Friday, June 29, 2007

It's the Journey That Matters in the End

I just returned from the funeral of a young man I have known since he was small, but had lost touch with the past few years. I, once again, put on that all too familiar “cloak of grief”, sucked it up and attended the service. Heartbroken, I observed his mother, knowing that her life will never be the same again. The family is strong and has a fervent faith, yet I recognized the questioning look on their faces--that need to know “why”, but also acknowledging that there would be no answer in this life.

Driving home, I began to reflect on my journey of almost two years. Working through grief is not linear, but is bumpy with many steps forward and a few steps back. Having been thrust into a life situation beyond my control, I have no idea where I would have been without my faith. The spiritual aspect of my life has never been about an “afterlife” or the promise of eternal life, but about the ability to find strength greater than my own to live each day with peace. For me, my faith affords me the ability to live this life with the contentment and hope a spiritual connection brings. Having this frame of mind has given me the courage to face grief head on, to work through the hard parts and struggle with each uncertainty. I have not put off the inevitable, nor have I run away from the sorrow. My faith seems to have translated into a more peaceful existence with what this world has brought my way.

I have found continued solace from my widow friends and the on-line support of the bulletin board. These folks represent a diversity of grief experiences. Some of them have been able to find contentment in their circumstance-may have even moved on and found new love. Some, after many years, still have yet to find a place of solace whether it involves another or not; but each has touched my life in significant ways. As for me, I am amazed at the capability that God has given us to love—amazed at the fact that we have big enough hearts to be assured that if we loved well once---we more than likely will again.

Where do I go from here? I have this sense of obligation to share what I have learned along the way with those who may be facing the darkest moment of their life. This is as much a part of my healing as anything else. So, selfish as it sounds---I NEED to, in some way, believe that my journey has not been in vane - that the pain has a purpose - that I have touched someone else and that it all means something in the end.

"It's the journey that matters in the end."

This I know for sure…

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

San Francisco Musings

San Francisco was a blast. What a beautiful, alive city! I don’t think I missed much. The Golden Gate Bridge was much more magnificent in real life. Lombard Street was a TRIP! Chinatown was alive and hopping even late into the night. Fisherman’s Warf provided the best seafood I have ever eaten in my life amid an ambience that only San Francisco can offer.

So here is my top 10 San Francisco-style:

  1. The Golden Gate Bridge - nothing more to add
  2. Napa Valley – esp. the Berringer and Sterling Wineries
  3. Lombard Street – glad I wasn’t the one driving.
  4. City Lights Bookstore – it was like stepping back in time
  5. Winery Tour at Sterling Vineyard– producing and distributing of wine is fascinating
  6. Ghirardelli Square – who can say no to chocolate
  7. Fisherman’s Warf Part I – this is a cultural experience like no other.
  8. Napping in a park next to the Bay
  9. Fisherman’s Warf Part II – the absolute best Dungeness crab I have ever eaten.
  10. Culinary Institute of America – this was, by far, the best dining experience. The food was amazing and watching the culinary experts prepare the food was captivating.

If you are interested here are some photos from the trip:

Take Offs and Landings!

I just returned from a wonderful holiday in San Francisco. I had never been there before and fell in love with the magical city immediately. Flying is NOT one of my preferred methods of transportation. However driving to California from Illinois was not an option and I am stubborn enough to not let a little fear keep me from enjoying life. I especially hate take-offs. It is the moment of adrenaline induced stress that doesn’t subside until we are in the air and flying safely. When taking off from the Bloomington airport I couldn’t help but make the connection to how my life has been the past two years. There have been too many “take-offs”—a time of high anxiety because I am unsure of what the future holds. Not unlike my flying experience, I feel anxious until I am securely comfortable with the “new normal” of the moment.

Landings are another story. I love landing. I like to hear the sound of the landing gear hitting the run way and the jerk of the breaks as the plane slows to a stop, safe and sound. In life I anticipate landings, but have had only a few lately. My life “landings” would incorporate the completion of buying and selling a house, becoming comfortable doing “couple things” by myself, remaining poised through Chad’s graduation and finishing my second master’s degree.

For the most part, I feel I am in mid-air flight. I have taken off safely (and proud of that), but I haven’t had many life “landings”. I look forward to those times when I am safety through what life has thrown in my direction and can reflect with integrity and honor.

This I know for sure...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Father's Day Surprise

Sitting in the pew on Father’s Day took as much courage as I had left. My initial intention was to stay home, even run away for the day, but I wanted to pay tribute to my own father. During the service, fathers were honored reminding me of what we have lost in earthly terms. As our pastor began his message “What Makes a Man a Great Father?” my state of mind changed from one of sorrow and self-pity to one of gratefulness beyond reason. I was thankful, for I realized that my children and I were blessed to have had a father which met the requirements mentioned in the sermon:

A great father…

…has a relationship with God.

…is willing to obey God.

…directs their family in the way of the Lord.

…has a wise and giving spirit.

…lives in the presence of God’s blessing.

Abraham was referenced as a great example of a Godly father. Pastor Crump explained that though Abraham was a servant, he never was able to actually see all that God had promised him. Some of those blessings came after his death, just as Don’s. Don may not have been on earth to see his son donned with the title of “Prom King”: he may not have been able to see (in temporal terms) his son graduate from high school or hit his first homerun in little league; however, Don’s legacy, just like Abraham’s, will continue to live on through his children.

So I willingly celebrate Father’s Day. I honor my own father for being the Godly beacon to my brothers and me, but I also honor the father of my children for the lasting heritage of love he left for the boys to grasp and claim as their own living legacy. Though Don is not present in the earthly sense, he lives on in the lives of those he touched.

This I know for sure….

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Divine Providence Via Earthly Forms

In the front yard of the house my husband and I called home for 10 years, sat the most magnificent birch tree you have ever seen. If you know anything about birch trees, you should know that they are a bit finicky, not terribly sturdy, but absolutely breathtaking when in full foliage. They are notable for their distinctive white-bark characteristic and easily identifiable. These trees normally have a short life (in tree years) lasting 15 to 20 years at best. This tree was planted by the original owners of the home and was well past its 15 year life span when we bought the house.

This special tree was one of the reasons we fell in love with the house in the first place. Many of our fondest family memories were photographed in front of this tree. The first day of school, homecoming, prom, school dances, birthdays, and visits by relatives were often chronicled with the birch tree background. Don took tremendous care of the tree pruning it when necessary and supplying the tender loving care such a special tree required.

After selling the house, the new owners apparently had an aversion to anything arborous. All of the grand trees landscaping the yard were relentlessly cut down, including the special birch tree in the front yard. It was heartbreaking to drive by the property and see it stripped of its distinctive backdrop. To be honest I have, most likely, driven by the house for the last time.

Before I continue this story I need to let it be known that I am a believer in divine providence; that Godly intervention does exist in our lives and when it is so blatantly presented to us we should claim it. I am claiming that the God who made me is also present in my everyday life; constantly providing courage and solace via earthly forms. Here is just such an example.

Tonight at my youngest son’s baseball game, I met the previous owners of our new home purchased after Don’s death. We introduced ourselves and began discussing the many life decisions which led to them to selling the house to me, then moving to Canada and now moving back to our small town. I narrated the story of how we came to buy the home from him. I complemented the beautiful landscaping of the yard and how it was a real selling point to us. I also explained the difficulty I experienced driving by our old home without the birch tree and the significance of the tree in our lives. My eldest son was present and mentioned the fact that his favorite part of our new home was the weeping willow tree in the backyard.

I noticed the gentleman getting a bit of a tear in his eye as he paused a moment and then explained, “I have to tell you the story of that weeping willow tree. I just realized that it may very well be the replacement tree for the one you lost.”

As he began his story I sensed that this was a difficult issue for him to discuss, yet he had an urgency to do so. It seems this man and his wife lost a child before they moved to the house I am currently living in. They planted a weeping willow tree in their yard as a remembrance. When they moved they carefully uprooted the tree and replanted it into what is now my backyard. With emotion the man said that he now believes that the weeping willow tree was a replacement for the birch tree we no longer could even visit.

I am constantly amazed at the providence of God—the way he holds us and endlessly provides us with avenues in which healing is possible. The boys and I have always acknowledged that this tree in our backyard was special. We had an impression of its importance in our lives long before we had this man’s story as an assurance. Since we have moved into this house the beautiful weeping willow tree has become the new photo backdrop which chronicles our lives. It will stand as a memorial of the past, as well as a symbol of hope the future will bring.

This I know for sure.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Milestones, Memories, Aging and Peace

I realize my age will be showing with this post, but I have lived these 44 years and am not sure I want to be any other age, so I don’t really mind. Bare with me here:

Flashback to 1980:
I was graduating from high school, ready to leave for college, in love and into music. The Doobie Brothers was my band of choice and specifically the album “Minute by Minute”. Michael McDonald was the lead singer with an undeniably original voice and when he would bang those piano keys he stole my heart. I probably played that album over and over and over until the grooves wore out.

Flash forward to June 2007:
I received a call from a good friend on Friday telling me he had tickets to a semi-private concert given in Missouri by Michael McDonald. Seems he had extra tickets and wanted to know if I wanted to go. Are you kidding? I couldn’t pass up this chance to see and perhaps meet my musical idol. I made arrangements for the kids and was off. A fabulous black tie reception kicked off the evening. Upon entering the small auditorium, my heart actually began to race like some capricious teenager. Michael was introduced and as he strolled across the stage I thought - WAIT—who is that though somewhat sexy---old, overweight guy? For a split second I must have had a very perplexed look on my face, but when the music began my heart melted. I immediately recognized that familiar Michael McDonald style and was caught up in it for the next two hours. The reality is that we all age, but our inner spirit and gifts remain the same.

He began the concert with a song I had never heard—yes, it surprised me that there was actually a Michael McDonald song I hadn’t heard. Apparently he has a Christmas album and recorded on it is a song entitled “Peace”. He opens his concert with this song as a prayer for our country. Here is the chorus—such beautiful prose.

Love won't compromise
It's a gift, it's a sacrifice
My soul renewed, and my heart released
In you I'll find my peace

It is amazing how music marks milestone and memories within our lives. My life is especially this way. I loved the television show “Ally McBeal” because when Ally faced different life situations or different people within her life she would hear a theme song. I find I can chronicle my life in a similar fashion. When I think of past memories specific songs come to mind and I hear them in my head, or when I hear certain songs they immediately bring back reminiscences. Music has the amazing ability to mark our life, to bridge the past to the present and to create within us memories to hold close to our hearts.

This I know for sure.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Recouperating, Television and Contentment

For the last three weeks I have been recuperating from surgery which means I have watched way too much television. What have I learned? I have discovered that if you watch more than 12 episodes of “What NOT to Wear” you don’t become more stylish---you become more critical. I have also watched so many installments of “Flip This House” that I am actually thinking I can do this myself—stop laughing. Of course I would need the help of my brother-in-law and the financial backing of Donald Trump. Another skill I have acquired is that I could tell you just what to do to get your house ready to sell. Are you aware of the number of shows on television dealing with this topic? I actually got more decorating tips watching these programs than I did watching decorating-themed shows.

This extensive television therapy has made me realize that we, as Americans, seem to be obsessed with making things “better” – our bodies, our stuff, our kids, our relationships. This is a good thing—to a point. But when do we choose to be content with what we have, who we are and what we may become? When do we, as Paul, find contentment no matter what: “…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11) Perhaps learning the meaning of contentment is what our journey here on earth is all about. I hope I am striving in the right direction. I long to embrace happiness and become content with not only who I am at this point, but with what I now possess and in the eternal plan for the future.

This I know for sure…