Sunday, August 31, 2014

When Love Comes Again

The question comes continuously—How are you doing with all of this? 

The subject, of course, is Doug Nevill finding new love.  He has proposed to a most wonderful woman named Susan.  Or Susie.  Or New Mommy Susie.

From my heart, the most direct answer is, “I am absolutely thrilled.  Susan is far beyond all I could ask or imagine for Doug and Isaiah.”

I knew that this could be a hard situation to step into.  It would be easy for a woman to feel intimidated by Christina or her story.  It would not be out of the ordinary for a new wife to struggle with any mention of Christina.  It might be difficult to adjust to life with Doug and Isaiah and a well-known story.

I often prayed that the woman that would enter Doug’s life would know Christina and love her.  I prayed for a woman who could believe that we loved her wholeheartedly.  I longed for a woman who could talk freely about Isaiah’s first mommy.

I now shed thankful tears for the beautiful way God has answered my prayer.  Our family has known Susan’s family for many years.  Susan and Christina knew each other throughout  childhood. When Christina was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago, Susan made a beautiful, soft quilt for Christina.  (And if you knew Christina, soft blankets to cuddle with were one of her greatest pleasures.)

Susan was very present in Christina’s last 77 days.  She came by and held Isaiah and helped in countless ways.  She and Christina had some great conversations (in person and by text) concerning the difficulties each of them were experiencing.  It was a time of mutual encouragement. 
Susan, Isaiah, and Christina
Susan held Isaiah during Christina’s memorial service and became part of the regular crew of “Isaiah care.”

Isaiah excited about the adventure!
And Isaiah loves Susie and her two boys.  He burst into tears one day that I had planned to drop him off at her house.  She wasn’t quite home yet and it broke his little heart when she didn’t answer the door.  She arrived shortly after that and they walked up the street to get the boys.  Isaiah looked up at her and said, “Happy!”

I have never worried about Christina being “replaced.”  Christina was a one-of-a-kind woman.  She and Doug had quite the journey in the very short time they had together.  From first date to her transfer to heaven was only 2 years and 3 months.  In that short time, they dated, married, had a baby, and Christina had a brain surgery, chemo, and a wild recurrence which led to their last 77 days.  That is a lot of life to cram into 27 months.  And they did it.  Beautifully.  And Christina went to be with Jesus.  The wedding rings in a box together are a reminder of a completed pledge—“till death parts us.”  

And now, Doug needs to look to his future and see what God has for him.  It seems God has a wonderful woman, a mommy for Isaiah, and a couple of amazing boys to welcome into his life.  

Go, Doug, Go!!

And how does Christina feel about all of this?  I have asked Doug’s permission to share a portion of the letter she left for Doug at the end of her life.  He read this portion out loud to a gathering of friends and family on June 13th—Christina’s first heavenly birthday.  We shared things we had learned from Christina and we shared some of the stories we have come to love.  At the end, Doug brought out the letter and said he wanted to read part of it.  It is from the section (it was a very long letter) entitled, 
“Releasing to New Love” 

"All right, so here we are.  We’ve talked about this before, but I really need you to hear this from me again.  With the list above and many other things I didn’t have space to write down, YOU Douglas are one heck of a catch, a catch that shouldn’t go to waste!!  Seriously!:)

I give you full permission, if not a gentle shove in asking you to be open to love and marriage again.  Not to rush and get Isaiah a mother, or “fix” the pain of losing a wife, but just be open to what Jesus may offer to bring into your life and family.  This, of course, has to be led by the Spirit.  It may be very scary, but let Him lead you.  No need to rush or avoid forever.  Take counsel from those you trust, and be honest always.  Nothing will be a quick fix or a way to avoid hard times.

So, the first time someone catches your eye, don’t feel guilty about it!  Who knows what God could be doing, even when you would love to know the end result before it happens. When does that ever happen?  Right??:)  Pray, pray, pray for His wisdom and He will direct your path.

Isaiah will be fine also.  I am leaving him in the best hands possible.  Yours and those of our Jesus, who will lead you (and her) every step of the way.  Please don’t worry about replacing me—in your heart or Isaiah’s.  I will always be me, and he will always be half of me, and half of you.  You both will always know me in a unique way—from experiences, memories, stories.  I love it!  Just make sure to tell some good ones, ok?  (Funny, embarrassing, heartfelt, you be the judge).  It actually thrills me to picture both you and Isaiah experiencing the love of a fun, exciting, sweet passionate Godly woman, totally wrapped in Jesus.  Wouldn’t hurt if she were a good cook too, eh?  Sorry about that one:) Hehe.  Know though, if God brings someone along, He will equip her to be EXACTLY what He intends for both you and Isaiah.  I fully trust that, as easy as it can feel right now to get sad about “missing out on this journey for you both”—the truth is, I won’t be, I can’t be!  We all live the exact amount of days God designed us to live.  I will NOT be cut short, no one ever is!  Isn’t that a cool thought?  Life on earth isn’t ever robbed from us.  We just miss those that depart for this short time.  And if we didn’t miss them, I suppose there’s something wrong there too."

And then Doug announced that he had asked and been granted permission to court Susan.  Before too long, he was asking permission to marry Susan and that brings us to the present.

What freedom and clarity Christina’s words have brought to this situation.   It is such a treasure to me that she left such wise counsel and loving words.  In an earlier post, I describe her agony in writing this letter.  She thought it didn’t make sense—that it was confusing and hard to understand.  In reality, the confusion wasn’t about what she was writing.  The confusion entered in when she tried to proof read it and her mind was no longer capable of making sense of the words. 

I am thankful she labored to put this in words.  I am more thankful that Doug heeded and opened his heart to love.  And I am most thankful for the beautiful, generous, fun, loving, and joyful woman he has found to share his life.

And I will forever thank our loving Father who has abundantly blessed this family with goodness.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Hug from Christina

Today, just when I needed it—I received an enormous hug from Christina.  It may seem impossible but here is my story.

This morning, Isaiah was in the mood to watch “mommy” videos.  (My computer is the source of so many hilarious and serious moments in Christina’s life.) 

We watched the “Mommy singing with Bampa in WalMart” video. 

We watched the “mommy falling down in the snow while Jesse records and laughs” video. 

We watched the “mommy pretending to be an old, old woman with a cane” video. 

And then Isaiah wanted to watch the “Christina—one year memorial” video.  Well, this one gets to me.  I watch Christina grow up again.  I enjoy the baby pictures and the pictures with her brother, Jesse.  Fishing, soccer,  beaches, and friends.   Isaiah comments on “Uncle Jesse” continuously.  Jesse is recognizable from about the age of 5 and Isaiah loves to call out the people he knows.  He finally recognizes Mommy Christina by the time she is about 20.  This morning when we finished the video--which ends with a cemetery, an eagle, and a sunset—I was undone.  So, I cry.  It is the best thing to do at times like that.  I love remembering the years together.  I love the fullness of life that Christina enjoyed. 

The moment passed and the day moved on.  Later in the afternoon, I walked into the laundry room and saw “the pile”.  Not dirty clothes but “stuff”.  Christina’s stuff.  Last week, I helped Doug sort through some of Christina’s books and files and keepsakes.  Some of it found it’s way to my laundry room to await a more permanent storage place. I grabbed the first stack of papers and saw an essay that Christina wrote her senior year of college.

  It was entitled,  “Myself:  Here and now…and to the Future”.  It was her personal philosophy statement and was a final assignment at Westmont College.  Well, the title certainly got my attention.  How little she knew about her future.  Certainly, I doubt cancer ever crossed her mind.

I opened it randomly to page 8—here is where her special hug for me enters the picture—I began to read--
“My favorite professional role model is my mom”…

What?  I have never seen this or heard these thoughts.  We had not talked about this.

She wrote a page about how she loved the way I taught violin.  She wrote about the way I loved my students. She wrote about how I made time for her and Jesse in their growing up years.  I had never seen this paper but today was the day I needed to read it. 

If I didn’t think God was involved in every moment of every day, today would have convinced me that He is very present!  I feel humbled and loved and known—not just by Christina, but by the One who made us both.  This paper has been with Christina’s “stuff” for the last 10 years and today was the day that it did its best work.

After I read the page about how she viewed me, I went back to the beginning and read the whole thing.  What a treasure!  Here are a few choice quotes—

“I do know that I feel very small looking out into the gigantic world ahead of me after graduation, knowing I have so much to learn both about myself and the world that I live in.  But for some strange reason I am very excited for this new adventure.  I am excited to be confused.  I am excited to not know what the next month, or week, or day will hold for me.  Waiting in the unknown, according to Andrew Murray, is ‘the highest salvation.  It is ascribing to Him the glory of being all; it is experiencing that He is all to us.  May God teach us the blessedness of waiting on Him!’ “

“Service for others has become one of the biggest things in life that gives me joy.  I love to see people smile.  I love to make them smile.  I know that wherever I go and whatever I end up doing, I need to be working with people in a way that provides opportunity for me to be of service, help, or encouragement to them.  Bringing joy to others is what brings me the deepest kind of personal joy.”

Christina certainly lived what she wrote about.  First she embraced the uncertainty of her cancer diagnosis and 5 ½ years of treatment. She truly did not know what the next day would bring.  Actually none of us knows what tomorrow will bring.  We just think we know.

Then in the middle of all her uncertainty, she never lost sight of bringing joy to those around her.  To her husband and son, to her brother and dad, to me, to her friends, her cousins, her aunts and uncles, and, well, to everyone she met.   Joy radiated from her until the day she moved from here to the presence of Jesus.  I would say joy characterized her life.  My guess is that her infectious joy was one reason people loved to be around her.  Here is another reason people loved to be near Christina.  She wrote,

“As Christians, we are called to show our love to everyone we encounter—even if it is difficult.  Christ’s love was not easy.  We can’t expect to try showing people God’s love, and for it never to be hard on us.  God didn’t call us to an easy life.”

Amen, Christina, Amen!