The post is first in my Facebook feed when I wake this morning. Shared by a family friend is an obituary for a young woman I met and knew briefly as Cassie when she was a girl and teenager. Our families crossed paths when I was a young mom with small children of my own, her mother a season ahead of me.
I am better acquainted with her oldest sister who taught with me at the school back in the day and her oldest brother who was a friend to my youngest brother. Even then, I was so wrapped up in my own newly-minted adult life that I was not engaged with them on a relational level.
Still. there are people whose lives touch yours who feel like family because of the seasons you have shared or the events you have experienced together. This young woman was born into a family that crossed paths with mine during the 90’s and early 00’s. We attended weddings, church services, picnics, and celebrations together. I remember her and her younger sister as the ages of two of my girls now, teen and tween.
It brought great sadness and deep grief to read of her recent death. I learned of her life in her obituary and of her death on the Facebook page set up for medical updates. I am trying to process the depth of loss it is to lose a beloved daughter, sister, wife, and friend so tragically and so young.
It does not make sense to have one with so much life taken this way. Her adult woman eyes looking into the camera show me her mother, her sister, the women I knew. My heart aches for them. I cannot imagine losing my third child, losing a sister. I do not have adequate words for the grief.
Today they will celebrate her life, grieve her death, bury her in the ground. I will be here tending my family as I was during the season when I knew hers. I will grieve from a distance. I will feel vicariously what it would be to lose a dearly loved one unexpectedly in their prime.
To the George family who I know, and all who loved Cassie that I do not know, I am so sorry for the loss of the one you loved so deeply and who loved you so well. It shows in her smile, in the pictures, in the words. May you find great comfort during this difficult day and in the ones that follow.
For those interested, a Go Fund Me is set up here.
Saturday, May 19, is the Hats and Horses Fundraiser out at Cross Keys Equine Therapy. There is still space for you and a friend or several to attend this Preakness-themed event. If you are a last-minute person who waits to see what’s available, wait no longer and hop over here to order your tickets.
Come to think of it, I had better ask Steve if we have ordered ours!
We have attended this event for several years. Once I won the 50/50 raffle which paid for the babysitter hired to tend our houseful of children. Another time, I won a silent auction painting donated by my favorite local artist. Rumor has it she is offering something again this year!
It is always fun to see who attends and to mingle with friends, old and new. There are hats to decorate and silent auction items to browse. There is live music and a cash bar. The bar tender is always handsome and funny. The BBQ is delicious and desserts tempting.
Most important is the money raised to sustain the work of Cross Keys Equine Therapy. Attending this event is a fun way to offer the financial support that is so needed.
You may wonder what happens out at the farm. How do horses help with therapy?
I am glad you asked, because I had an experience at the farm back in January that I would love to share with you.
When engaging with the horse, first get permission. Wait for the horse to come to you and reach out to touch you before touching it. Just like you wouldn’t walk up to a person and begin rubbing their arm, don’t walk up and start petting the horse.
Alicia addresses board members sitting around a table preparing to exit to the fields for an experience with the horses. We are to take some time visioning the work of Cross Keys and think about how we fit into that vision. I take up my spiral-bound journal and walk outside. Our first assignment is to sit and be still.
Walking towards the field with no horses in it, I am redirected kindly to another. I nervously laugh and try not to ascribe deep significance to my faux-pas. It is difficult for me to make a decision and stick with it; to not have someone assign me a place. I carry my pop-up chair to a field with three horses in the distance and sit.
The horses are black, brown, tan. They begin moving in my direction, then stop. Wind whips over me. I settle my heart, not wanting to be rushed in the space. I find it interesting that I am in a field with three horses. What is God doing? I am not a horse person.
My vision keeps tipping to trauma. That theme runs through my story and connects my people. In a month I will commence part 2 of a certificate in story-informed trauma work. I see Cross Keys as a place for healing and hope, recovery of self, a place to engage with what has brought trauma.
Where do I fit? What do I bring?
As I ponder these questions, two horses move closer. They come to me, first the brown then the black. The tan will meet up with me later. I do not yet know this. I feel tears as these powerful animals approach me and nudge me with their noses. In their presence I feel small as I am called to rejoin the others down in the arena.
We gather at the Hope Arena for instructions on part 2. This time some of us will volunteer to enter the ring with the honey-colored horse to experience what the work is like. A therapist and equine specialist facilitate this experience.
I watch the first volunteer engage the horse and do some work. The work is to make a connection with the horse, not to mount it or ride it or do something like that. Just connect. This volunteer courageously engages the experience, following the therapist’s and specialist’s lead. Upon exiting, another volunteer is invited to step in. There is a pregnant pause.
I feel the feeling. You know the one. It’s the standing on the edge of the high dive or the top of the boat house and wanting desperately to both step off and step back. I stepped up and into the ring, terrified. Ambivalence gripped me as I battled desire for more and fear of engagement.
Being so close to a large, powerful animal in the presence of my peers and a therapist and horse specialist was intense. My default is performance, and I wanted to do all of the things right. I wanted to make a connection with the horse which meant she had to move towards me. Because I didn’t check to see, but instinctively I felt her a she.
I began to name what I felt, which was fear. I felt afraid to step in and move closer, but this beautiful creature was inviting me in with her deep brown eyes and golden mane tossed to one side. I decided to trust and engage as myself which meant to walk alongside of her. She drew me in from the edge of the rail where I was lingering and walked with me further into the arena.
I talked with her in this process, naming that it was difficult for me to commit to moving deeper into a space, even here as I ponder where my fit is at the farm. She gently walked with me, leading me to a red pop-up chair further in the arena. Stopping in front of the chair, she tapped her nose down on its seat and stepped aside.
I could have analyzed and excused and come up with all of the reasons why what I felt in my gut was impossible, but instead I chose to stay with the feeling of invitation to sit and be. I sat down. The horse stood beside me. All was still. A cat jumped into my lap.
The ridiculousness of that final touch broke the spell, and laughter ensued from both me and my husband before spreading to the others. Anyone who knows me knows that I am NOT the type of person who has cats randomly jump into their lap, nor do I invite that from cats. This was clearly a moment.
During the debrief with therapist and horse specialist, I named what was stirring inside. Issues of trust, fear, commitment, place, and rest all were current and all were showing up in the presence of the horse. Her engagement with me was completely different than with those who went before and after. It was unique to my need.
I experienced the beauty of equine-assisted therapy, if only briefly. It is the ability of the horse to sense and bring to the present space what is stirring in the client’s world. It is a therapist helping to name what is happening with the client and a horse specialist naming the horse’s role in the process.
It is beautiful and healing. When I wonder how it would feel to move in from the edge of a space and take my place in the room, I remember walking alongside a horse as she moved me further in from the edge. I feel the invitation to sit and belong just as I am. And just in case I doubt, I feel that cat on my lap and the laughter in my heart and know that it is real.
Please consider joining me THIS Saturday out at the farm. I would love to catch up and dream and imagine more with you. Tickets are here.
Shortly after the experience, the girl who is not a horse girl found a picture of herself as a girl wearing her favorite shirt. She feels this when she looks at the picture. That was my favorite shirt! You can see joy in all of the eyes.
I am going to be curious about that girl. Maybe she is a horse girl, after all!
It’s after 10:00 on Saturday night, and I’m picking up American Girl dolls and accessories from an elaborate set up in the TV room. They have been there for over a week.
I remember the intricacy involved and time it takes to set up and orchestrate proper play, and I want my youngest to have that freedom for as long as possible. As a result, we have all been navigating over and around tiny dishes and clothing and furniture and dolls, so many dolls. It is time to clean them up.
There are bins to contain everything, but Little Mae is clearly avoiding the task.
I warn her that if she doesn’t pick up, then I will do it for her.
Ok, Fine! She calls over her shoulder as she runs upstairs to play in her room with a sister before bed.
This is how I find myself here, and I do not even take a picture, though the thought crossed my mind. What if this is the last time?
It really could be now, unlike times before when there was always another sister or sibling next in line.
I allow myself to hold the memory of the scene in my heart as I sit in the midst of the play circle, paralyzed. I am transported back to my young self who desired to keep her world ordered, a seemingly impossible task with six younger siblings coming behind and messing things up.
I understand now Little Mae’s avoidance. It is overwhelming. In my overwhelm, I release perfectionism and just place things where they fit. Like with like, mostly. There is fun in unpacking surprises when the bins are brought back out.
Whenever that may be.
My husband works on his own late-night project in the kitchen, just off of the room where I sit. I gain momentum and snap tops on full bins, stacking them, preparing to move them back out to the kitchen set.
Music plays from the speaker in the kitchen. . . Changes . . .and the tears well in my eyes. My heart already feels fragile, and now I am packing and stacking and storing away toys that are nearing their expiration date.
Doubt creeps in and over and around my heart as I question my choice to allow the girls to spend so much birthday and Christmas money over the years on dolls and tiny dresses and miniature shoes and furniture.
I remember and question my own rush of anticipation, stalking Cyber Monday deals and trolling secondhand shops for unique tiny things.
I find a paper rolled and taped into a tiny cone shape with pompoms glued on it for cotton candy and ice cream sandwiches cut from craft foam and the tiny empty plastic bottles that held beads from a recent craft kit and smile.
There were only two visits I was able to make before the holidays. Mondays in Bridgewater afforded me time to stop by after a weekly meeting with friends. I planned to return this week. Back to our regularly scheduled program already in progress.
I was not prepared for the news.
It is easy to check mail on my phone, so when a ministry team message came through with only his name in the heading, I opened it instantly. Sometimes things can be too instant, leaving a person raw in the wake of the suddenness.
I thought I knew what it would say.
There would be a health update, maybe a way to serve the family. There might be specifics of how the disease was progressing or a general update to keep us informed as to how to pray for the man who continued to pray for us from the confines of his automated recliner.
My breath caught in my chest as I read that my dear friend’s breath had left him in the night as he slept.
Gone was the man who sat across from me for so many Stephen Ministry meetings, his faithfulness and genuine care and concern for people radiating from his face. He held many of my prayer requests close and would ask how God was working in my life, right up until our last visit together.
A fun fact is that he had attended the church my husband grew up in when they both lived in Northern Virginia. He remembered my husband as a boy and would laugh and tell stories of him. We had a connection.
Above all he loved the Lord and wanted to serve him in all that he did. Our last visit together was full of stories of days gone by, such as being roped in invited to help with the Awana program at his church when he was a younger man and how he cared for the kids who were difficult, understanding that they were the ones who needed love the most.
There were many times that he went out of his way to be present or show up for people. He sought out the hurting and humbly reached out with a kind word or thought.
He encouraged me with his words and his steadfast faith in God. He encouraged me by attending worship whenever he could, right up until his final weeks when it became difficult. I remember the last Sunday that I saw him from stage, sitting in his chair in the back. My heart caught in my chest and my eyes welled up, much as they did when I read that he died.
Bob is in heaven now. I don’t know how it works, but I am confident that he is present with the Lord. This song comes to mind as I sit with my tears remembering my friend. I think it captures his heart.
It sounds dramatic. The final day of 2017! Here we are. Here I am.
The 2018 word post is in progress, meaning, I should probably get that thing written. The thoughts in my head sound more eloquent than those coming out through the keys beneath my fingers. I escape into cyberspace and Facebook, reminding me of why it’s a good idea that I am breaking from it in the new year.
I have done so in the past and wrote about it here.
I have processed the feeling of being unfriended here.
I most recently pondered the idea of remaining connected here.
The final morning of 2017 found me in and out of the service at church, feeling big feelings and facing hard realities. There were tears of this kind. There was a trip to the ladies’ room to fallback and regroup. As I looked in the mirror while washing my hands, the eyes of an inquisitive little face topped with a head of red curls met mine.
She smiled tentatively. I smiled back through the sad while wiping mascara streaks from my cheeks and commenting on the dilemma of wearing makeup while crying. We connected for a sweet moment.
I want to cling to the sweetness of innocence and the hope of new beginnings even in the midst of what feels so hard. It is easy to default to anger and let that be what spills out when it is the grief that beckons.
So this final day, these final hours bring a mixture of both grief and joy, laughter and tears, hope and sorrow. I look forward to celebrating tonight with family and watching the performers in my crew do their things, and at the end of the night raising a glass to toast all that is and that was and all that is to come.
The first weekend of November found me at a lake house with my friend Angela for what has become a fall ritual ~ Introvert’s Weekend Away.
It is a great space, wherever we land, of reading, writing, thinking, processing, and just being. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we are quiet. We do things together, mostly taking walks and eating meals. We do things apart, like all of the other stuff.
My space at the table looked like this for most of the weekend.
It was lovely to be able to leave works in progress and come back to them.
Last year I was working on work for module 2 of the certificate program and had a strict agenda of reading and writing to complete. This year it was fun to just play with and in the space.
The misty day could not keep me from swinging to the music in my ear buds, soaring high into the air. Little did I know I was creating a safe space for my soul. There was solitude and beauty and much-needed calm before the storm that was brewing.
It was one word written in green marker on a piece of paper in tidy handwriting.
The paper, crumpled and left on the middle of the table was answer enough. Clearly no.
Bedtime had arrived. Time to put the game and tea cups and ice cream dishes away and head upstairs for teeth brushing and cuddle. The younger first, then the older. Hence, the note.
If the younger leveraged her cards right, she would get some coveted Lego time with the older. Things were not looking hopeful, according to the crumpled paper I cleared from the table.
I gathered it up, released my need to save it for posterity, and carried it to my bathroom to throw it in the trash can. That is when the tears, then sobs, began. I collapsed onto the toilet seat and cried.
They come easily, lately, the tears, at all the wrong times.
These were for approaching endings. For this particular ending that felt so close. The ending of Legos.
Three years ago another older sister bought a large Lego set for her birthday. It now sits in a bin in the basement. I know it won’t be long before this older sister will lose interest, if she has not already.
Time is short. It is so long.
I weep for final endings. There was always another on the horizon. I weep for missed opportunities. I weep for a little girl inside who does not know why she is crying but cannot seem to stop.
I need to go upstairs to read, but the piano calls me to sit and calm my heart. I begin to play.
Footsteps run down the stairs, and before I can begin to lecture, words fly from an excited little sister’s mouth.
We’re going to play Legos for cuddle!
Feet run up the steps and a bedroom door slams shut. I hear laughter and excited voices behind it.
Playing Legos for cuddle means a few minutes for me to write instead of read, though somehow I think an older sister will finagle a few pages of the Hobbit from me anyway, and I will concede because of Legos and the gift of a little more time.
I am blessed with the gift of built-in best friends. Many moons ago, my fourth little friend was brought home from the hospital. That gave me two younger sisters and two younger brothers by the time I was eight years old.
When Alex began to talk, he called me teacher. That is the family folk-lore. I am not surprised, because I played school with all of my siblings and stuffed animals. I probably roped him in as a nursery student before he could talk. By the time he was four or five, I had him well-trained, as seen in these photos from a school picture day photo shoot I did with my class one summer.
I did individual photos, hands properly crossed over a book, most likely a Bible for that extra spiritual touch.
I took a class picture, as well.
Clearly I was inspired by the real school picture of this little preschooler.
Fast forward a few decades and lots of stories to this summer when Alex brought his entire family from Bolivia to the States. We were on the same continent for three months, though not all of that time was spent in the same location.
It was so fun to catch up and connect. It felt like always. Just really good. Like this good.
There is so much love on our faces. So much contentment in this captured moment. Shalom.
Alex was ten when I left for college. One of my favorite letters from that season reads
Dear Julie, I love you. I miss you. We are still brother and sister. Love, Alex
We are still brother and sister.
This summer we took a trip with our mom and teenage girls to visit family in Ohio and Michigan. It was such a sweet time of laughter and conversation. And after this goodbye picture was snapped, I climbed into my car and sobbed down the driveway as I drove from Ohio back home to Virginia.
Happy Birthday, Alex! I love and miss you so much! I am thankful for your life. I am thankful that we are brother and sister.
I do this thing with birthdays. On a particular child’s birthday I stop, subtract their age from mine and their siblings, and reflect on the numbers. It helps me process more fully a life that has been so full.
I did this recently when my third turned 22. I was reminded that at her birth I was 24, the same age as my firstborn right now, and that her siblings were 2 and 1. It put more of my story into perspective and gave me a tangible space in time to inhabit while processing it.
Today is different.
This Saturday marks seven years since I heard the news that Brian Carderelli was killed. Not only is there a number but also the feeling of the actual day.
That Saturday morning had been a difficult one. Seven years ago I was 39. It was the season of peak dependence of dependents in our family, as the children were 17, 16, 15, 11, 7, 5, 4, and 2.
My firstborn was out of the country. The others were home at ages where they could be left alone for brief periods of time together. This had happened ~ Steve and I left them alone to go out briefly ~ and we returned to them acting like siblings who had been left alone together, some of them in charge, some of them little.
It was a mess of feelings and emotions from everyone that triggered deep feelings and emotions in me. I had often been left alone in charge of younger siblings. I had not yet begun to deal with younger me and all of the turbulence I felt inside.
Intense emotion spilled over and out and into my journal as I disappeared into my room to process a pile of pain that had nowhere else to go. After venting, I fell asleep.
I woke, and Steve had me read an email that Brian Carderelli had been in an ambush and was presumed dead. I remember sitting at the computer desk and going numb. It just couldn’t be true. Brian was a friend and neighbor whose presence in our life came at a time when a huge gift of grace was needed.
He often gave the teenagers rides to youth group. He would wave and smile at me from his car when he stopped at the sign on our street corner. I was usually outside supervising littles riding tricycles or drawing with sidewalk chalk. He was supposed to be coming home from his travels soon. How could he just be dead?
It was confirmed.
I cried a lot.
My kids are sad. I hurt. I hate killing and death . . . I am afraid. overwhelmed. hurt. So tense and overwhelmed which manifests in anger and panic. I don’t want to live in a hate-filled world.
These were some of the words written in my journal immediately after the news. Before any real processing began.
I took food to friends, because that is what I knew to do at the time. Bring food and sit with.
Seven years later, the day feels similar, yet different. I am 46. My children are 24, 23, 22, 18, 14, 12, 11, 9. Half have reached legal adult status. For those left behind, life marches on.
Still we remember. Still we grieve loss. Seven years since.
Choosing to leave my phone behind, I climbed to the middle of the back bench seat in the family minivan. Silencing the what if’s in my head surrounding all of the things that I could possibly need it for, the answer remained leave it behind.
I don’t even need it for pictures.
Late Father’s Day afternoon, Steve packed a cooler and announced his desire to visit Riven Rock Park. With seven of us going, the van was full. I chose to give my front seat to the eighteen year old who had spent many years wedged in the very back middle between the car seats of younger siblings.
Everyone scurried to find swimsuits, water shoes, and towels. Transitioning from house to vehicle was a challenge. While moving beyond struggling with car seats, diaper bags, and sippy cups, we now wrangle electronic devices, headphones, and seating arrangements. Somehow we survived the final painful push, and the house and van doors were shut and locked.
Upon arrival at Riven Rock, the van was emptied and the water filled with laughter and voices of siblings. Sunshine poured through the trees, and shadows lengthened. I walked down to the water, stepping gingerly from rock to rock, hoping to achieve my goal of staying dry as I meandered across the top of the water.
Meandering took me back to shore and up the length of the gravel drive, deeply engaged in thought. Without an electronic device to distract and pull me into what other people were doing or to announce to other people what I was doing, I was left with myself. This felt uncomfortable and unsettling. What am I doing?
It’s the question I get most often, these days. What are you doing now? or What are you doing next?
The answer is I just don’t know.
Walking and wrestling with the unknown, I felt gravel crunch under my feet and heard birds sing in the trees. I asked Jesus to meet me in this space with what I needed, not even knowing what I needed myself. I walked and watched.
My eyes caught sight of something blue and papery on the ground. Once my mind registered that it was a butterfly, I thought it was wounded or dead. Closer examination revealed that it was resting while slowly moving its wings up and down. I stood still, breathing with the movement of the wings in, out, in, out.
The butterfly was not in a hurry to get anywhere. My mind raced to regret that I had not brought my phone to capture this moment of breathing with a blue butterfly that was being so still for so long without an injury. Then my focus shifted to capturing the present moment of stillness with it and reminding myself that it was enough to be just me with the butterfly without the entire world watching or even knowing about it.
The butterfly remained still before finally flitting upward and away towards the trees. I stood in awe and gratitude for what I had experienced in the moment. The practice of breathing and stillness and presence with a beautiful creature clothed in a color that I had never seen before was a gift.
Moments later the blue butterfly returned, alighting just in front of my feet. I peered down closely, trying to memorize its brilliant coloring and beautiful shape so that I could look it up and identify it later. Again, I matched my breath to the slow movement of its wings.
Is this what you had for me today, Jesus? The reminder to slow down and breathe? The knowledge that it is enough just being with myself and with you? The practice of stillness?
Suddenly the butterfly flew up from the ground, touched my forehead and flew away. I stood there stunned. It felt just as a butterfly kiss should feel, light and feathery and stunning. It felt like a butterfly blessing.
I was stunned and stood there in awe.
The butterfly returned a third, and final time. It landed again on the ground in front of me, just as my husband was walking up from the water. I imagine it looked odd to him to find me standing strangely still staring at the ground. I pointed at the blue butterfly, and he was able to glimpse it before the beautiful creature flew up and disappeared into the trees.
There is no picture. (The one at the top of this blog is a Monarch butterfly from my files.) There is no documentation. I cannot even identify the butterfly correctly from the images I find online. All that remains is the image in my mind. That has to be enough. I will trust that it is enough.