The Final Chapter and The Good Shepherd: My Grandmother part 3.

**If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, then you are aware how my home school curriculum works. By that, I mean that I follow a teacher’s manual that tells me what to read and when.

If you are unaware of what I am referring to, then you can read:

The Divine Chuckle or Setting the Record Straight.**

Two years ago, this week, my grandmother was in her last days on this earth. I did not know it then, but her life did feel very fragile to me. She was responding less and less and no longer eating.  I remember being very overwhelmed with the unknown’s of death. I had a lot of questions. Childlike questions. What would it be like with her gone? What should I do in these last few days? Are these the last few days? How can I tell? Does that even matter, really?

How does one prepare for the loss of someone who has had a huge impact in their life? So, much so that you were convinced they were immortal because you could not fathom their absence.

Whether I was prepared to answer these questions didn’t really matter because we were encouraged to bring in Hospice to aid the family with her care. The end was drawing near, and even her friends were coming in to say their good-bye’s.

I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience in a world I neither welcomed nor understood.

I decided to go ahead with our schooling as much as possible. I would spend time with my grandmother every day, but try and stay on track in the unknown. Besides, sometimes when you are lost, it’s best just to stay put. And routine is a blessing.

That fall, we were studying the ancients with My Father’s World Curriculum. They assigned some read aloud’s early on in the school year that did not seem to fit into the larger scope of our learning. Usually, our fiction has to do with the time in history that we are studying.

I would come to find out in the last week of my grandmother’s life, that God is often about the small, personal details as well as the bigger picture.

My girls and I were reading a book together by Patricia St. John called The Tanglewoods’ Secret. I had never heard of this book nor the author, but just opened it up a few weeks prior to my grandmother slipping away, and read our alloted pages. That week, the book took a serious turn with one of the characters.

Terry, a young impoverished boy whom the main characters, Ruth and Philip, had befriended had fallen out of a tree. It seemed through our reading that he would recover, but as we read this week two years ago, Terry began to question whether he was going to get well or not. He was suffering and in a lot of pain.

Here are some excerpts from the chapter I read five days before my grandmother died.

Pg. 144 The Tanglewood  Secrets

“Ruth,” said Terry suddenly as we sat in the twilight, “what’s dying like?”

I shuffled my feet uneasily. “Oh, I don’t know,” I answered, “but I think it’s very nice. At least, I think it’s just like going to a beautiful places where Jesus is, and where everyone is happy. Why? Terry?”

“Because I heard the doctor in the hospital say it. He said, “It’s all up with him, poor little chap!’ That means dying.”

“Ruth, does everyone go there?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered slowly. “I think perhaps you have to ask the Shepherd to find you. I think you have to belong to him. But that is quite easy, Terry. You only have to ask to be found, like the sheep in the picture.”

He frowned. “I was a bad boy,” he admitted.

“Ruth,” he said at last, “where’s the picture—the one you gave us?”

“Oh, you mean, my picture?” “I don’t know, Terry. I suppose your mother’s got it.”

“I’d like to look at it again,” he said. “I told Mum to take it away because it upset me to see that sheep stuck on the rocks and wondering whether maybe the Shepherd couldn’t reach it. But as it’s Jesus, I expect He could reach anywhere, couldn’t he?”

“Oh, yes,” I answered, “Jesus can reach anywhere. Nobody could stray away so far that Jesus couldn’t bring them back.”

“What I’d like would be a picture of that sheep after the Shepherd had picked him up, when he was safe in the Shepherd’s arms and being carried home. “I’d really like that.”

pg. 150

It was a framed picture of a meadow full of clean white sheep all walking one way and nibbling the grass as they went. In front of them walked a Shepherd with a crook, and in his arms lay a little lamb, peacefully asleep.

“Where’s He carrying him to?” Terry asked.

“Home, Terry,” answered Mr. Robinson.  “Safely, through each day until they get home.”

“Where’s Home?” went on Terry.

“It’s the place where the Shepherd lives and where we see Him face to face,” Mr. Robinson replied. “Shall I read you something about home Terry?”

The boy nodded, and Mr. Robinson took his New Testament from his pocket.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”

“No more pain! That would be brilliant,” Terry said.


I caught sight of Terry’s face. It was even whiter than usual and all twisted up with pain. I wriggled nearer to the bed and took hold of his hand.

With a sob he said, “I wish I could go to that place where there ain’t no more pain.”

Philip and I were very upset, for we had never seen Terry like this before.

Philip had never prayed aloud before, but kneeled by the bed.

“Dear God, please take away Terry’s pain. Please make him well soon. Amen”

We looked at Terry and his eyes were fixed on his picture which hung just above his bed.

There were many footsteps around the house that evening, but no one heard the feet of the Good Shepherd when He drew near and picked Terry up in His arms.

Before the sun had risen again, while the stars were still high in the sky, Terry left his twisted, suffering body, and all his pain, behind him forever.

The Shepherd had carried him home.”

When I finished reading that assigned chapter, I had tears streaming down my face. I did not pick that book to read at that time. I did not know it was about a young boy who would die the same week as my grandmother.

It was a gift from God, beginning to prepare me as the Good Shepherd was drawing nearer to my grandmother. To my ‘Memaw.”

My Grandmother: part 2

“It’s not the cleaning I’m after….it’s the sweeping” Part 1

This is the journal entry from the evening I referred to in the previous post about my grandmother. I’m not sure what I want to call the series, but I think it is good to remember when your heart is longing to do so. Even if it’s a little painful.

Sept. 4 2008(two years ago today)

I went to see Memaw to say good night. My mother said she was not doing well today.

I am so glad that i did. She is in such a state.  As I walked down the hall in the nursing home, I wondered how many times I had made that trek in the last two years. Not nearly as much as my mother or uncle. She’s rarely without company.

Tonight that hall way went from being despised by me with its horrible smells of aging that are undeniable, to being one i desperately clung to for support and encouragement when I saw that my grandmother’s door was closed.

Why was the door shut?! It’s rarely shut. I was a little panicked at that because she has been going down hill since last month, but I was relieved when I knocked and saw the nurses head peek out.

She was weighing memaw.  When I asked the results she said it in such a way that felt defeated. 109 lbs. She is still losing weight.

As I stood outside, waiting, I could see into the room across the hall. The woman that was in the NH due to a stroke. It made me squirrelly; she was so young.

I thought of all of the people who have died since my grandmother has been a resident.

It hit me, that once so full of spunk, she has now become “one of those people.” She has become one of those people where you walk pass her room and feel such a sense of despair. of hopelessness. of discomfort with the painful reminder that we all will have an end that we cannot control.

It makes you want to look away. To pretend it’s not the way it really is. Now people pass her room with the same look that I would give others when I scooted by pushing her around in the wheel chair.

But all of those stories. All of those people. It can’t be hopeless, it can’t be meaningless.  They all had lives and have stories that matter.

And for memaw, the end means freedom. Freedom from a body that doesn’t work anymore. I keep trying to tell myself that she is preparing for a home-coming. But then, why do I feel so afraid?

These are  not things we can make sense of, we can only receive what the Lord has to show us in it.  My hands are open to receive from you, Lord. Help me to stay connected til the end. Help me not to be afraid. Help me not to run away, from her going away.

I sat on her bed and held her bony hand in mine. Mine that looked once again like a child’s hand in her own. How many times have I needed her hands? To take care of me. To help me with my math. To make us dinner. To drive me to practices. To buy me things that only a grandmother can be manipulated into doing so. To think that soon I will no longer have access to them.

I sat and looked at her face. Her head was cocked back and she was asleep. I could see her face at rest, I mean in the final rest. This was totally different from anytime before. And I started to cry.

What is it like to be a month away from your 91 st birthday,  and know that you may not make it to that? To see and sense, that you are on a threshold of some sort.  I swear, she has always seemed immortal to me. Or maybe it’s just what I needed to believe.

She woke up for a moment and told me that she was tired. It pained me to do so, but I told her it was alright to be tired. She’s worked her entire life, never allowing herself to rest. Some people just need our permission. I gave her mine. And she smiled.

I told her that I loved her. And she said, “I love you too. I love you all.”

And then she fell back asleep. It was dark.

I said a quiet prayer. “Thank you Jesus, for all of those years. For honoring my little girl request that she see me grow up. That she meet my children. For giving me so many more years than I hoped for.”

**we had two weeks left with her. she taught me a great deal in those final moments.**

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

In 1996, a group of citizens from different backgrounds joined together to create a non-profit, Christ-centered school in one of Charlotte’s urban centers.  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  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 need reminding.

My girls were 7 and 4 years old 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 a challenge due to the scents of aging behaving like a cruel, hostile hostess I could not get passed.

I am claustrophobic. Being unable to breathe triggers enormous amounts of anxiety for me. In order to fully engage with my grandmother, I had to shut down my olfactory sense 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 anything thus disconnecting my mind and my body.

It is kind of like a superpower.

We happily pulled up that Memorial Day, and I remember helping my daughters out of the van. We had gone to Wendy’s beforehand and picked up some Frosty’s, a treat my Memaw enjoyed.

I was a bit distracted by my small children as we walked through the parking lot. 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 youngest daughter’s  little hand into mine. He pulled up as well, and his startled 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, “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 as she took in the man with the gurney.

I don’t know if you have ever experienced watching a child process something in real time, but notice they were unable to grasp fully what they were seeing, but 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 sidewalk. 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 clockwork, 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 superpowers 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.

The Divine Chuckle

Bear with me. Sometimes a stage must be set.

On Saturday, I took my youngest to see the movie, “Ramona and Beezus.”  It is based on the Beverly Cleary children’s books that have been in circulation since the 50’s. I have not been a huge fan of the books in the past, and I can’t say that my reason is good as I have read nary a one.

It’s because we have one of the books on CD.  Stockard Channing who narrates uses the screechiest, whiniest voice for the character, Ramona. It literally grates away at your last nerve and wears it down to a nub. Kind of like the small fragment left in your hand when you are finished shredding a block of cheese. But, I digress.

Having this as my only reference for the story line did not prepare me for what I was about to experience sitting next to my daughter in a dark, full, movie theater. Half way in, when Ramona’s cat “Picky Picky” died…..I started to cry.  I’m not a cat person. It was not a deep, visceral cry, yet those tears began a steady flow that did not stop until the movie ended. My husband texted me and asked how I liked it. All I could type was that it made me cry for a long time, and I didn’t know why.

Later that evening, he tried to engaged me on why it made me a wreck of sorts, so I began to explain the movie to him. I told him how Ramona was a third grader who was very misunderstood in school. She was always messing things up and not because this was her intention. In fact, many times, she was trying very hard to do the right thing but it generally ended badly.

I talked about how all the kids laughed at her when she was giving an oral report and how the teacher was always exasperated with her behavior and performance. I shared other things, but he interrupted me after I said, “What was so beautiful was that in the end, she was accepted for being different and never getting it right.”

That’s when my husband said, incredulously, “Seriously!? You don’t see why this movie made you cry? Carrie, It’s autobiographical.” I was stunned by his comment. Then he ended with…”Don’t you remember, the little girl whose teacher  threw away her homework in front of the entire classroom?”

There’s something beautiful about someone who knows your stories.

He was right, and I didn’t want to see it because it was too painful. School was a horrible place for me.

What my husband was referring to was that in the 4th grade, I had a very harsh teacher. One day, we had an assignment to draw a hot air balloon. I was excited about this because there was no writing, reading, or math involved. Finally, a level playing field. I remember being in my room for a long time creating. I drew a hot air balloon in the shape of Snoopy, the Red Baron.  Afterall, he could fly, right?

The next day, the teacher called me to her desk. She held up my picture and asked me to explain myself.  I don’t remember the specific words but after getting the attention of the entire class, she made an example of me about what it looks like to not follow directions. She pointed to a huge stack of pictures on her desk that were ‘correct’ then held up mine and crumpled it in my face. She threw it in the trash and then told me to go sit down and do it again. Correctly.

This is just one of a zillion stories I have tucked away in the recesses of my mind. Stories where I just didn’t ‘get it.’ Today, they would say that I am “Dyslexic” and have “Attention Deficit Disorder.” Back then, they had other words.

I didn’t want to talk about it anymore with my husband.  I was done with memory lane, but God was not.

On Monday morning, my girls and I read about an artist named Peter Brueghel(1525-1560).  You need to know that the readings and assignments for our school day are preplanned by the  My Father’s World curriculum. I open a teacher’s guide, and it tells me exactly what to do for several subjects. Art being one of them.

We learned that Brueghel was a genre painter living in a region of turmoil caused by the Spanish Inquisition. Our book described him like this, “Throughout these years of war and religious subjugation, the artist was well aware of the sorrows of his day. Even so, with Peter Brueghel there is a fresh breath of life as his art brings laughter to the soul.”

Because his paintings are often full of people celebrating and enjoying the simple life, my daughters art assignment (that was preplanned) for the day was to draw a large family gathering at Thanksgiving.

Later that morning, my daughter, who is in the fourth grade came down the stairs to show me her picture. She was very excited and proud. She wants to be an artist, one day.

When I looked at it….I was taken a back.

Now, no one said that it couldn’t be a family of mice….celebrating Thanksgiving. Or a hot air balloon shaped like the Red Baron.

And that’s when I heard it….”The Divine Chuckle.”

I hear it every time I refuse to deal with something painful, and God brings it back up in a way that shows me it’s redeemable. He brings it to light to show me He is aware of the hurt and wants to communicate to me that it can become a beautiful wound.

Later I asked her if I could take a picture of her drawing, so that I could blog about it. She asked me why. I told her the story of why Ramona and Beezus made me cry, and then shared with her my Red Baron story. She was horrified and said, “Mommy, if you draw me a picture, I won’t throw it away. I will hang it on my wall.”

Now…..where are my crayons?

Flecks of Faith

Last month, my friend and I took our children to Reed’s Gold Mine. We had just finished up the school year exploring the Gold Rush of the 1850’s. This triggered a memory of being shocked to learn years ago that the first gold ever to be found in the United States was discovered in my home state. Actually, about 20 miles from my back door. My friend and I packed everyone up for a teachable moment that for our family that would reach far beyond our school room.

The field trip would consist of a tour, an instructional video, and panning for gold. There were five kids in our group, and they stood in line eagerly awaiting their chance to find treasure in a pile of dirt. The woman at the front desk was less enthusiastic about their venture. She sees kids come through everyday who ask the same question. “Will we find gold!?” Our children were no exception, and she looked at them with her dead pan expression and answered, “Probably not, but you have a one and six chance.”

Our crew was not discouraged, except for my youngest. It was the pin that popped the balloon of her hope. She tends to be a glass half empty girl, and I admit that she comes by that honestly. I too have a pessimism astigmatism that blurs my vision.

I have to squint very hard and with great effort look at a situation to find its outer and inner form of beauty and value. Even though, I would love to just easily put in a corrective lens and be done with it, I am thankful that I have taken the time to train my misshaped eyes to see differently.

My girl’s eyes are still young and developing, and I am hoping to catch her impediment early enough so her compensation will not be as difficult when she grows older.

We took the long walk out to the panning site. Being a home-schooling mom who has discovered a deep love of history, I talked to my children about the men and women who left everything to head to California to strike it rich. It was like a cosmic “rapture.” Fields, homes, and towns mostly emptied over night as people abandoned their daily grind to find quick financial deliverance. “What would you have done?” I asked them. “Would you have risked everything for a chance to find gold?”

Their answers varied, but mostly they just try to humor me.

We gathered together and listened to a man demonstrate the panning process. He had a large, Abraham Lincoln beard and talked about the patience it was going to require because the gold would be small and hiding. More than likely, it would just be a fleck. In haste, you could overlook it because the water and sun love to play tricks on your eyes.

First, they pulled out the big stones and rocks. The obvious. Then, they began to add the water, and it was time to jar and shake the pan. It felt like rolling dice or scratching off numbers on a lottery ticket. I said this to a gentleman who reminded me of Johnny Appleseed. He adamantly responded quite the opposite. “Oh, no,” he said. “That’s just chance. This here has a good probability of finding something.” My daughter looked at me skeptically, already determined in her mind how this was going to play out.

I stood with her and listened as she shook the pan over and over again. “Mom, this is ridiculous. I’m never going to find anything.” Never. Such a dark, empty word, but one I understand well. It is so comforting to the discouraged heart because it slams the book shut. Sometimes, it’s just too difficult to wait for our own story to be written by the Author of Heaven, so we scribble an ending on the page ourselves.

I prayed quietly that the Lord would help my children and I have a heart that is not afraid to hope. Not to find a precious metal in a pan on a field trip. But, for the ability to wait for the uncovering of flecks of gold buried beneath years of rocks and dirt in our own lives. In the things that we do not like or understand.

We got to the bottom of her pan, and very little remained. Her resignation early on made me sad. But I had done all I could to convince her to wait it out till the end. Johnny Appleseed traveled around to all the children to scan their pans one last time.  He came back to my girl. He swirled the last little bit a few times. Then he held it very still. And smiled.

I was confused. He grabbed a small vial out of his back pocket and began talking about how heavy gold was. Still, we did not understand, because we could not see. Then, he took his index finger, the tip of which was pointing to shiny, yellow fleck. He pressed into it, lifted it up, and scrapped it off into the vial filled with water. He looked at my girl, handed her the container, and said, “You found gold.”

Her eyes got very big as she held it up. There it was shining in the sunlight. He was right. Gold is heavy, and this small fleck became a family anchor.

Sydney’s Sunflower Story

When I was tucking my youngest into bed the other night, in the dark she asked, “Will you tell me Sydney’s Sunflower Story again?”

It went something like this…..

The other morning, I was taking my daughter to the doctor first thing.  Knowing that we would be close to the neighborhood of a good friend, I called her to ask if she would be seeing Sydney later that day. I wanted to get some fresh sunflowers to her, and knew now that I was dealing with a sick child, I’d be unable to see her myself for a while. I did not get a response.

Once back home and settled in, I got the call that she was in fact heading to see our sick friend who is in a palliative care facility 30 minutes a way. I asked her to give me half an hour to scribble a little note and go pick up some flowers.  I raced to the local grocery store where I had seen the beautiful sunflowers the week before and wanted desperately to get them to Sydney, who has been cooped up indoors for way too long.

I scooted into the store and saw a woman with her back to me. Her arms were loaded down with sunflowers and there were few left in the display canister. I became very angry and possessive walking up to her, until I noticed her blue jacket and name tag. She was the manager of the floral department. She felt me hovering and turned to ask if I needed help. I told her that I needed a bouquet of sunflowers, and she responded that I was in luck. She had just marked them down.

As I walked over to the counter, I realized that she could cut them for my vase that I had left in the car. “Would you mind cutting them to a good length for me if I run and get my vase?”, I asked.

“Sure, dear,” she said in a grandmotherly way. I was now getting very excited about my good fortune. Left to me, they would have gone to Sydney leggy and clumped.

When I returned, she began measuring and cutting. Casually, she asked me what they were for. I never really know how to answer this question. It has become very personal, and to the average onlooker there are just no adequate words.

I took a deep breath. “They are for a sweet friend of mine, who is recovering in a palliative care facility from complications with her brain tumor,” I said.

“Oh,” she responded. She got quiet and continued to work. As she shaped them, my vase began to transform. She then asked, “Does she have any children?”

I hate this part.

“Yes,” I said. “She has three children under 8 years old.”

“Oh dear,” she whispered.

Snip. Cut. Arrange.

“That is looking AWESOME!” I said. “Do you happen to have any ribbon?”

She turned her back and began to dig deep into a cabinet. She set two ribbons on the counter. One was yellow with orange and pink stripes. But the other one I picked up, and held in my hands.

She turned to get some other choices for me and I said, “Oh, no. This one. The one with the butterflies on it is perfect.” She smiled. And I said, “This is her. This is Sydney.”

She took the ribbon in her hands and began forming an intricate bow. She seemed to be lost in thought, and I heard her say barely audible, “My mother died of a brain tumor.”

“Oh,” I said quietly. “I’m so sorry.”

“Yes, it was a long time ago” she said.

As she worked with her hands, it stayed quiet.

“You are a very good friend,” she broke the silence. She smiled at me, and placed the tasteful, ornate bow into the vase. “It’s just so hard,” she added.

“Thank you so much, Mini” I said, noting her name tag. I could tell that this project was not just for me and Sydney. It was for her as well.

As she continued to work, she told me about the type of tumor her mother had. She told me how it mercilessly wrapped itself around the back of her brain. She said that it was inoperable.

As I reached for the bouquet, she grabbed my hand gently and said, “Wait a minute. I have something else.” She went around the corner and began digging in a box with her back to me. She then turned around with a beautiful, very realistic butterfly the size of my palm. Had I not seen her pull it out from storage, at first glance I would have thought it real.

“Wow! Mini! That is Amazing!” I exclaimed. She smiled and worked some wire around the middle of the orange butterfly. She then fastened into the center of the largest, tallest sunflower of the bunch.

I was speechless because Mini had no idea that four weeks ago, I had given Sydney this photograph as a gift to let her know how I see her. And will always see her.

I was also a little worried because I didn’t have much money to spend on this arrangement. Though I was positive that I was not going to leave without it.

“There,” she said satisfied. She turned her back to print up the price tag.

I didn’t want to look at what it was going to cost me.

“Thank you, Mini. This is going to be spectacular in her room. I hope you have a good day,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” she said. “She’s very lucky to have you.” She smiled wistfully.

I went to pay for my bouquet. It rang up as $4.00.

When I took the arrangement to my friend, for transport, the first words out of her mouth were…..”Carrie!! Those are amazing. That is way too expensive.”

I thought to myself that it did cost a lot. But, not in dollars and cents.

I looked at my youngest barely able to make out her face in the dark that night after the telling of my tale.

She said, “Mom. Do you think we could go and visit her sometime?”

“Well, I don’t know if they allow children where Sydney is, honey.” I said.

“No, Mom. I mean Mini,” she said. “Would you take me to meet Mini, the flower lady?”

“Sure,” I said. “I’m sure she would love to meet you.”

Colors, Cars, and Clothes: A Conversation with Sydney

Sydney Boone Gaylord

April 13, 1976 – August 29, 2011

Today, on August 29, 2011 at 3:04pm my beautiful friend, Sydney Gaylord passed away from an almost 3-year battle with brain cancer. We thought were going to lose her in December, which was when I wrote this post. 

I’ve been comforted by the prayer I prayed in her kitchen in December. I prayed that my friend would walk again.  Paint again. Dazzle again. Obsess again. Glow again.  God answered that prayer.

She did walk again.

In late March, she walked into my birthday celebration and later found herself passing a driver’s test on her 35th birthday a few weeks later.

Today, this prayer has certainly been answered in a way that I can only dream of but one day will see with my own eyes.

I love you, Syd. So much. And I miss you already. 

December 2010

Two weeks ago, we had a prayer meeting for our friend, Sydney. She’s been struggling since the summer with complications from the swelling in her brain caused by a tumor. She is young, vibrant, and beautiful.

As people began to share updates on her so that we could pray more specifically, I became overwhelmed. Not only because she is suffering, but according to those closest to her she has had only two days in the last 8 weeks where she seemed very much like her real self.  The tumor is robbing us of her in many heart wrenching ways. Her husband described it this way on her most recent Caring Bridge Update:

“Because of her lack of recovery, the doctors are concerned that her brain may have been injured beyond its ability to regenerate. This is not common in young people, but it does occasionally happen. Additionally, the doctors are beginning to put her tumor in the camp of gliomatosis cerebri, rather than just an infiltrative astrocytoma. This type of tumor is very rare and frequently pervades throughout the brain in a way that cannot always be seen on an MRI. This type of tumor would be more able to traumatize the brain.

In any event, while she is not in any real physical pain, her anxiety, agitation, and delusional state are by far our biggest challenge right now. Effectively, she is suffering from mental illness and addressing this is our first priority.”

It turns out that her two ‘good’ days were on December 22 and 23rd. The same two days that she had asked me for some music, and I went to give it to her.  It was as if a dark cloud went away for an afternoon so that you could finally catch a glimpse of the sun. You know the sun is always there even if it is hidden, but you miss it all the same.

As I sit and think on it, I am unsure why I was given that gift of “seeing” her again. I am not her closest friend in life though we have been connected on a deep heart level for several years.  Lately, the thought has occurred to me it could have been so I could record it for others. For all of the people in her life that love and miss her so much, because I am one of many.

On December 23, 2010, I stood on the front porch of my friend’s house bearing gifts. I looked at the colorful wreath hanging on the door and remembered walking into the same house a year ago with over 70 other ladies for our church’s annual Christmas party. It was a night alive with people, activity, and chaos. Exactly the way Sydney likes things and is, amazingly, able to thrive.

I knocked gently on the front door honoring the handwritten sign tapped over the doorbell. Though cautioned of her current state, I was still stunned to see her lying in a hospital bed. As I peaked in at her, she saw me. She got very excited and perked up. I sat down in the wheelchair next to her and positioned myself to see her better.

Of all things she asked me how I was doing, inquired after my husband’s schooling, and our new church. As we sat talking and catching up, her husband brought in a hot, steamy bowl of pepper and olive oil linguine. She insisted that she and I have lunch together. He smiled at her and said, “I’ll get Carrie a bowl, but first I want you to taste it to see if I’ve gotten it just right.”  Picking up a wad of pasta with her fingers, she took a bite and confined he had.

As we ate, I looked up at a painting that hung on the wall beside us. I asked, “Syd, did you paint that?”

It was an enormous starburst of bright, bold color. She told me that she had painted it last year while taking a class. Then she said with a smirk and a shrug of her shoulders, “He said you could not do a painting with a putty knife.”

I laughed out loud as I assumed she was referring to the teacher and noticed the thick, blunt streaks that were clearly made with such an instrument.

I asked her to tell me more about her major in college. She took studio art at Carolina, and I never tire of hearing her experiences with creating things, though she never gives herself much credit. I asked her who her favorite artist was which led her into a dreamy reverie of Vincent Van Gogh. She told me of how she fell in love with his colors many years ago.  Then almost in the same breath, she looked forward and said, “That’s Kasey Kahne in that commercial. I’m obsessed with him.”

One thing I love about Sydney is her use of the word ‘obsessed.’ When she gets excited about a new thing or person, which is often, that is her indicator that something new has been born.

I looked at the TV and laughed out loud remembering her recent fascination with Nascar. “Sydney” I said, “only you could love those two things together” as I pointed up to her painting and then to the young driver sporting the #83. She laughed.

As we sat together, she asked if I had received the email about their Christmas party that was taking place at the house that night. I was confused. She got upset thinking that my expression was one of feeling slighted for my lack of invite.  She said, “Carrie, just come anyway. It’s going to be huge. EVERYONE is invited”

But that was not the reason for my puzzlement. I took a good look at her, lying in bed in her nightgown. I knew deep down that there was no party, but I realized that if she had been well again, there most certainly would have been because that’s how she rolls. This painful reality made me sad.

I let her know that I had not checked my email in the last few days and for her not to worry. She  got really excited and told me to go into her closet to look at her “sharp, red pants suit” for the party. I mentioned I had just read an article in the paper about how they were coming back in style, as if I was any kind of authority on the matter. She totally agreed and insisted again that I go look.

I got up and walked to the closet with her back to me. I opened the door feeling a bit sheepish for looking inside. It felt too personal, and I knew that Sydney has never been one for ‘tidiness.’ I took a deep breath and relaxed when I realized that she was never one to care that she was not either.

The closet was neat which actually deepened my sadness. It was just another indication of her lack of mobility. I looked to the left for her pants suit but only saw her husband’s clothes neatly arranged.

Then I looked to the right, and I froze. I saw all of her clothes and shoes. Syd is known for her clothes; the styles and color combinations that only she can pull off with brilliance. Here she was again vibrant, beautiful still hanging and folded in her closet. I ran my hand over her lime green fleece, a favorite of mine and moved a couple of shirts to take in all of the bold prints.

I looked at her jewelry knowing this was not even half of it.  I also knew that she didn’t know or care where the rest of it was due to loaning out so many beautiful things. If you ever admired something in her presence, it quickly became your own because, she made claims on very little.

I saw my favorite shirt of hers. The last time I saw her in it was at our women’s bible study this fall. I remembered her telling me that she was worried because her right side had started to freeze up. She showed me the remnants of her coffee that she dropped and spilled because her hand had spontaneously given way. I felt sick inside.

I saw the salmon blouse that she was wearing the last time I saw her walking. We were at a cookout together in October where we sat and chatted. She leaned forward and told me that she wanted me to come over sometime. She wanted me to sit by her bed with her and pray.

I stood there taking in her amazing sense of style and relaxed beauty. My friend, Julianna and I still laugh at the time we were at a TCBY last spring, and Syd randomly walked through the door. Frozen Yogurt had become a new “obsession”.

We looked at her dressed in a cute short, brown dress, a bright pashmina, and rain boots with polka dots on them. There was not a cloud in the sky, and she looked stunning.

All of it just rushed over me as I ran my fingers across her fleece. Wondering. Just wondering.

When I sat back down, she asked me if I had ever had a certain type of cookie that she loved.  She asked me to go and preheat the oven, because she was going to get up and make some for me and my girls. I smiled and went into the kitchen.

I did not know what to do. I felt so aimless, small, and out of control thinking over the last few months.  I stood all alone in the quiet and just prayed. Prayed that my friend would walk again.  Paint again. Dazzle again. Obsess again. Glow again.

When I sat back down with her, I could tell she was getting tired. Though our talking got slower and quieter, she told me about all of the things she wanted to do this year. All of the things she wanted to learn. I listened to her idea of a taking a trip on a bike designed by a friend to accommodate her special needs. She mentioned kayaking, and a list of other things.

She began to close her eyes more often, and I ran my fingers through her hair. She smiled. I said that it was so soft and pretty. Her eyes were closed as she said, “My hairdresser came yesterday, and I had it done. I’m obsessed with her.”  I smiled.

“Sydney,” I said, “I’m going to go and let you get some rest” still running my fingers through her hair. It felt like a baby chick. I stood up and heard her trying to recite the fruits of the spirit. With her eyes closed, she got stuck on one. I leaned down to give her a hug and whispered the word ‘gentleness’ in her ear.

As I was leaving she said, “Carrie, you know what verse I’m going to put on our Christmas card this year?” I stopped and turned around.  She said “what Mary said,” with her eyes closed. I asked if she meant what Mary said to the angel Gabriel. She nodded trying to recall it.  I recited, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” She nodded, and I left quietly.

As I walked away, I treasured up all of the things and pondered them in my heart.

A Love Note From Above

This morning my youngest found a note tucked into a book that I received at my last birthday party. It has been on the shelf for 13 months. I’m overwhelmed love how the Lord uses people to speak truth into our dark places even when 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