Books, Grandad and Loss

I’m sitting in the darkened room of my mom’s new condo. Her lovely, airy, just-the-right-size condo where she lives ALONE, without my dad. How is it possible that a year has passed already since we said goodbye to one of the most godly, energetic, full-of-life men that I have ever known? A year? A year of tears, sadness, changes, laughter, new memories, birthdays, holidays, old and new traditions. At every turn there exists both bitter loss and, at the same time, the peace and comfort that can only be found in God’s incredible care.

“I haven’t been bored since the third grade,” Dad used to say, a book (or two) in hand, a project (or two) in the works, and a place (or two) to go.

I found this picture in a stack of old family slides.

“What happened in the third grade?” I asked my mom this week, my heart full of an odd mingled joy and sadness, glad to be together with my family in Michigan but hating the reason for our celebration.

Mom’s eyes slid to the bookshelves adorning the wall in the upstairs bedroom, and she laughed, “It’s probably when he discovered the school library.”

Oh my, that must be it! I can think of dozens of pictures, snapshots on the computer and faded slides in boxes, and hundreds of images, vivid memories, that include my father with a book in his hand.

My high school honors program, yep a book and magazine article tucked in his jacket pocket.

Visiting people at the hospital – Bible in one hand and a book in the other.

The pool, beach or park – there wasn’t a single outing where Dad would venture without one or more books, usually a small tote bag full of reading material with him.

Niece Aydia already shares Grandad's love of reading!

My dad possessed a passion for learning and a library of thousands of books. He could never resist a book sale and was constantly bringing home bags of “treasures” he found at the library sale racks. I truly believe he intended to read ALL of the books on his shelves, if only he could find the time in his incredibly busy, full life.

I remember the distressed sound in his voice when we spoke over the phone while he was in the hospital, “Kath, I can’t seem to concentrate on my book. I can’t even read one of the westerns.”

Are there books in heaven?

A year since we last held his hand, kissed his cheek and said farewell.

Dear Daddy,

I miss you. Your smile reached down to the deep, scared places of my heart. That smile radiated, loud and clearly, “You are my daughter, and I love you.”

Thank you for instilling in me a curiosity and craving for knowledge. Thank you for teaching and learning and modeling a hunger and thirst for the Lord. Thank you for loving my children. My soul hurts for their loss as much as my own.

Sometimes it feels like we can’t go on without you. I can’t remember a time when you and Mom were apart for more than three days. There is an emptiness, by her side, where you should be standing.

I dreamt last month that we were all together. In the dream I kept wondering, “Where were you during that long year when Mom sold the house and moved? Why weren’t you with her? Where did you go?” But the separation was over and you smiled, and I knew I was loved.

I woke up and realized you were gone, and I sobbed and sobbed.

In the quiet moments, later in the day, I realized that dream was a gift; it was a little glimpse of heaven. Eventually we will all be together again. We will no longer ache with loss and sadness. We will be whole and complete, and we will all smile in the radiance of Christ’s glory and presence.

I love you,

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Low-Budget Valentine’s Day

As many of you know, my wife loves to celebrate. It doesn’t take much — Arbor Day, Saint Ignatius’ Day — any excuse will do for festivities. And once she’s managed to make a big deal out of an occasion twice, it is automatically promoted to ‘Tradition’ status.

More and more, I see her Mama in my beautiful Rachel.

Usually we pull out all the stops for Valentine’s Day, but this year, we decided not to spend any money on gifts for each other. Once that unpleasant decision was made, it became easier to agree that the kids ‘could probably do without any special gifts’, too. Being careful with money is always difficult for us.

Although I didn't buy flowers for my Kathy, her Mom bought some beautiful tulips!

At the last minute, both Kathy and I weakened. I bought a large box of Haagen Dazs ice cream bars for the kids, and Kathy spent much of the night making (and printing) Valentines for her favorite five children. After all, it is a Tradition.

David has eyes only for his Valentine.


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Potatoes of Compassion

Whenever Kathy goes out of town, I find myself in a conundrum.

On the one hand, I don’t want her to worry about us. She doesn’t leave us without good reason; I don’t want her to feel that she can’t leave us alone for a couple of days. Also, I am vaguely proud of my survival skills. I married at 26, and before that, I lived off the land (as it were) for many a year. Although you might not guess it from watching me now, I can do laundry, cook (after a fashion) and I frequently dress myself in clothes that don’t violate international fashion treaties.

On the other hand, I want Kathy to feel that we miss her. If we are able to thrive in her absence, it follows (at least in her mind) that we don’t need her. She seems to overlook the way that she makes our house into a home, adds fun and beauty to our lives, and loves us in ways that I cannot even fake.

But then I remember: if we exaggerate our competence, then no one feels sorry for us, and no one makes us meals. As it is, Kathy’s friends look after us when she is gone — shaking their heads at me and muttering to one another, “Those poor children … ”

We're always pretty hungry on AWANA nights.

Tonight, for example, we feasted on creamed corn, mashed potato casserole, a tasty meatloaf and a fruit salad, handed to us by kind friends after AWANA.

No, there’s no profit in being anything other than pathetic.

In any case, I do not begrudge Kathy her travels. Today is the one-year anniversary of her Papa’s passing, from this world to the next. As the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:8:

“We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”

For a year, now, Bill Moore has been with the Lord — one wonders how he has been using that time. How many of his questions have been answered, how many bookshelves has he built, how big is his garden? I do know that we miss him greatly, and look forward to the day when we also can be present with the Lord.

Until then, we’ll eat the potatoes of compassion, and wait for Kathy to come home.


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The Thankful Chair

In my perpetual search for AWANA teaching points, I often review the skits on Skit Guys for something that will resonate with the third-to-fifth graders in the Truth and Training program.

Thinking of what the Bible has to say about thankfulness, I determined early in the year to take special effort to teach the kids the foundational importance of giving thanks to God for His many good gifts. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Church:

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. — I Thessalonians 5:18

So I bought this short video, and I show it from time to time:

Each week, I ask my leaders to pick a volunteer. We set up a special ‘Thankful Chair’ on the stage, and the volunteer sits in the chair, and tells us how and why they are thankful to God.

One week, my heart froze as I saw the girl who was chosen as the volunteer: her father had been killed in a training accident just four weeks before. She came forward and stood beside me, looking a little nervous, but otherwise calm.

My mind raced. “How can I ask this hurting girl what she is thankful for? How can I put her on display in front of her classmates, when her heart must be raw with grief?” I floundered for a way to escape, but found nothing. I realized that this must be God’s doing. “God, please don’t let me cause any further harm,” I prayed.

A way to remember our duty and joy of thanksgiving to God.

So I sat her in the chair, and asked her the standard question: “What are you thankful for?”

She spoke up boldly, with hardly a quaver in her ten-year-old voice. “I’m thankful for a good family. Even though my Dad has died, I still have a family who loves me and takes care of me.”

I hugged her and sent her back to her seat, in awe of her faith and her trust in God. Would that I could be so thankful, in the midst of such loss!


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President’s Day

Today was one of the 8 annual holidays that my company recognizes. It is always a little surprising to me that President’s Day makes the cut of Federal holidays, while Veterans Day does not.

As we talked about possible celebrations, Joshua suggested to me that people should honor the day by quizzing one another with Presidential Trivia.

“Who was the 23rd President?” he challenged, abruptly.

“Um, Martin Van Buren?” I hazarded, wildly.

“Not even close,” Joshua told me. “… but not a bad try. I didn’t even think you knew who Martin Van Buren was.”

“Huh. Imagine, me, not knowing the ‘Red Fox of Kinderhook’? You must be joking.”

The Red Fox, himself

OK, I admit, that last line was added after-the-fact, thanks to the interweb. I’d be hard-pressed to name a dozen presidents outside the ones who have served in my lifetime, truth be told. It might be just me, but I don’t think Joshua’s idea will catch on.

Instead, we spent the day playing computer games, shaving one of our cats*, watching Courageous, reading The Hobbit, and scanning slides. Kathy’s going back to Michigan this week (with Rachel) to grieve with her Mama on the first anniversary of her Dad’s death. We wanted to do as much as a family, together, as we could, since we’ll be fragmented this week. Joshua was away visiting Union in Tennessee over the weekend — it was nice to have a day off when we were all home.

*Not out of cruelty, but for a good reason.

I did come across this photo of Kathy and her Dad on Prom night …

Kathy and her Dad

We miss our Grandad. Our hearts are with Kathy and Mamie as they gather with other family members to remember the passing of Bill Moore, one year ago this week.


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