Eleven years ago today this Beautiful Boy was born:

1 week old

1 week old

His brother wasn’t yet three years old when we began praying/hoping/trying for Baby #2, and it took twice as long for this one’s arrival on Planet Earth (+prayers, tears, too-many doctor visits, pain, and money). His brother was 5 1/2 years old when Lil’ Guy surprised us with his five-weeks-early arrival; his brother said, “Oh, yay! I needed someone to play with today!”

5-9 Q and Dene-OMy dad held our New One for the first time at Four Days Old. Lil’ Guy had jaundice; so did Dad. They kind of match, if you look closely. Dad was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer not long after I discovered I was at-last pregnant. He lived for fifteen+ months with a cancer that kills too many in about three months.

[Just so we’re clear, this post is harder to write than most…]

I worked hard to capture this pout!

I worked hard to capture this pout!

Lil’ Guy is all Lovebug, snuggles and sweetness, joy and smiles, laughter and exuberance. Honestly, I’m cracking up just looking at that attempt at a grumpy face, especially because I know only a moment later he cracked up with sillies and tickles and pounce-on-Mommy goobers.

Today he is 11 years old. This morning he left for school-sponsored Science Camp, a sleep-away camp for the next four nights. Yup, he will sleep away from home on his birthday for the first time at 11 years old. I slept away from home on my birthday for the first time at 18 years old and, even then, I thought it something of an injustice. What, the whole world doesn’t stop for my birthday? You’ve got to be kidding me, I have a mid-term exam On My Birthday? Egads!

As parents, we tried to bill this week as: “The Biggest and Best Birthday Party EVER!”

Tween is smart, creative, talented (you should hear him play trumpet!), devoted, funny, loving, sweet, sensitive, peacemaking, willful, and a little bit sassy: of late, as he steps into this new stage, I call him my “sassy sapling.”

This year has been odd: Teen growing into the independence of mid-adolescence, increasing amounts of friend-time and driving; and Tween rounding the corner towards Middle School. I have been aware since August that my Baby is almost done with what we call “Childhood.” I’ve ached with it all year, almost like the groans of pregnancy.

Q social

Tween + friends, discussing “Life.”

Ten years ago today Dad slipped into Eternity. Ten years ago last night my siblings and I slept over at my parents’ house, our childhood home. Actually we’d had a several-nights’-sleepover; Night 1 of which involved sipping wine and telling stories late into the wee hours. Did we expect Dad to go in our midst? Maybe. I wish someone had turned on a video camera, as we told stories and extended grace to one another like I’ve never experienced before or since, our individual and complimentary gifts magnified by the light of life and death. In the middle of the night Dad made it clear he wanted a sip, too, so we brought him a glass of wine and a straw, and held it to his mouth. Always a pleasure-seeker, I hope he enjoyed it.

So Yes, Tween’s birthday is also the anniversary of my Dad’s death, which makes today stranger than strange.

I have the coffee mug from Dad’s local coffee shop, which I had made for him, emblazoned with his name. After a too-long hiatus from his own visits to the shop, obviously due to health issues they didn’t know, I picked up his mug for him and he was thrilled to have it back for a time. For nine years I sipped morning coffee from his mug on May 4th (Tween’s birthday/Dad’s passing) and October 15th (Dad’s birthday).

Ten years makes a difference.

Today, I did not completely fall to pieces.
Today, I chose not to sip from Dad’s coffee mug; I can drink from Dad’s mug on his birthday, or other days, but maybe not during the celebration of Tween’s birthday. I did, however, drink a margarita in Dad’s honor.
Today, I saw Tween off to camp, had a second cup of coffee, and treated myself to a seat in my stylist’s chair.
Today, I honored my dad for his strengths and weaknesses.
Today, I waved “Hello!” from this new stage of life – a whole new era of life and parenting, this ‘new’ church and town and house and community… How my dad would have loved where we are now, who we have become in this place/decade of life!

My dad didn’t get to meet his most recent three grandchildren; he met but didn’t get to know the two before that. All of these children are delightful and amazing and full-of-life. Dad would have loved them and (probably) grumped at them at least a little, as was his way.

Q rock toss

Hey, Dad, these kids are Day-Glow, glow-in-the-daylight-and-dark fluorescent-brilliant. And you paved their way. They’ve heard stories – you riding horseback between San Diego’s mountains and beaches; you flying planes the world-over. They love your city, they get where you came from even if they see it only in glimpses. They skip rocks as I’m sure you did in your day.

Today, I appreciate that Dad waves back at us more often than we know. Cheers, Dad! The future looks bright.

Death and Hope for Life

We all four hopped in the car, heading to the store to buy Christmas gifts for our “adopted” little boys who live over the hill in a poor part of town. These littles, both under five years old, don’t have families of their own to buy them gifts, a fact that broke Tween’s heart so that he exclaimed, “Let’s adopt them for real! I want two little brothers!” If we could… But we can buy them some gifts to brighten their Christmas just a smidge. It’s not enough, but it’s something.

Only two blocks down the road we got the call: our friend has passed. Just in time for Christmas, he’ll be singing Christmas carols with the angels this year, in the glorious presence of Jesus Christ Himself.

We immediately drove to their house, the privilege and price of being both a pastor’s family and friends. We hugged and cried and sat on the linoleum kitchen floor. The two-ton tabby stepped over and around us, winding between extended hands, his soft snuggles in contrast with the jagged-broken crunch in our hearts. As directed we sent texts and emails to let others know of our dear friend’s loss, one less thing for the bereaved to do.

Our kids were troopers, so sad themselves at the loss of their “local grandfather,” but willing to tell stories, to make people laugh, to give comfort in their way. Together we talked about earth time (a blink) and eternity (forever), about hope in God’s love, about God’s broken heart as He holds His grieving people.

Teen was in kindergarten when cancer took my dad. On Tween’s first birthday, a day of course he doesn’t remember but links them forever. And Tween was in third grade when cancer took my grandma; her last taste of food was a bite of the churro dessert in his Mexican fast food kid’s meal. These boys have witnessed the hard work of dying, that love and sorrow and joy weave families together in painful shared experience, the dying unraveled and the living wrapped up and handed back to the world to figure out a new “normal.”

We sat together not eating through dinnertime until the Hospice nurse and then the mortician arrived. We hugged and cried some more, spoke words intended to comfort, and we left. We picked up the now-cold Chinese food we’d ordered hours earlier. We went shopping for the little boys, our big boys picking out toys and books they loved years ago. We bought big decorative gift bags to wrap these gifts, imagining the boys’ smiles. Where will they be on Christmas morning? Who will help them create Christmas memories? We went home, warmed up and ate dinner in front of a sitcom, an attempt at levity in our sadness.

I didn’t sleep well. Today the sun shines silver through the white-cloud sky, a temporary reprieve from the rain reported to resume tomorrow. It’s cold. I shiver, as much from sleeplessness and sadness as from the actual chill in the air. Tears well up and recede, abiding by a mysterious tear tide chart. They’ll crash, unpredictably. More than once, I’m sure.

I miss my friend, the one who never failed to greet me with, “Howdy, friend!” Whose big hug and stable, unflappable personality chuckled at our silly kid drama, who prayed for us, who modeled for my boys a life of masculine faith and commitment to family, to serving others, to loving well. Who called his wife his “girlfriend” and “sweetheart” because he intended to always woo and court this beautiful woman who won his heart so many years ago. I ache for her as she cannot imagine life without his companionship, cannot fathom coming moments of joy.

Today, in this bleak midwinter, this article appears, some small balm for the brokenhearted.

Emmanuel — God with us. God with us and for us and in us and holding us and this is the Christmas miracle that outlasts all of time…. Evidence of God’s existence is cold comfort. What warms us is the wounded, weeping God who doesn’t write answers in stars – but writes His ardent love in our scars.

“With His scars.

“The miracle of Christmas is we get more than proof of God’s existence. We get the experience of God’s presence.

“We get our Christmas miracle. We get God with us.

Thank you, Father, for sending your Son to be with us, to suffer with us, to suffer for us. Thank you for pouring out your love on us, for holding us even when we can’t feel your arms of love. We need a Christmas miracle of hope in the experience of your presence. Emmanuel, we need you now more than ever. Come, O come, Emmanuel!