A season of many life events…

Posted in From Al & Libbie, General, Reflections, Updates at 9:38 pm by Libbie

So much to write…so little time…

Once again it has been a long time since I wrote anything here on the blog. There have been a number of times that I have wanted to write and various events that I wanted to write about, but the time has just been too ridiculously busy. So I am going to attempt to tackle them one at a time, and if I can’t get them all done today, hopefully I will get back to the keyboard in the days ahead. Let me tell you about (1) a presentation Eowyn did at school about her dad, (2) my mother’s death, (3) Alasdair’s and my graduation from Westminster, (4) changes in the Biblical Hebrew computing center Al founded, (5) my upcoming job, and (6) last but most certainly not least, the imminent arrival of my first grandchild. We’ll see how many of those six I can actually cover today.

[inserted note: I wrote that first paragraph and most of what is below on May 30, and now it is June 7! Hence, I think I will post what is here and then hope to write more in the days ahead. Ha! We’ll see if that happens…]

In Eowyn’s interdisciplinary class they were given an assignment to do some sort of presentation on stage with one other person about “a life changing event.” Or it might even have been “the event that most changed your life,” I don’t remember. It’s a no brainer what event has most changed Eowyn’s life. I knew she was working on this project, but I didn’t know the details. She invited me to come in to observe on the day she presented, and I did. Oh man.

One of Eowyn’s good friends played Al, and besides being a really good sport to be involved at all, he did a very good job playing the part. The fact that they have been friends since 7th grade made it more special, I thought.

Eowyn started out as a baby being rocked in Al’s arms. Then she was a toddler delightedly being chased around by him. Then he gave her a piggyback as a preschooler. Then he was teaching her how to ride a bike. (All this was effectively staged with minimal props and lots of imagination, and she kept adding, subtracting or tweaking parts of her costume to fit her aging self. There was music in the background, but no speaking.) Then, Al and Eowyn were dancing.

Then as her attention was diverted by some activity, he began to quietly and bravely show signs of pain and sickness and ended up lying on the floor. Eowyn wept over him as he died, but then he stood up again, climbed an eight or ten foot step ladder, and sat on top of it, looking down on the ensuing scenes. Eowyn showed grief, anger, depression, listless apathy, quiet sadness.

Life events continued. She showed the audience a learner’s permit with great excitement, and Al rang a little bell from atop the ladder, but she couldn’t hear it, and her excitement quickly faded to sadness. Then she stood on a chair in cap and gown and cheered as she graduated, and Al rang the little bell, but again her happiness faded very quickly to grief. Then she appeared with flowers and a veil and walked—alone—down the aisle for her wedding, with unheard bells ringing from heaven, but she burst into tears and hurried off stage.

Then she came back on stage as a mature adult and interacted comfortably, smilingly, with imaginary people. But even as she mimed conversation with them, she began donning a white blouse. Once she had it on, she happily gave them a casual wave good-bye, turned, went to the ladder and climbed it. There she was welcomed by Al, who hugged and held her and gave her the bell, which she rang with joy. Curtain.

I was a mess. I had bawled through the whole thing, and I continued to bawl all the way back to the seminary, just in time for a midterm exam. The presentation was simple and profound, and it laid open Eowyn’s heart, and all of ours, for the world to see—the wonderful father Al was, the longing for him, the sharp pain of his absence, the hope of heaven. It was simply, and vulnerably, and excruciatingly beautiful. I wish I had it on tape to show you.

Two days after that presentation came spring break. We flew to and from the wedding of a very dear friend who is practically family and then left immediately from the airport to drive to southern Florida to visit Al’s family. On the way I got a call that my mother had gone into the hospital and was in the ICU. As it became clearer that her condition was pretty serious, I booked a flight to Hartford, leaving just 26 hours after we had arrived at Mom and Dad Groves’s house. (Last year we completely missed our annual trip to their house because my dad died at just that time. This year at least Eowyn and Alden got to stay there for a few days, and then Eowyn drove herself and Alden home—a 24 hour trip!)

I was able to be with my mom from Wednesday to Sunday, and the time was so precious. She was very much herself most of the time, and yet changed too. For example, she had always been the sort of person who took other people’s burdens on her shoulders and who woke up at ~2:00 a.m. nearly every night of her adult life and lay awake trying to “solve the world’s problems,” as she always put it. Worry was an old friend. But that Wednesday that I arrived, she kept marveling and reminding herself over and over that she didn’t need to worry about anything. (At times it was almost comical as she told the nurses they didn’t need to worry about anything either, including whatever it was they were doing to care for her at that moment.) I was surprised when she said, “My dear Lord Jesus Christ will take care of everything.” Her sense of relief was palpable as the burdens rolled off her shoulders into God’s hands. What a gift.

One of my sisters and I were there together (the other two having been there earlier), and apart from one truly awful night, the time with Mom was wonderful. We reminisced, and talked, and helped the staff with her care as we were able. One night she and I sang some hymns, and I was surprised, given how weak she was, how much gusto she mustered to sing them. She talked eagerly about being in heaven soon and how good that would be, and she talked about seeing the Lord, and seeing various people who have died, including Al.

The whole thing was amazing. It seemed as if the Holy Spirit had instantaneously downloaded a deep, immediate, intimate grasp of God’s grace. I’m so thankful for those days I had with her. I had to leave Sunday, but two of my sisters were there on Tuesday, when she died. I miss her.

We split up the job of calling relatives and friends, and when I called our only relative in Pennsylvania, a cousin of my dad’s who has always been the coolest lady and whom I love to death, I learned that she had just been put on hospice with congestive heart failure. I drove out to Harrisburg to see her that Saturday, and the next Wednesday the kids and I were able to visit her for the last time. She was physically weak, but sharp as a tack and funny as ever with her delightful dry wit. She passed away exactly one month after my mom.

My heart felt awfully weary from missing people I love.

Death was not meant to be a part of this world the way God originally made it. It came in as part of an assault on his character and remains an affront to his nature as the Creator of Life. When Jesus was here he felt the anguish of death. He wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. It is at times like these that I am SO thankful that he came to fix the problem of Death! Because he experienced death himself and then rose from the dead, he has broken its power over himself and over his people. That makes all the difference!

Today, as I think of Al, and my mom, and Franny in heaven, free from pain, sin and sadness and enjoying LIFE to the fullest, I am comforted. I know that they are in God’s very presence, and God is present with us, so the divide between us seems minimal. Only a matter of a few years (however long we live here) separates us, and then we will be together again. We will move from life to LIFE, just as they have, all thanks to Jesus.

[so as not to delay another couple of weeks in posting this, I am going to stop here and hope to continue sometime soon. Blessings to one and all — Libbie]


One year later

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 10:16 pm by Libbie

Yesterday, February 5, was the anniversary of Al’s death, and the Lord made it a special day for us. A few of us brought bag lunches and ate in Al’s old office and shared stories and memories of him. And then in the evening we got together as a family for a special dinner and talked for several hours, reminiscing about Al and about the last week of his life in particular. There were lots and lots of tears, but deep thankfulness as well.

For one thing, we are so thankful for the chances we had to tell Al how much we loved him and to express what he had meant to each of us, to say good-bye and to encourage him when the time came not to look back but to jump up and run into God’s arms. People who lose loved ones suddenly, without warning, don’t experience the gift of having plenty of time to say good-bye. We were blessed.
For another, we are so grateful for the love poured out on us by family and friends. People brought us food, washed our dishes, brought flowers and special CD’s to listen to, sat outside with their cars idling to pray for us, and the list could go on and on and on. One night I was up with Al most of the night, and the next night Alasdair stayed here and split the job with me, but we saw that we couldn’t keep that up. So someone contacted men who would be willing to sit with Al and take care of him for four hour shifts during the nights, and before we knew it they had a whole list of volunteers! As it turned out, Al declined so fast that we only needed one night’s worth of coverage, but it was astonishing and humbling to know that so many busy working men were willing to give up most of a night’s sleep to take care of Al and to let us rest. The only request that Al had expressed, right from the beginning of his cancer diagnosis, was that he hoped he wouldn’t have to spend much time in a hospital. With the support of such friends, he was able to stay right here at home and to die here. That’s a blessing.

Also, Al was very much himself right up to the end. As early as May of 2006, when his first brain tumor was discovered, doctors started asking if we had noticed any personality changes. That thought was scary for both Al and us. It must be so hard when someone you love who has always been kind, patient, considerate, and compassionate becomes mean, irritable, cantankerous and selfish. That’s not the way they want to behave and not the way their family wants to remember them. But in the Lord’s mercy Al was his gracious and friendly self right up until he lost consciousness. Praise God!

We had wonderful times of worship and fellowship around Al’s bed, both before and after he lost consciousness. While there are bits and pieces of those last days that are not pleasant to dwell on, by and large they were days full of precious times that we still savor. It was good to remind each other of them last night.

People often ask how we are doing, so we asked each other that question last night. The short answer is that we continue to sense God’s faithful, tender care for us, shown both directly and through the love and support of people, and because of that we are doing well.

The longer answer is that there are (at least) three states of mind we find ourselves in on a rotating basis:

(1) Sometimes we are just living life, busy with its demands and joys, keeping up with whatever is on our plate at a given moment and purposely enjoying the various blessings the Lord puts in it. That is not avoidance or denial; it is simply trying to walk by faith the path that is put in front of our feet. As the months pass, we find that the percentage of time we spend in this state keeps increasing.

(2) Sometimes we are overcome with grief, fresh and keen, and we miss Al terribly. Some of the things that trigger that grief are predictable—birthdays, Christmas, yesterday, etc.—but some are unexpected. Last week I was driving home from shopping and heard the song “There’s Always Something There to Remind Me.” On any other day I might not have thought twice about it, but that day it hit me as being about Al, and it set me crying. The next song was “I’ll Stand By You,” which so thoroughly described Al that it turned the tears up another notch, and I found that I might as well have been trying to drive home through a waterfall.

(3) And other times it seems as if the curtain is pulled back and we get a glimpse of heaven and the unspeakable joy that Al is getting to experience there, and we are happy for him, even to the point of being a bit envious. I find this happens most often during worship. I have come to think of it as being like flying in an airplane on a cloudy day. Some worship songs have to do with life on this earth, with its challenges, with God’s faithfulness to us during suffering, or with a call to persevere or to serve him with joy, or with the blessings of companionship as we are on the journey together, or whatever else pertaining to the Christian life. Those songs are great, and encouraging, and important, but they are like flying below the clouds. But ahh…other worship songs break through those clouds and lift you right into the heavenly throne room itself. They let you see God in his majesty, reigning in glory, Almighty and Ancient of Days, all-powerful and all-loving. And they let you see Jesus, willingly humbled and slain for us, but raised up in glory and seated at the Father’s right hand, extending his kingdom of love into all the earth as its rightful king. Then I feel the heavenly light on my face and join in with the throng worshipping at his feet with abandon.

Yesterday, in addition to being the anniversary of Al’s going home, was also my first day of spring semester classes (other than the class I’m auditing, which met on Friday but which I missed because Alden was very sick). In one of my classes there was a reason for the professor to reflect on eternal life—both now and in heaven—being understood as knowing God, as Jesus explained in John 17:2-3. He talked about how in heaven what will be so wonderful is precisely seeing, and knowing and worshipping God. I was sitting in the class picturing Al doing just that, beholding God face to face at last, marveling at his majesty, and glory, and love, and holiness, and compassion, and all the other things that make God God. I have pictured that so many times with such joy that as the professor was talking I found my heart leaping and silently shouting, “Yes! Yes! That’s exactly right! Imagine how incredible that will be, and my husband is there already, experiencing those glories!” I wanted to lift my hands in praise right there half way back on the lefthand side of the classroom—but I refrained.

Also, on Sunday, by “coincidence” (if you believe there is such a thing; we know it’s really God’s careful and intentional providence), we sang “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand,” which was such a precious song for us as Al was dying (see the entry from 2.5.07 for the words). Eowyn and Becky were away on a retreat, and ironically they happened to sing it there as well. And by “coincidence” the sermon was on Hebrews 2:10-18 about Jesus becoming one of us and dying and rising to defeat death and break its power over us. That that text happened to be preached on the Sunday before this anniversary of Al’s death and that we sang the song that more than any other reminds us of how we experienced the joyful triumph of the resurrection in the midst of sorrow, was a tender confirmation from the Lord that He is with us in this time, as always. (You can listen to Sunday’s sermon online at www.newlifeglenside.com if you want to. Duane Davis, a current Westminster student, did a great job. In fact, you can catch any of the sermons from the past year, I think, including Alasdair’s from 8.5.07.)
I sense that there is a temporal shift going on in my thinking about heaven. In the past, the “someday” nature of heaven has always had an element of far-distant-future-ness to it. Maybe that is because it is the start of an eternal experience, and eternity by its very nature seems a long way off. Or maybe it just has the same feel to it as waiting for Jesus’ return: I know for certain it will happen, but whether it will be tomorrow or thousands of years from now is unknown, and therefore it feels far off. (No less certain, just chronologically distant.) But what I have been dwelling on and marveling at is that right now, this very minute Al is there enjoying heaven. That is not a new thought–obviously I’ve known that from the very moment Al died–but it has struck me with new force and clarity. For each of us here heaven could be only a breath away. Even if we live another 50 or 100 years, heaven is that close, that soon. In the scope of eternity of course 100 years is not even a blip, but even in the context of this life on earth, that sort of time span suddenly seems wonderfully short, with the joy of heaven right around the corner. (Maybe all this was prompted by my turning 50 recently…) This realization feels like the last stretch of time before a fantastic trip you’ve been anticipating for a long, long time or the last couple months of a long engagement. When you hit the homestretch, the waiting takes on a different character. The trip or wedding seems suddenly real in a way it didn’t before. Somehow heaven has seemed closer not only spatially/conceptually (that certainly has been true since Al died and moved there) but also chronologically. It will be soon, whatever that term may mean for any of us. Just as a year seems to fly by faster and faster the older I get, I suddenly feel that the time lapse until we arrive in heaven is as nothing. Even right now we’re almost there. That is an exciting thought! It also makes Al seem much closer–waiting for us just around the bend.

Anyway, there is more to say—about Christmas, and the birthday party my kids threw for me, etc. But I’m beat and need to get to bed, and I want to post something now, in proximity to the anniversary of Al’s death. So I’ll close and say thank you again to all of you who have loved us so incredibly. We have all been surprised at how many people have remembered this anniversary date and have let us know they are thinking of us and praying for us. We thank you so much!

Blessings to you all—



Update, November 9th

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 8:27 am by Libbie

Hello again. I thought I’d try to write a little update before too many weeks go by and too many thoughts collect that result in a lengthy tome like the 10/3 entry.

Perhaps the most significant event to report from the last several weeks is the dedication on October 22 of a conversation area at WTS in Al’s memory. The students—past and present—contributed money to buy nice outdoor furniture (think European outdoor café) for the lovely stone courtyard behind the oldest building on Westminster’s campus to create an area where students can gather, talk, continue conversations begun in classes, and deepen their friendships. That kind of connection with people was so much a part of who Al was, and he would be so happy to think that people wanted to honor him by making a place that will enable and foster such connections. What a perfectly fitting idea.


The dedication was during the chapel time, and Pete Enns gave a great message, encouraging us all to invest in people (as Al did). Eowyn and Alden got out of school to come, Becky and Lauren took early lunch breaks from work, and Alasdair and I were on campus for class anyway, so we were all there. It was a blessing. Of course these things are sensitive emotionally, but also wonderful. Grieving is greatly eased by having others who share your grief, and it is a very real comfort to know that others who knew and loved Al miss him as we do.


Other things have made me miss Al a lot recently, some predictable and some out of the blue. I am finally finishing the process of ordering a memorial stone for Al’s grave, and that carries with it a sadness that is expected. I was reading this morning from the little Bible Al carried with him when he traveled here and there around the world, and that made me miss him, too, not surprisingly. A good friend of ours who was a fellow seminary student of Al’s in the late 70’s spoke at the preaching conference at Westminster recently (and did an outstanding job), and it was so good to see him. Sharing memories from way back then was fun and funny—and also wistful. Another seminary friend from a decade or so ago who became one of Al’s long-distance colleagues, spoke at a women’s conference a few weeks ago (and also did a terrific job), and again it was wonderful to see her, and made us both miss Al anew. In my class on the prophetic books we started Isaiah this week. That was Al’s book. He taught Isaiah for years, and even last fall when he was weak and had painful blot clots in his legs, he went in to the Prophets class and taught on Isaiah. Mike Kelly, who teaches that class, and I both knew that when he (Mike) taught that material this year it would be emotionally challenging. We both teared up just a little bit when he started out, but after that it wasn’t too bad, and Mike did a great job, as I knew he would.

But there are other things that push emotional buttons that I don’t necessarily anticipate. Recently the faculty voted unanimously to dispense with the bells that have been ringing at the beginning and end of classes for as long as the classroom building has been standing. No big deal. But as I listened to a faculty member recount with humor and relish that brief part of the faculty meeting, I knew that if Al were alive he would have thoroughly enjoyed the interactions and camaraderie at the meeting and would have come home and told us all about it with smiles and jolly laughter. I couldn’t help shedding a few quiet tears in the back of the classroom.

Much more forceful was a dream I had a week or so ago. You may have had the experience of being away somewhere for long enough—whether on vacation or extended travel, or living somewhere else for a time—that the life/world/routine you’re used to begins to seem like a dream. And then when you return to your normal world the alternate place quickly fades to a dreamlike status. If you’ve experienced it more than once, you know ahead of time that the vacation place that seems so real to you when you’re there is going to fade and seem like a dream. You may even tell yourself that you’ll find a way to keep that from happening, but the fade is inevitable.

Well, Al has been in many of my dreams since he died. Usually he is just part of whatever is going on in the dream, and it seems perfectly natural to have him there, and it is only after I wake up that I realize there was anything odd about the picture. At those times I smile and am thankful to have shared a dream experience with him, even if it’s only in my sleeping mind. But last week I had a dream that was different. This time I was aware in the dream that he had died and that I was only dreaming. He wrapped his arms around me, as he had so often, and we talked about what it was like without him being here. Actually, it was very reminiscent of occasional times during 2006 when he would bring up the subject and we would talk about the future and about what life might be like without him. I assured him that the Lord was going to take very good care of us, which we both knew was true and which has certainly turned out to be, but there was no getting around the fact that we were going to miss him terribly. He would hold me, and we would face and feel that sadness together. My dream last week seemed so real and so like one of those precious times. Just as you know on vacation that you will return to reality, and just as we knew last year that there would be a time ahead when he would be gone, I was aware in the dream, with keen regret, that once I woke up it would have been only a dream and would fade in the face of current life. I said so to him in the dream, and we both agreed that that was going to be very sad. It was. I cried a lot the next day as I missed Al.

But I take comfort in knowing that one day we will be together again and this whole present life will seem like a dream. Not because I want to rush through this life or that I am unable to enjoy its many very wonderful blessings now, but because as good as this life is, life in heaven will be infinitely more wonderful, more vibrant, and more real, and I will be happily content at that point for this good life to have become a faded dream.

Not everything has been sad, though. There have been lots of happy times too.

Eowyn’s choir at school hosted a Coffee House recently at which each of the members was supposed to perform, with others if desired. Eowyn, Kristen (our housemate) and I put on overalls and bandanas and sang a down-homey version of “I’ll Fly Away” best known recently from the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou,” complete with harmonica, kazoo, rolling pin, and a wooden spoon on a cheese grater (we couldn’t find a washboard). It was pretty much a hoot.

This time of year there are lots of costume events going on, and we have been making the most of them. I hope to get some pictures up here soon so you can enjoy the craziness too.

I got to do a little drama this week. Every year I do a dramatic recitation of Genesis 1 in Hebrew for Doug Green’s Old Testament History and Theology class, and it is SO MUCH FUN to do! I’m glad he keeps letting me come back.

Alden’s school soccer season has ended, and his club soccer season will wrap up next weekend. In the most recent game two kids left with broken bones!

Eowyn’s play is next week, Nov. 15 and 16. It’s Antigone, a classic Greek tragedy with everybody dying at the end—a real “upper.” She plays Antigone. If anyone in the Glenside area is interested in going, it’s at Abington High School at 7:30 each night, and tickets are $5. You can get them from us (just call) or at the door.

Here is something related to that that blew me away. Every year the professional meetings for The Society of Biblical Literature are held the weekend (actually Thursday – Tuesday) before Thanksgiving, someplace in the US—this year in San Diego. They are important on lots of levels, and we always knew that that weekend had to be blocked out for Al to go to SBL. Over the years there were occasionally family events that conflicted with the SBL meeting, and Al would have to weigh options and make judgment calls about whether he should miss some or all of the meetings for the particular family commitment. Sometimes he went one way and sometimes the other. Well, I found out that Doug Green, Al’s colleague, is going to go to the meetings a day late this year so that he can be here for the first night of Eowyn’s play! What amazing kind of love is that for our family that he would voluntarily put himself in the position of making the hard choice Al would have had to make if he were here so that he can stand in for Eowyn’s father and cheer her on? We are blessed beyond words to have such good friends!

And on we go. It is easy for me to feel overwhelmed at times, especially trying to carve out the time I need to work on reading, translation, paper-writing, etc. for my classes in the midst of life with busy teenagers, taking care of running a household alone (administrative details have never been my strong suit!), figuring out parenting issues alone, and dealing with the hundred and one out-of-the-ordinary things that come up all the time. But I was reminded last week from Matthew 6 that fretting about things doesn’t help at all, and that my heavenly Father knows exactly what I need and will provide it. I’m trying to remind myself of that in the moments when I’m feeling stressed. Of course, birds are busy working to find food all the time, and that is part of the very process by which God feeds them (which is an example Jesus uses in Matthew 6). So remembering that God will take care of me doesn’t change the fact that I still need to get the things done, but it does diffuse the feeling of pressure in the situation, and that is really helpful. Remembering that I have a Father who cares intimately about me and who will take care of me and of my needs (who in fact knows what my needs really are better than I do myself), enables me to let go, and relax, and trust him that he will work out whatever it is I’m stewing about. Matthew 6, when it came up in our women’s Bible study, was a timely reminder.

Well, this has become sort of long after all, so I’ll stop. I hope you are experiencing the tender care of our loving heavenly Father, too.



October 2007 update

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 7:55 pm by Libbie

First of all, apologies to those of you who tried to check this site during the past few days and received an intimidating message saying you were forbidden access to it. There was a problem with security on the server, but apparently it is now solved.

It’s now been more than a month and a half since I posted anything here. I have wanted to write for quite a while and even started a note on September 15, but I never got it finished. Now, of course, I have way too much that I want to write about, and this will probably be ridiculously long.

The last few weeks of summer flew by. Eowyn had one further week of service-type work as a counselor on our church’s junior high retreat, and other than that both she and Alden had a little down time, which was good. I continued to slog away here in the house and in Al’s office at Westminster. The week after Jayne and I tackled the office and storage closet there, Alasdair and I took a full day and went through all of Al’s books at the seminary. Once that was done I heaved a sigh of relief, knowing that at least all the Westminster work was basically done. But apparently I was mistaken. Two days later Alasdair got an email from the man who is now acting as VP for Academic Affairs (Al’s last job) saying that he had found some books of Al’s in that office, and a while later I talked to the man who is running the Hebrew Institute that Al started, who said he would be glad to show me all the material of Al’s that is still stored there. Sigh… Someday we will have succeeded in going through all of Al’s stuff, but it won’t be soon. I have yet to even touch the basement and attic at home, and I can tell you that they’re pretty frightful. Maybe next summer I’ll get to them. On the other hand, I have to remember that we did manage to get an amazing amount of sorting done this summer, and I’m very thankful for that.

Over Labor Day weekend I had the blessing of going to Amsterdam for the wedding of a good friend, who is also the son of good friends of ours. In the past we have mentioned our very dear friends Eep and Lies and their two sons. Lies died almost exactly a year before Al, and it was for her funeral that Al and I traveled to Amsterdam just after we learned that Al had tumors in his lungs but before it had been definitively confirmed that they were melanoma. Three years ago Lies and their younger son, ArendJan, came to America for Alasdair and Lauren’s wedding. Over Labor Day their older son, Harmen, got married, and I was so glad to be able to be there for the celebration.

As you can imagine, there was sorrow mixed in with the joy of the wedding for everyone there, since Lies was not there to see and be part of it. For me there was the sorrow of Al being absent as well. But there was such happiness too. Harmen’s wife is a WONDERFUL young woman in every way, and I am happy beyond words, as I know Lies would be too, to see God blessing them with each other. The day was great from start to finish (10 am until after midnight!), I got to see and reconnect with many people I knew, and my Dutch (such as it is) came back more quickly than I expected.

The day before the wedding I was able to visit two friends, one of whom is 92 and in failing health and whom I am sure I won’t see again. Also, while I was there I borrowed a bike and rode all around the neighborhood where we lived as a family in 1995 and in 2002. I saw our apartments, the kids’ school, the park where they played, the canals we skated on, our favorite little café, and I rode on our favorite bike ride along the Gein River, where we had biked countless times. I can’t begin to recount all the memories that were triggered by those places: the place where Al kept taking sunset pictures until he got the perfect one, the conversations we had about the article he was writing on Zion in the historical books as we biked along the river, the stretch where Al used to race the barges or the trains (giving a big handicap to the slower vehicle), one of the windmills where we took our family picture, and on and on and on. SO MANY wonderful, happy memories! I wished the kids were there with me to share them all, and more than that, of course, I missed Al acutely.

So it was a pretty intense weekend, emotionally. Since Al died, we have certainly experienced life being “joy and sorrow sweetly mingled,” as a song says. The trip to Amsterdam for the wedding was that same mixture, only magnified and intensified a whole lot. The sorrow was very deep, but the joy was equally great, and I’m so thankful that I got to go. (BTW, my flight out of Philadelphia was delayed 7 hours! What is it about me and flying? At least we did get off the ground this time, but the delay cost me seeing one special friend with whom I was only going to overlap for a few hours and in whose apartment I stayed even though she was away. Missing out on seeing her was disappointing.)

School started just three days after I got back. But one other thing intervened before the start of school: we spent a day at the beach. The way our school district works, everybody starts school on the Wednesday after Labor Day except the upper classmen at the junior high and high school. (That gives the kids in the youngest grade a day to get to know the building without all the hordes of bigger kids around.) This year both Eowyn and Alden happen to be upperclassmen, so they didn’t have to start until Thursday. So, at the suggestion of Kristen (who was the kids’ youth group leader for a number of years and a good friend and who is now living with us), we took off for the beach on that Wednesday and spent the day riding the waves and relaxing on the sand. Now, a day at the beach is delightful anytime, but I have to tell you, there is something extra sweet about floating in the surf when you know that most of your peers are sitting in school classrooms! Legal hooky-playing—you can’t beat it.

In addition to coming up with the beach idea in the first place, Kristen said something there that stuck with me. She collects shells and said she used to search for perfect, unbroken ones (and rarely found them), but now she picks up broken shells and enjoys beautiful things about them—unusual colors, interesting shapes and so on. She just made an offhand comment that maybe that’s how life is: we want things to be perfect, but they rarely are, and instead we can learn to look for and appreciate the surprising beauty that God works into the broken world around us.

I think that is some of what has happened for me this past year. Up until a year and a half ago my life seemed pretty close to perfect. I grew up in a wonderful family where I was loved, nurtured and encouraged. I married a wonderful man who loved me and with whom I shared a wonderful life of God’s love. I have four wonderful children who are an incredible blessing to me. But now I have a slightly better picture—or at least a little glimpse—of the way most of the rest of humanity regularly experiences life. It’s a rare person who gets to live a “perfect life.” Most people’s lives have lots of brokenness in them, or they are worn down by the constant tossing of the waves. And yet God brings joy, blessings, beauty, and redemption into the brokenness. It is good to see and experience that—to feel pain and sadness and yet to see God’s infinite and transforming grace in the midst of it, perhaps even more clearly for the contrast.

The kids definitely did NOT want to go back to school. Usually there is a combination of not wanting summer to end, on the one hand, and an underlying excitement about seeing friends again, starting a new year, finding out who is in your classes, etc. on the other. But this year there was none of the latter sentiment. Not a trace. I think it is because last year was so hard, and we were so relieved to survive it and to stagger across the finish line into the reprieve of summer vacation. The thought of going back to the way things were last spring seemed about as appealing as a kick in the gut. For Eowyn, knowing that the workload junior year is extremely heavy didn’t help. Last spring was grueling, as she tried to dig out of the hole of schoolwork that piled up around the time that Al died, and the idea of this year being even worse than that was horrifying. However, as demanding as junior year will be, it will not be as bas as that, because she won’t be starting out being many weeks behind and then trying to catch up.

In fact, the transition back to school went better than Eowyn and Alden had expected, I think. They do have lots of homework, and they are still doing school and life without their dad being here, but it is manageable, and certainly better than last spring. Alden made the school soccer team, and Eowyn made the school play, neither of which were to be taken for granted. When we received those bits of good news I realized something about the outlook on life we had come to hold. A song we like to sing called “Blessed Be Your Name” talks about two contrasting sets of circumstances: one is the land that is plentiful, where God’s streams of abundance flow, where the sun is shining down on me and the world is all as it should be. The other is a desert place in the wilderness, a road marked with suffering, with pain in the offering. The song talks about blessing the name of the Lord in both sorts of times. This past year and a half we have done a lot of walking on the desert road and have definitely seen and felt God’s love and tenderness in the midst of suffering. That has been a deep blessing. As the school year started up again, I think we subconsciously braced ourselves for more tough times, automatically assuming without even thinking about it that life would be hard, challenging, and full of disappointments and sadness, but that we would know God’s care in the midst of heaviness. When Alden made the team and Eowyn got the title role in the play, I think we were all fairly astonished. The sunny road of abundant, happy blessing that we used to walk on regularly in years past now felt foreign to us. We had forgotten that life can be like that too.

I don’t think there is inherent virtue in expecting a “default setting” that renders life either easy or difficult. Expecting that God will give abundant pleasant blessings all the time can be the result of a secure grasp of God’s generosity, but it can also potentially come from presumption and selfishness. On the other hand, expecting that God will send hardship and trials as daily fare can flow from an appreciation of the hidden blessing of growing closer to God in suffering (it may even “feel holy” somehow), but it can also potentially stem from doubting his goodness. Rather than expecting either one, assuming we know what the Lord has in mind for us and why, I think he wants us to simply walk with him on whatever path he chooses for a given day or season. He wants us to be content to put our hand in his and trust him because he is the Lord, because he will bring into our lives what he alone knows is best, because he will walk the path with us, and because he has promised that ultimately he will turn every circumstance to our blessing and his glory.

That trust, of course, has to be a continual choice. For me, these days, there are so many details to deal with and stay on top of that I can feel overwhelmed, and when I discover that I’ve dropped the ball on something important it makes me worry that there are other important balls out there somewhere that I’ve forgotten about and am in danger of dropping, too. I sometimes wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning (possibly because of the birds singing), and, given half a chance, thoughts and worries will rush into my mind and keep me from going back to sleep. They can be as simple as phone calls I’ve forgotten to make or as complex as single parent issues I need to navigate. Last week I was reading Psalm 3 about God being a shield around David, and noticed that David said, “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.” The setting for the psalm is David’s flight from Absalom. David didn’t know whether he would wake up at all or whether Absalom would find him during the night and kill him, yet he was able to lie down and sleep because he trusted in God’s care for him. If God is so reliable that David could rest in him in such dire circumstances (and he didn’t even know about God’s greater love shown in Jesus), then I can too. So now if I wake up at 5:00 I firmly head off the details that would like to storm into my mind, and I choose to remember instead God’s unfailing, trustworthy love and care, and I am able to drift back to sleep.

This fall I am taking two courses at Westminster—both of them outstanding and very interesting. Of course I was already behind by the second week of classes, and way behind by the third week. But I am counting on the sage observation one of my classmates made several years ago, which is, “The sooner you get behind, the more time you have to catch up.” Works for me (I hope).

So, on we go. There are still things that trigger tears, and that is perfectly fine. There are some moments when I think maybe I am feeling some of the healing-of-heart that time brings and that the sadness is less close to the surface. However, I am learning that those times are often followed later in the day by fresh sorrow.

And sometimes the tears are not about grief at all. A friend dropped off a CD recently that has a song on it called “I Can Only Imagine” about what it may be like to be in heaven, seeing and walking with God. The chorus goes like this:

Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel?

Will I dance for you, Jesus? Or in awe of you be still?

Will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall?

Will I sing “Hallelujah!”? Will I be able to speak at all?

I can only imagine.

I can only imagine.

Becky played that song for me a long time ago, before Al was even sick, and I loved it. Now I listen to it and think of Al actually being there, singing, dancing and shouting out praises to the Lord or maybe breathless and speechless before his holiness and majesty. Knowing how much Al loved the Lord, how captivated he was by him and how much he longed to see him some day, I really can only imagine what it must be like for Al to be there. The joy, the awe, the wonder he must be experiencing I can only guess at. Sometimes we listen to that song and cry for the joy Al must be finding. At least once when I was alone I knelt down right in the kitchen and joined the worshippers. And sometimes I feel so aware of heaven, as if I were right there in the throne room with Al and with the myriads of others that it seems more real than this world around me. If I just close my eyes, I’m there, almost feeling the light of God’s glory shining on my face… I can only imagine, but that imagining can be very real.

Glad to be on the King’s highway to that place,



Update July 12, 2007

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 9:50 pm by Libbie

The time since I last wrote an update (not counting the picture of Alden from Spain) has flown by amazingly fast. When I wrote that note Alden was starting his four weeks in Spain, and now he’s back already! He had a WONDERFUL time full of all sorts of fun things and great stories. We are so grateful to the family who took him along and made him part of their family for that time!

Also since that update Eowyn spent 9 days on a trip to Guatemala to work with Food for the Hungry in a village in the Western highlands of the country. Her team ran kids’ clubs and helped work on the foundation of a new classroom for the village’s school. Eowyn had an excellent, stretching, growing time and also came home with lots of stories, some of them very entertaining. What a privilege an experience like that is.

All the kids came over for dinner yesterday when Alden got home, and it was great to have all of us together again and to share stories from the time apart. Of course we missed Al, who loved being part of such times. Eowyn said it had been emotionally hard for her to arrive at the airport knowing that if Al were alive he would certainly have been tracking the flight’s progress on the internet as the other team members’ fathers were doing, but that he would not be there to welcome her home. She said that in an odd sort of way it was actually better that at first we were not there either, because we got slowed down by a car fire that backed up traffic on the turnpike. I’m not sure why our initial absence was better for her, but I’m glad it worked out that way.

The week that both Alden and Eowyn were away I tore into the house again, clearing out, organizing, even ripping up carpet and replacing it with some I had stored in the attic when we replaced the living room carpet several years ago. I would love to know just how many pounds of material have left this house in the last month. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds I would guess. It’s like giving the house one of those super-dooper diet pills on the market these days that are effective to the point of being dangerous.

On Thursday Jayne and I went and assessed the state of Al’s office at Westminster. Oh man, oh man, oh man. You would not believe how much stuff there is in it. There is a whole summer’s worth of sorting contained in that relatively small space. It’s completely and totally overwhelming, and if I had been on my own I would have sat down and cried and given up on the spot. But Jayne encouraged me that it maybe it won’t be as bad as it looks, and she started formulated strategies for tackling it, God bless her. I was SO thankful once again for her company and help.

Then the next day while I was sorting things Jayne went through one of the 12 boxes of Westminster-type papers in our living room at home and found that it was mostly full of papers that could be tossed: photocopied articles, other people’s old papers, etc. She got through 9 of the 12 boxes in just a few hours! Fantastic! That encouraged us that maybe Al’s office really will be better than it seems. It was so kind of the Lord to give that particular encouragement the day after the discouragement in the office. His care is so personal and tender.

Not all the sorting goes quite that fast. It took me 2-3 hours of steady going to get through half a file drawer one evening. But we’re definitely making progress. Eowyn and Alden hardly recognized some parts of the house that are now cleared and organized.

Monday night Eowyn got really sick. She threw up 19 times between Monday night and Tuesday morning, and she lost 9 percent of her body weight in 48 hours (and didn’t have any weight to spare to begin with). We were more worried about dehydration, though, when she couldn’t keep anything down. Last year she ended up in the emergency room with dehydration (heart rate: 210, blood pressure: 78/23!), so we know it’s not something to mess around with. Thankfully, last spring we had air conditioning installed in our bedroom for Al’s sake, so this week when Eowyn was so sick she was in 72 degrees when outside it was 97, and with the humidity the “real feel” was 105-110. If she had been in that heat and unable to keep fluids down, she would certainly have been in trouble. Today she is back to eating a bit and regaining her strength. Whether the sickness was from something in Guatemala or was totally unrelated is impossible to know, but we’re thankful to see her recovering. And I feel a new sympathy for parents in many parts of the world who have to stand by helplessly and watch their children wither away and even die from loss of body fluids.

On a totally unrelated and random note, each evening I go out and sit or stand in the yard and watch the fireflies. I love the season of the year when they are out. The yard is dark and quiet, refreshingly cool(er) after the day’s heat, and the whole place is alive with tiny lights, like a fairyland—almost magical. I like to take that in before I go to bed, to enjoy the beauty and the Lord’s quiet presence. Actually I always step outside and breathe in the night air before bed, even on the coldest winter nights (a fact that the young woman who lived with us for half of last year found amusing, or perhaps endearing), but firefly nights are my favorites.

I was listening to a CD by Casting Crowns recently. It isn’t new, but I hadn’t heard it before. Two of the songs particularly struck me. The first is called “Love Them Like Jesus,” and starts out:

“The love of her life is drifting away.

They’re losing the fight for another day.

The life that she’s known is falling apart.

A fatherless home, a child’s broken heart.”

That started the tears flowing freely. There was especially something about the phrase “the love of her life” that touched something in my heart. I’m not sure I can put it into words, even for myself. I cried a long time after listening to that and anytime I thought of it for days afterwards. I have purposely not listened to it again since. But the chorus goes like this:

“Just love her like Jesus, carry her to him.

His yoke is easy, his burden is light.

You don’t need the answers to all of life’s questions,

Just know that he loves her and stay by her side.

Love her like Jesus.

Love her like Jesus.”

I have to say that people have done just that and have done it so well that we have felt incredibly loved by Jesus through their/your prayers and support. Thank you!

The second song that caught my ear was called “Praise You in This Storm,” and the lyrics go like this:

“I was sure by now

That you would have reached down

And wiped our tears away,

Stepped in and saved the day,

But once again, I say ‘amen’, and it’s still raining.

As the thunder rolls

I barely hear you whisper through the rain

‘I’m with you’.

And as your mercy falls

I raise my hands and praise the God who gives

And takes away.

I’ll praise you in this storm,

And I will lift my hands,

For You are who You are

No matter where I am.

Every tear I’ve cried

You hold in Your hand.

You never left my side.

And though my heart is torn,

I will praise You in this storm.”

That is where I choose to live. God is powerful and sovereign over everything that happens in our lives, and he is unfailingly good and faithful to bless us, to draw us close to him, and to be with us in the hard as well as in the easy times of life. He sees the bigger picture and knows how it all fits together, and I am content to trust that to him and to rest in his care.

One more thing. As I was going through one of many file drawers of Al’s things, I ran across this excerpt that he had hand copied from something by Jim Elliott (who was a young husband and father when he was killed in missionary service years ago). I don’t know what the source was, but I would guess Jim Elliott wrote it before his only child Valerie was born. (Purely by coincidence of arrival times I had the surprise pleasure of meeting and sitting with some of Valerie’s “family-in-law” at Westminster’s graduation banquet this May.) The excerpt was copied in the beautiful handwriting that Al had in his twenties, which was before we had any children either. Here is what it says:

Jim Elliott:

I walked out on the hill just now. It is exalting, delicious, to stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coattail and the heavens hailing your heart, to gaze and glory and give oneself again to God—what more could a man ask? Oh, the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth! I care not if I never raise my voice again for Him. Mayhap in mercy He shall give me a host of children that I may lead them through the vast star fields to explore His delicacies whose finger ends set them to burning. But if not, if only I may see Him, touch His garments, and smile into His eyes—ah then, not starts nor children shall matter, only Himself.

How wonderful to know that Al is seeing God, touching his garments and smiling into his eyes right now. I know how much he looked forward to that through all the years that I knew him. I can only imagine the “delicious pleasure” and “sheer excitement” he must be experiencing, and I’m so glad for him.

Honestly, I can’t fathom how hard it must be to lose someone you love if you don’t know what happens after death. For us there is no sense of finality to the separation we feel now. Al is very much alive—more so than ever, in fact—and eventually we will join him. He’s just gone ahead of us for now. (And in true Al form, I’m sure he’s scouting things out and will be able to brief us on all the details when we arrive.) I look forward to that day—to seeing Al again and to seeing the Lord face to face—and in the meantime we will just live in different realms for a while.

Well, this has become longer than I intended, so I’ll stop.

God is good. He is holding us up well, one day at a time and in answer to many people’s prayers, for which we are thankful. May he bless you abundantly.




Update May 13th

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 8:23 pm by Libbie

Hello again. Nothing particular to report, necessarily, just a general update.

The Lord is carrying us daily, and as a result we are all doing well. There are still hard moments or days, of course, but they seem to be fewer and farther between, and we are very aware of God’s constant love for us.

The students at Westminster, on their own initiative, wanted to have a time to remember and honor Al, so they dedicated the final chapel of the year, Wednesday, May 2, to that end. It was wonderful. Six students shared memories of Al that captured who he was and the legacy he has left behind. Al would have been so blessed and encouraged. We certainly were. The kids got out of school, and Becky and Lauren took long lunch breaks from work, so we were all able to be there, and afterward we picked up lunch and had a picnic with some friends by Al’s grave in the beautiful sunshine.

The weekend after that I went on our church’s annual women’s retreat—just for the day on Saturday. To my complete surprise, I spent almost the whole day crying. Maybe it was because the retreat was at Harvey Cedars, where we have spent vacations as a family, and it triggered lots of memories and also reminded me of places and times Al will never share with us again? Maybe it was because I stepped out of the busy-ness and responsibility that keeps me occupied and had the leisure to let emotions run unchecked? It started the moment I opened my mouth to sing the first song of the morning: one of Al’s favorites, one that we often sang as a family, and one that Al had everybody sing in the car on the way to the emergency room when Alden broke his arm very badly as a four-year-old. Remembering how tenderly Al had handled that situation (I was away at the time, on the women’s retreat, ironically) reminded me of what a wonderful father he was, and that turned on the faucets of tears. I couldn’t turn them off the rest of the day. In the afternoon I purposely found a solitary spot on the beach with no one around and just cried for several hours with the wind and the waves, the sea gulls and the Lord surrounding me. It was therapeutic. The retreat itself was awesome.

I’m discovering that there are different aspects to this patch of life we’re in. There is a time to focus on the present and just put one foot in front of the other and “do life” in faith, nothing more elaborate than that. There is a time to look ahead and dream and plan for the future, embracing whatever the next phase of life may turn out to hold. And there is a time to step off the path of either doing or planning and to look back at the past, to savor sweet memories and re-live precious times. Each aspect needs to be given room and time to happen. In each there is grief, and there is joy, and there is God’s faithful presence.

Prior to the special chapel and the retreat I had been starting to think creatively about “what I want to do when I grow up.” On the basis of the advice of experts who counsel people about job searches, I tried to think about what I am passionate about and to dream big and think of what I would like to do if there were no limits of any kind. The chapel and retreat put those thoughts on ice for a time, quite appropriately. We found ourselves instead looking back and savoring memories of Al, being thankful for the years we had with him. Planning for the future simply couldn’t fit into the same space. And I think that was perfectly fine. Now I am coming back to thinking about the future again, tempering dreams with realities and seeing what possibilities that produces. It’s an adventure. In some ways I feel like a college student contemplating future employment with the wide world in front of me. Of course I’m a long way from being college age, which both limits and increases the options available. It’s exciting, actually.

So, life goes on from one day to another. Becky, Lauren and Alasdair are in the season of going to weddings, weddings, weddings. Alasdair and I are also taking final exams. Eowyn is closing on her second term paper, and last night she and Alden were part of a talent show of sorts put on by the junior and senior high youth groups to raise money for world hunger (related to World Vision’s 30-hour famine that I mentioned earlier). It was a hoot and a great high-energy time.

Today I woke up to find Alden and Eowyn making bacon and crepes for me for Mother’s Day. Wow. I’m blessed!

May you be richly blessed as well—



Hello again at last

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 2:00 pm by Libbie

I haven’t written anything here for more than a month, although I have wanted to at different times and have frequently felt badly that there has been such a long silence. This afternoon I have a little time, so I’ll write as much as I have time to.

Where to start?

It has been a month of seeing the Lord be faithful and good to all of us and of knowing his nearness. It has been a month of missing Al. It has been a month of walking one day at a time and of handling whatever comes at us with faith that the Lord will work everything out. It has been a month full of little, personalized blessings straight from God embedded in our days to remind us of his love and care. It has been a month of alternate laughter and tears, often intermixed, and of being thankful for each other and for the many people around us who love us and hold us up—in prayer and otherwise.

We are discovering the obvious truth that there is no short cut through grief, no “efficient” was to grieve that minimizes its pain, and that if there is a temporary way “around” it, taking that path is unwise and only postpones having to eventually, inevitably deal with the pain. You just have to walk through it. So we are doing that, one day at a time. And the Lord is walking with us.

There have been some minor logistical bumps along the road, sometimes clustered in such ridiculous concentration that it becomes comical, but it has been good for me to have to deal with them. It forces me to (a) trust God that he will sort out the snarls, presumably each one before it compounds the next, (b) find out that I can in fact organize and handle the financial/business/administrative details of life that have never been not my strong suit, even when they are out-of-the-ordinary and a bit complicated, and (c) know that we have a myriad of friends with an array of skills who can help me out if I need it. There is no doubt that I am growing stronger in the midst of this, which is a good thing. (Lest you worry, Al had good life insurance, and Westminster has been very generous as well. Even after Al is gone, he is providing for us!)

We drove to Florida the week before Easter to be with Al’s family, and it was great to see them, as always. Alden got to go deep sea fishing with his granddad, he and Eowyn got to spend time with their cousins who are roughly their ages, and we got to see two of Al’s siblings and their families, including a great-niece who is a year and a half old and cute as a button.

I think we all wondered whether it would be hard or just odd to be there without Al. There were a few times that we were acutely aware of Al’s absence, like when we took a picture of the whole family as Al always insisted that we do. [Side note: actually, taking pictures and movies now is consistently a pinch of grief for me. That was so important to Al, and he did it so incessantly that one time when the kids’ friends came and stayed with us they commented that it was like living on “Spycam”! So now when I take pictures I instinctively do it for Al, momentarily thinking that it will be fun to take them home and show them to him. But then I remember that he’s not here to see them, and then I have to re-think why I’m taking them—for posterity, of course, as he always did.] But mostly it was just good to be there with family.

The drive, while long, was good too. Honestly, we really like road trips. They are a good time to be together without other things interrupting or competing. Everybody brings some favorite music and we get some interesting mysteries on CD to listen to, and it’s just fun to be off on an adventure together. Plus, this time around Eowyn had her driver’s permit, and all the states between here and Florida except South Carolina said she could drive in them, so she got in about 20 hours of highway driving experience, which she was very excited about. I have to say, she’s pretty competent now at the whole business of on-ramps, changing lanes, etc.

The weekend before we went to Florida our daughter-in-law Lauren’s family invited us to to stay with them in Vermont and use some passes they had to ski at Killington. We usually ski once a year in the Poconos, but I had always hoped that someday Eowyn and Alden could ski together with Alasdair (who LOVES to ski) and maybe someday they would even get to ski in New England. Both dreams came true at the same time. What fun! That’s what I mean by the Lord placing personalized, tailor-made blessings in our days. It was a great time with Lauren’s family (who are delightful people that we love) as well, and we were able to stop and see my parents on the way home, which was a special treat. So, we skied on 3 inches of fresh powder one Sunday and swam in the Florida warmth the next. What a life full of blessings!

Eowyn is still digging out of make-up work. Only the two term papers are left, and she’s making progress on them. Last weekend she spent 10 or 12 hours on Saturday on one of them and can see the end of that one in sight. Hallelujah! Hopefully in the next several weeks she’ll finish them both and be free of that weight. We can’t wait!! It was definitely a thorn in her side (and her cousin’s) that she had to spend parts of several days in Florida working on schoolwork, and she was becoming a little bitter as well as discouraged. But when that state of heart reached a crisis the following week, Alasdair was an invaluable help in talking things through with her and helping her bring her heart issues to the Lord for forgiveness and healing. His helping her was such an incredible encouragement to me and a perfect answer to prayer. Again, the Lord’s individualized care for us was so precious to see.

This weekend both Eowyn and Alden are participating in a 30 Hour Famine organized by World Vision to raise money for and awareness of kids around the world who are literally starving. Alden got fired up to raise funds for the famine and has been tireless at it. I think he ended up raising over $500! By tonight all the youth group will be very hungry and tired, but it’s a wonderful project that both Eowyn and Alden believe in very strongly.

Alden has been enjoying winter and spring soccer too. Last week he scored 4 goals in their indoor game (which is unusual for him), one of them a header, and last night he had a really pretty goal too. He is starting to feel more comfortable, I think, although he still occasionally has down days when he doesn’t want to go to school or anywhere. This summer he has the opportunity to go to Spain with a friend and his family, which should be very exciting. Eowyn will be going to Guatemala with Food for the Hungry, which she’s pumped about too.

There are just a couple weeks left of the term at Westminster. It will be nice to have that behind me. The course I am taking and the one I’m auditing have been great, though. In one, the professor reminded us that when Moses asked God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh…?” he was asking the wrong question. The real question was “Who was God?” And the answer was that he was the I AM, the creator of heaven and earth, the self-sufficient, independent God who had all the power in the universe, and also “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” who committed himself to his people and made and kept covenant promises to them. If THAT God was with Moses, he could do anything that God called him to do. That has been good for us to remember on days when things seem hard, or discouraging, or overwhelming. All he asks us to do is walk with him, and if we’ll trust him in that, we cannot fail.

Another time the professor was talking about the Trinity, and the two natures of Christ—human and divine—and other things we can’t quite wrap our finite minds around. Even in heaven we probably won’t fully be able to understand how those mysteries work, but I assume they will at least be clearer. I was musing about what it will be like to actually see God on his throne, to look at Jesus close-up, human yet exalted and glorified… And then I realized that Al is already doing that. He always loved things that were big enough and deep enough that you couldn’t exhaust your exploration of them, so I know he must be endlessly delighted in standing in God’s presence and just taking in his glory.

Anyway, I find that an awareness of Al’s absence is always there in the background of my mind, even when I’m not specifically thinking about it. It’s sort of like a large piece of scenery on a stage where you’re acting. You might not always be looking at it, or interacting with it, but it’s always there, giving a certain cast to the scene. The only time I completely forgot about Al’s death was when we were skiing (probably both because it was so much fun and because I’m not a great skier, so I have to pay attention to what I’m doing!). I was surprised at one point to realize that I hadn’t thought about Al in a couple of hours.

What I pray is that in the same way that a constant awareness of Al not being here anymore stands in my consciousness, alternately more and less forcibly, an awareness of God’s love, and care, and majesty, and holiness, and kingdom purposes for this world will be constantly present in my mind and heart. I want that to be THE piece of scenery that gives the definitive cast to the stage I live my life on and that colors everything I do, and say and think as I go through any given day.

Well, I’ve run out of time. I hope this finds you well and enjoying the blessings that flow from the empty tomb. Thanks for checking in on us. Sorry it took me so long to get something posted here.




Hello Again–

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 5:53 pm by Libbie

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything here. I have wanted to again and again, but one day after another gets away from me.

It’s been more than five weeks now since Al died. We are taking one day at a time and finding the Lord faithful and with us. School has been hard for Eowyn and Alden, with the difficulties having different foci for each of them.

Eowyn has struggled with feeling overwhelmed and discouraged with all the schoolwork she has to make up. The week before Al died she was physically present in school but not able to concentrate much and definitely not working on long-term assignments. Then she missed two weeks completely, and the first two weeks she was back in school she had no oomph or emotional energy to dive into schoolwork. She made as much effort as she could to attempt some of the current assignments of those two weeks, but she kept falling farther and farther behind. So by the beginning of March she basically had a 5-week slide to try to reverse. That was so discouraging that it was disabling, and the more the work piled up the more discouraged she became. You know how those downward spirals go. Eowyn’s teachers have been understanding about giving her time to make things up, some of them have written off some of the assignments, and some of the them have been extremely supportive and encouraging, which we appreciate so much. But the volume of work, which includes two term papers (remember how mammoth those seemed in high school?), still seems daunting.

But we’ve tried to map out a plan to chip away at the pile in manageable, if not very fun, chunks, and in the past two or three weeks she has made progress in getting some assignments handed in, tests taken, etc. Every little bit helps. I think maybe that encourages me more than it encourages her, but she’s been a trooper. She’s plowing into her term papers, she’s trying to get on top of trig and chemistry concepts that she missed that affect what the class is learning now, and sooner or later it will all be behind her. She can’t wait. Last week she got her learner’s permit to drive, which she is enormously excited about, and the “upper” of that has come at a good time to offset some of the drudgery of work. Thank you, Lord!

For Alden, who didn’t have too much work to make up, the biggest challenge has been dealing with junior high life. It’s hard to know how to comfort a friend who is grieving at any age, and it would be unreasonable to expect junior high kids to figure that out at 13 or 14. No one has been intentionally mean at all, but they do sometimes say and do things that end up being unintentionally hurtful. Jokes that make fun of “your mom” or “your dad” are probably harmless enough, but when your dad’s just died, they’re not very funny. However, that may not occur to the eighth grader making the joke. Or there’s the girl who asks, “Who do you like? Who do you like? Who do you like? You have to like somebody; everybody likes somebody. So who do you like?” and keeps it up for 20 minutes without a break. Or if Alden has heavy things on his mind and therefore gets quiet and doesn’t join in whatever silly stuff happens to be going on, kids (probably meaning very well) ask him if he’s all right and keep asking him until he does join in just to get the spotlight off himself. So he feels as if all day at school he has to pretend that he is happily part of whatever inanity is going on and that everything is fine, nothing is wrong and nothing is on his mind. That is wearing. Plus, a teacher that Alden really, really likes was recently promoted to a new job (which he will excel at—he’s great), so today was his last day in class.

I dropped one of the two classes I was taking this spring, which I have no doubt was the right decision. I had figured I would just move ahead with both classes, see how that went, and adjust as necessary, trusting the Lord to make the way clear one way or the other, and he did. I am slowly learning this business of living life a day at a time and trusting the Lord to guide me when I don’t have all (or maybe even any of!) my ducks in a row. It became obvious that keeping up with other things in life right now was going to preclude being able to get to the reading for the one class, so the clear choice was to drop it. I had a midterm in the remaining class this week, and that course will keep me plenty busy.

Last Thursday I had minor outpatient surgery on my wrist (to remove a cyst—no big deal), and that is healing nicely as far as I can tell. Our church and some Westminster students are continuing to send meals while my hand is in a splint/cast for two weeks, and that is getting me out of washing dishes as well. I’m going to be completely spoiled…

On Tuesday I went through Al’s clothes in preparation for a clothing collection. I wasn’t sure how hard that was going to be, but it wasn’t too bad for the most part, and I came up with a neat idea for what to do with some of them. There were two hard parts, though. One was when I found something special Al had made for me that he had tucked away in one of his drawers so that I would find it whenever I eventually went through them. Thoughtful to the end. The other was a collection of photo album pages in his closet that held pictures from 30 years ago when we were dating and first married. Remembering those early years and seeing the pages of pictures of me that Al had amazingly cherished made me bawl. When I came through the living room Eowyn saw that I had been crying and asked why. When I told her, she settled herself in “the snuggle chair,” made me come sit in her lap, and put her arms around me and comforted me. I am so loved!

So we walk on, one step at a time. We miss Al terribly, but we are certainly glad that the Lord is here with us, and we’re glad for Al’s sake that he is in heaven. It’s sort of like getting to graduate early. High school and college can be fun, but if you know what you want to do with your life, then being allowed to leave school early to go do it is supremely exciting, even if you’ll miss your school buddies. It’s a bummer for them to be left behind, but it’s fantastic for the early graduate. That’s how I think of Al’s death in some ways. He would have chosen to stick around longer with us and with all his buddies here, but since he got tapped to jump ahead now and start on the real business of living Real Life, I wouldn’t want to wish him back here in training camp.

Last Sunday in church as we worshipped I felt intense emotions in three different directions at once, seemingly conflicting and yet all true. First, as I often do, I pictured all of us in the congregation standing before God’s throne, worshipping the king. I think that is really what’s happening when we worship. As I stood aware of that, I realized that Al is standing, worshipping before that same king, just more real-ly than we are. So it was almost as if I wanted to look around the throne room of heaven and see if I could pick him out in the multitude. Being part of the same throng praising God together—those on earth and those in heaven—I felt so close to Al.

Second, and at the very same time, I missed him so intensely that my eyes were like faucets.

And third, I realized how very much Al had longed all his life to be exactly where he is right now, and I was SO GLAD for him. Back when Al’s grandfather died in 1979 Al felt first sadness that he wasn’t going to be able to see him as planned (we were about to leave on a long trip to go visit him), then confident that he would in fact see him again in heaven, and then envious that his granddad was getting to do something that we would have to wait many years to experience—seeing Jesus face to face. Al was not surprised at the sadness or the hope, but he was surprised by the envy. I think it was the first time he became aware of what a longing he had to go home and be in God’s actual presence. Of course he enjoyed all the big and little things in life while he was here, people most of all, but that longing to be with Jesus was always there underneath. And now, there he is! He is lifting his hands and probably dancing with abandon before the Lord in freedom, health, Life, and triumphant joy, as his heart longed to do for so many years.

When Al and I were dating we liked to sing a song from Psalm 27. It’s the only song I remember him harmonizing to, and the harmony he sang was beautiful. The words are:

One thing have I desired of the Lord;
that will I seek after–
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life.
One thing have I desired of the Lord;
that will I seek after–
to behold the beauty of the Lord
and inquire in his temple.

That is where Al is now and what he is doing, and I can only imagine the joy he is experiencing in being there and doing it.

May we all look forward to joining him…



Joy and Grief

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections at 10:40 pm by Libbie

[The following reflections may be a bit hard to read without tears. I think it only fair to warn you of that ahead of time. This note is one that Al initially wrote last May, but we didn’t post it at the time for a number of reasons. Al thought of putting it on the blog in the late fall and so added a sentence of introduction at the beginning, but somehow we again hesitated. Maybe the emotions were too exposed, too tender, and we needed to check with the other people involved to see if they minded. I have done that now, and all have said that they are happy to have Al’s reflections shared. So here is a note that Al wrote about a very wonderful, very joyful and sad, and very special weekend last May.]

From Al:

Many ask how we are doing spiritually, in our hearts. This is a good question, perhaps the best question to ask us. To that end, here is something I wrote last spring but didn’t post at the time. It contains some reflections on the joys and griefs of a special weekend in May.

In May, Becky, my oldest daughter, came home for 36 hours in a weekend to be in the wedding of her dear friend, Lisa Welch. On the Friday before the wedding on Saturday I was admitted to the hospital with a very painful blood clot in my right leg. Because it would take at least three days in the hospital to be sure that the medication for thinning my blood was properly regulated, I would not be able to attend the wedding. Nor, as a result, would I see my daughter—I had been in either the emergency room or the hospital since she arrived and she had wedding related activities in the evening on Friday. She would have the wedding on Saturday and then catch a 7am flight Sunday. This was all disappointing to say the least. Read the rest of this entry »


Update and Reflections 2.19.07

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 10:32 pm by Libbie

Hello. We had a great time away last week, Tuesday through Thursday, and now we are gearing up for the kids to go back to school tomorrow (Tuesday, Feb 20). Likely enough that will be a bumpy experience, and this whole week may be something to just get through with the Lord’s help. They are not looking forward to it, but we’ve talked about things to anticipate, possible ways to handle certain situations, and that the Lord will be with them. If you think of praying for them tomorrow and the rest of this week, I know they would appreciate it! Read the rest of this entry »


One week later…

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 9:13 am by Libbie

Dear Friends,
What a week it has been. A week ago we were watching the sun come up after a sleepless night, surprised that Al was still with us, although he had slipped into unresponsiveness, and wondering how much longer he would have to wait to go home.

It was hard to see him suffer. In some ways it was merciful that he was no longer conscious. The previous day he had been so thirsty, and we had only been partially able to quench his thirst, because it was hard for him to swallow, and more than a drop or two of water at a time tended to make him choke. For me, that was one of the hardest things in the whole process. So I think we were relieved that around 2 a.m. on Monday he passed beyond consciously feeling that thirst.

At about 10:00 Monday morning Al began to struggle to breathe. I had the impression from books or movies that when that characteristic breathing (what used to be called the “death rattle”) began, it was a matter of just a handful of minutes before the person passed away. But for Al it went on for ten and a half hours. We kept praying that the Lord would take Al home and end his suffering right away. And we kept waiting. We sang, we prayed, we talked, sometimes we laughed, and we waited. The hours rolled by, the nurse and others came and went, and still we waited. Read the rest of this entry »



Posted in From Al & Libbie, General, Reflections at 10:14 pm by Libbie

Here is the obituary that was sent to the Philadelphia paper. If they print it at all, they will probably shorten it, so I thought I’d just put it up here as well. [UPDATE NOTE: The Philadelphia Inquirer obituary is now online here.] If you are interested in an account of Al’s more academic life, there is one on the Westminster website.

James Alan Groves was born December 17, 1952 in Springfield, Missouri to James and Jacqueline Groves. He was later joined by brother Warren, sister Jill, and brother Bryan. Their family lived in Springfield, Missouri; Bartlesville and Cushing, Oklahoma; Mankato and Rochester Minnesota; and Aberdeen, South Dakota, where Al graduated from high school in 1971. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 6:17 pm by Libbie

Hello again after a few days.

The kids are feeling much better and are back in school now after both of them being home sick on Friday and then lying low over the weekend. Alasdair’s bronchitis, which was, as usual, pretty bad, is on the mend in time for the start of the semester on Thursday. And so far neither Al nor I have caught any of the above. Thank the Lord for that! Becky has had more car troubles, but our mechanic has again gone above and beyond the call of duty to help us out and keep her on the road. If anybody in the Philly area needs a mechanic, call us for his name–he’s amazing! Read the rest of this entry »


From the sick ward…

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 3:18 pm by Libbie

Well, today Alden is finally well enough to be back in school (hopefully, since he’s feeling neither terrific nor strong), but last night Eowyn woke up in the middle of the night with chills and fever, so she’s home today. (And coincidentally Alasdair has developed bronchitis.) Please pray that Al will not catch any of the germs in this hive of sickness!

Al felt a little better yesterday than the day before, it seemed to me, which was great. Today he’s pooped and not feeling great. He is increasingly unsteady on his feet and lacking in any kind of energy, and typing is becoming extremely difficult. But he’s a tough old guy, and he keeps on truckin’, if you’ll pardon a 70’s expression. Read the rest of this entry »


One year anniversay, January 16

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections at 8:47 am by Al

A year ago on January 16, 2006, Martin Luther King Day, we learned that there was a suspicious growth in my lung which had showed up in an annual chest X-Ray (the X-Ray was a routine, precautionary follow-up to monitor possible—though not expected—spread of cancer to the rest of my body after I had had a melanoma lesion removed from my shoulder in 2004). After a month of doctors’ appointments and tests, the diagnosis was melanoma metastasis to my lungs (and later, ultimately, to my brain.) Medically incurable. I was told that I had a year or so to live.

Needless to say, this was hard-hitting news. We have grieved, but always with hope in the resurrection we have through faith in Christ. While we would not have chosen it this way, we have seen God’s goodness, nearness, steadfast love, and faithfulness in unprecedented fashion. We have rested in the reality that he is absolutely in control and he is good. Read the rest of this entry »


Libbie’s Birthday

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections at 9:27 am by Al

Yesterday, January 6, was Libbie’s 49th birthday. It’s hard to believe. I can still remember the first time we met (30 years ago, when she was 18, arriving at a square dance in an orange calico dress–while it was not love at first sight, she did leave a lasting impression.)

Yesterday was a day of family celebration of God’s gift to us in Libbie as wife, friend, mom and so much more. All the kids were here from the afternoon on: Alasdair and Lauren helping around the house with various needful tasks, Becky and her roommate Melissa taking charge of birthday cake preparations, Alden wrapping gifts, and Eowyn being her usual servant self. Read the rest of this entry »


More alive than ever

Posted in From Al & Libbie, General, Reflections at 10:52 pm by Al

As Libbie mentioned in her note yesterday, we had a memorial service for a dear friend from church today. I was struck during the reading of the scripture for the homily (2 Corinthians 4:7-18) by the words that God’s power is shown even in our dying bodies. I can honestly say that in these past few months I have felt more alive than almost any other period in my life. God has been near and showing his goodness at every turn, large issues and small. While I would not have chosen it this way, the recent months have been a special time of knowing and seeing God and his love in powerful ways. Read the rest of this entry »


Psalm 22 and Psalm 23

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections at 5:36 pm by Al

The number 23 follows the number 22. Basic arithmetic. Any five year-old knows this as soon as they learn to count. Apparently I had forgotten how to count when I read the psalms. Psalms 22 and 23 are next-door neighbors, they follow numerically. And they follow one another as the Spirit intended when he led those who organized the psalter in their ordering of the psalms. But somehow I never saw the connection. In fact, I have been reading and re-reading each of these psalms recently, treating them as if they had nothing to do with one another, silos standing beside one another, containing two different, unrelated kinds of spiritual nourishment. Read the rest of this entry »


More than just a football game…

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 9:36 pm by Libbie

It’s been a full week, and this post would get way too long if I wrote about everything, so I will mention one or two things and then mostly just tell you about Sunday. Read the rest of this entry »



Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 1:57 pm by Libbie

No recent test results or anything official like that, but it’s time for another update on Al’s health.

We can see the steady progression of the cancer. The lung tumors continue to grow. The largest one, which is in the lower left lung, is about the size of an orange now, and Al’s breathing is becoming more labored. He is also coughing up more and more blood. It’s not that he has a cough per se, but he feels congested and needs to cough to clear his airways to breathe, and when he does he coughs up little blood clots, about the size of a teaspoon. This happens maybe 20 times a day or so. Next week we’ll see a pulmonary specialist to determine whether it would be good to find out which tumor is bleeding and then radiate that area after the brain radiation is finished on Oct 2. There are ups and downs to doing so, which we’ll know more about after we see the specialist. Read the rest of this entry »

« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »