On Friday, it was Betty the Bookkeeper's birthday.
The finance dept (3 people) and the IT dept (4 people) who all live on the third floor of our building, went for out for lunch to celebrate. They invited me to join them.
I am financially illiterate. And special needs when it comes to IT.
But, in an effort to make new friends at work, I accepted the invite.
I am the new girl. It's lunch time at high school. I've been through the cafeteria line and I'm standing in the doorway with my tray of chicken dippers and fries wondering which table to sit at. There's the jocks, the brains, the rebels, the cheerleaders, the student leaders, the international students and there? Over there, right in the center? Are the computer and math whiz kids. And they're the ones that make room for me and call me over.
I am welcomed to the 'third floor gang' by the mostly quiet group, and then they asked me to pray for the meal and for Betty. Out loud, at the centre table of a busy restaurant.
I lost sight of my comfort zone about a year ago. And even though I'm on the other side of 50, I still feel like a 15 year old.
I got back to the office an hour later craving a nap. It's exhausting, yo? All this smiling and talking and playing nice and praying in public. But yay. New friends in the building.
After work, I grabbed my cameras, loaded them with the batteries that had been charging all day, put empty memory cards in both of them, then drove down to the Murrayville Hall where preparations were underway for Cassie and Kate's Black and White 16th Birthday Party. Taking a deep breath, and praying for courage and divine assistance with the whole photography thing, I walked into the back door of the Hall. Just me and two cameras. Not having a bloody clue what I'm doing.
I start taking pics.
And chat with the parents who are setting things up.
I feel old. Wrinkled. Fat. And ill-equipped to capture anything.
So I pray again.
I find the birthday girls, and suggest we go outside for a few pics.
They are eager and excited and happy to smile for me.
They pose and laugh and flirt with the lens and this is a big day and both my cameras stop working and because I don't have my glasses on I can't read what the error message is and I pray again.
Eventually it sorts itself out and we take a few more pics and then it's 7 pm and their guests are arriving and I try to take group shots, or inside-dancing-in-the-dark pics and by 9 pm, I am the only person in the room not wearing black and white, so I slip out and go to IGA to buy some groceries for supper and some ingredients for baking. I am craving vegetables, so I make a stir fry. It is rare that my body tells me it wants something green, so when it does, I try to honor that request. Sadly this happens exactly when I don't have time to be chopping and dicing a pound of vegetables.
By 11, I've finished eating, and all the photos have downloaded. I start baking a dessert for the funeral, and begin the editing process when Max walks in looking for something to eat. He was not impressed with how little I had by way of left-overs.
Before I head up to bed, I post all the photos to facebook because I KNOW, truly, I know, how important it is to relive a big happy occasion the very next day. Those girls were going to want to look at photos in the morning, and I was going to make dang sure there was going to be something for them to look at.
(Drew looks handsome, no?):
Danica and her older sister:
(By the way, the 'pink' birthday girl is Danica's younger sister.)
I get into bed at about 2 am.
Clint arrives at around 5.
We all get up at 8:30 am to prepare for Justin's funeral.
My heart is heavy and I wonder if I'll cry.
I haven't been able to since December despite many excellent opportunities. But I pack kleenex just in case.
I go pick up Danica and Drew, and even though we are half an hour early, we end up in the last available seats, in the back row. As time ticks on, more and more chairs are added to the back of the sanctuary, then in the foyer, then in the aisles, and still more people arrive.
Sue has asked me to take photos of the event. Pictures of everything; the church, the folks who speak, the worship band, the friends and family who came to say goodbye. I have two cameras in my purse, with two different lenses as well as my detachable flash. I am paralysed. I can't do this. Not from the back of the church. Not with a flash. Terry is sitting beside me and she removes my flash and adjusts all the settings in manual mode. "Here," she gently and confidently says. "You'll be able to capture at least part of the service without the flash going off..." I told her I loved her and was so thankful she was my friend. I take two photos of the people across the aisle from me. They are grieving and not welcoming of the intrusion. These are not 16 year old girls happy for the attention. I take a photo of the front of the church and the shutter sounds like a canon in the quiet church. I start to cry. There is no way I can do this for her. Sue is my friend, and she's asked me to do ONE thing. And I know I cannot do it. I cannot walk around during the service, like a wedding photographer and capture the event. And I can't walk up and down the aisles capturing pictures of those who are grieving. I can't. I can't. I can't.
I didn't even pray about it.
I didn't even ask God to give me courage or strength.
I had reached the limit of what I can do with my camera.
I put them away and let sorrow wash over me.
And then the coffin came down the aisle. And there was Andrew. And right behind, was Sue. She looked so fragile and broken. So overcome. So shattered. I am thankful she had Phil right beside her. They held each other up as they followed Justin to the front. I started to pray for her, and never stopped for the rest of the service. I can't imagine. I just can't imagine the pain. The unbelievable pain of losing a child.
I see Mike and Karen up ahead of me, and I am gutted for them. Their 25 year-old Kevin died last fall, and here they are. How do people do it? How do we keep carrying on in the midst of such devastating loss? How do grieving parents cope? So thankful that we know, WE KNOW that Kevin and Justin are in heaven, happy and whole, and completely thrilled to be there. SO thankful that this is exactly where God wants them to be AT EXACTLY the perfect time. THIS? Was part of His plan - and Justin and Kevin are in complete agreement of the perfection of that plan. When they saw Jesus they said, "Whoa. Great idea. Perfect timing. Thanks."
The service was real and honest and filled with moments of laughter and tears and stories. Lots of stories. Justin was gifted with a dangerous sense of adventure, a wild, rebellious spirit and a passion for evangelism. He loved to tell people about Jesus, boldly and unabashedly. He loved people. As I listened to his family and friends talk about him, both the good and the not-so-good, I was reminded of David from the Bible. Someone who was after God's own heart, but kept making a mess of things as well. Oh Justin... we have so much to learn from you.
From Justin's journal August 5, 2012:
"I am tired of walking in circles for the past six years, I need to be taken by the hand and led out of this desert. Please Father renew me, keep me, and use me for your will."
After the service we all gathered in the parking lot as the coffin was loaded into the hearse. Oy. The sadness of saying goodbye. Justin, you are leaving a huge hole behind.
As folks filed into the church basement, I wandered over to where my kids were standing with their friends and just stood beside them. Max looked me in the eyes and said, "this is tough, eh?" My eyes filled up and I nodded. He took a few steps towards me and gave me a hug. Then he just pulled me in and gave me a bear hug. Clint noticed and I could see his brain processing this activity. He decided to join in the hug. Drew, not to be left out, threw his arms around all of us. In public. In front of friends and strangers. First time ever, in the history of me being a mom has this happened. It was kinda wonderful. Thanks, Justin.
The church basement was filled with hundreds and hundreds of peoples. I knew a good many of them. By now, I had made peace about not taking photos. We were a crowd of mourners who had red-rimmed eyes and swollen-from-crying noses.
I talked to people.
Lots of people.
And got hugged about a gazillion times.
After an hour or so, the line up around Phil and Sue had subsided, so I went over.
"Thanks for taking pictures," she said as she hugged me. "You have no idea how much that means to me."
I started to cry again. "Oh Sue. I'm so sorry. I just couldn't do it. It's all too raw to capture..."
Just before I left, Andrew came over and gave me a hug too. "Thanks, Mrs. O for taking pictures today."
Ten minutes later, six of us and our luggage squished into Sandra's van and headed south to Seattle for the Chris Tomlin concert. Sue was supposed to be with us. We'd bought our tickets months ago - we'd both been looking forward to this weekend for weeks. It was just So. Very. Sad.
As is usual for us, we encountered unexpected traffic issues. And as per usual, we missed the first hour of the concert. We walked in during this song:
We were in the upper section. Ten thousand worshippers were singing along. It was amazing and wonderful and life giving and exactly what my soul needed.
This is why.
Why we can carry on despite our big sadnesses.
Because we believe there is more. More than just what we can see and touch.
And because when we are depleted and hurting and overcome, we have a family of believers who stand beside us. Who pray for us. Who believe for us. Who hold us up. Who drop off meals.
If you ever get the opportunity to attend a Chris Tomlin concert, go. (Unless you're an 18 year old boy named Drew. Because he? Was not moved. Or impressed. Silly boy.)
Tears flowed through most of the concert. Two hours of being filled up to overflowing. It was every kind of awesome you could imagine.
How great is our God?
Kari Jobe was the opening act, which we missed. But she was back for the encore, and this song? Was also the last song earlier in the day at Justin's service. Goose bumps. And when all those names for God were flashing on the screens, I unravelled.
Lamb of God.
God is big. And real. And personal. And He loves us. And He loves Justin. And Sue. And He knows what happened last Saturday night when Justin died. It was not a surprise to Him. It was part of a good and perfect plan.
The concert ended at 10.
The plan was to go to the Cheesecake Factory to have desssert.
TWO HOURS later we were still in the parking garage, waiting to exit. We parked about 25 car lengths away from the exit, but WOW. Downtown traffic was jammed and no one was going anywhere.
Once we finally got out, it took almost another hour to go the ten miles back to our hotel.
(This was not a good way to end a long day.
Drew, Danica and I shared a hotel room, with Drew sleeping on the pull out, and Danica and I sleeping together on the king-size bed. Oh YES, this was a huge issue for me. In the past 15 years I've only shared a bed with another person once, and she was a very deep sleeper. THIS? Was a whole new level of intimacy. For me.
I warned her that I snore. Loudly. And gave her some earplugs.
"I'm a pretty heavy sleeper," she said confidently. "I'll be fine."
I waited til both Drew and Danica were fast asleep before I got ready for bed. By 2:30 am I was exhausted, so I carefully crawled onto the edge of my side of the bed, covered myself with the top sheet I'd brought from home, faced away from her, and fell asleep in seconds.
At 7, I woke myself up and I just knew I'd been snoring. Loudly. I was aware of my open mouth. So I closed it, then jammed my hand underneath to hold it in place. I figured if I could keep my mouth closed, then maybe no sound would come out. I woke up at 7:30 and realized my mouth was open again. And again at 8. At 8:30, Danica got up and had a shower.
I was too embarrassed to ask her if I snored, but apparently when her and Drew met my friends in the lobby, they asked. And she politely said, she had heard me but had fallen back to sleep easily.
We spent the day sitting in traffic. (Seriously. I will never complain about our highway system again.) Plus we shopped. Alderwood Mall. Gag. I was done (2 pairs of shoes, make up/skin care products, and an eyebrow threading) in half an hour. Drew and Danica only got 1/5th of the mall done in 2 hours.
It was Clint's birthday on Sunday, so once we crossed the border, and dropped off my friends, the three of headed over to the Keg.
Yes, in 48 hours, I attended three birthday gatherings, a funeral and a concert. The skin under my eyes was sagging so far down, I just tucked it into my bra with my boobs. My emotions had run amok. And I'd only slept 5 hours each night.
While we're waiting for our meals, Clint turns to me and says, "Are you depressed or something?"
Me: No, just a bit tired and wrung out from an emotional weekend.
Clint: Are you sure?
Clint: THEN CLEAN YOUR FRIDGE. What is with that? It's fricken gross. When's the last time you cleaned it? You sure you're OK? Because even I can manage to keep my fridge looking better than yours.
Conversation meandered all over the place and at one point I mentioned that Danica and I had reached a new level of intimacy, sharing a bed n'all.
Clint, whips his head around and says to Drew: (while motioning towards me) She snore?
Drew: Oh yeah.
Clint: Like usual?
Drew: Uh huh.
Clint looks at Danica.
Danica: I tried putting the earplugs in the first time she woke me up, but I guess I didn't do it right, they fell out.
Clint: you need noise cancelling earplugs. Nothing else will work.
Danica: I just looked at her in amazement. I couldn't believe she could make that much noise and not wake herself up.
Clint: It's a mystery.
Danica: No, really. I've never heard anyone be that loud while they slept before. Ever.
How many deeply felt emotions can one person experience in a weekend? How many emotions are there, even? Because I am positive that I felt THEM ALL.
Let it be know, from this day forward, I will never again, on this earth, during this lifetime, share a bedroom with anyone. Ever. Ever again. Forever. And ever. Amen.
Three things I'm thankful for:
1. The Priebe family. All of them. Your love for each other, and your faith in God is beautiful and inspiring and an example to thousands of onlookers just what it looks like to be a Christian family. Flawed, forgiven and free.
We will never know the full, long-reaching impact of Justin's life, but I do know that the service you prepared for him, honored who he was, what he believed and why he was so beloved. Thank you for sharing his story with those of us who needed to hear it.
2. Songwriters and singers. Actors and film makers. Writers and editors. Designers and artists. Our lives are richer and fuller because you share your craft and passion with us.
3. Julie and my mom.