All the things he will not see

I’m on page 10 of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See and I just read a blog post called This is 39 by the amazing Allison Slater Tate. Both of these things made me think of Kenny. Not at all because of their content but, like many things, my thoughts were turned to a life unfulfilled. He was 39 and I continue to mourn not only his death, but also all the things he (we) will not do or see.

He will not walk down the aisle at the end of his wedding with a smokin’ hot new wife. He will not hold a first born child. He will not get revenge on the Lake Placid Ironman course. He will not see peace in Gaza. He will not see Boko Haram, ISIS, and Al Qaeda brought to justice. He will not learn Arabic. He will not buy a house. He will not finally get lasik. He will not turn 40. He will never see the Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore or the Great Pyramids.

But, oh what he did see and do. He traveled Europe. He played his tootles  in France. He finished Ironman, four times. He read so many books. He made thousands of people laugh. He inspired children and adults. He watched his Dad kick cancer’s a**. He became #7 in his Mom’s second grade classroom. He went to college and grad school and loved playing the clarinet even when he hated it. He loved his sister with a ferocity beyond measure. He was a patriot. And he tried on a wedding ring and it made him that much more handsome.

And, he will see so much more. For if we truly believe in the promise of the resurrection, we know how he is spending his days. Listening to Nana’s stories. Playing fetch with Parker and Juddy. Talking war stuff with lots of people include Murph and Erik. Cracking wise with Robin Williams. And playing duets with Gigliotti and Mozart. And he gets to do all of this free of pain, anxiety, fear of the future, and full of love. And this, for a least a moment, gives me peace.

reading in 2015

(taking an aside from all the heavy posts of the last few months…)

I saw this graphic on facebook and was super excited about it. I love to read. I love to share what I read and I love getting new ideas for what should be on my current stack. This provides a great challenge.

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This looks right up my alley to diversify my reading list and, perhaps, keep me focused. So based the categories above, I have created my list:

  • A book I’ve been meaning to read: Daring Greatly-Brene Brown
  • A book published this year: The Teenage Brain-Frances E. Jensen, MD
  • A book from a genre you don’t usually read: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-Douglas Adams
  • A book from your childhood: The Hobbit-JRR Tolkien  (I’ve actually never read it.)
  • A book your mom loves: Return of the Native-Thomas Hardy
  • A book originally published in a different language: The Odyssey-Homer (oy.)
  • A book that everyone has read but you: The Lowland-Jhumpa Lahiri (I’m totally cheating, I really want to read this and I’m late to the party.)
  • A book you chose because of the cover: No Mud, No Lotus-Thich Nhat Hanh
  • A book by your favorite author: The Sandcastle Girls-Chris Bohjalian
  • A book recommended by someone with great taste (Virginia M!): The Secret History-Donna Tarte
  • A book you should have read in high school: Their Eyes Were Watching God-Zora Neale Hurston
  • A book that’s currently on the bestseller list: All the Light We Cannot See-Anthony Doerr

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I tried to build this entire list with books I already had on my to-read shelves at home. I only needed to buy two!! (Yes, Mom, I have a library card….but I like to touch the books forever!)

What would be on your list? Want to do a virtual book club? (Or if you’re local, a wine based one?)

#allthebooks15

ashes to ashes

In his message to the congregation this week, the rector of All Souls Memorial Church in Woodley Park, Father John Beddingfield, spoke of our own ashes for the year. He said, “mediating on the ashes of my expectations and assumptions might invite me to recall that God is in charge, and God alone.” Within this sentence he makes plain the need for us to connect to our own “things” and lay them upon the altar for ashes.

I have a set of ashes on my mantle. The small thimble full of ashes of my beloved who await their final resting place. And I will have a second set of ashes soon too, that of my sweet pup Parker. The third member of our Thomuto team, who joined his Dad today and will have his final resting place with him some day. In these ashes lay the loss not only of my two loves and my family, but in the loss of expectations and plans for the future.

So I might wallow a bit in metaphorical sackcloth and ashes but I realize that this will not draw me nearer to God. It is these deep, horrible, painful losses that I see plain that I do not have control. My own plans, expectations, and goals may not be in line with God’s plan and purpose for my life. While I probably could have sufficed with a loss of job or a broken bone, God needed me my heart to be broken in order to truly reveal himself to me. And so, God does, daily revealing wisdom through friends, words, sunsets, compassionate gestures, endless boxes of kleenex, strong coffee, television characters, and the laughter of children.

These ashes remain with me, not as a punishment, but as a reminder that the promise of God, through the resurrection, is the greatest gift. Henri Nouwen, in his book Turn My Mourning into Dancing, quotes Thomas Merton, “the real hope is not in something we think we can do, but in God, who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see.” My hope remains in the Lord—whose ashes I bear as witness to his sacrifice and salvation.

As we approach the season of Lent, I seek to honor these ashes. I seek to reach a place of gratitude that allows me to celebrate the past, honor it, and move forward on the path that God is building ahead of me. Ken and I used the word forward a lot. We talked about how, in the midst of job struggles, dog struggles, motivation struggles, that we needed to keep moving forward. We needed to keep up the pursuit of our goals. I still want to move forward. And I want to move forward with the knowledge that my goals and expectations may not fall into God’s wide net for my life. I will be corrected and I will be grateful.

May this season of Lent allow you to examine your own need to create ashes. Your own place for renewal. May you be graced with clarity, simplicity, and peace.

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choosing the possibilities

I was a stubborn child. I did not like transitions. I did not like change. This battle went on all the way through high school. But then I went to college 1200 miles away from home. And after that…went on a year long adventure across the country with opera. I learned to recognize the value of change. How we are constantly evolving and shaping based on our community and our circumstances. (I also learned that I really don’t like eggplant and I can tolerate mushrooms.)

The last three months have been a whirlwind of change. Adaptations require energy output only matched by new parents and medical students, I imagine. The daily endurance race of living feels like 100 Ironman races. (Ok, at least it feels harder than one.)

Yet, life moves forward. Change occurs. And leaps of faith, in the arms of God, are part of living. My next leap of faith will take me to a new job in a new part of the country. There are more unknowns than knowns and while this could be paralyzing, it is a joy. Henri Nouwen in Turn My Mourning into Dancing writes, “A person of faith is willing to let new things happen and shoulder responsibilities that arise from unheard of possibilities.”  I choose the possibilities. I choose to open my heart, mind, and life to what God has in store. To recognize that change is part of His plan. I rejoice in this fact, even amid the still daily journey of suffering.

Just as this cold winter will lead to a rebirth of life in the spring, so too shall my life renew itself–I must only accept the change.

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grieving with St. Alicia

In the last two months, I have binge watched the first five seasons of The Good Wife. (I am now begrudgingly paying Amazon 2 bucks an episode to catch up on Season 6.) I have become immersed in the world of Alicia Florrick as she navigates through her family scandal, raises her kids, negotiates and fights for her clients, and her own survival. I have cheered when she wins, cringed when she makes a shady deal, and literally wept for joy the first time she finally kissed Will Gardner. (I have loved Josh Charles since Dead Poets Society and truly fell in love with him in college as my roomie and I watched Threesome more times than can be counted. #musicmother)

Having had no previous knowledge of anything about The Good Wife other than knowing it was Emmy winning and well-received, I had no idea what was coming in Season 5, Episode 15. (*If you don’t know, stop reading, right now.) I also had no idea that a television show would become a short term companion on coming to grips with death, grief, and ptsd.

When the tragedy of this episode occurred, I found myself gasping for air. The tragic, gruesome, and sudden death of my favorite character (Will) left me anxious, my heart palpitating, and my brain swirling with memories of the worst day. I had to look away and cover the screen in the mortuary scenes. It was too real. This was the first time in my life where I have struggled to keep the fourth wall. I am an educated person; why does this feel like it is more than a television drama?

As I watched the few episodes that followed, I found myself grieving with Alicia. Her process of confusion, anger, sadness, unexpected breakdowns, exhaustion, and consumption of wine all mirror my own process grief. One night, I had to turn off the show and turn to another (thanks Josh and Toby) because it just seemed all too close. Yet, I kept watching and somehow, as she walked through the mire, I felt a sense of hope. While my grief is far from healed and I can’t wrap up all the pain in a 46 minute episode, I still feel like I know I’ll find light at some point. I can’t predict when or where or how, but I know it is there.

And while I can now watch TGW with less angst and more criticism (seriously, the Cary/Kalinda thing…I just don’t get it. Also, Alan Cumming is always perfection), I feel a bit of gratitude. Somehow I was meant to watch this show at this time and recognize my own issues through this well-crafted character. And for that, I thank St. Alicia.

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PS-Here is some Matt Czuchry eye candy. You’re welcome.

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could’ve should’ve would’ve

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the could’ves and should’ves in my life. Of course, there are a lot of pieces that “were supposed to be” in these last two months. The entire world has flipped around and it’s led me to wonder about planning and hoping. We make broad  and detailed plans and we often get crushed when our plans fail–whether it be the roast in the oven, the lesson plan, the job interview, the lack of children, or the marriage. If we dwell in what has not come to pass, our hearts can easily get lost in sadness or despair. However, God steps in and reminds us…(as cliche as this verse is…)

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How can I possibly know for sure what is in store? I cannot. Should I sit idly by? No, but I put my trust in the fact that no matter how hard I work and plan that the ultimate answers are not in my hands. This could break my heart or serve as a liberation. I see it as the latter; what a liberation to know that despite any pain or brokenness that I feel now, that it is not forever pain. (I have to talk myself into this regularly as do friends, but I know it logically that it is not lifetime pain.)

Sara Groves puts it best HERE (If you don’t know Sara Groves by now….you must listen to here entire collection on Spotify. Right now.)

As I stare down the tunnel to 2015, I put hope to work. I put the hope that I am not alone into practice. I put my hope in the future that is unknown and may be wild or sedate, raggedy or awesome, successful or wrought with failure. No matter what, I cling to the hope that all of the could’ves, should’ves, would’ves, mustnt’s, don’ts, won’ts will have a purpose for me.

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“Hope is the memory of the future.” — Gabriel Marcel

Christmas Eve Rambles.

Technically, it is already Christmas. I’ve arrived home from services with a lot to process and I need time before I can transition to sleep and then to family, presents, and food “tomorrow.” So here we go…

I love Christmas Eve. Carols are my favorite, especially when they are the Willcocks edition of anything. I love the candles and the telling of Luke 2. I love post-communion silent night, in the dark, a Capella . I love that all the waiting for Jesus through our Advent passes and we get to celebrate on this special night.

As you might imagine, celebrating has not been first on my list this year. I’m more focused on getting through each day without inconsolable tears, making sure Parker doesn’t bite anyone, and keeping my house to a relative level of dirt. My energy for these first two things, plus trying to give my best at work with my kids has not really given me enough left to celebrate.

I’ve had the blessing these last few months of being a staff singer at an Episcopal church in DC. This has been such a gift. While it takes me away from my blessed home parish, it has given me a sense of purpose for a few hours each Sunday. Helping others worship by making beautiful music. And tonight was no exception. Two services-a Lessons and Carols and a Midnight Mass. It was a long evening-a full day’s work. The second service was just the small group of staff and choral scholars. I felt a sense of pressure to do my best. And that pressure was important because there were moments where I could feel my sadness begin to envelop me. I had to work exceedingly hard to hold back my tears. I had to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand; making music to glorify God.

There was a small moment where I felt alone. In the realization that this was the first time in 36 years that I was without my family on Christmas Eve. But then I took a breath, looked out into the congregation and turned my mind another way. I was not alone, I was a “very member incorporate in the body of Christ.” This is part of why we have (the) church. For these moments when one feels alone, broken, sad…we are a part of this body that will pull us in and point is to our healer, our comforter, our joy-giver. And tonight, we all got to attend His birthday. All of us.

While I’m still awake and still a little weepy—I’m now home with a snuggling and sleepy dog—I am not inconsolable tonight because of the greatness of God and the gift of His Son. And while I may not be celebrating in my usual way and I am still broken, my heart is grateful.

Thank you, Church. Thank you, baby Jesus; Happy Birthday.

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PS-here is the link to the wonderful sermon from Fr. John Beddingfield at All Souls Memorial Church, Washington, DC