Monday, December 31, 2012

Life Lessons from the Redskins

The city of Washington, DC and the surrounding metropolitan area are electric today!  We’ve been rocking since our big win over Dallas last night!! This was HUGE! Not only did we beat our arch-rival in a do or die game, we became NFC East Champions and secured a spot in the playoffs! We haven’t had such success since 1999. The year may turn to 2013 tomorrow, but for now, we are partying like it’s 1999!!

I am very tired today.  As Faith Hill sings, “I waited all day for Sunday night”.  Sunday, I was anxious, excited, and nervous for this big game.  It was as if I was awaiting the arrival of my first child.  I watched Chicago beat Detroit and got nervous. Then I watched Minnesota beat the Packers and said “Well, it wouldn’t have mattered if Detroit beat Chicago. We still have to win this game!”  I tore off the tags of my new RG III jersey and settled in to watch the big showdown.  I cheered so loud that I am positive Dude could hear me all the way up in heaven!  I was nervous and excited the whole time.  I stayed up for every minute of the game and watched all of the postgame coverage before finally drifting off to sleep around 1:30am.  Filled with excitement and a heart full of joy, I slept in my jersey.  Four hours later, I was back up at 5:30am for work.  

You might remember this post.  I was frustrated because when the Redskins drafted RG III the city was full of hope and expectation.  Then at the beginning of November, we were 3-6 with a coach who had seemingly given up and dashed playoffs hopes.  Just two months later, we are in the playoffs for the first time in 5 years and NFC East Champions for the first time in 13 years!  During all of the postgame coverage, Shanahan’s comments and our dismal record came up again and again.  Each player interviewed was asked the same two questions: what changed and how did you do it?  Over and over, they repeated the same message: we  took it one game at a time and believed in ourselves.  We prepared and came out to play.  It was patience and belief in themselves that moved them forward.

From the day Dude died, I’ve been encouraged to take it one day at a time.  I’ve explained how difficult this is for me.  I like to think months even years ahead, but grief has not allowed me to do that.  Grief has forced me to take it one day at a time.  When I suspend the belief that it is annoying to be forced to live this way and I just embrace the fact that all I am guaranteed is today, I live more freely and with more appreciation.  I am not always good at remembering this, but Mike’s mom is a champ at reminding me of it.

“One day at a time”, she says. “Just one day at a time."

The Redskins took it one game at a time and currently have a seven game winning streak!

Grief can also steal your self esteem.  Not only did I lose my very best friend, I lost my biggest fan.  For the last eight months, another repetitive message to me has been
“Yes, this is a huge loss, but your life is not over. You are still here, still young, and have a lot to offer”.
At first, this message just bounced off of me and was almost paralyzing.  How was I supposed to move forward?  How would I ever adjust to this?  How would I ever explain this to someone else?  Some people said to not bring it up.  I can’t do that.  Dude was such a huge part of me and this experience is now a part of who I am that to not explain it to the right person at the right time would be a denial of half my life and a huge part of myself.  I trust God to bring me the right person at the right time.  However, I will not get there if I don’t believe that I can.  The Redskins played injured, beat up, and when everyone counted them out.  If they’d given in to those feelings and had given up, we wouldn’t be celebrating today.  But they believed and we cheer like maniacs!!  I may have lost my biggest cheerleader on earth, but I know he is cheering me on from above.  I also have lots of fans still with me, too.  Now, I just have to continue to work on believing in myself and things will turn around.

One of the rookie quarterbacks will probably win “Rookie of the Year”, but honestly, Alfred Morris should be a contender.  He was a 6th round draft pick with very low expectations and has been explosive on our offense!  When thinking about the LSAT and law school I feel like Alfred Morris.  I am pretty sure my LSAT score is not going to be good.  I might end up being a school’s “6th round pick”.  If someone is willing to give me a chance, I am confident I will be a firecracker and excel.

Tomorrow the calendar turns to a new year.  I entered 2012 with much hope and anticipation.  It turned out to be the worst year of my life.  I enter 2013 just as I felt all day yesterday – nervous, excited, scared, and anxious.  The good news is I have survived the worst year of my life.  The events of this year have instilled a physical, emotional and spiritual work ethic in me.  If I carry that work ethic into 2013, focusing on “one day at a time”, believing in myself, and trusting God, I think I’ll be OK.  I hope I can go from surviving to thriving, but at the very least, I know I can survive.

Hail to 2013!



Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012: Unbelievable

In reflecting on 2012, I was trying to think of how to sum it up in one word.  The first word that came to mind was horrific. While Mike's death certainly took center stage this year, other things - good and bad - occurred, so horrific didn't quite capture everything. "Unbelievable" seemed most appropriate. The highlights and low-lights of 2012 are truly unbelievable.

  • Family trip to Thailand (February 11-25): After traveling 24 hours on an airplane, we arrived in Asia for quite an adventure. All of the colors, sounds, and smells were unbelievable. I have traveled a lot of places and have never been to a place like Thailand before. Riding elephants, playing with tigers, getting custom made clothes at the tailor and feeling like a celebrity, eating Thai food at literally every meal, visiting with my friend, Yada, visiting floating markets and floating down many rivers in wooden boats or bamboo rafts --- certainly a trip of a lifetime! 
  • Visiting the Beckers (April 30): Spending the whole day with the Beckers in Lawrenceville, NJ before they moved to Washington, CT. I went to lunch with Age and then spent the whole day with William and Marilee at the playground and hanging out with them on campus. At the end of the day, we walked to school to pick up Penny and get hugs just before it was time for me to go home.
  • Running outside in the middle of the workday to watch the space shuttle fly by. It was so cool to see the plane flying with the shuttle on it's "back". Unbelievable! (April 17)
  • Redskins games especially Monday Night Football. RG3 is UNBELIEVABLE!
  • A weekend in NYC with Kathryn. I am so grateful for our friendship. (April 22-24)
  • University of Richmond Homecoming 2012. Thank you, Kristen Emerson. (Nov 3)
  • Moving back into my condo: Renovating the kitchen and bathroom and getting a new bed were the best decisions I made this year. 
  • Summer Olympics in London.  I am an Olympic junkie. My favorite sports were gymnastics (Go Gabby Douglas) and swimming (supposedly Michael Phelps last Olympics)
  • April 3, 2012: My best friend left the world forever. It is still hard to believe and to wrap my mind around. It will probably always seem strange. I will miss you and love you forever, Dude.
  • August 14, 2012: My godmother, Linda, went to heaven.
  • October 12, 2012: Surgery #17 to remove a screw in my foot. It ended up being easier than expected, though.
  • Having to sue LSAC twice

 Reasons to celebrate my friends
  • Jason and Angela Ritter, May 11, 2012
  • Seth Caplan and Melissa Whitlock, September 2, 2012
  • Jen and Chris Hansen, December 22, 2012
  • Andy and Yada's engagement
  • Dr. Alyssa Dunn published a book
  • Kathryn and Tyler Grassmeyer are expecting a baby girl in January 2013
  • Sean and Amanda Casey are expecting Baby Casey in February 2013
  • Jason and Angela Ritter are expecting a baby girl in May 2013.
  • Erin and Tom Buller are expecting a baby girl in June 2013. Great news especially after Noah joined Mike in heaven earlier this year.

Lessons Learned
  • You are stronger than you think.
  • Your friends truly do love you.
  • God is there.
  • Never give up no matter how hard it gets.
  • Wine is wonderful.

I am definitely ready to say "good riddance" to this unbelievable year. I'm praying that 2013 is full of blessing, hope, and joy.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

When all else falls, love still remains

It’s been a tough year.  Life has been hard on many fronts.  I cannot wait to see 2012 go, hoping that 2013 has some blessing in store.  There’s been sorrow and darkness and my world as I knew it for nearly half my life fell apart.   For many months, I walked around in my hometown and everything seemed unrecognizable, unfamiliar, meaningless.  However, even in the midst of such despair, I always knew there was a reason to go on. It is said that in the midst of tragedy people come together.  We saw it with September 11th, Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, and I have witnessed it first hand in my own life this year.  My world crumbled, but amidst the rubble has been a fortress of love.

I sat down to write my New Years Christmas cards and realized there were so many people I wanted to thank for the love and support they have given me throughout the most difficult year of my life.  The road is long, but so many have helped me to move forward and have stood beside, in front of, or behind me as I’ve tried to navigate this journey I never wanted to be on.  If you know me well, you know how much I am against using technology for personal thank yous (and big events - no evites). But, I only have 27 cards and there are so many more people who have supported me, I have to resort to this. So, in no particular order, here is my measly attempt to thank all of you for your love and support.

God: (Ok, maybe there is a little order) "You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning. You turn my darkness into light" - Psalm 18:28.  Take care of Dude up there and give him big hugs, kisses and high fives!  I miss him so much.

My family: It hasn’t been an easy road as my parents are grieving the loss, too. They also have no idea what to do sometimes because it is frustrating to not be able to take away my pain. No doubt, they try their best to make sure I have enough space to grieve and encourage me to move forward, too. Thank you for making it possible for me to be in Aruba over the anniversary of Dude's death.  Zoe and Phoebe, our dogs, have been the biggest comfort with a never-ending supply of hugs, kisses, tail wags, and snuggles. Those two always know how to make me smile.

Dude’s family: Thank you for all of your love (and Scramble games) during your time of deep grief. You have adopted me into the family and have been an incredible support.  It has been a huge help for me to talk to you.  Know that Dude will always remain someone so special to me and there will always be a hole in my heart now that he is gone.

My favorite Spiders, you know who you are: You swooped right in and have surrounded me even though many of us are geographically distant.  We’ve bonded through laughter and tears, photos and sweet memories. Thanks for taking care of me. Y’all are as loyal as the day is long.  I hate that we have to go through this, but I am glad we are together.

Mary: You are an angel on this earth that God sent to help me.

Spiders: Although it’s been under horrific circumstances, I’ve really appreciated all of the notes and messages and memories you’ve shared.  I have kept every one and have shared them with Mike’s family.  We are blown away by the impact that he had on so many people and are comforted by all the stories. One Spider and I were talking right after he died and I mentioned to her how much I enjoyed hearing stories of people’s interactions with Mike. Her response was “Well, I suspect you’l l be hearing those for many years to come.” I sure do hope so.  Mike and I used to always joke that between the two of us, we knew the entire school.  I’ve enjoyed getting to meet and befriend many of you I didn’t know before this. Thanks for reaching out.

My small group: I’d never be able to do what I did that night without your help. Thanks for all you have done for me whether it be sitting next to me when I can’t come up with any words, praying for me, bringing me things to make me smile, or driving a long way just for a hug.  I am so blessed to have you ladies in my life.

My friends: It’s not necessary to know the right words or to say anything at all.  Any little thing has made a difference.  I know I haven’t been the most fun, but I hope you understand and know that I appreciate all of your support.  For those of you that never got to meet Dude, when we all get to heaven someday I’ll introduce you.  Until then, I hope you'll get a glimpse of him through me.

Colleagues: You have been patient and do all that you can to make me smile throughout the day. Work isn’t the best place to be, but boy do I have some caring colleagues!!

Bloggers I’ve never met: The fun thing about blogging is that you get a glimpse into people’s lives that you have never met and may never meet. I’ve received notes of support and prayers from many of you. How cool that we can be a community even when we are so far apart and only know each other through our little space on the web?!

Dude:  Even though I have a tendency to get so mad at you for what you did, I am so thankful for the time that we got to spend together.  Thank you for finding ways to take care of me despite your own pain. I will love you and miss you forever.  Stay close.

I’ve learned that this will be a lifelong healing process, but things will get better.  They have gotten better.  I am so blessed to have so much love and support. Thank you for everything and please stay close.

With a grateful heart, I wish each and every one of you a happy new year.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

Easy Button, Please.

Dear God,

All I want for Christmas is an "easy button". Two thousand and twelve has been hard - the hardest and worst year of my life.  I am normally not one to shy away from a challenge, but I am tired. I had to fight the first three months of my life just to stay alive. The doctors told my parents I would never walk or talk. I defied those odds. Now, it's hard to get me to shut up and I am learning to walk without my canes. I fought and You were there so I could win the battle. But now I am tired. 2012 has worn me out. I have had to not just punch, but all out battle this year. I am worn out. I am asking for an "easy button" for Christmas. I know everything won't be a cake walk, but I'd really appreciate some blessings on some big things in 2013.

Let's just talk about this for a second. Thailand was the highlight of 2012. The only highlight. I've spent all my energy on the challenges of 2012 - Dude and his death, my surgery and the LSAT. We'll break this down one at a time.

Life with Dude was hard and scary at the end, but the love, joy, laughter, and happiness of the last 12 years outweigh the challenges in the end. In fact, the last week I talked to him may have been the most meaningful. He probably planned it that way. I am so thankful to him for all that he did for me, but sometimes I get really angry about what he did to himself. I don't blame you for that, God. At least not most days. I think your heart breaks for what happened, too. But, I wish you would have stopped it. I pray that I would make sense of what happened.
Dude was my very best friend. It kills me when I hear people talking about spending the rest of their life with their best friend. All I can think when I hear that is "Well, good for you. My best friend didn't just die, he took his own life. You get to marry yours. I got to bury mine." I have lots of ideas to keep Dude's spirit alive, but they are big ideas! There could be many obstacles associated with them. Please clear the way for something really meaningful and wonderful to be done in his memory. Help me to move forward with his spirit in my heart. I fear having to shove half my life in the closet in order to move forward. That's not true, but that's what it seems like. It's certainly challenging to figure out how to handle the situation, what steps need to be taken to move forward, and at what pace to do that. Clarity is requested. Easy button, please.

I never expected to have two surgeries within a year.  I had made so much progress with my walking then got slammed with a major surgery. Just when I start to regain strength, the screws start popping out of the bone and it's time to go under the knife again. I haven't been able to recover enough from the first surgery to regain my strength and walking ability back. I am willing to work hard, but am hoping to see some more progress.
I am also tired of my stomach hurting. The doctor says there is nothing he can do for me short of replacing my metabolism. Unfortunately, all of the things in your body that you can replace, you can't trade in your metabolism. Gonna need some divine intervention on that one, thanks.

Lastly, the LSAT. You know it has always been a dream of mine to go to law school. I finally feel like You are guiding me in that direction, but this LSAT business is getting complicated. In the last two days, I have had to present two cases - one for the disability attorney and one for the Department of Justice -- to explain my situation. I never wanted to have to do this, but the schools say I have to in order to get my accommodations for the bar.  They also comment on how it is great experience to prepare me for law school.  All of this money spent and experience I am getting preparing cases will be wonderful if I actually get into law school. But, if this LSAT craziness bars me from admission, this girl will not be happy. I have worked so hard to study for this test and now I have to prepare these cases and then pray that they are done in time for me to take the February test! Oh, and I probably have to take the February test and miss the rodeo. I wanted to put those books away and head to Texas! This whole thing is so crazy, it's comical. I try to laugh more than I cry, but I am running out of patience.

This may seem kind of whiny and like I want life to be easy. To a certain extent, that's true! The thing is I am not asking for things to just be handed to me, but I am tired of having to fight so hard. The more I fight, the more You are glorified. I get it. But, I am tired. I wasn't going to write all of this down, but I am hoping that one day I will look back on it and see how you have answered with abundant blessings. You say, "..rejoice in our sufferings because suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope." Romans 5:3-4. I've tried so hard to stay positive and rejoice. But this girl is not singing very loudly. I am tired.

So tired.

Please help me.

Love, Jess

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dear Dude

Hey Dude,

It was around this time last year that I started writing you a letter every week. I haven't done that since April and felt now was a good time. So much has happened in a year. Last year, at this time, you were starting to spiral downhill. It was a scary time for all of us close to you, but I had hope. I wanted you to get better. I prayed that you would get better. I was certain you would get better. But you didn't. You uttered your last words to me, "I love you", and went to make your home in heaven. While your death was a possibility, I never expected it to be a reality - at least not until you were an old man and I had to teach you how to use a cane.

One week from Christmas, grief is more pronounced once again. For the last week or so, "grief brain" has come to visit. "Grief brain" feels like I have no brain. I'm distracted, have to ask the same question many times to comprehend what is being asked of me, and I am tired. Really tired. Some of the exhaustion comes from how hard I've worked. Between devoting time everyday to overcome grief, studying for the LSATs and completing my law school applications, I've been in overdrive. My body is calling me to rest.

This is supposed to be a time for celebration. I've been determined to celebrate Christmas just as I would if you were alive. I've done a pretty good job. But amidst the joy and fun of the season is sadness. Not only sadness that this year I can't come up with every reason under the sun for why I should find an autographed photo of Art Monk under the tree from you, sadness that life is now very different without you on this earth, but also sadness for all the people of Newtown, CT.  I hurt for them. I know the heartache associated with losing someone you love so deeply, so suddenly. I know intense grief. I also watch your mom, Dude. Nobody should have to lose a child -- ever. Our celebrations have been tainted with sadness.

You always wanted to be a father. Remember when you told me you wanted 6 kids and I looked at you like you had 6 heads?! Well, now, you have 20 new ones who just joined you and I'm sure you've already taken Noah Buller under your wing. Take good care of those kiddos, Dude, and don't teach them all of your bad habits. Teach them strength, love, loyalty, curiosity, patience, generosity and selflessness -- all the things that made you, YOU!

What's it like to celebrate Christmas in heaven? Hanging out with Jesus all the time, does it feel like it is Christmas everyday? I bet so. The Mayans say the world is going to end on Friday. People are freaking out about it. But, God says we won't know the day, so I don't think I'll get to see you that soon. I'll be down here doing my best to live life to the fullest while I patiently wait for the day I will get to see you again.

Take good care of those kids, but watch over all of us, too. You are terribly missed and dearly loved. Always. Forever. I try to encourage everyone to show their smile and zestfully live life the way you did. Not a day goes by that my thoughts don't turn to you. Give Jesus a big hug and ask that He stays close to us. We desperately need Him. Everyone.

Merry Christmas! Thank you for watching over and loving me.

I love you. JB 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Child's Perspective on Violence -- 21 Years Later

All of the coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre is a double whammy for me. It makes my grief for Mike a little stronger, but it also recalls my experience of losing my aunt to gun violence when I was nine years old. There is talk of hope that the students will forget what happened on December 14, 2012. Sadly, that's idealism. I did not even come close to my aunt's gunman nor did I hear the shots being fired and I will never forget that day in November 1991.

My aunt and uncle had stopped by my parents' house on Halloween to see me in my costume right before I headed out to go trick or treating. Their stay was brief because there was candy to be collected! They stayed for a short time, took some photos, and said their "See ya laters". That was the last time I would see my aunt.

The Friday night after Halloween (I don't remember how many days there were in between), my aunt and uncle were attending their niece's birthday party. The party ran a little late and they were driving home in the wee hours of Saturday morning. As they sped along I-295, minding their own business, Henry James rolled down the window and fired his gun. He said he "just felt like bustin' somebody". The bullet hit my aunt who died instantly.

I remember my Dad getting the phone call early Saturday morning. My parents didn't know what to do, so they tried to pretend that everything was normal when I woke up that morning. Little did they know, I had overheard the whole conversation and knew that my aunt had died. I didn't let them know I was aware. I didn't know what to do, so I just followed their lead and said nothing. I was numb to the news, so I don't exactly remember how I felt. My immediate response wasn't to shed tears, though. I had to pretend I didn't know of the tragedy that had occurred.

My parents spilled the beans when it was time for me to go back to school. The story hit the newspaper. The media caught wind of the tragedy and started interviewing my dad and my uncles.  My parents tried to shield me from all that was going on, but it was impossible. You never quite realize how much the media replays a story until you are trying to avoid hearing it. Mom and Dad tried to maintain some sense of normalcy, but it didn't work. My family had been the victims of gun violence and that would change our world forever.

While I didn't initially have a strong response to the news of my aunt's untimely death, the trauma affected me over time. I spent a year in counseling dealing with the trauma and trying to overcome the effects of the tragedy. The trauma manifested in two ways: I had my first migraine ever (I've only had a migraine one other time -- after Mike died) and the biggest issue was that I was afraid to leave my house. My reasoning for staying in had to do with the fact that my aunt and uncle had come to visit, left, and then my aunt never came back. My parents would try to get me to go to sleepovers with my friends, I would go and then "get sick" so I could come home. I couldn't imagine us not being together as a family. In my nine year old mind, if one of us left the family, they would not return. That association took quite some time to break, but eventually, I felt more comfortable leaving my family without fear.  I also used to have a nightmare once a year about this tragedy. It's only been about 3 years since I stopped waking up filled with such fear once a year.

As a result of my own family's tragedy, I will never own a gun. I'm not trying to use this post as a platform to express my views on gun ownership. I have many friends who own guns or who think the right to bear arms should be exactly that, a right. What they own is their business as long as they don't use it for harm which I know none of them would. I am just saying I personally will never possess a firearm.

The children of Sandy Hook are much worse off than I am. They were directly affected by this tragedy -- seeing and hearing the massacre unfold. I heard the media say they hope the students will be able to forget what happened. Never. And for those of you trying to shield your children from all of the coverage, that might be impossible. Perhaps, at the right time, it is better to explain what happened and that it is not a common occurrence (at least, let's pray it's not). But, 21 years later, I remember all of those details of my family's own tragedy. I will never forget it; it's a part of me.

Pray for our country and pray for all the members of Newtown, Connecticut. Nobody will ever forget that horrific day.

Anything Makes A Difference

You've heard me say it on this blog before. Words are not always necessary to show that you care. You don't always have to know what to say or even say anything at all. A hug, a phone call, a note or a prayer let those going through tragedy know you care. When the unspeakable happens many times there are no words. As such, there is a blogger moment of silence today. The majority of us have no relation to the victims' families and will not be close enough to be present with them for hugs or even notes. Yet, despite our distance, both geographically and relationally, many are driven to help. Here is one way you can help.

And never underestimate the power of prayer  

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Different View of the Christmas Tree

Until this year, I’ve never given much thought to the symbolism of the Christmas tree. I just  assumed that it was a custom that started in Germany and caught on across the Atlantic Ocean. It’s bright and beautiful and the Christmas trees are a big deal in my parents’ house --- Such a big deal that each year decorating the trees causes angst and makes me wonder if my parents are going to get divorced at the start of the season. Mom likes thousands of lights and tons of ornaments. Dad doesn’t “fluff” correctly and breaks at least one ornament each year. The advent of the already lit Christmas tree ushered in a little less stress, but the amount of lights that come on the tree is still not enough for Mom. There is nothing to prevent Dad from breaking an ornament so angst still exists. This year I was able to stay in my condo during the time all of the decorating went on at 302 Cambridge. This year I had my own Christmas tree. This year I was removed from the angst and pushed towards reflection.  

One of my favorite things to do this time of year is to sit by the Christmas tree. It is the centerpiece of the room. It’s tall and strong and green – the color of new life. It is bright and beautiful, peaceful and joyous. It radiates enough light to fill an otherwise dark room. Occasionally, I catch myself lost in the magic of the tree. I just sit there and stare in awe of its wonder.

A few carols I deem as favorites; a few I’d be happy to skip. The quiet and sort of repetitive tune of “O Christmas Tree” prompted me to skip it in years past. Its melody rang through the speakers the other day and I paused to listen carefully. For the first time, I was struck by the lyrics:
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

Thy leaves are so unchanging;

O Christmas Tree! 
O Christmas Tree!

Thy leaves are so unchanging;

Not only green when summer's here,

But also when 'tis cold and drear.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

Thy leaves are so unchanging!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

Much pleasure thou can'st give me;

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

Much pleasure thou can'st give me;

How often has the Christmas tree

Afforded me the greatest glee!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

Much pleasure thou can'st give me.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

Thy candles shine so brightly!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

Thy candles shine so brightly!

From base to summit, gay and bright,

There's only splendor for the sight.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

Thy candles shine so brightly!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

How richly God has decked thee!

 O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

How richly God has decked thee!

Thou bidst us true and faithful be,

And trust in God unchangingly
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

How richly God has decked thee! !"

“That’s Jesus!”, I loudly proclaimed (alone in my apartment). He is unchanging. He is the same in the good times and the bad. He is love. He is joy. He is the light in the darkness.

The recent tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT and in my own life make this image all the more powerful. Both tragedies are horrible, unspeakable even. My mom was an elementary school teacher. I can't imagine if that had happened at her school. I became a victim of gun violence when I was nine years old and my aunt was killed in a random drive by shooting. I know the heartbreak of losing someone you love so deeply, so suddenly. (Thankfully, I do not know what it is like to lose a child and hope I am forever spared from that pain). I grieve for my own loss and for the horrible loss in Connecticut. I mourn with the rest of the nation.  I have no idea why God did not stop these tragedies from happening. I ask that question on a daily basis. But, what I do know is that God is love and hope and strength and peace. He does not change. He is the light in the darkness.

On more than one occasion over the course of Friday and the days that have followed, I’ve heard “How sad that this happened so close to Christmas!” I agree. The children, families and town are supposed to be experiencing the joy and the magic of the season.  Evil crept in and stole that away from them. But, God overcomes evil. And, reminders of Christ (Christmas trees) are present within our homes and spread throughout the land. God's heart breaks, too, but He has welcomed those no longer here on earth. It may be hard to see, but God is with us in deep grief.

Even in the darkness, He shines the brightest light.

I will turn the darkness into light before them
    and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
    I will not forsake them.
Isaiah 42:16

I googled whether the Christmas tree was intended to be a symbol of Christ and there was a bunch of conflicting information. Since having my own realization about this, I will forever think of Christ when I look at the tree regardless of whether that was its intended meaning.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Dissonance of the Season

Last night, a couple college friends and I were catching up on the phone. One was Mike’s college roommate and the other was a mutual friend of ours. One had been particularly close to Mike, and the other, while not as close, enjoyed his company and has been affected by his death.  We’ve all been pretty good about keeping up with each other in the wake of this tragedy. Well, I probably should say they’ve been excellent at checking in on me and I reciprocate when I can.

Both conversations covered a number of topics - jobs, future educational endeavors, plans for a ski trip, our annual reunion, dog therapy school, and eventually, we got around to the topic of Christmas. Conversations about Christmas consumed the majority of minutes on the phone – decorating the tree, baking delicious and unique cookies, where the actual holiday will be spent. After that banter, we arrived at what, perhaps, used to be the pivotal question: “What do you want for Christmas?” We all independently answered by saying, “I don’t really know. I didn’t really ask for anything this year.”

When my mom asked me to make my list I responded with ambivalence. This year, the material gifts don’t matter.  On one hand, my college friends and I are blessed with great jobs and don’t really need anything. On the other hand, we’ve been hit with two tragedies in the last eight months – someone close to us took his own life and another friend lost her 11 month old son in a tragic accident. Many tears have been shed and our grief has bonded us even more than before. We’ve also rejoiced over an engagement, a marriage, a book publishing, and two itsy bitsy Spiders who will make their world debuts next year! Together, this year, we have known deep sorrow and experienced great joy!

Our excitement for this season has been tainted with sadness. A dissonance exists as joy clangs up against grief.  Somehow I thought this was contained within our bonds of friendship and was dictated by our circumstances until I received an email from a friend this afternoon.  In the email she writes,

"… I'm struck by the discord between the minor key of O Come O Come Emmanuel and the jolly tunes playing as I type this in my local coffee shop. In the past, I've resisted this dissonance, but this year it somehow seems appropriate to me. Advent is all about what theologians call the "already and the not yet." Jesus has already come, and Jesus has not yet come again. The same is true in my life--I can turn to the past and tell story after story of the ways in which Jesus has come in, but I look to the future with hope that I will know more and more of his gracious, patient, and truthful presence. So there is the joy of what has already happened, and the deep longing for what someday will be." 
--  Amy Julia Becker

This struck a chord with me and prompted me to write this post. I wouldn’t say that there is joy in the deaths we have experienced this year. Rather, there is joy in the time that we got to spend with those we’ve lost and in the memories that we keep in our hearts. There is joy as our bonds of friendship are strengthened. There is joy in anticipating the arrivals of babies and impending nuptials. There is hope and peace in the prayers that we pray for one another.

Speaking for myself (and hopefully my friends, too), I can say amidst the sadness, there is hope. At the end of 2011, I looked to 2012 with such anticipation and happiness. It turns out this year has been the worst year of my life! Thankfully, Jesus has gone before me, has met me in these times and is preparing me for the hope and joy of the future – “the already and the not yet”.

Christmas feels different this year. I thought it was solely because someone so dear is missing. That’s not entirely the case. This year, our focus has been taken away from the number of presents under the tree. This year, I/we are experiencing the true meaning of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How will this be?

This is a season of preparation. The obvious preparations include getting ready for Christmas - putting up the tree and other decorations, making a list and checking it twice, buying the presents, wrapping the presents, attending parties and giving and receiving gifts. All of that is fun and can be stressful. While all of these preparations seem important and necessary they are not of the utmost importance. Amidst all of the busyness of Christmas, we celebrate the season of Advent. In Advent, we prepare for the arrival of Jesus – for the word made flesh, for a baby born of a virgin to bring the good news!

When an angel told Mary she would give birth to the Son of God she was confused. A virgin giving birth to a baby?! “How will this be?, she asked. A mix of doubt, wonder, and curiosity existed within her question. I have been much like Mary over the last eight months.

On April 3, 2012, my world as I’d known it for nearly half my life shattered! Life went way off script. I thought I knew how life would be. While my stable ground started to get a little shaky in the months prior to Dude’s death, I never expected the ground to crack as it did. On that horrific day, it was as if a bomb went off and blew everything wide open! All that was left behind was a mess – broken dreams, shattered hopes, a broken heart.

I’ve spent the last eight months picking up the pieces. As I collect the pieces I realize that they will never fit together as they did before Dude died. There will always be a crack because one of the most important people in my life is no longer present on this earth. I’ve also realized that just because the puzzle is different than it was before does not mean life will not be beautiful. Light is able to shine through the cracks.

What I don’t know is what the new puzzle will look like. I greet the future with a mix of hope and fear. If someone told me last year that I would have been studying for the LSAT and preparing to go to law school, I would have laughed out loud in their face!  Seriously. Sure, going to law school has always been a dream of mine, but I’d pushed it away so many times, it seemed like it would only be a dream. At this point, maybe it will remain a dream, but I’ve taken steps to make it a reality. God is at work on a plan new to me for my life. He is preparing me for something great. As He is at work, I ask a lot of questions about my “new normal”.

How will this be?

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
O Little Town of Bethlehem

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Little Christmas Cheer

In honor of my moving back into my condo and my determination to truly celebrate Christmas despite this difficult year, I decided to have a party. It ended up being a more intimate gathering than I anticipated, but it was perfect! I loved being able to spend time with my friends and not feel rushed to try to get around to everyone. I also loved that the food options I chose meant that I could sit on the couch and enjoy the company instead of standing in the kitchen monitoring the oven or the stove. This was purposeful. I'll let the photos (from my phone) do most of the "talking".
 The bar: wine, beer, soda, water, virgin cranberry cocktail and Christmas tea (not pictured)

Good eats: fruit, veggies with spinach and artichoke dip, shrimp, cheese ball and crackers, turkey sandwiches, meatballs, sausage balls, and cookie dough dip with pretzels. I actually made the meatballs, sausage balls and cookie dough dip. Yes, I actually cooked something and it tasted good. The world really might end in a few days! I forgot to take a photo of the cupcakes and cookies. I made the cupcakes too, but they were a bit wimpy! They tasted good, but didn't look that pretty. Next time.
Even better than the food was the company. One fail of the night was that I didn't take pictures of all of the people there, but here are a few. Not pictured are the Caseys and Jessica. I have the best friends in the world. I always knew they were amazing, but the love and support they have given me this past year is indescribable.

 Love those Landers
 Blessed to be able to call people who started out as "Mike's friends" my own now.
 This isn't the best photo, but George makes it adorable. So much fun to see the Guernseys!

 And, finally, my very own Christmas tree! This is my "first" one. My parents bought me a tree two years in a row previously, but then took both of them to use in their house. This one is my very own. I had so much fun decorating it and look forward to increasing my ornament collection over the years.

This little party was a great way to kick off the Christmas season! Thanks to everyone who came to share the love and the joy of the season with me. The only negative: I have a whole bowl of cookie dough dip in my fridge and I live alone. T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


On Monday, I attended my first Monday Night Football game at FedEx Field: Redskins vs. Giants. I was so excited to go, but I was nervous for the Redskins. We had not won a MNF game since 1997. That's FIFTEEN years!! We also had a tendency to totally embarrass ourselves on national TV when we play on the big stage. All I could think was "Oh goodness, I just hope we don't get obliterated. We are playing the defending Super Bowl champions!!" I have had more hope this season because RG III has not only kept us in games, but given us a chance to win! So I had hope, but I was cautious.

I left work right on time so I that I could be sure to bundle up before the big game. It was hard to figure out what to wear because it was 63 degrees. On December 3. Crazy! I put something together and the Cordells and I headed to the stadium. We did everything as we traditionally do it. Tailgate before the game with all of the staples -- hamburgers, chips and carrots with french onion dip, pasta salad, and cookies. Delicious as always, but we didn't add anything special. It was the same as it always is.
The stadium was chaotic! It was as if people had been drinking all day long! Shouldn't they have been at work? You had to zigzag around people just to navigate your way to your seat, but cheers of" RG III!!!" "RG III" bounced off the walls! The atmosphere was different. It was hopeful. Exciting. Even though we had done everything just as we normally do, something was very different about this night. Little did I know at that moment, there would be a LOT different about the Redskins' eleventh appearance on MNF.
I took the photo above at a pre-season game I attended. Here I had hope, but wasn't sure Robert Griffin III would live up to the hype. My friend, Jason, had seen him play at Baylor and was excited that he would suit up in burgundy and gold, but I hadn't followed him at all, so I wasn't quite sure what all of this was about then. Boy, am I thrilled that RG III is a Redskin. He has brought excitement and hope to a city that had loyal fans cheering for a sluggish and unmotivated sports team.

The stadium was electric! It was packed and people cheered their hearts out! It was particularly entertaining to watch Eli Manning get bothered by the crowd noise and do his crazy hand gestures. He also had some sad looks on his face. Sorry buddy, you thought you'd kill us. I admit. I was worried. But, not this time, Eli! We have a new leader, committed and motivated players and the 12th man is energized! Over eighty five thousand people stood almost the whole game to watch RG III, Alfred Morris and the rest of the Redskins take it to the Giants!

Watching RG III on the field in person is awesome. He is so fast! He played football and ran track at Baylor. His speed and accuracy with the ball are two huge contributions to the team. As a  22 year old rookie, he is looked to as the leader of the team. He encourages, motivates and challenges his teammates. He is also an eloquent speaker and is grounded with a strong faith.   RG III is a true role model. People look up to athletes all of the time for no reason at all. Robert Griffin III is worth emulating.

I did some more research and found out that he writes songs and can sing. When he proposed to his fiance he wrote a song and sang it to her before he gave her the ring. He also had his teammates play the guitar and take photos of the proposal. As if that wasn't enough, he had invited both families to be there for the big event. This is the stuff dreams are made of. I've dreamed of a proposal like that, but do I actually think it will happen? Nope. I've been trying to google a picture of the ring to no avail. Is it a three stone ring? Three carats? Is he artistic and he designed it?

This man is a humble superstar. He is confident, motivated and motivational, a strong Christian, an incredible talent, intelligent, grounded, can run - fast -, practically play a whole football game by himself AND he writes songs and can sing them, too.

Who IS this guy? Superman??

He brings something special. With his leadership, we will not be the same old Redskins!


Monday, December 3, 2012

The Roller Coaster

We've hit the eight month mark since Dude took his own life and all of us close to him embarked on this grief journey. It's not a journey we ever expected to be on. Not one that we would ever choose. I can say there has been some intense pain, sorrow, anger, thankfulness, blessing and growth all mixed in these eight months. There have been some very dark times and some times when the light shines ever so brightly through the darkness. There are days when it is hard to believe it has been eight months already. Sometimes it feels like it has been a matter of weeks; others, it seems as if years have gone by!

A couple days ago when I started thinking about how I was feeling and what I wanted to capture at the eight month mark, I was excited to say that I finally felt like I was coming alive! And, I would still say that is true. I am starting to come alive and will write another blog post about how it really is true that joy can be mixed with sorrow, light does shine through the darkness, and moving forward with your life is the best way to honor your loved one. When I set out on this journey I heard all of those things, but didn't believe them. They just didn't seem possible - at least not for me. But, I've slowly come to see that they are possible and I am slowly experiencing this joy without guilt.

As I was watching Sunday football, my feelings started to change a little bit. Consequently, I felt I would be lying if I told you I was doing really, really well after 8 months. My feelings began to change when I heard the news of the Kansas City Chiefs player that shot his girlfriend and then took his own life in front of his coaches. Upon hearing the news, I remembered the intense pain that I have experienced and my heart breaks for those families. I know their pain and I never wanted anyone else to experience this pain. The news also made me thankful that nobody but Dude was hurt in his last act. He took his own life, but did not intentionally hurt anyone else.

Many people think suicide is a selfish act. I used to think that before I became a suicide survivor. Having seen the immense pain that Dude was in, I am convinced that he took his own life to end his own pain. I harken back to my own experience after surgery when I typically get this allergic reaction. The itching is so bad that it turns into pain. I start to go crazy and beg the nurses to do anything, anything to stop the pain! I imagine that my pain paled in comparison to his, but the desire to stop it was just the same. He was sick and believed the only way to end his pain was to end his life.  He also did not understand the amount of pain he would leave with those left behind. If he truly understood the magnitude of his decision, he would have never done what he did. He never wanted to hurt anyone.

I feel for the family and friends of the two victims. The pain is unimaginable, unspeakable, devastating and confusing. I remember the days when I was in pain so deep it was hard to see a way out. I watch his teammates moved by emotion and remember Dude's funeral and the days and weeks following when a bunch of grown men just crumbled into a puddle of tears. A sad sight. A sad sight, indeed.

Even though the recent events in Kansas city brought back a little of the initial pain, I was also able to go out and buy a Christmas tree and ornaments this weekend. I was able to do some Christmas shopping and to experience joy.  Joy without guilt, which is huge! The tragic events reminded me of the tragedy in my own life, but my response also served as a measurement for how far I have come in my grief journey.

Losing your best friend SUCKS. It is a life altering experience and I have had to work very hard to get to where I am today. On Thanksgiving, it felt like Dude was missing. Last week, I burst into tears because I desperately wanted to call Dude and tell him something. The realization that I couldn't was heart-wrenching. Some days I get a little angry about all that has happened. But, all in all, I have this incredible sense that he is with me. Always. I have also noticed that there are less days with tears. Not a day goes by that I do not think about what happened. I think about Dude and what his new life with Christ must be like. I imagine that I will always think about him. It's not easy nor wise to forget such an important person that influenced half my life. I also know that even though he is gone, he will continue to influence my life. He and Jesus are always with me.

Thanksgiving is over, but I am still grateful. Grateful for my faith. Grateful that God created me to feel a range of emotions and loves me unconditionally. Grateful that my response to the recent tragedy showed me how far I have come. They aren't kidding when they say grief is a roller coaster. I have always had a love/hate relationship with roller coasters. Many I am scared to get on, but am proud that I did when the ride is over. This grief journey will not end quickly, but I am proud of the progress I am making. It's a growth experience.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever
1 Chronicles 16:34

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Special Place

My dad and I have a tradition. I am not quite sure when it started, but it's been going strong for many years now. What is it, you ask? When my mom is out of town he and I have a daddy-daughter date at Fuddruckers. Initially, we picked the place because we both like it and my mom prefers to pass it by. Yeah, I'm not sure what's wrong with her either. So, when she's away, we always plan at least one meal there. She has been in Charlotte this week, so dad and I snagged some time to go today.

I was so excited as we approached the place. You can smell all of the goodness as soon as you walk through the door. We have it all worked out. I like the kid's meal, but if I walked up and ordered it they would laugh in my face! I look younger than 30, I know, but not young enough to get the kid's meal without being questioned or flat out denied -- at least I hope not! As soon as we walk through the door, we split. Dad heads to place the order and I scurry to find a table. My order is the same every time. A kid's meal hamburger, fries and a chocolate shake. It's the perfect size and I get a little bit of everything for $5! Oh, and how can I forget the free cookie! Normally, I forfeit my cookie to my dad because the shake is enough sugar for me, but if I decide to overindulge, then it's a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie to boot!

As I write this post, I'm a little sad. Sad because my meal is over. I don't put anything on the hamburger. It is simply wonderful just as it is. Five Guys is the big and famous hamburger chain around here. I always have to doll up a Five Guys burger. Fosters, Elevation Burger, too. Nothing holds a candle to Fuddrucker's. Those buttery buns that hold the beef patty, man they are terrible for me, but oh so good! And, the fries! No need to dunk those babies in ketchup. They are seasoned perfectly, so why mess with perfection?

I reserve Fuddrucker's for only the most special men in my life. Dad and I go there at least once a year. Dude and I have been there, too.
I've decided that when I get married I am going to request that hubs and I go there for Valentine's Day. I don't believe in spending a lot of money on that "holiday", but it is nice to do a little something fun and special. It's a pain to go out to dinner, though, because the restaurants are packed and the prices are jacked way up! Not at Fuddrucker's. The buns....the fries....the shakes....Spend $5 dollars on a kid's meal for me and he will see my face light up as if he just gave me diamonds! Ok, not quite, but pretty close!

So, if you hear about me and a man going to Fuddrucker's, you know he must be someone special. That may just be the key to my heart.

Don't worry, though, I won't turn down the diamonds!

Saturday, December 1, 2012


I made it through the test. I survived. It went just as any practice test. This could be concerning because as I mentioned before my processing disability hinders me from completing half the test. So, I bubble and I try my best. That's what I did. That's all I could do. Trying has got to be worth a little something. At least I gave it a shot. If it is in God's plan for me to get into law school, I sure will. If not, I will adjust. I worked hard, I tried, and oddly enough, I have a strange peace about it. I'm not sure if that's me being in total denial or completely relieved that I finally got to put all of that hard work "to the test" no matter the outcome. Regardless, I am done.


After the test, I met up with my friend, Charlie, for a singing of Handel's Messiah. I was thrilled when he invited me because I love that piece and had not sung it since college. Well, let's just say, my rustiness definitely showed. Neither one of us had cash so we were not able to purchase a Messiah songbook. That left us to fend for ourselves when it came to audience participation during the chorus. If you are familiar with Handel's Messiah, you know that the "chorus" is not a repeated refrain. It is different after every song. Every time it was "showtime" for us, Charlie and I fumbled through the words. Even when we finally borrowed someone's songbook, we still struggled. It was rather comical really. We got progressively better as the piece started to come to an end. We had that Hallelujah Chorus down, but nobody will be calling us to join The Metropolitan Chorus anytime soon! As Charlie said, "It was a challenge. Good things come from challenges." Again, we did the best we could and had a grand time laughing at ourselves and our singing follies!

Yes, good things do come from challenges. This seems to be the motto for the day. 

However, at the end of the day, I have a wonderful family, faithful friends, and a God who loves me with a plan that is better than I'd ever imagine!

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