Monday, July 30, 2012

new life

This little family of three is going to be a family of four! Baby #2 is coming our way on [approximately] January 30, 2013, which is also our third wedding anniversary.  I'm about 14 weeks along now.

This is happy news in the midst of so much sadness.  Praise God for new life, fresh hope, and true joy. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

photos from home

A collection of iPhone photos taken during my trip home:

  A friend of Booie's at UVA painted Beta Bridge the day after he heard the news.

Lena and I were on a plane 8 hours after receiving the news that Julia was in a car accident.  I was so grateful for my friendly Italian seatmate who entertained Lena on the flight from Catania to Rome.  I was so tired and emotionally drained (already... and had 18 hours of travel ahead of me!), but he loved her and was happy to play with her.

 Relaxing before the flight from Rome to NYC 
& playing the piano with Auntie Em.

Jet lagged baby 
& a memorial to Julia by her summer swim team outside the Fairfax Frogs pool.

 Emily and I shared a room that first week... and of course that meant Emily's cat shared it too!

 Playing in the doll cradle with her daddy (who arrived on Wednesday) 
& finding books, toys, and fun chairs in Auntie Em's room.

 So excited to be fixing the giraffe pull toy!
& visiting Aunt Booie's grave on Monday after the burial. 

Early morning walk with Uncle Eric
& learning how to swaddle her baby.

 A little blurry but too cute.

 Wearing a little outfit her Aunt Booie used to wear 18 years ago!
& enjoying dinner at a Chinese restaurant our family likes.

 Lena chats it up with Luna
& a dear old friend sent us the entire Anne of Green Gables DVD set!

 Green eggs (scrambled eggs in an herb pesto) at Belga Cafe on Capitol Hill for a Saturday morning out with my siblings.

 Wearing another outfit her Aunts Em and Boo used to wear 
& playing with Uncle Eric's old pull toy.

Happy July birthdays!

Happy yogurt face before the flight home to Sicily
& settling in for a long plane flight.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

thankfulness in the midst of grief

 Thanksgiving 2011: playing Taboo together

On Monday, our last day together as a family, my dad read aloud a list of 10 things he was thankful for in the midst of this hard time.  We were all touched by not only the 10 things--as he was so very right to be grateful for these mercies--but were also touched by the condition of his heart.  He has made a deliberate, daily decision to trust Christ even in this achingly painful time, even to the point of being thankful and joyful in the midst of sorrow.

After the Bible study, I asked if he would write up his list for me so that I could share it on my blog.  Here it is for you today.


My Dear, Dear Family: 

Each of you has been much on my heart.  In spite of all our questions, we do not and cannot know why the Lord called Booie home.  When we walk through issues like this that we cannot understand, let me encourage each of us to respond by faith and intentionally choose to trust the Lord with these "secret things" that he talks about in Deuteronomy 29.29.  We cling to the revealed things, such things which are clearly spoken to us in his word for our comfort.  He is holy (1 John 1.5), he is loving towards his children (Romans 5.8) and he is in control and governs all things and, even when we might make mistakes, his sovereign and absolute rule is certain and secure (Daniel 4.35 and Psalm 139).

Because the Lord chose to take Booie home, hard as that is to fathom, I am greatly comforted by the following:

1.  Julia did not die in sin.  She clearly confessed Jesus as her Lord and Savior and there was no doubt that she was forgiven by Jesus and saved by the final and finished work of Jesus Christ.  She had been baptized at Grace Church and publicly confessed her faith in Jesus.  Romans 10.9 says "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."  She knew she was forgiven; she wrote in her Bible these words "How can I refuse to forgive when I am a forgiven sinner myself?"  Praise God Julia is now with Jesus.

2.  No one else was injured.  Our mourning and pain would be much deeper and more severe if, in the crash, other lives would have been taken.  While our pain is immense at the loss of Julia, we are thankful that no other family members or friends were injured in her vehicle and no other motorists were involved.

3.  We are grateful for the kind care of the Christian man who comforted Julia.  As the man stood between the tree and Julia, he comforted her and said over and over "I am right here; I will not leave you."  (See Hebrews 13.5 and Joshua 1.5)  Booie visibly relaxed as he kept his hand tenderly on her left shoulder.  How kind that she was not alone; the Lord sent a man who knows Jesus Christ to comfort her in her final moments.

4.  Julia's body awaits the resurrection.  We are thankful Julia was not lost at sea or in an airplane accident.  Her 'earthly tent' is buried near us, less than a ten minute walk away.  She will be buried next to Momma and Daddy where we will all await the glorious time when Jesus calls our name, gives us new heavenly bodies, and ushers us into his new heaven and new earth.  Until then, Julia is in a conscious state where she is present with Jesus and his saints; she has no more questions and the Bible is clear that where she is now is much better than being here (Philippians 1.23).  Like us, Julia and her friends await the glorious day when she will be clothed with the immortal heavenly body (2 Corinthians 5:1-8).  Although we miss Booie so much it hurts, we are comforted in knowing she is wrapped up in the joy of Jesus and that we will meet her again.

5.  Julia loved and knew she was loved.  In our family, we loved Julia without reservation.  She loved us back.  Every morning Booie got up, she knew that every person in her family loved her unconditionally.  There were no outstanding things to be resolved.  Not only did she know she was loved by each of us, she also knew that we knew how much she loved us.  Each one of us is blessed because we experienced Julia's love for each one of us and that we had the privilege of loving her.

6.  Julia knew the joy of her salvation.  Often, as a father, I have encouraged each of you children to 'know the joy of your salvation.' Julia knew that joy!  Her love for Christ was infectious; she had, as a friend put it, an 'invitational life.'  She would often ask her friend, Renee, "What do we do about our friends who do not know Christ?" Julia had walked through some very dark and discouraging times, particularly during her time in Poland.  But the Lord walked with her through that shadowland and brought her into the light and joy of the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Her life radiated this joy; many of the verses she highlighted in her Bible are about going through trials; she knew that God showered his love on her not by isolating Julia from difficult times but by teaching her to trust Jesus in those difficult trials he brings for our good. (Romans 8.28), even when we cannot possibly understand.  She chose as her life verse the reminder that our present trials should not be compared to the glory that awaits us in heaven (Romans 8.18).  She knew this joy here on earth, and now she is experiencing it in heaven.

7.  As a family, we rejoiced at her funeral and her memorial service.  Yes, it was a level of grief and pain we were quite unfamiliar with previous to Boo's homegoing.  We did not choose this shadow.  But in the midst of this deep gulf of sorrow, we are experiencing a peace that surpasses our understanding.  From the very first moment Eric told Momma and me, I had a peace that Julia is with Jesus.  How much deeper our pain would have been if we could not have rejoiced at her funeral and memorial service that she is in heaven.

8.  We drew strength as a family.  When we look back, we will marvel at God's grace to us in our family during this time.  In our grief, our love for one another deepened.  Usually we travel together, but this time Julia went on ahead of us.  And because we could not go with Boo on this journey, we sat together and wept and hugged one another.  How very grateful I am that each of you knows the love and forgiveness of Christ and that we could reach out to one another in our dark sorrow and be comforted.  Each touch, each hug, each look communicated to your Daddy how much you loved me and how much you, like me, miss our Booie.  The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time for everything and this was our time to weep, our time to mourn, our time to embrace, our time to keep silent, our time to lose and say goodbye to our precious Booie. How sweet that we experienced this as a family who knows the deep, deep love of Jesus.

9.  Two Great Books.  We are a family who reads; it is in the fabric of our family.  And this week good friends at the Center for Christian Study, above all the other fantastic support they gave us, also gave us a great book on grieving: A Lament for a Son.  The other book that many recommended, and even sent to us, is the wonderful volume titled A Grace Disguised.  Other excellent pieces from RC Sproul ("A Hard Providence"), Calvin's Institutes, and Berkhoff's Systematic Theology encouraged us but these two books spoke to our weary, broken hearts like nothing else could do.  Let us continue to read and re-read these wonderful gifts from those who went before us and wrote wonderfully about this hard and severe bench of mourning.

10.  The Support of Friends and Family.  Our extended family rallied around us.  Our friends took us in their arms and loved us hour by hour.  Our church wept and prayed for us; a church near our house opened its doors to us to accommodate the many people who wanted to say goodbye to Booie.  We felt their love and care; now we continue to be encouraged because it appears that they are not going away soon!  Friends flew in from overseas, friends called and wrote in new media and old to tell us that they loved us and are praying for us.  People we may never meet wrote to say they were praying for us.  While no words can heal such wounds, the loving care of our family and friends soothes the hurts and begins this long slow process of healing.

So my dear family, be encouraged.  We are called to this time of walking in the shadows.  Death is the enemy; it will one day be banished forever when even death submits finally and completely to the majesty of Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:50-56)  Until then, in this valley, we remember we have a Savior who suffered, who is well acquainted with our grief and who took all our ultimate suffering on Himself that we might have eternal life (Isaiah 53).  Rejoice in the midst of your sorrow. 

The One who will never leave us or forsake us tells us clearly from this verse that Booie highlighted in her Bible:

"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  
Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."  John 14.27

And Boo's life verse from Romans 8.18 continues to echo in our sad hearts, even as we experience the first portion and she the second:

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time 
are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."

Faint not, dear ones.  Let us rest in our good God.


Monday, July 23, 2012

the road untravelled

December 2011: visiting the Vatican in Rome

The day has come: the day of parting.  Eric is back at work, my dad is back at work, Emily will work from home for the remaining two weeks of her internship.  I am finishing last-minute errands and tasks (such as burning CDs of my sister Julia's favorite music) and then at 6pm tonight Lena and I will leave for Sicily.  My mother is savoring time with each of us before life takes on its new pattern.

I honestly feel like our whole family is being carried along, held in protective arms, so that even while walking through or past Julia's room I feel only a gentle sense of missing her and like there is a pillow to lean into protecting me from hard, sharp grief.  More than ever any previous time in my life, Jesus gets all the credit for anything beautiful you have seen in our family.  We will all claim this!

We have loved this week together as a family, at home, with no other obligations and only rest and quiet time together.   We have been studying the Word together each day, remembering and healing, laughing, cooking, going out to eat, watching movies every night, playing with Lena, and learning to navigate life as a new family without our giggliest member.  This week has been balm on our wounds.  Do you know that part in The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe where Aslan gives Lucy that cordial that she can pour on wounds and they heal right up?  Well, our wounds aren't healed yet--and probably won't completely heal this side of heaven--but Jesus really has been pouring His mercy upon us and strengthening us for the road ahead.

And so today here we go, back out into the fray.  Please keep us in your prayers.

Friday, July 20, 2012

"Find thy all in Me"

 November 2010: at my grandmother's memorial service

Ever since I first heard the hymn "I Asked the Lord" at Swiss L'Abri, I have loved it, even though it promises difficult things for me.  You can find the whole hymn (with words and the music that I most love from Indelible Grace) here in this YouTube video.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way," the Lord replied,
"I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.

In this hymn, and in my life right now, I am reminded of God's ultimate purpose: to be glorified in us so we might truly find our only joy in Him.  His goal is not to give us a happy life, or a big and beautiful and all-present family, or to let us be well-fed and unmolested, or to provide for us financially.  He does give good gifts to His children because He loves us, but those are His mercies.  His real goal with us is to bring us to a place in this earth where we truly do find our all in Him.  And He has chosen, at long last, to truly bring my family to that place, with Julia's death.  Our only joy left in our aching hearts is Jesus Himself.

I feel like He's been doing this with my little Elliott&Becca family since we got married... actually, He's been doing it liberally to us.  (Maybe sometime I'll go into this as well.)  But He hasn't touched my original family that much over the years besides the general stresses of life and given us the deaths we expected in their time (my ailing grandmother, our old dog).  Then, just last fall, a dear friend unexpectedly died last fall; Emily Roe felt like a part of our family, and she was the nearest thing we had to a sister outside of our own family.  But Julia was our family, she was our sister.  If we wanted to ask, as the author of this hymn does, for God to help us grow in Him, we would have been stunned that God would ask so very much of us.  Julia's death is above and beyond anything we could have imagined.  He took away a sister, a daughter, a best friend.  What a painful, life-leaching, agonizing way to bring us to find joy in only Jesus!  I hope and pray with all my heart that we will find our all in Him, both now and in the many other trials that surely await us later (or sooner) in life.  "He who promised is faithful": this is the verse on Emily Roe's grave, and this we must cling to.

I am still struck at random times--and will be for months and maybe years, I think--that Booie is gone.  We were watching Anne of Avonlea the other night and I let my mind wander away from the movie for a moment.  And wham, there it was, this overwhelming reality.  Booie is dead.  Booie is goneForever.  I feel like this is a wall that I turn and run into multiple times a day.  We are doing ordinary things in our same house in the same way we have been doing these things for years, like all relaxing on couches watching an old favorite movie... but a member of our family is gone for the rest of our time on earth.  How can this be?  How can this be reality?  What has happened to us?

"That thou may'st seek thy all in Me.... that thou may'st seek thy all in Me..."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

a day in the life of grief

last summer: Booie at work with her new niece Lena

Things are so much quieter this week than last week.  The extended family dispersed slowly after Saturday, Elliott returned to work in Sicily, my grandparents drove home to Missouri, the visits from friends are tapering off.  The five remaining members of my family are all at home: Eric, Emily, and Daddy are taking time off work; Lena and I are here until next Monday; and my mom is savoring all of us being at home.  We are muddling through, grieving the lost in the land of the living.

I wrote this email to Elliott last night after our first day alone as a family.  He thought it captured well what life is like for us now and what we are feeling.


Dearest boy of mine,

Well, another day is done.  It was the first without you in awhile, and I missed you....  I am so glad you are back safe and sound, but I wish we didn't have to endure separation in this time.

We finished Anne of Green Gables tonight.  So good, and such a blessed distraction.  My parents were visiting Prince Edward Island when they got the news about Booie.  I do want to see it with you, so we'll see if my family is ready to part with it so that I can bring it back with me.  If not then, then in October.  I am sure we'll start Anne of Avonlea tomorrow or the day after.

My mom and I took a walk with Lena this afternoon.  Lena was being so fussy and grouchy and I think it was because she had been cooped up inside for so long.  We walked down the street and then decided to go to the cemetery and visit Booie's grave.  It was an easy 10-minute walk; my mom showed me a new cut-through that's safer than the one I've used with Sona [our dog who died in March] in the past to go visit Kim [Roe]'s grave.  (Now there are two more graves to visit on that hill--Booie's and Emily Roe's--and no Sona to walk with.)  It was a little sad to see Booie's grave, with the dry brownish-red dirt on top of it and the faded flowers, somewhat dirty stuffed animals, and little trinkets people had left.  Someone had put an orchid there, and I suggested my mom take it home and love it, as it will die in a couple of days in this sun, but she wanted to leave it there.  We spent awhile sitting and talking about grief--"is there a difference between grieving and wallowing?" my mom asked--and then walked over to Kim and Emily's graves (just about 20 feet apart) and then down the hill a little bit.  Lena was soo delighted as she walked down the pavement in her little bare feet.  She loved the downhill slope because she could get some speed up and was babbling delightedly to us, excitedly pointing out squirrels, and so glad to be outside and walking around.  We'll have to come back with her, of course.

I took a trip to Safeway to get some stuff for my family this evening: bananas, Mini Wheats, Diet Coke, etc.  I sort of forgot that Booie worked in that Safeway.  Driving up in the car she used to drive, walking past the Starbucks in the store where she used to work (where I came for her drinks last summer), and wandering down the aisles she used to walk down in her uniform... it was a little sadder than I'd expected.  I got very introspective and sad on the way home, as I did last night while driving home from dropping you off at the airport.  I guess I'm rarely alone now and haven't been that quietly reflective or allowed myself to just think about her, about what we're missing, about life without her, about what she would be doing if she were right here right now, about what she would be saying about this song on the radio, about what she would have just eaten or just sang or just done.  I drove by her grave on my own on the way home (partly because Em was out on a run when I left and I wanted to comfort her there if she was there) and just sat in the car for a moment alone and stared at the grave.  How could this all have happened so fast?  How could my little sister be under the ground there?  How could those already-wilted flowers be on Booie's grave? 

Sad thoughts for a Monday night.  We have such ups and downs.  Just a few minutes ago I could hear Eric laughing downstairs with my parents as he related a story; meanwhile Em and I were dangling my piece of dental floss for the cat and laughing at her antics.  Life is so normal sometimes, and yet so broken and foreign and unbelievable.  How will we carry on?  What will we look like in 3 weeks, 9 months, 2 years?  Will we still be cheerful, still be close, still be deeply and patiently and trustingly reliant upon Christ, every one of us?  Will we be worse or better for this terrible, wearing trial?  What will we be as a family, as individuals, as friends, as future and current spouses, as Christians?  I have so many fears and hopes, all tangled together, as I pray for goodness to come out of this horrible sadness.

Please keep praying and praying.  We need it more than ever.  God helped us set such a good tone last week for our family, each other, the memorial service, our friends, and for Booie.  Now we need to set a good tune for ourselves for the rest of our lives.  "Good tune" sounds so trite, but we must go on, somehow, and we want to go on well.



Monday, July 16, 2012

letters to our sister

 the four of us siblings (Eric, Emily, me, and Julia) this past Christmas at the Colosseum in Rome

Dear friends, my heart is so full.  Over the past 9 days you have loved us so well, and we hardly know where to begin to thank you.  I have received so many emails and messages that I haven't responded to yet; over the course of this week I hope I can answer each of you individually.  Thank you for sending every precious word, for preparing meals, for baking cookies, for delivering flowers, for being there on Saturday, for giving me a hug, for showing us all that you love us and that you are praying for us and that you're here for us.  We need you now.

I want to share with you as we process through these days and weeks of grief, and so I want to begin writing regularly this week.  I know that you want to be there for us and pray for us according to our needs; I know that you are hurting too and you want to grieve and process with us.  I'll try to let you know, humbly and achingly and slowly.

For today, I thought you might enjoy reading over the letters and tributes that Emily, Eric, and I wrote for our sister Julia and read at her memorial service.  These came from the deepest corners of our hearts.  Here they are, in the order we read them at the service on Saturday.


My dear littlest sister,

Ever since you were a baby, you have had two names.  The first is Julia, the name our parents gave you.  The second is your nickname: Booie.  Daddy called you that when you were little and somehow it stuck.  It became official when we were living in India and decided to have a vote on how Booie should be spelled, since people were always asking us where it came from and why we called you that.  We elected that we would spell it B-o-o-i-e.  And as our friends and family can attest, we three siblings never really called you anything else.

The other night, as I lay in bed missing you, I thought about your names and how descriptive they are of you.  Julia.  You were our jewel, the last child, our baby girl, the beloved little sister.  You were our golden girl, with your endless blond curls and clear blue eyes.  But Booie suited you so well, too.  You were lighthearted, ever cheerful, bobbing along determinedly through the storms of life.  Just like a ship’s buoy in a harbor, you had your anchor planted firmly in the ground and your face in the sunshine, and you stayed afloat no matter how rough the seas.

Now that you are gone, we are in the Shadowlands.  And they are so bleak.  Where is my little sister, my little jewel, my strong Booie, when I need her most?  And then I am reminded that I have another Jewel, and another buoy to help me through life’s storms.  You had the same priceless Jewel and the same sturdy buoy in your life; his name is Jesus.  He is truly our jewel, the pearl of greatest price, our greatest treasure. He told us that we will have treasure in Heaven, and I always thought that was mostly about Him, that He was our treasure.  Now I know it’s also about you, because you are our treasure, and you are in Heaven with Him.  And Jesus is also our ship’s buoy during this time.  We can lash ourselves to Him and weather the storms of grief now because He will keep us firmly anchored, steadily afloat, no matter how rough the seas.  We will not drift, we will not sink, if we are tightly tied to Him.

I love you and I miss you, my precious baby sister. 

All my love,


Dear Booie,

            For as long as I can remember, we've been racing. With just eighteen months between us, we constantly competed with one another -- whether it was who could grab the biggest brownie first, who looked older, or who could guess the song first on the radio. But no matter what the category, you were always faster. Despite several years of trying to beat you in 50-meter freestyle, you finished 1 second before every single time. And I never managed to grow that extra half-inch you always had on me.  
            As we got older, though, our relationship transformed. We no long raced against each other, but rather with each other. We came to each other daily for advice, comic relief, and spiritual encouragement. This past July 4th we ran an 8K in Arlington, Virginia together. From the firecracker to the finish line, you and I ran every single step side by side. This race is like our relationship-- a relationship wherein we continually spurred one another on to "run with endurance the race that is set before us," as described in Hebrews 12.
            But now, for the first time in our lives, we are separated. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul writes: "...the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Paul's words are now true for you. You have kept the faith. You have finished the race.
            Today in the midst of my grief, I rejoice in the hope that one day we will run together again. Although next time we will not race against each other or even with each other -- but rather toward each a sweet and glorious reunion. When I picture entering heaven and seeing you for the first time, I imagine you singing these lyrics from one of my favorite songs:

            I'll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan,
            I'll be waiting drawing pictures in the sand.
            And when I see you coming, I will rise up with a shout!
            And go running through the shallow waters, reaching for your hand.

Booie, I praise the Lord for giving you to me as a dear sister and best friend for nineteen years. I cannot wait to be with you again, as we stand once again side-by-side, in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

With all my heart,


My sister Julia is someone who always overcame every challenge laid before her.

I remember when she was just four years old and my family was living in Pakistan, my father decided to take us on a hiking trip in Nepal.  Concerned that Julia might not be able to hike the trip, he hired a Sherpa to carry her in a basket on his back.  On the first day, Julia was put into this basket and proceeded to protest so loudly I am quite certain there was an avalanche thundering down every slope in the entire Himalayan mountain range.  So we took her out of the basket, and she hiked the entire six days through the world’s most rugged mountain range on her short, little, four-year-old legs without holding anyone up.

Earlier this year, my family went skiing in France with a close family friend, Daniel Roe.  Julia had not been skiing many times before, but all of us knew that she is the type of person to tackle challenges and overcome them.  So we encouraged her to go down some of the steeper slopes.  She would stand at the top of the slopes and peer over the precipice suspiciously, saying, “I don’t know Eric!  That’s a little big!  Just a little big for Booie!”  But Julia is an overcomer.  And pretty soon she’d be flying down the hill like a pro, with me following closely behind trying desperately to keep up – and almost always failing.  I marveled at her ability to overcome her fear and press on with confidence. 

Just a few weeks ago, Julia gave a letter to a friend who posted the letter to Facebook for all of us to cherish after Julia passed away.  In this letter, Julia comments on the song Abide With Me, which we will be singing later in this service.  In this song are the lyrics:

“I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is thy sting, death?
Where, grave, thy vict’ry?
I triumph still, Abide with Me.”

In commenting on these lyrics, Julia said, “I like this because it’s saying, hey!  I believe in God so that pretty much trumps everything – even death!  You don’t have to be scared of it because He’s at hand, right beside you.”

It appears from this comment, written just a few weeks before she passed away, that Julia overcame her fear of death.

And last Saturday, a week ago today, Julia completed her final challenge.  Through the precious blood of her savior Jesus, she was victorious over death itself. 


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

lament for my sister

As many of you know, my precious baby sister was in a tragic car accident on Saturday evening.  She was driving home from visiting friends in Charlottesville and lost control of her car.  She hit a tree around 6pm on July 7 and passed away a few moments later.

Elliott and I received the call from my parents around 4am our time in Italy.  I was totally unprepared for the message of the call, disbelieving that my mother's words could be true.  "Julia was in a car accident.  She went to be with the Lord."  Oh my sweet sister... how can you be gone?  How can this be the end of your life on earth?  How could it happen so quickly, how could you be so present in our lives and then be taken away in a matter of moments?

Within a few hours, Lena and I were on a flight to the States, and I landed in Washington, D.C., just 24 hours after receiving the news.  I had initial misgivings about leaving Elliott's side so quickly, but as soon as I saw my whole family standing there waiting for me (but without sunshiny blond Julia) I came undone with tears and knew I didn't want to be anywhere else.  It is so right and good to grieve together as a family, to weep together and pray together and ask questions together and seek and find answers together.  We are so upheld and comforted by each other's love, as well as from the phenomenal outpouring of support, compassion, prayers, and love from hundreds and hundreds of friends the world over.

We are so, so sad, and I cannot imagine being 45 or having three children or growing gray without my sister.  I love her and miss her and long to feel her strong hug and rub her swimmer's shoulders and play with her amazing hair and eat one of her chocaholic desserts. 

And yet... there is so much mercy.  God is so good, and He is pouring out mercy on us by letters of Julia's that friends are sharing with us, by getting a phone call from a man who was with her in the few moments she lived after the crash, by comforting us that she knew and loved Jesus Christ and is rejoicing in His presence this very moment.  Her soul is with the Lord and we eagerly await the day when we will join her!

We are preparing for Julia's burial and memorial service this weekend, and we would love to have any and all join us.  You can find details on this website and more memorial information on the UVA Center for Christian Study website.

For the many of you readers who have already reached out in enormous love to us and lifted us up in prayer, thank you!

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time
are not worth comparing with
the glory that is to be revealed to us.
(Romans 8:18)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Greek beaches and losing plane engines

On our last morning in Crete we carpe diem-ed and went to the beach.  I'm rarely at the beach before 9am, but my goodness... they are such peaceful and lovely places at that time of day.  At first we were the only people there, spreading out wherever we wished and basking in mellow early morning sun.

We saw a bucket of old lost-and-found toys and Lena went to town with all those treasures!

Sometimes you want to splash and play and sometimes you just want a hug.

Eventually we headed back to the hotel to shower, finish packing, and head to the little airport.  Once again we had no idea if there would be space on the plane for me and Lena.  I waited in prayerful apprehension, watching as the waiting room of the terminal filled up with passengers.  The tiny C-26 we were scheduled to fly only has 10 seats:

And then suddenly the woman in charge of seating was standing in front of me, saying firmly and apologetically, "I am so sorry.  There are 11 passengers and just 10 seats.  You will have to stay behind.  We will try to get you on a flight back to Sicily as soon as possible, maybe tomorrow..." 

I gulped, anticipating a long weekend by myself in a hotel room, wandering around base trying to amuse a baby and sitting in the air terminal waiting for a seat.

Suddenly, once again, our hero in a flightsuit walked into the room, did an official count, and announced that there were only 9 official passengers.  There was space for us and Lena could sit on my lap.  What?!  The woman must have miscounted and included Lena and me (the 10th and 11th passengers) among the official count.  Praise God!  Within moments we were walking across the tarmac to the plane.

So close.  Both times, so close.  Crete is great, but... do I want to go through this every time?

We boarded the plane, ducking down the narrow aisle to find a seat.  Lena promptly fell asleep in my arms, exhausted from the beach and missing her nap.  I fell asleep only moments later.  

I woke up to hear a crewmember yelling down the aisle over the noise of the propellers.


Elliott and I stared at each other, eyes wide.  Outside his window I could see the left propeller slowly coming to a stop, then rotating lazily in the breeze.  Our entire plane was now flying on just one propeller engine.  The pilots were busily balancing the plane in the cockpit, making constant manual adjustments and pressing buttons that had turned red and yellow.

My mind started to go crazy thinking of all the things that could go wrong.  Where there parachutes in this plane?  What would I do with Lena?  I guess strap her to me with the Ergo carrier and then strap the parachute over both of us.  But there probably were no parachutes.  What would we do with life jackets??  And if the other engine went out, would the plane glide for awhile, or just... dive?

This was useless.  I prayed, closed my eyes, and determinedly slept.

About an hour later, I could see land below the plane.  Sicily!  We flew in south of Catania and in a moment I could see the base, and then the air strip, and then a small army of firetrucks waiting for us, lights flashing in the hot sunlight.  Oh boy.  Elliott wrapped both his arms around Lena as we dropped closer to the earth to land.  The wheels touched.  We bounced, jostled a little bit, raced down the runway.  Home safe.

After all the flying I've done my entire life, I would have to say that is the closest I've come to knowing our plane could go down.  Not fun in a tiny little metal tube you can't even stand up in, with a baby in your lap and the love of your life beside you.  But then I think... how many times has this happened on a plane and I haven't known it?  How many times has a reckless driver swerved right before connecting with my car?  How many times have I been within an inch of my life and yet here I still am, typing this, on an ordinary Friday, living this ordinary life, very much alive?

Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:16

Thursday, July 5, 2012

visiting Greek Orthodox monasteries in Crete

On one of our afternoons in Crete, we drove to visit some nearby Greek Orthodox monasteries.  These are popular tourist attractions near the tiny base, as several of them are within a 30-minute radius.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but we were all (including Lena) completely entranced by the afternoon's discoveries.

Both monasteries were self-sufficient communities of monks.  They cared for themselves as well as dozens of tidily groomed little cats, much to Lena's delight.


Outside the walls of the monastery we discovered rolling vineyards and olive groves, which explains the abundance of wine and oil for sale inside.

The monks also kept about 100 rabbits (a nest full of babies pictured below!), sheep, goats, and so many chickens.

The next monastery we visited was known for a hiking trail down to a cave on the coast.  According to legend, St. John spent the night in that cave thousands of years ago.  The woman in the travel office on base said the hike would "take about 15 minutes," and so we immediately set off down the rocky trail.

Roaming local goats watched us warily as we passed by.  Can you spot the black and white one on the wall in the photo above?

Unfortunately, after about 30 minutes of working our way quickly downhill, Lena was crying continually from hunger.  We stopped to feed her and assessed the journey ahead.  We could tell the woman in the travel office had never hiked the trail before, as it looked like we had at least 30-45 minutes more hiking ahead of us, about 1.5-2 hours of hiking on the return, and not enough daylight to enjoy the cave (it was already 7pm).  Also, we had packed no water.  I have never done this before in my marriage to a hiking/nature/outdoors aficionado of the highest caliber... but I asked to turn back.  Such a sense of an uncompleted mission!

"Next time, honey," I promised, "we'll bring water."

And since Elliott has to fly to Crete every quarter, there seems a fairly good chance that I can make good on that promise.  We all hope so!

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