thought they were experts at finding eggs. He wanted them to know they were included in important things, that they belonged, that they were invited.

There are lots of events he never got invited to – the Oscars, Paul McCartney’s birthday party, or a space shuttle launch. If he did get one, even to the White House Easter egg hunt, he would definitely go. There is nothing like feeling included. He says there is only one invitation it would kill him to refuse, yet is tempted to turn down regularly. All of us get the invitation every morning to wake up and actually live a life of complete engagement, of whimsy, a life where love does. The invitation doesn’t come in an envelope. It’s ushered in by the sunrise, the sound of a bird, or the smell of coffee. It’s the invitation to actually live, to fully participate in this amazing life every day. Nobody turns down an invitation to the White House, but plenty of you have been turning down the invitation to truly live.

Turning down this invitation looks different to all of us. It could be using a chemical substance or any other number of addictive actions to numb some painful experience or memory. Someone called us a name or put a label on us, and we believe we aren’t worthy of the invitation. It could be distracting ourselves from seeing what isn’t normal because we have not been prepared to deal with it appropriately. It can also look like refusing to forgive or not being grateful for what we have or being chained to fear or envy. It could be fear of reconnecting with a friend because it’s been too long and we are ashamed to have allowed so much time to come between us. It could be that our friends have been participating for years and we’re ashamed to show up late.

We receive an invitation to live each day and sometimes we forget to show up because we’re just tired or have convinced ourselves that we weren’t invited. But we are invited. Every day. Over and over again. When you don’t show up, others will. And yet there is still room for you.

Two things happen when we accept the invitation to participate in life.

  1. Obstacles and hurdles that seem insurmountable aren’t. Things we believe disqualify us don’t.
  2. It’s contagious. Others watch and see that life is amazing, and start believing the invitation is open to them as well. There IS room for them, too.

So, you’ve spent about 18 weeks here, clearing your mind and your body of chemicals that are capable of damaging your body. Understanding that the choices you made are not who you are. Opening your eyes to the opportunities that are yours. This place is not a place to live your life. But this is a place to start again. This is your invitation to truly live a life of engagement. To fully participate in the work of showing up. Time to show up for the real party called life. Welcome to your amazing life.”

In reality, these words were not only for the graduates. Much of the content was also directed at me, as a reminder that I need not wait around for the perfect storm to put things in motion. I must get moving, taking each small step after another to create the life I want.

Goff, B. (2012). Love does: Discover a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

The Beauty of Age

GraceNotes Then

GraceNotes Then

Recently, a group of people with whom I used to sing reunited for a memorial service for one of our beloved members. (Hence the arrow pointed at the missing member, upper left.) GraceNotes has been a source of joy for me, and it was great to see each one of them, despite the great sadness we all felt at the loss of a man God used to bring outsiders into His fold. We reminisced about some hilarious times together through the years, as well as the uniqueness of the entire group. The years have crept in and we are scattered here and there. But coming together to join our voices brought back so many raw emotions that it was beautiful and overwhelming to experience. Some members I see on a regular basis; others just occasionally. For still others, it had been years since I had a chance to catch up on what their lives are about these days. Still more members communicated with us from afar.

Two things have been on my mind since, and I’ve been chastising myself for not getting them written down sooner. The first was the ease at which we gathered, hugged, and talked together, like it was just yesterday since we had sung together. There is something about the bond that happens when we share our lives with others in such a tightknit group, particularly as we lifted our voices in harmony together. I was reminded of how much I had wanted to be a part of a small choir while in college many years ago. I was incredibly disappointed that I was not chosen, especially due to the reason. How joyful it was to be asked into GraceNotes years later, and have the pleasure of continuing my favorite pastime of singing with such a talented and spiritual group of people. Being a part of this “family” helped me through some very dark times, and I will always be grateful for the privilege.

The second thing I noticed was the beauty I saw in each of these group members. I never viewed them as any less, but there was something about the beauty of age. Maybe it is the softening of age – not in a weak sense, but in the maturity, a strength, if you will, that calls for less judging of self and more loving of others. Maybe it is the trials that each has been through and not only survived, but thrived in the face of pain or stress or loss. Maybe it is just the beauty of Jesus shining through because we’ve discovered it is ALL about Him. Maybe it was just me – seeing each one in a different light – seeing a beauty that is beyond the surface, that shines through in love, in acceptance, in true empathy. We’ve always heard that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I can tell you. I beheld beauty in each one. A beauty that surpasses any pageant or performance. Beauty that, in the face of sorrow, appreciates the loss because it says we experienced great love.

GraceNotes Now

GraceNotes Now

Reunions are not always pleasant events, much less happy ones. Joining together to say, “So long,” to a friend and loved one is especially difficult. When you’re able to see the beauty of family and friendship, your heart swells up and leaks from your eyes. There is grief for what is no more. There is joy for what was. And there is hope for what will be someday – our all-inclusive reunion with Jesus and all the other beautiful people who have touched and inspired me. I want to make sure they know how beautiful they are to me, and how grateful I am to be part of this family.

Celebrating Life


This past week, I celebrated the anniversary of the day I was born. No, I’m not saying how many anniversaries, but the years are adding up. (And for those who already know how many, SHUSH!) I have gotten in the habit of making a big deal of birthdays, thanks to my dad, who never forgot a special day, and always did his best to make sure the day was as special as the person being celebrated. As a child, we made trips to a nearby lake to fish and picnic, to a state park to swim, or he asked someone to make a special cake for me when I accompanied him on a preaching assignment. I also watched him celebrate my mother just because he loved her. (He was allergic to chocolate, but would always bring her a hot fudge sundae with nuts when he returned from the nearest town, seven miles away. That is LOVE!)

As an adult, there have been periods when I have heard friends diminish the value of celebrating birthdays, perhaps because they were shown that it’s just another day or they may feel embarrassed by the attention. Or the years are adding up and have negative feelings about aging. At any rate, I have always believed that everyone needs a special day to be honored. I frequently receive questioning looks when I plan to celebrate my day at Disneyland. I’m not sure what the problem is. I suppose if I were married, a quiet, romantic getaway might be more appropriate. Since I’m not, the excitement and joy of “The Happiest Place on Earth” is my choice, and I refuse to apologize for that.

Here’s why. The weight of work and responsibility can be overwhelming at times, and allowing myself to enjoy being around the wonder and excitement of children reminds me that play is an equally important part of life. One incident at the park this week confirmed this notion. Disneyland is celebrating 60 years of fun and imagination. (And before you get all bent out of shape about the money being made off of poor, unsuspecting consumers, hear me out.) While our party was situated at the front of a designated viewing spot waiting for the recently updated Electric Light parade to begin, a mother asked if two children could stand in front of us when the parade started. They had tried to view the first showing, and had been cut off by taller adults and were unable to lift the four-year-olds for an extended period of time so they could still see. We gladly agreed, and made room for them in front of us. Little did we know that these two girls would provide as much, if not more, entertainment as the parade. They shared the exiting parts of their day, showing us their autograph books and naming the characters who had signed them. They got excited for every character in the parade, and when we saw the two characters from Frozen coming toward us, and asked who they were, they both, in unison, with all the energy they had, raised their arms, jumped up and down, and screamed, “Anna and Elsa, Anna and Elsa,” at the top of their lungs.

Whether you’re a fan of all-things-Disney or not, witnessing this childlike joy and excitement put life into perspective. When did life become mundane? Why do we let the mundane take away our joy and excitement so often? When did we decide that adults don’t act like that? I have so much in my life for which to get excited. I have to return to reality, but how can I make it exciting every day? I have a career I truly love. I have coworkers and clients who inspire me. I have family and friends who stand by me through thick and thin. I want to be exited about the “normal” in life and celebrate that life each day.

As these thoughts were meandering around my brain, another situation came to my attention. In recent years, the term “funeral” is spoken less regarding the formal gathering for a loved one or friend who has died, and the description “celebration of life” is used in its place. I’ve been to some of these events and they are truly celebrations of what the deceased has accomplished or the love he or she shared while alive. (The service for my paternal grandmother was one of those.) I can certainly appreciate the sentiment, and I know that many shared their feelings and thoughts while the loved one was still alive. I want to take on the challenge of celebrating others when they can hear or read my words and “feel the love.”

So … how about taking on this challenge with me. I dare you to handwrite a letter or card. To a coworker who has made your load lighter or shown strength of character. To a friend  who is always willing to hear about your difficult days. To a family member who needs to know they are important enough to hear some sweet words from you. (Not an email or text alone. A handwritten note. Please.) Celebrate life now. Before someone is gone and you’re saying those things for your own comfort. (Not that that isn’t okay, as well. But really. Do it now.)

IMG_0720If there is any business who takes celebrating life seriously fun, it’s Disney. You may not believe in some of the concepts they support, but you have to agree that their mission is celebrating life, and cast members are taught to carry it out. And there is no requirement of proof. I wore my “It’s my Birthday!” button three days, and I can tell you it is very special when hundreds, including other guests, offered greetings. Two different eating establishments offered small, free desserts. (Not to mention, feeding my roller coaster addiction.) On top of that, more than 100 friends took the time to acknowledge my special day on social media. I feel truly loved, and I have pictures and notes to go back and read on days when the chatter in my head has me believing differently. (I know I’m not the only one who hears the negative chatter.)

Celebrate others. Allow others to celebrate you! Get excited about who you are and what you have to offer. I would dare to wager that if you’re excited about your life, those who matter will get excited with and for you.