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

The Birthday Girl

(*photo by Eugenia Grow)

It had everything one might expect 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, he has unselfishly time and again, invited people into his grief and loss with his amazing writing.

Now he opened up his home (and Syd’s closet:) which provided everyone with an opportunity to pause, laugh, feel, and 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 wildflowers.

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 wheelchair 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 Syd’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 everywhere 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 quiet. 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)

Go in Peace.

“Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”  Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings.

Three years ago today on a Wednesday afternoon, I sat with my grandmother and her two children as she drew her last breath and left this earth. I did not know that she was going to pass away on that day. I just knew that it was going to be soon. It was two weeks before her 91st birthday.

She had been rapidly declining over the previous weeks, and my mother called to say that the medical staff had begun to administer morphine to keep my “Memaw” pain-free. The end was drawing closer, so I went to say goodbye.

I sat by her bedside. She was unresponsive except for her loud methodical breaths that echoed throughout the room. I got very angry sitting there and contemplated leaving. Instead, I just laid my head down on her bed and cried. I let all that was inside of me pour out on to her covers.

After a while my uncle and I began to talk when all of a sudden, we heard her breathing skip a beat. He and I looked at each other. I turned back to Memaw and it happened again. Then all of a sudden, she took one last deep breath and then it stopped altogether. Forever.

She was gone.

All my life, I had feared and dreaded the moment when she would no longer exist. She helped raise me, and we were very close. I was not sure if I could get through the next several days.

This was compounded because most of my friends were set to leave for our churches women’s retreat in two days. Some of them were in leadership and could not miss the trip, so they would be unable to walk with me through the weekend.

I would have my husband and children by my side but not some of my best peeps. I can still hear my friend Jen saying, “Carrie, if the funeral can be on Sunday, I promise you….we will be there. We will get back for you.”

Knowing my predicament, my family gave me a beautiful gift, one of the best I have ever received from them. Since Memaw was to be buried in South Carolina on Saturday, they scheduled her memorial service for late Sunday afternoon where I would be speaking in her memory along with my brother and twin sister.

Friday morning, I sat on my front porch feeling very sad and alone. My friends were set to leave to go on my favorite weekend of the year. My phone rang and I looked to see Sydney Gaylord’s name popping up on my phone.

I answered it literally with laughter and tears, because I love how God works. We chatted for a bit and she asked me questions just like she was always so good at doing. I told her I was so sad to be left at home for the weekend. She too promised me that she would be there for the memorial service.

I was deeply touched by her call and I no longer felt so alone. Sydney was 5 1/2 months pregnant with their third child and not particularly known for showing up to places on time or when she said she was going to. So for me just to have that memory was enough.

Sunday night came and as I walked into the church with my family, I saw all the faces of the friends and people whom I loved. What an amazing gift. They were all there, some only back in town for a few hours. I rose and walked to the podium. I faced the crowd and looked up into the balcony. There was Sydney and her husband, Todd. I could not believe it.

In the weeks that followed, I found it hard to adjust to life and to grieving. I did not think as clearly nor move as quickly and would cry spontaneously in public. This is very difficult in a culture that prides itself on production and efficiency. I was struggling and one day soon after the funeral, Sydney called and asked to watch my children for an afternoon so I could have some quiet time to write.

She knew that it was hard for me to accept help, so she insisted, almost pleading that it would actually help her to have my girls over to play with her younger children. It takes a special person to spin something like that to make you feel as though you are doing them a favor by accepting their offer of childcare.

When I picked up my girls, Sydney and I  sat down and talked for a bit. I remember because she made me laugh so hard going on and on about my grandmother’s name. It was Cossetta, but everyone called her “Cozy.”

Sydney kept saying, “Can you imagine a cooler nickname!?” “I’d love to be called that.”

And then came the words I’ll never forget and have thought of several times over the past two weeks.

“Carrie,” she said, “I loved what you wrote about your grandmother for the memorial service. I wish I could have met her. I wish I could have known your “Memaw.”

Yesterday, chilly and alone, I sat by Sydney’s graveside. We chatted for a bit, and  I ended our little talk by asking her to say ‘hi’ to my Memaw. I feel certain that they have finally met one another and with further contemplation, was struck by their similarities of sheer courage and determination. I imagined the stories they swapped and shared.

Like this one….

My grandmother was in a potential life shattering car accident when I was in college. She broke several ribs and her femur when she slammed into the steering wheel.

She had to be cut out of the car that day and I’ll never forget her battered face and body when they rolled her into surgery. The road to recovery was long and very painful, but she walked it. Literally.

I remember being in the hospital room when the Doctor came in to advise the family to have her leg amputated. We declined and 5 months later, she walked unassisted into her Sunday School’s Christmas party. Sound familiar?

The day after my grandmother passed away, I went for a long run thinking about all of our years together. It was difficult loosing her, but mostly were the fears I had of the unknown of where she was.

I was trying to work things out in my mind when I stopped jogging and started to walk. It was so lovely out and you could feel the assurance of autumn in the air. The sky was so clear and blue so I just sat down and rested in the grass. That was when I heard these words speaking to my spirit.

They were “Carrie, It is much harder to be left behind than to have gone where I am now. Don’t worry about me.  I am complete now. I am whole. I am so happy. There is no “missing” here because there is no loneliness or separation.”

I knew that I did not understand all I was “hearing.” I got up and walked home feeling better and more at peace than I had in a long time because I had finally let her go.

Let her go in peace.

It is not so easy with Sydney. She was so young, vibrant and had so many full years left a head of her before the cancer came. All it takes for the tears to fall is to think of Todd, the kids, her family and her close friends.

But, as I sat there yesterday at the cemetery, I had never been more convinced that she was no longer here. The grass had begun to grow on top of her grave and soon the marker of her name and years will be settled in its place to alert those passing by that this is where her body is laid to rest. But just her body and nothing else.

Her laughter and zeal for life did not cease with her breathing, it only changed locations. And now, our friend who was SO bound and frustrated by time on this earth is no longer late for anything. What brought such chaos, hardship, and discord for her earthly life is no longer a thought or a worry where she is now.

For once in her life, she can truly Go In Peace.

“But the worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.”
– Frederick Buechner, The Final Beast

Dressed in Gentleness: When Someone Loves What You Dislike

This past February had been long and difficult.  When life gets this way, I tend to compound matters by doubting myself and my design. God chose to make me into a gigantic “feeler,” and often times, I cannot stand it. As a matter of fact, one of my questions for the comment box that I envision hanging on the pearly gates before you walk into Heaven will pertain to this creative decision by the Potter’s hand.

I woke up one morning that cold, dreary month almost offended that another day had arrived.

Didn’t I JUST do this yesterday? And now I have to DO IT all over again??!

I sat down at my computer and opened up my email. There was a message from my friend, Sydney. She had forwarded me her daily devotional from Henri Nouwen.

I opened it and at first, I laughed out loud. I read what she wrote not fully taking in its meaning and got tickled because I LOVE how she always extended her “O’s” for certain words. Two of her favorite uses were reserved for the words ‘so’ and ‘love.’ Immediately, I felt better and I wondered when I would see her monogram changed to “SSSSSSBBBBBBGGGGGG.”

I refocused and read her email to me.

And then I cried, because I am a “feeler.”

Feb. 10, 2011

This is SOOOOOOO YOU!!!!!!!!!!  I LOVE YOU, Syd.

“Dressed in Gentleness

Once in a while we meet a gentle person. Gentleness is a virtue hard to find in a society that admires toughness and roughness. We are encouraged to get things done and to get them done fast, even when people get hurt in the process. Success, accomplishment, and productivity count. But the cost is high. There is no place for gentleness in such a milieu.

Gentle is the one who does “not break the crushed reed, or snuff the faltering wick” (Matthew 12:20). Gentle is the one who is attentive to the strengths and weaknesses of the other and enjoys being together more than accomplishing something. A gentle person treads lightly, listens carefully, looks tenderly, and touches with reverence. A gentle person knows that true growth requires nurture, not force. Let’s dress ourselves with gentleness. In our tough and often unbending world our gentleness can be a vivid reminder of the presence of God among us.”

There is something very beautiful about being known and loved in the areas that you dislike about yourself. That is the beauty of living in community because others can speak words of life into the parts of your heart and soul that feel like death or a burden. It is helpful to have a different perspective than your own especially when the personal one is fraught of years and years of negative affirmation and association.

Sydney encouraged me that day to see that there was something lovely and special about my design. And I am sooooooooooooo thankful to have known her and been known by her. I hope to take the words to heart even more now that she is gone and the surprise emails and notes of encouragement will no longer come, which is the beauty of a memory saved and remembered. It can be missed but not forgotten.

Too, I hope that I will do the same for someone else when I read or hear something that reminds me of their special design. Maybe they also will feel a “vivid reminder of the presence of God among us” and be blessed as I was that day to see myself in a different, more gentle light.

Feb. 7, 2011

thank you for sending me this sydney. you are so dear to me.

That’s the irony of you sending me this. You make me feel this way. There is something so stabilizing and comforting to me when i am with you that makes me feel not hurried and at rest. It’s nothing you ‘do’, it’s just who you are. 🙂 You’re medicine for my soul.

You’ve always reminded me of a big sister:).

Hope PT goes well. I’m so proud of you. You have been through the fire these last few months, and you are still willing to try and rise(stand:). i admire that so much in you.

much love. always.

Love Wash Over

Love wash over a multitude of things

Jesus save us from a multitude of things

Make us whole.

There is a love that never fails
There is a healing that always prevails
There is a hope that whispers a vow
A promise to wait while we’re working it out
So come with your love and wash over us

When It Was Over by. Sara Groves

The last time I saw Sydney was July 17, 2011. It was after church. I went up to her and gave her a hug. She stayed seated and seemed weighed down. I knew she had not been feeling well. We talked for a bit.

She grabbed my hand and said that she would like for  me to come over to her house very soon. She wanted me to sit by her bed and just pray with her. I would have liked nothing more than to spend that special time together.

The next day, I got sick. It turned into a bad two-week summer cold which finally went away while I was at camp. The next week, we went to the beach to celebrate my girls birthday’s with my family. I got home to begin school on Monday August 15th as Sydney began radiation on August 17th.

Twelve days later, she was gone.

I did not get to sit by her bed. I did not get to pray with her.

Grieving is hard. It is like an unruly toddler. Some days it won’t come when it’s called. It is illusive and slips away. Then on other days it follows you around like a shadow. It grabs relentlessly at your pants leg, begging you to stop and bend down to pick it up.

Yesterday morning, I sat and let grief crawl up into my lap. I read countless emails that I have saved through the years and notes that Sydney and I had written to each other. I cried. I laughed. And I remembered.

I realized that our relationship has always been one of comfort and encouragement from a distance. Tons of emails, even before her diagnosis, that were prayers, verses, and words of love and affirmation.

I realized that though I did not get to sit with her in the last month like she wanted, that she was never farther away than a prayer.

Which is still true today.

When Faith Shall Be Sight

*taken at my friend’s grave side.

The family released Monarch Butterflies during a private burial service in honor of Sydney Gaylord’s life and death. I went on Friday to say goodbye to my friend. One of the butterflies stayed behind. I do not know if someone placed it there, but I found this one nestled into the white flowered cross Friday evening. Such a lovely picture.

Rest In Peace, Sweet Syd.

Psalm 91:1

“She who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Letters To Sydney: One Brave Chick

Sydney Boone Gaylord

April 13, 1976 – August 29, 2011

January 2, 2009
Dear Syd,
I am sending you some songs and pictures that God has given me on my journey to remind me of His tender presence in the midst of such trial, suffering, and ‘seeming’ absenteeism. Sometimes the only place He can be found for me is in my iPod or my garden.

Too, I know I have tried to communicate this in such a floundering, helpless manner, but my heart is with you both in this prolonged season of testing. Coupled with the fact that I am a deep feeler by design and I have found such a deep, restful comfort in being your friend.

I am constantly amazed by how you can be so present and full of gentle anticipation and wonder with people. This has been such a gift to me. I am someone who has deep seeded fears of being known and being still with others. But, you have this God-given ability to make people relax and almost treasure the thing that brings them the most fear. This truly has been one of your gifts to a lost and hurting world.

Yesterday I went out by myself to try to get anchored and rooted after the shock of your diagnosis. In a parking lot, I wept deep tears for you and Todd before God. The Lord dealt with me gently and kindly said, “Carrie, you cannot take this away for Sydney and Todd. And you cannot take care of her. But I can. I am going to take care of Sydney. I promise. Your job is to love her, but not to carry her.”

So, I just wanted to let you know that I am trying to fight this overwhelming urge to ‘carrie’ you.:) Instead, I am going to offer you up to the One who can. I thank you for being in my life and giving me yet another opportunity to trust God and believe in His goodness.

I am reminded of when I spoke at my grandmother’s memorial service and looked up to see you and Todd in the balcony. I was so moved by you both being there, supporting me in my deep loss and sadness. Now I will look up again to the One who will do the same for us all. I will look up to the One who will carry and comfort us through this season.

I love you Syd. love to Todd, and the little cuties:)

soon and very soon,

September 1, 2011

Dear Sydney,

I have been reading the letter I wrote to you years ago because in a few hours, we will celebrate your life and lay your sweet body into the ground to rest and wait. I admit that the reason for my deep fear and what prompted me to write you that letter in the first place was because I was terrified of this day.

When Holly called to share with me your diagnosis, I had to sit down right in the middle of Barnes and Nobles. I was overwhelmed. I was afraid then and there that you were going to die. I was scared for Todd, the kids, and all of the rest of us who could not imagine life without you as part of our skyline.

I realize now, completely exhausted from all my tears shed over the past week, that racing to the end of the story that day was very short-sighted. Sitting there in the fiction section, I could not see all that God was going to speak with your life. He had used you so well in health, why would I think that would change in your sickness?

On that dreary December Day, I could not see that you would have almost a year and a half of feeling better than you ever had in the previous 33 years leading up to your diagnosis. I did not know that you would begin to wake up early, exercise, and LOVE it.

I could not see that you would go on to run half marathons(*read talk during half marathons), ride a bike across the state of Virginia, take spin classes, love Nascar, discover bird watching, keep painting, love your family and friends deeper, and continue to leave your fingerprints on many lives, especially those who were hurt and suffering.

I know it was hard for you to be sick and in so much pain. I am not trying to minimize the hellish nature of  a brain tumor and living with the fear that you may not get to age with Todd or watch your children grow up.

But, you did it Sydney. You ran the race with such tenacity and perseverance, and I am so proud of you. You dear, special, beautiful woman.

Remember in February when Todd asked me to come over with Lisa and Kelly to have dinner with you? You were in your wheel chair and we just chatted. You asked me how I was doing and what was new in my life. I told you that I was speaking at a large Womens conference April first. You began counting out loud and landed on seven.

“Sydney,” I said. “Seven what?”

“Seven weeks, Carrie. You speak in seven weeks. I’ll be walking by then.” you said.

I smiled and hoped for you.

And the night after that conference, you walked all by yourself into the restaurant for my birthday dinner.

So tenacious. So brave. So Sydney.

Sweet Syd,

These are the verses I’ve prayed for you since you got sick. Look at them now. I came across them in my fear one day and prayed them with a heart that pleaded to God that you would get well. I begged Him to heal you.

With these verses back in December, we cried out that He would give you back to us. And He did. You got better and for 7 months, you got to love all of those who loved you with a fullness that few can understand.

Now I see that His plan all along was to heal you.

So today we will shout for joy at your victory.

And we’ll shed tears because you are gone and will be missed terribly.

Love to you,

Carrie Luke

Emmanuel. God with us.

December 27, 2010

It was two years ago today, that my friend was diagnosed with a significant brain tumor in her left frontal lobe. I remember exactly where I was when I received the call. I can recall vividly having to sit down in the middle of Barnes and Nobles because I was in shock and stunned to the deep parts of myself.  It was as if someone had knocked the wind out of me, and I was struggling desperately to catch my breath and regain control. As if I had control in the first place.

Last week, I received an email from her husband telling me that she wanted some Christmas music. She was now home from the hospital recovering from pneumonia and some complications from the swelling of the tumor.  After her diagnosis, I made her lots of music to try and convey my thoughts from a far since they had stayed in their home town with family trying to regain their footing after such a revelation.

Music has always had an uncanny knack of reaching into those undisclosed places in a unique way.  And I was at a complete loss of my own words, but had no shortage of fears, feelings, and desires for her to know that I was with her as much as possible. Even if I was afraid, which I was. And am.

So, the day before Christmas eve, I quietly knocked on the front door of their home bearing gifts. My friend’s husband let me in and led me to their room. The house was very quiet since the kids had been taken on an outing with their grandparents.

She was in bed resting, so I had to approach her from behind. I was very nervous. Would she recognize me? Would she be too tired to see me, and therefore aggravated by my intrusion? And what do you say in the face of so much suffering and sickness?

I leaned around the side of the bed, and smiled. She looked up at me, and grinned. We hugged and kissed each other on the cheek. Then she pulled me close to her and said, “Kiss me on the other side as well, I’m now greeting like the Europeans.”

I obliged happily, and  laughed at her ability to remain so unique. I gave her the CD’s and unwrapped a framed picture for her that I took this summer of a butterfly in all it’s glory. I said her name, held up the image and said, “This is you. And will always be you to me.”

We spent some time laughing and talking.  I tended to her needs very thankful for the moments I had spent with others who were sick.  I tried to follow her thoughts even when I did not understand. It was in the midst of our time together that I realized, I was no longer afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. It was just good for me to be present with her and to meet her where she was. Acknowledging and being so sorry that she felt bad. And laughing with her because she is funny.

It was just like the text I had received from my friend Michelle whom I had asked to pray for my time. She wrote to me, “The ministry of presence is so huge. There is something it does for the soul that the Lord meant for us to give to one another.”

When I could tell that my friend was getting tired, I ran my fingers through her soft hair. I told her that I loved her and was going to let her get some rest.  She nodded her head and we hugged once more. I went on my way as quietly as I had entered.

Though I was not the same, for the word Emmanuel was upon my lips in a new, fresh way.  I thought again of Michelle’s words and the ministry of presence that one simple word communicates. Emmanuel. God with Us. With Me. In my sickness. In my sadness. In my lost places. In my loneliness.

In my joy. And in my glory.  Always. And Forever.

Luke 1: 78-79 “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and to guide us to the path of peace.” (NLT)