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I am coming to terms with the fact that scrapbooking is not something I am able to regularly make time for anymore. I will never be a Jenni Hufford, and that’s okay because she doesn’t make beautiful things to make others feel inadequate about not doing the same.

Instead, I use social media to document life. I download backups of Tweets and Facebook activity with grand intentions of someday making a book (although maybe Cassandra will make me one instead). Instagram has become my new digital scrapbook.

And so I look back at my scrapbook sometimes.

For a while it didn’t take long to get back to The Time When Everything Was Okay.

Now I have to hit the “Load More” button so many times, just to get back to that time before the sunset, when he was still around.

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Before the night I was rocking Devin to sleep, when there was no diagnosis. Everything could still be okay.

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Before he was smiling in his hospital bed, when he was going to be out in just a few days.

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Before he reunited with Cassandra and Devin at the airport, when his chest pain was probably anxiety and pleurisy.

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And before that, it was just life. Everything Is Okay life when we were separated by miles instead of time, when he would always ask me to stay longer when I visited.

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He is moving further away every moment. Further than Colorado, further than Boston.

But the further I get from that sunset, the closer I get to my own sunset, to home, and to him.

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Still good

We went to a church service this morning that featured a guest band, The Moment, and the lead singer, Dave Bell, told his story about getting a rare eye cancer at 16 and living through it. He told the congregation all the ways his family had faith and all the ways God had been good to him, because He had performed miracles in their lives.

(His story starts at 6:50 on this video if you’d like to see it)

And it’s a lovely story, it really is. Encouraging, even. He tells it very nicely and it’s good to hear the way things work out for some people who have faith.

Some people who have faith, though, it just doesn’t work out for.

I know the intent behind this kind of storytelling is good. You don’t have to tell me that; I get it.

But the thing is, God didn’t choose to heal Shane that way. God didn’t choose to reveal his cancer to us in a low-numbered stage, and God didn’t choose to stop the cancer from spreading quickly. God didn’t choose to clean up the infection and God didn’t choose to make his liver start functioning again.

For whatever reason, God chose to take him Home.

And if you’re hearing these “yay miracles!” stories after hearing God’s unthinkable “no” to your prayers of healing, it can get a little frustrating.

Because God is still good.

God is still good even though he didn’t choose to heal Shane on Earth. God is still good even though a big part of life is terribly empty now. God is still good even though my nephew has only pictures to point to to identify his dad. God is still good even though my sister-in-law is suddenly raising a toddler without her husband. God is still good even though I can’t talk to my buddy every day anymore. God is still good even though nobody is using the golf simulator in the garage.

I’m sure it’s tempting to think that people who get “yeses” have more faith, or that God favors some prayers over others because He is unfair and unloving.

I don’t believe it for a second. My God is a God of healing, regardless of how He does it. My God is a good God. My God is a loving and just God.

So tell the world how God healed your cancer. Tell the world how God delivered you from your bad situation. Tell the world how God showed his love for you in many different ways.

But please don’t forget that the same faith that moved your mountain didn’t move somebody else’s.

And God is still good.

Full

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I visited Nashville this weekend.

My buddy Alece lives there, with her own grown-up house and everything. And my buddy Ellyn lives a distance away that she deemed worth driving to meet us, despite the hours and the gas and oh yeah the HORRIBLY DANGEROUS ICY ROAD CONDITIONS all the way through the two states before “ours.”

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So yeah, two of my favorite people were in the same rooms with me for the last three days, is what I am saying. And then I discovered a whole other person in the room, and she became a favorite too.

It’s magical how that happens, connection. Between the ones you already loved or between the ones you just met and somehow already love too.

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It felt filling, being with them. Like a really, really good quality meal. And I would know something about that because Nashville is apparently the food capital of the world, as far as I am concerned right now. Honestly after all the places Alece and Tracee introduced us to this weekend, I am baffled at why the show “Nashville” is an ABC show about music and not a Food Network show about the best chefs in the industry.

Or maybe it should be a show on the… Photography channel? Maybe that’s a thing? Because, wow, the light and the architecture and the character of this place, it was made for photographing.

Case in point:

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And now I am writing this on a plane back to my own home, with its comfy couch and happy little dog and the boy who sings loudly and the beautiful wood floors that I still can’t believe are mine, and all the ingredients nearby to try my best to re-create that barbecue sauce I had on a brisket taco that I am sure I will obsess over until I either get it right or get back to Nashville for the next Local Taco hit. Or that pork from Husk, oh man, that pork, with the insane mix that included mustard, lime, and onion, among, it seemed like, a hundred other flavors.

(Did I mention Nashville’s food scene is incredible?)

I am flying home full.

And also kind of hungry after writing about all of that, and I didn’t even get in to the handcrafted cocktails or the short ribs or the croissant French toast and oh my goodness I did not stay long enough, did I?

But home is pretty filling too.

(Especially if I can figure out how to recreate that barbecue sauce.)

Tonight I am thankful for both places.

OneWord 365: Care

I have been mulling over my OneWord post for a little while now. The truth is, I knew what my word should be right away (I know when God talks to me because I usually don’t like what He’s saying), but I haven’t quite figured out what to say about it. I guess maybe I should just start writing.

This year, I chose the word Care.

For me, grieving has mostly been waves of pain and numbness, pain and numbness. There are other feelings in there, like sadness, contentment, anxiety and even joy, but I feel like “pain” describes the negative portions of the grief and “numbness” describes most of the rest of my time.

If you want the ugly truth, it’s hard to care about anybody else’s stuff when your stuff is always worse.

These last six months, “studying” the reactions of others who are grieving has taught me that comparing the good or bad situations in life is absolutely worthless, and will just lead to bitterness. I have yet to read a blog post or have a conversation with someone who is content with their life and also comparing it to someone else’s.

So, I try my best not to do that. But sometimes, when a friend is complaining about every little thing or things at work are in upheaval when they need not be, I look around at the drama others are creating and have to bite my tongue to keep from screaming the word “CANCER!”

How can they be complaining about this when their brother didn’t just die? How can they be worried about this when there are realities that are so much scarier?

So, I have to shut down a little. Stop comparing. Stop caring.

Which works for me. I can be apathetic. It keeps me from being angry. It keeps me from being bitter that my “bad” is so much worse than somebody else’s “bad.” And to be honest, caring takes energy I simply don’t have sometimes.

Except for the fact that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

The least of these are talking about their inconsequential ailments, or wasting my time with busywork projects, or vaguebooking, or always finding the negative in things. The least of these need a favor when I’m exhausted, and the least of these are just plain BUGGING ME.

So, this year I will focus on caring.

Break my heart for what breaks yours.

I will listen and empathize when I don’t feel like it.

I will care enough about people to put them above myself when I want to roll my eyes.

I will put effort into projects that I believe don’t deserve the energy.

I will do for the least of these what I would do in a second for the One who created a place for my brother.

A sports joke

Tonight on Twitter (where I get most if my news – the other part I get from Peter Sagal at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago), I saw that people were going crazy over some football player’s interview with Erin Andrews (who has the best hair in all the land, by the way).

I had to Google Richard Sherman to figure out what had happened, but after watching his a-hole act in all its glory, I thought it would be funny to tweet this:

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And it was funny indeed. I made myself laugh out loud and everything. Granted, I find myself hilarious most of the time, but it was a timely sports joke! Not even my normal genre!

And then this conversation happened:

Me: “Did you laugh at my Crabtree joke? I did.”

Cassandra: “Do you have any idea who Crabtree is? He wasn’t the one trash talking…”

Me: “Nope, just watched the video of the a-hole who ranted about him.”

Cassandra: “I couldn’t tell if you were being deliberately ignorant or not.”

Me: “That’s why it was funny!!”

Cassandra: “I see. I thought that’s what you were doing. But I wasn’t sure.”

Me: “Oh dear.”

Cassandra: “You made a sports joke, Mandy!”

Me: “I did! I thought you would be proud.”

Cassandra: “How can I know if you are being dumb or not?”

Me: “You can’t, I guess. You can only infer from experience that I am.”

Maybe I should stick with non-sports humor.

Edited to add this conversation Cassandra posted on Facebook after my joke with the caption “In case you were starting to think Mandy follows football:”

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Just remember, folks, that if everybody watches the game, nobody’s making the football snacks.

Glorious

I have not felt like being new-years-resolution-y lately. Or last-year-reflective either.

I keep reading summaries of peoples’ year, and their goals for the new one. From shouting the previous year’s joy from the rooftops to everything is negative negative negative negative (there are vastly more of the latter, unfortunately) to predicting just how much better the next year will be. I’m not really interested in any of that.

Because, you know, it doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will anyway.

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It’s funny that my dad used that word, “glorious.” Because while he reflected upon that proclamation later with a “boy was I wrong,” that word-choice made me think about something else glorious.

The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. (Revelation 21:23-25)

John uses that word over and over when describing heaven – “glory,” as do many other authors in describing God. It is almost a foreign concept to me, and maybe it’s supposed to be something just on the other side of imaginable. God’s glory being so great that it literally lights all of heaven. It’s described that way in Exodus too (13:21 and 24:17). That’s kind of a big deal.

I spend a good amount of time trying to picture what heaven is like, especially now. I eat an incredible piece of crab at my favorite restaurant on the San Francisco warf and as it melts in my mouth, I think “Oh my goodness. The food in heaven can’t be better than this.” I see an unbelievable sunset, with all its colors intertwining and setting the sky on fire, and I think “Oh my goodness. The colors in heaven can’t be better than this.” My nephew rolls between Jack and me in our big bed in the morning and as he lays his head on my chest to give me a cuddle, I think “Oh my goodness. Heaven itself can’t be better than this.”

And every time I think that, I know better.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

I, as they say, “ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

So, 2013 was glorious, for Shane. And knowing that makes it kind of glorious for me too, even though I will ache for him until the moment I finally get to join him in heaven one day. And the fact that I will be able to is pretty glorious in itself.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To him be glory forever.

Amen.

Light the world on fire… or at least my block

Though life’s not quite always what it seems
You still need to paint the world with all your dreams

My buddy Jessica wrote a song a while back and every time it comes through the little speakers on my phone I get so happy. It’s called “Light the World on Fire” and it’s lovely in every way.

When my sister-in-law went to Mexico, she told me “my new goal is to do things that scare the s*** out of me.” And I thought, “yeah, that makes a lot of sense.”

Because that’s what I’ve been doing too. Not in the same ways she is, and I didn’t go into this with that goal, but losing Shane has made me many things.

Sad. Lost. Numb. Apathetic. Faith-filled. More sad. More lost. More numb.

But also braver.

Because the things that seemed so scary before don’t seem as scary now. Nothing can be as bad as July.

So I gave blood. It’s something a bunch of people do every day and don’t think anything of it, but it’s something that terrified me before (NEEDLES!), and now it doesn’t. I’m going to do it again even. It was that not-that-big-of-a-deal after all.

Giving blood

I got ridiculously dramatic bangs and I bought red lipstick and wore it in public once or twice, even.

I went to the doctor and scheduled a colonoscopy and upper GI endoscopy. More needles, I’m pretty sure, at least I hope there will be, because I think that’s how they sedate you and I’m gonna want to be OUT for that one.

And I started calling myself a photographer, which is even harder than the needles for me, I think. Because there are voices in my head telling me that I’m not good enough, and though I can point to the sources of those voices, there’s no point in dwelling on those people. Because I am in charge of my own confidence. And I’m in charge of my actions. And whether I do brave things.

For the monsters, they come out when it grows dark.

And Shane told me I was good enough over and over when he was alive, so if nothing else, I have his voice. His voice is better anyway. It took a lot to impress him.

I am a photographer who gives blood. And I’ll light the world on fire with that, to start with.

Or at least, my block.

Co-exist

This morning when I got to work, my buddy Cathy was on the phone, so I quietly snuck in behind her and placed the coffee I had picked up for her on the way in on her desk. She turned around and gave me the most adorable look and a big smile, like she was excited that I had finally arrived. I walked away smiling too, knowing she would probably bring that coffee into my office with her after she got off the phone, and we would take a few minutes to catch up and chat, the way we often do when I get to work on slow quiet mornings.

As I walked into my office and logged into my computer for the day, I thought about Cathy and the rest of my friends and family, and how wonderful they are, individually and as a group.

And I thought, “I love my life.”

A split second after that thought began, though, another overlapped it.

“Shane died.”

And instantly I felt guilty. Now, realize, I understand logically that you can both love the life and blessings you have been given without betraying the brother for whom you are still grieving, but logic doesn’t always apply in grief. (Or, ever apply in grief?) It was a betrayal! I don’t love everything about my life! A huge part of it is pretty darn sad right now, and on some days the hole in my heart seems to stretch so big that I can barely feel anything but emptiness.

But even so, both feelings seem to find their way into my heart, the grief and the joy, co-existing and intertwining and awing and confusing me all at once. (And making me feel guilty sometimes too, apparently.)

My brother died, but I am surrounded by friends who love and support me, making me laugh or leaving me alone or wrapping their arms around me, depending in what I need at the moment.

My brother died, but his perfectly-matched wife still seems to want me in her life and I am probably closer to her now than most anyone in the world.

My brother died, but his son is growing and learning and thriving and filling me with love beyond my wildest imagination.

My brother died, but my family still loves and cherishes each other, not fighting over anything. I don’t take that for granted for one second after seeing two different parts of my family fall apart after loved ones died. Despite the years that have passed, many members don’t even speak anymore. That won’t be Shane’s legacy, and for that I am infinitely thankful.

My brother died, but he will be waiting for me in heaven one day, and that thought makes me look forward to it more than I ever thought possible. He made heaven as real for me as a neighboring town that I just haven’t visited yet. He made death 100% not scary. I’m good to go.

I thought maybe this Thanksgiving we might have a hard time finding things to be thankful for after all the hell we jut went through, but it’s just not the case.

Yes, there is grief. And sadness and unfairness and emptiness.

But also so, so much to be thankful for.

Haze

It’s that moment between awake and asleep.

The one with the haze, where you get confused, where you have to try and figure out what’s real and what’s a dream.

Did my brother really like me as much as I remember? Were we that close? Did we really IM chat all day every day while we worked? Did he really text me each day before a visit counting down the days, and beg me to stay longer once I was there? Did I dream that?

I snap back to reality, waking back up from the haze, and realize I didn’t. He did. That happened. He was as great as I remember.

Phew. I can start to fall asleep again.

In the next haze, I suddenly wonder if he really had that chest pain. If he really flew back early from Brazil, if he really got diagnosed with cancer. If it all really went that fast. It was just a dream, right?

I snap back to reality, and this time it wasn’t a dream either. It all happened, and it seems so surreal because it really was that fast. It really was that unthinkable.

And now I’m buried in reality. Images of his last day begin to flash in my mind until I cannot see anything else. Memories of the good stuff intertwine so closely with memories of the bad stuff that I can’t separate them, and now I’m simply caught underneath them all, no longer in a haze, no longer confused.

I remember every detail.

By the grace of God (and the 84 episodes of Friends on my bedroom DVR plus a very understanding husband), I eventually fall asleep.

And when I finally do, that is all I dream about.

Losing things

I’m losing things, little by little.

Because he would remind me of memories. Things that happened when we were growing up.

They’re just on the other side of that memory line for me, you know, because I’m three years younger.

At least, I was.

He would trigger stories with me all the time, the ones where you go “oh yeah! I haven’t thought about that in years!”

And now nobody is triggering those stories. Our stories. The ones that happened inside the big box we were playing in when we were small enough to both fit inside. Or in his car when I was just in middle school but for some reason he still wanted to take me to Sonic with him. Or in his room on Christmas Eve as we fought hard to stay awake later and later. Or at the bowling alley on Sunday mornings in college because it was free then.

I’m afraid of losing the details. The memories that are just beyond reach. The times that we laughed until our stomachs hurt and the times that I was quiet because I only wanted to say the right thing, the cool thing, to my big brother.

I’m afraid of not being able to explain the relationship. The bond we had the was much more friend than sibling. The fact that the words “we were close” fall flat but that I have no other way to describe it. The fact that I would need to describe it at all.

The fact that people will meet me now but never know him. It doesn’t make sense. There has never been me without him. I don’t think there can be. He defines too much of me.

I’m afraid of not being able to explain him. The fact that he was funny, but that the words “he was funny” do not even come close to justifying the unique brand of funny he was. The fact that he was smart, but that the words “he was smart” cannot begin to do his accomplishments and intellect justice. The fact that “he was a good dad” will never fully convey how much he adored his kid.

I’m losing things. Or maybe I never had them but never needed them because he was always there, reminding me, and his personality spoke for itself.

It was easy to understand all the wonderful things about him when he was here. You met him and you just knew.

But now you can’t meet him, at least on this side of heaven, and I am terrified that I will never have the words to do him justice.

Or even worse, that I will lose the ones I do have.