"You can make anything by writing."

-- C. S. Lewis

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dropping Them off at the Good Will Store

It all started with the church solo when she was seven. Her little voice barely even quivered as she sang the sweet verses about wise men traveling across a continent to follow the star. There were at least one thousand people in the congregation that day, and I’ll never forget how tightly Ryan held on to my hand, his own nerves greater than his small daughter’s.

A year later, she landed the lead role of Cinderella in her school play. During the weeks of rehearsals, it soon became apparent that she blossomed in a dramatic environment; she came alive when she was allowed to be a “ham.” Performance was evidently her “thing.”

And this is interesting news for two parents who are much more comfortable behind the scenes themselves...who have little desire to have attention drawn to them in any way. Ryan, in particular, does not like to watch TV shows where awkward situations are plentiful…or competitions and live performances where someone’s lifelong dreams can be so easily dashed by a simple misstep. It’s all rooted in his compassionate heart that I love so much. But now that our daughter craves the limelight? Well, that makes it even more difficult for him.

So this year, Ryley auditioned for the school talent show with her piano piece, and she was the only fourth grader to make it into the show. She also prepared a monologue and tried out for the school play again, earning the part of Snow White (an angry, irritated Snow White who is tired of fairy tale characters knocking on her cottage door!). It’s been a fun spring.

The night before the talent show this week, I was giving Ryley some pointers about her piece…Make sure you adjust the piano bench where you want it…Don’t start out too slowly…Don’t rush… If you make a mistake, keep going…Remember all your dynamic signs…. Suddenly, I could tell she was getting overwhelmed. Tears started streaming down her face. I was overdoing it with my advice and needed to take a step back.

But she doesn’t know….She doesn’t know what it’s like to fail in front of all your friends, family, judges, etc. And I do. It sucks. And if there’s any way I can help prepare her for how to deal with failure, to somehow make it easier, I want to do that. But at what point is my “preparation” only serving her a big old helping of nerves, which to this point, she has somehow managed to elude?

I realized I had to trust her. I had to trust that no matter what happens, she will know what to do. She is a different person than I am. She definitely has more self-confidence than I did. And I have to let her live through that experience of failure herself…if/when it does ever happen to her. There are just some things you can’t do for your kids.

So on the drive to school the next day, I tried to redeem myself. I assured her that we are proud of her no matter what…that I have utmost confidence in her ability…and that there was no reason to be nervous because we (and Daddy especially) are nervous enough for her.

She smiled. “So it’s like I can drop off my nerves at the Good Will store, and Daddy can go by and pick them up?”

“Sure.” I’m still trying to wrap my head around that metaphor.

When I told Ryan about that later, he said, “I absolutely hope that happens. I would absolutely take it all if I knew she wouldn’t have to deal with any of it.”

There were two performances. The first, on Wednesday night, was for parents. We walked in to the auditorium to see her being made-up by some random make-up artist.  It was a little much, but she felt pretty. :-)


And she did well. She made a few mistakes, but she kept moving, and she looked like she was actually having fun up there!


Plus, she curtsied and smiled graciously at the end.



But we weren’t done yet. Friday afternoon she was scheduled to perform in front of all the students.

“Do you want me to come watch?” I asked.

“No, I will be fine,” she assured me. And I wondered if my presence makes her nervous.

But on Friday morning, Ryan called me and said that he had figured out a way to move his schedule around so he could attend. And I love this…that my husband who hates “performance” more than anybody else in the world wanted to be there for his little girl…to take her nerves off her hands. He loves her so much that he was willing to sit through not only her performance, but the entire horror that is an elementary school talent show that he had already seen once and hated.

That’s love, folks. :-)

And she loved that he was there. When she saw him, she ran across the auditorium and gave him a big hug. I still don’t think she understands how painful it is for her daddy to watch her play. But she doesn’t have to.

Because she played beautifully.

Of course. :-)


(Thanks to my Uncle Paul for the beautiful photos of the Wednesday night show!)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Georgia Recap

We are back from Georgia, and we had such a lovely time with Ryan’s family! I really believe that the entire trip was so good for everybody.

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and drove the rental car directly to Conyers, where we met Ryan’s sister Rhonda at the Honeycreek Woodlands at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. Rhonda had heard about this place as a potential burial grounds for their dad’s ashes, so they were going to go scope it out together. It didn’t take long to realize that this place was perfect.


It was one of the most peaceful places I had ever been in my life.

The bearded gatekeeper, Matthew, drove us on a golf cart a mile and a half deep into the forest. It was an incredibly surreal experience.



The pictures don’t do this place justice. This meadow practically glowed in the sunshine. It was gorgeous.


This burial ground is unique because it is a natural woodlands and nature preserve. So all “remains” are required to be in biodegradable urns or coffins. If a full body were to be buried, they would not allow it to be embalmed. Very interesting.

So after they picked the spot, Matthew hammered a stake in to mark it, and we went back through the woods to the little office building. I stayed outside with Ryley and our niece Olivia while Ryan and Rhonda finished paperwork.



This little cardinal came and sang to us. So peaceful and serene and perfect. I really felt God’s presence there. I think we all knew instinctively that Ron would have loved it and that it was a fitting place to lay him to rest.



The next few days were filled with a lot of family activity and togetherness….Most of us stayed at Rhonda and David’s house. They were such gracious hosts to let us come in and trample through their home! :-)

Ryley shared a bed with her girl cousins: Olivia, and Gwen’s daughter Raegan.


The boys -- Nathan, Sammy, and Kaleb -- camped out on the floor!


Ryan turned 35 on Thursday!!!! His family helped us make it so special!


We served breakfast for dinner, which was super fun!


All the food disappeared!


Earlier that morning, we had baked chocolate chip cookies to have instead of cake, but we struggled to keep everyone out of them all day long! We wanted to at least have 35 cookies in time for the lighting of the birthday candles, but I think we were down to 23…?



Anyway, it was a nice birthday for my sweetheart!

The cousins played a lot in the backyard…



On Friday evening, Ryan’s aunt and uncle showed up with their granddaughters -- two more cousins to play with!  So we decorated Easter eggs (kudos to Gwen for boiling 60+ eggs!).



There were lots of hands around that table!


One of the most amazing things I witnessed this weekend was the kids playing Just Dance on the Wii. It was pretty insane! Eight kids from four different states, in unison….



Saturday morning, we had to get 15 people up and out the door before 9 a.m. so we could drive an hour and a half to Conyers for the service. Somehow we managed it!

I love this picture of Linda, Ryan’s stepmother, enjoying the irises and nature before everything began.


It was a beautiful and meaningful service. Our brother-in-law Patrick is a minister, and he did a wonderful job leading everything.




None of us really knew whether or not to smile…


Ryan’s brother Derrick put the urn in the hole that Matthew had dug. And when Matthew had filled it in, we all placed flowers on top.



It was truly beautiful. And as we drove away, Ryan told me later that he felt such a sense of relief…such peace.


Then we went and ate! :-) Our poor waiter…He was such an upbeat guy, and he said, “So, what’s the occasion??” Everyone was like, “Um, well, a funeral?” Took the wind out of the poor guy’s sails!


Girls in their Justice clothes! Ryley and cousin Kaitlyn are only about a month apart in age, so they were so happy to spend time together this weekend. Alexis is not too far behind, and she was the life of the party! We hadn’t seen them in several years, and they had grown up so much!







That evening, Rhonda, Gwen, and I went to Walmart at midnight to get stuff for Easter baskets and plastic eggs. When we got home, the guys helped us fill and hide eggs all over the first floor. We didn’t get to bed until after 2 a.m.! So needless to say, I was not awake for Easter morning and have no pictures of all that. :-) Oh, well. By the time I got up, all Easter candy had been divided and pretty much devoured.

But they did make deviled eggs on Sunday afternoon….


They made probably 80 deviled egg halves, half of which probably ended up in the trash later. A family can only eat so many, you know.


Sweet cousins!!!!


Then we played board games until 2:30 a.m.! We are crazy! But we were just trying to soak in every minute together:


Because Gwen and her family rolled out of town about four hours after this picture was taken, and sadly, each family, one by one, returned to their respective cities… and lives.


I already posted Ryan’s eulogy on Facebook, but I want to post it here too. It is so beautiful, and I am so proud of him. He is such a good writer, and the things he says about his dad, as well as Jesus’ power over the grave, are so amazing. It was inspiring and encouraging to listen to….

“This first part is something that I wrote 4 years ago on Father's day. It encapsulates everything I want to say about what he meant to me, and I was able to share it with him, so I thought it appropriate to share today.

Every day I find myself becoming more and more like my father. The way I talk to my daughter, the way I scratch my nose, the way I laugh, even the things I laugh at…I can trace all of these things to watching my dad through little boy eyes, and wanting to be just like him.

I have vivid memories of going to Dad’s office on a Saturday, spending hours playing with office supplies and drawing, spinning on his office chair. At the time I thought this was the coolest treat ever, to see where Dad spent his days. It was only years later, as an adult, that I made the connection that he was working on the weekend to better provide for his family. Even now, I think of this sometimes as I work on weekends to provide for mine.

I still remember the exact spot off a Florida bridge where I caught my first fish with him, a blowfish flopping around like a rubber ball made of spikes, and him remarking with pride that he had never caught one of those before. Only later did I realize how this was a first small step in a lifetime of pushing me to try to surpass his own accomplishments. This theme repeated itself in his challenges to me at college, to graduate with a higher GPA, or a higher degree than he was able to.

Dad was a world-class arguer. No matter what point I tried to bring up, no matter what opinion I tried to express, he was there to try and shut me down, arguing for all he was worth against what I was saying. He was the eternal devil’s advocate. But in this arguing, there was never bitterness or anger, only a constant challenge to look at every possible angle, find the flaws in what I was saying, and be willing to look at my own beliefs with honesty and reason, avoiding dogma at all costs. He taught me that truth is like the house built upon the rock, no matter what you throw at it, it will continue to stand. It was this approach that led me to Christ in my own heart. It was this approach that makes my faith unshakeable today, no matter what happens.

Dad was a survivor. I really started to know him at his lowest point, when Mom died. I was fourteen, and the memories of that time, colored through my own grief, are blurry at best. But what I do know is that he brought our family through, doing everything in his power to keep us together.

My father was not a superhero. He was a flawed, frail human. But in the greatest lesson he could ever offer me, through his entire life he has shown me how human frailty can submit itself to the strength of Christ, and become invincible. Our flaws are made new in Him, and every day we have the opportunity to be a new creation, one that reflects the eternal love of our Savior.

I pray the Lord’s Prayer and put on the armor of God every day, both alone and with my family, just like my dad taught me. I turn to my loving, personal God in times of trial and tribulation, because dad showed me how-never in a direct lesson, but by example through his whole life. I know I can face anything that Satan or life can throw at me, because I have seen it all thrown at my dad, and with Christ holding him in His hands, he has faced it and won. In my dad’s weakness, Christ has been strong, and so I can fall back into His arms in my own weakness, knowing that I will be caught by my Lord, because my dad showed me the way. Thank you, Dad.

Now, we come to the interlude of his journey. And there is so much sadness, and loss, and hurt to deal with. Even going through those few paragraphs from 2009 and changing the verbs to past tense hurt. It hurt that he is gone, and even though I know it's not, it feels like it will be forever.

I find it strangely poetic that we are gathered together to remember Dad on Holy Saturday, the strangest and quietest day of Easter weekend. In thinking back 2000 years, we gloss over this day so often, because of the lack of action. Good Friday has movies made about it. The day of crucifixion, the day Jesus was beaten, whipped, condemned, and eventually killed for our sins. And Easter is celebrated around the world, the day our Savior rose from the dead and paved the way to eternity with His shed blood. But the day in between was quiet. The day in between was filled with sadness, with mourning, with hopelessness. Saturday was characterized by the emptiness of promises seemingly unfulfilled, by a Savior who couldn't save Himself, by the Son of God that looked like just a man after all.

Of course we know how that sadness gave way to eternal triumph the following day. We celebrate His resurrection, and even look down a little on His apostles for being unbelieving, or doubtful of how the grave could not hold Him. But they had endured Saturday, the day everything they had believed being crushed. Who can blame them for being a little suspicious when it was all handed back to them, better than before? And this is where we find ourselves today.

Dad is gone. He isn't there anymore to offer his advice, his unique take on our problems and situations, his prayers for our struggles. And that leaves us feeling empty, and sad, and more than a little hopeless at times. Of course, we have the benefit of knowing the truth, and knowing that Dad isn't gone at all, but in a better place, with his parents, with Mom, and most importantly, with Jesus, the Savior he spent his life loving, serving, and at times doubting.

I have found strength in Dad's occasional struggles with his faith. Dad taught me everything I know about our Lord, both directly and indirectly. Because when I saw the spiritually strongest man I know struggle with hopelessness of his own, I also was able to witness how Jesus never left him, nor forsook him. He always loved and held Dad in His hand, and walked beside him on his life's journey, just as I know without the shadow of a doubt He does for me too, and He does for each and every one of us. And when Dad took his last breath, I know without a shadow of a doubt that he wasn't alone, even for a second. He felt a hand in his, and when he finally opened his eyes on the other side of the veil, his vision was filled with the face of his Savior, who has walked with him his whole life, and he was filled with the joy unspeakable that we will all feel in His presence. And that is a reward that he so richly deserved, that I can't help but be happy for him, even as we continue to mourn his loss here on Earth.”