10.03.07

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,

Libbie

08.12.07

Time for an Update

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Updates at 9:57 pm by Libbie

It seems that a lot has happened in the month since I wrote last. Nothing critical or earth-shaking, so you can feel free to stop reading, but if you’re interested in ordinary news about how and what we have been doing, here it is:

A few days after Alden got home from Spain, he, Eowyn and I drove up to New England and visited my oldest sister. This was especially a treat, because we don’t get to see her very often and had never been to the house she and her husband currently live in north of Bangor, Maine. As prearranged, we picked up two little kittens from her who have become part of our family. (Pictures forthcoming, hopefully.) Then we drove to see my parents in Vermont. The plan had been to help them get to a family reunion in Massachusetts, but my dad’s health ended up making that impossible, so we just stayed at their house. It was great to see them.

Right after we got back here, Eowyn left for a week in NYC to attend a “summit” with 34 other high school kids who are concerned about global hunger, poverty, etc. They stayed at Adelphia University on Long Island, and of course the taste of college life suited her to a T. The kids visited the UN, met Ishmael Beah (former child soldier in Sierra Leone and author of “A Long Way Gone”), and learned a lot while having a good time.

Then the day after Eowyn got back from New York she and Alden left with kids from our church to spend a week in a tough section of North Philly doing kids’ clubs and helping with practical needs there. Becky joined them too, taking her vacation week to do so, which still amazes me. It was a really good week for all of them, even though they all came home sick.

During the week of the N. Philly trip we celebrated three birthdays: Becky (7/31), Lauren (8/2), and Alasdair (8/5). Actually, Alasdair got to preach at our church on his 25th birthday, and he did a great job. The passage was a tough one—the second half of Matthew 10—but I thought he did a really good job expounding it. What a thrill to hear your own child explaining the Word of God and bringing it to bear on life! I stayed for both services to hear it again. Becky, Eowyn and Alden all slipped home from the city early to be there to hear him too.

Also during the week that the kids were in Philly Jayne and I tackled clearing out Al’s office at Westminster. Just for my own curiosity I measured the stuff that was in the little office, so let me rattle off some statistics to give you a sense of what we faced: if we had stacked up the piles of papers that were not in file cabinets but were on top of things, under the chairs, etc., the pile would have been twelve and a half feet (~3,8 m) high. (Just FYI, one foot [~30,5 cm] of stacked paper weighs about 30 lbs [13,6 k].) There were 16 file drawers, all full, which would equal another 32 feet (9,75 m) of papers if vertically stacked, 75 shelf-feet (22,9 m) of books, plus 10 more boxes of books, ~20 shelf-feet (~5,9 m) of journals, 23 stacking trays, office supplies, etc., etc. It was daunting. But Jayne gave me the courage to begin, as well as the encouragement to keep going and great practical advice for evaluating files, and we plowed through all the papers not in drawers on Monday and all the ones in the drawers on Tuesday and Wednesday. We finished up the office supplies and miscellaneous things by lunchtime on Thursday. During the week, some of the library staff had mentioned that Al had some things in the large storage closet in the basement, so we went down to take a look at it on Thursday afternoon. Oh man. There was as much material there as there had been in the whole office! I was overwhelmed, but Jayne fortified me again with her seemingly unquenchable determination and enthusiasm. In the end, we hauled out 35 file boxes (plus two huge trash bags), and we just finished by closing time on Friday. Phew! It was a colossal job, but—except for the books—it is done. And Alasdair and I went through the books this past Wednesday, so now once we actually remove the books from the office and take the pictures and diplomas and whatnot off the walls, the place will be empty.

By Wednesday afternoon my brain was fried from sorting literally tens of thousands of pieces of paper, but for most of the project, I was so intent on the task of sifting through the mountains of papers that I didn’t have time to be preoccupied with the grief and finality of what we were doing. But there were a couple of moments when the sadness got to me. One was when I started on Monday morning. The first piece of paper I picked up was a quiz from some course or other, just like hundreds of others I have seen over the years: a verse of Hebrew printed at the top and the simple instructions: “Translate and parse all verbs.” I have been seeing such papers around the house for so long (and using them as scrap paper—in fact Becky told us recently that she was pretty old before she found out that “scrap paper” didn’t necessarily have to have Hebrew on one side) that they seem part and parcel of our life. And they were so Al. It made me miss him, and the tears started flowing. I was afraid it was going to be an impossibly long week. But just at that moment Al’s colleague Mike Kelly walked in, so we cried together. Also, one day during that week I received a book in the mail that is the most recently released volume in a series that Al and Tremper Longman were editing together (“The Gospel According to the Old Testament” series; this volume is “The Gospel According to David” by Mark Boda). Inside it was a tribute from Tremper to Al that made (and still makes) me cry every time I read it. So I had to purposely not think about that tribute as I was working. The third hard moment came toward the end of the week. Jayne and I found a note on top of the bookcase by the door. It obviously was one that Al kept handy there to put up on the door when he had to step out to the bathroom or down the hall to check his mail or something. It said simply, in big bold letters, “Back in Five Minutes.” Oh my. Tears again. When I showed it to Al’s administrative assistant later, she commented that once Al and I are together again it will probably seem as if it’s been only five minutes. I think she’s right. I saved the sign and am going to put it up in my closet or somewhere as a reminder of that time to look forward to.

On a similar note, earlier in July the kids were asking me something specific from the period when Al and I were engaged, and as I told them the story and thought back to those days I missed him intensely. For the next week or ten days I found that grief and tears were always just barely below the surface and that it took nothing at all to make them spill over. But that’s perfectly appropriate, and while not always exactly convenient, and while it sometimes made other people feel awkward because they thought they were responsible for my tears, it was okay.

This weekend I was supposed to go to a wedding in Chicago. Twenty-some years ago we became very good friends with a couple from Zimbabwe who were here at Westminster. They have a son Alasdair’s age and a daughter Becky’s age who were born while they were here, and except for when their daughter visited us for a few days two years ago (which was great fun), I haven’t seen them in 22 years, so I was so excited about seeing them in Chicago. But Thursday I spent 13 hours at Philadelphia airport and never got off the ground. We should have been able to take off several hours before the bad weather moved in from the west, but the airport had only one runway open for some reason (word from the pilot was that they were painting lines on the other runway, although why they were doing it right then he couldn’t imagine, and I hope it is not true or I suspect someone will be minus a job, if not a head), so planes were backed up 30 or 40 deep. Eventually the predicted storms moved in from the west, so departure routes would be alternately opened and then shut down, so after four hours of sitting in the plane on the tarmac, when we were finally number 1 in line, we taxied back to the gate, and then the flight was canceled. So were the next two to Chicago, and then there were 100 people (including me) on standby for the two late night flights, of whom they took zero. No airline had available seats to Chicago on Friday and only a few on Saturday, by which time the wedding would have already happened, so I came home, 16 and a half hours after I had left in the morning. I heard the next day that hundreds of people had had to sleep in the terminal that night. Needless to say I am disappointed not to have seen my dear friends, but they and I accepted that the Lord must have had other plans for other reasons. Maybe if the air traffic controllers had let us take off into the storms we would have crashed. I have no doubt that, if not in this case, at least at some times God protects us from things that we are not even aware of. We tend to complain about the inconvenience and never even realize that it is because he is watching over us.
The up side of not getting to Chicago is that because I was home I was able to see a friend of Al’s from Dartmouth cross-country days, who is a priest in the Redemptorist Order of the Catholic Church and who teaches at the Pontifical Institute in Rome. We had such a wonderful, sweet visit. He told me stories about Al from the time before Al and I met–stories of running, and of friendship and of growing faith–and he told me about a way he wants to honor Al that I know would absolutely “bless Al’s socks off.” I’ll tell you about it when it happens. I also got to have more time than expected with our sort-of-adopted-son Andy (see numerous photos from last year when he lived with Alasdair and Lauren), who is in town for the weekend.

And that about brings you up to date. As Marc Davis, one of our pastors, reminded us in a sermon recently, we live in that time between the Friday night rehearsal and the Saturday afternoon wedding, between Jesus’ resurrection and our own, when there is sorrow and pain but also immense joy to look forward to. It may be hard, and tears are appropriate, but the Lord’s presence and the anticipation of joy make this a good place to live nonetheless.

Glad you’re here with us,

Libbie

07.12.07

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.

Love,

Libbie

07.05.07

Wish You Were Here!!

Posted in General, Photos at 7:42 pm by Libbie

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This came as a postcard from the mother of the family that Alden is staying with
in Spain. Pretty cool, huh?

06.22.07

Time for an Update

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Updates at 9:06 pm by Libbie

It’s been a very full week, so I thought I’d update you on all that’s gone on.

Last Thursday Alden left for Spain with a friend from school whose father is Spanish and whose family goes to visit relatives in Spain every summer. This year they very generously invited Alden to join them. So he’s larking about the Mediterranean coast for four weeks in a small town nestled between the mountains and the sea, poor fellow. I spoke to him on the phone today, and it sounds as if he’s having a ball.

Eowyn left Monday with a gang of kids from the youth group who are helping out for a week at a camp for mentally and physically challenged children and adults. This is her third or fourth year helping there, and she absolutely loves it.

Becky’s job situation is improving a bit, and she is very thankful for that. A couple of the managerial spots parallel to hers have been filled, and her new boss has been letting Becky know that she recognizes and appreciates the hard work she has been doing in less than ideal circumstances. That appreciation alone goes a long way.

Alasdair’s arm is out of its cast after just two and a half weeks! The doctor had said 4-6 weeks, but apparently it is healing well enough that it was let out on parole for good behavior. Of course Alasdair still has to be VERY careful, and it’s still in a sling, but he is relieved to be able to move, wash, and scratch it at will. By the way, impossible as it seemed, the Lord provided a job for him that he can do with one arm (and not his dominant arm). He is making phone calls ~20 hours a week, and the other hours he is doing an internship at our church.

Lauren’s work has been more lively of late, which is nice, although she is a trooper and doesn’t complain anyway. She and Alasdair are at a wedding in Kansas City this weekend.

And I have been having an amazing week. You may have already figured out that if Eowyn and Alden are both away, I’m home alone this week…

My number one goal for the summer is to go through the whole house and clear out stuff, sort it, cull it, and reorganize what’s left. Not surprisingly, a lot of what I need to sort is Al’s things—papers, books and files by the metric ton—but there is also plenty of miscellaneous junk that belongs to the rest of us that needs to be gotten rid of. So, my plan for this week was to blitz through as much of the house as possible while no one was around to need me for anything. I CANNOT believe the help the Lord provided for me in doing that.

Unbeknownst to me, it turns out that Jayne Clark, a friend of mine who is between jobs at the moment, loves to clear out and organize places and is unbelievably good at it. She has been incredibly generous with her time and has been here with me every day this week, and what we have gotten accomplished in these five days is beyond imagining. Jayne is great at things like: (1) seeing the big picture of the whole project; (2) figuring out where and how to start and then which piece of the puzzle has to be tackled next, and then next, etc.; (3) teaching pack rats like me how to evaluate their stuff, make decisions about it, throw or give things away, and so forth—basically how to think differently and wisely about it; (4) keeping you on task and making you finish one phase completely before you move on to the next; (5) removing the give-away or throw-away stuff so that you start to enjoy the benefits of the clearing-out process immediately; (6) coming up with new ways to organize what you’re keeping so that you can keep it under control, and (7) brainstorming creative and exciting ways to use the space you’ve cleared. There is still plenty left for me to do at this point, but the difference in this house in a single week is barely short of a miracle. I think she should consider doing this professionally! What a gift it’s been to me.

Going through Al’s things hasn’t been too bad so far. Certain items bring a smile, or a tear, or a tug at my heart, but it’s been do-able. I think being a task-oriented person, which can occasionally be a hindrance in relationships, is a boon in situations like this. Of course I’ve run across things that make me stop and ruminate. I’ll give you a for-instance or two:

Al was one for jotting miscellaneous notes all the time—about sermons, about things he was reading, about movies he’d seen or Bible passages he’d been meditating on. They were on every available piece of paper, usually in a certain kind of blue pen, always in the same handwriting, often in such a terse form that they would probably mean nothing to someone who didn’t live with him and hear the things he talked about all the time that were on his heart. I’ve been living in the midst of snowdrifts of these pieces of paper with his cryptic notes on them for years and years. When I started clearing out, my thought was, “Al is not here to need these anymore, so I’ll throw them away.” But then I stopped and reconsidered. My tendency when I’m making a change around the house—painting a room, or rearranging things—is to take pictures of the new situation, because that is what is exciting to me. But I have learned over the years that I have to discipline myself to take pictures of the old set-up, because that’s what is going to fade from memory and therefore be of interest later. Similarly, I am so used to having Al’s notes around that I was only thinking about him not wanting them. But I know that in future years, there will be no more of those notes. So I’m saving a certain number of them with the idea that when I especially miss Al I can pull one out and feel as if I am again sitting next to him as he’s taking notes on a sermon, or as he’s musing about a passage of Scripture or a good movie. Maybe it will make me feel close to him.

Here is another. Besides various medicines, herbal supplements, vitamins and so forth that I ran across today, I found the boxes from two of the many treatments that doctors prescribed over the years for the sores that Al used to get on his scalp. Knowing what a trial those sores were to him, and the feeling of hopelessness we had experienced because nothing seemed to touch them, it made me smile to think that Al is now living healthy and free of all such things. Ahhhh, such glory.

One evening this week I walked over to the cemetery and sat on Al’s grave, enjoying the quiet, peaceful, bird-filled green woods and the delicious weather we’ve been having. It was good to just sit and think about the fact that what Al is seeing these days makes this beauty pale to invisibility in comparison. It must be spectacular.

And lastly, I want to tell you about last Sunday. During the spring I occasionally thought about Father’s Day and how hard it was likely to be for the kids. I also anticipated our anniversary with a tinge of dread. Sometime in May I checked the calendar and realized that this year the two occasions were going to fall on the same day. Ouch.

But actually, it was probably good that the days that hit all of us hardest happened together. That way, not only did we get it all over with at once, but we could support each other through them (except for Alden, who had already left for Spain, so we prayed for him). I asked the kids if they preferred to ignore Father’s Day or to celebrate it, and they all chose to face and embrace it. So we did. Church was hard emotionally, although very encouraging, and we all did a lot of crying, but the rest of the day we did things like eating good food together, watching a movie that Al would have enjoyed and discussing it afterwards (which he thought was very important), and sharing memories of Al that were funny, or poignant, or just dear to us. It was a good day, and I think we all came away from it being deeply thankful—for Al, for each other, and for God’s faithfulness. We have been well loved and richly blessed.

Anyway, we have been experiencing lots of good things and seeing God’s hand in and behind them. Thought I’d share some with you. Thanks for caring,

Libbie

06.06.07

Miscellaneous Happy Things

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Updates at 5:00 pm by Libbie

Thought I’d write about some recent happy events this time.

Monday was Alden’s 14th birthday, and we had a good time celebrating it. Now we are all looking forward to watching a couple movies he got for his birthday. Last night his youth group small group leader got a birthday cake for him that the boys all shared at their Bible study.
Alden's Birthday
Alden’s Birthday

Eowyn finally turned in her last term paper after two v-e-r-y short nights of sleep. Hurray!

Last night Eowyn went to a prom with a friend from church (nothing romantic between them–just friends who like to have a good time, which I think is by far the best way to go to a prom). It was great fun taking pictures–first here at the house with just Eowyn and Mitch (who looked as dashing and classy as James Bond), then at a nearby park with four seniors from church and their dates, then at a different park with 24 kids, all dressed to the nines. Becky and I tagged along for the whole thing, and it was a blast. Plus, the young man who invited Eowyn is the son of our dear friends (and Al’s colleague and brother-in-arms in the Old Testament Department) Doug and Rose Green, so it was really fun to do all the picture-taking parents-of-the-dates things together with them. Al would have enjoyed the evening so much and been so proud of his lovely daughter.

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Titanic, anyone?

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The name is Bond. James Bond.

When these special events come along, we miss Al even more. It would be neither right, nor healthy, nor helpful to pretend otherwise. But we just make a choice to set that sadness in the background, to place the happiness of the events in the foreground, front and center, and to enjoy them wholeheartedly.
[This should be a new paragraph, but I can’t get the program to let me enter a space, no matter what I try!] And lastly, completely unrelated to us, here is a link to a performance that is pretty amazing.
Two notes, however:

1. Make sure you have sound on your computer and that it’s on. Without sound it’s just a very good juggler performing. With sound, it’s astounding.

2. I have never been to the website that this performance is located on, but I’m told it contains some less than edifying material. This link, however, should take you directly to the juggling show.

Enjoy!

Libbie

06.01.07

Surgery

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Updates at 1:17 pm by Libbie

Just wanted to let you know that Alasdair had surgery on his broken arm yesterday, and that it went smoothly and all seems to be going well. The operation was late yesterday afternoon, and they did a nerve block as well as general anesthesia, so the pain has only started to set in in the last hour. It’s becoming distinctly uncomfortable, but hopefully the Vicodin will help. It’s good to have the surgery done so that the healing can begin.
Thanks for caring about us all–

Libbie

PS: Update as of 5:30 pm. The pain is pretty intense, and Alasdair, Lauren and Becky are on a 7 or 8 hour drive to a wedding in northern New Hampshire, so I know he would appreciate your prayers!

05.24.07

Graduation Day

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

Whew, what a day it’s been! I anticipated all week that Westminster’s 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 Al’s personality—something that was pretty scary to think about. He was released from the hospital in time to attend Ed Welch’s daughter’s wedding, in which Becky was a bridesmaid. That was an emotional time from every angle—sharing 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 Al’s 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, Alden’s long-standing soccer team suddenly folded, and Eowyn was caught in a friend’s 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 Al’s 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 graduates—my fellow classmates and friends—receive the degrees they have worked so hard for. Mike Kelly gave the charge to the graduates this year, and he built off of Al’s 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 people—that [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 didn’t anticipate today was getting a phone call in the morning from Alasdair’s 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 hasn’t been determined yet. This Sunday Lauren’s 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 Alasdair’s 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 she’s been to since Al died, and which also happened to take place on the one-year anniversary of Lisa’s wedding that I mentioned above. She couldn’t 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 I’ve done today, but I also see the Lord’s hand of blessing so clearly. For instance, I can say with enormous thanks that the scary prospect of Al’s 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 God’s love and grace would have been (and in fact was) a crowning blessing in his life.

God is so good. I’ve 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!

Libbie

05.13.07

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—

Libbie

04.27.07

Yippee!

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Updates at 6:55 am by Libbie

Eowyn is turning in one of her term papers today! Hallelujah!

04.21.07

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.

Love,

Libbie

03.16.07

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…

Libbie

02.28.07

Sad

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Prayer Requests, Updates at 7:35 am by Libbie

Yesterday the kids had a meltdown day, and both Eowyn and Alden stayed home from school. That gave us a chance to step out of the pressure of make-up work, etc. and just talk, and grieve, and cry, and comfort each other. 

We miss Al. We are so glad to know that he is enjoying the glory of heavenly life in God’s presence, which he had longed for for years, and that knowledge does bring great comfort, but at the very same time his absence here is felt pretty keenly. He was an integral part of the warp and woof of our lives, and now that fabric has a big hole in it. We just plain miss him. The Lord doesn’t promise that he’ll make that ache go away, but he does promise that we will see Al again, and he does promise to be here with us each moment as we live our daily lives with the ache in our hearts. He is steadfastly faithful to his promises, so we know he will see us through, and we are grateful for that.

Please pray especially for Eowyn and Alden as they are back in school today that they would be very aware of the Lord’s presence with them.

Thanks!

Libbie

02.26.07

February 10, 2007 Memorial Service Video Archives

Posted in General at 1:25 pm by Karyn

The February 10, 2007, webcast from the Memorial Service for Al is now available for viewing at your convenience. Click on the links below to stream the video from the various sections of the service. The streaming archives are in Quicktime format. If you do not have the Quicktime player and you have a PC, you can download it free here. If you have a Mac and you need to download Quicktime, click here.

Thank you for your patience in waiting for this video to be available. You can download a PDF copy of the Memorial Service program here.

Webcast Archive 1: 16 minutes
Welcome & Opening Prayer Terry Traylor
“In Christ Alone”
Psalm 84 Tremper Longman

Webcast Archive 2: 23 minutes
Reflections Rebeckah Groves, Warren Groves, Mike Kelly

Webcast Archive 3: 24 minutes
“Take My Life”
“We Sing Your Mercies”
Ephesians 3:14-21 Lauren Groves
Reflections Éowyn Groves, Bryan Groves, Ed Welch

Webcast Archive 4: 25 minutes

“Shout to the Lord”
Psalm 121:1-4 (in Hebrew) Pete Enns

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

Reflections Alden Groves, Doug Green, Alasdair Groves

Webcast Archive 5: 5 minutes
“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”

Webcast Archive 6: 20 minutes

Homily Sinclair Ferguson

Webcast Archive 7: 21 minutes

“Blessed Be Your Name”
“On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand”
Closing Prayer Angelo Juliani

Worship Team Rick Winter (Worship Leader), Todd Bellinger, Kim Clement, Elaine Douds, Frank Horvath, Audrey Kress, Al Morris, Steve Ritter

02.24.07

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 »

02.20.07

First Day Back

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Updates at 8:44 pm by Libbie

Thank you for praying for Eowyn and Alden today. They both found that the first day back to school was hard but bearable. We are grateful for your support and for the Lord’s presence and help!

Libbie

02.19.07

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 »

02.13.07

Thank you

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Updates at 8:53 am by Libbie

Thank you to all of you who came to the service on Saturday, as well as to those who would have like to come but were not able to. and to all of you who joined us by webcast. Al absolutely loved people, and I know that each of you blessed him by your presence. Certainly you blessed us!

All last week we looked forward to Saturday’s memorial service. We knew that the burial would be both sad and joyful, but perhaps with sadness having the edge. As one of the kids said, “The focus of the burial is more on the physical body and the death part of dying, but the emphasis of the memorial service is more on the joy of heaven and the eternal life part of dying.” The burial service was wonderful, and contained the hope of the resurrection, but it was certainly also somber. The body that served Al so well–the feet that ran mile records and the hands that shot baskets, and wrote articles, and served us all so well–we committed to the earth with honor and dignity, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Read the rest of this entry »

02.12.07

A Letter Al Wrote for This Occasion

Posted in General at 5:43 pm by Karyn

This is the letter that was printed in the bulletin for the Memorial Service on Saturday.

program_cover.gifAs I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, I have walked hand-in-hand with Jesus, the one who has already walked through that valley and come out the other side, alive, raised from the dead. And as I hold his hand and trust him, I too am raised with him, for this was his purpose in walking that path: to raise those who trusted in him. His rod and staff, his cross of suffering have become my comfort. Now as I have died, I come before the God, the king of the universe, and I come in Christ. He chose to suffer and die on the cross in my place, so that on account of him I might have forgiveness from sin and victory over death. And now I have received the resurrection and eternal life that has been my only hope, past, present and forever.

I have led a truly blessed life. At a young age, I realized that Jesus was not just a story in a comic book, but that he was real and I could actually know him. I wish I could describe to you what a powerful moment of understanding that was, and I have thought about it many times over the years, marveling over and over at the truth of this central fact. The Lord placed me into the perfect family where I was raised by loving parents with wonderful siblings. God gave me a wonderful wife who has been my joy as we have raised four wonderful children together. The Lord has given me the opportunity to be intimately involved in the lives of so many wonderful brothers and sisters, in our fellowship at college, as a pastor in Vermont, as an elder at New Life Church and as a professor at Westminster Seminary. Through family and ministry, I have had the privilege of loving and being loved by all of you, and I have been struck again and again by the deposit that each of you has left in my life. 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 »

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