Bereaving a bully


Earlier this week I read of yet another classmate’s untimely demise. The older I get, the more frequent these reports seem to come and my reaction is usually pretty much the same—a smorgasbord of emotions.

If the person knew Jesus, I find myself consoled, but still saddened for their loved ones. I then usually spend some time thinking about the good old days and, wonder how they could have possibly passed so quickly.

However, this week’s news did not spark a welcomed walk down memory lane at all. Quite the contrary, in fact.

My mind seemed hell-bent on traveling to a time some 45 years ago where hurtful words repeatedly hurled in a locker-adorned junior high hallway still echo deep inside.

What? Why does something that happened so long ago still linger in the recesses of my mind? Why, when I haven’t given it a thought it all these years, does the mere mention of a name bring it all back to the forefront?

The purpose of this is, by no means, to shame the unnamed or to defile her memory in any way. But, I do See the source imagethink it important to remind everyone to be careful what you say to others and to remind your kids to do the same. What you say does have the power to hurt another and to haunt them long after the words themselves have fallen silent.

Truthfully, at my age, it’s kind of embarrassing, to realize that I still harbor such feelings about someone I haven’t seen or talked to in four-plus decades.  

But, now that I know, I have asked God to help me lay both to rest; to help me to forgive her just as He has forgiven me; to replace the negative memories her name evokes with a celebration of The Father’s unyielding grace and mercy.

Please, Father, I ask you to grant her family and loved ones peace and comfort during this difficult time and help me to look forward to a second chance at friendship when it comes my time to join You both in Heaven.

Amen and Ehmen!

“I know his name, child, and he knows Mine.”


               One year ago today, I heard your voice for the last time.

                I miss you, dear brother. Truth is, I have missed you every day since you left us, but as we move closer and closer to the one year anniversary of your death, it has been especially hard.

               Gary  May 9,2010 While the grief process continues and I have taken many strolls down memory lane remembering your life, these last few days have found me especially reflective of your death. Those were dark days, brother. Painful days. It was so hard to watch mama as she realized she had to let you go. No mother should ever have to bury her child.

                It was hard to watch the interaction between you and Karen. It was obvious that she was the love of your life. As dim as your eyes became, the soul-depth love you had for her burst forth like a beacon in the darkest of nights. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time.

It was hard for all of us who loved you to say goodbye, but we didn’t have a choice. All of our days on this earth are numbered and, ready or not, one day the last day will come for all that have ever drawn breath. Still, I can promise you none of us were ready for it to be your time.

At the time, the worst part of it all, Gary, was not really knowing your spiritual condition; not being sure that you had accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Not being sure that you would soon enjoy everlasting life with our Father in Heaven. I know that it was said many times right before and after your passing that a man’s faith is a personal matter and that one doesn’t have to talk about it, but that just isn’t true. No words will ever be able to express the extreme heartache not knowing levies on the hearts of those who struggle with the thought of never seeing their loved one again.

It is the same wrenching heartache that I felt a few years prior when I, as an adult, began to deal with the tragic death of our daddy decades before. In talking to mom one day, I discovered that at the time of dad’s death, she wasn’t certain of his salvation. Like you, he was a man with a heart of gold and a man of great respect and humble attitude, but, unfortunately, they had never talked about it. Having been only eight when dad was taken from us, I never really got to know him. I can only hope for another chance on the other side.

But, back to you. Your last days were heavily laden with prayer, by me, by family, by friends and the church. Though I didn’t really get the opportunity to talk to you directly about God, our cousin Patty did. Still, we weren’t sure where you stood and that hurt more than anything. But, then something happen. I was getting ready for your memorial service. It had been an emotionally charged week and I really wasn’t thinking about anything. My mind and emotions were taking a well-needed time-out when, out of the blue at exactly 7:53 a.m. September 10, 2015, the following words floated into my mind. As clear as the spoken word I heard Him say: “I know his name, child, and he knows Mine.”

Now, Gary, that’s not a phrase that I had ever heard and I knew instantly that it was the still small voice of our ever-loving God. Powerful words swaddled in that unsurpassed comfort and peace that can only come from Him. I just knew and it’s all I needed.

I was so excited and relieved that when got to your memorial service, the first person I hunted down was Patty; and when we hugged, I excitedly whispered the good news. She, too, began to grin from ear to ear.

“Brenda,” she told me. “I prayed all night and all the way up here, begging God to show either you or me that Gary was with Him.”

Sigh. What a beautiful gift. I can’t tell you how much easier it made it to say goodbye. You know it rained during your service that day and I can just remember thinking that it was apropos. In fact, I think it was Heaven’s way of helping us mourn our loss while celebrating its gain.

Now, what about dad?

Though I have spent the last several years hoping and feeling like he is probably with you in our eternal home in Heaven, I have never received such certain reassurance as I did with you. Until this week. Enter another cousin. This one, Debbie, one of Uncle Don’s daughters. She had read a recent post about how hard it was to hear that daddy’s salvation was also unknown to those who loved him most. It spurred a memory that she shared, probably a nudge from God, if I had to guess.

As you know, Uncle Don also left this earth way too early. He died in a car accident when he was in his early 30s, leaving behind a beautiful bride and two beautiful young daughters. Daddy always made sure to stay connected to them and our families were quite close, I am told.

What I didn’t know was that Aunt Vera Lee, Uncle Don’s widow, had spent some time in the hospital visiting daddy during his last days. Debbie relayed a sweet story that her mom had shared before she passed about how they sang a hymn together and that daddy had been the one to start the singing. She also relayed how she had felt the presence of Uncle Don in the room with them, so heavy, in fact, that she said she actually spoke his name out loud.

“Brenda, Mama said that she was convinced that she felt Daddy Don’s presence so strongly because he had come to show Uncle Billy the way,” my dear cousin wrote in a note this week. “And we all know the devil doesn’t send someone to comfort and guide you on your journey home.”

Sigh. Another beautiful gift. We will see you both again! And Uncle Don, who I never knew. And Grandma. And Granddaddy. And our beautiful aunts, Aunt Hazel and Aunt Vera Lee. You are all there waiting for the rest of us and celebrating every moment with our Awesome and Beautiful Creator. I can only imagine, but boy oh boy do I enjoy imagining that day!

But, until then, I still miss you. And, yes, there are still tears, but they are no longer all sorrowful. They are also intermingled with tears of joy knowing you are enjoying everlasting life and that one day we will meet again.

Until then, to you and all of our loved ones previously departed, much love from earth to heaven.

Amen and Ehmen.

Of Tragedy and True Love


Writer’s Note: Scrolling through my old journals, I stumbled upon this diary entry from 2010. It is a personal account of a difficult, but precious conversation I had with my mother; a conversation that changed the way I would forever look at her and one that really drove home the importance of sharing The Good News of Jesus Christ with everyone that you can, most especially the ones that you love.

March 6, 2010

So, I had a nice, long talk with my mom today. I told her about the letter I wrote forgiving the man that killed my dad. She was surprisingly open. For the first time, she talked to me like I was just a friend. For the first time, I saw her as a wife and mother who lost a husband, and very tragically so. The tears that filled her eyes and spilled gently out onto her softly aged face transported me back to a time that I was then too young to experience.

She told me how his stomach had been completely destroyed by the shot from the sawed off shot gun. She told me how she held vigil in the hospital hallway outside his intensive care room, day and night, for the three weeks he lay in the hospital. She told me of all the doctors who went in and out of his room and of all the friends, acquaintances, doctors and nurses who sat with her, prayed with her and offered help in every fashion.

She told me about the two things he managed to say to her: the first, right after he was shot, he said “I didn’t know” meaning he did not know the guy had a gun; and the second, not long before he died and after the doctor warned her that he would not know her, she had gone in and placed her hands over his and he opened his eyes and said “I love you”. That was the last time she would hear him speak. The only other words she knew him to speak during those three weeks were to my brother, Gary. To him, he said, “Take care of your mama and the girls.” By now, tears were flowing down my own face and, as I write this, they are flowing again. For the first time, I can actually “see” it, like a very sad movie playing out in my head.

The worst part of all is that I am still left to wonder if my father knew Jesus as his personal Savior. Will I get to see him again, but, more importantly, will my mother get to again see the man that she loved with all her heart and who, to this day, 40+ years after his death, remains faithful to?  My mother said that he had gone to church with her time and again and he was indeed a good man, but, truth be told, she just wasn’t sure if he ever did business with God. They never talked about it. 

Now, it is time to share the letter I wrote to my dad’s killer with my brothers and sister. I simply can’t stand by and let another loved one pass from this earth without knowing that they have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.

I can forgive the man who killed my dad, but I would not be able to forgive myself if one of them leaves this earth unsaved. 

Today was a good day. I fell in love with my dad who spoke of love and concern for his family in his last words and I fell in love with my mom who stood by her husband in life and in death.

Amen and Ehmen.

It’s Yours For The Asking…

We are all His children and He really wants a relationship with each and every one of us.  He loves you and He loves me with all His heart and He is just a simple prayer away. But, you have to take the step and ask Him into your heart. He’s not going to do it without an invitation from you. You yourself have to acknowledge that Jesus is your Lord and Savior and that He died on the cross so that you can have eternal life.

You yourself have to accept Him and invite Him into your heart. When you’re ready, you just have to say a prayer something like this. It doesn’t have to be word for word and you don’t even have to understand it all. And, you don’t have to be perfect, for no one on earth is perfect. Just say something like this:

“Dear God, I know that I am a sinner. Please forgive me for my sins. I believe that your son, the Lord Jesus Christ, died to pay for my sins and I trust Him now as my personal Lord and Savior. I ask Him to come into my life. Amen.”

It’s that simple. If you pray this prayer and truly accept the Lord Jesus as your personal savior, you can be assured of going to heaven. No matter what you did on earth; no matter what you did in your past.

For more information, I like this website for answering questions about God. You are loved and you are in my prayers.

http://www.gotquestions.org/personal-Savior.html

Comfort from The Creator


Writer’s Note: I was reading through some old messages and ran across this Featured Image -- 351that was written for my dear friend who had recently lost her best friend and husband. While it was meant to comfort her in that moment, I found it comforting myself today and thought I would share.

I was in the middle of working the other day when I got this little “God nudge” as I often do and when I opened the blank page this is what came out:

“Sweet, sweet child of mine, don’t you know how much I love you. My love for you is more vibrant than even the largest expanse of buttercups growing on My green earth. It is deeper than the deepest swallows of the ocean and higher than the beautiful blue skies suspended above My own Heavens. I know you hurt. I know you are missing him. But, oh my, has he brightened things up here. What a heart he has, full of love. Thank you for sending him back to me in such good shape. I’m taking good care of him and we both eagerly await the day of your arrival. Please, my child, take that knowledge that we are waiting for you and live out your days with joy. There is so much left to do there on earth; so much that only you can do. I promised you hope and a future and I always make good on my promises. I just need you to listen for me; listen for my whispers; listen for me in the silence of the night; the quietness of an empty house. Talk to me always; in your heart; with your mouth; when you are alone or when you are in a crowd. Whisper my name when the devil attacks you. No matter how loud he gets in your head, even a whisper of my name will squelch him. I am right here. I AM.”

Lord, thank you for these precious words and times together. And thank you for your unending comfort and love. May we have many more “blank page” conversations in 2016. I can think of no better way to spend the year. Much love from earth to heaven. Amen and Ehmen.

–Brenda

 

 

 

 

Enough is Enough…


 I know I have been a little quieter than usual this past little while. Truth is, there has been so much noise around me that I haven’t wanted to create any more, whether good, bad or indifferent.

Death and its silent, but deafening roar has pervaded my life. Family. Friends. Clients. Co-Workers. Illness and issues of health have taken up residence in the lives of many who I know and love, including myself.

Work stress has hit crescendos that I never knew even existed. Friends and loved ones have needed support, and even though I have tried, there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day or strength in my spirit and body. Add to that, that all of this comes during a time when I desperately want to spend time celebrating birthdays, holidays and, above all, the fast approaching nuptials of my beautiful little girl.

Truth be told, I have just been trying to make it from one day to the next; putting one foot in front of the other; reminding myself to breath; reminding myself that God is there, even though I might not think I have the strength or energy to tune into His Presence. And, this week, on my birthday, after receiving the early morning news that my dear friend and co-worker had passed away unexpectedly in his sleep, I finally hit the breaking point.

Metaphorically standing on a ledge and physically driving to work, I turned down the voice on my radio so that I could lift my own to the Heavens. The decibels increased with each syllable to the point that I practically screamed these words into the universe: “God, enough is enough!”

But, before I could even start the rant that was building up in my heart, I received a resounding reply that permeated my spirit. I heard these correcting, yet oh so loving words: “My child, I say when enough is enough, and I Am always enough.”

Sigh. I KNOW this, but, like everyone else, I so often let the heaviness of life smother me and blind me to the fact that God is always, in all ways, involved in our lives. He doesn’t cause the bad stuff, but He is there all through it—walking right beside us, crying with us and loving us; all the while directing our steps and using it all for our own good and for His own Glory. Sometimes we just have to adjust our perspective.

Thank you, Lord, for the reminder, that these storms of late were not planted to disrupt the joyous days of holidays and a very special wedding, but, instead, the joyous days of holidays and a very special wedding were predestined and crafted by You to infuse the dark days with light and love.

Thank you, Lord, for reminding me that You are ALWAYS enough. That there is no one nor anything greater than You and that You and You alone hold everything, every matter, every situation and every person in the palm of Your beautiful, merciful and capable hands.

Please forgive me for letting the storms of life take my eyes off of You, but THANK YOU for always being there to pull me up out of the raging seas. Many years ago, I entrusted my life to you and throughout the years I have re-dedicated it to You over and over again. And, though I am quite sure that You will have to remind me that You are enough again in my life, today, in this moment, I re-dedicate myself—every fiber of my being; my past, my present and my future—to You. Continue to teach me and use me, my dear Lord.

And thank you for all the blessings that are flowing all throughout my life; thank you for the tinkling silver bells that remind me of Christmas and the celebration of Your Son’s birth and for the not-so-distant sound of wedding bells that will ring in new love and new life for our precious daughter, Billie Girl, and son, Billy Boy. On with the celebrations!

Amen and Ehmen.

He is Enough Artwork

 

Flying High: A True Story of God’s Presence, Love and Promise


A true story of God’s presence, love and promise during a period of earthly sadness and tragedy. Thank you, God, for writing me into this story and for always “showing UP” when we need you most. Amen and Ehmen. Neil and Barbie,  you left us 4 years ago and are both missed immensely. Until we meet again…

Neil, you know I’ve written more in the last few years than I have my vapor trail and neil for blogwhole life. We talked about it on more than one occasion; about how clear it was that this was what God had purposed and how it was, undoubtedly, the reason for the eternal friendships that He had so carefully orchestrated between you, me and Denny.

In five short years, I’ve written page after page of happy things, sad things; of tragedy and hope. It hasn’t always been easy, but God always seems to take over and the ink will suddenly freely flow.

But, when it comes to recounting that day, now two years past, tears have always seemed to drown out the words.  And, yet, I know must try. It’s too important. It’s critical that others know just how real God is and how He orchestrates events for our greater good. The story of December 8, 2011 is proof of such. May I never forget or take for granted the love and responsibility with which God has gifted me.

The story actually started in early October when I began searching for air-fare to come for a visit just before Christmas. I was planning to fly in on Dec. 10th, which also happened to be my 50th birthday. Already struggling a bit with this milestone birthday and not wanting Denny to feel like she had to put together some sort of celebration, I thought it would be easier to just travel that day.

To paint the picture more completely for you, I had been bidding on tickets through Priceline for several weeks trying to get the best deal. For those of you who haven’t ever used Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price,” you have to submit a method of payment along with an offer for airfare on selected travel dates. If your offer is accepted, your credit card is charged and you are the sole owner of a non-refundable airline ticket.

Anyhow, somewhere around mid-October—after two weeks and a dozen or so rejected offers —I decided to try one more time, after which, if unsuccessful, I would just outright buy a ticket. I logged on and filled in all the information along with an even lower price than I had attempted before. It was a long shot, but I figured I had nothing to lose. I was ecstatic when it was accepted at almost 40 percent less than the going ticket price. God had answered yet another prayer! My desire to be there with my friends obviously lined up with His will for me.

But, wait. The departure was 7:05 a.m. December 8, 2011. December 8th?  It was supposed to be December 10th. December 10th was the dreaded birthday and the date my work vacation started. God, however, obviously had another plan and what I thought was a mistake turned out to be yet another affirmation that He is always, and in all ways, in charge.

And, so, in the early morning hours of December 8, I sat back in the seat thankful that even on a full flight I had somehow managed to get a seat all to myself. Again, there was God, showing me that He was always looking out for me and that He knew I had much to think and pray about, especially on this day.  Like how in the world I was going to get through this trip.  Barb was gone. You were very sick and Denny was quickly slipping into a pit justifiably described as hell on earth as everything she knew and loved was systematically being stripped away from her.  She was looking more and more like a female, modern day version of Job. I hurt for her, to the core of my being, I hurt.

As the stewardess stopped momentarily in front of my seat to close the overhead compartment, she gave me a sympathetic nod. My pain, obviously visible to even a stranger, quickly liquidated and turned into a stream of tears.  I had so hoped that I would get there in time to say goodbye to Barb, but instead would be attending her funeral.

Oh, my dear God, how quickly life can change. Not just Barbie, but you too. Just a few months before, you were both so full of life, running circles around me, all the while smiling the most infectious smiles I have ever seen. Now, I was on my way to Canada to say a final farewell to Barb and to be by you and Denny’s sides as you both continued to maneuver your own deep, dark valley.

I sat back in my seat, ear buds tucked tightly in my ears and cranked up the Christian tunes. There was time for a lot of prayers between the airport runways of Atlanta, Georgia and Edmonton, Alberta.  And, as soon as the plane took off, the praying commenced.

During a short layover in Denver and before boarding the final leg of my day’s journey, I texted Denny to see how she was doing. She had been pretty emotional the night before when I talked to her, but was adamant that she would be the one to pick me up at the airport. I begged her to let one of our other friends do it, but, as per usual, she got the final word and she would be there waiting for me.  Period. She didn’t reply to my text, however; and I presumed she was probably busy with Barb’s funeral planning and taking care of you.

Back on the plane, I started to get more and more anxious. Denny was going through so much heartache and seemed to be beginning to struggle a bit with her faith.  She was finding it hard to fight anymore; her strength understandably gone. Just as this illness had stripped you of your physical muscles, Denny was feeling stripped of her spiritual muscles. She still loved God. She still believed in Jesus and she still believed in heaven. In fact, those were the only things that made any sense to her at all anymore. Yet they seemed so far away and her heart continued to crumble under the weight of it all.

And here I sat on this Canada-bound airplane wondering why God would possibly interject me into the world of such wonderful people, just as your world’s began to unravel. What could I possibly do to help? What was His plan? Why you? Why me? Why now?

My mind, my heart and my emotions were swirling like a hurricane as the plane taxied down the Denver tarmac and I again turned on my music, once again getting lost in my own little world of praise, worship and prayer. About halfway through the four-hour flight, “Hold My Heart” by Tenth Avenue North came on and I was immediately transported back to exactly one summer before when my previously-planned visit turned out to be a time of support as Denny’s brother, Stevie, had tragically drowned just the week before.

“One tear in the driving rain, One voice in a sea of pain Could the maker of the stars Hear the sound of my breakin’ heart? One light, that’s all I am Right now I can barely stand. If You’re everything You say You are Won’t You come close and hold my heart.”

As the song pervaded my heart on that day in late June, I turned every word into a fervent prayer for my friend, Denny, pleading with God to please—just as the song beseeches—to come close and hold my friend’s heart.  As the song continued, I began to feel a sense of peace and then an inexplicable nudge to open my eyes and look out the window. When I did, I saw something that I shall never forget. Right there, on a canvas of deep blue sky and billowing clouds, were clouds in the distinctive shape of two strong hands gently cradling a heart. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and quickly reached for my camera, but when I looked back up, the image was gone. I may not have gotten the picture with my camera, but it was forever etched into my memory and heart to be recalled many times in the days and years to come—including that December day in 2011 as I traveled once again to see my friends.

Leaning forward in my seat, I wondered if perchance God might give me another sign. Praise and worship lyrics still dancing in my ears, I studied the clouds, but no matter how hard I tried, I saw nothing. I then looked towards the ground, thinking perhaps I would see something there. Still, nothing. I settled back into my seat disappointed, but continuing to pray when I decided to try one more time.

Sitting forward once again, I pressed my forehead to the window pane and gazed at the sky like a kid waiting for Santa to appear in the Christmas parade. The sky at this point was cloudless and there was nothing really to see when all of a sudden a streak of white shot across blue sky. It happened so quickly, I almost gave myself whiplash snapping my neck to the left to see if I could see the plane that obviously just left this trail. However, I saw nothing.  “Man, that was way too close,” I thought to myself. I didn’t think planes were allowed to fly so close to one another.  Not to mention, that thing must have flying at the speed of light. I settled back into my seat quite perplexed and a little nervous. If that was a mistake by air controllers, perhaps I should be worried. And, if it were a message from God, I didn’t get it. It was not near as obvious as my previous experience.

As I continued to ponder what it could have possibly been, the flight attendants began preparing the cabin for landing. I turned off my iPod as instructed and began stowing all of my belongings for landing. In less than a half an hour, I should be on the ground and on my way through customs. My emotions shifted from anxiety to more excitement as I knew I was about to see the people who had become so near and dear to me.

Having visited several times before, I had become somewhat of a pro at maneuvering through customs. I breezed through and, luggage in tow,  followed my fellow travelers through the concourses and hallways leading to the lobby where you and Denny usually waited for me.

Walking through the doors, I looked around for Denny. Not seeing her right away, I figured she was probably hiding around the corner and laughing at me looking around like a lost puppy. She loved to make me look like a dork and, to be fair, I often did the same to her. I loved when we would make you laugh with our silliness, and when I knew all you could do was shake your head, it made me laugh, too.

In a calculated effort to outsmart her and maintain at least a shred of my self-professed coolness, I stepped to the side and looked down at my phone. As I peered back up, I saw a couple of familiar faces walking towards me. It was Alex and Trina.

“Good,” I thought to myself, Denny had decided to take a break and ask for help. We exchanged hugs and I started into my story of how customs didn’t try to give me the third degree for once. As I used Neil’s name a few sentences in, I noticed Trina’s eyes filling with tears. Alex’s face grew dim and right there in the middle of the Edmonton Airport, I heard these words, “Brenda, Neil passed away this morning.”

Neil, I’m telling you, the world came to a screeching halt right then and there. It just couldn’t be true. Maybe I had fallen asleep on the airplane and was having a nightmare. There was no way that you could leave this earth this soon. There was no way you could leave your wife or your struggling church. There was just no way.

I began to hyperventilate as my sweet friends, themselves sobbing, guided me to a nearby chair. And, right there, in that moment, it all became clear.

I looked down at the airline ticket in my hand. The December 8th Priceline ticket I held was far from a mistake. I was pre-destined to fly in on this very day as support for my dearest friend now plunged into the darkest hour of her life.

And that streak against the sky; that was you, my sweet friend; it was you, doing a fly-by and letting me know that you were indeed ok.  I could always see the passion in your eyes when you spoke of flying; how exhilarating it was for you to play high above the earth, amidst the clouds and along the very threshold of Heaven.

Yes, my dear Neil, every single time I see an airplane etching its own beautiful, feathery brushstroke of white amongst the clouds, I think of you and I know in the deepest reaches of my heart that you live in a constant state of that same exhilaration multiplied by infinity. I thank our awesome God every single day for writing me into you and Denny’s story and for this new symbol and hope and joy.

Keep flying, my dear friend. We love you. We miss you. We will see you again, but not before we fulfill this purpose that God has placed before us and for which you played and still play a pivotal role.

But please, Neil, please ask our Dad in Heaven to guide Denny’s hand to the rip-cord on her own chute. I know that I know that she will safely land on her feet, but the freefall sometimes takes her breath away and, even today, two years later, she seems to forget.

Let this day–December 8, 2013, be the day that she feels your love and His love to such a degree that she can once again see life from your high-flying and heavenly perspective.

Sending much love from earth to heaven,

–Brenda (aka, wife number two)

 

Update: I’m happy to report that, today, yet another two years later, Denny has finally found the rip-cord on her parachute. God has replaced her sadness and loneliness with joy and a brand new love…and to me, He has given me a purpose that can’t be denied. Have a blessed evening and a Merry Christmas.

 

 

Holidays Forever Changed


It was this time last year that my brother had started showing slight signs of illness. It wasn’t anything drastic, but by Christmas that all had changed.

Standing in the kitchen on Christmas morning, the words falling from my sister-in-law’s lips left me dazed and confused. Out of left field came the news that my brother was gravely ill.

But not even the warning just minutes before could prepare me for actually seeing him. He didn’t look like my brother at all. Always the picture of health and happiness, his face was sunken and his neck collapsed. He shuffled like a man twenty years his senior. I simply couldn’t understand how he could have changed so much since Thanksgiving. I found it hard to make eye contact with him, afraid that I’d spontaneously combust into an emotional inferno, or worse yet, that my shock would hurt his feelings.

We didn’t talk of his condition or appearance other than him letting everyone know that we all needed to make sure our wills were done. He left and—with his loving finance’, Karen, and devoted brother Stan by his side—he went through all the medical testing and processes to get himself on the liver transplant list. He followed the rules, at least for the most part, and we all dreamed of the day he would get his new lease on life.

That day never came, at least not in an earthly sense, and just as quickly as he had fallen ill, he was gone. This will be our first Thanksgiving and Christmas without him and, though I know that he would want us to still gather, laugh and love, it will simply never be the same. Thanksgiving and Christmas are forever changed. We miss you, Gary.

 

gary lake posted by friend after memorial

Gary’s Song

Though we know you are just beyond heaven’s door

In a place we, too, will one day live forever more

There is still an emptiness beginning to swell

In the place where love once lived and dwelled

So, today, we ask you Father to close the gap

To take us and hold us tight in your lap

To give us the strength to make this story

One that gives us peace and you all Glory.

–B. Gibson–Amen and Ehmen

 

But, memories don’t breathe…


I can’t lie. Today has been a tough and tearful day. I guess because I’m back toamen and ehmen screen shot banner some semblance of a routine. It’s just hard to believe that I won’t be able to see or talk to my brother again, at least this side of heaven. And that really hurts.

Sure, there are plenty of memories, but memories don’t breathe, laugh, smile and talk. They don’t hug or call on the telephone. They don’t tell jokes. They don’t love or advise. They are made up solely of days gone by. And that, too, really hurts.

I just have to remember, while memories may be past tense, God’s grace and promises are alive and present and the very ingredients of our future in Heaven with all of our loved ones, most especially the Almighty Father.

Abba Father, thank you for your grace and promises. And for reminding me that it is okay to grieve and cry. I know that you feel our hurt. In fact, at Gary’s memorial, as the rain fell onto our tents and umbrellas, I couldn’t help but imagine that You and all of the Heavens cried with us. I love you and praise you, dear Father, with all that I am. Please continue to comfort my family and all of those who loved Gary as well as anyone else who is grieving today. Amen and Ehmen.

Remembering Gary…


My brother, Gary,  passed away this week, but before he did, the entire family got to spend some one-on-one time with him in his final days and hours. We talked about everything, including some thoughts and words he wanted to share with his family and friends after he was gone. He had wanted to write them down himself, but ran out of time, so instead I was asked to do so. While it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, it was, at the same time, one of the easiest as, with prayer and thanksgiving, the ink flowed…from his heart to the page. He also asked that his good buddy, Burton, read it at the memorial service. He insisted that Burton had the perfect voice and boy was he right.  I so wish we would have recorded it, but since we didn’t I have decided to share the written version here, as many, many have asked for a copy.  My brother loved his friends and family so very much and I hope you cherish his memory as much as we do.  We will miss him immensely, but look forward to the day that we see him again. Thank you, Jesus, for being our Lord and Savior and for blessing us with your son, Gary, for 63 wonderful years. Amen and Ehmen.

gary lake posted by friend after memorial

A photo taken and posted by a friend the evening of Gary’s memorial service. Solemn and serene, it’s as if the lake itself paused to wish our loved one a peaceful journey.

Remembering Gary

September 10, 2015

Live every moment. Laugh every day. Love beyond words.

To some, this is just a nice saying; a plaque on the wall. To Gary, it was a way of life. And, he lived it until his very last breath which he drew surrounded by loved ones on the morning of September 7, 2015.

Without a doubt, Gary touched many people with his life; from his family to his true love, Karen, to the many with whom he worked and played throughout his 63 years. Stories have always been plentiful, most especially over these last few days as he spoke and lived his final chapter on earth and as others have offered their memories to comfort and console one another. Stories of gratitude from the many that came to him for advice; for those who just needed a listening ear and shoulder to cry on; for those that just needed a bit of laughter to brighten their day. Stories of love; of how family—whether biological or extended—was so important to him; of how he had a knack and a heart for always showing up when and where he was needed; his unyielding thoughtfulness, and, of course, his warm and fuzzy, not-so-hidden romantic side.

A man of gentle soul just like his father, he was warm-hearted, wise, witty and welcoming. He was a friend in the truest sense of the word, never meeting a stranger and always making people smile. If he could make your day brighter, he was going to do it. One of the favorite stories told in the last hours of his life seemed to encapsulate much of who Gary was—fun and a lover of life. He had gone on a beach and fishing vacation to Florida with sister Pam and her husband, Jimmy. As they were leaving a particularly crowded restaurant, Pam and Jimmy noticed that they had lost Gary. They began looking around, finally spotting him standing in the middle of a nearby wedding reception…having his picture made with the bride! When we asked him about it, he just laughed and said: “Well, I was walking past and she grabbed me and asked if she knew me and if I wanted a picture with her. Who was I to ruin her special day?” We suspect that every time these strangers flip through the pages of their photo album, they get a chuckle over the relative that nobody can seem to remember.

A son. A brother. A marine. A college graduate. A parole officer and devoted employee of the state. An uncle. A friend. A lover of people, the lake and BB community; a lover of cars and traveling. And a man in love with life, his family and his fiancé. A man that still had many plans—so much more love to share and adventures to enjoy. And, while we will all miss him and miss being a part of his earthly plans, we can all take solace in knowing that he is on an adventure of eternal proportions right now, most likely speeding up and down heaven’s byways in the fastest, sleekest corvette available on his way to paradise’s version of Booger Bottom, where he will, undoubtedly, plant himself behind the bar and serve up plenty of laughter, joy and love to his dad, his grandmama and granddaddy, his Aunt Hazel and all the family and friends that have gone before. And, one day, we, too will all join him on his adventure. But, until that joyful day, he did leave some words for those of us left behind; words and feelings he shared from his heart in his last days and hours…

To Karen and Step Family: Dearest Karen, you are, hands-down the love of my life. I have had loves before you and each one owned a piece of my heart. But, you owned the whole thing. You are everything I ever dreamed of and your family has become my family; your children have become my children—or my step-adults, I guess I should say. It meant so much that they accepted me as a part of the family and I was always honored that they came to me for advice. I know you are proud of your kids, and you should be. You raised them right.

And, Abbey. Thank you for Abbey; for making me a Pop-Pop. In a time when my health tried to upstage everything else in my life, that sweet baby brought me so much joy and fullness of life.

Karen, you are my best friend and everything I ever wanted in a life partner. I’m just sorry that we didn’t have more time to enjoy all the plans that we made together; to travel and explore. There was nothing I enjoyed more than researching and planning every detail of our trips and seeing the delight on your face as we experienced adventures together. And, last, but far from the least, thank you for taking such good care of me and for sending me on my final journey with more love and joy than I could have ever imagined. I love you.

To Mom: I love you. I know I put you and dad through a lot when I was growing up, especially when I was a teenager and dropped out of school. But, thank you for standing by me and letting me find my own way back; for supporting me when I joined the Marines; when I came out and got my G.E.D., went to college and started my career. But, most of all, mom, thank you for being the strong woman that you are; for surviving the devastation of losing dad and raising Pam and Brenda, while taking care of Grandmama and Granddaddy. I hope you know how proud of you I have always been. Did you know that you are the reason I became a Red Coat at Crisp Regional? I was always so proud to tell everyone that you were the longest-serving volunteer in Houston County. They were always in awe of the fact that you had worked 15,000+ volunteer hours and my five-year service as a Red Coat was in your honor. Mama, I just want you to take good care of yourself and am thankful that Stan, Pam and Brenda will continue to look after you. I can assure you that I will be looking over you until we are together again. Thanks for being such a great mama and for also sending me to heaven with so much love and joy. I love you.

To My Siblings and Family: We have the same blood, the same DNA and I am proud to have been born into THIS family. But just to put to rest which one of is the best looking of the offspring—including Wade—I have to say it was me! Seriously, I want to thank each one of you for adding many special moments, lots of laughter and much love to my life. I don’t think any of us will ever forget that Christmas at Tybee Island. What a great time, even when mama decided to flash everyone on the beach. I’m not sure any of us have ever laughed so hard. I cherished our time together and only wish that we had spent even more. I tried to be there for each of you and I thank you for being there for me, until the very end. I always knew, no matter what, I could count on you. Please continue to get together every chance you get and please do NOT draw names at Christmas! Oh, and by the way, Wade, do you remember that time you visited when you were a little boy and we went fishing? It was NOT a six pack. I love you guys. All of you. Be good to yourselves and one another. And, Billie, I promise to be looking over you as you get married and start your new life with The Boy. Your dress is pretty, but, more importantly, your house is a steal. Good job, kid.

To My Friends and Extended Family: I have been blessed with many friends and extended family members over the years and could not have dreamed of a better place to call home. I want to give a special thank you to my neighbors and friends for making my life more beautiful and full and, above all, fun! Spending time with you all at Booger Bottom was one of the highlights of my life. The Bottom is not just some bar, it is a community center, the heartbeat of our neighborhood; a place where people from all walks of life gather—lawyers, judges, crop-dusters, politicians, teachers, salesmen, medical professionals and farmers, just to name a few. Social status and differences are left at the threshold and everyone is the same—friends and family. I can’t tell you how very much you all meant to me. I am so thankful to have met each and every one of my friends at Booger Bottom and beyond. Thank you for the good times, for the laughter, and the friendship.

To All of You: I know by now, you are probably getting hot sitting here outside. Though these are my thoughts, I had to get my sister Brenda to write them down and she gets a little long-winded sometimes. So, if you are enjoying the words, then you can thank me, but if you are ready to get up and go inside where it is air conditioned, blame her.

Seriously, I’d say that only about one percent of my life was not so great, but the remaining 99 percent was awesome, and I have all of you to thank for that. Thank you for the good times, for the laughter and for the love and the joy. They say you can’t take it with you, but they were wrong. I took it all!

Just keep on living, loving and laughing. I’ll see you all again…just around the bend.

Love, Gary

Happy Anniversary: Celebrating Love. Past. Present and Future.


holding handsWriter’s Note: This was a note  wrote to my friend on the first wedding anniversary that she had to celebrate alone. Neil’s death, just seven months prior, usurped the life and love that she knew and, at least for a long while, it looked like she might not survive his death. But, she did, and, today, three more wedding anniversaries later, she is doing very well. God has ushered in a new life and a new love and, while she still misses Neil everyday, she is learning to keep moving forward…just as God intends. Happy Anniversary to my Friend. Enjoy the love. Past. Present. And Future. Amen and Ehmen!

To my friends who mark their 20th wedding anniversary today, one from heaven and one from here on earth. Thank God you had each other and that the heart is the one connection that will never go away; the place that heaven and earth meet and you will remain united until you are once again in the same place at the same time. I love you two with all my heart and I’m praying for your peace and comfort today, Denny.

I can still see his eyes—as beautiful blue and as comfortable as a favorite pair of denim jeans. I see them light up every single time you walked into the room. Even after more than two decades together, just your presence made him smile like a young schoolboy falling in love for the first time. And that cute and jovial little chuckle. The Neil chuckle, I call it. I can still hear it every time you’d say or do something silly, which, thankfully is often.
I’m sure your marriage wasn’t perfect. No relationship is. But, your love; well, your love was perfect.  And as you mark this anniversary of your matrimony with a saddened and clouded heart, just know that your Neil is just on the other side of those clouds smiling like a young schoolboy falling in love for the first time. He loves you, this I know, with a love that transcends all time and space. He loves you. Past. Present. And Future.