Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Blessed and broken

Blessings alone do not open our eyes. Indeed, blessings by themselves tend to close our eyes. We do not come to know Him in the blessing, but in the breaking. --Chip Brogden

Everything was just fine for the first 40 years or so. Well, all four of my grandparents died, and my young cousin died, and there was that pesky abduction. Other than that, life was without major sadness, disease, heartbreak, or other mayhem. I married the person I thought was the love of my life and had two incredible children. Life was full of blessings and I didn’t think I really needed God.

Then all hell broke loose. The love of my life crumbled, cheated on me more than once, and our marriage ended. Then he died. I lost my job. My father died. My roof caved in. My brother was murdered.

And somewhere in there, in the breaking, when I thought I had nothing left, I found God.

In the midst of the heartbreak there is so much good. Yes, indeed the barn has burned down but now I can see the moon. There are so many blessings—my little house (roof fixed), my garden, my cooking, my books, my music, my faithful friends, my church, my family, my God.

Friday, April 22, 2011


We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world

On this Good Friday I’ve been thanking Jesus for His incredible sacrifice for the sake of my salvation. I’m taking the whole salvation thing very personally. He didn’t go to the cross for everyone; He went for me. He went for me and for anyone else who chooses to believe in His life, His death, and His resurrection.

Belief in salvation sets me apart. This world can be a wretched place. I recently have witnessed that fact first-hand. This world is full of grief and pain, sickness and death, tsunamis and war. But Jesus overcame the world. I’m hanging on to Him so that I have some insulation from the world, a way to rise above it. And from the bottom of my heart I thank Him for His saving grace.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sweet innocence/hard reality

This old photo is breaking my heart. It's my mother in the center with her newborn baby Mark on her lap. Steve is standing to her right wearing the ironed white shirt, Michael is standing in front with the cute little shorts with suspenders. I'm the geeky big sister in the back. There was one child yet to come, our youngest sister Joan. It breaks my heart because the photo was taken so long ago, in the innocent mid-1950s. Our mother is a beautiful young woman, obviously pleased with her young family. We are all dressed like we were going to church (very likely). We lived in a rambler in the suburbs and we went to Catholic school. We had pot roast or spaghetti for supper on Sunday and our grandfather always came to eat with us. Every summer we drove to our grandfather's house on the Chesapeake Bay. We ate crabs and got stung by sea nettles. Steve was an altar boy and a cub scout. Mike promised our mother that when he grew up he would never leave home and every night when he was grown he would bring her a bag of doughnuts and a pack of CocaColas. I was going to be a nun or an airline stewardess. As Mark got older he longed to be a trash man--he would put his toys in a blanket, climb to the top of the bunkbeds, and throw the toys down into an imagined garbage truck.

I look at my mother's innocent face in the photo and wonder if she ever imagined that she would be 85 years old, a widow for less than one year, when that baby boy she is holding would be shot and killed. Every mother's greatest fear is that one day she could lose one of her children. But to get to the age of 85 and have her youngest son murdered is too much for an old woman to handle. She said today that she would not hesitate to trade her life for his, that she wishes she could have died in his place because the sadness is too much for her, that her life will never be the same. The loss is too great and he was her son for 55 years. The innocence was so sweet  . . .

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The crap

When I was about eight years old and my brother Steve was about six, I beat up Danny Kellaher in defense of my brother. Danny Kellaher was probably eight years old at the time. He grew up strong and played college-level football, but how scary can an eight-year-old boy be? I was a scrawny girl with bruised shins and mosquito bites—he was taller than me and outweighed me by many pounds. I always thought of him as the biggest, toughest kid in the neighborhood, much more formidable than any of the Boeteler boys or the Herlihy boys. But I lost all fear when Danny Kellaher hurt my little brother.

I can’t remember the reason for the fight. All I know is that the boys were at the end of our block near the mailbox. (Remember those big blue mailboxes on the corner of every block, the metal bins where the boys dropped in cherry bombs? The Postal Service says that it has nearly eliminated neighborhood mail boxes as a cost-cutting measure but I think it was really all about cherry bombs.) The pummeling of my brother had begun. I didn’t think about Danny Kellaher’s size or my relative inadequacy. I became fearless. All I knew was that I had to protect my brother so I started beating up Danny Kellaher and he ran home to his mama.

That’s the image that I keep replaying in my brain now—the image of myself as a scrawny kid defending my little brother. And I think about my youngest brother Mark, shot and killed two weeks ago by his neighborhood bully. I’m still the big sister and I wish I had been there to defend him. I wish I had beat the crap out of that guy to keep him from killing my brother.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Round two

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

I really don’t want to be a person who is a bottomless pit of woe. This is not the life I imagined for myself. I want to process this emotionally and rationally and get back to my rather dull life, imperfect as it was. I’m deep in the throes of grief again. On April 8, 2010 my dear father died. And on April 3, 2011 my dear brother Mark died. My dad was nearly 89 when he died from complications of open-heart surgery. My brother was 55 when he died from being shot in the back. I thought I knew what grief was when my father died and I was wrong. This is something else, something beyond grief, something crushing that sits in the middle of my chest and grabs my throat from the inside. It’s angry and aching and seemingly inescapable.

People are asking me (rhetorically, I presume) where God is in all of this. How could a loving God permit my brother to be murdered? I don’t know. I’m not even asking Him for an answer to that big question now. I’m just asking Him to help us get through the days. Please. Lord, this pain, this grief is . . . there’s not a word for it, but surely He knows. Will we be stronger because of this? I don’t want to be that strong; I don’t want to believe anything this horrific could ever happen again.

But how do I process this grief? By giving up the need to make sense of it in my flawed human mind? By giving up on trying to grasp God’s plan? Once again I go back to Proverbs to try to discern what God wants me to know.

Monday, April 11, 2011

God shouts

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” – C.S. Lewis

What is He shouting to us now?

I’m processing a new reality in relative quiet. The funeral is over, my children have flown away, and I stare out the window hearing only the fan of my electronic air cleaner, the hum of the refrigerator, and an occasional car passing by. I’m hoping to hear what the Lord is shouting.

Eight days ago my younger brother was murdered, shot in the back by his neighbor. I don’t think any of us can process this heartbreak and senselessness while it’s so raw. But we all need to have something to hang on to, some reason to find meaning in this tragedy. I don’t use the word tragedy often and I’m not using the word glibly now. It is a tragedy, the worse thing that has ever happened to our family.

Days ago I decided that I have to create a box inside my head that I’ll label “senseless things I’ll never understand.” Mark’s death will be in that imaginary box. I could spend the rest of my life grappling with it and it will never, ever make sense.

As soon as Mark died, people started caring for me and my family. My neighbor Nancy drove me 25 miles on Sunday night because I was too shaken to drive to my mother’s house to break the news to her. My dearest friends have been by my side. People from my church called me and sent me messages offering to do anything for me—I know that they meant it. People from all over the world prayed for my family and me—I know that their prayers were lifted to the heavens in one great cry of grief and comfort. My two children cancelled everything else they needed to do to fly across the country just to be with me.

What is God shouting? I think what He is shouting is that terrible, terrible things can happen in this world, There are evil people who can take away people we love. Things happen that we will never understand while we are on this Earth. This is a world of hurt. But in this world of hurt there are so many good people, people who reach out to us, comfort us, pray for us when we get blind-sided by the world of hurt. God isn’t with us in a physical sense but He sends people to us who reflect His love. Thank you, Lord, for showing us in a real, tangible way that you are weeping with us.

Monday, April 4, 2011


I have heard that writing can help to heal wounds of the heart. I’d have to write War and Peace one hundred times over to heal this wound. Yesterday my little brother Mark was shot and killed by his next-door neighbor. Yesterday my little brother was murdered.

It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon and my brother was doing yard work, weeding and trimming shrubs at his house on Kent Island, Maryland. There are no credible witnesses to describe what happened next. Yesterday my little brother was murdered. Only my brother Mark and the murderer and my brother’s dog were there and my brother can’t tell his side of the story because he is now dead. The dog may have wandered into the neighbor’s yard. The neighbor had issues in the past with the dog and my brother has tried to keep the dog within the bounds of his own property. No one is sure what happened. My brother had hedge clippers. The neighbor had a gun. My brother was shot in the back with a double-barrel handgun loaded with those wretched bullets that enter a body and explode.

Yesterday my brother was murdered. Apparently he staggered a few yards from where he was standing when he was shot. He collapsed and died in his front yard, near the little cherry tree.

Can someone explain to me what kind of person would carry a double-barrel handgun in his yard on a Sunday afternoon? Can someone explain to me why someone would kill another person because of a dog wandering into his yard?

Mark was a peaceful, friendly guy. He worked hard and loved his family. He doesn’t even own a gun—he has hedge clippers and a riding mower. He was a sweet, loveable man who would give you the shirt off his back. And now he is dead. Yesterday my brother was murdered. I don't know if a big sister's heart can ever heal from a hurt like this.