A Shadow for a Day.

I have these friends who are AMAZING photographers. This spring, they graciously allowed me to shadow them on a few weddings here in the area. Aside from just LOVING being with them, I learned a ton.

These are a few of my favorites from the first wedding I attended. One valuable lesson that I gleaned, ironically, did not come from my friends, the photographers. It came from the bride. I told my friend, Jen, near the end of the evening that when I grow up, I want to be like Kelley.

Her special day was far from seamless, but she took it all in stride. She was truly a beautiful bride in every sense. Not just outwardly, but she also exuded poise and grace from with in that shows up in every photograph.

See for yourself….

Brookstone School: Sowing Seeds of Wisdom

Monday was probably my favorite day of the summer thus far, because I was able to spend some time at Brookstone School in order to take some photographs of their summer camp. If you are unfamiliar with this beacon of light located off of West Blvd, you should really spend a few minutes getting acquainted with its mission, because it is beautiful.

As we move through life attending to its daily, immediate needs, it can be difficult at times to look up to get a view that is outside of our natural sphere. And even if we look up, there is always the question: what could I do to make a difference?

In 1996, a group of citizens from different backgrounds did indeed “look up” and joined together to found a non-profit Christ-centered school in Charlotte’s urban core.  Their passion was to give hope-to be the ‘seed of difference’ for low-income, minority children.

Brookstone School opened its doors in 2001 with grades K-1. They expanded to K-6 in the fall of 2011 and are now on the road to their K-8 goal.

Having various friends who are board members, I have heard about this school and its progression for years. But, it was not until this past week that I got a chance to see it with my own eyes. They run outreach camps to the community during the summer months which promotes literacy in the morning and various enrichment activities in the afternoon.

This past week, a church from Davidson came down to run a VBS music camp for the kids. It was amazing to watch.

I think my biggest take away from my time, which is not earth shattering by any means, is that adults, whether young or old, really do have the capacity to make a difference in a child’s life. It was fleshed out right before my eyes as the teachers, administrators, and camp counselors gave their time and energy for the life of another who really needed it.

 

A Memorial Memory and A Childlike Faith

I feel like the Lord is constantly teaching me through my children, and I can choose whether or not I am willing to listen. It was 7 years ago that my oldest bravely walked me through a valuable life lesson. It happened on Memorial Day, which is fitting since I always seem to need reminding.

My girls were 7 and 4 that year, and we decided to spend the holiday with my grandmother who had recently been admitted into a nursing home. It was difficult for me to visit her there. Just opening the front door and encountering the aromas was an act of faith due to the scents of aging behaving like a cruel, hostile hostess I could not get past.

I am claustrophobic and being unable to breathe triggers enormous amounts of anxiety inside of me. So, in order to fully engage with my grandmother, I had to shut down my olfactory nerves before I entered the building. I essentially told my brain that what it was taking in was false. That way, I would not and could not smell any thing which created a new reality for myself and for my nose.

It is kind of like a super power.

We pulled up that Memorial Day all fairly chipper, and I remember helping my young ones out of the van. We had gone to Wendy’s before hand and picked up some Frosty’s. Since my Memaw was unable to get to this favored treat herself, we thought we would just bring it to her.

I was a bit distracted walking through the parking lot as are most mom’s with young children. I was watching them while simultaneously looking for cars. Feeling like we had made it safely across, I lifted my head and almost bumped into a man wheeling a gurney out of the side door.

Startled by his presence, I pressed my daughter’s little hands into mine. He pulled up as well, and his eyes grew very large as he took in the sight before him.  He was a mortician and was wheeling out a resident in a body bag who had recently passed away.

He looked at me and then to my young children. He mouthed very shaken, “I am so sorry.”

I looked at my children. My youngest had her eyes on her cup of ice cream, but my oldest looked up at me. Then I followed her eyes to the man and then to the gurney.

I don’t know if you have every experienced looking into a child’s eyes that were registering an acknowledgement of something, but clearly did not understand what they had taken in.

That was exactly what I saw in Maggie’s eyes. It was a type of horror confusion.

The gentleman waited for me to act, and I said the first thing that came to my mind. I faced him and whispered, “Just act natural.”

He nodded, managed a sympathetic smile, and motioned for me move on a head. We had to walk around him and his work to make it to the side-walk. We proceeded to the front gate where I let us in to the patio. I was cussing myself and the situation when I heard my oldest say, “Mommy, what was in that shiny sheet on the wheelie bed?”

“We’ll talk about it later honey,” I said. “Let’s go see Memaw because our ice cream is beginning to melt.”

We walked through the front door, and like clock work, I turned my brain off to the smelly realities.

The rest of the afternoon my daughter followed me around like a shadow. She asked me once again what it was that the man was pushing in the ‘shiny sheet.’ I brushed her off saying that we would talk later. I was too busy and needed her to run along and play.

At that moment, I had absolutely no intention of telling her the truth. I was not going to lie to her. I was just going to wait until she forgot about it.

That night while washing dishes, I felt a tug on my shirt. I looked down and there she was once again.

“Mommy,” she pleaded. “Will you PLEASE tell me now what was in the shiny sheet?”

I sighed and knew that this conversation had to happen. I dried my hands and sat her down at the kitchen table. I turned her chair to face mine and noticed her feet were still unable to reach the floor. They swung back and forth as she waited expectantly.

Her smallness and innocence filled up the room as well as my heart.

“Maggie,” I said no longer able to run away from her, “What do you think it was underneath the shiny sheet?” I of course was using her description of the body bag.

She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it quickly. She sat still for a moment thinking and then confessed, “Mommy, I don’t want to say.”

That was the moment when I knew that this conversation needed to happen, and I was so thankful for her courage to pursue an answer.

“I know you don’t honey,” I soothed. “But I need you to try to use your words.”

She was quiet and then whispered, “Mommy, I think it was a person.”

I was so proud of her. “You are right, Maggie. It was a person,” I said. “A person who had died.”

She looked at me and with all that she could muster said, “Mommy, I did not want that to be what it was.”

I smiled at her. I looked into her eyes and said, “I know honey. I didn’t either. But, you are not doing yourself any favors by disconnecting this(pointing to her brain) and this(pointing to her heart).”

She nodded with the understanding of an aged soul.

“If you do it too many times, they will have a very hard time talking to and understanding one another,” I said. “They will get to where they will not trust what the other is trying to say.”

She nodded that she understood, and I really think that she did.

I told her she was very brave and thanked her talking to me about something that was hard for her.

“Your welcome,” she said, and hopped down off the chair satisfied with the truth.

I on the other hand sat in the irony of the situation. That is giving advice to my child that I often do not heed myself.

What exactly did I mean when I said that it was important for her mind and heart to be connected?

Isn’t one of my super powers the ability to disconnect? To not feel. To not smell. To not see.

I realized in that moment, that the parent was learning from the child. I watched her the rest of the evening. She was relieved and also at peace with the truth, even though it was a HARD truth that she would have preferred to edit.

I longed for that type of peace and rest.

I smiled and knew that my girls were going to teach me more in the end than I would ever teach them as long as I could try to stay connected.

A Love Note From Above.

This morning, my youngest found this note tucked into a book that I received at my last birthday party. It has been on the shelf for 13 months, until she decided to read it yesterday.

Lovely, in light of yesterday’s post.

I’m overwhelmed right now with how the Lord uses people to speak truth into our dark places. Even if they are no longer with us.

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses….let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, despising its shame. Now, he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” Heb. 12 NLT

The Birthday Girl

(*photo by Eugenia Grow)

It had everything one might expect to find at a birthday party. A string of colorful balloons and streamers lined the front porch. Two young girls in fancy dresses pranced in and out of the front door like wild ponies full of excitement as the guests began to arrive. There was a “do it yourself” Mojito station, a lovely catered dinner with all of the fixings, and the infamous “Carmel Cake” was displayed in the dining room.

It was a perfect setting that lacked only one thing. The Birthday Girl. And we were all missing her.

It has been almost 8 months since Sydney passed away, and her husband Todd had graciously opened up his home for an evening of celebration and remembrance. He has been amazing through this entire journey. As a confessed introvert, and contrary to that nature, he has unselfishly time and again, invited people into his grief and loss with his amazing writing and blog.

Now, he opened up his home( and Syd’s closet:) which provided everyone with an opportunity to stop, to feel, to laugh, and to cry. We were celebrating her birth, but more importantly we were there to commemorate the life that touched us all so much.

After dinner, the sharing began. Todd started the round with a hilarious story about his wife, Sydney. You can read about it here.

As the stories progressed and more people began to speak, my husband leaned over  and asked if I was going to share. I shook my head and whispered, “No. I just don’t have any words right now.”

This was true concerning that particular moment, but it was also the case for my life over the past 6 months.

At the realization of my long season of silence, I got uncomfortable and very wiggly. I am known to lots of people by my words and by my laughter.  Both of which could be induced by my quiet relationship with Sydney.  So I decided to try to find her.

I quietly slipped out of the living room and went to visit Sydney’s closet. It was just a small window preserved so that we can still get a glimpse of the whimsical, intrepid dynamo that she was because so much of that was displayed in what she wore.

I stepped into this portal and immediately teared up,  but I also felt very happy. How can you only be sad standing amongst Sydney’s wardrobe and jewelry? All of the colors, the boldness, the patterns, and the style encapsulated her free spirit. It was like walking through a field of wild flowers.

I looked at some of her favorite books and necklaces. I ran my hand across her shirts and giggled at all of her silly, printed t-shirts and four pairs of the same running shoe. And then I saw them, the very large, but simple turquoise earrings. I moved in for a closer look.

Last spring, Sydney walked into my birthday party at Cantina. That may read as rather uninteresting. But, it was a miracle that she was there and that she was walking. She had been in a wheel chair for months, and we all doubted that she would ever regain her footing.

When I opened her gift, I found myself an enviable recipient of a “Sydney Original.” She had made me some earrings, and I was very touched by how well she captured me. They were small, subtle, and very delicate turquoise earrings.

Standing there in her closet, I realized that she had the same pair, only her’s were larger and more dynamic. She had made me something of herself, but had adjusted it to fit me.

I had found some words.

I quietly walked back into the living room and rejoined the group. I still did not know if I would share, but at least I felt more connected to the evening, to Sydney, and to myself.

***This is what I wound up sharing. I am writing it out as requested to be placed in a book for Todd and Sydney’s children:

“How I Met Your Mother.”

I knew of your mom through church. I say that only to communicate that is where I recognized her from the day we actually met in an Old Navy.

You have to know that your mother was a special kind of “lovely crazy.” I do not mean that she was unbalanced, for she was most certainly of a sound mind. But, she would get SO excited about something, throw caution to the wind, and then chase after it with both hands. That day, she was excited about me.

As I was walked around the store, I noticed that every where I turned, your mom was right there. Finally, she popped around the corner and said(declared:), “Hi. I’m Sydney Gaylord. I heard you speak at church a few months ago, and I really want to get to know you. I really want to be your friend.”

I was startled, but mostly I was just deeply touched. Your mom had no idea of the kind of day that I was having or the darkness that I was being called into for redemption’s sake. But God did and here was your mom, a sun burst of beauty and light declaring me worthy of pursuit.

I smiled at her and said that I would very much like to be her friend.

A few months later, she invited herself over to my house for lunch. Again, I was very startled but in this context, I was also intimidated. I knew that your mother had refined tastes and lots of experience with dining. I don’t cook and my home is very small and humble. But, my insecurities were outweighed by my desire to be with your mother.

She brought you two girls,(this was before your brother was born) and you played with my daughters. You were SO engrossed with Maggie and Emma because they were “big” girls. You played dress up and played with the ‘misfits.’

I fixed your mother a grilled cheese sandwich, which I scorched,  to go with our tomato soup. She sat in my kitchen and raved about the meal as if she were being served at the White House.

After we finished eating and had shared some of our stories, your mother got up and began “snooping” around.

You will hear this often pertaining to your mom. She had an unquenchable thirst when it came to finding out about something or someone. But it never felt obtrusive to me, only loving.

Well, maybe it felt a little obtrusive when she opened up my freezer and pulled out my 5 lb bag of M&M’s. But, after she turned to me and said, “Now, I love you even more for having this kind of stash,” I realized that she was a safe, kindred spirit.

When it was time to go, she gave me a hug. That was when she saw a few photographs on top of my bookshelf. She picked them up and began rifling through them. (read *snooping) She stopped at one and said, “What is this?”

I looked at it and responded, “That is a photo I took of a hydrangea bush just beginning to bloom.”

“It’s amazing,” she said.

I looked at it again.

“Really?” I doubted.

At that point my husband had come home from work and had joined us.

“Really?” he echoed. “I’ve never thought much of it.”

I looked at my new friend and smiled. “Sometimes,” I said, “We have to outsource our encouragement.”

She threw her head back and laughed deeply and unabashedly.

She asked me why I took the picture.

“I liked it because Hydrangea’s can grow on dead wood. In this moment, it still looked pretty lifeless to me against the pine straw with only a few little green leaves poking out. It is a picture of where winter and spring meet. It is a picture of hope.”

She was quite. Then she hugged me again and told me that I take great pictures.

About a week later, I got a call from your mom asking if she could have that photograph. She said she needed something for a class that represented “hope” to her and wanted to use it. I felt touched and was happy to give it to her. I scribbled a verse on the back and wrote “to my new friend, Sydney.”

A few months later, she gave me this.

 

She found it at a flea market and said it reminded her of me and the “hydrangea of hope.”

Now it sits in my kitchen window as a daily reminder that no matter how long or barren the winter, spring always follows. Your mother staked her life on that truth and now needs no daily reminder. She is living in the proof.

This was one of the many things that I loved about your mom. She believed by faith that in Jesus, hope can always be found if one only took the time to look.

That was what she did with me one day in a store, and with countless other people over the years. This was one of her special gifts to a hurting world, and it will never quite be the same without her.

(*taken at your mother’s grave the day of her funeral)

“Better Late Than Never”

*Here is Maggie’s article that won a “Silver Key” in the 2012 Scholastic Writing Contest. I have been wrestling with WordPress for 30mins trying to get it correctly formated, so forgive me for its present state as I no longer have the time to fiddle with paragraphs and proper indention.

This was an AMAZING opportunity suggested by my daughter’s writing teacher in early October. I never dreamed of all that we would gain by her taking on this project which consisted of interviewing a passenger on the 31st floor of the Duke Energy building, countless drafts and revisions, and visiting the Charlotte Aviation Museum to see the plane.

The article was due December 15, 2011 and Maggie found out last week that she received a “Silver Key” for her work. She was SO excited but not nearly enough to make her want to read her article again. By the time she submitted it, she did not care if she ever saw it again due to having to go through it so many different times welcoming her to the true writing process.

One day in her writing class, she turned in the article thinking she was finally finished. Her teacher looked at her, praised her effort, and told her to go through it again. Maggie, fully believing she had reached the finish line felt dejected. Her teacher wisely said, “Maggie this is like running a marathon, and you are around mile marker 20.” And when all else failed to encourage my daughter, her teacher looked at her with all sincerity and said, “Maggie, you is kind, You is smart, and you is important.”(a line taken from the book The Help)

Several friends and family asked to read the article, so I am putting here for ease sake. Again, I apologize if it reads disjointedly due to having to copy and paste it.

“Better Late Than Never” by Maggie Luke 13 years old.

A massive commercial airliner has just arrived at the Charlotte Aviation Museum.

From one angle, the plane looks as though it shouldn’t be lying motionless in a

museum. It should still be soaring, gliding, and maneuvering through the skies. Then

suddenly, its battered appearance is revealed.

From one point of view, the airliner seems tall and proud, altogether triumphant at its

survival. But at the same time it looks sad and dejected, a shadow of its distinguished

former self. Whether it looks sorrowful or dignified is a decision that the thousands of

people visiting it must make.

At the very back of the aircraft, the tail is raised high, but below it is complete chaos.

The covering of the body is ripped off, and the inside is rusted. It seems as if the

underside of the aircraft had to bear an extremely violent collision. Instinctively, anyone

who sees it realizes that there has to be a story behind this plane. Even now it stands

there, silently telling a tale to inspire the world.

In January 2009, Flight 1549 set out on an ordinary routine flight, set for an hour and

a half. Most of the people on that flight expected to be home in time for dinner. Two

and a half years later, it arrived at its destination.

Forced to make an unplanned ditching in the Hudson River, the unfortunate aircraft

had been stored inside a hanger in New Jersey for the past two years. Finally, it felt the

wind again as the plane was hauled along to its original destination. This endeavor was

estimated to cost 2.8 million dollars. But whatever the expense, the receiving city was

determined to have the plane home. Flight 1549 was bound for Charlotte, N.C.

On June 10th, a special ceremony was held for all the passengers of the flight

which so many called the Miracle on the Hudson. A large part of the miracle was that

no fatalities occurred. Only two people were seriously injured.

It so happened that one passenger was not present at the ceremony due to a

previous family engagement. His name is John Howell, and this is the person I had the

privilege of talking to about his experience that day.

As John Howell stepped aboard Flight 1549, he wasn’t contemplating anything out

of the ordinary. He was thinking of his meeting, and the dinner that was waiting for him

at home. But about ninety seconds into the flight, he was definitely thinking about the

plane, and his thoughts were not carefree.

“I was in the second row, and we could hear the geese crashing into us,” he said.

Either from the perspective of the geese or the perspective of the plane and its

passengers, this was definitely not a good thing. Since the beginning of flight, birds

have been a serious complication. Even one of the Wright brothers collided with a

songbird. Unfortunately, these weren’t songbirds that fate collided with Flight 1549.

Huge Canadian Geese flew in a V shape formation towards the plane, and somehow

managed to strike both engines. John remembers the engines revving up very hard,

and then breaking down. All was deathly quiet aboard the plane. “Then you could hear

the clicking noise of the engines trying to turn back on,” recalled John.

It cannot be said that the plane was doing anything dramatic. The pilot was in

control, and the flight glided up and down, heading for the George Washington Bridge.

“I could see that we were headed for the river,” John said, “I stared at the flight

attendant, trying to confirm the situation. She gestured to me, saying that everything

would be fine. At that point, I realized that she had no idea where we were headed.

Probably, she thought that we were on our way back to the airport.”

John knew that this was not the case. “I couldn’t believe I was doing this to my

family. They had already lost my brother, a first responder, on September 11, 2001. I

didn’t know how they were going to survive this.”

When the plane landed in the Hudson River a minute or so later, there was a severe

jolt. One passenger remembers hearing the airbus groan, as if complaining about

the collision. Looking out the window, all anyone could see was murky water. Suddenly,

the plane bobbed up, and people could perceive sunlight. John remembered how he

had slowly unbuckled his seat belt and stood up. Already, the aisle was jammed with

people on their way out.

“I travel to New York frequently, and all the safety instructions that they give out, I

know by heart,” he said, “But I went out onto the wing without even retrieving my life

jacket.”  “When I stepped outside and saw the ferry boats, I wasn’t worried anymore,”

John said. After a while of holding ropes for other passengers, John finally clambered

onto a boat himself.

Every passenger that day was brought safely off the plane. Captain Sullenberger

walked the interior of Flight 1549 three times, making sure that no one was trapped

inside.

The full count of people saved that day was 155, and everyone was accounted for.

This was extraordinary, for never before had a plane crashed in water with no fatalities.

At that time, the mood in New York was not good. The people needed a miracle. On

January 15, 2009, they received one, with the Miracle on the Hudson.

Now, two and a half years later, this plane was on its painstaking journey to

Charlotte. It took a whole week to get it there, but now it sits inside the Charlotte

Aviation Museum, which is near the Charlotte/Douglas Airport. Flight 1549 was not

repaired, and visitors can view it almost exactly as it had been when the plane was

submerged in the Hudson River.

It seemed fitting to John that the aircraft should be moved to Charlotte and left

untouched. Many of the passengers live in Charlotte, and now their families can see

the plane. No one can fully appreciate the devastation done until they witness it.

When I asked John Howell if there was anything he wanted to see in the plane, his

reply was immediate, “My seat,” he smiled, “Originally, I thought that they would be

auctioning off pieces of the plane, and I wanted to find a way to get my seat. I thought

it would look great in my living room.”

Not many days go by when John doesn’t think about the Hudson and what

happened there. “For me, the story is tied very closely to my brother who died on 9/11.

Finding myself in New York, such a short distance away from where my brother died,

and all of us getting to walk away from the plane, I think that must mean something,” he

said. “Do I have some higher calling, or something that I’m supposed to be doing? Or

does it just give me more opportunities to tell people what my brother did?”

For John Howell, the Miracle on the Hudson was a series of miracles. Everything that

happened that day aligned to make January 15th end the way it did. The pilot was

prepared for the job, the water was smooth, there was no wind, no ice, and no rain. So

many things could have gone wrong with the rescue, and none did. In short, this is why

Flight 1549 is a miraculous plane. This is also the reason why the Charlotte Aviation

Museum is honored to be its final landing place.

Maggie and John Howell

Monumental

Though both experiences in DC were almost indescribable, the difference between our time at Mt. Vernon Estates verses walking the Mall to see the monuments/memorials was about 36 hours and 18* degrees. That Friday, I walked into George Washington’s Mansion and saw his original bed, desk, and travel trunk wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. But a day and a half later, I stood before a chiseled Abraham Lincoln and a wall covered with 58,267 names of the men and women who perished in the Vietnam War zipped up in a fleece and wrapped in a scarf. One day was sunny while the other promised rain.

Looking back on it, the weather was a foreshadowing of my mood to come. I had never seen the monuments or memorials before that day, but I had always wanted to walk along the wall of the Vietnam Memorial. When I was in Jr High School, I became fascinated with the conflict. Like any and everything academic, the larger picture was lost on me at the time. But, one night I came across the song “Goodnight, Saigon” by Billy Joel and for some reason, the loneliness and egregious loss of war resonated deep within me.

It is very difficult to walk the 493 feet of the Vietnam Memorial wall and not become overwhelmed or desensitized. So, we just stopped and took in a few names to make it seem real.

I really do not have words to describe what it was like to see the Korean Memorial. I did not know it existed until I saw it, nor did I know the details of that conflict until my sister’s fiance(now husband) explained it to me over a popsicle.

The faces of those sculpted soldiers walking through the rice patties is STILL imprinted in my mind four months later. It is hard to say that something so penetrating and haunting is a “favorite” of yours, but it most certainly left the greatest impression on me.

We were fortunate enough to be in DC just two months after the new Martin Luther King, Jr memorial was opened. As you walk up to it from behind, there are three mountainous structures with the Jefferson Memorial seen across the water.  It does not make sense until you see it from the front.  MLK is chiseled into the middle, protruding structure and there is a beautiful inscription on the side of his rock.

*a picture of my girls standing where Martin Luther King, Jr stood giving his “I Have A Dream Speech.”

*Jefferson Memorial

*Lincoln Memorial

*Rocket Pops at the Mall with my girls and my twin sister, Susan. She’s just a wee bit taller than me.

Chasing Butterflies in George Washington’s Garden

“I can truly say I had rather be at home at Mount Vernon with a friend or two about me, than to be attended at the Seat of Government.” George Washington

For the past year and a half, my girls and I have been studying American History. It has been an introduction for all three of us, because I managed to make it 36 years on this earth without ever really knowing the birth story of our nation.

In our study, no other man has captivated my heart and mind like that of George Washington. I confess to have developed a strange “crush” of sorts when I read of his courage in battle and his humility in office.

But, in all that we took in about the life of this great man, my favorite stories had to do with his quiet, contemplative farm life on the grounds of his beloved Mt. Vernon estate. Whether as a general in the thick of war or as an elected official presiding over a new nation, he often found comfort day dreaming about sitting with Martha in the evenings on the veranda overlooking the Potomac River. To him, home was a feeling; a state of being.  At  Mt Vernon, fellowship, acceptance, work, and rest were always present and always plentiful.

Over the semester, I began to dream about visiting Mt. Vernon for myself one day because I had grown to love the idea of it as much as he had. I never thought I would get the opportunity but desperately longed to walk the same paths he walked and feel the same solace that he felt among those trees and hills.

On September 30, 2011, a glorious fall day, my girls and I pulled up to his home right outside of Alexandria. We were visiting my sister who lives in Washington, DC and had invited us up to see Les Misrables at the Kennedy center. So, having a place to stay, I planned a four-day trip, which included a day trip to Mount Vernon.

It was a wonderful day that felt like a tonic to my weary soul.

I had come heavy-hearted because our community had just buried a dear friend a few weeks prior, who died from a brain tumor. I knew that I would be channeling Sydney when I stood before a Van Gogh at the National Gallery of Art the next day.

But, late that afternoon while taking pictures in George Washington’s garden, a very LARGE, orange Monarch(which is her symbol to me) fluttered by me. I nearly went CRAZY. It was late in the season to have such a sighting, particularly so far north.

My girls, bless them were SO tired and had parked themselves on a bench outside the garden. I told them about the Sydney butterfly and begged for just a few more minutes.

“Go,” they said wearily but very happy for me. “Go and chase butterflies.”

I took a deep breath, prayed, and hoped to be able to find it once again. Quietly, I followed it to a patch of purple, spindly flowers. I stood very still watching the butterfly, and could not have been happier or felt more alive.

Unbeknownst to me, two women had stopped behind me to watch the moment unfold. The monarch finally opened up its wings and the onlookers heard my shutter click.

“Oh, you got it, didn’t you?!” they asked, excitedly.

Startled, I turned around with tears in my eyes.

“I did,” I said. “But she’s still gone.”

They were puzzled, and I explained to them why I was chasing butterflies.

“Bless you,” they said. “And bless your sweet friend.”

I am remembering this story because a year today(December 23,2010), I sat with Sydney in her bedroom. She was in a hospital bed because her tumor was reeking havoc and had rendered her unable to walk. We were all very worried about her recent decline.

Sitting there, I did not know that in a seven months, she would leave us. Forever.

I did not know that the photograph I had framed for her that day as a reminder of how I would always see her would become an image to us all in our remembering.(They were released at her graveside the day of her funeral.)

And that wherever I would go in the future, it could always become a sacred opportunity to be surprised by chasing butterflies.

Mt. Vernon

Me, George, and the girls. (Sorry Martha)

George Washington/family tomb

The Slave Memorial Garden

Slave Quarters


Missing Something

Something is missing, and I am missing something.

I woke up this morning still unable to fathom that you are gone. That you are no longer here, walking this earth. That your face and laughter are no longer brightening up a cloudy day, except in the faces and hearts of those that you touched and are left behind.

Your death still does not seem real or possible but my inability to comprehend does not change the reality.

So, I walk around looking for what is missing.

And what I am missing today is you, Sydney.

A Picture of Ruby Bridges

My girls and I recently returned home from a trip to Washington, DC. where we visited my sister and her fiance. Having our excursion on the calendar for a few months, I had plenty of time to ponder all that I wanted to see with in our allotted days. If you have ever been to our nation’s capital, you can appreciate the scheduling puzzle this presents.

As I filled the spots with tangible tours, I left one space open for the possibility of a west wing tour at The White House provided by an inside connection through my sister’s finance. It was going to be a game time decision and so I tried not to get my hopes up. I was very excited at the opportunity even though I have never been confused for someone who has had any interest in politics or government.

My longing to see the West Wing went beyond mere bragging rights. I feel as though my mind has been renewed in the last few years in its ability to grasp, comprehend, and process. For too many years, my brain did not work properly which left me out of the beautiful world of learning and discovery. After studying American History for two years with my children, anything concrete to go with my book learning felt sacred.

We met our guide on a rainy Saturday afternoon and he graciously confirmed that there was room on the tour for me and my girls. There was a possibility of only having two spots, so I was prepared to send my girls off for a tour of a lifetime. My good fortune still did not register when the guard handed me my ‘official’ badge and we entered through a back gate reserved solely for the West Wing.

There would be no pictures once we entered the building so our guide kindly snapped this of us with the President of the United States Seal behind us.
(Don’t judge. It was rainy and 60*:)

We first got to stick our head into the White House “Mess Hall.” Since the Navy has the responsibility of providing staff meals, the dining room theme reflects as such. As I looked around, having passed by the President’s personal elevator and back door into where he eats lunch, I still had a difficult time grasping the reality of where I was. Usually my Saturdays are filled with soccer games and college football.

We walked down the hallway and headed upstairs. All along the walls were recent pictures of the President, his family, and staff taken by the White House photographer. Some were very official in nature, but others were very pedestrian and personal.

My oldest and I were standing before a picture of the President taking a jump shot over one of his staff members. His shirt was pulled up exposing his navel. I leaned and whispered to my girl, “How many people do you think can say they have seen the President’s belly button?” She turned around and said, “I was thinking the EXACT same thing.”

We walked along looking at the other photographs. There was talk in our small tour of names and job titles that I did not recognize. I was beginning to feel very out-of-place in my ignorance when we came to a photo I could connect with.

The President and his wife were standing together in a field at dusk. The lighting was amazing as they looked down at something. The mood in the image was very still and quiet.  Our guide motioned others to the picture and said that it was recently taken at the Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania.

We moved outside to the “Rose Garden.” This was when I officially began to ‘freak out’ because I could recognize things from watching outdoor press conferences on TV. Our guide pointed to the different spots around the yard. For instance, he said, “That’s where the helicopter lands.” Or he pointed to a swing set and said, “That’s where the girls play right outside the Oval Office window.”

It has always interested me a bit that my girls are the same age as the President’s. But this put an entirely different spin on how different lives could be but also share undeniable similarities. The Obama family’s personal sacrifice became more real as I walked around where they lived life.

We went inside for the moment I had been waiting for but as the tour walked toward the Oval Office, I stopped dead in my tracks. In the adjacent room, hung a picture by Normal Rockwell.

“That’s Ruby Bridges,” I said.

Our guide came over to me. “Yes, The President loves this picture. It’s on loan from the Gallery.”

I learned about her story years ago while student teaching. I remember introducing my 2nd grade class to the very brave 6-year-old girl who was the first African-American to integrate into a white elementary school in New Orleans. People were so outraged that they refused to send their children to school and the staff would not teach her. So, for a year, the system brought in a teacher from Boston who taught Ruby as if the entire classroom was full.

I shared what I knew of her story and our guide responded by telling us that the President had just brought Ruby into the West Wing to meet her and see the picture that he chose to inspire him each day. He then pointed out how the tomato at the bottom of the painting was shaped like a snail. It was to represent how change is very slow. Also, he showed us how the smashed tomato markings on the wall were painted in the form of an eagle flapping its wings to symbolize victory and courage.

You can see the video of their time together here. It’s VERY cool.

I am so thankful to have had this little glimpse into the life of the President. I saw that though we disagree on some issues, he is still a man, a husband, and a father. I also love that we both share the same appreciation and admiration for a little girl who had big courage.  I often tell my girls about how she would stop on the corner on her way to school and pray for all of the people who hated her. What a great picture for us all.