"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." - Vincent Van Gogh

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Be Still.....



Today seems like the day to be silent. To cease from the hurried details of life and let the day be as it is.

Sometimes after the trauma of death, there is nothing more to do but sit and be silent. When your emotions have been wrenched and twisted, and your hope dashed to pieces; when there is no more fight in your bones and your heart is drained of all that was there... it's time to be still.

There is a stillness in grief that must be heeded. It's an act of surrender; a show of respect. Resignation has replaced purpose and it's time to sit in the presence of a still, quiet voice.

Be still and know that God IS. I AM THAT I AM.

Be still and know that God renews hope.

Be still and feel the peace; that someday, somehow, you will be alright.

Be still and know that God knows the pain you feel; He's been there too.

Be still and know that you and your loved ones are always safe in the hands of a loving God.

Be still and know that your heart will heal.

Be still....



He was despised and rejected by men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised and we did not esteem Him.

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities,
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, everyone to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not His mouth.

Isaiah 53:3-7

Today, we are silent, as Jesus was silent. There is nothing more to say. We rest. We remain.

We trust in the will of the one who has paid the price and conquered death.









The above images were taken by a dear friend of mine, David Edmonson. He is not only fantastic wedding and portrait photographer, but he's a great person as well. David has "been through" this year, as we say in the inner city,  but his faith in God is steadfast and strong. He is committed to encouraging and pouring his life into others. He's a humble servant and greets everyone with a big smile and lots of love. He's my hero.

David sent me these images yesterday and asked me if I'd like to collaborate with him and do "my thing" to them, so when I viewed the pictures, I had to figure out what "my thing" was. This is what came out.  His images were stark and crisp and told the story of the crucifixion so eloquently. I felt that they needed a graphic touch to finish them off because they were good enough to be movie posters. I wanted something raw, ugly hand written because Christ's death was ugly, raw and gritty. It is about the ugliness of fallen humanity and sin transformed into a plan and purpose of God that destroyed that once and for all. In the image of the Roman soldier driving the nails through the feet I felt there need to be a boldness, in print for the verdict was determined before the beginning of time. An innocent man, a perfect God was to be condemned to death in order that we may live. Take some time to meditate on the truth in these words and images today.

If you'd like to see more of David's work check out his website at davidedmonson.com.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Today We Remember...


Today is the day that we focus the death of Jesus.

On this day we sing.... "Were you there when they crucified our Lord?" without singing the rose up from the tomb verse. We don't focus on the Resurrection today  - even though that's part of the story. Today is just set aside to meditate on the death of Christ. In short... today is the day we mourn.

I've become very good at mourning... unfortunately. Waves of deep grief and anguish still wash over me at the most inopportune times like driving my car down the highway and always in bed. When I stop moving and my mind has an open moment, it always goes there... to the dark cave of grief. It's a place that I try so hard to avoid. A reality so black that I can't say there too long, for I fear it will consume me.

The Bible speaks of "mourners"... people who wept with others in the times of their loss. My dad always said that I could be leased out as a professional mourner... and I'm sure he was right.

The moment that the shock wore off just a few hours after my father's death, I thought I would die myself. My heart was racing and my whole body shook violently. My vessel could not contain the deep reality of a loss so severe.

Mourning is part of having emotions, of being alive. Mourning is a process that cannot be circumvented.

Why did Jesus weep when Lazarus died (John 11) even though he knew good and well that he was going to command his wrapped, decaying body out of the grave? Jesus was deeply moved by the pain of death. Perhaps he was even thinking of his own impending doom.

When news of the death of John the Baptist reached Jesus, he took the boat and went off by himself for a while. To grieve... to pray... to feel.

Yes, mourning is real. It hurts, badly. And the pain stays fresh for years... for a lifetime. You never forget, you just learn to adapt to the pain I guess.

I had a talk with my barista in my Boston Starbucks the other day. For over a year, he has been making my coffee. When he asked me sincerely how I was, I could have given him the fine thank you answer but I wanted to be real with him so I shared briefly. And then he shared the details about the death of his father, quite a few years earlier, as if it was yesterday. Death is real and raw and ugly and grief remains in our bones, sometimes hidden, but it's always there. We bear the scars.

Jesus died to abolish death but as long as we live here, the reality of death will affect us all. Loss seems like such a benign word compared to the pain that it serves.

During the final hours of the life of Christ he took into account the pain of those left on the earth without him. He looked down from the cross, through his agony and saw the deep grief of his mother and his buddy James.  His poor mother who birthed and raised him, who loved him with a true mother's heart. "Woman, here is your son" and to the disciple he said "Here is your mother".

He knew his mother was heartbroken, crushed and destroyed by his death. He also knew that she needed more earthly provision and comfort for her days that remained on this earth. He didn't expect her to be stoic and rest on the knowledge that he was God's son and that she knew all along that she couldn't keep him. He didn't expect her little earthly mind to fully grasp the big heavenly things and live with an esoteric sense of comfort.

Jesus could have taken care of those family matters earlier in the week for he knew this day was coming. But he gave us a picture of grief and how to deal with it in that moment of time, highlighted by the fact that it was one of the few words and actions that he took on that cross that day. One of the ways to bring solace to grief is in community, in family. Interacting with others reminds you that you are alive, and pulls you out of the depths of loss.

In the midst of grief, he brought hope, new life, new relationships. This of course is the complete picture of his death, the promise of eternal life in the family of God.

Jesus death cost him. It cost God the father too. He had to watch his beloved son die. He suffered great grief as the drama unfolded, even though he ordained the whole thing. He didn't sit on the throne smiling that day. No, the sky turned black for three hours. Darkness covered the earth. The grief of God made concrete and visible. The earth shook. Rocks broke. Graves opened. The curtain in the Temple was torn in two.

Today we mourn, but not without hope. Because of today we know that some day our grief will end. Some day we will be reunited with our loved ones. Some day we will live in perfect joy with the one who still bears the scars of his death. Someday the sting of death will be gone. Some day....





Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lead Me to the Cross

Here is a youtube video - a dance to Lead me to the Cross by Hillsongs. The video capture is horrible, obviously held by a friend or sister. The microphones are obstructing the view. The video shakes and whoever was holding it got caught up in worship and sings at times...

BUT having said all that - if you can look past all that and watch the dance... wow... powerful....
When I get to heaven, more than singing or painting or playing the piano... I will be dancing.


Creative Lenten Services

Dad in Northside Chapel soon after it was built

I love the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. Do you know why? It's because things get a whole lot more creative in the church services!

Tonight I'm heading into Boston for one of my favorite services of the year... The Tenebrae service at Old South Church. I've always had a thing for candle light but when you put that together with the incredible jazz musicians, classical sacred music in the choir and the old stone arches and columns that look ever so like an old courtyard, you have a winner in my book.

In the Tenebrae service as each step of the holy week is recounted they extinguish candles until you are sitting in the dark with one, lone candle for light. A hush comes over the room as the bells strike. The light and it's bearer quietly lead the community out the large wooden doors into the streets of Boston.

Wow....

I really appreciate creativity in worship services that address all the senses. A great service should include the appropriate atmosphere to set the mood. This includes lighting, music, scents and art. When we engage all our senses, we can more easily assimilate what we are learning.

Nestled in my memory are my happy days of worshipping at Madison Square CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One service in particular stood out as the best that I had ever encountered.

It was Good Friday. We were led into our new sanctuary. A huge, rough cross had been constructed earlier that week for this very occasion. The stage was assembled in the center of the room with lights on the rugged cross and a crown of thorns dangling precariously at the head.

We all sat at the foot of the cross in a circle. Lights were dimmed, music deep and meaningful. Dancers twirled their way around the cross to the music. Scripture was read dramatically, communion served, lights were extinguished and we left in silence.

20 years later, I'm still thinking about that service...

On Resurrection Day the atmosphere was completely different. Brightly colored flags, dancers, gospel choir, lilies and triumphant music created a party that was not quickly forgotten!

One more example from my past. I used to go to monasteries or abbeys when I wanted a little retreat. I liked them because of the atmosphere. In a particular monastery in Three Rivers, Michigan I found a very special treasure. There was a grand wooden chapel fashioned with wood, floor to ceiling nestled in a very natural environment. The monks were clothed in hooded robes and made regular prayer rounds through the chapel swinging the incense and bowing at different stations.

Early one morning when I was there with a group of young adults, including a fresh ex-boyfriend, I was awakened by a bad dream. It was actually a very telling dream but right now that's irrelevant to my story. The point is that at 4 AM, I got out of bed, dressed and found my way to the chapel, hymnal and Bible in hand (praise songs seemed a bit wrong for the environment). I was all alone in the chapel for a good part of the time except for the occasional monk doing rounds. The room was dark with just the glow of candles and dim lights. My voice echoed through the building as I sang and prayed. I encountered God in a very special way that morning and I dare say, the atmosphere had a lot to do with my ability to receive. The architect who fashioned that room did it to lead the worshipper into a higher state of contemplation and reception.

In our small little inner city church in Paterson, New Jersey, my father could be as creative as he wanted to be. He was always open to trying new things and invited people to share their gifts and participate. I was most eager to facilitate this process. He never stifled his creative daughter but encouraged those artistic worship gifts to bloom.

One day I was in the mood to make a banner. I decorated the church on occasion with my felt wonders. Banners were big back in the 70's and early 80's and I designed a really cool one with the text "By His Wounds, We are Healed". On a large block of purple fabric, I fashioned a stain-glassed window effect of thorns, outlining the shape of three crosses, with one front and center. It was beautiful and I was very proud of my 20 year old self. I wouldn't be surprised if it still hangs there during Lent, but I don't know for sure...

I'd like to see more art and creativity in churches. Services have become so cerebral. Stimulating the intellect is fine but spiritual matters are really nurtured in our right brains, the creative centers. Our souls are touched through emotion and beauty. When we get in touch with our own creativity, we are more in touch with the great creator and that after all is why we go to church in the first place right? It's about communing with God and his people.

If you are creative, consider sharing your gifts to make a difference in your church and community. We should be pulling out all the stops, don't you think?

Do you have stories of really cool services you've been to? Leave them down in the comments below or on my FB page. I'd love to hear about them.




Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Grandma's Walks with the Man with Kind Eyes


Grace Vander Klay was a lovely creature. I have to think so because she was my grandmother... and a most remarkable woman.

Grandma and I had a very close relationship. She often said "I know it's not right to have favorites, but there's something about that first grandchild." She truly loved ALL her grandchildren.

Perhaps I was so special to her because she "got" me. My folks used to look at me and say "Where did SHE come from?" and then together they would say "Oh yes, Grandma!"

She took an active role in my life, visiting often and then when they were living further away, sending me letters. I went to college one block away from their retirement home. We had many wonderful adult years together full of memories.

I could write a whole blog on stories about the woman my grandma was. The intuitive, resourceful, intelligent, gifted pastors wife who lived through the time of the depression. Today I have just one story on my heart.... it's the day that Grandma saw Jesus.

It was her 89th year of life. Grandpa had passed away a few years earlier. Grandma's eye's were failing her. For years she listened to tapes for the blind but her interest in that had waned as of late. Her joints hurt to the point that she could barely walk. She was showing signs of congestive heart failure and her ears were no longer working too well. In short, her body was deteriorating.

Grandma did not want to make it to her 90th birthday. "I don't want to be here anymore! I don't know why God doesn't just take me home!" she would say with great dissatisfaction in her voice. "I'm no good to anyone here anymore anyway! Don't throw me a party."

We would answer her with the obligatory, "We don't know why, but we sure like having you here yet." kind of responses and assure her that when it was her time to go, she would. And despite her initial protests, she did rather enjoy her 90th birthday party.

On one very special afternoon, a day like any other day, Grandma laid down on her twin bed in her single room in the retirement home to take a nap.

She wasn't asleep very long when a young man looking to be in his thirties, in a white robe and beard stood at the foot of her bed and touched her big toe to wake her. She opened her eyes and looked at him. (Remember, she was blind at the time).

He said to her, "Grace, get up" and stretched out his hand.

She looked at him and in total Grace fashion said "But I don't walk well, my hips hurt". But she obediently got out of bed, with no pain.

Hand in hand he led her out of her room and in just a millisecond of time they were walking along a beach. As they walked Grace kept looking over at this man. He was so kind. His eyes were so loving. His voice was so soothing. They spoke together.

Grace said to him, "Who are you?" she said.

"Who do you think I am", he answered.

"Are you Jesus? Because you have the kindest eyes."

He smiled at her and they continued to walk.

Soon he said "Grace, climb these steps with me."

"But I don't see any steps" said Grace.

"It's okay, they are there. Just follow my lead" said the kind man.

Step by step they went up. Higher and higher they went until they were viewing the earth as if from space.

Grace stared in wonder and amazement. Still in great peace and holding the hand of the kindest man she had ever met.

In the blink of an eye, she was back in her bed...  never to be the same. She had a renewed sense of peace in her place in life.

When Grandma woke up from that experience it was all that she could talk about for days. She wondered what happened. Was that a vivid dream? It felt so real. How come she had no pain? She could hear and see. Was it a vision? What was it?

Was Jesus taking her to heaven and if so, why did he stop? Why was she still here?

Those were questions that I'm sure she has the answers for now. Within six months after that experience, she walked out of this world holding hands with the "man with kind eyes".

That man with kind eyes gathers his loved ones in close. His love is deeper than our deepest pain. My pain and that of others that I know and love is kind of raw right now... but I'm thinking that is going to make this years celebration that much more meaningful for us.

It's Friday and we're feeling a bit jarred, a bit lost, a bit defeated, a bit overwhelmed... but Sunday's Coming!!!



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Davey and Goliath Easter Special




I know that this dates me.... yikes... something my hairdresser and I try very hard to hide but when I was growing up I loved this show. The Easter Special was by far my favorite. Perhaps part of it was because Davey's grandma reminded me so much of my own grandma. (I have a story about Grandma that I will be putting in my blog tomorrow so make sure to check it out, it's a cool one.)

This year.... I wanted to watch this SO BADLY for obvious reasons... fortunately someone who lost his dad right before Easter a few years ago posted it on Youtube for all of us to enjoy. If you are pressed for time - part three is the one that really counts.

I have to say it seemed more profound when I viewed it as a child... It's probably been at least 30 years since I've seen this, maybe more but it's a classic that deserves to be aired.







Now is the Time to Worship....


Woke up early from a dream. They say it usually takes at least three weeks after the death of a loved one before you dream about them. It was true for me... three weeks to the day and then came the dream.

It was not a dream of my father in heaven comforting or reassuring me, rather it was one of those "trying to work things out in your psyche" dreams... but it had a rather interesting ending so I'm going to share it.

In my dream I'm at work and I see dad running/walking through the woods. He's not himself, kind of tripping over his feet and stumbling. He falls down and I think... I have to go make sure his heart is working. So I run out and revive him. I convince him to come into the building where I'm at and we take an elevator up to the 4th floor. We are in a room with windows all around us. It is dark outside. He doesn't want to stay, he seems bent on dying. By now I'm realizing that there is very little I can do to keep him with me and safe, although I continue to try.

I call my mom and tell her I found dad but she better come right away because I'm having a hard time keeping him with me. Seems to take forever for her to get there but she finally arrives. She suggests that I play the piano so we start to do some worship songs. She tells me that will keep him with us.

First we sing something I don't even know, it's a new song but we join right in with a bunch of Hallelujah's. Then we find a song that dad wants us to sing. The song, "Now is the Time to Worship".

That's when I woke up.

A friend told me last week that it is in drawing closer to God that she feels the most peace and the presence of her lost loved ones.

When my mom's dad died suddenly, she took all his sacred records home with her. I remember her playing them over and over and over again. It was her way of plugging into her source of all comfort and keeping her father close.

I'm going to share something here... and you may think I'm crazy but rest assured I am not. What I'm going to tell you is absolutely true. I've always sought out amazing, creative worship. While we were pastoring in New Jersey I was fortunate enough to be associated with a few wonderful ministries and took our vacation time to attend worship conferences. At one conference that I attended about 12 years ago, we had been in an extended 90 plus minutes of extraordinary spontaneous worship. I'm talking with dance and flags and surrender and passion. As we were quieting ourselves before the throne of God a holy hush filled the room. Voices were rising, but they weren't voices from the church building. They were voices more pure than I have ever heard, in harmony and singing notes that no person on earth could sing. I heard beautiful bells, strong and bold yet very quiet. A peace filled my spirit as I sat and absorbed the reality that this was a heavenly gift. I've told very few people until now for it was so sacred a moment that words cannot share the impact that it made on my life.

Heaven and earth join together to sing God's praise. The saints that have gone before us, my dad, your loved ones, are all there in the throne room of God in a level of passionate worship that we cannot even imagine. Our worship down here is just a small picture of what's going on up there. But I KNOW that when we join in that worship, we are joined with our loved ones. In that moment, in that space, we are all together. It is as if we are in the same room! In the act of worship, we truly are keeping our loved ones close.

I know, it's not the reason that we fall down on our faces before the throne. There are so many other even better reasons to make a joyful noise. For one, that's why we were created. Secondly, one little peak into the magnificence of God causes our hearts to sing. We worship in gratitude for our gift of eternal life with him. There are so many reasons, but knowing that I'm closer to those I love and miss so much is the icing on the cake for me.

When we are surrounded by darkness and grief, praise is the only way out. Yes, it feels like a sacrifice. It's maybe the last thing that we want to do but it is exactly what we must do. It's in this act of surrender that we are filled with the peace that we so desperately desire.

My aunt was preparing to "graduate" the week before Easter many years ago. She so wanted to make it through the pearly gates before "Resurrection Day" came because she KNEW it would be amazing. She missed it by a few hours, but I imagine that every day is an Easter celebration in heaven. As we observe the events of this holy week remember what my father told me in a dream just last night.

Now is the time to worship....








Monday, March 25, 2013

I'll Never Let Go of Your Hand

Songs have been going through my spirit the past few weeks, all that have brought great comfort. This blast from the past was deposited in me this afternoon and good old youtube didn't let me down. Thought I'd share it with the rest of you.


Behind every great man is a great Woman!


Over the past few weeks, I've spent a great amount of time eulogizing my father. And I'm sure that I will continue until I've said all that is in my heart to say.

However, there is still one left who I do not need to grieve yet (thank God!) My mother, the strong woman behind the man.

Yes, as I said yesterday, my father was a great man because he gave his life over to a great God who moved through him in every way. But there is yet another reason why my father was a great man, he was given a fantastic helpmeet who draws her power from the same source.

Dad could not have been in the community being the father to the fatherless if my mom wasn't home caring for us!

Dad wouldn't have been ministering to the kids on the streets if we were running around on those very streets. He would have saved the world but lost his own family - as so many "great" men do.

Mom was there to feed him on schedule so that he could run in, eat, lead family devotions, do the dishes and run out again to a meeting.

My mother took care of paying the bills and monitoring the money so that it could go to places. In a sense she multiplied the fish and the bread for I think she was able to provide us with more than the money that came in justified.

My mom was his CEO. She helped him think things through from a practical point of view. She helped him distinguish dreams from reality.

He could put himself 100 percent into his ministry because he knew she had things under control at home. He told me that on many occasions.

She was his sounding board and he was hers.

She was the stability in our home. She didn't invite strangers into the house. Dad did and we have one less camera to prove it! She set firm, strong, boundaries around her family to protect us.

She supported, trusted, respected and adored that man that I call my father. They were a team.

Even with all her duties at home, she still had her own place of ministry. She taught Sunday School, led numerous Bible studies, engaged in people's lives, held friendships, sang in the choir, met with other pastors and their wives, started an inner city school and volunteered there for years as the secretary using her vast abundance of organizational skills to keep it running. She shares the "Stan and Barb Vander Klay Day" in Paterson and is also a distinguished alumni of Calvin College and Whitinsville Christian school where she serves on the board. She has been involved in more committees than I will ever know. She too has made her mark on this world... all the while being a mom and friend to her children and grandchildren, who she loves so much.

Yes, my father is gone and with it mom is no longer lovingly referred to as "the warden". Her role in this world has changed somewhat. She's no longer a wife... but she's still a mother, grandmother and plays a crucial role in her community. She is still organizing her world. Still touching other's lives. Still making a difference.

I visit my mom daily. Not so much because she needs it - but I need it. Not to get anything from her. Just to be reminded that the world is still alright. Her home is still clean, her bills are still paid and she's still on top of all situations, even though her world has been dramatically altered.

She led devotions the other night at the school board meeting, and from what I hear, did a fantastic job. I don't think I could have gotten through it, especially when our own family was brought up as a prayer request. I would have been reduced to a puddle, but not mom, she is strong and her faith is secure in the one that both gives and takes lives.

My mother shines as her own bright star and I'm proud to be her daughter.

Today, tell those you love what they mean to you. Don't hold it off another day or until next time you see them... because.... You know.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What makes a Man Great?




"Relationships take up energy, letting go of them, psychiatrists theorize, entails mental work. When you lose someone you were close to, you have to reassess your picture of the world and your place in it. The more your identity was wrapped up with the deceased, the more difficult the loss."
                                                                                                      -Meghan O'Rourke

How does a daughter ever get over the death of her father - her good father?

The man who joined with my mother, gave me life.

The man who provided financially with food, clothing, private education, piano lessons, instruments, paints, a roof over my head....

This was the man who gave me bottles in the middle of the night, changed my diapers, held me when I cried.

As I grew he dropped me off at school, kissed me and told me to have a good day. He listened tirelessly to my emotional, academic and friendship dramas. He helped me with my math and science homework.

He taught me the Bible.

This godly man prayed for me EVERY day of my life.... EVERY day.... for over 51 years!

He showed me what a man was supposed to be and how he should treat a woman with love, respect and and an even tempered nature. He taught me that women were not only beautiful, but that they had brains and gifts too, that were allowed in the world and church in equal measure to a mans.

He taught me how to read with great expression by the many books that he read to me over the years. As his voice boomed over Narnia, my imagination soared.

By example, he taught me to preach, to love, to be.

He showed me who God was.... that the Love of the Father, God was expressed through our human hands and feet. Our mouths were to speak of good things.

He taught me to always believe the best in people. To persevere through all circumstances, always hope and believe in the love of our heavenly father.

He cheered me on as I played the piano, making room for me to share my musical and artistic gifts with his congregation.

He took me on pastoral calls, visiting, praying with people, delivering food. He taught me that we were blessed even if others had more and to always share with those in need.

He taught me that a life well lived, was one spent on others... not oneself.

He taught me about contentment. It wasn't about having the biggest toys, or pretty things (which I really like truthfully), it was about being content with everything you had. Money doesn't bring joy.

He taught me to drive.

His big hand held my little hand and supported me through life... even life as an adult.

He kissed my mother goodbye EVERY TIME he left the house. If I was there, I got a kiss too!

His smile lit up my heart and my life.

I was forever proud of my daddy.... a man who loved wholeheartedly. A man who truly made the most of every opportunity to spread grace. I loved meeting people who respected him and thus passed on the respect to me, his child. I didn't earn it - I got it by very nature of being Stan's daughter.

I visited my father 3-5 days a week. This man was one of my best friends through my entire life. And yes, my understanding of the world and my identity was most wrapped up with that of my father's.

Am I hurting.... you betcha, maybe more every day. My heart feels as if it has been ripped forcefully out of my body.

This is the season of grief and hope for christians around the world. The season when we remember a price paid for our sins. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, was the truth that my father based his whole life on. That's where he got the ability to be all those things to me. Without that crucial relationship, he would have been just another man... 

He could have been just another man, but he let the transformative power of Jesus change him. He invited the Holy Spirit to come into him and give him that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Dad didn't try to manufacture them on his own. He didn't just  pretend to have those qualities, he possessed them. God gave them to him, just like he can give them to anyone else who asks. Letting your higher power take over your life is really the only way to make your life count for something that will last. All the stupid things we strive for in life really mean nothing in the end.

My father left his body, his loved ones and all his belongings on this earth. He only took his spirit with him. Our spirits are our core essence and in the end, it's all we have.

I think about reincarnation sometimes. I joked with my dad that he was Abe Lincoln reincarnated. The resemblance was uncanny in spirit and physically. Jesus paid the price to perfect us with his blood. I'm thankful that dad doesn't have to do more rounds of life to "get it right". He got it right because he gave his life over to the one that would make a difference. He is now reaping his "reward" for that beautiful life. He now sees face to face the one that he gave his life to. He feels the true measure of love that we only get a faint glimpse of at present.

Dad would say. "Keep on keeping on. Keep the faith. Be faithful in the little things and in the big things. Don't sweat things because God has it all figured out. Daily, hourly, every moment, go to the one that will perfect your spirit. Allow the greater power to live through you and then you too can leave a testimony on this earth... not of your greatness but of God's greatness through you."

Yes, my daddy was a great man.... but it was because God lived, talked, breathed and walked through him on this earth. My dad would wish the same for all of you.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Words from Alan Moore

“If you wear black, then kindly, irritating strangers will touch your arm consolingly and inform you that the world keeps on turning.

They're right. It does.

However much you beg it to stop.

It turns and lets grenadine spill over the horizon, sends hard bars of gold through my window and I wake up and feel happy for three seconds and then I remember.

It turns and tips people out of their beds and into their cars, their offices, an avalanche of tiny men and women tumbling through life...

All trying not to think about what's waiting at the bottom.

Sometimes it turns and sends us reeling into each other's arms. We cling tight, excited and laughing, strangers thrown together on a moving funhouse floor.

Intoxicated by the motion we forget all the risks.

And then the world turns...

And somebody falls off...

And oh God it's such a long way down.

Numb with shock, we can only stand and watch as they fall away from us, gradually getting smaller...

Receding in our memories until they're no longer visible.

We gather in cemeteries, tense and silent as if for listening for the impact; the splash of a pebble dropped into a dark well, trying to measure its depth.

Trying to measure how far we have to fall.

No impact comes; no splash. The moment passes. The world turns and we turn away, getting on with our lives...

Wrapping ourselves in comforting banalities to keep us warm against the cold.

"Time's a great healer."

"At least it was quick."

"The world keeps turning."

Oh Alec—

Alec's dead.” 
― Alan MooreSwamp Thing, Vol. 5: Earth to Earth
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the over wrought heart and bids it break."
                       - William Shakespeare, Macbeth





                                    


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Yea, though I walk through the valley....

Yesterday I tried to pretend. How did THAT work for me? Not so well.

I started by watching movies. The first one I watched was "Blue Valentine". Interesting. Depressing. Two souls who didn't belong together tangled in a marriage that inevitably had to end.

I went on to Sleepless in Seattle. While the movie was light and fun, there was great drama inside my house making it a bit hard to deny certain difficult aspects of my life. My husband tried to protect my grief bubble... but it had already popped.

By the time that movie was done I kind of gave up on my little "personal movie retreat" and schlepped my body out of bed, into the shower and over to check in on my mom. I do that daily. It makes me feel better even though she insists that she's fine and I don't need to check up on her. My older daughter is staying with her this week so I get a three generation charge on those visits. There was no pretending on the four mile drive to her house... the tears and grief came as soon as my mind was no longer occupied.

After a little while of visiting, I came home to meet my walking buddy. Since I hadn't told her the horrible tale of my traumatic turn of events, for three miles I again found myself recounting the vivid last moments of my father's life. This time with more anger in my voice. I am SICK of this story. I cried again.  She huffed and puffed during the walk... I must have been walking fast. I felt nothing... numb.

I ate my vegan lasagna and decided to invite daughter number one to my movie marathon. As I waited for her in the car outside of my mom's house, I looked up the path. In the dark with the glistening snow, another memory was triggered.

My sister was having a 50th birthday party for her husband. We had a nice dinner at her house outside of Boston. It was a snowy day. We dropped daughter number one off that day at Wellesley and then daughter number two went up to Gordon college for an overnight visit. Mom and Dad waited for us to return from the North Shore at my sister's. We swooped them up and brought them back to the Blackstone Valley.

I was glad that we could drive because Dad wasn't allowed to drive yet since his fainting episode. To spare Dad's dignity, we were getting in the habit of picking them up for our trips to Boston. We made it seem like the practical choice - why should we take two cars? Why waste the gas?

When we pulled the car into their driveway, they quickly hopped out and made their way up the path - hand in hand. I looked at them and thought.... that is SO cute. I know that both mom and dad were holding hands to "protect" the other one from falling. I remembered how my grandparents used to hold hands all the time. I wanted a picture of this moment. I didn't get one.

Last night, I saw that picture embedded in my mind as I looked up the pathway. I started to cry.... So much for pretending.

Pretending doesn't work too well. We can try to deny, let it all go - but in the end the truth is the truth. It's the truth that sets you free. The only way out is THROUGH the valley.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." The Psalmist doesn't say, "I try really hard to walk AROUND the valley of the shadow of death". No, we walk right through, whether we want to or not.

The valley is wide. 

The valley is long.

The valley is dark.

The valley feels hopeless.

The valley smells of decaying flesh.

And the valley is scary.

"I will fear no evil: for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me".

Here's the tricky truth. God is IN the valley of the shadow of death - not waiting around on the corners. This is where you meet God. This is where the comfort and strength reside. He's not there in the pretend places and the lies, he's sitting right in the middle of your grief and pain. That's where you find Him!

"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies". Wow... death is my biggest enemy. The death of my father. The decay and death of every thing that lives on this earth. All sin and evil is a precurser to death and every part if it stings.... sucks.... bites! Poverty, physical illness, mental illness, loneliness, strife... all signs of death and decay.

It was ok to take my little "vacation" as it was.... but I'm thinking that my strength lies in living the truth. I can run away, but I can't hide... and maybe I don't want to.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me

Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life;
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pretending a Reprieve...

Today I'm tired. I am sick of grieving. I'm so done with bad dreams. I don't want this to be my reality and I want to move on back to the world of petty issues as large. I want life to go back to normal. I want to pretend that none of this is real.

Speaking of pretending. Do you know that I found great comfort in my dad's body at the calling hours? We all stood in line past his coffin and I felt like our whole family was together again. It was as if he was taking a nap in the corner. I wanted to take him home and prop him in a chair. Even if he didn't talk, that would be alright because he would still be there with me. Crazy...

Sometimes you just need to take a break. The reality isn't going to go away. The loss is still staring you in the face, but sometimes you just need to focus on something else. Maybe a movie.... I love movies, especially romantic comedies.

I've been thinking about the movies, "Sleepless in Seattle" and "PS I Love You" lately. The words of Sam Baldwin played by Tom Hanks ring in my ears ...

"Well, I'm gonna get out of bed every morning...breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won't have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breath in and out... and, then after a while, I won't have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while."

It's sad to watch Sam the widower with his precocious son grieve, but in the end, he finds a second great love. Aren't movies wonderful!

Here's the trailer for PS I LOVE YOU.  I own it because it might be one of my all time favorite movies. It's not one I pull out too often though because I can't stand the emotions that flood me. You need plenty of tissues for this one. They've achieved a good balance of raw, real and funny. Half the time you laugh AND cry at the same time in this movie.... Just like real life... real grief. And again, our grieving heroine eventually moves through, changed forever but again able to smile, love, live. Wish I could condense this process into a two hour movie and move on to the "happy" stage again.


The truth is that I'm kind of drained today... don't want to be profound... nor spiritual. Just want to be quiet. Just want to pretend. Just want life to go back to a place of normalcy.

Emotions like grief are too much to sustain. Sometimes one has to just take a break from the realities of life. I've got some other things going on today that might impact my whole financial future, but I'm too tired even to think about it. It's all in God's hands and I'm not going to worry about it. I don't have the energy.

Think I'll stay in bed in my jammies, make a fruit smoothie and watch a few movies.







Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Yesterday it hit me

This blog has been on quite the journey. When I started it my dad insisted that I was doing it for myself - that I would learn a lot by writing it. He saw it as a journal where his highly extraverted daughter could process her life, come to her conclusions and grow.

Yes, I'm sure there is some of that for in writing my external self processes. I know I can do it in a journal, but I'm wired to help people... so for me, this blog is my ministry outlet....

When I started this blog, I wanted to share a piece of my heart and soul with you. I wanted to tell you that it's okay to be real - to have feelings and struggles. Sometimes we are strong and at other times we may feel defeated and weak and it's all okay.

I wanted to encourage you to grow, spread your wings and fly.

I wanted to share with you my experiences so that you could either relate and not feel alone or perhaps avoid mistakes that I have already made. Maybe you could feel proud that you don't struggle so immensely with the things that I struggle with.... wink.

I wanted to tell you that we are all on a journey - and that it takes different paths for all of us. How we go through it is as unique as the journey itself, but that you never go it alone. You always have a loving God who guides you along the way.

I was sharing my stupid little struggles that seemed large in my head. I asked questions like: "How do I become the artist I was born to be?" or "How do we combat the voices that hold us back?"

I shared art to expand some of your understanding of the arts so that you could grow in your creative edge - fully believing that in the expression of creativity we find ourselves and the great Creator. I still believe that.

Then my year took a cruel and unexpected twist as life often does. Was I immune to the real struggles?  Living with a chronic illness for 23 years, a child on the spectrum, financial struggles and other things kind of stink.... but they pale in comparison to losing someone you love.

Yesterday it hit me.... My father is not coming back. He is GONE.

It hit me because the trauma of my last few weeks has moved a bit to the background.

It all hit me square in the eyes.

No more will I see his silly grin or hear his darling puns.

No more will I kiss his soft little face or put my hand on his fine white hair.

I won't be able to have nice little visits with him in his study.

He's gone....

I will no longer be able to tease him or laugh with him, nor will I hear him tease me - something he LOVED to do because apparently, I'm an easy mark. I lay myself wide open - willingly, for I'll do pretty much anything for a laugh or to lighten the mood in a room. I'm not afraid to laugh at myself.

He's no longer going to come barreling down the stairs to see me or stand in the foyer to embrace me in a big awkward bear hug from his 6 foot 4 framed body.

He won't be taking any more of those pictures from his treasured travels and loading them on google for me to see. Wish he could take some images of heaven and put them on the internet.

How about a little note with it.... "Hi Ruth .... having a great time... the colors are beautiful and the food even better. I see what you mean about worship now.... Wow. You would LOVE this! I get to preach day and night with all kinds of impressive people... but I won't name drop - it wouldn't be fitting. Here's a little picture of me with Grandpa. Jesus sends his love! Fight the good fight and keep the faith.... Love Dad".

Why does death have to be so final?

I won't see my dad towering over the crowds at church or sit next to him at all the holiday dinners while I watch him survey the feast with pleasure.

I'm so glad that we didn't make him miss the last inning of the Super Bowl this year... Glad we stayed even though I was tired and wanted to go home. He wanted to stay and I wanted to please him - because I always tried to please him. It was as if I pleased God by pleasing my father - because they were THAT close.

I went out with my mom and my oldest daughter today. We dined and went to the Apple store. I so wished we could share the experience with dad. I would tell him what we ate...how good my tofu was. Mom would show him her new computer and how she is now a cool Mac user and how they gave her the student discount because my daughter was there.  He would love the food. He would support Mom in her new purchase. He would be a very important part of our simple day.

I would tell him how my car battery died on my civic so I had to take the truck and then he would stand outside and shake his head when the truck battery died in his driveway - wondering to himself about this crazy daughter that he has that always gets into such interesting situations. Then he would question why the Prius lights went on and that car almost didn't start too. Certainly the common denominator was me. Am I a battery drainer?

But, I couldn't tell him... because he's gone and he's never coming back.

The day felt lonely... incomplete. and it was - because someone very important is missing from our lives.... and yet still holds a very important place in our hearts.

My sweet mom - she is so strong. She's determined to be independent (because she IS) and stay busy and fruitful... but oh, the hole that has been thrust upon her so suddenly. So unexpectedly. To lose her best friend of 52 plus years. Her soulmate. Her love. Her support. Her comfort. Ugh.

To me, the days and months to follow seem bleak. He was our comic relief. He was just that cute with his words and his actions. His childlike presence. His helplessness and yet his towering wisdom and strength. His sheepish grin and his incredible love and respect for the woman my mother was. His excitement when telling me about how God was moving. He was so terribly interesting and so pathetically cute.

Two years ago I went to the community Good Friday service. I knew he would be there... where else would he be?

There he sat - alone with a big smile on his face. I sat behind him so as not to disturb him. When he saw me he moved back to sit by me.

Oh we had such fun.... during the 15 minutes of silence between all the final words of Christ. He counted the organ pipes - I prayed fervently for guidance. I stared at the stain glass window of the angel guiding a little girl over the bridge... He counted the pipes some more.

When we got to sing.... his voice would boom out thru the scanty, elderly crowd. And then it happened  .... a blooper. He got two verses mixed up and out came "Where you there when they nailed him in the side". We glanced at each other and fell to pieces, laughing. I was reminded of all the times both he and I as children (two separate generations) were scolded for laughing in church. He dared not look at me as my body shook violently for he knew he would lose all composure. After all, what would it look like if Pastor Stan was laughing at the Good Friday service? Watching him try to hold it together made it all the more funny for me. The apple didn't fall far from the tree with my dad and I.

Fortunately, the service ended with the song and we were able to go outside and continue our laughter in a more suitable environment.

We visited and shared. I showed him a house I was considering purchasing.

Oh how I LOVED my dad!!!

But he's gone.

Ok, so where's the comfort? Every good message gets you in touch with the problem and the emotions and then gives you hope. And we have hope - we do. We understand especially through this Easter season that death has been defeated!

My husband led this reading at Dad's funeral. He almost didn't get through it, but I find this truth that I memorized at such a young age, comforting.

Lord's Day One from the Heidelberg Catechism

"What is your only comfort in life and in death?"

"That I am not my own, but belong body and soul,
in life and in death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
In fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to Him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for Him."





Louie Schwartzberg: Nature. Beauty. Gratitude

Monday, March 18, 2013

Memories....

Grief Work


Two weeks ago today my life and that of my family changed forever.

Burned into my memory lies a moment in time that will not quickly be forgotten for it has been rehearsed over and over as if I could have a "do over"....

It is 6:00 AM. I awakened at least an hour ago to use the bathroom. I was mercifully nudged out of a bad dream, in a series of bad dreams... but from the worst dream, I have yet to awaken.

My father is gone. Stolen suddenly from me in the most unsuspecting manner. A life worthy of so much, gone in literally the blink of an eye.

Yes, he was 77 years old, not young by any means, and yet he did not age as so many do. With the life expectancy growing longer, he was snuffed out with words, and life and sermons still in his heart. He was taken away with love for his wife, children and grandchildren. He was snatched away from those who were counting on him to walk him through their issues and faded right out of the lives of young pastors who leaned on his wisdom and experience. His Bible studies were silenced.

His smile vanished from this earth in one dark moment.

Was his death merciful?.... For him.. yes. Maybe even for us as we do not know what future pains we all have been spared. He died as everyone wants to go. In a happy moment, quickly and painlessly, although certainly not with dignity... for death has no dignity.

"Oh death... where is your sting?" It strikes in the face of the unsuspecting. Boldly, brutally....

We lay out our plans.... but all do not come to fruition, for in the end, we have so little control over our lives.

Two weeks ago, as I was working on my to do list, one phone call changed my world forever. "Dad passed out again".... "He's not conscious".... "They're shocking him". Words I can't erase from my mind.... and yet neither can I accept them.

That list... that seemed so urgent at the time... lays on the floor of my bedroom... gathering dust... haunting me. Just a few days earlier a blog entry about being so busy.... multi-tasking with such passion.... not being able to stop and rest. One more week of a big push.... But it was more like a push into reality. A sudden halt from seeming productivity to grief.

Grief is a terrible thing that life cannot prepare one for. It's not as it is in the movies.... a break down, a few days in bed crying. No, it's much more severe.

In the past my grief has been mercifully restricted to grandparents, pets and friends. All have hurt. For all I've shed tears but soon I was able to return to a new norm. I was able to rise above my pain, put my memories in a box and move on.

The loss of my father has cut to the very core of my being for my father was always there for me. I do not know of life without him. His smile... his firm grip.... his deep love. He was my daddy and we know how little girls LOVE their dads. He was my constant support in the face of what I perceived as life's many difficulties and yet now - in the greatest trial of my life, he is not there for me. Such irony.

A great man. A life well lived. Every opportunity seized to make this world a better place. Every moment counted... every breath mattered.

Is my pain so great because he was so special to me? Perhaps and yet not, for surely, those who live with deep holes still feel pain at the death of a parent who should have been but couldn't be there for them.

Here is the truth about grieving....

It is not short... You cannot cry it all out - for the tears are insufficient to wash the pain from your heart.

Groaning and sobs come from deep in your gut for your very soul cries out for relief.

Tears flow freely in the deep silences and in laughter given just so you can stand to breathe. I cry in restaurants, stores, church, airports, planes.... I cry with friends, family and strangers who are kind enough to listen to my sad tale. Initially I feel better... and then, I don't.

Two weeks.... I cry in the sunrise and the sunset. I cry during dinner.... that is... if I could sit down and actually eat a full meal. I cry in the shower... when dressing....

I cannot read. Nothing commands my attention but the grief that washes over me in waves. Distractions are hard to come by.

I hold on tight to people that matter. I kiss more. I squeeze harder. I am more vulnerable.

I dread Mondays... for that was THE DAY... the day my sweet father was released.

Life has lost it's meaning. I struggle to listen to idle chatter. My tolerance for "drama" is at an all time low. "Petty" issues are just that... petty and my energy cannot be directed toward them. The superficial... the mundane... money .... social media ... blogs .... Facebook .... movies .... all full of nothingness. Who cares.....?

My great laid business plans.... flatlined along with the heartbeat of my father.

I cannot sleep... I cannot eat.... I cannot look at pictures of my father without feeling sick.

My stomach does not feel right. I have pain in my left arm. My heart hurts.

I don't walk with a beat in my step.... I drag my body through the room as if I am supporting the weight of the world.

I care not what others think of me. I don't care if they like me or don't like me. I don't care if they like my art or don't like it. I don't care if I win or lose. Come or go. Embraced or rejected... it means nothing to me.

I look at people as if to say... "talk to me about something that REALLY counts". Say something that will make a difference in my life or your life... or the person down the street.

I don't want to write in my blog. Who really cares what I have to say? What difference does it make?

But mostly... I just cry....

I know that this is temporary. I know that "in time".... I also know that time is not a few days or a few weeks for so severe a loss. It's years... Years of missing... years of trying to comprehend... accept.

The truth is that we cannot accept the reality of losing one so close as a father, mother, brother, sister or even worse... son or daughter or spouse. It's not the way that it should be and we all know it!

"Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave where is thy victory?"

And here is where I can lay out hope.... Not because I feel it... NO! But because without hope - what do we have? My father's life had meaning and I also must find it in his death.

He taught me how to live and continue to live, I must.

My father's life mattered.

He gave of himself faithfully and consistently.

He served God every moment of his life.

No task was too large or too small for him.

No person was more important than another. He did not rank people by status. He loved them all.

He persevered. He took his city for Christ. Day after day, he woke up and went about the tasks in life that many of us would tire of... but he plodded along... day after day... year after year. His delight was in God and bringing the good news to all people.

I grow tired and weary.... and I'm sure he had his moments. But he found his strength in the Lord. Prayer and the word of God were his food. The Holy Spirit his constant companion, writing his sermons, counseling the masses, fathering the children.

My father taught me that when one feels overwhelmed with pain, they should seek to serve and in the service, the pain will disappear. Oh how I wish I could do it. How I would love to reach out and touch someone else in their pain so that I could strike a blow to the enemy that isolates and destroys.

So today... on a Monday, three weeks from the most memorable of Mondays when my father was promoted to glory, and I was left with sadness.... I must carry on.

I will rise... I will love my neighbors. I will smile and bring joy to people's hearts, even though right now, I feel so little of my own. I will attend to the needs of my family. I will pay my bills. I will hug my dogs. I will exercise, eat right and go through the motions. I will unpack my suitcases and I will breathe...

and continue to cry.... and continue to remember... and continue to trust....

I am one of many grievers. We cannot journey through life and be untouched. Our bodies are frail. We are all guaranteed death. Death can come upon us when it is least expected. Even anticipated death cuts as a knife.

A few years ago, I left my large home in suburban North Carolina to return to this little blue collar New England town to be close to my parents "in their final years". My folks were still in "good health" but I moved here to be near them for when they needed me. I would care for them because I loved them. It was professional suicide but I didn't care, because family matters more.

I mentally calculated how long I would probably have with them. I figured if my father lived to be around the age of his parents... mid 80's to 90's... multiplied by the number of days that I could stop in and visit that would mean many more years of meaningful contact. I bet on something that wasn't guaranteed. My calculations were off.

I should have known better. I had dreams about my dad being taken from me before I was ready. I attributed it to fear and discounted it. I should have known... but I didn't... how could I?

Life is precious!

Leave no words left unsaid. Love freely and openly. Hug and kiss. Live each moment as if it is your last. Look into that sweet face that is looking back at you and tell them what they mean to you. Make your life count for something.

The last time I saw my dad, just 18 hours before his death... I hugged and kissed him goodbye as always. He was sitting there in his chair, smiling at me.  "Bye Dad... see you tomorrow!" "Ok, honey... bye".





Saturday, March 9, 2013

Kristin's Eulogy of Dad

My beautiful daughter shared the following words at the "Homegoing" yesterday for Stanley Jay Vander Klay.


Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

I was being homeschooled and I’d been left at my grandparents’ house for the day when my mom ran errands. It was Grandpa’s job to help me memorize my Bible verse, psalm 139 that week. I can still remember him and I sitting by the window in the living room, him patiently reading me the psalm over and over again, or more reciting than reading, because, as I believed, Grandpa had the entire Bible memorized. He didn’t move, wasn’t distracted, until I had memorized the entire psalm to his liking. On the way home, Mom told me “Grandpa said you picked that psalm up fast. You must have gotten your mind from him.” And at that moment, my seven-year-old heart swelled with pride, because what greater compliment could I get than that I could be like him in any way.
I couldn’t have asked for a better grandfather growing up. I have countless memories of him coming sledding with us, building a snowman, sliding down the children’s slide at Fairwoods, and most of all reading. Every grandchild spent countless hours on Grandpa’s lap, listening, attention arrested as his voice resonated deep into our hearts and memories. It didn’t matter what he was reading, only that he was reading with us. His voice, used to commanding the attention of the church, made every story magic. When I did have to read to myself, however, I tried to do it in my grandpa’s study. In my mind, Grandpa and Jesus were best friends, and the study is where the two of them would visit with each other. To me, there was no more soothing room in the house. When I would stay with my grandparents and sleep in the study, I never feared nightmares, because how could bad dreams come to a room where God practically lived?
As I grew up, I began to appreciate new things about him. I listened as he punned his way through so many family conversations, and watched in awe as he showed slideshows of his time in Paterson, every photo the story of a new person whose life he had been a part of. I giggled when he told me funny stories about messing up the lyrics to church songs or reminisced about his childhood. And most of all I cherished those times when I would get my grandfather all to myself, when he would sit down with me and discuss the Bible, my religion classes, and his own Bible studies and work at the church. Other times he would bring me up to his study and show me photos of his most recent trips, naming every new person he had met. One of the last times I visited with him, I remember thinking, “I am so excited to be getting to the point in my life when I can enjoy my grandpa as much for his brain as I already do for his heart.”

But that was my grandfather. A man who was beautiful inside and out for the love he showed other people, the faith with which he walked with God, and the way that he adored his family. Psalm 139 is all about how well God knows us, how we cannot escape his love for us. But right now, verses 7-10 mostly remind me of my grandfather. He isn’t really gone. He lives in all of us, in our memories, and in the way he touched all of our lives, and I am so grateful to God for giving me the time that I had with him.