Take Me Out To The Ball Game!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

"I'm So Thankful Because God Answered ____________ Prayer", And Other Horse Pucky

   I was listening to L.A.'s Christian talk station the other evening when the afternoon drive guy was asking people to call and say what they were thankful for this year, specifically to tell stories of how God had answered their prayers in the past year.  Now I am ALL for proclaiming God's goodness ALL the time, and it's certainly a GREAT thing to be thankful for any and ALL answered prayers, but let's get this straight right now:  God is good ALL the time and ALL the time He is good.  Answered prayers are NOT the only, or even the best, evidence of God's grace and mercy, and how He is at work in our lives. You don't see it?  You don't feel it?  Bummer.  That doesn't change the facts of WHO God is:  He IS good.  All the freakin' time.  He is ALWAYS working on behalf of those who commit their lives to Him, give their hearts over to Jesus, and who daily want more of God in their hearts and less of themselves.

  So that rant aside, it just got me thinking, what do I have to be thankful for this year?  Notice I didn't ask, "What prayers did God answer this year?"  No, it's more like "What are the events of 2011 that I could put in the "thankfulness-column"?  Quite frankly I'm ending this year on an incomprehensibly sad note.  I feel like I've taken a cannon to the chest and at any moment, indeed at any point in the day, I could dissolve into tears.  Sometimes I do.  It's Christmas Day, just a little over one month that my beloved nephew, Jason, died.  Twenty three days ago was his funeral.  On one hand it seems like an Edgar Allen Poe nightmarish tale from a very long time ago and then all at once it seems like it was just yesterday and I start to cry again.  So what am I thankful for in THIS nightmare scenario that Jason was taken from us in his early 20's, in THE prime of his life?  I'm thankful I got to know him.  I'm thankful that he knew Jesus personally and that Jason was a GOOD person.  No, I mean he was really a GOOD human being.  I have moments where I'm nice; I can be polite, I can be caring and kind.  I'm not talking about that.  Jason LIVED it 24/7.  He made this world better because he was in it.  From paying for groceries for total strangers, to showing kindness and love (gigantic bear hugs) to EVERYONE he knew, Jason was good through and through.  I'm really, really glad that my husband and my kids and I got to know him and that we chose to invest in his life while we lived near him for three years.  (see my previous blog posts to get to know just how amazing Jason was)

  I'm SO thankful that our daughter is getting some MUCH needed help through resources like an autism/anxiety study we participated in at UCLA to now weekly counseling closer to home.  I'm thankful that I'm letting go of the self-condemnation and self-imposed stigma of asking for chemical intervention on her behalf.  I'm thankful that God doesn't beat me with the "bad parent" stick and that I'm learning to recognize that when that stick comes out, it's the devil himself who's holding it.  I'm thankful that our family is beginning to heal from years of incomprehensible insanity stemming from autism-related behaviors.  I'm thankful we have a knowledgeable and conservative doctor who truly CARES, not only about our daughter, but that our family survives intact.  I'm thankful that as I write this, we ARE a family; our daughter is sleeping soundly in her bedroom and not in a group home, or a residential treatment facility, or even a hospital.  If you have a child with emotional challenges, you KNOW that words cannot describe the pain you suffer as it looks at times like your child's psyche might be dissolving in front of your eyes.

  I'm thankful for the friendships I've made on-line through social media and various listservs I belong to that bring parents of kids with autism and special needs in general, together.  The bond we parents share is very strong and the safety of the forums is like a fortress standing against the gales and hurricanes in a world, filled with family members and total strangers, that has NO idea what it's like to live with kids with special needs and the unfathomable amount of pressure that we live with on a daily basis.  I'm thankful I have a place where I can ask questions, cry, rant, laugh, share every single victory (no matter how small it seems to most people), and to just be able to ask for help to get through the rough days.

  I'm thankful that God is IN CHARGE of the details of our everyday lives, and I mean every MINUTE of our days.  In February of this year God took Jeff off of his career path, and away from what brought us here to L.A.  We still don't know what exactly we're going to do, but so far, God has made it clear that we're supposed to remain here and while we're here, He's providing every single thing we need.  Daily bread.  Only what we need.  We want for nothing.  It is a powerful way to live.  Everyday I press in to know God more intimately.  Everyday He answers.  I'm thankful that God reveals WHO He is in the pile of unanswered questions that start with "What about.......?" 

  I am thankful for the powerful, powerful friendships that bless me everyday.  There's just no way I could have made it through the last month without them, plain and simple.  I think there is a level of friendship here on earth that just defies words--like that person is the other half of your brain, your oxygen when you can't breathe, and who truly doesn't judge you for anything--not that she WOULDN'T slap you upside the head if you needed it, but short of doing something illegal, immoral or fattening, she just doesn't sit as the judge and jury in your life.  Words fail me, I just thank God EVERYDAY for that person, or in my case, these two people, and pray over them everyday.  I NEVER want to take them for granted and I am SO grateful to call them friends.

  I'm thankful that after three long years, it looks live we've found a church home.  I don't know why it took us so long to visit this place, as we've known about it since we moved here.  Maybe we weren't ready, who knows, but it offers ASL interpretation and literally from the first night there, we've been embraced and welcomed.  I'm still getting used to it, this strange feeling of being welcomed, but I'm getting more comfortable every week.  So far no one's asked us to leave the sanctuary, people aren't staring and gawking at our merry little band.  In fact the second week we were there, after I had taken our son out of the sanctuary during a quieter time when our son decided it really wasn't HIS best time to be quiet, the sign language interpreter turned around to Jeff after the main sermon was done and told him NOT to take Hayden out just because he was making noise.  She told him Hayden was WELCOME to stay in the main sanctuary, no matter how loud he was.  I think my husband teared up a little at that.  No one has EVER said we were THAT welcome ANYWHERE.  For that spirit, that EVERYONE is welcome, I'm VERY thankful.

  I'm thankful that both of our kids continue to learn and grow so much.  Our son is saying and signing more and more words everyday, every week.  He's following directions, riding a bike, and he seems to be understanding life in general more and more everyday.  He has joy in his heart and is genuinely a happy person.  Our daughter's anxiety is probably at least half of what it was last year at this time and that touches EVERY aspect of our lives together as a family and we know she's feeling so much better. She is genuinely happier, she can concentrate better (night and day from last year), and she's now ABLE to cooperate now, which is a HUGE change.  For all of these little miracles, which we are still witnessing everyday, I am SO thankful.

  I'm thankful I'm exercising again.  The Newfoundland and I are schlepping ourselves around the park for an hour almost everyday and that's a good thing.  I need the time for mental health and I'm glad I'm making me a priority again.

  I'm thankful I'm learning how to knit and that I have a group to go to every week where I can sit under excellent light and think about nothing other than knitting and purling.  I've always enjoyed the group, but didn't realize until my recent absence with the funeral, Thanksgiving, and then a bout with the flu that kept me away, that I was genuinely an authentic member of the group.  Everyone seems sincerely concerned about me, and the possibility that the kids might not be okay, when I was gone.  It felt nice to be missed.  It feels nice to belong.

  I am thankful that no matter what happens, I am not alone.  God IS with me.  He DOES speak to me through His Word and through His "still-small voice" in my heart.  There are NO guarantees in this world:   jobs come and go, loved ones die far too early for your time-frame, and sometimes your land-lord gives you two weeks to move out of your house because he wants it back, but God IS in this stuff we call LIFE and He is ALWAYS working behind the scenes, because He's developing HIS character in our hearts as we go through all these challenges.  My daughter will always have autism and that's cool by me.  Will she always have emotional struggles?  I hope not, for all of our sakes', but God continues to prove WHO He is in our lives everyday, even when she DOES have rough patches.  I am thankful that God's mercies are truly NEW every morning, no matter what kind of day we've had before.  I need to do a better job of remembering that. 

  So to you God, I say thank you for bringing me through this year.  You ARE good.  You ARE kind.  You ARE comforting and you love even the darkest parts of my soul.  You love me even though you know I'm about to fumble and stumble....probably by Noon tomorrow.  Thank you for your patience.  Thank you for how you're working in our lives and thank you for giving us Your Son, Jesus, through Whom we can have a life IN you.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dear Me

  I recently exchanged some tweets with a mom of a little girl who's about six and a half years old and her parents strongly suspect she might have Asperger's.  That exchange harkened me "back to the day" (which now seems like 15 minutes ago) to when we started seeing some things in our daughter we couldn't quite put our finger on, but knew that it had to be more than "just" sensory integrationd dysfunction, something we knew she had since the day she was born.  In that spirit, here's a letter to the me, the parent of our then six year old:

Hey You,

  First of all I want to say to you that you're doing a GREAT job with your daughter.  No, I'm serious, you ARE doing a great job!  You've been a tireless student learning everything you could absorb about sensory integration dysfunction since the day she was born and you've made it your mission to do anything you could to help her on a daily basis.  And you've done all this while having another child with disabilities, who up until this point has been very medically involved.  And if that's not enough, your marriage has been to hell, although right now it looks like it's turning a corner.  Hang in there.  Keep reaching out to God; He's there for you with a life line. 

  Keep listening to your gut, especially when it comes to ANYthing having to do with your daughter.  Through a lifetime of dysfunctional relationships you've convinced yourself that your gut can't be trusted, but you're wrong. You're spot-on in thinking that she's showing you she has more going on inside her brain than sensory integration dsyfunction.  No it's not "normal" that she memorizes word-for-word the Bill Nye The Science Guy videos.  It's wonderful and YES, she IS understanding 99% of what she's watching in those videos, but it's not a "sensory thing" for a five or six year old to memorize and recite science videos.  Same for SpongeBob-lots of little kids LOVE SpongeBob, but not very many of them recite the show word-for-word.

  There's a reason the word "Asperger's" keeps popping up into your mind.  Pay attention and don't try to shoo it away to the corner.  Don't let your pediatrician tell you that you're right, but that there are no parental supports or services available to you in the community.  You are VERY, very wise though to get her going again in occupational therapy.

  Your daughter DOES have Asperger's and everything, I mean EVERYTHING she says and does from now on will flow from that; tics, behaviors, habits, speech patterns, ways of relating to people around her, it can all be traced back to Asperger's.  From that you need to get it in your head and heart right now that it's not YOUR fault that she's never been able to look you in the eye.  You know what I'm talking about and you've noticed since she was just days and weeks old.  You HAVE been a good parent;  you HAVE been nurturing, you HAVE been loving, you HAVE been adoring, you HAVE tried to meet every single need she EVER exhibited.  You have been sincere in all your interactions with her and I really need you to believe that it's NOT your fault!!  It's one of the key characteristics of having Asperger's;  eye contact is all but impossible.  Do NOT let ANYONE tell you that she's disrespectful because she CAN'T look at anyone in the eye, and for crying out loud, throw away ALL those old tapes running through your head about what it means to be a "good girl" or to be a good daughter.  You were raised with a level of rigidity and conditional love that military boarding schools can only dream of.  Your daughter IS a good girl, but she's going to show it in entirely different ways than anything you've experienced.

  You are doing a great job of listening to your gut when it comes to homeschooling her, but please, please, please throw away ALL academic expectations.  Asperger's is VERY MUCH autism and autism by definition is fraught with developmental DELAYS.  Did you hear me?  Your brilliant little girl has developmental DELAYS.  She's not going to be able to write very well for a few years, so put aside the writing primers and pencils.  Your daughter is also a kinesthetic learner.  She learns by DOING......EVERYTHING.  Don't put a workbook in front of her for YEARS. She'll be fine; she's a SPONGE and is learning everything all the time, the last thing in the world she needs is to be saddled to a chair for anything more than eating.  RELAX.  I know your getting messages from your father as to what homeschooling "should" look like.  It's just an OPINION.  Your father is not (and never has been) God.  Stop being intimidated by him and teach YOUR daughter in the way that is natural and comfortable for YOU (and the same goes for your son too).

  Your daughter is going to come up with tics and behaviors.  It's okay, it's all a part of having Asperger's.  These are soothing motions she does with her hands.  It's not your fault!!  Yes, your life has been a bit crazy, but not everything that goes on with her is a direct result of something you did WRONG.  Let God come in and fill in the gaps.  Don't let members of your family tell you your daughter is weird or that she sounds possessed with the sounds that she makes with her throat.  It's their fear and control talking.  They've never been around kids or people with disabilities and they don't have a box for you and your little tribe.  It's scary for them.  Keep on shielding your son and daughter from the hurtful comments.

  There is nothing "mild" about Asperger's.  You've already heard it and you'll hear it countless times that Asperger's is "high functioning" autism or a "light" version of autism.  It's not.  Don't fall into the mental trap of thinking that just parts of your daughter are effected by autism. Yes, she is verbal, but don't let that fool you.  Having Asperger's affects her ability to undertand the millions of subtle nuances in our everyday common verbal exchanges.  Her inability to "decode" language will be responsible for many, many (too many to number) misunderstandings.  Please try to remember that she's not always trying to pick fights--she honestly doesn't understand the subtleties of language.  She's every bit as impaired as your son who has severe hearing loss and is non-verbal.

  As if Asperger's and sensory integration dysfunction aren't enough to keep you busy with your little one, you will start to see some other things in her behavior that go beyond the Asperger's diagnosis.  People in the "know" call them "co-morbid" conditions.  Again, these behaviors and attitudes are NOT your fault.  Your daughter IS fearfully and wonderfully created, but the "thorn" in her side, might be managing some chemical imbalances present in her brain.  Please just know that she's not acting out because she hates you or that she is miserable in your family.  Her challenges have nothing to do with your competency or lack of love for her.  She knows you love her and then she'll go pull out all her eyelashes.  Please don't take it personally.  I know that's easier said than done, but please say that to yourself 515 times a day until you believe it.

  That's enough for now.  Just love her as she is; a precious, brilliant, sensitive and deeply spiritual girl who hears the voice of God in her heart.


The wiser you

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Scenes From A Funeral

  "Ya know how in families everyone is crazy, but at the end of the day, they're family and you love them anyway?  Ya, well, that's not my family!"  I shamelessly stole this line from a Debra Messing, Dermot Mulroney movie I watched yesterday while I was sick in bed with the flu because, well, IT FITS!!  I feel like Lucy, from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" when she yells, "That's IT!!!"

  Yep, that's my family.  The forces of good and evil have been on a collision course for quite awhile but it all came to a freaky, ugly head at the funeral of my beloved nephew a week ago.  I say this without an ounce of acrimony or malace whatsoever.  It just is what it is.  I am watching the end game of a lifetime of bitterness and self-pity.  I am watching what happens when people DON'T get sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I am watching what happens when people hold on to pain instead of turning it over to God, or their Higher Power.  It's not pretty.  There are bound to be victims, there's bound to be bloodshed.  At the funeral I saw one of my cousins taking photos at various times throughout the day but for the life of me, I couldn't bring myself to take any pictures of anyone or anything; it just didn't seem appropriate to say "hey, it's been forever since I've seen you!  Could you move that giant pile of used tissue from the table so I can get a picture of you and your adorable children?", or "Hey, you've been crying non-stop for over a week, say CHEESE!"  So what I lack in digital imagery, I will try to portray with words.  These pictures in my mind's eye may not be in chronological order so bear with me.

*My friend Sue picks me up for the funeral in her car.  She's in a charcoal grey wool coat and she's wearing blush.  She has a calm resolve about her, somehow I know she means business today and she's going to be my rock.

*We get to the church, get out of her car and walk across the parking lot to see Jim, my nephew's long time wrestling mentor (he was just one of two or three former wrestlers who went to every one of his matches), employer at times, surrogate father, friend, and biggest fan, saying hi to my dad.  He was clearly and understandably choked up.  We hugged and both of us fell apart.  I felt his loss so deeply and would do anything to take away his pain.

*I see my dad and I'm relieved.  We had left from the same house, so I knew he was going, I was just relieved to actually see him there, in real life.  The night I had arrived in town for the funeral my dad told me my nephew's mother (my cousin to whom I had always been the closest) had forbade him to attend and was threatening to have him arrested should he disobey her edict.  She had her pastor call my dad to tell him he wasn't allowed to attend, but I don't think anyone knows why exactly and I don't know that she explained her reasons to my dad. She's in a bad place.  She's not a bad person, just a hurting person who's lashing out.  Unfortunately it's toward the one person, who has always loved her like a daughter, and until her mother (my aunt) married her wonderful step-dad when we were 12, my dad was in many way a father-figure to all my cousins, but I digress.

*The kiss of Judas:  after I walked into the foyer, I saw a cousin across the way whom I hadn't seen in quite a few years.  Just as I walk up to her, I see her whisper something to someone behind her when she spots my dad, who had followed me into the building.  She hugs me without warmth and I felt a chill go up my spine.  I look behind me see the pastor who will be officiating the service telling my dad to leave.  It has begun.  The unthinkable scenario is about to unfold.

*An unmoveable object in the church foyer.  My nephew David, Jason's older brother, had heard the night before that his parents had forbidden my dad from attending.  He wasn't happy.  This picture shows him standing his full 6'2" with his brand new light blue dress shirt tucked into tan shorts towering WAY over the officiating minister telling him under no uncertain terms will his uncle NOT not be allowed into his brother's funeral.  Considering he could have snapped him like a twig, David showed the utmost strength of character and dignity in NOT losing his composure even for one second.  He stated his case with passion and integrity and with few words.  The left side of his neck is splotchy red from the stress of the confrontation.  He doesn't speak harshly to anyone, ever, that I know of.  His eyes are flashing.  He's asking the minister to go get the police so they can tell him why his peaceful uncle is about to be hauled away in handcuffs.

*I look at Sue at the edge of the foyer taking in this unfolding melodrama.  She's standing straight as a statue, like she's made out of granite, and afraid to move for fear of getting in the way or missing something, but her eyes show great concern.  Her hands are cold.  Mine are violently shaking.  I say over and over again "this can't be happening".  She holds my hand.  I think I'm coming very close to passing out.

*I tell the pastor that love will win the day.  He keeps saying over and over that my dad has to leave.  I tell him that evil isn't going to win.  Love wins the day.  I say my peace and walk away.

*Jason's mother, my beloved cousin with whom I've had SO MUCH fun and laughter and wonderful conversations over the years, comes from the sanctuary and in about three strides with her long, long, legs is at my dad's side telling him she has to talk with him outside and to come with her right this instant.  My dad won't budge.  He's not mad, he's just not going to follow her anywhere, and not certainly not outside the building.

*One of my nieces, ones of David's sisters, is pulling at his sleeve in the foyer, "David, come ON!  They're starting the service now and I want you there!  PLEASE come in!  They will start the service without you-now I don't want that to happen, so please come with me now!"  David won't go with her.  She goes into the sanctuary alone, upset.

*I see my dad through the church foyer doors talking to the police outside the church.  The foyer has emptied and presumably everyone has walked in and taken their seats. The next thing I know, my dad is walking into the sanctuary with David.  They stand in the back.  Sue and I take two seats in the back row.  If my dad is hauled away by the police, I need a quick escape.

*One of my nieces who has been sobbing, probably non-stop since she heard the news, miraculously pulls herself together to give a lovely and poignant story of what it was like for her, a sign language interpreter, to work at Jason's middle and high schools.  It's funny in parts and very touching.  Jason's nickname for her was "Ragdoll" and he carried her around school like she was his toy.  She signs "I love you" toward Jason's casket as she leaves the podium.

*One of Jason's sisters sings a song.  I see this in the program and think "has everyone has lost their ever-lovin' mind to have a sister sing a song at a funeral??"  And not just a song, her part of a duet that she and Jason used to sing together.  Has this family completely gone off the deep end?  She does a terrific job.  She's an amazing girl (young woman now) on so many levels.  I admire her even more.

*After the service I went home with my dad (he left quickly before my cousin could call the police again) and I drove his car back to the church so I could attend the graveside service.  As I walk up to the church doors again, my niece (the one who sang) is holding one of the doors open and needs help with the other one.  They are carrying Jason's casket out from the sanctuary to the waiting hearse.  I hold the doors wide open with her and take in the surreal, somber scene.  Again my mind tries to tell me my eyes are playing tricks on me.  Another cousin takes pictures of the pallbearers carrying the casket.  I can't imagine why anyone would need a photograph to remember that moment in time.  It is forever etched in my heart and brain.

*I see Jason's oldest sister as we close the church doors and we hug tightly.  We walk arm-in-arm down to the church basement where the food and the rest of the family and friends are.  I get to see her beautiful and amazing boys, whom I haven't seen in three and a half years.  One of them is "new", although now he's nearly two and a half and he is truly beautiful.  The middle boy, "Natey" was born looking EXACTLY like his Uncle Jason.  I'm glad I get to see his sweet face again.

*Jason's mom and her husband stay on opposite sides of the church basement from me for the remainder of the food time.  The rift feels like a chasm.  I feel empty.

*My middle cousin and I have a nice time in the church basement hall as she tells me beautiful memories of how Jason drove to Alabama many times to spend time with her and her husband and their wonderful daughters.  We are smiling and crying through the stories thanking God so very much that He let such an amazing boy come into our lives.  We agree that WE are the blessed ones to have known Jason.

*Graveside.  The pastor doesn't say anything remotely relevant to Jason's life or memory, or the power of a living relationship with a loving God who is right here with us in our grief, so I tune out.  I look across the way and two of Jason's closest cousins, his buddies, are bent over sobbing.  His uncle's (my only male cousin) shoulders heave with desperate cries.  His son, another nephew, stands away from the group of his older cousins, crying alone, unashamed.  This all has to be a really bad story.  No one THIS adored, THIS beloved, THIS treasured, could be gone.  David stands behind the casket watching out over the crowd of family (and the few friends who were allowed to attend) and tears slide down his cheeks.  Two of David and Jason's friends from high school, their best friends, their closer-than-friends buddies, stand next to David and they each throw some dirt on the casket as it's lowered into the hole in the ground.

*David's girlfriend, Krista, stands off to the side of the tent, alone on the frozen ground.  I want to move toward her but I seem to be stuck in one place.  She's not crying.  She's being strong for David.  Or maybe she's just strong.  We are blessed to have her in our family and I can't wait until she and David get married.

*I see one of David's other sisters standing close to her husband.  She looks beautiful and fresh, all of her make-up in the same place where she put it that morning.  I on the other hand, haven't worn mascara (or any makeup) for well over a week and have no future plans for it.  When I went home with my dad earlier in the day, I had to reapply moisturizer because the salt from my tears was drying out my skin.  I take two things away from this:  1) I am NOT a dignified griever by any stretch and 2) I am now old-as-dirt and that's why my skin dried out-from all the undignified crying I had been doing since before I got dressed that morning, which now seems like six months ago.

*There's nothing anybody can say to make it better.  I look around at various intervals at the cemetary to  see people hugging each other.  People talk quietly to one another and then seem to dissappear into the frozen mist. 

*Jason's  mom and stepdad and I go to our separate cars at the same time.  We don't say anything to each other.  It feels awkward on one hand, but there's absolutely nothing I can say to her at this point and I know it. I feel bad for her because I remember like it was yesterday what it was like to be twisted up with anger and control.  It's confusing to me because she "knows" what freedom in Christ is.  She was at the church where a man who was profoundly impacted by ALS was miraculously cured. She was in on the "ground floor" of  what it means to be restored from generational sin and just sin in general.  I will always love her and I pray for her and her husband as we drive away.  I know as long as we're alive on this earth, there's a chance for restoration.  I hope that all the love that Jason showed to every single person he ever met doesn't end up in vain in his own family.


    Five days after my birthday this year I got a message at dinner time in my facebook messages to call my cousin immediately.  It was a life-stopping message because I instantly knew someone in our family had died, but nothing could have prepared me for the outcome of that conversation.  I called her from the privacy of the bathroom and I gripped the sink with white knuckles while she delivered the shocking news.  I tried not to let my voice crack too much because my cousin had already had a VERY long day retelling the horrific news over and over to our extended family and I didn't want to start her crying all over again.  A VERY bright light had been extinguished from amongst us.  Every single one of us in the family had been hit hard in the center of our beings with a Jason-size cannon.  It couldn't be true of course; Jason, the second youngest child of my third youngest cousin, wasn't gone-my cousin had been misinformed.  He was in his early 20's.  He was larger than life.  He was stronger than an ox (or at least most modern mechanized farm equipment) and he was living and working for an oil company in Oklahoma (but not doing anything dangerous, so it just couldn't be true, my mind rationalized).  My heart reeled.  The room began to spin and I hung on harder to the sink.  But of course it was true; the news had been delivered to Jason's parents (one of my other cousins) early that morning from emergency workers and first responders where Jason lived and worked in Oklahoma, and from there the gut wrenching word quickly spread from sibling to sibling, from cousin to cousin, from aunt and uncle to aunt and uncle, until all of us, far and wide across the country and even into India, where my dad was, were doubled over with wracking sobs, each of us wishing it were US who had left and NOT JASON, anyone BUT Jason.

     Jason was born the year I graduated from college and because I left home after high school to go away to college, I never really knew him until my family and I "accidentally" moved back "home" to WA a few years ago.  We moved there in the Spring just in time to see his older brother, David, graduate from high school and get ready for college.  We were relieved to learn that David would be attending a university literally just down the street from my dad's house, where we had begun "accidentally" living in his guest room (ya, the head count would be four people living in a 10'x10' room), because we really wanted to get to know my "nephews" (I'm an only child, but my seven cousins had generously let me be an "aunt" to their kids--a moniker that probably doesn't hold much meaning in itself, but I've always loved it because I've always loved each and every one of my cousins like they were my sisters and brother....which probably sounds so silly to people who actually have brothers and sisters, but it's true for me none the less). 

   But I digress......back to David and Jason.  Jason was just finishing his junior year in high school and would be playing football in the fall and then begin wrestling in the winter.  We didn't know how long our "vacation" was going to be, but we knew that if it extended into September then we would be able to see some of Jason's senior year football and David's first year of college football.  We were excited!!  In our family when referring to the siblings David or Jason, we don't often begin the sentence with just one name, it's always "David and Jason did........" or "David and Jason are going to......."  They were very much individuals and had very unique personalities, but they did lots of things together and were very close in age.  They were still living at home, so it made sense that they did lots of stuff together.  And because my dad lived across the street from his sister and her husband (my aunt and uncle, David & Jason's grandma and grandpa), I felt like I had gotten to know them through my dad via phone conversations and the various stories of what the "boys" had been up to.  So I was privy to tales of the many trips to the ocean with the boys where my dad had property, a few mission trips to Mexico with my dad where they served families who live in giant dumps there, and of all the hard work they did for my aunt and uncle across the street.  My dad thought the WORLD of both of them and loved them like they were his. 

   As it turns out, everyone thought Jason was their's because, I think he was.  If by some form of magic every single person who had ever worked with, or befriended Jason, or had the opportunity to spend time with him could have been at his funeral, maybe eventually (after six weeks or so) we would have grownn tired of hearing the same thing hour after hour after hour, but I doubt it.  There were accounts of Jason paying for people's groceries, paying their rent, taking friends of friends to the hospital, fixing people's cars, and showing up to a friend's apartment out of the blue just to cheer them up.  I think what broke me up more than anything (aside from the sheer magnitude of the loss) was the sadness that someone truly GOOD  had left us.  Person after person, coach after coach (coaches from OPPOSING high schools came and spoke), even an elementary school teacher who had heard the news came, and they ALL said the same thing, "Jason had the highest character, the strongest work ethic, was the friendliest, most affectionate and had the best attitude" of ANYONE they had ever taught, anyone they had ever coached, anyone who had EVER been in their youth group......of anyone they had EVER known.  Period. End of conversation.  And that's just from the people who COULD talk.  I was sitting in the back row next to some of Jason's high school friends who were doubled over sobbing, so they couldn't add much, and two of Jason's closest mentor/father-figure/friends one row in front of us weren't doing much better.  Every single one of us who knew Jason were, ARE, walking around with Jason-size holes in us, and given that Jason was at least 6'0" tall (I'm only 5' 1", so anyone over 5'5" seems tall to me!) and probably tipped the scales at 300, we've been hit hard. 

   I don't expect to ever "get over" losing Jason.  Looking back I've known for quite awhile we didn't "accidentally" move to WA back in '05.  God was SO GOOD to us to open our eyes to the possibility of doing this thing we call "life" in a different way, so it actually "made sense" to uproot our little family and completely impose ourselves into my dad's very quiet and VERY ordered world, in order to get to know God a whole lot better (and His amazing plan for our lives).  Once we realized that our lives were unfolding in that small guest room, we made it our mission to go to every one of Jason's football games and every one of David's college games we could attend.  I don't think we missed a wrestling match and very soon we were  the loudest cheerleaders in the bleachers.  We were SO blessed to get to truly know Jason and to have him be part of our lives.  He loved our kids (even if he was a little intimidating for our daughter at the time) and he treated Hayden like the great little boy he was.  Jason didn't really know what a disability was so he didn't treat Hayden like he was broken or something to be afraid of; he hugged him, wrestled with him and carried him around like he did with everyone who was smaller than him (which for Jason, was pretty much everybody).  Jason probably didn't do it consciously, but everywhere he went he gave a piece of himself to everyone he encountered.

  Jason is forever imprinted on my soul at the very same place there's a canyon full of tears.