Twenty-three and Flying

First I turn 57-½, and now I have a 23-year-old child. The numbers are racking up! What the heck is going on? Where has the time gone?! It reminds me of a time when I was in my mid to late twenties, working my first real job as a young government lawyer in Washington, D.C., and it suddenly dawned on me that I was no longer “right out of college.” That was the day I witnessed a group of young people who truly were “right out of college” disembark en masse from a bus. One look at these babies, and I was struck by the cold harsh reality that I was NO LONGER “right out of college.”

Now I see young moms at the YMCA carting their little boys and a part of me still identifies as close in age. Or at least closer than the “old ladies” in my exercise classes. Maybe I am just young at heart. Or immature. Or delusional.

In any event, today is my son’s 23rd birthday and, hard as it to wrap my brain around, I now have a child who is “right out of college.” And as I have found with most of my life as a parent, just when I get used to one phase, things change and I’m forced to adapt to a new one.

I am finding this “right out of college” parenting phase quite fascinating. My son is now completely independent from us. He has his own place to live, a car, a job, and a bank account. We try to talk to him once a week (if he has time) and we text often. But after years of controlling, then directing, then advising his actions, it is part unnerving, part deeply gratifying, to step back and watch him navigate life on his own. He still sometimes calls for advice, but his decisions are clearly his. And wise ones. It’s like finally nudging the baby bird out of the nest, taking a deep breath, and watching him soar.

There is freedom in not being responsible for him. And immense pride in the responsible, competent, unaffected adult he has become. My grandest joy, however, is the genuine love and affection my husband (his father) and I share with him. It is perhaps the greatest prize of parenting to raise a child that becomes a treasured adult companion.

My son currently lives halfway across the country from us, and although part of me wishes we were closer and more intertwined in his life, it oddly feels right to be physically removed from him. (I do remember being 23, and being glad my mother was not too close by.) At this phase of his life, he is truly coming into his own and this is his time to soar (especially since he is just starting flight training!) We love the excitement of getting updates on his life and marveling at his adventures from afar.

We also find it rather exhausting when he comes home to visit. We forget about the hours that “right out of college” aged people keep, and it always seems someone is coming or going in our house while he’s there.   Much as we love the visit, and we are incredibly sad when he leaves, we also welcome the return of quiet and routine and appreciate the “empty nest” life we’ve grown accustomed to.

My drawing on a recent card I sent my son, totally age-appropriate for a twenty-three year old

My drawing on a recent card I sent my son, totally age-appropriate for a twenty-three year old

As with every other period of his life, I grieve the passing of each stage, since I’ve cherished them all, but I am eager to see what’s next. Like turning the pages of a captivating novel, I am excited to see how this story unfolds, without the pressure of being the author. In this tale, I’m proud of the hero, and am more than content being a supporting character. Happy birthday to my son who occasionally makes me feel old, but keeps me forever young.

Christmas Peace

The older I get, the more melancholy I feel around Christmas. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the holiday season. I love the traditions and Christmas trees and cookie baking and lights and carols. But the innocent, pure joy and excitement I felt as a child have given way to a more nuanced experience of the holidays.

This year, as I decorated our Christmas tree, I was reminded of my blog post from two years ago entitled Christmas Memories. Just as I related in that post, the powerful remembrances elicited by unpacking our boxes of family Christmas decorations are enough to plunge me into sudden gloom.   Even though I am generally excited about the upcoming holidays (especially for our son’s homecoming tomorrow), I found myself taking frequent breaks (cookies, coffee and chocolate seemed to help) as memories of people and places and times past came flooding back. I grieved over the loss of my beloved parents and stepson, and a broken relationship with another family member. I missed the days when our son was a young boy and I was a young mom. The mere recognition of the passage of so much time causes its own despair.

I find myself grieving over our broken world. The seemingly everyday news of bombings and shootings and ISIS and terror feels overwhelming to me.   I’m often disappointed by a lack of clear moral leadership coming from political (highlighted in this current presidential election circus) and religious leaders.

While preparing for our family Christmas, I heard from two friends experiencing tragic circumstances amidst this holiday season. One friend’s son was seriously injured in a sports-related accident, her father died, and she broke her hip – all within a couple weeks. Another friend, as a result of a series of setbacks, was on the brink of losing her home. I felt heavy and helpless. What am I to do with all this suffering? And how can I feel the joy of the season with so much brokenness around me? I did what little I could for my friends – I visited the first friend, brought her lunch, Christmas cookies and a wreath (since she couldn’t drive to get one). I sent the other friend some money and prayed for her. But I struggle with a sometimes overpowering sense of futility and pain when people around me are hurting.

How can I feel the joy of the season with so much brokenness around me?

How can I feel the joy of the season with so much brokenness around me?

And then last Sunday, as if on cue, God met me and blessed me.   The church sermon that morning was entitled “Waiting for God to Send Peace.” Our Pastor Megan spoke to our challenge as Christians in finding the peace of Christ in a broken world. It was the sermon for which I had been longing and I needed to hear. It reminded me that, although I can’t turn a blind eye to violence around me, my peace comes through my relationship with God. My worldly responsibility is to show compassion in the midst of pain and strife. Pastor Megan reminded us of Jesus’ parting words to his disciples:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

That same afternoon, our church sponsored a concert entitled “What Shall We Give Him?” highlighting Courtney B. Vance reading the Christmas Scripture from Luke 2. I found myself weeping while listening to the music and the words of the sacred Christmas music. When the Christmas Scripture from Luke was read, what initially caught my attention were these words:

In those days a decree went out from emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Ouirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.

Holy cow! Was the family of Jesus Christ an early example of Syrian refugees? As I sat contemplating current events in light of this text, I abruptly felt the convergence of the past, presence and future. I was unexpectedly comforted by the words of carols, many I’ve heard since I was a child, but which in that moment took on new and powerful meaning.

Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the new born King,

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

God blessed me with the reassurance that my care of my friends and family, that my voice for good in the world, will make a difference, and that He will give me peace. As I left the church, like Mary, “pondering all these things in my heart,” the words of Scottish poet Alexander Smith finally made perfect sense: “Christmas is the day that holds all time together.”

In Defence of Halloween

I have a confession to make. Actually two. At 57 years old, I still love Halloween. Boom. Second, I had every intention of writing a more serious topic post this week, but I really just wanted to write about Halloween. Boom. As a compromise, and to add gravitas to my topic, I used the English spelling title.

One of my friends half-jokingly said, this Halloween, that she and her husband were the “Scrooges of all saints eve” and were planning to turn off the lights and block their porch with their SUV, partly to protect trick-or-treaters and other vulnerable human beings from eating all that “sugar crap”.  Other friends vehemently object to celebrating a holiday of dark pagan origins.

To the naysayers, I reply, “Fine! I don’t care!” I love Halloween. I’ve always loved Halloween. And for me, it has nothing to do with candy or reverence for otherworldly spirits. For goodness sake, I grew up in a sensible Presbyterian family with a Navy dentist father who inspected our Halloween candy and tossed the items most likely to cause dental problems.

No, for me, Halloween is magical, and communal. I have nothing but wonderful Halloween memories. As a little girl, dressed in my favorite little fairy princess costume, waiting eagerly for darkness to fall, grabbing my father’s hand as I skipped through our neighborhood, transformed (in my eyes) to an enchanted pixie world. As a teenager in San Diego, braving the annual Young Life haunted house in Mission Valley with my friends (and getting the holy $#%&$ scared out of me) while knowing nothing truly horrible would happen.   The Halloween party my first year of law school, when I somewhat nervously wore my hand-made costume (I went as a bag of groceries) and where my classmates and I first really relaxed with each other, the beginning point of great lifelong friendships.

Although I have a Halloween-neutral spouse, I was blessed with a son who loves Halloween just as much, if not more, than I do. He could barely contain himself each year as the season approached. I was a total enabler, putting on elaborate Halloween kids’ parties each year for him and his little friends, usually planning it months in advance and taking an entire day off work to decorate. One year, I assembled a complicated string maze game in which every kid would have his or her own string to unravel to a prize waiting at the end. It took hours to set up, and about 10 minutes to finish, resulting in a room full of kids wound up like cocoons. The parents would also come to these parties, and we would all play games, eat pizza and then go trick-or-treating together. And for my son, like me, it was not about the candy, but the pursuit. Every year, his pillowcase full of candy would be largely untouched, and finally disposed of before Christmas. We just didn’t eat many sweets in our house and he never acquired the taste.

As my son got older, we collaborated on his costumes. My all-time favorite was the Baked Potato. He wore black sweats, I swaddled him in Reynolds Wrap, and he sported a yellow beanie (butter, get it?) on his head. By the time he flew around the first corner that Halloween night, the foil was already unwrapping and soaring behind him like a gleaming jet airplane. Another year, we shopped the crazy vintage shops on Sunset Blvd. and assembled a killer Jimi Hendrix costume and wig.

After my son left for college, the first couple Halloweens weren’t nearly as much fun. I enjoyed greeting the trick-or-treaters, but it just wasn’t the same. The past two years, we visited our son in Annapolis and attended the phenomenal and magical annual Halloween Concert in the USNA Chapel.

But now our son has graduated and he’s truly on his own. (BTW, he texted me a photo of him and his girlfriend at a Halloween Party in spot-on costumes as Forrest Gump and Jenny. Bravo!!). My Halloween-disinterested hubby’s big plans this year were to watch the World Series on TV and let me answer the door.

So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and reclaim the former Halloween magic! I pulled all the old Halloween decorations out of the garage and created a haunted mansion theme on our house front. I carved our pumpkin. I placed my new Bose wireless speaker in the open front window and set up my iPhone to play the Halloween stations on Pandora. I pulled an old witches outfit and wig out of the closet (always good to have a spare costume on hand for these emergency situations) and prepared for the arrival of children.

Jack-o-Lantern and hay bales on our front porch

Jack-o-Lantern and hay bales on our front porch

We had a rather large volume of trick-or-treaters. Over the course of the evening, I worked on enhancing their experience at our house. I experimented with the volume and type of music (family friendly Halloween classics, spooky sound effects, sweeping but slightly creepy movie scores), adjusted the lighting, and played around with how I presented myself. When they rang the doorbell, I would creep to the door, quietly listen to their conversation (“Oh, look at the great pumpkin!” “I love the music!”) And then when the timing was right, I would jerk the door open and, in my best Morticia Addams voice, exclaim “Hello, children!” I adjusted the fright level to make it age-appropriate, but I loved watching the kids’ eyes open wide and detecting a slight flinch when they saw me. I particularly enjoyed yanking the door open and startling the teenage boys.

I had a ball and I think the kids who came to our house did, too. A few of the parents even thanked me for my efforts. Dressing up allowed me to join in the magic with the kids. But more than that, I enjoyed sharing the evening with my neighborhood. Our next-door-neighbor came by with her two young kids (the most adorable Minnie Mouse and Captain America), Our former neighbors (who moved to a different street) brought their daughter and we briefly caught up. Our friend came by with her two grandkids. Plenty of kids I didn’t know came by, and some stopped to chat.

As a Christian woman, I certainly understand some of the criticisms with Halloween – the sugar, the commercialism, the dark Druid origins. But, to me, Halloween will always evoke the feelings and memories of magic, creativity, family and community.

The Best Trip Ever

Whenever someone asks me which was my favorite retirement trip so far, my answer is usually “The last one!” But, I have to say, with all due sincerity, this last trip may have really really truly been the Best. Trip. Ever.

Looking back, one of my stated goals, in my quest to be ‘Alive and Well’ in retirement, was to “discover rewarding activities that feed me physically, spiritually and emotionally.” In part, to pursue joy and beauty in my world.

In thinking about our last adventure, a road trip from the Pacific Northwest (Washington state) down the Pacific coast to California, there were so many elements that I’m recognizing are the building blocks (for me) of pure happiness:

Travel Bliss. Many urged me to find something my husband and I would enjoy doing together in retirement. We don’t have many common hobbies (other than our son, who technically shouldn’t be labeled a hobby) so we’ve experimented with a few of the obvious things, like hiking, biking, golf and tennis, with some success, but none of them a home run. Our “thing” seems to be travel, especially driving trips.  Some have marveled that we can be cooped up together in a car for weeks at a time, not only without killing each other, but actually enjoying ourselves. A very odd and magical thing happens on the road, and we actually seem more compatible. We have a sense of freedom when away from the responsibilities (and the unfinished projects) of home, we enjoy similar sights and activities, and we work well together as a team. With each trip, we fine-tune our processes (preparation, packing, etc.) so our travel has progressively become more fun and less stressful. On our last trip, I was particularly struck by a profound sense of joy and gratitude to have a partner, in my husband, with whom I can experience these great adventures.

Girl Time. An added bonus was that this trip started with girlfriends. I initially left home with two female friends on a two-day road trip (see my previous blog The Girls Road Trip), then spent the weekend in Sunriver, Oregon with four girlfriends. After the weekend, my husband drove up to join me. First of all, this set-up was brilliant in that I avoided the whole joint packing and departure step – by far The Most Stressful part of any trip with my husband. But more importantly, our girls weekend was pure joy and beauty in itself. Beyond the beautiful location, shopping, cupcakes, giggling, and super fun activities (like canoeing down a river á la Lewis and Clark), there was something restorative, which blessed me deeply, in being with close female friends for an extended time.

Connection with Friends. After the girls weekend, most left, one stayed, and my husband and her husband joined us for a few days. We had not previously spent extended time together as couples, but we had a delightful time getting acquainted and playing together as twosomes. We rode tandem bikes, frolicked in the pool and water slides, went for ice cream, and generally enjoyed an extended, enchanted old-fashioned double date. On our next stop, we had lunch in Portland with a college sorority sister I hadn’t seen in thirty-five years. In Seattle, we were treated to a lovely dinner with three of my favorite former work colleagues and spouses (at the charming Bainbridge Island home of one of them). The next day, we traveled via car and two ferries to a fairly remote location in Washington to visit a good friend who previously lived around the corner but moved a few years ago. We spent the afternoon touring her new town and savored a fresh salmon dinner together. Rekindling long-lost or neglected friendships or spending time and deepening bonds with current friends, has proven to be one of the best parts of retirement. I’ve met a few new friends, but I have mostly cherished the opportunity to spend more time with the people I already know and love. I generally only spend time now with the people that I want to. What a marvelously liberating realization that was!

Family Time. Our first stop after Sunriver was a 3-night visit with our niece and her family in southern Washington at their new house. Our two adorable little grandnephews had grown leaps and bounds since we last saw them in May. I played as much as I could with the boys (until they wore me out), and we had great unhurried conversations with our niece and her husband. Finally, our last stop before heading home was a night with my sister-in-law in the Bay Area. She and her husband are preparing to sell their house, which was the site of many family gatherings and weddings, and we enjoyed reminiscing. Time to visit with family across the country has been another unexpected blessing of retirement. Since we are essentially on our own (as far as family is concerned) where we live, the more frequent contact with family has been precious.

This was the view from our breakfast table at the Lake Crescent Lodge in Washington

This was the view from our breakfast table at the Lake Crescent Lodge in Washington

Breathtaking Scenery. On top of everything else, the landscape of the Pacific Northwest was arguably the most beautiful of any of our trips. At times I was stunned by God’s creation so spectacularly laid before me. We took scenic ferry rides; saw rain forests, waterfalls and redwood forests. We stayed in historic national park service lodges. We saw a long list of wildlife – gray whales, seals, seal lions, sea otters, sea elephants, elk, deer, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, fox, bobcat, bear. We went for long hikes through forests and walks through picturesque small towns. A refinement that worked well was to plan shorter daily drives with plenty of time for active stops (walking, hiking and physical activity). On previous trips, we’ve found that long unbroken stretches in the car not only wreak havoc on us physically, but also inhibit us from truly experiencing the land we are touring.

To summarize:

Travel Bliss + Girl Time + Connection with Friends + Family Time + Breathtaking Scenery = Best.Trip.Ever.

WHAT COULD BE BETTER THAN THAT?   Just ask me after our next trip.

Service Selection Day (Mom’s Edition)

There are a handful of days from my son’s life that stand out as extra special; days that I will never forget. He’s only 21, so, God willing, there will be many more, but as of now it is a small, cherished collection. I’ll never forget the day he was born. The day he started kindergarten.   The day his high school basketball team unexpectedly won the CIF championship. The day he received his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Yesterday was a day to add to the collection. It was Service Selection Day at USNA, the day that my son, along with the rest of the senior class, learned what their jobs in the military would be after graduation. They submitted their requests at the beginning of this year, and the Navy tries to honor them as much as possible, but nothing is guaranteed. Senior naval officers consider Midshipmen performance and aptitude as well as the needs of the Navy in determining assignments. There is a great deal of anxiety and tension leading up to this day. For some, this is the culmination of years of hard work leading to a hoped-for realization of a specific goal.

My son has wanted to be a pilot since he was about four years old, and a Navy pilot since about ten. It was to achieve this goal that he applied for and won an Appointment to Annapolis. At the beginning of this year, he formally requested Navy Pilot as his first choice service selection.

Since he’s a son (and not a daughter) there was, quite typically, not a lot of conversation around Service Selection Day. He mentioned the date in passing several weeks ago, and I promptly put it on my calendar (in case he forgot to tell us and we had to ask what he would be doing the next five years.) But as the date approached, I sensed it was looming large in his mind.   Last Sunday night, he brought the topic up and admitted he was nervous. He had no reason to doubt he would get pilot, but said he would be relieved to have the paper in hand. He said he would find out about 10 AM our time on Thursday.

So, here’s how Service Selection Day actually went down in our house. On Thursday morning, our cleaning lady was coming and we were rushing around getting the house ready. At around 8:30 AM, I noticed on Facebook that there was going to be a video feed of Service Selection Day for my son’s Company. So, I excitedly fumbled around on the computer and got a video feed of the empty Company ward room. While waiting for things to get going, we went back to getting the house ready. Finally, I saw a few guys file into the room on the screen and someone began talking about (as far as I could tell since it was garbled) their pay package (which I figured was the intro to Service Selection).   I saw one of my son’s friends on the screen so I texted him to say I couldn’t really understand what anyone was saying in the video feed. Then I went back to the house.

Then my son called my husband’s cell phone, and my husband was trying to get my son on speaker and he ran to the computer to see if we could see him, and he was yelling into the phone that we had the ward room on the screen and that he should go in and we would be able to see him once Service Selection started. Meanwhile, my son is saying “Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad………DAD!, DAD!, DAD!……and finally, DAAAAAAAD!!!!!” And our son shouted, “I just got my Service Selection!” And we both said “What?!” And I said something about it not being 10:00 AM so how could he get his service selection already, and how come he wasn’t on the video feed? And then we both stopped and listened and then we heard that utter joy, that utter excitement in his voice as he continued.   “I have good news!” We held our breath. “I got NAVY PILOT!!!!!!” I just remember screaming and jumping and hugging and crying a little bit. But mostly, I was incredibly relieved and happy.

The newly selected Navy Pilots from 29th Company

The newly selected Navy Pilots from 29th Company

After we hung up, I realized we were viewing the wrong video feed. We were watching an old session about their retirement program. And when we tried to watch a replay of the Service Selection video, we saw some of our son’s Company-mates, but not him.  There had been a problem with the video feed and half of the session was not captured. But, you know, it wasn’t important. We saw how the process worked and some of his friends getting their service assignments. And hearing our son’s excited voice on the phone was pure gold.

I fired off several texts and messages with the big news and then headed over to my Gentle Yoga class. Which was absolutely the wrong place for me to go right then. I was as amped up as if I’d downed 4 or 5 Red Bulls, and trying to “center” myself and “breathe” was almost impossible.. I really should have done Zumba or some other activity that would’ve allowed me to jump and dance and sing, because that’s what I really needed to do.

Twenty-four hours later, I’m still amped up. I can sometimes let the “What If’s” cause me great anxiety, and the “What if he doesn’t get pilot” was especially distressing to consider. So I am feeling relief. I am extremely grateful that one of any mom’s worse nightmares – her child suffering a crushing disappointment – did not come to pass. But, more than that, I take great joy in seeing my son achieve an important step toward his dream. Unlike grade school, where my husband and I were right there to provide assistance, prodding and guidance, this achievement was due entirely to his own efforts. I could not be more proud.

Of course, there are more trials, tests and challenges ahead before the ultimate goal of Navy Jet Pilot is achieved. But now is not the time to worry about tomorrow, because I am content to savor this moment and cherish this day.

Good Ole Rupe

Capt Brooke's obituary in the January-February 2014 Edition of Shipmate Magazine

Capt Brooke’s obituary in the January-February 2014 Edition of Shipmate Magazine

Today we received our March-April 2014 edition of Shipmate, the magazine published by the Alumni Association of the US Naval Academy. My husband is a 1967 graduate and my late father Bob was also an alumnus, graduating with the great class of 1947. Dad passed away on Veterans Day in 2005. I still really miss him.

Alas, the first thing I turn to is the Last Call section, which features obituaries by class year. I check both the 1967 and 1947 sections, dreading the sight of a familiar name amongst these pages. Once I get through Last Call, then I feel comfortable reading other news and articles.

Today I finished Last Call for both classes and didn’t see any names I recognized. Then I began reading the Class News. Midway through the 1947 Class News I read “The joys of our Holiday Season were dimmed by the following losses from our ranks: …………….Rupert Brooke……………,”

My heart sank when I read that Rupert Brooke had died. I felt that old familiar punched-in-the-gut feeling. Again. He was a dear friend and long-time tennis partner of my Dad’s. He and Dad had a standing weekly tennis date in San Diego (where they both retired) for years. Dad would invariably come back from one of his tennis dates with another uproarious story about “Good Ole Rupe” (as he always called him).

I only met Capt. Brooke (as I called him) a few times, but he was such a central character in my Dad’s life that he became one of those people who felt like an old friend in mine.   I knew that Capt. Brooke had been a Tailhook naval aviator and he regaled my father (who as a Navy dentist was a bit of wimp himself but loved vicarious flying) with stories of carrier landings and other thrilling daredevil aviator adventures.

At one point, shortly before my father’s cancer diagnosis, he told me that ‘Ole Rupe’ was very sick – that he had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of skin cancer and was not expected to survive.   I don’t recall my Dad ever being sadder.

As fate would have it, Capt. Brooke survived that bout of cancer while my father did not. In fact, Capt. Brooke missed my father’s funeral due to his own hospitalization.

Once Capt. Brooke recovered, I took my Mom to have lunch with the Brookes, and he wrote me a series of letters with stories about my Dad and offering encouragement to my son (who was pursuing an appointment to USNA himself). When my mother passed away three years later, Capt. Brooke was again quick to offer condolences and support, and in the years since we exchanged Christmas cards and I received occasional notes of encouragement.  I haven’t received anything from Capt. Brooke in the past couple years and in fact one letter I wrote to him last summer went unanswered so I feared a turn for the worse.

And now ‘Good Ole Rupe’ is gone. And I am heartbroken. Capt. Brooke was one of the few remaining threads to my Dad. The more time elapsed and the more friends and associates gone, the more “final” my Dad’s death feels. News like Capt. Brooke’s death stirs up sorrow for my Dad anew and begins another cycle of grief.

I turned to the previous Shipmate edition and found the obituary for Capt. Brooke (which I had apparently missed). I read that Capt. Brooke was born and raised in Oklahoma City and that he met his wife of 67 years when they were both in junior high school. He had two kids and six grandchildren and was a weekly calculus tutor for struggling students at a nearby high school. And I know that he was an inspiration to me and a beloved friend to my Dad. You will be missed, Capt. Brooke. Rest in peace. Say hello to my Dad for me. He will be delighted to have his favorite tennis partner back.

 

Miracle in the Desert

Our recent trip to Phoenix included a profound and inspirational encounter that truly blessed me.  It came unexpectedly in the form of a two-hour conversation on the patio at a public golf course.   It was what I like to call a “God Sighting.”   I asked for and received permission to write about it in my blog.

Kim was my stepson David’s girlfriend.  I don’t recall exactly when we first met, but I know I liked her immediately.  She was very young, tall and beautiful; but she had an endearing sweetness and genuineness.  I thought she was a good match for David.  He was a handful, and Kim was adventurous and athletic enough to keep up, and with a mind of her own to hold him in check.  They had their ups and downs, but she was kind and loyal, and generally a good influence on him. Over time, I really grew to love her.

When David died in a snowboarding accident in 2002, Kim was devastated.  In the immediate aftermath, we spent significant time together grieving. I was heartbroken over losing David and all the other aspects of his life that I would miss – his friends, his future wife, his future children, his future life.  Although I didn’t fully understand it at the time, I was also sorry to lose Kim as part of my life.

As fate would have it, Kim married VJ, who was one of David’s good friends.  We kept in touch sporadically over the years and through these brief exchanges I learned Kim and VJ moved to the Phoenix area and had two little girls; that she had struggled mightily with David’s death for years; and that she and VJ had encountered significant issues in their marriage.  Her most recent message to me, however, was upbeat, and conveyed that through hard work on their marriage, and God’s help, they had emerged stronger and more deeply in love.  We also agreed to meet when my husband and I were in Scottsdale for our Spring Training trip.

Thinking about Kim reminded me of the ripple effect of a death, and how so many lives are changed forever.  There are untold people or ways we may never even be aware of.  With David’s death, I have been mindful of various family members struggling in different ways.  And Kim was another victim of his death.   The last time we saw her in person, the year David died, she was a frightened, confused and shattered young woman.  I wasn’t sure what to expect now.  Would it be awkward?  Would she still be broken after all these years? My expectation was that our role in this visit might be chiefly support and comfort.

On our first full day in Scottsdale, she met us alone at the golf course.  As we walked off the course my heart leapt for joy as she rushed toward us with a huge smile.  She was a more mature, but still beautiful, version of the girl I remembered.

 “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (English Standard Version, Psalm 34:18)

 As the three of us sat on the patio, we caught up on the here and now, reminisced about the past, and about David, and we laughed and cried.  It was not at all awkward: rather there was an easy familiarity. She was keenly interested in hearing about our son (David’s half-brother) and about us. Then she told us about her life in the years since David’s death.

What emerged was the story of a strong, courageous and confident woman who had walked through the valley of death and by faith and determination had found healing, transformation and redemption in her life and in the life of her family.  What stuck me most was her fierce love for her two young daughters, who obviously fuel her drive.   Her eyes light up when she talks about her girls.  She spoke in great detail about each of them and their special talents and abilities.  She is a mother who listens to and notices the individual gifts of each child and finds ways to nurture them.

As Kim spoke of her mother, Patricia, I remembered that Kim shared a similarly strong bond with her own mother.  Patricia is now a source of support for Kim with the girls. In fact, Patricia just left with Kim’s oldest daughter on a special grandma-granddaughter trip to Paris. Kim has surrounded herself and her girls with love and support.

Kim has not lost her sweetness and genuineness.  She spoke openly and lovingly about her husband, the trials they have been through, and the life they have built together.  I can only imagine how complicated and difficult it must have been to work through the issues of having a “ghost” in the marriage.  But they fought for their marriage, and through prayer and effort, they have strengthened their bond.

 “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. “ (James 1:5-7)

Kim, VJ and their girls at the baseball game in Phoenix

Kim, VJ and their girls at the baseball game in Phoenix

The day before we left Phoenix, we met up briefly with Kim at the Dodger’s Stadium in Phoenix.  She was at the game with VJ, her two girls and her parents.  After hearing so much about all of them, I was delighted to meet them.  As we hugged good-bye, it was the hug of loved ones.  Although she is not family in the strict sense, we walked away knowing we will always be important in each other’s lives.

I felt witness to two miracles that day – the first being the divine makeover of Kim’s family and the second being the restoration of Kim in ours.   I thought, too, of how appropriate that this took place in Phoenix, named for the mythological creature that rose from the ashes to fly and soar.

 “The ash began to tremble and slowly heave itself upward.  From under the ash there rose up a young Phoenix.  It was small and looked sort of crumpled, but it stretched its neck and lifted it wings and flapped them.  Moment by moment it grew, until it was the same size as the old Phoenix.  Then the Phoenix flew up and away.”   (The legend of the Phoenix)

 I am exceedingly proud of Kim and who she has become.    I am inspired by her example of commitment.  I give praise to God for hearing and answering her prayers.  And I am grateful to have her back in my life.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  (Jeremiah 29:11)