Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A love story

Whoso loves, believes the impossible. -Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Tonight, I'm reposting a story that still stuns me.  As time goes by, I notice how the styles and quality of these pictures seem a tad "dated" but the way people came together to honor the woman who would be my children's grandmother is timeless. 

The loss of Susie is a part of our life as her not knowing Anna Cate and Molly represents a constant void in our family. Yet I'm still comforted by this night where she knew how loved she was, how BJ and my love and our union was the conduit for this outpouring of love for her. I celebrate this day and people who have become my family of faith by reading this story of my first wedding, which wasn't about me or a marriage, but about love, which is the greatest testament to any wedding or marriage. Thankfully, nine years later, I still love the man I stood next to here and I call so many who were there with us (and children we have brought into our fold) my dearest friends. We don't get it all in life and my goodness, we miss having Susie in our life, but I'm so grateful for the friendships her legacy left us. Read what these people did for our wedding, for this dear woman.


As a bride, nine 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.)

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. 


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

"What greater thing is there for human souls than to feel that they are joined for life; to be with each other in silent, unspeakable memories." --George Eliot

Monday, October 21, 2013

Homecoming: My Heart & Mind

I went back to my alma mater, Cornell College, the beginning of the month and I've wanted to write about the experience for several days but haven't found the time.  I had planned to do so this weekend, but in between play dates, church, social gatherings, and Fall Festivities combined with mounds of laundry, it didn't happen. Last night, as I was ironing the last piece of the pile and realized I did not have time to write, I had an aha moment... life would be easier if I didn't have any needs of my own.  My family's busy life is stressed even more because I have too many needs of my own -- to read, to write, to sleep 8 hours, to have a clean house, to work out, to have manicured nails. . .a long, silly list.

A part of me thinks that I should just silence my own needs and become a robot -- trade this sham of finding balance and focus on getting things done. Maybe I should just say to hell with the endorphins of exercise,  give up on the intellectual fulfillment from reading, the emotional release of putting my thoughts to words by writing, the satisfaction of enough sleep. Yet there is this part of me that can not be contained -- my heart and my mind and this nagging feeling that I deserve a piece of it all. This leads me back to my trip to Cornell College.

I took two days off of school for a long weekend and when storms threatened my trip, I decided to fly into another airport and make the drive across a piece of Iowa.
 It reminded me that a piece of my heart is in Iowa.  How can I be separated from it by five years at a time? 
 Memories of adolescent summers on RAGBRAI (which is another story) combined with the coming-of-age experiences at Cornell make this place a piece of home. A  big piece of my heart is here in these corn fields.

Going back to Cornell on any particular reunion year is coincidence and chance since I had friends in many classes, but I was so blessed by the people who were here this year.

Being with my Cornell friends was like getting a great big hug in life.  My dear friend Lisa, from Denver, CO, talked me into coming back this year, and I'm so glad she did.

She, Kate and I shared a room and it was special and easy beyond description.
We three figured out how to make the most out of our days there.

On Friday, I went to sign up to attend classes but I was not happy with the offerings set forth by the Alumni Office, so I found out where my favorite college professor and advisor was teaching.  When I saw his door was closed, I peeked my head into an open room near by and asked if I could stay. It was a fabulous lecture on 17th century Philosophy, on Descarte; the prof was charming, wise, witty, beautiful and about about 38 weeks pregnant. God, I love the way the midwest and a liberal arts campus breaks down the barriers this small-town souther girl puts on life and on women.

 At the break, when I introduced myself to her, she gave me her first name and I enjoyed small talk on philosophy as I was in awe of her wisdom and charm.

 After I grabbed a cup of coffee and admired the school spirit of the candy rack,

 I found my former History professor's door open for the break. He remembered me and I enjoyed listening to a lecture and class that is quite similar to one I was in over 15 years ago. Things of the mind, stories of human experiences don't change so much over the years. Like the beauty and feel of campus.

After lunch with my friends, I took the time for myself to go on a long run, to soak up the splendor of Iowa and spend more time on campus.

Being by myself on campus and seeing the purple touches rejuvenated me. I joked with a friend that when I was there, I was the only thing in purple. Now it is everywhere.

 I wonder if I appreciated the beauty, the heart, the mind of the Cornell experience when I was there as a student.

I certainly did on this weekend trip.

On Saturday, I met my dear friend Kristy for another walk and trip to the cafeteria for breakfast. I felt a little as if I'd turned into my father. When parents weekend came, my Dad (and Mom) thought the weekend was about him and he wanted to eat on campus, so we did.

Lisa, Kate and I also enjoyed the flavor of Mount Vernon, a beautiful small town.
 I connected with friends in various social circles,

and with the scenes of Cornell.

Before I left on Sunday, my college roomate Angie hosted a lovely breakfast for our friend Cheez (Andrea) and me.

Sitting around this table with Angie and Cheez, these two girls I met the first day I moved into college, I found myself thinking that there is no other place on earth where I am more "me" than with them.
 How dear so many people who crossed my path in those years are to me. I feel so loved, so understood and so appreciated there in Mount Vernon. What a life gift it was to go to college there and a blessing to revisit it now.

It is impossible to put words into what this trip or what the Cornell experience means to me, but I will try to tie it up with this vignette. When I was a student, I was asked to sit on the alumni board (I've always had friends older than I am) and I remember hearing a former student say something like this: the Cornell college liberal arts experience made me think that I can do and deserve the best.  While the degree I got here was important, what was more valuable is the confidence to go after what I want, what is meaningful. 

This still rings true for me. This life, or at least my life, is about the heart and the mind, the things which we proponents of the liberal arts value as utmost importance. Thinking, feeling, analyzing, and experiencing deeply are paramount to education, to life, and to a meaningful participation in all our endeavors. It happens in classrooms as a student, and on long runs as an adult. It happens when people discuss the meaning of life in a dingy midwestern bar or a sleepy mom finds time for her thoughts by writing a blog. The gumption to peek my head in a philosophy classroom because I can learn something or the courage to track down my advisor with the hope I'll be remembered was nurtured in and outside of the classroom at Cornell. Sitting in those classrooms, reconnecting with alumni of all ages and getting a big ol metaphoric hug from my friends I see far too little was just enough to remind me of who I am and what I value about life and about myself.

I'm a heart and mind type gal, and these heart and mind endeavors are worth my time. I am not a robot or productivity machine, but a human being whose fulfillments are worth the efforts. No other place on earth reminds me of my soul and its worth like my alma mater and the people to whom she introduced me. 

 Timothy 6:12

New International Version (NIV)
12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


I'm having a little bit of blogger block after coming back from a long vacation in Tennessee and getting into the swing of things at school. I think I want to wait for some sort of way of neatly putting together my thoughts of being with family back in my home town, the precious times the girls and I create together during in the summer and in the passing of time as a new school year commences. But since I don't write every day, I don't process all those things and end up writing about nothing so I'm going to dive in with something we did a few weekends ago: a service project with our church family. The theme was "whatever" and we had these hideous orange shirts with the word "WHATEVER" on the front with these words on the back.

We spent our time gardening at a school, at a retirement center, delivering cookies to the volunteers at an animal shelter, and the day ended with BJ delivering a tractor at cost to hard working refugee from Africa. 

We walked down this hallway at the Alzheimer's section intended to jog people's memory, war memorabilia, old fashioned type-writers, a work bench, a rotary phone. It made me think about what I will remember, what my children might use to jog my memory if I lose it. 

I wonder what about my girl's childhood, this portion of life I have influence on, will linger in their memory. 

After lunch we went with BJ to deliver a tractor to a hard working man who is a refugee from Africa here farming a small plot of land. One of his customers/friends from our church read this article (Burundian refugees till soil in Stafford | The News Desk) and decided to buy Jackson a tractor and BJ facilitated getting it at cost.

It was so exciting, to see someone called into mission by seeing a need as well as seeing Jackson on the tractor.

After that we made our last stop of goodwill for the day by visiting the SPCA to deliver cookies to the volunteers and pet some animals.

The girls tried to talk me into getting a dog. 

I wasn't even tempted to say yes.

I would like to think that whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and praise worthy, including time in service and in the presence of each other, will be on the memory hallway of their lives.  

Worthy of praise... I was so proud of Anna Cate in her delivery of her reflections of this day. She as asked to share what she remembered and what her gifts are that she can continue to use and we composed the following together the night before she delivered it as she read with heart and clarity.

Hi my name is Anna Cate and I want to tell you about when I participated in the whatever service project with our church family.

I planted flowers at James Monroe high school, and after that I went to a nursing home to plant flower and  visit with people in the Alzheimer's section of that place. 

After lunch, I went with my Dad to deliver a tractor to Jackson, who is the father of my friend Reneasee.  That made me happy to see Jackson so happy on the tractor. 

After that, we went to the SPCA to deliver cookies and play with puppies. My sister and I wanted to take one home but we already have enough pets and my mom said no.

And that's the story of how I took my time to give my time to other people.  It was so nice seeing people doing things for other people and it made me happy inside. It was nice being with people who I didn't know and get to know them. 

My mom says my gift to the world is that I make people feel loved. I can get along with people that I don't know easily. And last weekend two Mormons boys from Idaho and Texas came to visit our house and told us about God's message, I was comfortable around them even though I didn't know them. I showed them my whatever shirt and I showed them respect as we visited. I knew that they don't get respect that often when they knock on people's doors. I think God wants us to treat everybody in respectful, loving and kind ways.   

The book of Romans, the  12th chapter, verse  10 says,
Be devoted to one another in love;

Sometimes it seems hard to know how to help people, but I learned that doing whatever comes easy to me mighbe just what people need. 

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”