Saturday, February 28, 2009

Talitha, Kum!

This chapter in our lives began, as every day does, with our morning reading. The day we learned Rachel had been killed began with a reading from the book of Ezra. It is a passage I believe God had prepared especially for us to guide us on our journey:

“When the builders completed the foundation of the Lord’s Temple, the priests put on their robes and took their places to blow their trumpets. And the Levites, descendants of Asaph, clashed their cymbals to praise the Lord, just as king David had prescribed. With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the Lord:

‘He is so good!

His faithful love for Israel endures forever!’

Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s Temple had been laid.

But many of he older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy. The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance.”

It is an accurate depiction of our conflicting emotions - grieving for what we have lost, rejoicing for what Rachel has gained - the two mingled together in an indistinguishable cry.

But there is a reminder for us in that passage as well, a reminder that is a challenge for us to affirm the goodness and the faithful love of God through the worst circumstances of our lives. In moments of doubt and confusion, we have chosen to embrace the love and goodness of God. God is love. A drunken woman killed Rachel; that woman was not doing God’s will.


Jill and I are a little off in our Bible reading. We came to the passage for February 21st a few days ahead of schedule. I suspected there would be something significant for us there. We were not disappointed. The passage in our Bible that day was from Mark Chapter 5, the story of Jairus’ daughter.

Jairus, the leader of the local synagogue had a daughter who was gravely ill. He put aside whatever objections he may have had to Jesus’ teachings and His claim to be the Son of God, and begged Him to heal his daughter. Jesus agreed to go with Jairus to heal his daughter, but on the way He was delayed by the pressing crowd with their desperate needs, including a hopeless woman afflicted for twelve years with an incurable hemorrhage. She touches the hem of his robe and is healed instantly. A bleeding woman was considered unclean, and she was not to put herself in path of a holy man. To her surprise, when she confessed her presumption, Jesus reassured her: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. You have been healed.”

Delayed by this encounter, messengers inform Jairus that his daughter has died and that there is no point in troubling the teacher any further. I can imagine that moment. The last hope dashed. Jesus, though, is unfazed by the tragic news, and encourages Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just trust Me.” I don’t know how Jairus felt about those words, but they did continue on to Jairus’ house.

When they get there, the house is fully involved in grief. Jesus cracks the mourners up by telling them they are sadly mistaken: “The child isn’t dead; she is only asleep.”

He tells the scoffers to wait outside. He takes the grieving father and mother and three of his disciples into the little girl’s room. He takes her by the hand and commands her to arise. She does, and the parents are ecstatic. The family is whole again.

I can see how someone would see this as a slap in the face: The story of a daughter brought back to life while our daughter’s ashes sit in an urn on our bedroom dresser. I could look at it that way. But I believe there is a comforting message there for us, a message about faith and hope and love: “Your faith has made you well...Go in peace...Don’t be afraid. Just trust Me...The child isn’t dead; she is only asleep...Little girl, arise!” 

Our hope is resurrection. It is a living hope, the hope that gives us strength to go on living.

“If our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died...The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Thursday, February 26, 2009

February 21

What can I say about February 21st, except that we survived. It was not a day to celebrate, and most of the day we were preoccupied trying not to think about what was most on our minds.

We wanted to spend the day doing something that would honor Rachel and celebrate life. After we spent a little time lingering in bed while we drank our coffee and read the latest issue of The Sun magazine, I made an appointment to donate blood at BloodSource in Chico. Rachel received a scholarship from BloodSource for her efforts organizing blood drives on campus at Orland High School, and donating blood was one of the things Rachel and I shared.  Jill is ineligible for the time being because of the tattoo she got in honor of Rachel.  I would love to know what she thinks of her mother getting a tattoo. I am sure she would approve. 

I had forgotten about the drive into Chico. Because it was exactly one year later, the world looked as it did when we received the news of Rachel’s death: breaking into the blossom of early spring. Spring, with its promise of life, and the beauty of new beginnings...

The road into Chico is the road I was on when Jill called me with the news that Rachel was missing. While she was talking to me, she was visited by police chief Bob Pasero with the news that Rachel was “gone.” The way to BloodSource takes me past the exact spot on the road when I answered the phone and the exact spot I learned that Rachel was dead. It takes me past the exact spot I turned around to go back home, where everything had changed and nothing would ever be the same. How often I have wondered how life would have been if that call had never been necessary, and I could have driven past that otherwise unremarkable spot in the road and into the  life that lay ahead, the life that included my daughter’s loving presence and her bright future. There are no roadside monuments to mark those spots in the road where my life was changed, but they are indelibly carved in my mind...

After I gave blood, Jill and I spent some time at the Chico Farmers’ Market. For us, a visit to the Farmer’s Market is always an uplifting experience. There is laughter and fellowship and beauty and an abundance of life. Whether we need produce or not, just to stroll past the vendor’s stalls and look at the fruit of their partnership with earth and to observe people enjoying themselves and one another and the miracle of another day of life is ample reason to justify a visit. There is always a positive energy that pervades the atmosphere at the Farmers’ Market, but, with spring in the air, it was almost palpable. We left refreshed, lighter in spirit.

Unexpectedly, we had lunch with a man we became acquainted with through Rachel’s involvement with the Every 15 Minutes program when she was a senior in high school. At that program Daryl Spessard described his experience losing his daughter Andrea to a drunk driver. Rachel lingered after the program was over to thank Daryl for his presentation and to express her sympathy for the loss of his daughter. Daryl remembered Rachel’s compassion, and he attended her memorial service in Orland and has made a point of making himself available to assist us in our grief. Daryl remembered the significance of February 21st for us, and he arranged to meet us for lunch at a favorite cafe in Chico, Flo’s. Daryl encouraged Jill and I to participate in a Smart Start driver’s education program the following Wednesday night, to share Rachel’s story.

Lunch with Daryl seemed a fitting end to our visit to Chico. It was beginning to cloud up after a beautiful morning and early afternoon. We thought we should head back home. We took the back roads through the countryside to take full advantage of the spectacle of the blossoming almond orchards.  It was a sad day, to be sure, but not worse than we feared. We took the time to appreciate the goodness to be found, and we felt better for doing it. 

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Jill and I made a pilgrimage to New Mexico recently. We get away annually at the beginning of February to celebrate our anniversary. Last year, our 20th, we spent close to home, at a bed and breakfast (The Grateful Bed) in Chico. It was our last “happy” memory. A few short days after we returned we got the news that Rachel had been killed.

We chose New Mexico this year for several reasons: first, we had always wanted to visit Santa Fe - everyone we know who has been there (mostly artists themselves) rave about the amazing art that can be seen there. And the adobe. And the sky...Everything we heard was true - and more. We weren’t adequately prepared for the food...If you go there, bring your appetites! 

Secondly, we wanted to visit the Memorial of Perpetual Tears, recently opened in Moriarty, New Mexico, to honor victims of DWI traffic fatalities. Maribeth Robison, my aunt, and her husband, Jim, just “happen” to live around the corner from the memorial site. Maribeth volunteers there creating beautiful memorial pages for an on-site book of remembrance. 

The Memorial sits just off Interstate 40 between Albuquerque and points east. It was the vision and labor of love of Sonja Britton whose beloved son, Monty, was killed by a drunk driver in 1991. Since 1994, Sonja has been working to realize her dream of dedicating a memorial to the victims of DWI, a place to honor, to remember, and to heal. With the help of local and state legislators, dedicated donors, and volunteers, the Memorial of Perpetual Tears serves as a constant reminder to drivers traveling the Interstate of the tragic and irreversible consequences of choosing to drink and drive. While the Memorial was originally conceived to honor New Mexican victims, Sonja’s vision couldn’t stop there. She dreams of a National Monument on site. The only thing keeping her from realizing that dream is money...

Jill and I recently attended a lecture by Terry Tempest Williams where she discussed her new book “Finding Beauty In A Broken World,” which describes her journey to Rwanda to make mosaics with the victims and survivors of the genocidal horrors that occurred there in 1994. It was a symbolic, but very real, healing act, to create something of beauty out of the broken shards scattered around them. I was reminded of this when Jill and I stood and talked to Sonja in the newly opened visitor’s center at the Memorial of Perpetual Tears. There, in the middle of the floor is an inlaid tile mosaic depicting a tear.

It is a strange and twisted set of circumstances that brought us to the site of the Memorial of Perpetual Tears on February 7, 2009. Needless to say, we wouldn’t have been there except for the twisted set of circumstances that led to the event of February 21, 2008, the day Rachel’s life was taken by a drunk driver. We would give anything for Rachel’s life and for our lives to have made our trip to the Memorial of Perpetual Tears inconceivable. But this is the real shape of our lives. Our hope now, as Sonja Britton has done, is to make some beauty out of the brokenness.