Graduation Day

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Updates at 9:46 pm by Libbie

Whew, what a day itís been! I anticipated all week that Westminsterís g””raduation would probably be pretty emotional for me this year, as it was last year, and that proved true.

This week one year ago was a humdinger. On the Friday before graduation last year Al ended up in the hospital with a blood clot in his leg, which was extremely painful. In the course of routine testing to make sure they could give him blood thinners, a scan showed up a mass in his brain that had not been there previously. The overwhelming likelihood was that it was melanoma that had metastasized to his brain (which turned out to be correct), and it was in a spot that had the distinct potential to affect Alís personalityósomething that was pretty scary to think about. He was released from the hospital in time to attend Ed Welchís daughterís wedding, in which Becky was a bridesmaid. That was an emotional time from every angleósharing the great joy of Ed and his daughter Lisa, watching them walk down the aisle and dance the father-daughter dance at the reception, seeing Becky come down the aisle looking beautiful, knowing that she and Al would not share those fatherdaughter wedding joys in the future.

Then there was also some doubt last year as to whether Al would be able to participate in graduation due to the incapacitating pain in his leg. But he went in a wheel chair, and as Academic Dean he had the privilege of reading the names of all the graduates as they received their diplomas, and then with his leg propped up on a high stool, he gave the charge to the graduating class. He was so thrilled to be there and to be able to be part of sending the class of 2006 off into kingdom service. I sat in the back and bawled, knowing, as we all did, that that would almost certainly be Alís last graduation. I thought of the time in a few years when, Lord willing, Alasdair and I (and perhaps Lauren) will cross the stage in cap and gown without Al there to see it. It was an emotional time.

Thrown into that week last year we also had a whirlwind visit from Becky, Aldenís long-standing soccer team suddenly folded, and Eowyn was caught in a friendís consuming teenage crisis.

Now, in 2007, this past week has brought the memories from last year sharply into focus and prompted a number of tears, so I knew today would be probably be draining. In the morning I attended a seminar at Westminster all about the Westminster Hebrew Institute, which was renamed for Al last fall (now “The J. Alan Groves Center for Advanced Biblical Research”). Kirk Lowery, the director, talked with obvious respect and appreciation for Alís vision and work in starting the center and then about the exciting places the center is heading in the present and the future. (If you are interested in the details, check the Westminster website: wts.edu.) I thought again what a gift Kirk and his co-worker Steve have been to Al and how wonderful it is to see the project that Al began now moving forward in such innovative and beneficial ways.

Also today the new Westminster Bulletin (a publication of the seminary) came out, and it is an edition honoring Al, including wonderful reflections written by former students. Many people find that one of the hardest parts of grieving is that they feel so isolated and alone. What a blessing it is to us to have so many people who remember Al and who walk through this time of mourning with us!

Graduation itself was moving, seeing the graduatesómy fellow classmates and friendsóreceive the degrees they have worked so hard for. Mike Kelly gave the charge to the graduates this year, and he built off of Alís charge from last year. It was excellent. At the end he closed with a blessing that Al prayed countless times around our dinner table as well as with many other peopleóthat [the graduates] would have eyes to see Jesus, ears to hear him speaking, and hearts to be filled with his spirit. At that point I broke down. But the whole thing was lovely, and I saw old friends who were back in town and met new ones, many of whom shared great stories of Al and how he impacted their lives. More tears, of course, but such a blessing.

What I didnít anticipate today was getting a phone call in the morning from Alasdairís summer boss saying that Alasdair had had a bike accident on the way to work and had broken his arm quite badly. I saw him and Lauren in the ER between the morning seminar and graduation, and the arm did indeed look pretty deformed. Sounds as if it will need surgery, but when that will happen hasnít been determined yet. This Sunday Laurenís brother is getting married in upstate NY, and Lauren and Alasdair are both in the wedding, which hopefully will work out okay. This broken arm also puts rather a crimp in Alasdairís summer job as a carpenter, which is a bummer on lots of levels. But the Lord will make the way clear.

Then this afternoon Becky told me that today she learned some unpleasant news relative to work. Her company used to have six on-site managers in this region, of which she was one. Two people left, so they consolidated the positions into four jobs. Since that time, the other three managers have left, so Becky has been covering one position, her boss has been covering one, and the others have been left empty. Needless to say this has caused plenty of stress at work. Today Becky learned that her boss is resigning! That leaves her alone with no fellow managers in the (originally) six slots and with no boss. Not a good situation.

Becky also talked about the wedding she attended last weekend, which was the first one sheís been to since Al died, and which also happened to take place on the one-year anniversary of Lisaís wedding that I mentioned above. She couldnít help shedding lots of tears, as you can imagine, trying to be inconspicuous in the process.

My eyes feel like sand pits from all the crying Iíve done today, but I also see the Lordís hand of blessing so clearly. For instance, I can say with enormous thanks that the scary prospect of Alís personality changing never materialized. He was completely himself, gracious, patient, loving, and enjoying people literally up to the point when he lost consciousness. Five days before he died he became spatially disoriented, so that after a trip to the bathroom he didnít know which room he was supposed to go back to or how to get there, and four days before he died, he was unable to get out of bed and didnít know how to find the cup of water at his bedside, but he still knew every person he saw just as sharply as he ever had, and he interacted with them with obvious delight. Even when he had little strength and talking was an effort, it was clear that he enjoyed seeing people as thoroughly as he always had. Forty-eight hours before he died we had a room full of a dozen recent college grads singing around his bed, and he wanted to be sure he knew or learned each one of their names. What a mercy from the Lord that Al was fully himself right up to the end!

Today he would have been a little embarrassed but also honored and pleased to have been remembered at graduation. And the surprising discovery that just by being himself and loving the Lord with his whole heart he had impacted so many students and others with Godís love and grace would have been (and in fact was) a crowning blessing in his life.

God is so good. Iíve seen and been amazed at his unbelievably personalized, tender care for us in other ways this past week too. In one case I was so blown away by the intimacy and magnitude of his care for us through his people that I bowed my head right there over the soapy dishes and simply sobbed in amazement at his love. It is breath-taking.

May you too be held in his tender arms. And congratulations to all you graduates!



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 Godís 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 Alís grave in the beautiful sunshine.

The weekend after that I went on our churchís annual womenís retreatójust 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 Alís 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 womenís retreat, ironically) reminded me of what a wonderful father he was, and that turned on the faucets of tears. I couldnít 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.

Iím discovering that there are different aspects to this patch of life weíre in. There is a time to focus on the present and just put one foot in front of the other and ďdo lifeĒ 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 Godís faithful presence.

Prior to the special chapel and the retreat I had been starting to think creatively about ďwhat I want to do when I grow up.Ē 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 couldnít 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. Itís an adventure. In some ways I feel like a college student contemplating future employment with the wide world in front of me. Of course Iím a long way from being college age, which both limits and increases the options available. Itís 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 Visionís 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 Motherís Day. Wow. Iím blessed!

May you be richly blessed as welló