Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Noticer by Andy Andrews

I recently became a book reviewer for Thomas Nelson Publishing.  From time to time you will find a book review here on my blog.  Here is my first one.

Life will never be the same for the folks who live in one small Gulf Coast town. The transformation of these individuals begins the day Jones arrives. By his own admission, Jones is a noticer - "It is my gift." Jones not only knows everyone’s name – he mysteriously knows everyone’s life story. He knows the events and players many have hidden from view. Although his gift brings new perspective and hope, in the back of everyone’s mind remain many questions: Who is Jones? Where did he come from? When will he show up? How does he know so much about the people he meets?

The beauty of The Noticer is its ability to connect with the life of the reader. The experiences of the people Jones encounters are not unique – most people have events and individuals in their past that play a role – in positive and negative ways.

Although I think the book had a few too many scenarios, I enjoyed the story line and getting to know the characters. Jones brought many new perspectives into focus for me as I carry his thoughts on the purpose for living – “If your purpose has not yet been fulfilled, then the most important part of your life has not yet been lived.” His words on forgiveness, trust and respect resonate well with my soul and my work as a mediator – “Forgiveness is about the past. Trust and respect are about the future.”

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Parting Gifts

Badger's Parting Gifts is one of my favorite books to read to children to help them understand death and loss.  It is a story about the day Badger dies.  His friends from the forest are all so sad.  Then one of them has an idea!  Perhaps if they thought of all the gifts Badger left them, it may help them with their grief.  One by one, the animal friends remembered Badger ~ something he taught them to do or a new way of looking at life.  It is a lovely example of transforming the relationship with those we love who pass away.

Every summer, since the 1996, the year of Scott's passing, in the Redfern backyard, we receive some of Scott's parting gifts.

This story really begins when Scott was seven years old.  He wanted a box turtle and he wanted to name it 'Bubba'.  Scott worked very hard to earn the $40 he needed to buy Bubba.  He built a cool deck with wheels to hold Bubba's glass aquarium.  He kept Bubba in his bedroom at night, and each morning he would roll Bubba out to the sunlight that came in our sliding glass door during the day.

One day we bought a book about box turtles.  Much to our surprise, we discovered that Bubba was not a 'Bubba'Who knew?  This didn't bother Scott.  He simply changed her name to Bubbette!

It was not long before Scott earned more money and decided he would shop for another turtle ~ one he could really name, Bubba.  Scott took care of Bubba and Bubbette.  He built a raised garden in our backyard when he was about thirteen years old.  He loved to add elements to the turtle's habitat - like shelters made out of broken clay pots and strawberry plants to give them shade and eats.  Scott would gather snails from the yard and watch Bubba and Bubbette devour them!

Then in the spring of 1996, just about three months after Scott died, we were weeding the raised bed when we noticed Bubbette digging a deep hole with her back legs.  She was able to dig a hole about six inches deep with her short three inch legs.  And then, as if we were watching a nature show on PBS, she laid five eggs in the hole.  And just like that, she filled in the hole with the pile of dirt she has removed from it.

This ritual has continued each summer since 1996.  In fact, Bubbette sometimes lays up to three batches of eggs.  If we happen to see her laying them, we mark the area with some small stakes.  Then we wait.  It is odd, but Bubbette normally lays the first batch around the end of May, near Memorial Day.  We normally see the first hatchlings sometime around the start of September, near Labor Day.  It is almost like clock-work!

Our turtle book tells us it is hard to raise turtles from eggs.  Most eggs born in captivity do not hatch.  They must have the perfect humidity as well as soft enough soil for the babies to dig out of their earthen womb.  Yet, each summer we have new babies.  That is why I believe the baby turtles to be some of Scott's parting gifts.  He never saw Bubbette lay eggs.  He never held a tiny hatchling ~ some no bigger around than a nickel.  But each year, as September comes, we experience the joy of Scott's parting gifts.

Here are two babies we found this week ~ eight babies in all hatched this summer.  Bubba and Bubbette have outlived Scott.  These babies will outlive me!  Scott's niece and nephews will continue to receive parting gifts each summer and share the memory of Uncle Scott for years to come!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rogue Waves

Tony and I do not watch much TV.  First of all, we only have basic cable - no premium channels, no TIVO, no DVR - so our choices are usually slim.  Secondly, there does not seem to be much on TV these days that encourages us in our daily lives. Lastly, we do not have too many evenings when we are home with absolutely nothing to do. 

Once in a while, as we surf through the channels, we come upon a show called Deadliest Catch ~ about the men and women who make their living fishing the depths of the world's oceans.  It has some amazing footage of these vessels, the crew and what they encounter.  It actually can make one sea-sick just by watching.

The work on these ships is tough, the weather is fierce and the living conditions are cramped.  As if these realities were not enough, there is another threat for those tough enough to hold down this job.  There is the possibility of rogue waves ~ waves that seemingly come out of nowhere and have measured upward to 100 feet tall!

Scientists are still working to understand completely what causes these killer waves to occur.  One theory is that these giant walls of water form when strong winds push against the ocean current, or when swells react to the rise and fall of the seafloor. It may also be that smaller waves converge at the same place and time to combine into a monster wave.  Can you imagine how many little waves it would take to come together to build at just the right time, in the same place, to become a rogue wave?

Whatever the cause, rogue waves are rarely predictable.  They rise up spontaneously, without warning.   Captains and crew members of ships have little warning except the visual image of a wall of water coming toward them.  And by then, it is often too late. 

Although I live with both feet firmly planted on dry land, I often find myself facing killer waves - situations, circumstances, events and at times, personalities - that seem to come out of nowhere, with little to no warning.  And like an oceanic scientist, I find myself trying to figure out what just hit me and why!

Sometimes I find myself in a place where I have allowed too many little things to just build.  Am I the only one who keeps saying 'yes' to things and then finds myself over-committed, way in over my head? (pun intended)  Other times, I may sense life taking me one direction, and I fight against it, like a fierce wind pushing against the ocean's current, only to find the pressure of the current wins in the end.  And I am left treading water rather than swimming with the flow.  It seems I can look back (with 20/20 vision, of course) and see how I could have predicted the wave, planned for the wave, and maybe even avoided the wave.

But there are times in my life when - without any warning - I am hit by a rogue wave . . . a monster, killer wave. It comes out of nowhere.  And I feel like I am drowning.  I'm sure you have been hit by them too.  The phone call that tells of a fatal accident.  The diagnosis that means life will never be the same.  The devastation left by the wildfires.  The layoff.  The foreclosure. 

Life . . . at times, it can feel like a rogue wave ~ sucking us under, towing us into the deep where we can't stand, swallowing us, taking our breath away. 

The day before our home was hit with the massive rogue wave of 1996, my husband, Tony, was teaching an adult group at our local church.  There were no indications that a monster wave was in the making.  No way to know what the next day held for us.  Yet, Tony's text for that morning in early February was a passage in the New Testament about when Jesus' disciples were gripped with fear as their small boat was tossed around by the winds and the waves on the Sea of Galilee. 

To illustrate his point, Tony drew a small boat on the white board.  He added waves crashing over the sides of the boat, and 'stick figures' of disciples yelling out from the boat.  Then he drew a rock, just below the water line, holding the boat steady.  Tony commented, "Even in the midst of the storm, Jesus is our rock, holding us as we ride out the waves."  I think every person in the room that morning will always remember that drawing.

Just 24 hours later, our boat was fighting to stay upright against a killer wave.  We were taking on water fast.  We were drowning in our own tears.  We could hardly breathe.  And yet, we survived the loss of our precious son.

Jesus said to his disciples that day on the stormy sea, "Oh, you of little faith!  Have you not learned anything . . .?"  Jesus had proved His power and strength ~ to keep them, hold them, provide for them ~ and yet, they did not remember His faithfulness in this time of need.

When rogue waves are looming off on the horizon and it is as if a towering wall of water is ready to overtake us, let us call out in our weakness from our small boats to the One who made the seas, who calms the winds, who holds our very lives in His hands in the midst of the storm.  He remains our hope.  Our rock.  Our cleft in the storms of life.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

His Slot is Full

Tucked away in the inside cover of my Daytimer is a short article I clipped from a Compassionate Friends newsletter thirteen years ago. It is ~ I must admit ~ a sorry-looking piece of paper. The edges are crumbled and torn. But the words printed on that small scrap of paper are of great value to me.

It was not long after Scott died that I found the article. It was written by a grieving father who had lost his teenage son. The father was responding to an innocent question often asked of parents after the death of a child. Will you have another child?

Many wrestle to find an answer. As I companion young moms and dads on their grief journey, some share about the confusing emotions tied to that question.

~ Will having another child appear
as if we are replacing our precious child?
~ If we have another child
won't we have new fears of losing another child?
~ What if having another child
causes us to forget the child we lost?

One young mom shared with me the fear that gripped her when she found out she was expecting again after the loss of her baby to SIDS. Babies who die of SIDS leave may unanswered questions for parents. There are few known causes and a multitude of medical conditions that create the possibility for an infant to die of SIDS. And this mom, like many others, expressed honest, heart-wrenching emotion ~ how would she ever experience peace, knowing she could lose this precious one as well?

Some parents ~ their empty arms too much to bear ~ choose to have another child right away. (Let me say, there is no right time to have another child - every one's grief journey is unique.) Yet, the birth of another precious baby will not take away the pain of losing a child. It may provide comfort for those who grieve. It may fill empty days with the joy of new life. But it will not take away the hole left in one's heart by the death of one's child.

And that brings me back to that scrap of paper, the article which so well explains that hole left in one's heart after the death of a child. Yet, it also teaches us about the sacredness of that hole, that slot, as the author calls it.

His Slot is Full

Yesterday, a young teacher, a man who had known
Olin, Kathy and me over the years,
asked if we thought of having additional children,
and if we did, would they fill Olin's slot,
that empty space in our lives.
I answered as best I could -
that those parts of us that love are never empty.
Save but for the space they physically filled,
our children live, both spiritually and in us.
While I live, Olin is as recent as the moment,
alive and laughing, forever seventeen.
There are many slots in our hearts for others,
but his is filled.
What I have and he took,
what he gave and I took
will never be lost.
Love is there
beyond the dust and ashes that awaits us all.
There will always be room for others,
but he has left no slot to fill.
Even amidst the pain and the sorrow,
it was never empty.
(Don Hackett, Hingham, MA)

After thirteen years of traveling my own grief road I can tell you that Scott's slot ~ the hole left in my heart by his sudden death at a young age ~ is still there, but IT.IS.FILLED! Filled with memories that feed my heart and soul on days when his absence still envelopes me.

These precious memories fill Scott's place in my heart and allow me to maintain a relationship of memory with my dear son. Friends who are close continue to make deposits into his slot as they retell stories and let me know they have not forgotten.

It is all part of living with grief.