Jeffry’s Train Ride to Heaven

This afternoon I gathered with family and friends to say goodbye to my cousin Jeffry. Although 53 years is a relatively short journey on this earth, Jeff lived life abundantly in terms of joy and happiness and love. Today truly was a celebration of who Jeff was and the light he shared with the world. 

Jeffry's Train Ride to Heaven
As I sat with William, Jeffry’s nephew and caregiver, waiting for the service to begin, I couldn’t help but smile. The music playing over the speakers, in honor of Jeff, was from the movie Wizard of Oz. He loved the movie and the soundtrack and played both often. 

Jeffry's Train Ride to Heaven
During the funeral service the song It Is Well With My Soul was played. What a beautiful expression for Jeffry. Tears filled my eyes as I thought about how true the lyrics were for my cousin. His soul is well. It has always been well. 

You see, many would say that Jeffry had a challenging life. He would be called “different” or “special needs” or “disabled” or other more unkind words by some. But I agree with what Rev. Al Gritten said today, as he officiated at the service. Jeff wasn’t different. He was unique. And aren’t we all different from each other, and unique, too? 

Jeffry's Train Ride to Heaven
Jeffry was wonderfully unique. He embodied living in the now. He didn’t dwell on the past or fret about the future. He accepted who he was and accepted others as well. Cheerful and joyful, he worked and played with equal devotion. He loved musicals and movies, the Kansas City Chiefs and collecting coins, the Beverly Hillbillies and Silver Dollar City. 

I loved the way Jeff smiled and laughed and said my name, like he was always delighted to see me. And he was very intuitive. His pure soul easily dwelled on this earth and in the spirit realm. Two years ago, when his sister Mindy died, I went to the house to check on Jeffry, and gently tell him about his Sissy. I found him sitting on the floor in his room, stacking coins from his collection. He knew why I was there. 

I knelt beside him and resting an arm around his shoulders, told him his sister had gone to heaven. He listened quietly with his head bowed. When I stood, he stood with me and laid his head on my shoulder. We didn’t speak, we simply stood hugging each other. After a few moments he staightened and said, “Let’s eat.”  He honored his sister with silence, and then moved on to the next order of business…dinner. 

Jeffry's Train Ride to Heaven
I deeply appreciated Al’s words about Jeff’s journey home. While many compare the final voyage with a ship sailing toward the distant horizon, and that is a beautiful picture, Al chose the analogy of a train ride. Al likes trains. So did Jeffry. 

We were asked to imagine that train pulling away from this earthly station, with Jeffry onboard in the final car. We watched the train as it click-clacked down the track, growing smaller and smaller as it moved toward a mysterious destination that we can barely imagine. Jeffry waves to us. 

In my imagination, I can see him there, on that train. He is waving. He is smiling that gorgeous smile, happy, free, ready for the adventure ahead. I am sending him love and gratitude, for sharing his heart and his life so beautifully, for being Jeff, for making me smile. I wipe away a tear, but my sorrow does not dim his radiance. 

Just before he disappears, I imagine him clicking his heels together smartly and calling out with great joy, “There’s no place like home…” I’ll catch a future train, Jeffry, and meet you there. 

Journey 16: Family Friday

family dinner quote

If I described today’s journey in one word, it would be FAMILY. A week ago today, I had a birthday. I got to see a few family members throughout that day and Greg and I enjoyed Keltic Knot at the Woodshed in Carthage, a real treat for me. With the varied schedules among my adult children and their kids, it was a whole week before we could gather for a meal. Today was a Family Friday.

I spent a portion of the day with two family members who are very dear to me. Harry and I accomplished so much today and enjoyed chatting in between our many errands. Those interesting talks in the car as we drove to various appointments were priceless. Such an amazing young man. I got to love on Jeff too, giving him a hug and sharing lunch together. Jeff is a sweetheart. A grown man with a boy’s heart and enthusiasm, his way of looking at life and enjoying the moment teaches me to do the same. When Harry and I returned late this afternoon from our last appointment, Jeff greeted us and wanted to know where we had been. I loved how he studied us, determining whether we had been off having fun without him, even after Harry assured him we had NOT been having fun. Harry is so compassionate and so very good with his uncle. Watching them together warms my heart.

family dinner Jeff, Mindy and Harry

Because I failed to snap a pic this afternoon, “borrowing” one of Mindy’s fb pics.           
Harry, Jeff, Mindy

This evening I joined all of my children and all of my grandchildren for dinner at El Vaquero on Main Street in Joplin. This is a rare enough occurrence, having everyone present, that it qualifies as a high celebration! Greg, my mom and stepdad, and my sister Linda made us a lively party of 16. That created a bit of a dilemma for the staff at my favorite Mexican food restaurant as they sought to seat us. They found two oversized booths close together and we divided up. Greg joined the adult children and their spouses and significant other, and I gathered the grandchildren to me, along with Linda, Mom and Walter. We declared our table the fun table, and indeed, it was! (Although hearing laughter ringing out from table 2, I did peek over and they appeared to be having a grand time as well!)

family dinner side one

family dinner side two

Table One: Jonathan, Joey, Cindy, Aubrey, Linda

Walter, Mom, Dayan, Oliver

I have five grandchildren, ages 15, 9, 8, 7, and 6. Dayan, Jonathan, Joey, Oliver and Aubrey, who is the youngest, and the only girl. They are each unique and gifted and precious in their own ways and I enjoyed talking to all of them and listening to their stories. Dayan could easily have joined the adult table, but I’m so glad he sat with us. The conversation was animated, and not just because of the kids. Linda and Mom joined right in. Poor Walter rarely got a word in, but he smiled and he won the cool hat award.  And I learned a new tech tip. Dayan taught me how to use the pano button in my iPhone for taking wide angle pictures.

I am so grateful for my family. Grateful for Harry and Jeff. Grateful for Elissa, Josh, Dayan and Jonathan….Nathanael, Megan, Joey, Oliver and Aubrey…Adriel and Nate. Grateful for Greg, Mom, Walter and Linda. Each juggled their schedule around or made some effort to be present with me today and this evening. I couldn’t ask for a better family. I couldn’t feel more loved!

family dinner table two side one e

family dinner table two side two

Table Two: Greg, Elissa, Adriel, Nate

Josh, Megan, Nathanael

Day 355: Winter Solstice & Look on the Bright Side Day

Look on the Bright Side Day Winter Solstice

It’s no coincidence that these two celebrations share the same date. This day marks the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. It is not only the beginning of winter, but it is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Look on the Bright Side Day encourages us to look for the light today, and find optimism on what could be a dark and gloomy day.

That is certainly true in Missouri today. It was very overcast, chilly and breezy. We’ve had a lot of overcast days lately, which is typical for December in the Ozarks. It sure makes me appreciate the occasional sunbeam that punches through the mass of grey. I tilt my face upwards, like a flower seeking the light, and let the warmth and brightness wash over me. Today, not even a feeble ray of sunshine made it through the heavy clouds. I decided to be aware of both events by seeking the light and holding on to optimism and this evening by lighting candles inside and outside the house.

The seasons are marked by equinoxes and solstices, which relate to the tilt of the Earth. The equinoxes herald the beginning of spring and fall and the days and nights are about equal in duration. The solstices for winter and summer mark the points at which the Earth’s poles are most tilted away from or toward the sun. During summer solstice the day is long and the night short, just the opposite of winter solstice. This year, the precise moment of the winter solstice occurred at 6:03 pm. At that moment, the north pole was tipped the farthest from the sun.

I couldn’t think of a better way to combat a gloomy afternoon than to meet my cousins, Mindy, Jeff and Harry, at the Neosho Cinema 6 to watch, what else, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. This was another first, as I have never been to this theater before. And it was Mindy’s first viewing of the movie. I was looking forward to watching the film together.

Look on the Bright Side Day

I had a funny incident at the theater, involving the word of the day: Light. Mindy thought the movie started at 12:30 and we had planned to meet at 12:15 at the theater. I arrived in the parking lot, having driven south from Joplin, at 12:14. As I got out of the car and snapped a pic of the theater, I saw that the marquee had the time for the movie listed as 12:15. I spotted my cousin’s small blue car in the parking lot and rushed inside to purchase my ticket. The kind person behind the counter assured me that the previews had started but I had time to get to the correct auditorium before the movie started. The only problem was, the lights were already dimmed and it was very dark in the auditorium, even with the preview playing. I paused to allow my eyes to adjust but I still couldn’t see well enough to make out who was who. I quietly crept up and down the aisles, trying to scan faces in the gloom. I thought about calling out my cousin’s name but didn’t want to bother people any more than I already was! Finally I stood still, toward the front row of seats, and thought, “I need more light.” At that exact moment, a very bright scene appeared on the big screen, during a new preview, and for a moment, I could see the entire auditorium clearly. My cousins weren’t there! I had beat them to the theater. Apparently, that was NOT my cousin’s car in the parking lot. I was grateful that I had refrained from yelling out Mindy’s name. I sat on the back row and was able to see my cousins as they arrived.

This evening, darkness gathered by late afternoon. I lit eight candles on my front porch, to send beams of light into the darkness. Inside, I lit candles in every room, their tiny flames creating pockets of warmth and light. It is homey….and beautiful. Tonight, before I head to bed, I will spend some quiet time reflecting on all the Brightness in my life. It is not hard for me to find the bright side in situations, although expressing gratitude is vital. More amazing for me, is that the darkness of this long night will not bring a chill of fear into my heart. Beyond the light of overhead fixtures and lamps and lit candles, is the Light around me and within me that leaves no room for darkness or for fear. That glow shines brightly, even when the candles are snuffed out and I’ve flipped off the lights, as long as I keep my heart open and cleared of the clutter that can, unchecked, block or distort the light and invite darkness. May my light shine, a pure and brilliant radiance, on this, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. And tomorrow I celebrate, for the days are growing longer again.

Look on the Bright Side Day candles