Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Love Story Remembered

I reflect on what I witnessed and played a small role in the greatest love story in a wedding I've ever seen. Reread with me and I hope the inspiration of how a church family loved will inspire you in some of the same way it still does me.

I've copied the post from last year here:

October 30, 2010
As a bride, six years ago today I was a very small part of the greatest story I've ever witnessed.

  Its story was the first time BJ and I began our life together because another life was ending and we wanted our beginning to start before hers ended.  We wanted that and a whole host of others made possible a really beautiful love story in a wedding.  And just like it is different that the bride was a witness to the story, the couple in love (BJ and me) are not the love story I'm talking about.  For most nuptials the church is the backdrop to the bide and groom, but for this story, the church and one of her servants played the lead role. The love story between a woman and her church family manifested in our wedding on this day, six years ago.

IMG_0744.jpg picture by batesking04
Every year on this day, I read what I wrote about the wedding our church gave us so BJ's mom Susie could be with us for a wedding.   I still cry to think of the love people have for Susie and the way that we experienced such joy in the face of such loss. Here were my thoughts after the ceremony that I wrote to my friends via email.  (I have pictures of the day but can't figure out how to get them off a dvd of images so I snapped them from the album.)

November, 2004
In July of 2003, Susie King was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. She courageously and bravely fought for almost 16 months. Originally, she was told that she wouldn't make it long, yet she lived an amazing life to the fullest in her service to her church family, friends, and her sons. Her courage was a testament to her faith and devotion to life on this earth with the hope and peace that only comes from knowing the world beyond. She was the sweetest, most giving person I have ever known. Things took a turn for the worse, and on Wednesday, October 27th, 2004, her oncologist told her that this was going to take her life, and it would be soon.

That evening around 11:30 our dear friends and pastors, Larry Haun and Patti English, helped make her son, BJ, my fiance at the time, and me see that getting married with her here might be possible, but it had to be quick. I could never have imagined the ways that our church family could pool th
eir talents, to give so lavishly to provide the most memorable wedding possible. 
In less than 60 hours later, On Saturday at 5pm, BJ and I dedicated our lives to each other in a service that will only become more amazing as I reflect longer upon it. There were amazing flowers and decorations. My parents made the 14-hour drive so my dad could give me away, but before he gave my hand, he offered a beautiful prayer and thanks to the people of the Fredericskburg Baptist Church. The music was exquisite including a prelude with a violin and organist. The service included Ave Maria, the Lord's prayer, and two congregational hymns (O God Our Help in Ages Past and Love Divine All Loves Excelling). Susie and mom were escorted in as Susie's friend Toni Crowder, a professional opera singer, sang "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" accompanied by her husband (the violinist). Communion was offered to the whole church; the long loaf of bread that was broken was made by Susie and her dear friend Marian Whiltshrie while a trio sang sweetly, "Sweet, Sweet Spirit" (Susie's favorite song). The elements were offered as the trio sang "Amazing Grace", and while there was enough juice for 350, they ran out. BJ and I were served out of the same cup and plate that was a gift to us. Afterwards, we lit the unity candle, and the unity candle was lit during our service in December. 

The reception downstairs was breath
The line to give Susie a hug as she sat in a chair was much longer than a line to speak to BJ and me. After we cut the cake, we were escorted out with bubbles into a London taxicab and driven to dinner. It wasn't until then that I even noticed that there were favors handed out that were hand made. After dinner, a woman at church donated a room to us at the Colonial Inn, which is one of the oldest in Fredericksburg.

As my mother wrote to my aunt Anne, "Sarah and BJ's wedding was beautiful and poignant. It was an amazing testimony of what can be accomplished in 48 hours to show love for one dear woman, Susie King. The decision to go from a small dedication service to a full wedding was swift, complete and beautifully done. The church house was packed with more than 350 folks, the service was exquisite, the flowers were breathtaking; and the full reception and beautiful three tiered cake were delicious. They are married in the eyes of the Lord” so that Susie could have been there.

My Aunt Sarah, who flew up at the last minute for it said as she was leaving: "It was something out of GUIDEPOST." I can take no credit, but will remain forever thankful and amazed.

Susie died two weeks later and the last time she was in that sanctuary was for that wedding. 

October 30, 2010
I am so proud to have been a part of that story that still moves me. 

October 30, 2011: 
Today during worship, I sat back a few pews and watched with tears in my eyes Anna Cate and Patti relate to each other in the same seat where Susie sat during our wedding for her 7 years ago, her last time in the sanctuary. I could see how Susie's love lives on, and those that love her (or would have loved her in life) are reaping the flowers of the seeds of love she planted.  Like watching Anna Cate with Patti in the shadows of Susie's presence, it is both sad and beautiful, much like real life. The older I get, the more I realize the gifts reaped by experiencing the beauty and the tragedy, and love prevails during the celebrations and the struggles.  

As always, on this day I am grateful for the love I still have for the man I sort of married and the bonds of love I witnessed, now experience and watch come to fruition with Susie's grandaughters. I'm still in awe, still sad about the loss, but mostly I still cherish the ways I see and feel love.  

Love is stronger than death even though it can't stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can't separate people from love. It can't take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The beauty in a life of meaning

Last weekend, BJ and I went to see Les Mis at the Kennedy Center. It is a show I have seen several times since I fell in love with the music (both the words and the melodies) when I accompanied my high school chorus. In high school as I worked in a factory (a job my Dad made me get so I would appreciate the value of a college edudation), I listened to the book on tape.  I have to say, I like the broadway production more than the book. As a child, I remember that is was Mr. Bruner's favorite book. Mr. Bruner was in his 90s when he was my friend at about 7 years old.  He lived within walking distance of my house and we would pretend to drink tea together for tea parties or he would share real cookies his cleaning lady made for him. Mr. Bruner was an agriculture teacher, who was an expert in chrysathemums as well as literature and the Bible. He was a true Renaissance man whom I feel lucky to have known, but I digress.

Every time I watch and listen to the words to Les Mis, I am stirred by the story and the talent presenting it and am convinced this production is the most beautiful piece of art of my generation.  Set during the the French Revolution, the depth of symbols abound about oppression and victory. The people's oppression by the government is subtly woven through the tales. Yet the underlying theme of the ways life can oppress us with shame, poverty, illness, greed and loneliness are defeated by victory in a life well-lived as time and time again the lead character evades oppression in his quest to help others, to care for his fellow man and to know the depth of live a life of meaning.

As I enjoyed Les Mis this time, the story  touched me a little deeper this time, partly because I don't get the chance to see Broadway shows very often these days due to the oppressive restrictions of time and money (saying this tongue in cheek as I know nothing is oppressive in my life, really, but maybe my ungrateful attitude at times). But mostly I was moved to the core because it was the first time I'd seen it since I became a Mother, this experience which has challenged me to value a little deeper a quest to live a life of meaning.

In some ways I think back on a time in my life when I had the freedom, the time and the money to see more broadway shows (and get a new wardrobe every season among other frivolities), it was great, but so is this.

The last few weeks have provided some Fall fun with friends and family.

Our friend Daniel rode down from DC on his bike and spent the night with us. His parents and mine are best friends...we call each other Aunt and Uncle so this scene warms my heart.

We met my childhood friend Dorinda and her mother and her precious dogs for an afternoon at Graves Mountain apple orchard.

Yes, Dorinda and I are the same age....can't really tell by her face, right?! Beautiful.

It was a lovely day.

We played, the girls petted animals and we had a country style meal at the lodge.

Molly Mae loves chicken off the leg and it cracks me up every time I see her eating it like this.

The girls had fun and so did we. I remember my Dad saying atleast 100 times that when you are a parent, life is good when your kids are happy. This does not mean that his goal of parenting was for his kids to be happy, and neither is mine. Meaning is a lot more sought-after in this style of parenting, but happiness is certainly a perk.

We went on a hayride to tour this beautiful farm. Both the girls have their own flare and style....Anna Cate with the piece of straw in her teeeth, Molly with the upside down sunglasses and bow disheveled.

Just when I was a little worried about if Molly Mae knows that I'm her Mommy, she gave me some extra time, like hugging my leg. This is meaningful to me.

Molly flashes a look or cocks her head in a way as if I'm watching a caricature of the cutest child on the planet (I remember feeling the same way about Anna Cate and am sure every mother feels this way).

Now, I look at Anna Cate and enjoy our connection, our conversations and the meanings she is developing about life.

Her confidence and easy connection with others is so often revealed.

We celebrated Anna Cate's half birthday with friends at her favorite restaurant.

So thankful for her and for friends to help us celebrate her.

How photogenic is Owen!!!  He is a precious, precious little soul.
But little brother doesn't have to worry...he's got the face for a camera as well.

So in wrapping up my little journal about this life of meaning as I look at these pictures and think about the profundity of a broadway show and real life, I see joy on the face of my children and say a prayer for my family and friends.  I noticed all the opportunities to embrace a life of meaning and I procliam my belief that life is meaningful with love, grace, charity and comraderie, like in Les Mis and in our life.

I knew this before I had chidren, but in these faces, I see even more meaning in that beautiful line, "To Love another person is the see the face of God."

"We are born believing; a man bears beliefs as the tree bears apples." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, October 3, 2011

Preserving the Petals --- Pressing Flowers

Tonight I turned the heat on, have a cup of herbal tea and am enjoying the chill of Fall, but I'm still a little body is still used to warmer temperatures.  

We are saying goodbye to warm weather and welcoming the signs of Fall in Nature, where I often seek comfort in metaphors for life and in whose landscape I realize I am but a living creature experiencing the seasons myself.

Rather than feel badly about not clipping these when they were vibrant and blue, I've used dried hydrangeas throughout my home. I think I like this shade as well. And I've still been able to find a few bright ones.  

 Before all the summer flowers  died, I decided to try a craft with Anna Cate -- pressing flowers.  I learned to do this from my friend Jessica, who learned it from her grandmother and I used to do it a lot when I was single.  In fact, it is the only craft I think I ever felt confident about.

It is really easy to press flowers. You just pick out the petals and put them in a phone book, but I have a fancy little press that my Mom gave me.

Next weekend, we will uncover them and try to make stationery or something presentable with them.

I found it ironic how these simple potted flowers were absolutely breathtakingly beautiful all alone.  Almost prettier by themselves. I bet if flowers had personalities, these are introverts.

Hydrangeas are much more like myself, an extrovert. They look better in a bunch.
The reason I've spent so much time and space on flowers is becuase as I was trying to save these colors and make something presentable, maybe for a present, for a future craft with Anna Cate, I was comparing it to my life.  I'm just trying to savor the vibrance and try to make something presentable out of my life.  Since I've gone back to school, I really miss Molly.....I really miss the relationship I think we would have if I spent my days with her.

I feel like there is so much of her life that I'm missing.   I was lucky enough to stay home with Anna Cate for 2 and half years, a point where she was very verbal. When she started day care, she could tell me all about her day.  I feel like I've always been in touch with what is going on with Anna Cate.  Even her going to Kindergarten has not made me feel any less connected to her, but missing this year with Molly has been sad for me.  Last year Molly nursed the entire school year, so we had that connection.  And, then on top of sadness there is guilt. Molly goes to bed around 7:30 and I work out a couple evenings a week and I'm not willing to give that up because the alternative is so not my shade.  So I juggle it the best I can and I play in between all the other things, and when I put her to bed when I'm not at the gym, she mumbles as if she thinks I'm understanding what she is saying.  That makes me feel good. Some nights, I even go into her room and scoop her up and rock with her so she knows how much I love her, or I know that I tell her as much as I can.

Don't get my wrong; I'm ok -- I love my job (read my teacher blog here), I know Molly is cared for in the most fabulous place, but this life just wasn't the "shade" I'd imagined sometimes and it just goes by so fast and I really only have so much energy and so many priorities. But by goodness, I'm doing the best I can to make this life presentable. I'm preserving the petals I can; sometimes I'll miss out on a few, but I am going to have to trust the next season when Molly can talk and we'll feel connected again. Those will be vibrant petals. 

"I hope you'll remember me like a pressed flower in a notebook; it may not have fragrance but will remind you of my existence forever in your life." ~Unknown

While my daughter may not have the quantity of my presence, I pray that she has the quality of my existence in what I am presenting in this life and to my daughters.

And quality time we do have --  we savor the family time we have on the amazing family meals created by BJ.

(This was Molly's first night at the table without the high chair is the little things)

BJ has become quite the master chef on his quest for health.  Just tonight, he found out he won 2nd place in a 6 week "better body challenge" though our crossfit gym. 

(BJ above with Adam, the owner and the most committed trainer or personal coach ever! Both of us feel so lucky we benefit from his expertise and motivation)

Words can just not describe how proud and how in awe of him I am.  Also, I'm loving the chef in him. We have completely given up carbs and sugar. Additionally, he gave up dairy. For 6 weeks, not one processed thing passed his mouth and he followed a strict Paleo diet.  What I've learned by watching him is that creating meals take time, and that is the way it should be. Food should not be quick and easy, but that is no excuse. He is truly an inspiration and if you need an inspiring story, his is one. I want him to devote a blog to his total transformation, mind, body and heart. Since he is too busy working out and preparing food in top of being such a wonderful Dad he might not have time, so just check out Cross Fit. I promise you'll be inspired.

The best thing for me is knowing how we are both passing on to our daughters the value of a clean and active lifestyle. 

And every now and then, it is ok to indulge!  At the end of the six week challenge, BJ wanted fried chicken so a meal at KFC was in order. (But he got right back on the wagon in less than 12 hours as he got up at 5am on Sunday to run 10 miles in his record time) and Molly loved eating a chicken leg right off the bone and licking honey off of a biscuit. The girl LOVES to eat almost as she loves to move, or loves shoes.

Oh, and she loves her Daddy.

The colors of abundance in our life far outnumber the hues of longing for more. This is our life, our journey and I cling to the moments like these above.  I know they are what make life up after all. Speaking of those moments, I'm about to go slip into a quiet nursery to metaphorically "press a flower" -- to steal a moment with Molly Mae. She won't remember it in the morning, but I will. 

The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began...

and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

-Mary Oliver