My grandmother recently posed a question in a daily devotional she emails to some of her former students and some family members like me. She asked “Are you joyful?”

What a question.

In the past two and a half years, the two siblings I considered my closest friends (the ones I saw the most often, opened my heart to and knew the best) have died. One died suddenly of a heart attack and the other died after many years of hospital stays and treatment for leukemia. One died in my home and the other died with her family by her hospital bed. On top of that, in November, I lost a baby at 25 weeks of pregnancy and delivered our Luna stillborn the day after Thanksgiving.

But that wasn’t what passed through my brain when my Oa asked if I was joyful.

I was thinking about Easter. I guess I should clarify by saying that she sent this email out around Easter, which is probably why it came into my head. But here we were at Easter celebrating the day Christ conquered the grave, rose from the dead and saved sinners around the world. How could I be less than joyful?

My joy does not rest in my life here on Earth because all these things are temporary. Losing Jake and Jen taught me that firsthand. If I thought my existence ended here when I died, or that their existences ended when they died, then I would have no joy. If my life here on Earth was everything, then all this pain and loss I have experienced the past few years would be everything. But it’s not. My life basically BEGINS when I die. I will be with Jen and Jake in heaven worshipping God for eternity and glorifying Him in ways I can’t here.

So yes, I am joyful. I am joyful that my God and my Creator had enough mercy and grace to save a poor angry, selfish, impatient, needy woman like me. I am joyful that I get to move past the hurts and the pain of this life and spend eternity experiencing joy that I can’t even imagine. I am joyful that the same God who gave me everything I have chooses to bless me continuously every day. I am joyful that my God has chosen me to bear the burdens of loss that I bear because I know He has a purpose for them and for me. I am joyful because the life I have been given is a life that serves a purpose.

I am also joyful because my losses have taught me not to take things for granted. My God has blessed me so many times in the past thirty years that I cannot linger on the losses and hurts without also thinking of a million reasons to smile. The majority of my memories of Jen are of when she was alive and vibrant and strong – not thin and tired and struggling to breathe. Praise God. My soul aches when I think of the infant I could be holding right now, but it also soars when I think of the tiny soul God has already placed in my belly, due less than a year after Luna was delivered. Better than that, it soars when I think of all that Luna taught me and all the time I got to have with her regardless of her early death. I cannot mourn the five miscarriages my sister had without also thinking of the gorgeous miracle that is her daughter Lolo Fe and the incredible (and gorgeous) miracle that is Jes herself – a woman who never gave in to hopelessness and continued to be joyful no matter what God gave her. I cannot think of my brother’s funeral without remembering the few chuckles I shared with my parents and siblings during the ceremony. I cannot remember my sister’s memorial service without feeling incredibly proud of my brother Chris and nephew Alex.

I guess what I am trying to say is that my heart is joyful. My heart is JOYFUL. Regardless of what I have been through, my God is the same God He always was and always will be and when I handed my life over to him, I did it because I trust Him. And that makes me joyful.

I am joyful because my life is about Him and not about me. Well, at least it should be and when I remember that, I am joyful.


Remembering and Celebrating Jen

I have so little to say about Jen’s memorial except just how good I thought it all was. I wish I had a better word than that. Alex (her son) spoke and made my heart swell with his sincere and faithful words. I am so proud of that boy – no, he is a young man. A man changed and shaped by the amazing woman that is his mother. A man who is aware of all his mother did for him and is thankful for it. Then Chris (her husband) spoke and changed my life. Every single syllable served a purpose, pointed to Christ and honored my sister. I loved when he said that Jen’s spirit got too big for her body – that her body couldn’t contain it any longer. Seriously perfect.

I told others that I would post the few words I said at her memorial, but I feel like what I had to say was small, simple, insignificant and already well known. Please don’t see this as fishing for compliments on my eulogy or as a cry for pity. I am not sad about that. It was perfect the way it was. The amazing part of her memorial was the expression of love and faith from her son and her husband. The expression of strength and beauty from the images in the slideshow my brother made. The admiration and respect expressed in the song Abby Rutter wrote that fit so perfectly. But primarily the glory of God that shone through every moment I spent celebrating the amazing life of my sister Jen. And boy, was He glorified. I am anticipating that they will post video of the service on the church’s Vimeo site, but they haven’t yet.

This is a link to a small portion of Chris’ incredible talk about life, hope and faith.

Below is the eulogy I gave:

I was trying to figure out how best to describe growing up with Jen. I had the honor of growing up in Jen’s shadow. This was not the kind of shadow that made you miss the sunlight. This was the shadow that protected you from awkward social situations and introduced you to people so you wouldn’t seem weird and antisocial. The shadow that forced you to let her pluck your eyebrows and put makeup on you for special occasions. The kind of shadow that taught you how to handle pain and stress with grace, strength and love and a little sarcasm. The kind of shadow that showed you the sunlight, taught you all about it and made you appreciate it.

Jen cast a big shadow. She was an extraordinary person from birth. Bigger than life. She learned to read when she was three years old and read everything and anything she could from cereal boxes and shampoo bottles to gigantic novels. She mastered a variety of topics in the same way – seriously devouring information. She could school you on just about anything – and if she couldn’t, she would speak of it so confidently that you couldn’t tell she didn’t really know what she was talking about. She was the only person I could play games with and not get over competitive because I expected to lose to her.

Everything she did, she did with passion. She didn’t just knit. She knit all day every day like a woman possessed and made money selling her projects. She was part of an online community of knitters that sent each other care packages and patterns. She was a passionate wife – modeling to me how a woman can avoid complaining about her husband when everyone else around you is. She was a passionate mother – actively participating in her sons’ lives whenever and however she could. Does the football team need a momma? Done. Does the basketball team need a coach? Jen’s got it. No PTO officers? Jen to the rescue. She agonized over making it to every game, play, and school event she could because she really valued those opportunities to see her sons shine.

Many of you didn’t know Jen before she got sick. Those of you who did, I am sure you would agree with me that leukemia did not change who Jen is. Leukemia magnified Jen’s greatest qualities. Sure, it magnified some of her more difficult personality traits too but those were traits that carried her through some very difficult times. These were traits that we looked for to know that Jen was still Jen. In the last few days at the hospital, we rejoiced over moments where little bits of Jen came through.

It was not easy for Jen to submit to anyone before she got sick. With her diagnosis in 2001, she learned that submission was not weakness. She wrote me a letter early on, when she wasn’t sure how much time she was going to have and told me that she hoped to meet my children, but that she had to hand her life completely over to God. It was in his hands. Praise God she lived to see not only my children, but Joe’s and Jes’ babies too. She lived to see her sons grow into strong, responsible, faithful, deep young men and she definitely enjoyed her time with them because they are total goofballs. She took every opportunity in the last eleven plus years to point toward Christ as her reason for still being alive. She was not shy about her story and so many hearts were changed listening to her unfailing trust in her savior. And I am not talking about any kind of faith – I am talking about saving faith in the living God.

Could she have gotten through this without Christ? No. I know I couldn’t. Chris and the boys couldn’t. My parents and siblings definitely couldn’t. Christ held her up when chemo had beaten her down. Christ gave her strength to fight when her body had none left. Christ gave her hope when her situation got frustrating and her pain seemed unbearable. Christ took her home when it was time.

And she wasn’t the only one learning through this trial. She once told me that whenever she started to get down or feel lonely, Chris would show up. Can we talk about the image of Christ? Self-sacrificing, selfless, patient. I am not here to talk about Chris, but knowing and loving Jen has changed him. It has changed me. Not only did Jen teach us about faith and strength, but God used her to make those of us around her into the image of the savior who ruled her life. I am a better person because of Jen. I look more like Christ because of Jen. And I would bet there are many of you here who could say the same thing. She fit more into her 36 years than most people fit into twice that. She is more than her life here on Earth. Like I said, she is bigger than this life and it was my honor to grow up in her shadow.

I can think of no better way to celebrate this Easter than to celebrate my sister.