When the Good Memories Outweigh the Grief: Tools of the Trade

more-toolsSix years ago, I wrote this letter, wiping the tears away after each line. Missing my dad and his goofy jokes, his heart for people, his beautiful tenor voice.

“Dear Dad,                                                                      1/7/11

Today would have been your 82nd birthday. It’s hard to believe you’ve been gone almost 10 years. Just thought I’d jot down the memories that have been playing through my mind today. From stories of your childhood, pranks you pulled in high school, lame and over-used jokes, to your tender heart for those experiencing troubles, you touched many with humor and love.

I experienced so many things because you felt strongly about showing Chris and me the world.  Many times we vacationed in places where significant time walking caused your legs to shake in pain all night, preventing sleep. Never did that hinder you from taking us to visit more beautiful and exciting places the next time, even enduring the long lines to the wild rides at King’s Island.

Your love of music has not been lost on me. I remember hearing you yell from the other room for me to stop singing and go to sleep. I was only four or five, but quoted the words from Redeemed, “I sing for I cannot be silent.” You tried to hold back a smile, but I knew you were proud that your love of music was in my heart. When I played in a recital or sang in church, no matter how many mistakes I made, you thought I was perfect. I’m not sure I can ever listen to someone else tune a piano without missing you.

I remember riding along in the big trucks with you to pick up gravel, lumber, hay from Ohio, or Sunday evenings on the bus transporting college students who were anxious about the narrow bridge across the river. “Just close your eyes like I do,” was your reassuring retort that brought laughs from some and nervous looks from others. Were you surprised when I got my CDL and drove a school bus?

When I made mistakes or bad choices, I knew you were disappointed, but you never stopped loving me. So many times you could have said you tried to warn me, but you didn’t. You weren’t perfect, and you never claimed to be, but your example showed me that nothing can separate me from God’s love.

Losing Chris changed you, as it did all of us, but in that most painful time of your life, when anger towards God might have been justified, you leaned on Him even more. Singing in The Messiah was something I looked forward to as a child, but the reality of it was even better. Watching tears stream down your face while you directed ‘Surely He has born our grief and carried our sorrow’ was evidence of your faith. Anyone who had any feelings couldn’t sing half-heartedly, knowing that you knew firsthand what grief and sorrow felt like. You always said you wanted to direct a choir of angels singing The Hallelujah Chorus when you got to heaven. I like to imagine you’re doing just that.

These are the things you taught me: Love God with every ounce of energy. Laugh. Sing. Love family. Laugh. Sing. Love people. Laugh. Sing. Serve others. Laugh. Sing. Be honest. Laugh. Sing. Work hard. Laugh. Sing. Enjoy coffee.

When I shared with your one-and-only granddaughter your story of fighting God’s call to preach because you wanted to be famous as a pianist, she said, “But Mom, Grandpa was famous.” She knows that you have touched, moved, and inspired students who are ministering for God around the world.

You live on in my heart!

Cheers! (With a cup of coffee, of course!)”

There is so much more to what he taught me, especially the coffee part, and one of those lessons smacked me in the face today. While it is unusual to have damp weather here in the desert, we have recently had plenty of rain. Consequently, my front door swelled a bit and was sticking, making it difficult to open, particularly for my mother. I finally remembered a DIY fix for the situation I learned from my dad, and stopped by my local hardware to look for some graphite powder. While I was browsing the store, I realized that my dad’s piano tuning tool kit (that I barely saved from being passed outside the family after dad passed) probably still had some, so I headed home.

Opening that case brought back a flood of memories like a forty-foot swell on a stormy ocean. It traveled to Papua New Guinea three times for dad to repair pianos for missionaries, completely funded by gifts from people who loved him. (One of those times, I got to go along and help him re-string the bass section of a piano and sing along with him in services.) It moved to Arizona with him when he left his beloved Kentucky mountains to retire and live near his one-and-only granddaughter. It probably recognized many of the curvy mountain roads, and I recognized the many familiar tools and the many spare parts he had saved because he would need them sometime. (I came by my hoarding issue naturally.)

As you can see in the photo above, the tuning fork is worn from more than 50 years of use. The mutes and felt strips, the tuning hammer have not been touched in years. The tool he designed and had made to more easily insert the cork straps, the clamp to reapply ivory on keys, the worn out sandpaper paddle are all idle. And there was the small black and blue oil applicator with graphite powder.

I smiled and remembered all the times I dutifully watched and learned as he worked his craft with pride in a job well done. And I felt grateful, and loved, and proud. More than the grief.

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Holiday Expectations: Fantasy vs Reality

This post was published more than a year ago, but it still rings true, and with added challenges – another face is gone from the attached photo and my job situation is more than likely coming to an end. But I’m trying to hang on to the hope of the season

journalmehealthy: is what i see in the mirror real?

IMG_0930When I think about the various holidays of my childhood, I realize my experiences clearly formed my expectations about how those celebrations should occur in adulthood. Holiday celebrations were always about family. I was the youngest on both sides of the family, so I grew into already-established traditions. Feelings could be described as “warm and fuzzy,” with plenty of humorous conversations, cozy hugs from grandparents, uncles pressing me for “favorite” position over each other, and fondly looking up to all my older cousins. Oh, and food, of course. Lots of scrumptious, down-home food. I always imagined a house full of family, laughter, and hugs as an adult. Having adulthood turn out significantly different makes for a generous range of emotions when the holidays show up on the calendar. Managing those feelings is challenging, at best.

Starting in mid November through January 1st, most of us have at least some level of expectations…

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Painful Anniversaries Part 4: Funerals

chris-graveIt was the coldest, greyest day I’ve ever experienced. Maybe because my heart felt like a stone. In one of the most beautiful settings in the country, a rustic chapel nestled in the lush mountains, an event so sorrowful occurred. Like an oxymoron. While it might be easier at this point to call it a celebration of life, when the life was taken at such a young age, in the moment, it didn’t feel like celebration. At all.

My cousin’s beautiful bass voice rang out in a touching song. My strong, but tender-hearted uncle choked back emotion to speak about my brother and offer words of comfort for our family. If I remember correctly, he said that God wanted Chris with Him because He saw  how special he was. He quoted Isaiah 6:1,”In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.” I’m not sure I understood how he was relating it to the situation at the time. Now it makes more sense.

Sleep overtook me on the 2-hour ride to the cemetery. It was the next hill over from our home and could be seen from our dining room window. Probably not the best choice, but no one plans ahead for the burial of a 20-year-old. It was a 15-minute walk and ended up being a place of solace for me through the years, but that day it was agonizing.

Much of the day, again, is a silent video playing in my head. A few details still comfort me:

  • I walked out of the chapel alone after saying my goodbyes and leaving my parents and sister-in-love to say theirs. I walked down the steps wondering if I could even survive the day, much less a lifetime without Chris. Just a few feet away stood my oldest cousin and his wife with open arms that grabbed and held me tightly under their umbrella, shielding me from the rain. Great love can be shown and felt during great trauma.
  • I don’t ever remember seeing so many flowers at a funeral, sent by people whose lives had been touched by my family. They also expressed their sympathy in writing, evidenced by the stack of cards for my parents. I received two that were just for me: one from my English teacher and the other signed by each of my classmates. Somehow they got misplaced over the years, but I wish I still had them. I don’t know if they knew exactly how special those cards were.
  • I was recently reminded that some of my schoolmates made a point to attend the funeral that day. I wish I could say that I had remembered that over the years, but I didn’t until prompted. I guess my grief clouded a few details, but I hope they know how much it means to know they were there even now.

It seemed like the longest day of my life. Had my circumstances been different, I could have easily been the high school dropout, or turned to any of a variety of behaviors to fill the void. Just days later, I told one of Chris’ friends that I didn’t want to live. And I didn’t. But God. The first time I heard Britt Nicole sing this song, I sobbed like that 14-year-old girl who just lost her only sibling, but I was also reminded of Who has been beside me all this time.

“I remember the moment
I remember the pain
I was only a girl
But I grew up that day
Tears were falling
I know You saw me

Hiding there in my bedroom
So alone
I was doing my best
Trying to be strong
No one to turn to
That’s when I met You

All this time
From the first tear cry
To today’s sunrise
And every single moment between
You were there
You were always there
It was You and I
You’ve been walking with me all this time

Ever since that day
it’s been clear to me
That no matter what comes
You will never leave
I know You’re for me
And You’re restoring

Every heartache and failure
Every broken dream
You’re the God who sees
The God who rescued me
This is my story
This is my story

I hear these people asking me
How do I know what I believe?
Well I’m not the same me
And I saw the proof I need
I felt Love I felt Your grace
You stole my heart that day

You’ve been walkin’ with me all this time

All this time
From the first tear cry
To today’s sunrise
And every single moment between
You were there
You were always there
It was You and I
You’ve been walking with me all this time”1

I want to live every day to honor Chris’ memory, to make sure his death is not in vain. A friend told me this week that I am a survivor. And I am. But I don’t want to only survive. I want to thrive. Allowing myself to be vulnerable and write is the best way I’ve found to do that. Because others have been vulnerable before me and helped me grow.

1 Written by David Arthur Garcia, Benjamin Glover, Brittany Waddell • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

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.