A Laundry Basket Sermon

You opened your Bible and placed it carefully on the podium, which also served as my laundry basket only a few hours earlier. You draped a cloth around your neck and wore the only white long-sleeve dress shirt that you owned.

Your First Communion

You looked out at your audience with only a slight hint of apprehension and drew in a long breath to gather your thoughts. The audience – Dad and I – sat across the room on the living room sofa. I smiled broadly with both my lips and my eyes – the way parents do when they want to encourage their child from a distance.

With your 10-year-old voice that had yet to deepen, you began reading the scripture that you had selected on your own as the basis for this surprising and quite impromptu sermon.  It was the first time you had ever done a sermon in the living room – and the last.

Yet, 17 years later, I remember the details as if they happened yesterday.

“Genesis 22:1 …” you began.

“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied. Then God said “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

You continued on, reading about Abraham and Isaac’s journey up the mountain and how Isaac eventually questioned his father about the lack of a lamb for the burnt offering.  You continued reading…

…Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.

You looked up from your Bible, making eye contact with your audience.

I was prepared to break out into sanctified applause for a job well done, but before I could do that, dad – who was not yet a Bible reader or regular church goer at that point in his life – asked the tough question. 

“Why did God do that?”

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Burntlip Smile

I was worried about it, as any mom would be.  I even kept a measurement of it, so that I could know firsthand if it was growing. It was as easy to miss as it was hard to miss. Splashed on his bottom lip was what looked like a dark ink blob that simply became part of the beautiful landscape of our son Ian‘s face.

No, it wasn’t bestowed as a beauty mark from birth.  This doozy came to Ian after the world’s worst case of chapped lips.  He was probably in middle school and was just beginning to discover his extreme love of the ocean. After a long weekend of fun in the sun, Ian developed miserable dry, cracking chapped lips that hurt like heck and made it hard to smile.

For some random reason, once his lip healed and natural moisture returned, a permanent dark splotch remained as a reminder of the painful incident.

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Hoping for hope…

I open my brand new 2020 Weekly Calendar to begin my annual ritual.  I carefully carry over the events that repeat year-after-year and log in those new activities scheduled over the past few months.  There are birthdays, anniversaries, car registration renewals and volunteer work. There’s a trip to the airport, an upcoming dentist appointment and the long-awaited conference.

I mark them carefully onto the pristine, unspoiled pages that have yet to see any signs of white-out or scribbled entries added in the rush of a busy day. For now, my handwriting is neat and tidy. The yellow highlighter adds emphasis to those especially important entries.

When I’m done, I close the book and stare hard at the gold embossed numbers that grace its cover…2020.

What I expect to feel next simply eludes me, again.

There is no swell of hope and promise that should come with the dawn of a new year.  No rush of joy that I’ve felt for so many decades before. Not this year, or last year, or the year before that.  Not since 2016…when you left for heaven.

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Never Done, Just Due

If there was ever a mantra that fits the world of journalism to a T, it’s the saying, “It’s never done. It’s just due”.

Someone told me this early on in my public relations career, most likely because I have a hard time deciding that my writing is completely finished.  If you write for a living, you know what I mean.  A piece of writing that appears to be “done” at one moment can go through more and more rounds of edits until the deadline is upon you, and you simply must stop working on it. Oh, how you could use just a few more days, a few more hours, or even just a few more minutes to finish the work.

“It’s never done. It’s just due.”

Ian was a writer, too.  It was in his high school years that I recognized his knack for it, as did his teachers. His research was usually quite solid and his thought process on point, but what really made my heart soar was Ian’s ability to turn a phrase with flair and style.  He was on his way to being a true wordsmith.

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The Signature

There I sat wiping away tears in a crowded restaurant – again.

I gazed down onto the three letters I – A – N … strung together in a manner so that I could pick it out in a line-up of a hundred other “Ian” signatures.  It was his actual signature cast perfectly into a delicate silver ring. The signature looked exactly how I had seen it so very many times before when he signed his name to an important letter, note, and later in life, on a sales contract.

The ring featured the “neat” version, not the signature he used when signing a check or on one of those ridiculous credit card machines. In those cases, you’d only see the “I” and the rest was barely more than a straight line. I remember that I chuckled the first time I saw it. I think he was in middle school and I asked him if he thought he was a doctor or a rock star. Actually, I love that he learned to use the sloppy signature at such a young age, as if he intuitively understood that sometimes it mattered and other times it simply did not. Sometimes you steal away a few seconds to keep for yourself – because seconds add up to minutes, minutes add up to days.

We know — all too well — that every single second matters…

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There was Patience, There was Peace

Ian stared up at the ceiling from the bed at the naturopathic treatment center, unable to move any part of his body below the neck. For most of the 10 days we spent there, he was getting intravenous high dose Vitamin C and a host of last-chance protocols commonly used in European countries to fight cancer. During this time, Ian’s mind was relatively strong. Except for the last few days his life, he was aware of his rapid decline.

I often wondered what was going through his mind.

This was new for me. I had always known exactly what was going on his mind — Ian could talk and he loved to share! He easily filled up an entire 30-minute drive home from school with colorful stories of the day’s adventures. Things didn’t change much when he started his new job straight out of college. I knew about the potential clients, the presentations, the contracts that closed and the ones that did not. He texted me often and kept me posted on just about everything.

But, here I am, 22 months since our beloved son’s passing to Heaven, and I’m left still wondering what was he thinking in his final days on earth? Was he devastated? Was he still hopeful? Did he ever resign to his soon departure? If he did, he never shared that with me. He chose not to talk about the end.

One thing I know is that through his entire 8-month battle with cancer, he never uttered one word of victimized complaint to me. I never heard him ask, “Why me?”

Not once.

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The Hedge

I feared the hedge would die.

One day, in the middle of the chaos, I dared to dream that the hedge would make it.

I imagined how we would later tell the story of the dying hedge in our front yard as a metaphor of how you faced down your near-death experience with cancer, but you came back with vigor to live out the rest of your days with renewed focus and perspective.

We would explain how the dry branches appeared beyond resuscitation. It was that pesky, destructive white fly that snuck in under the radar and spread relentlessly beneath the abundant beautiful green leaves and orange hibiscus blossoms. Continue reading “The Hedge”

#18 Months

Is it strange that I count the months you’ve been gone in the same way that parents count the months of an infant child’s life? Each month, as time slips by, I can’t believe we’ve made it this far without you here.

Yet, if the pattern holds true, I’ll stop counting the months soon. Just a few more months and we will likely start referencing your absence in years — should anyone ask how long it’s been.

No matter how or if I express the breadth of your absence on any given day, I always know exactly how long it’s been …

because losing a child is nothing like having a child.

To watch your child grow is the ultimate privilege. Fully in awe of the miracle, you instinctively know that he or she is a gift and you celebrate the milestones, month by month, and then year after year.

When there is life, this formula is sustainable. It propels you forward.

When there is death, this formula is difficult to sustain.

For 18 months, I have quite literally been walking with my head turned in the opposite direction … looking backwards.

If I continue this formula, I fear it will sink me.

So, where do I go from here?

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A Smile to Remember

The hospital bed in the middle of our living room was surrounded by sofas that served as seating for those who came to say goodbye. Hospice workers came and went, addressing Ian’s “comfort” needs that changed drastically with each passing day.

Pastor Glenn arrived on Monday to pray with us, again. This time, he gently told Ian that while we continue to pray for a miracle, it was time to consider that God was preparing a place for him.

But Ian was not ready…

Even Jesus asked God to “let this cup pass from me” before going to the cross.

Pastor Glenn later reassured us that even if Ian wasn’t ready to leave, God had him – his child – by the hand and would not let go.

Six days after returning home from our Hail Mary attempt at the naturopathic treatment center, the good Lord dispatched his Angels for our precious Ian.

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A Glimpse of Heaven

“Ma, can you show me around?” Ian asked as daybreak arrived.

Grimacing in pain, Ian slowly sat up in bed. I pushed the wheelchair as close as I could to the large king-sized bed. Taking hold of him under booth arms, I moved him onto the wheelchair. I then pushed him very carefully over the sliding-door track so as not to put any more pressure onto his aching neck.

We exited the room onto the grounds of the naturopathic treatment center where we were scheduled to stay for the next 14 days. I wheeled him through the property that featured lush trees, hammocks and a mostly empty lava pond. He soaked in the beauty for about five minutes but suddenly said, “Let’s go back.”

I knew the pain and pressure on his spine had caught up with him. I rushed him back into the room. As I transferred him back into bed, he sweetly thanked me for taking him outside. “I just wanted to be sure I wasn’t going to be stuck in this bed forever,” he added with a small smile.

The very hard truth is that Ian would not leave that bed again under his own power, as paralysis continued to take over.

When we arrived at the treatment center the day before, Ian was too exhausted from the plane ride over to notice the beautiful surroundings. As soon as we arrived, he was placed into a large, quaint room with ample space for us to stay by his side.

My heart surged with hope for the first time in weeks. We made it to the Big Island. The center was beautiful and very unlike the harsh hospitals Ian had come to know all too well that year.

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