Friday, March 26, 2010

Golf, Grief, and God Stamps

In case you were wondering, golf and grief do not mix (see previous post for why this would be a question). I was wondering if the golf trip over my and Dana’s anniversary (March 20) would be a distraction or if the golf would cosmically stink. Unfortunately, it was the latter. My golf partners and friends David, Ethan and Scott were more than patient and gracious. The phrase of the trip: “We’re just helping you survive this weekend.” Which they did.

With the support of these great friends as well as the encouragement of the folks hosting the event, I also received a couple more gracious stamps from God—assurance that He is with all of us in this journey. On Saturday morning, THE anniversary day, I took a walk on the beach (yes, we were golfing along the ocean). I didn’t know what kind of walk it would be. I thought it might be reflective, or hopeful, or maybe restorative. I didn’t expect it to be doubled-over wail crying. The distance between the anniversary of our wedding day and the way things are now is simply an unbearable gap. So, I sort of scuffled along the beach.

At some point I simply said, “Okay Bear, get ahold of yourself.” This led me to walk a stretch trying to simply be thankful. That worked for awhile, but it would go something like this: “Thank you God for 30 years of friendship and 17 incredible years of marriage…17 great years…17 years…only 17…why only 17!!!” And then I would have to regroup. Finally, and knowing it was time to get ready for golf, I found myself declaring this statement of resolve: “I will live this day in gratitude.” I stretched out my arms, I turned toward the sea, and then I saw 4 pelicans skimming the water toward me in the exact same arm stretch. If you’ve ever seen pelicans do this, you know what I mean. Thank you God.

As I walked back toward the beach access steps, I thought, “It sure would be nice to see a deer right now, or a rainbow.” The deer of course is out of the question on the beach and it was a “severe clear” morning. No chance for a rainbow. Then my mind recalled a note I received from my friend Lisa this past January. Her husband Jerry passed away suddenly this past August after a battle with a virus. They were in Florida to leave on a cruise with Lisa’s family. Her note was in response to my writings on rainbows and deer God-stamps. She commented on how God uses “tangibles” to assure us of His presence. For her it was dolphins and “angel formations” in the clouds. She and Jerry loved to watch for dolphins on their beach vacations. And while she cared for him in Florida, she would take walks on the beach and dolphins (along with angel cloud formations) would make “unusual” appearances at just the right time.

As soon as Lisa’s dolphin God-stamp entered my mind I thought, “Now seeing a dolphin right now would sure be…” I turned to the sea…and there they were. First I saw one. Then I asked God for a confirmation to be sure I wasn’t making it up. Then I saw another, and another. All three were making perfect, smooth “wheelhouse” movements in the waves. I laughed. I actually laughed. And then I clapped and said to no one around, “Nicely done.”

When you think about it, dolphins are the deer of the beach.

And then, later that day (anniversary day, remember) as we were playing golf, on or around hole 12, I heard bells. At first I thought they might simply be bells from a community carillon and I dismissed them (so that I could try to salvage a golf round and not be a basket case). Then I noticed they were playing “The Old Rugged Cross.” These were definitely church bells. On the golf course. Beside the ocean. I finished the hole, pretty much in tears. I basket-cased my way through the next par 3and then dedicated the drive on the next hole to Dane. It was perfect. It was pretty much my only good drive of that day, and maybe the best of the weekend for me.

(For an explanation on the significance of deer and church bells, you may want to view this post:

Stay tuned for more to come from this past weekend.

And by the way, Dana's mascot picking strategy would have picked the Northern Iowa PANTHERS upset over the Number 1 Kansas cartoon-like JAYHAWKS. However, she probably would have picked the UNLV Runnin' REBELS to beat the PANTHERS in Round 1 (rebels always win…But UNLV isn't a southern rebel, it’s a wannabe rebel from Nevada. So she may have gone with the predatory cat on that one).

Love to all,

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Brackets and Anniversaries

I’m just going to say it. My and Dana’s wedding anniversary is this Saturday, March 20. (Thus, the purple tulips above.) Of all the dates, of all the firsts, of all the obstacles to overcome, this one is looming to be the hardest. And I think it will be the hardest from now until the day I get to join Dane in heaven. March 20 represents so much. It was the most perfect (if anything can be “most perfect”) wedding day that anyone could ever enjoy. It was the culmination (and launching) of an incredible love story (more on that in subsequent posts).

And it was in the middle of March Madness.

But back to March 20. That date rings more true than my own birthday. I developed a warm affinity to that date because it was the day I got to bring into my life the only person I ever really wanted to spend the rest of my life with. There was hardly a day in our marriage that I didn’t think “I can’t believe I got to marry Dana.” Because of all my years of “unrequited love,” Dana jokingly occasionally commented that she hoped I never experienced “buyer’s remorse.” Not a chance. That comment was always followed up with the observation that we have one of the top five loves of all time.

I’m actually going to be in Palm Coast, FL, on March 20…playing in (and speaking at) a golf fund raising event for the National Christian College Athletic Association, a great group of folks. And I’m heading down there with some good friends: Scott, David and David’s son Ethan. So the golf (which is near the beach) will either be a good distraction, or I will cosmically stink at playing.

Back to March Madness.

While I’m not a bracket maniac (though I am a casual enthusiast), I did casually mention on Day 5 of our honeymoon (in Charleston, SC, perfect honeymoon spot) the idea of having some basketball on in the background one evening (this would have been Thursday). As you might expect, this wasn’t entirely understood, and I didn’t press it. Through the years we joked about the parallel between our wedding date and “the brackets” (as Dane referred to the tournament). Dana was never a sports person, but over the past few years began to embrace “the brackets.” In fact, three years ago she and I were our own “group” on the CBS bracket web site. The next year we expanded to include a few family members. I can’t tell you how much fun we had in filling out brackets, especially when rank and records were NOT the primary criteria, but rather mascots and colors. So, as a tribute to Dane, and a nod the “the brackets” we’ll all be seeing for the next few weeks, I give you Dana’s NCAA bracket selection criteria:

1. Anything with a rebel mascot (as in the South's Gonna Rise Again) was always a win;
2. Warrior-types beat just about anybody, except of course, rebels.
3. Devils/demons were always losers;
4. After a rebel, any kind of cat was a win;
5. Real-like animals trumped cartoon-like animals (like the Kansas Jayhawk).
6. Birds are usually losers unless it is a bird of prey;
7. The food chain was often employed for animal mascot match ups
8. If a mascot was indeterminate (a Zag??), it usually didn't stand a chance.
9. In case of a draw regarding criteria, it might come down to some sensible reasoning between mascots: A Badger will eat a Buckeye (to my chagrin); or even school colors (her preference).

I will appreciate your thoughts and prayers for this March 20 (and wouldn’t you know, it’s a Saturday). Meanwhile, God continues to be close to the brokenhearted. Psalm 34 rings true.

More soon, and love to all,


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Both Sides Now

Since the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, I’ve had a song going through my mind---it was the background song to one of the skaters. After a couple “phone-a-friend” and “e-mail a friend” efforts, I learned the song was “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell. It figures; Joni Mitchell was one of Dane’s fave artists and writers; she even has a Joni Mitchell Pandora radio station. A poetic song, its tune and lyrics have been my theme over these past few weeks.

The premise of the song is a commentary on my life right now: what Joni once saw as beauty, she now sees as pain. In the opening stanza about clouds, she writes that while she once saw “bows and flows of angel hair; and ice cream castles in the air; and feather canyons everywhere,” she now sees that “now they only block the sun; they rain and snow on everyone.”

As I’ve sought to “run toward the fire” these past few weeks, I feel like I have experienced both sides now of some of my and Dana’s treasured experiences: beach, mountains, skiing, and Jeni’s ice cream.

I was in Montana last week for a ski week with our good friends Kay and Randy. What made it harder was the fact that it was a trip Dana and I had on the calendar and would have done together. She had even scheduled it so that we could participate in the mountain’s “Dine and Ski” event---eating dinner at the summit house and skiing down by the light of the full moon (that night it was a full moon through some light cloud cover; the pix below is the next night, which was full moon through severe clear). This was something Dane had done and desperately wanted me to experience. So Kay, Randy, Brandi (Kay’s daughter) and I did the event---as a tribute to Dane and as a “we must press on” exercise for us. As we were at the top of the mountain enjoying a great meal I was overwhelmed by the fact that I am a blessed man: to have such great friends to journey with, friends who hurt right along with me. In fact, Kay pretty much wail-cried all the way down the mountain; you’ll have to read her take on that. I’ll figure out how to link to a document or simply paste it in at some point.

I also wanted to be sure we had some Jeni’s ice cream in Montana to help us celebrate Dane, the discoverer of Jeni’s for us and one of Jeni’s biggest fans. Through the ordering process I spoke on the phone to one of their representatives, Alli. For some reason I shared the back story behind this order (how Jeni’s played a big role in this journey). Alli later e-mailed me that she was touched by the story and had shared it with Jeni, who was also touched. Wow. We made it to the top of the ice cream mountain. Dane would love that. On Friday night we had our ice cream fest and had a great time remembering Dana as everyone was experimenting with new flavors...I heard a few exclamations of "That's my new favorite ice cream." Naturally, that did my heart good. It was a picture of Dana's influence continuing.

The week in Montana was obviously heavy, tear-filled and at times sad. But it was also fortifying and comforting to spend time with Kay, Randy and others (like Cindy/Chuck Creech and Shelly/Jamey Gates and their families!) who knew and loved Dane. And there is an unusual comfort that comes from being in mountains that existed long before me, before Dane and before the story of Dane and Bear, and, depending on God’s plan, will be here long after.

While the week really was an experience of “both sides now,” some pain and some beauty, I can certainly say the trip was a net gain toward beauty.

(You have to Google the lyrics to Both Sides Now)