The Entryway

It should come as no surprise that this widely used entry was in the back of the house. The formality of a front door would have been a strange thing indeed for a house always open. The French doors, never well-sealed, were constantly decorated by the hand prints of the house’s youngest visitors, and for seasons, filled with messages in window markers at eye level of its elders. A stranger would at this point find something odd and unusual, if they had not already, as they reached for the handle and noted that a lock latch faced outwards on this entrance with the coded keypad facing inwards. A confusing, but necessary security measure for Landyn not to escape into danger. This place of passing watched countless welcome hugs, but in the house’s younger days, it held the dining room, the table covered with colorful puzzles like Kent’s stained glass scene that Leah built with us as she merged from family friend to family. The scents wafted through the room, everything from kid friendly beanie-weanies or tuna and pineapple open-faced sandwiches to luncheon rings shaped like the letter S of a birthday guest’s name or monkey brain cinnamon breakfasts dunked in cold glasses of milk. In those days, it was lined with sunflower wallpaper like the bright energy of the six kids that ran through it daily.

As the house matured, the dining area found a room that fit its larger-than-average table and made way for this room to be an almost-too-big entry room coated a deep burgundy red with a smooth Venetian plaster finish. It was room enough for a hug to be lifted up and spun all the way around till laughter echoed. On one end stood a hutch decorated for an extended Christmas season with greenery and a gentle strand of white lights on the top with silver letters hanging over the edge that simply said JOY. More often than not, hidden treasures found a temporary safe spot on top of it from shorter arms’ reach. The glass upper doors encased a collection of some choice, beautifully-bounded books and an assortment of travel keepsakes from all us kids’ adventures abroad: Romanian painted eggs and clay vases, Kenyan carved giraffes, Jordanian bottles of sand art, wooden masks and spear tips from Papua New Guinea. Following the reflection of this glass would reveal a quickly but elegantly pen-sketched church tower in Sibiu simply framed in black and treasured not just for its beauty but for the friend whose hand drew it. Next to that you’d find the walkway to the kitchen which you’d know immediately was the most popular direction by the sand-worn lighter shade path of the wood floor heading that way, but we’ll get there later.

In the right corner after entering, you’d find the line of boots and slippers or flip flops depending on the season but always a pair of Dad’s loafers. Standing above those hovered a little narrow cabinet that Mom repainted and glued back together more times than the thing deserved. It ended with an antique-looking, crackle, muted yellow paint revealing the same maroon red of the walls between the cracks. For the longest time, it held the yellow pages of a phone book till that itself became obsolete. On top sat the odds and ends of things forgotten by all the frequent visitors: one kid’s bottle, another one’s sock, someone’s sunglasses, a Lego man that didn’t mean to be left behind. The forget-me-not shelf stood below the last-minute mirror lit by a warm bulb under a little cream shade that stayed lit as the last beacon in the house to signal that one of us kids was still expected home that night. Across from the French doors, a walkthrough to the living room, a door to the basement always propped open just enough for the cat to squeeze up and down, and a wall that never settled on what it should hold with changing art over the years. For a long while, it was one of Morgan’s snapshots looking up at a chandelier with a black backdrop. But in the end, it was a dark piece of an exploding ship wreck that would only make sense if you knew how much Mom loved the stories of survivors from the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. She was constantly impressed by whatever God put in humans that made them able to endure the worst of what life has to offer.

In the last corner of the room, you’d find a tucked-away cove toward the main bathroom, a closet, and what was always “Austin’s room” though I can barely remember a time when Austin slept in it, preferring the porch through all of Michigan’s seasons. By nature, the entry was a transit place, never the focus, but even so, it held its highlight moments back in the day and even some big ones towards the end. It must have chuckled at our birthday celebrations as kids with Mom’s wholehearted baking designs for whatever cakes we could imagine, from my carousel, to Torey and Austin’s ziggurat cake. But it would have laughed harder the day we brought out the bin of scuba gear and all of us threw on a piece or two of a suit and headed out for a traipse down the creek. It held the cheers and first retelling of Preston’s Chicago proposal and later, Fiver’s first steps. It gasped with us at the casually thrown-back announcement of another baby on the way as Jordan and Leah stepped out the door. It bowed in reply at each of us girls’ and then all the grand girls’ entrance up from the basement adorned in dress-up gowns. But mostly, it held our goodbyes and our hopes of more visits to come. It clutched the last loose ends of sweet lingering conversations that couldn’t bear to end. It was the kind of place you’d want to enter, and wish you never had to leave.

1000 for Louis, 621 without Mom

Louis and Nana

Today a couple markers align. Mom would be 62 had God so ordained for her to be with us. Her birthday comes full of drizzly, icy rain in our section of the world but it’s okay when the weather matches the mood. She’s missed by so many and this day without her feels dreary indeed.

One of my sisters commented yesterday about how it feels like Mom and Dad left so many kids behind – not just the ones born to them. There are dozens of examples of so many people who looked up to them as parent figures, who loved them, and felt their love. It’s nice to hear of all those that were so influenced by her in such specific and meaningful ways, of how she won their admiration and respect. At the same time, I know now that all of that means shared pain of not having her here anymore. There’s no way to acknowledge how much she meant without a matching amount of how much she’s missed.

The other marker of the day is that we’ve had 1000 days of Louis. From his first dramatic entrance, to his contented babyhood, and now his toddler days sun-setting into childhood. He’s clever like his Nana. He questions and needs to see the logic behind everything just like her. He overflows with affection for his family, just like her. He’ll come and give us hugs and kisses for no reason all the time. He has sad days like her too and in time we hope to teach him what to do with all those big emotions and where to take his burdens, now so small, but so real to him. I want to be the kind of mom I had. I want to hug him and never be the first to let go. I want him to know without any doubt that his mom loves him just like I’m undoubtedly sure that mine loved me till her dying day – and beyond, however memories, awareness of us, and time work in heaven.

1000 days with Louis, 621 without Mom.

Today, I didn’t celebrate. I didn’t cry either. The pain of Mom’s absence is seared into me; it’s changed me; it’s here to stay. But, it’s quiet for now. The largest section of my heart and soul that misses them so terribly has been (mostly) sorted, thought through, and felt deeply. It’s still messy but the lines run a little neater now, a little more contained, and don’t flood my mind as often now. I know the grief lives there. It’s familiar now.

For Mom, I made sure all my dishes were done last night because she knew a day started best with a clean sink. For dinner, I cooked in the crockpot (that she bought for me) and remembered how she loved to feed her family and everyone else that could stop by. She never overcomplicated food but I mixed in tons of spices knowing she’d be excited about all my experimental cooking ventures. Of course, I cooked too much because just like her, I’ll never figure out how to cook for just a couple people. I tidied the house and mopped with a Piper sermon in the background and followed it up with some Getty’s hymns. I got down eye to eye and hugged my kids and blew raspberries on Verity’s cute little belly till she couldn’t stop laughing. I still call them “sparfgreebs” just like she did even though I’m pretty sure no other family thinks that’s a word. I looked over several times at the brush-lettered “DREAM” board she painted that sits in my windowsill as I thought back to her long list of adventures that never quite happened. She’d be thrilled for our upcoming quick trip to Spain because somehow she mastered sharing others’ joys even when it was things she wanted for herself too. She’d be all about hearing our house-building plans and she’d have already come to visit the spot and fallen in love with the view. She’d have walked with me again up to the castle just like she did when we lived there as a family. She’d fawn over Verity and gush over every photo I’d send of her. But she’d probably have had a heart attack knowing I delivered over here so at least she was spared that! I think she’d be happy with where we’re at right now, all things considered.

In so many ways, the little and the big, I want to be like her: capable, kind, caring, clever, wise, and winsome. But I hope to be able to live out some of the things she didn’t get to be either. The ones she hoped for but ran out of time. Or the things she dreamed about but her time was too full. And likewise, some of the things she wished she wasn’t.

Anyways, here’s to Louis and Mom. They barely knew each other but in the long term, we pray they’ll meet again when all this world will somehow make sense and the days apart are ended. For the life we still have here, we pray that God works in Louis and lets him live up to and surpass the legacy she left behind.

The Seconds

Yesterday was hard. October 29th used to be a happy day that always included way too many free ice cream stops and watching presents be unwrapped by someone who found exhilarating joy in used VHSs. One of her grand unrestrained smiles was often the only, though the greatest, sign of gratitude. The concept of friends was lost on her but her family always celebrated her simple life and the joys she found in it. A couple of family friends loved her uniquely and would stop by the house with more ice cream or maybe a stuffed lion king the size of half a bedroom. 

Landyn’s life came with an immense amount of responsibility, almost 100% of which fell to my parents, though all of us kids offered to help more. Out of that 100, maybe 85 fell to my mom, to which she opened her arms wider and accepted. In the back of my mind, I knew (with such false confidence) that Landyn’s responsibilities would come to me (and my other siblings) someday. I pictured and mentally prepped for what that meant and what that might look like. Would she stay with us for a few months each year? Maybe a whole year and then be stateside for awhile? Maybe each year, a different grandkid could escort her across the ocean and then they’d get to visit us for awhile too. Would she like it here? We have Taco Bell and McDonald’s so she should be set. I thought forward to the uncertainty that Landyn’s behavior brought to life and how that would be perceived here in a culture that mostly hides those deemed too different. I imagined what Landyn would teach people here about humanity and her place in it. I knew firsthand the effects, the good and the bad, of what she taught us and anticipated my own little family learning those lessons together. Sometimes I mourned for her as I thought of her aging. Of the changes humans endure, of the loss of my parents (someday in the far, far distant future…) of the pains her body would experience and of the frustrations in her mind at not being able to communicate all those things. Sometimes just the thought of her having a toothache would drive me crazy. Taking her to the dentist was quite a trip since she would react exactly as your instincts tell you to as some stranger sticks sharp instruments in your forcibly-held-open mouth. But some number of years ago, maybe even ten or more, Mom found a dentist in South Bend that worked specifically with children and more specifically with those with special needs. I remember our first trip there, Landyn flipping out in the reception area, the staff and other waiting moms and children staring, the quick attempt at getting her to hold still in the chair so the doctor could at least take a glance and then me rushing Landyn back out to the car while Mom stayed to hear whatever next steps were recommended. But little did we know that doctor would be one of just a select few people in the world outside our family to really connect with Landyn on a personal level. He extended immediate compassion and offered to take the rest of the consult out to our car where Landyn was more comfortable. This was the first of numerous examples of how he worked around Landyn’s preferences and comfort rather than expecting her to conform to the world’s expectations. He earned our respect by showing some to her. When Landyn turned 18, we thought she’d have to find a new dentist and dreaded getting her acclimated to a new person, place, probably less understanding scenario, but that clinic found a loop hole to keep Landyn as a patient for a few more years. Just a few weeks before the accident, Landyn went to her last appointment there as she had stretched the age limit as far as possible. Saying goodbye to someone that had gone above and beyond to show kindness to Landyn had brought my mom to tears. But Landyn never needed to find a new dentist. And never had another toothache. 

Somehow, thinking about Landyn’s future and the responsibility I’d have in it made it more okay in my mind that Mom took so much of that work on herself. She gave and gave and gave time and attention to all of us relentlessly and would barely share the burden of Landyn’s care at all. But in my head, I guess I looked forward and thought I’d be able to somehow repay Mom for all she’d given us by us giving all that care back to Landyn. Like that would be my thank-you.  

A few weeks ago, someone reached out to my nephew’s parents asking specifically if anyone in our family was on the autism spectrum because of how caring and calm my nephew had been in a situation with a friend who was a little more socially awkward. The evidence of Landyn’s impact in his life extended as grace towards others. Exactly as it ought to.

I mourn the loss of her for our babies. I hate that their lives will be devoid of her direct influence and the grace that comes from it. Loving Landyn is not an experience that can be thoroughly explained without living it. 

All the hopes and all the fears I held for her future and her role in our lives disappeared that day last summer. She would have been a key character in our home even just as a sister visiting with Mom and Dad for so many years to come. But now her seat in our lives rests empty. 

We miss her. 

Her birthday is the first of all the “seconds” for us and I found myself completely overwhelmed by it. The whole week leading to it, I felt my impatience, anxiety, sadness, sleeplessness, and even anger increase. This is her second birthday not with us and signifies the start of a second year without all of them. This thanksgiving will come and they will still be gone; our second baby will be born and we won’t have their hugs as we celebrate; Christmas will pass and they won’t be here; Mom and Dad will have their second birthdays far from us and won’t hear Louis sing for them. And that number, the times we’ve gone around the sun without them, will only grow larger. The piles of stories we want to tell them, the crater of absence in our lives, the depth of pain, will only grow larger. To have lived one year without them felt an eternity and brimmed and overflowed with salty drops from our eyes. And now, to step into another year, that one year of this suffering wasn’t enough… that thought chokes me. And yesterday (and again soon surely), it had me dropped on the kitchen floor, head against the cabinet, hands gripping the countertop (where a pan of dripping, should’ve-been-a-cake fudge and a bowl of clustering, should’ve-been-whipped cream sat as a perfect example of disappointment), pleading to God, “Why did you have to take them from me?” 

The puddle of visible grief collected at my feet, my eyes are still red and swollen, and I’m not yet privileged with an answer to that question. 

But I trust that my tears and cries do not go unseen or unheard, that He will again show compassion to us, that someday a reunion is planned that will make sense of this incredibly hard role we now play. I trust that this is the low point of a story that will have a marvelous end. And in that end, we’ll be together again. 

Verity Lina Mae

A new stage of our adventure begins as we await the coming of our first little girl in December! 

So many emotions arise with the expectation of a new human in this world and for us with Verity, this is no exception. Our last year since losing so many of my family members in August 2019 has been devastating and the world was emptied of so much good. In the midst of our personal world stopping so abruptly (and then the whole world literally stopping for such a long season) we came to appreciate that new life is possible. That we could, in at least this way, create something joyful to love. A reason to see the future with an anticipation of life and not just a dread of the next disaster. That maybe, though it seems so unimaginable, maybe some of our best days are yet to come. That somehow, our lives would continue. The hope of more babies in our family felt like one piece of the future that hadn’t been hijacked from us in the accident. 

Confirming our pregnancy brought a new joy to life, and a retrospective sadness as well. We look forward to her future, we long to meet her and teach her and watch her grow and love her through all life’s ups and downs. And yet, we mourn, knowing that there are those gone too soon before her that would’ve loved to do the same and will have no such chance. In that same future in which we feel so much hope for our new little one, we also recognize the absence of all the love stolen from her, the love she’ll never know. 

She will hear of them in the stories we tell, she will mourn them in the adventures they shared with us, she will, in her own second-generation way, feel the loss of them even in me as she learns to identify what sadness looks like and how long it holds on to us. And since we cannot spare her that, we pray that we can teach her where to take these pains of the world that she will be born to carry and all the new ones she may collect along the way. 

Though all her experience of them will be secondhand, we pray that she represents them at their best. 

Her first name, Verity, was chosen years before but became more relevant and meaningful now. Simply, it means truth. This concept represents both our families in how they have oriented their lives in devotion and search for the one Truth, the Giver of all truth. We pray that Verity also finds and follows this devotion.

In a special way, each of my family lost in August animated truth. 

My dad stood strong as an example of how truth is steady, unwavering, unflinching, unaltered by trial or storm. He was truth as an anchor but also as an undaunted beacon, one that would have so gladly led thousands to it while sparing them from the dangers of deceit in this world. 

My mom recognized that truth is universal and yet incredibly specific. That each person is unique in how much truth we understand and have experienced. And of course that we all have more to learn and we can learn some of that from each other. Mom deeply understood that some truths were too difficult to bear alone and must be shared, though she found herself gladly bearing others’ far more often than sharing her own. 

Kent revealed truth as all things beautiful, knowing that if real beauty is to be found, it must be a reflection of its Maker. He exemplified that a life lived in truth can be full of joy, smiles, and laughter. 

Landyn, well… She was the whole truth and nothing but the truth 🙂 In pure, innocent truth, there is no disgrace. No deceit could be found in her and thus she felt no shame. 

As for the rest of our baby girl’s name, we choose a family name on both sides of my family (Lena, Mae and Lena May) though we changed the spelling to be a little more friendly to multi-cultural pronunciation. But the meaning of both brings out a deeper concept when brought together with truth.

Lina means sunlight and pairs perfectly with the effect truth can offer, enlightening what once was dark, life-giving, warming hearts once cold. We hope she lives this well. Another variation means tender or delicate. This meaning also brought comfort as I consider how necessary delicacy and tenderness are when presenting truths. A hard truth delicately spoken may still be sweet.

Mae refers back to the month and springtime and all the hope that comes with it. (In Michigan especially, that’s as early as hope comes…) As simple as this is, we pray that she will always be a hopeful presence to those around her like a fully blossomed spring.

Also, for whatever reason, my mom often called me Tessa Lina Mae, though that isn’t my name, I can hear it pronounced in her voice. The sound of her singing that out seems connected now to this little girl and somehow, that makes it feel like she knew something of this beloved granddaughter. This is the third of her grandchildren that she will never have the chance to hold in life; the second she knew nothing of. But when I recall the sound of this name from her voice, it’s easier for me to imagine her joy for this new life.

The drawing represents our two little gifts that we’ll have this Christmas, Louis and Verity, but it’s set at the hearth of my parents’ house. Many of you carry moments that rest in your heart from this same scene. That home leaves our family soon and we’ll hold only the memories and the blank space of what should have been. It’s heartbreaking that Verity will never feel the warmth from that fireplace as she hears the crinkling of wrapping paper on a Christmas morning. The hymns and Luke 2 readings that lingered in the air over the crackling flames in that golden room will be only a story for her. But, it will be a well-loved story that I hope will touch her heart. At the same time, I hope our own little family will find our version of this happy place and carry on some of the same traditions, always remembering that our future is based on another Christmas babe.

Verity Lina Mae, may God grant you his tender, illuminating truth to live in all your days that you may always be filled with warmth and leave others full of light and hope. You are loved.

One Year

Some moments serve as permanent markers in life by which everything else relates in a before-and-after sequence. August 2nd, 2019 is mine.

Some of my daily tasks seem the same, some of our routines are unchanged, you might think nothing much changed. I still have a loving husband, a sweet, growing toddler and the tasks and small joys of life are still piled around us. But if a soul could be seen, you would know that nothing about me was untouched or unchanged since that day. My identity is altered and parts of who I was have been utterly erased from this year and the future. I am not a daughter any longer. I am not a sister to someone with special needs. I am lost to the privileges and responsibilities that those roles held. The cares I carried for them are stripped from me. I am emptied of the potential for what more I could have learned and gained from those relationships. I am separated from the love I felt from them, and the love I still feel for them has no where to land. It flows from my heart through my tears and splashes aimlessly in their absence. Being cut off from their love, their knowledge, care, and support leaves me feeling like so much less of a person. Like I’m playing this game of life with only half the deck. My home is here, but the power line has been cut.

One year has passed in this new void of what once was. I wish I could apply some balm to this pain by saying that I’ve learned so much and I’ve become a better person through all of this trial, that I’m closer than ever to the Lord or that some good has come from their deaths. But none of that would be complete or entirely true. I can’t offer that comfort as this painful marker of time comes around. Maybe someday, but certainly not yet.

I’ve learned things, yes. But things you wish never to know, like how helpless we are and how ineffectual all the wisdom of the world can be. How far from comfort we push each other with empty phrases and ill-timed advice and even with silence. It’s like there’s no right way to respond. I’ve learned how fragile life is and I live with a perpetual expectation of the next tragedy, I’ve almost forgotten how to hope or expect something to go well. I’m too young to think this is the last tragedy that will affect me or my family. Statistics have not worked in my favor so far and the protection of the Lord is by no means a guarantee of safety in this life. This year has been stuffed with so many countless disappointments of all I hoped for to the point that even when something good happens, it’s hard for me to feel anything except a smidge of relief that I don’t have to add another let-down to the list. It’s as if, even if every little thing from this moment on went perfectly in my life, there would still be a negative balance. The tragedy of the loss on that day has tipped all the scales irrecoverably unjustly. There’s a break in my soul that cannot be made right this side of heaven. I am not in a position to tell the Lord how He ought to govern the world. But my heart has certainly cried out with echos of “How long, O Lord, before anything is made right!?” It’s a struggle to feel like He hasn’t abandoned us.

I don’t think I’ve become a better person from this. Most days, I still can’t think straight and I make the tiny mistakes that just irritate and remind me that my mind isn’t here anymore. My face holds wrinkles that weren’t there a year ago. I feel impatient with everything and everyone like this world could never be good again and that I’d just rather not deal with it. I feel upset by what people have said, or haven’t said. I feel lonely, but hesitant to let anyone enter this space with me, if even anyone was willing. So much of the life I wanted for myself and my family has been taken from me and now I’m left to try to find contentment in this watered-down version. Maybe if I didn’t know better, the good things left for me would feel like enough, but it was supposed to be so much better. Much has happened in the world since that day that would merit my sympathy, compassion, and effort but I have none to give. I feel depleted in a way that only the comfort of knowing this life is temporary soothes. I understand my grief doesn’t excuse my own sinful heart. I’m working through these things but if I’m honest, those are some of my thoughts.

I don’t see any great good that has come from this. In sincerity, I don’t think any good would be good enough so I’m not really looking anymore. One way my parents would have wanted to help others through their deaths was made impossible due to some specifics. This too was a disappointment for me.

I’m aware of how privileged I was.

I had two incredibly involved parents who loved and cared for me consistently for as long as they lived. Of course we had disagreements, but these were good parents. I never knew life without their attention and presence and desire to be a part of my world. Both of them, in different ways worked tirelessly to make sure their children were provided for and trained and raised as God would have them be. They gave unlimited time and effort to make our lives better. Not everyone has this backstory. My childhood was blessed by them. Countless people have experienced intense pain that should never come from one’s own parents. I was spared from that and received only good intentions and love from them.

Landyn was an exceptional human. No one in my experience compares to her in pure inhibition. Disney gave her friends as the world looked on with strange glances. Her autism is not something I would have wished for her or on anyone else. In spite of her oddities and the frustrations of her life because of them, she brought so much joy to us as a family. She made us closer to one another, she made us depend on one another, and care for each other in a way that is truly unique. She made me more responsible, more sensitive to the unspoken needs of those around me, more compassionate to people whose struggles have no solution and no end in sight. I was blessed to have her in my life and she brought a richness and depth to our family that I can’t imagine life without.

Uncle Kent was extravagant in his displays of affection. He was lavish in his attentions and pride in his family and that extended to us. Not one memory of him stands out in my mind when he was anything less than a driving force of joy and an enthusiastic leader in our family get-togethers. He brought a vibrancy to life around him. Even in our family, he was unique in this. Maybe it would have been overwhelming if everyone were like him. But it was just him. It was a joy to grow up with his jolly self as a highlight of our years.

I was blessed by much, and much has been taken from me. It was a privilege to have loved and been loved so deeply.

As Winnie the Pooh so rightly noted, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

But I didn’t get to say goodbye. My soul was jolted in the moment we lost them. This was no natural end, there was no time, no warning. One of my sisters recounted her last interactions with them to me the other day and the most horrific part I felt was how perfectly normal it had been. Life was going on as it should. They were healthy. They had normal struggles but that was a part of life. Death had no business reaching into that day and it gave no foreshadowing. Some man hijacked our normal. So many of my dreams since then have been focused on this aspect of how they’re so alive and yet in the back of my head I know they’ve been taken from me. My dream-logic keeps retorting, “But they look fine!”

There’s the good dreams, where I’m with them and we just enjoy normal life.

I see Dad sleeping on the couch for “just five more minutes.”

I hear Mom in the other room on a video call with her southern grand babies making them laugh and singing songs to them with so much enthusiasm.

Landyn is running up and down the stairs chattering about her most recent goodwill purchases.

It’s just normal.

Then another when I’m sitting with them at Dairy Queen and we’re all talking about nothing in particular. I think of some of my own struggles and want to share them but then my dream-mind stops, “No, don’t burden this moment, let them be.” And Mom and Dad nod off to sleep at the table while I take Landyn for a drive to let them rest.

Then there’s the horror dreams. There’s the accident, over and over again on repeat, in such vivid imaginary details that I wish I had actually witnessed it because I’m sure it couldn’t possibly be as bad as my mind envisions. I won’t describe them more.

There’s the savage attempt to dig them out of the grave with my bare hands because they can’t possibly be dead, only to wake up and find my finger nails bloodied from scratching my own arms instead.

The disillusionment and shock of that moment on such a normal Friday afternoon have trickled into the crevices of every part of life. Sometimes it seeps out in moments of impatient anger, sometimes it detaches me from everyone around me and brings feelings that I too don’t belong in this world. Sometimes, it lurks in breath-stealing moments of panic knowing there’s nothing stopping this shock from happening again. Maybe tomorrow it will be Ovi or Louis that disappears from my reach. Maybe that video chat with one of my siblings will also be my last. Maybe a new devastation is looming right in front of us. Some days, I almost expect it, as if somehow assuming more tragedy will surely come will make it easier to bear when it does.

I can’t escape this pain, I can’t erase it, or imagine it away. It stays with me everyday and everywhere I go. It’s with me when I wake up, making each day seem endless. It stays with me when I sit in a car and know the risk that is. It stings when I grab my phone and am reminded that there will never again be a text from my dad and that I can never again call my mom. It lingers while my mind wanders washing the dishes, my tears mingling with the soapy water below. It dampens the beauty of a mountain sunset. I still sense it in the sea-breeze of vacation days. It dwindles the value of life’s great or funny moments because they were the ones I wanted to tell. As my head rests on my pillow each night, my mind finds no such soft comfort, not in this life at least. Their absence is ever-present.

Ovi commented today, “You’d think a year would’ve done something, but it feels like yesterday.”

This last week, I picked up Les Miserables again and the beginning chapters describe the priest who eventually extends grace to the main character. One of the descriptors of this priest is that he was a great consoler. My attention perked up, knowing now how rare and valuable a find that is. What makes someone good at that? “As he knew the moment for silence, he knew also the moment for speech. Oh admirable consoler! He sought not to efface sorrow by forgetfulness, but to magnify it and dignify it by hope.”

“He sought to counsel and calm… and to transform the grief which gazes upon a grave by showing him the grief which fixes its gaze upon a star.”

So, where is that star? What is the hope that can somehow dignify this massive despondency?

For now, my heart can only skip to the end. Of the end, I’m sure. When I look far ahead, I find confidence and assurance and a fulfilling beauty again. The hurtles and jolts and agonies of this world fall into a valley and I see that somewhere ahead is a mountain top where the view is clear, where the sun shines and lights all the uncertainties. It is there in the final end where my soul will find a haven. Where I will understand, where I will be made whole. It is with God in that end where I will see all the wrongs made right. Where justice will be revealed once and for all, where those who mourn will be comforted. Where my dreadful imaginations will be matched and exceeded by unimaginable rewards and love. Where every tear of mine has been kept and will be wiped away by God himself. Where my sense of sojourning, my desire for a better country, will be justified and relieved in a place where I will finally be home. A place has been prepared for me where this night that now lives in my soul will be no more. A place of unfading beauty and unfailing hope fulfilled. This year has aged my soul into a phase of life that would much more willingly surrender the fleeting joys of this world for the things that endure in the next.

Looking forward to those days, I’ll try everyday, a little more and a little more to work backwards from there till someday, maybe a day on earth will begin with hope too. I long for a day when those far off promises feel sufficient for each days’ tasks. Though my soul has been broken, it will yet be restored. I will hope in God for I shall again praise Him.

Landyn’s Yellow House

A little box of a house tucked tightly in the woods welcomed a young couple, unaware of what the future would hold. For the next nearly 40 years, they never stopped dreaming and working towards making it a bigger, more welcoming place. It grew with each baby they brought home to it and as it grew, the love it hosted grew to fill it. The couple’s handiwork, taste, and eccentricities laced their way through the very walls and corners of that home. Each child coated the rooms with layers of memories, some of the struggles of growing up, and all the little conflicts and joys that loom so large in the emotions of coming of age. But mostly, those rooms are painted with moments of togetherness, where now, even the hard and sharper points are reflected on longingly. Of course, those rooms witnessed moments of tension, of impatience, of less-than-beautiful sentiments expressed, but overall, the tone of that home was set by love. Warmth played the theme of the house through the years and openness defined it. Every age, every background, every story, every crisis found solace and wisdom there. A fresh pot of coffee always brewed; food spilled over and multiplied and never seemed to run out; an extra bed stayed always ready. God’s love spread from that home.

In the winters, the fire’s red glow tinted the sunflower dining room; hand-knitted blankets laid over escaped goldfish crackers across the couches; hot chocolate scented the kitchen; books piled on all the flat surfaces; board games and puzzles with most of their pieces passed the time; the purring kitty occupied the bay window like a king on his throne. In the summers, the shaded porch watched the baby deer munch all the hostas; the trampoline never stopped flexing and throwing the laughing children high in the sky; the hose sprayed happiness and washed all the watermelon-juiced faces and beach-sandy toes; the maple syrup steam sugared the air; the runaway, freshly-picked blueberries rolled over the sand-scratched floors. As the couple’s children aged, married, and flew the nest, the cries and giggles of visiting grand-babies replaced them so the house never knew emptiness.

This place knew imperfections. The crumbs always collected in spite of several daily sweepings. The noise could sustain less-than-peaceful levels at all hours. The unexpected surprises and oddities of a certain someone’s behavior was part of the norm. Well-intentioned projects met their ends in not-quite-finished fashions. At times, it felt like chaos. But still, grace lived there. Hospitality spoke an informal language and said to all, “Come and join us, for your own imperfections need not be hidden here. Be known and be welcomed. Leave encouraged and hopeful.”

The little box became a mansion-sized workshop, for the building of characters was done within those walls. Broken souls crossed the threshold and consistently found care and healing. Gently, the couple shaped the minds and hearts that entered, pushing them to think more deeply, to ponder anew, to wonder and question and learn all that God is and how He has made this world to be. They formed that house as a haven, a secure place that would remain even after adventures took children and guests far from it. The world seemed brighter and safer knowing a home like this existed and for having tasted its joys.

I wish with all that is in me that I need not change the tone now. But reality has emptied that home of the people who made it beautiful. No one is left from those that lived there a year ago, not even the proud old cat. Now, even the house must be lost to me. The shell of lives so well-lived. My own soul has been broken so severely, and the place I would so long to be, with the ones who would bring such comfort, are the very ones and place that will never be again. Seeing this home leave my family, knowing my children will have no memories created there with the ones who meant so much to me is another blow that my soul hardly has capacity to survive.

This will be one more comfort my heart once felt that will be permanently out of my reach. On top of that, I can’t even get back to say goodbye one last time. First, I expected the house to remain in our family maybe as a rental or for one of us to live in. But its size and upkeep rendered that unrealistic when met with the emotional pain for most of us to care for it and the physical distance for the rest of us. Then, I at least dreamed of a party for the house, where all who were once welcomed there could find refuge one last time, where we could say goodbye together to everything such a place meant. But the times we are in allow for no such sharing of this burden, no semblance of a celebration for all that was. The grief only stacks higher.

That beautiful setting passed this fall and winter and spring without seeing life. Its unfinished projects have met final endings. Its bold colors muted to more docile hues. Its signs of a little too much life subdued and mended. Its doors that never knew a key now stay closed and locked. It’s waiting now. Full of uncertainty, it’s waiting for whoever comes next. Who will find this treasure of a place and step into the beautiful, tragic history left behind? Will the new family bring life and warmth back to its rooms? Will love be shared there again?

May God grant that this place be for the next family yet again what it once was for ours.

To get a quick tour and maybe relive some of your own memories here, or in case you’re in the market and want to envision your future here, follow the link:

A Fatherless Day

Father’s Day has come but now I don’t have him to celebrate. I don’t have him to thank and to show him how much I appreciate him.

Some of my sweetest memories of him were the times he’d open the bedroom door far before sunrise and whisper so as not to wake my sisters, “Tess, it’s time for coffee.” I’d pop out of bed and be ready in two minutes, eyes still closed and hair unbrushed. I don’t know how young I was when this tradition started, the hot chocolate and pancakes with whipped cream. I’d guess three or four years old. As I grew, his coffee shop office changed locations a few times as local places closed or changed hours. His coffee buddies changed too as time and sometimes ideas spread friendships apart and as it brought new ones to the table. I didn’t mind those changes of place or group, because for me, Daddy was what counted. I felt so special to be allowed into this part of his world. To hear the adult discussions and pipe up my own little voice at times. Often, he’d have a book or two along with him if conversations lulled. The authors would always speak to him if needed, but usually, a book on the table was enough to start a conversation about something new everyday. For seasons of my childhood, Dad’s jobs were intense with long hours and few days off. But even in those times, he’d always wake up early enough for a trip to the coffee shop. Getting to spend that time together, even the short car rides, even if it was too early to feel like saying anything, those times let me know him.

As a side note, I was also the first (and for years, the only) of us kids to actually enjoy coffee which made me sure I’d forever won the place as Dad’s favorite.

Eventually, my homework came with me on those dates, and then I too had to rush off to work myself, cutting off those leisurely moments with the hot coffee in hand where time seemed to disappear.

Finally, I moved away and missed those mornings and longed for the tradition of them and that slow time before a day began.

For one of my birthdays, I requested Ovi to give me the “present” of waking up early everyday for the month and mimicking those old coffee dates. Delightful.

Each time we went back for visits, I made sure to make the effort to wake up early at least one morning to go out with Dad again. I remember showing off baby Louis to Daddy’s coffee buddies and being thrilled that those mornings were something Louis would learn to love too.

Dad’s extroverted nature shined in that environment. Every stranger that walked through the door would readily have been drawn into the conversation and offered a seat at Dad’s table. And of course a coupon. He’d buy anybody breakfast, he’d listen to people’s troubles, he’d take in and counter all the debates and arguments, he’d gather numbers and send personalized verses to several of them every day. He was just so friendly and inviting.

After moving even farther away and adding a significant time change, I found on a lot of days that it was easiest to call Dad because he was always awake first. Louis and I would chat with him and “meet” him for coffee as he’d turn his phone around and show us off to all his friends.

August 2nd marked the last time I ever shared with him. Our day here already felt tiresome and Louis and I needed someone to talk to as Ovi had long since left for work. I knew Dad would be the only one awake yet so we pulled up the video chat and, as always, he answered. With his coffee in hand and the stack of current reading on the table, he beamed with joy as he saw Louis and I show up on the screen. “Well, hi there!”

We chatted for a few minutes and then Dad paused as he saw a car roll into the parking lot. He recognized it and jumped up, explaining how he could save the newspaper delivery man time if he ran out to the car and grabbed it rather than making the man come inside. But he brought the phone out with him and introduced us with pride in his voice to that gentleman too.

That morning, I felt defensive for my dad. He’d seen rejection in different ways in his life and each one stung me deeply. Something nagged me that Dad was never well-understood. A smaller misunderstanding had come up that week and again I felt an injustice done against him more strongly than he seemed to feel it for himself. In someway, I felt protective of him and like no one appreciated him like he deserved. And that I didn’t either. And I felt a good deal like this world didn’t deserve him in it. Ironically, it seems God agreed with that part.

The discussion started there with some details of things said but we comfortably slid relating the discussion to books, first some classics like Robinson Crusoe, adding that only as an adult did he realize how profound and symbolic that imagined loneliness seemed, and then he described what he had opened on hand, Church Without Walls, a simply-enough phrased concept that most Christians believe and many forget. After awhile, a restless, sleepy Louis and my own impatience to move onto the other daily tasks drew the conversation to an end. I know he would’ve talked for as long as I let him. How I wish I lingered. Thousands of times, I’ve wondered uselessly, if we had just talked more, could we have pushed all the moments that day a few seconds later, even one second would’ve been enough of a difference to keep my world intact. To keep them in it.

I learned from him in all those hours shared. But I had so much yet to learn. I enjoyed our hot coffees and cookies and pancakes, but there just should be more of them. As a child, Dad made me feel special in those early morning outings, but I looked forward to him taking my babies out too.

I had a great father. I was loved and I loved him. I just hate that only 25 years of my life had him in them. I hate to think that so many more have to pass without him. I wasn’t finished. But I have no choice. So now, “happy Father’s Day” becomes “unhappy Fatherless Day.”

My first motherless Mother’s Day and fatherless Father’s Day have come and gone now. I pray that God’s heart truly is inclined to the orphans for there is so much we need that is just gone.

To Dad, thanks for doing your best for all the time you had with us. We surely didn’t deserve you but I am surely glad that you were mine.

Mom’s Birthday

Mom always dreamed of growing old gracefully. Without struggling too much against the passing of time or its effects, she focused on what was happening to everyone around her rather than what time did to her. I looked forward to seeing how she’d age. Beauty attended her through all the years and vanity never caught up with her. This might have been taken to a fault though as we’d shop with her. For every nice thing she’d try on, she’d stand by the mirrors forcing her shoulders forward and turning her head to one side to evaluate it. I assure you, no garment looks flattering in that posture and we’d laugh and tease her about it. She was beautiful whether she felt it always or not.

Mom poured out energy to everyone but especially her kids and grandkids and never with a demand or request in return. There was nothing she wouldn’t do or give up for us no matter how inconvenient for her. This was never more true than about her time. Her heart was never fuller then when she spent time with her family. Those hours were precious to her. Reminiscently, she’d talk of older days when all of my siblings were still home and we’d road trip together or even when we took the adventure to Europe, the days when her babies were all together and in her presence. Even till last summer, we’d tease her relentlessly when she’d want us to take another picture and she’d come up with some version of how this could be the last time we’d be together.

I can’t believe she was right.

I came to the states with Louis for two weeks at the end of June and flew out on the 4th of July. My parents, as always, drove us to the airport and arrived in way too much time for fear of being late. We walked the halls of the terminal for awhile together and my mom felt the drama of our departure more than I wanted to let her. She was sad, to the point of tears from us having to leave her again. But I was stubborn and didn’t want to give in and admit that I was sad too. I wanted to give her confidence that it was okay, that I liked my life here, and we’d be happy. I wanted to protect her from too much grief. I tried to reassure her that dad would visit us soon to check on us and talked about our plans to come back in the fall for thanksgiving and that we’d be together soon. She regretted that we didn’t take very many walks that trip and I reminded her that we’d walk to see the cows in Virginia come November. I restrained her goodbyes. I tried to make this casual as if we’d say these goodbyes a hundred more times in the coming decade. I don’t even remember if I cried with her.

I didn’t know. I didn’t know she was right to be dramatic. I didn’t know that I should have flung my arms around her and not let go. I didn’t know those hugs would be the very last ones, the very last time I’d feel the comfort of my mom’s love wrapped around me. I didn’t know when I waved at the very end of security to my parents and Landyn waiting there till the last moment possible, that it would be the last time I saw any of them in person. I didn’t know my words of comfort were lies to her.

I should’ve admitted how much they meant to me and I should’ve given them those words. I should’ve cried with my mom and acknowledged how badly our separation would feel. I should’ve showed her how much I still depended on her care and mothering and support to even get through each week. I should have told her the worst part of moving was being so far from her.

I could never find the words to tell her how much she meant to me. I hope she could sense it. Surely, she knew I loved her but it was hard to show sometimes. Even for birthdays and holidays, mom was the hardest to find a present for. Gifts didn’t really impress her so we aimed for just time and events together. The attention (or any offer of help ever) was hard for her to accept. Sometimes it seemed like some of her life mottos were never to be a receiver or never to be a bother to anyone. She took on all the work the world could throw at her and considered it her duty to serve everyone around her to a far greater extent than anyone else I’ve known and she never asked for anything in return. Boundaries weren’t in her vocabulary. Sometimes, in general, that meant a warm and willing welcome at all hours of the day or night to anyone. It meant she could ask anyone about anything and she could make them comfortable enough to answer and open up to her. This made her easy to love in one sense, but sometimes hard to know. She focused so much on others that sometimes I felt like I couldn’t see enough of her.

Sometimes though, it meant people pushed her into helping a little more than what was good for her. I think us kids saw that and we still feel the sting of people who took advantage of Mom’s gracious heart.

Mom was loyal. Maybe to a fault… She loved fiercely. She cared. Our little daily wins and troubles interested her and she gave them importance and meaning. She made life seem so significant. I still can’t find the words to appreciate her enough.

She loved adventure more than her lifestyle allowed her to express. Any day, she’d be ready for a trip to a museum or downtown Chicago, maybe a cubs game, maybe a weekend trip to visit us in Louisville or my brother in Memphis then Birmingham. She loved traveling and castle-hopping through Europe. But even the little things, she was on the go and ready to join any of us kids even on boring errands. She was a dancing-in-the-kitchen-while-banana-bread-baked kind of mom. No one else has come close to her customized double-stanky leg move. She was a read-aloud-for-hours-by-the-fireplace kind of teacher. She was a door-always-open kind of friend. She was a clear-headed, fallacy-catching kind of thinker. She was a constant-puzzler, new-game kind of mind. She was an avid, world-at-your-fingertips kind of reader and learner. She had a Duolingo streak into the hundreds to learn Romanian just so she could always understand our kids someday. She was an in-this-for-the-long-haul kind of wife. She was an unstoppable, babysitting-for-weeks-in-a-row kind of grandmother. She was a memorize-all-of-Romans, sermon-series-on-repeat, counseling-conference-attending kind of disciple.

As much as she gave and adventured, mom was tired. Life wasn’t always easy for her. It takes a lot of energy to keep up with a toddler and in some ways, Landyn never grew past that. And yet mom poured out patience towards Landyn and continual effort to keep Landyn’s every need or demand met. Autism wasn’t the only struggle in her life and yet somehow, mom still gave more than her fair share to everyone around her. She gladly took our burdens and felt them deeply. These worries didn’t leave her easily.

As much as I need her, as much as I still wish she was here to care for and love me and my family, as much as I wish she could’ve come to a point where we could give back to her, for her sake, I’m glad she gets to rest now. I’m glad her burdens are lifted.

Sobs surge through me when the heap of things to tell her rises in my mind. Countless joys and sorrows should’ve been shared with her, the things I want to tell her, the things she’d want to know. Our joys are lessened without her to celebrate our full hearts and our sorrows are tenfold without her compassion. I feel like less of a person without her in my life. Something in me died with her.

Mom would’ve been a pillar in our future. I still wanted to learn from her example. I still need her to ask questions about how to live this life. I still wanted to see how God would work in her and through her. The absence of her beauty and grace plagues me.

Mom, you are wanted here. I hope you know that. I hope you feel appreciated especially on your birthday. There are so many of us that wish you had more of them.

Facing the Murderer

This is a two part post. First, the prep work of the days and months leading up to the sentencing hearing and then secondly, a link to the actual address.

Deep breath. Honestly, of all this tragedy, this is the part that my mind avoids the most. He is the character I would rather not acknowledge. Somehow in this astounding turn of events, a man, whom none of my family had ever met nor likely ever seen, brandished unrestrained power over our lives. In one moment, the impact of his actions outweighed anything anyone else had ever done for us or against us. The scales broke under the load of his irresponsibility and sin.

How can I expect my own thoughts to process such incomprehensible fragility of all that I hold dear? How can I place the weight of this catastrophe on the shoulders of this one man’s deeds? Accepting those two concepts and reconciling them together to the rest of my existence would require me to admit an even harder truth, an untenable reality that my heart resists with all its efforts. This could happen again. Every stranger I see also has this power and could act as the force that strips me of all the rest of who I love. That nothing and no one is safe here.

These are the dreads that flood my thoughts when I have to admit yet again that someone did this. I’m struck by my powerlessness to prevent this. My family did not die by accident. Of all the possibilities that tragedy uses, so many of which leave us with only God to question, my family was taken in such a way that obligates me to not only bring my questions and doubts to God but also to directly interact with my fellow man as the primary cause of this pain.

He had no right to interfere with my family. He shouldn’t have ever been a part of our lives. He doesn’t belong in my story or theirs. I don’t want him here. Not like this. I don’t want him in my mind or my past. I don’t care if he doesn’t even exist. He is nothing to me. And I likewise to him.

And yet…

Our lives have crossed in such a way that I will not be able to forget him, and I venture to guess that he will never forget me either. The day he entered my life will forever be marked as a distinct before-and-after moment. Consequences from that day will haunt both of us till our time on earth ends.

I don’t think of him as often as I would’ve guessed originally. Usually, there’s just no room for him. My parents, sister, and uncle flood my memories and their absence covers so much ground that I can’t see past it. My emotions are consumed by missing them and by trying to love the rest of my family, and do the things that need to be done daily. By the end of each day, I don’t have extra energy to spend or maybe waste on anything towards him. I’m forcing myself even to write out this entry. I don’t like spending time on him. I don’t like giving him credit or a placeholder in the account of my history.

All of those things considered, the week leading up to the sentencing hearing was the most intense, heavy time of my life. The week of the accident is a close second, but all the grief and consequences of that first week were and are still present and growing now. This just added to it. The hearing was on January 13th and I planned to attend. Many people have asked why I made that choice. The courts did not require our attendance though we were requested to complete Victim Impact Statements to allow the judge a full picture of the case. We were also presented the offer to speak to the court in the hearing and to address the offender directly. I tend to prefer handling things verbally when possible just by personality. Shortly after the accident, I knew that I would someday need to interact with the man that caused this chasm in my world. I needed him to see and hear me. I felt strongly that it was my responsibility to speak for my family and that it was his responsibility to listen to what I thought they’d want him to know. This was something I could do for them. The hearing was the formal place given to me to fulfill this duty. Though legally I was not required to go, emotionally and spiritually I felt compelled to make the trip. In an attempt to save Ovi’s vacation time for the hope of brighter days, he couldn’t make it. This meant trekking across the ocean with only Louis to accompany me. Yet, I felt this was unaccountably important. I chose this responsibility. Technically, I could’ve avoided this face-to-face encounter, but I would still have to deal with him as the character in my own mind that did this. I’d be inventing speeches in my mind forever without the completion of him having to listen. I thought it was better to see the real person and not just my imagination of him.

There is a significance in what a court room represents. The imagery of God as judge is reflected in that solemn room. The stately surroundings, the official, sober proceedings, the solemnity effects everyone that enters. This was not just any case, there was no simple solution or verdict that could be handed down to which all parties would be reconciled. This courtroom on that day held in the pages of its files a case of life and death. I don’t know if this was right or wrong but I felt an abysmal burden in my soul during those preceding days. I know what the psalmist means when he was downcast. To feel the waves continually thrown over me. No one should have to talk to the murderer of their family. No one should have to calculate what thoughts are appropriate and right to express in that context. No one should feel the gravity of a lost soul staring at the void in the place of four lives taken. No one should have to lose someone they love in the first place.

It was to God whom we appealed that day, for this world and all its justice is vain. A shadow and reflection at best. I thought of justice in those days. I thought of eternity. Of righteous anger, of fury and wrath. I thought of truth. I thought of culpability. I thought of everlasting suffering and of who deserves it. I thought of the life I’ve been sentenced to and what should become of this man on earth for what he’d done. I thought of what it means to be forgiven. I thought of what we owe our fellow humans or if we owe them anything. I thought of everyone else this action impacted and everything they might be feeling. I thought of everyone that might be impacted the next time he got behind a wheel. It could be you next time in the middle of that intersection. It could be me. I thought of the literal millions of other people just like him that drive under the influence. It hardly matters if one of them ends up in jail for life. Statistically, I’m not safer now. Retributively, I don’t have my family back regardless of what a court decides. Not even the judge could facilitate true justice. I knew I could not expect that.

Sometimes, I thought of just this man as a human. I had five or six awful facts about him, several rumors, none of them favorable. I thought of his parents. Does his life represent how they treated him? Is he like this because of them or are they just as heartbroken as I am? I thought of his wife. How much of his addictions did she share and encourage? What did she say to him that day? Couldn’t she have driven? Shouldn’t she have stopped him? Is she just as guilty? Or was she the faithful, pitiful victim she claimed to be? I thought of his past time in prison and on parole. Who let him out? Why? Were they shirking their own duty, slacking by not investigating his case fully? Or did he sincerely act ready for society? What about the judges in all of his past cases? Shouldn’t they have kept him in jail longer? Are they all guilty too? If any of them had acted differently, would my family still be here?

I thought of God. The perfect righteous judge that will make these wrongs undone. I thought of what he promises to sinful people. I thought of redemption. I thought of my own end. I thought of my family in heaven. I thought of Christ and wondered if what he accomplished applies here. I thought about my responsibility to represent him in front of a man who may see no other example. I thought about my dad and what he’d say. About my mom and what she’d ask. About Kent and what he’d imagine. About Landyn and how she wouldn’t care a bit.

During those weeks, life seemed absolutely unreal. The struggles of eternity and the weight of suffering closed me off from everything in normal life. I felt almost ghostly, floating between my family and this man. Try making a grocery list amidst those thoughts. Instead, all those heavy contemplations, this battle for keeping my own soul and fighting between my responses, this family destroyed, this murderer punished, were a part of a story that belonged somewhere else, a show or a book maybe, or in a Lord-of-the-Rings style Middle Earth battle of good and evil. My ruling-ring-sized burden spoiled me for this world. Even in the Shire after all was settled, Frodo was never the same. I get that now. “There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?” I knew my rest would not come from whatever closure a trial could bring. My rest is still in the future. But this was part of the Mount Doom journey which our life now demands and I had a speech to write for it.

No words would be sufficient. But I had to come up with some. You can find the delivered version HERE.

I cleaned up my thoughts just enough to make sure some hard truths would be clearly seen. I left the edges bleeding. I wanted him to see contrast sharply. And I wanted emotion to spill over to him. I wanted him to feel this and not walk away unchanged. I don’t think anyone in the courtroom did. Dry eyes were not to be found. Not in the officers, nor attorneys, nor Mr. Collins himself. This speaks to how much my family meant to the world and the power of who God is and will prove himself yet again to be. I don’t know how God will use any of this suffering. In some distant future, justice will be served and my family will be restored. It just feels like too long till then.

Sentencing Hearing Speech

I’d like to tell the story of how my life and this man’s intersected from the beginning to the end.

On August 2nd, 2019, a man woke up and began a series of wrong choices. Maybe to try to forget something or avoid something, maybe because he felt alone, but for whatever reason, he chose to turn towards alcohol in excess. This initial decision was wrong. Later in the day, he continued his course and chose to get behind the wheel of a car that was not even his and which he knew full well that he had no legal license to drive. I can’t summon a guess as to his motivation for this or where he intended to go, but at this point he made a decision to put his desires above the law and above the safety of others. That decision was wrong. While fully in pursuit of these wrong choices, he increased his evil display with every mile per hour that he pushed the car faster. These actions were not only foolish but morally wrong. And in that final display of the wrongs he collected that day, his glance revealed a stop sign. And, I don’t know. Maybe he just didn’t care. Maybe he wished his own life would’ve ended. But either way, he made the decision to ignore it.

His life didn’t end.

Instead, he caused the instantaneous death of four lives, both of my parents, Bob and Melissa, my little sister, Landyn, and my uncle, Kent.

The love that disappeared from this earth in that moment is incalculable.

Each of them were cherished by us for all of their own unique reasons. They created and pointed out beauty in our lives. I looked forward to time spent with them, to conversations held, to every moment together. Even the average and mundane moments of life were just better spent with them.

You, Mr. Collins, were the man that took them from us.

But, Mr. Collins, I want you to know something. Speaking specifically of my parents, I can’t help but point out to you that they poured their lives out for people just like you. I can imagine them having known you in life and my dad fixing up something in your house for you, all the while telling you enthusiastically about his upcoming missions trip across the world or informing you of all the resources available to you through Harbor Country Mission, the charity group that he loved so much. I can picture even you and your wife sitting down with my parents and my mom gently challenging you with all the right questions, listening to your struggles, giving just enough correction for you to feel your heart pricked, but just enough hope and encouragement to know change is possible. I can envision even that day having gone so differently. As my parents often did for others, they would have answered the phone when you called them in need of a ride to wherever. They would have dropped their plans to come get you themselves. Landyn would’ve happily gone with them and counted it as an adventure as long as a stop at Taco Bell was on the list. They would have given their time and energy and love to make your life better. That’s who they were. And I want you to know that.

But now, because of you, they’re gone. You’ve left me as an orphan in this world. The depth of my own grief continues delving deeper every day. This burden becomes harder to bear, harder to admit that their absence is permanent, harder to connect to a life that now feels so void. I’d like the court to acknowledge that this man before us holds responsibility for the pain I now carry.

In dark and touching irony, if each of them were given the choice that day between their lives and yours, I do believe they would’ve chosen to let you live even if meant their own death. You see, they were confident in what was to come for them. They knew of the beautiful future the next life held for them.

But you, Mr. Collins, should consider your own story’s end with all the solemnity you possess.

For you, the future holds no such certainty. God may let you remain unrepentant. You may never feel the guilt and the shame and the sorrow for what you have done. And if you choose to continue your life in this rebellion against the Lord and against humanity and us, there will come a day when your wasted and deplorable life on earth will close and you will stand before a judge who holds authority over all things. He will sentence you that day to eternal suffering in hell. And Mr. Collins, that will be exactly what you deserve. If that be your end, I will still be able to celebrate the righteousness, holiness, and perfect justice of God.

That is one way your story could end.

But, Mr. Collins, I would be amiss if I failed to present you with an alternative ending to your story.

You see, that just and upright and ultimate judge is also a God of mercy and of grace. It is possible yet that He would soften your cold, dead heart. You could turn to him and plead for Him to forgive you, to clean your record in his court, to be merciful to you. And in that moment you may find that he has provided a way for even you to be redeemed, that he sent Christ to live a perfect life and take the storm of fury awaiting you, that there is hope for one such as you. If this be your end, Mr. Collins, if you are met by the spirit of God, and reconciled to him through your sorrow, his forgiveness, and Christ’s substitute, then, Mr. Collins… then when your rescued life ends, you will be met, welcomed, and lovingly accepted into heaven most importantly by God himself, but also, by the very ones whose lives you stole.

I think that would be a more beautiful ending to your story.

Your Honor, I recommend the maximum sentence with no option of potential release. I feel that this would represent the closest possible equivalent of the value he has denied us and this world. In my view, his repeated crimes against humanity, and ultimately against me, my family, the law, and God have rendered him no longer worthy to participate among the free society of men. He should end his days on earth without freedom and be presented to God, the perfect judge, who will then discern his heart and extend to him a brighter future be it in the fires of hell that he so rightly deserves or in that golden city by the blood of Christ which is a holy and complete substitute for the wrath stored on his account. He is spent for this world and can never pay the debt he owes but he will be left with the hope that only God can offer him. And that hope is sufficient.


Post Script – Dub Collins sat through the court session, scoffed and shook his head through the prosecuting attorney’s summary of his life and again through his wife’s testimony against him. When I took the stand, he braced himself for more of the same. I don’t know and probably will never know what went on in his mind and heart as he heard my words and saw my tears and my family’s behind me. I do know that he tilted his head and looked towards me instead of away. I met his eyes directly. They too were brimming.

He was given a 90-year sentence with possible parole in 47 years. At the time, he was 54 years old.