Bus wreck, Church bus accident, Loss, Overcoming loss, Tragedy, Uncategorized

Bibles and Bus Wrecks

Last Friday 17-year-old Sarah Hammering died in a church bus accident in Atlanta, GA. on her way to a mission trip. As I watched the video clip of her mother Karen read Sarah’s journal for reporters, I was tremendously moved. Sarah referenced Bible verses and reflected on participating in God’s divine nature, loving and serving the children of Botswana whom she called her “little buddies” and confidence in God’s desire to do great things. What a doll.

Her family looked shocked yet determined to wrestle eternal good from their sudden reality: a heap of metal, tire marks and luggage scattered across Camp Creek Parkway. Though stunned by grief, The Hammering’s default reaction was to seek a higher purpose. Let this one fact be known: Sarah will not have died in vain. This family is determined not to let this happen. The Bible verses their daughter journaled about will impact people whom she has never met.

This determination reminds me of the many ways to process loss. One way is to bring good, the other is to want everyone in the world to feel the pain you feel. King Solomon encounters the later in 1 Kings 3:16-28 where two mothers fight for custody of an infant. The women who lived in the same home each claimed that the living baby was hers. #sisterwivesprobs? After listening to each case, Solomon brilliantly asks for a sword to cut the baby as to give each mother half. The true mother begs him to let the child live while the mourning mother says, “do it!” If I have to suffer, then let everyone suffer is her attitude. It is a noble choice and only one born of God which can be on the front lines of fire fighting even after one’s home is a smoldering heap of ashes.

What God has covered this family with is the peace which passes all understanding. Not that their road will be easy but it can be eventually surprisingly  beautiful as God redeems this incredible loss. Despite our most valiant effort to live a painless life, no one I have ever met has been able to pull that one off. In the season of trial there will be just two choices: living a life we really don’t want to live or not living at all.  We can accept the challenge before us moment by moment with grace and dig in or choose to be miserable. We can take a deep breath and be part of the solution or scream because our lives should not be this way.

I am inspired by this family. I implore you to pray as I know the millions of prayers have been the gas in our family’s tank for eight years this July.

“Gradually we learn to trust the wounds and failures of life, which are much better teachers than our supposed successes.” -Therese of Lisceaux

Christian Faith, Hope, Maggie Lee for Good, Overcoming loss, Uncategorized

Meridian, MS

In best selling author Wm. Paul Young’s 2007 book The Shack, God invites the main character, Mack, back to the place which he describes as “the vortex of his pain,” the spot where his kidnapped daughter Missy’s body is found.  Mack eventually accepts the unconventional invitation which results in tremendous healing as each member of The Trinity work with him to gently reveal the unquenchable love The Father, despite Mack’s circumstances, has for Mack.

I first read The Shack in June of 2009 and heard Young speak in Shreveport in an event sponsored by local golf legend Hal Sutton. Sutton, who was deeply impacted by The Shack, wanted others to hear author in person. I was asked by my friends Jenny and Brian to attend. John, Maggie Lee and Jack were in North Carolina for Camp (Crestridge and Ridgecrest) while I stayed behind working.

Little could I have known the groundwork God was laying in my spiritual thought patterns as I devoured the story of a grieving parent learning to accept the loss of his daughter which he described as ‘The Great Sadness.’ How Young reconciled personal tragedy with God’s love was a beautiful, poetic picture which remained my mental screensaver as we sat with our daughter whose prayed-for miraculous recovery was simply not to be.

The FBC Shreveport bus left for youth camp in Georgia on July 12th a little after five a.m. A tire failed not long after 10 am just past Meridian, MS. The vehicle flipped and came to rest on Lauren and Maggie Lee. Brandon Ugarte was killed at the scene. An Alabama National Guard unit returning from training on up-righting overturned vehicles was traveling behind the bus, saw everything, and miraculously the Guardsmen lifted the wreckage off of our daughters.

To say that the town of Meridian, Mississippi was where our lives changed forever would be accurate. In the ensuing years since 2009 I have never had anything but sadness upon my hearing of the city’s name. Apparently it was time for all of that to change. My college roommate Betsy Sone Jones lives in Tifton, GA and always leads the Maggie Lee for Good charge this time of year. I love Tifton and wanted to be a part of their altruistic day of kindness which traditionally occurs on October 29th, Maggie Lee’s birthday.

Since Annie Bell Clark Elementary’s MLFG Day was not until mid-November I decided to go. Heading Eastward on 20 to get to Georgia would mean a trip through Meridian, MS. I had never in seven years driven past the accident site and it was time to face the music. I prayed and had others pray for me. I strangely felt like all would be well. As I approached Meridian I felt something tremendous in my spirit: the words, “God was with me the entire time.” It was an urging from Maggie Lee’s perspective.

The sentiment echoed again and again as I located the exact spot of the accident, slowed down, pulled over far into the grass and exited on the passenger side of my car. Down the embankment I walked and heard again, “God was with me the entire time.” Which I completely believe to be true. Meridian, as it turns out, is not scary after all. Perhaps I stopped to tell her so. Like so many unpredictable days in this unplanned journey, God’s ridiculous grace splashes upon me and simply makes my days doable when there is no reason at all why they should be.

Female friendship, freedom, friendship, Overcoming loss

A Return to Baylor

Hilarious Video of Mom Jeans running: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhJxlrqlsX4

There are a few women in my life whom our concentric circles of crazy align so perfectly that it makes us far more dangerous together than we are individually. So it is with Maureen. Mo and I were room mates our sophomore and junior year at Baylor. People would tell us that they could not take being inside either of our brains for five minutes. Which we thought was full-on awesome.

It is strange that we ever became friends, really. She was the brainy and brash Irish St.Louis girl and I was the only slightly-less brash Southern Belle who relied on brownie baking to get through college. But then again if you are from the same tribe you have an unavoidable way of finding each other. She has been my friend in sunshine in rain; weddings, funerals and all other momentous seasons in-between. After John and I were engaged, I told him that we could not get married until Mo came back from Japan in 9 months. And yet John still likes Mo.

With Baylor now being on the map football-istically thanks to Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, (RG3,) a new bazillion-dollar stadium was built on campus in Waco. I caught wind of friends coming from Atlanta, Houston and Dallas to be there for the inaugural game against SMU on August 31st and I decided that our return to campus was long overdue. 

On August 22 I texted Mo that we needed to be there for the game on he 31st. She assumed October 31st, but silly her, no, I meant 9 days from then. She booked her flight, I scavenged for impossible tickets, began searching for matching shirts (vital) and because time was short, crafting matching Baylor jewelry for us. 

I squeezed in visits with two other of my Dallas / Ft. Worth steel magnolias (Gina and Stork,) and picked up Mo from the airport with “We Are Family.” blaring from my Rogue with all windows down. Because you are always the same age inside and darn if I’m not still 18. We did the scream / sing / dance reunion hug, grown men laughed at not with us and Maureen invited one old guy to come with us just for fun. Which I told her he may take the wrong way and there was no room since she had her huge suitcase.

Hair did & jewelry on we headed West to Waco Sunday Morning. First on the agenda was the Baylor Bookstore. Check. Bear Pit. Check. Old dorm room: roadblock. We quickly learned that the dorms are now on lockdown to keep out the riffraff. Which totally did not work. Soon with the help of a new friend who could tell we were not human traffickers we were on Memorial third floor. It smelled the exact same: burnt microwave pop corn and hair product with spray starch undertones. Yummy.

We crept down the sacred hall amused that the wood paneling survived the renovation and arrived at our Sophomore year dorm room. This venerable spot, with views of The Browning Library, was holy grounds for all we became in the 9 month time period of our lives. We snapped a picture of ourselves in front of our room and since the room next door was open, Mo tapped on that one first.

“Hi. We used to live next door. We used to have old ladies come back to look at our dorm room they lived in 30 years ago and now we’re the old ladies. Can we take a look around?”

“Of course! Come in.” said our new sweet friend.

Since she showed signs of cooperation, we asked if she would take our picture. In the bathroom. Reenacting shaving our legs. She said that the girls who lived in our actual room were there and they wouldn’t mind our looking around. We knocked on the bathroom door expectantly, curious yet nervous that we would be turned away. 

The co-ed answered the door as though she routinely received middle-aged women via her bathroom and told us to feel free to look around. Which took three seconds. Little had changed in our room despite 25 years of wear and tear. The formerly sophomore dorm was now a Freshman honors dorm. She said her roommate was coming back in a minute and would love to meet us which we found hard to believe. Sure enough, a few minutes later, the door opened and we yelled, “surprise, we used to live in your room!” to a shocked Freshman. What else could we have done?

The girls politely asked us to lunch and we told them we’d catch up with them at the Student Union Building. They insisted on walking with us, threw on their Baylor Line jerseys and we ventured to the SUB together. Maureen and I grabbed salads and reminisced about how only guys used to run in the Baylor Line (The Freshman who form the line for the football team to run through) We looked at each other, began laughing hysterically and knew that we owed it to the generations of Baylor Women who never got to run to open McClane Stadium and run in The Baylor Line. 26 years later.

Yes, George and Laura Bush and a ton of other important people were there, yes security was NUTS and yes, we did have tickets to the game which cost a kidney. We are law-abiding citizens, and typically make excellent choices. But there are in every life those handful of times when fate taps you on the shoulder and beckons you under the rope and you really would be crazy to hesitate.  Maybe it was the late Robin Williams’ sentimentally whispering “Carpe Diem” in my ear or maybe just because I am woman hear me roar or maybe it was regret over those four years of wearing dresses, hose and pumps to football games, but I did it. I ran with the Baylor Line. 

The scene from the field unfolded in slow-motion; beautiful green grass, jubilant alumni like me so thrilled to have a winning team, thousands on their feet cheering, reliving their glory days. And I ran. In flip-flops and mom jeans with purse slung over my shoulder. I ran on pure adrenaline from the utter joy of living life to the fullest. In total awe and disbelief that life could be this flat out beautiful. I ran, until I felt a velvet swoosh to my left which stopped me cold.

The perfect dreds swayed in slow motion as my crazy dream sequence suddenly got totally out of hand. There to my left was Robert Griffin III, whom I totally adore. I caught up with him (i know, right?) and swarmed him with the others, my iPhone randomly capturing me, then him, then me screaming. It did not capture his gentle yet firm velvet right arm prying me off of his body. This Moses of a man brought us into the promised land after wandering in the desert 40 years and I got to stalk him. Up close.

The Bears emerged from their locker room, the fireworks began in circular motion around the top of McClane and the Freshman ran to get to their seats. So I did as well. They all peeled off to the right and mom jeans went left. I was reunited with Mo at our seats who still cannot believe that I got to and she was prevented from, running in The Baylor Line. Together we continued to soak in the surreality of the epic day, thick in memories of our felt-like-yesterday past, amazed that so much time had passed and we had come so far. 



Christian Faith, Loss, Overcoming loss, Uncategorized

Why? God Understands Your Suffering or Why God Understands Your Suffering

My friend, Robin, is on my mind and heart today as she attends the funeral of her husband, Kevin. They have two children; Harold and Henry. Harold was one of Maggie Lee’s favorite little people at school. The feeling was mutual as Harold bestowed the highest honor upon Maggie Lee posthumously: naming his cat after her.

There are no words to say at times like these, really. Nor will there be for a long, long time. There is, however, hope to be found in the wisdom of those who have walked the unenviable path of loss, a road we will all journey on sooner or later.

I found comfort in the faith and wisdom of Jerry Sittser in his book, A Grace Disguised. In those pages are his honest wrestling with God over losing his wife, mother and child in one car accident.  Here are his thoughts on God’s suffering;

“The Incarnation means that God came into the world as a vulnerable human being. God was born to a woman, Mary. He was given a name, Jesus. He learned to walk and talk, swing a hammer and wash dishes. God embraced human experience and lived with all of the ambiguities and struggles that characterize life on earth. In the end he became a victim of injustice and hatred, suffered horribly on the cross, and died an ignominious death. The sovereign God came in Jesus Christ  to suffer with us and suffer for us. He descended deeper into the pit than we will ever know. His sovereignty did not protect him from loss. If anything, it led him to suffer loss for our sake. God is therefore not some distant being who controls the world by a mysterious power. God came all the way to us and lived among us.

The God I know has experienced pain and therefore understands my pain. In Jesus I have felt God’s tears, trembled before his death on the cross and witnessed the redemptive power of suffering. The Incarnation means that God cares so much that he chose to become human and suffer loss, though he never had to. I have grieved long and hard and intensely. But I have found comfort knowing that the sovereign God, who is in control of everything, is the same God who has experienced the pain I live with every day. No matter how deep the pit into which I descend, I keep finding God there. “

Christian Faith, friendship, God, Maggie Lee for Good, Overcoming loss

Therapy by Food Drive

This is my friend, Gina’s Maggie Lee for Good story…what’s yours?

Maggie Lee For Good (North Texas Food Bank)

Why was my 11-year-old so driven to organize a canned food drive at her school?  I think it was a way for her to have action or maybe control over a situation that left her feeling so helpless and so insecure about how she saw her world.  When your best friend dies when you’re in elementary school it certainly doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t even make sense when you’re 40.  How can all your dreams of your future be taken away from you when you haven’t even lived long enough to have much of a past?

Just a few weeks before Maggie Lee’s accident the girls discussed and daydreamed endlessly about their future and the role each of them would play in it.  They engaged in sweet little girl fantasies that included living in an apartment together in New York City, working in musical theater together, being on Broadway, being famous in L.A. , working with the Jonas Brothers, walking down the red carpet hand in hand, and encouraging each other through every glorious success.  They believed the fantasy…I believed their fantasy.

I could picture Maggie Lee by my girl’s side being her cheerleader.  Why wouldn’t I believe the fantasy, she had always been a positive force in her life since she was two years old.  She was an unselfish encourager even then.  I don’t think she had a jealous bone in her little body.  I would often shake my head in amazement at what an unusual child Maggie Lee was.  We were surely blessed by this gale of wind, filled with sunshine, which would blow through our house when she would visit.

So how does a little girl tie down this pervasive feeling of insecurity along with a feeling of emptiness that only a deep sense of loss can create?  She gets busy.  She focused on a goal.  Maggie Lee for Good was created on Maggie Lee’s birthday, October 29th.  With a new goal in mind she was able to channel her grief and somehow make purpose of a tragedy that made no sense to her.  It also helped her t be able to share with all the kids in her school how even as a child you can affect and help others.  You can change them or create change for them.

She got the permission from the principal at Grace Academy of Dallas to have a Maggie Lee for Good cannedFood Drivebenefitting North Texas Food Bank.  Along with the student council, they made posters asking families to donate food, either bringing it to school or doing online shopping at the North Texas Food bank website.  They stood in carline with posters asking for donations and advertised in the school newpaper.  In the end they collected enough canned goods to change the lives of 100’s of families…for good.

Christian Faith, Overcoming loss, Uncategorized

Where Have YOU Been?

I violated the Cardinal Rule of Web log posting: be present. Please forgive me for going dark.

The last post I wrote about our dear friend, Jay. From there we had Father’s Day and Vacation and our 17th Wedding Anniversary (can I get a WOO-HOO?) I could’ve posted about my incredble father, the great dad and husband John has been and how even the tame Hogwart’s Ride in Universal Orlando nearly made me vomit. Oh…so many ways to go there.

Sprinkled in-between those events were some really awful happenings: the discovery of a brain tumor one of my friend’s 4-year-old daughter (surgery is this Wednesday,) my newly-widowed friend, Aprile’s loss of her Father, and the diagnosis of cancer in two parents of other dear friends. It’s as if the tragedy fairy has been hopped up on Mountain Dew, wielding her two by four with a vengeance, happily head-smacking unsuspecting friends with life-altering circumstances. It’s been terrible.

Now today, two years removed from my own worst nightmare, I see from spectator’s perspective how faith in God and His ultimate resolution is the secret sustaining my bludgeoned friends. I see something larger than mere determination pulling them through the worst of times because humanly speaking they should not be prone at this point. What is there is more than optimism, good will or wishful thinking; it is acceptance of their portion of pain with a deep confidence that things will somehow work out.

As comfortable as we can make it, as beautiful as it can be and as perfect fleeting moments of our lives certainly are, I have crawled inside and worn this truth: this world is not my home. It does not mean that we stop living when hit by that two by four, no, I still have to live my life and make the most of my days, but at the end of the day, at the end of this life, no measure of what I have accrued, built or collected, (including a pain-free life) is important. “The best is indeed, Elizabeth Browning, yet to be.”

friendship, Overcoming loss, Uncategorized

Just Don’t LOOK at it, Betsy!

Freshman year at Baylor, my roommate, Betsy and I partied like it was 1999. While some college co-eds celebrated their new-found freedom binge-drinking at George’s, we overdid it at the bar… the cheesecake bar. You could even get cheesecake at Collins Dorm for breakfast. Oh, yeah.

Juxtaposed against the soft serve ice cream machine was the pressure to be Barbie thin. Darn those gorgeous Dallas girls. This drive to be beautiful was enough to make you want to eat a chicken-fried steak.

By November, Betsy was fed up. Staring headlong into the two foot by three foot dorm room mirror, she started flapping the turkey gobbler of her underarm and declared, “Aughhhh! Look at this. I cannot stand this anymore!”

Seeing as though I still had a good dress size on her, I gave her this advice; “Betsy, just don’t LOOK at it!”

“What do you mean don’t LOOK at it?” She asked.

Plainly I answered, “If you don’t look in the mirror, it won’t bother you.” With that, I motioned dramatically to the bottom half of my pear-shape and we burst into laughter.

Breath caught and eyebrow raised, she said, “Seriously, Jin, I can’t stand this anymore.”

Luckily for her, Betsy continued to look in the mirror, observe when she had put on a few pounds and quickly shed them before her Levi’s were too tight to wear to Melody Ranch on Thursday Nights.  That is why today, after baring triplets, she looks better than she did when she was 18 while I by and large remain unbothered. I’ve found that sometimes looking away isn’t the greatest strategy.

When loss finds its’ uninvited way under your roof, whether in the form of divorce, illness, natural disaster, job loss or in our case, a child’s death, there is no avoiding it.  At once you are faced with accepting your powerlessness to change your circumstances.  There is no ignoring the extra place at the dinner table, the daunting task of single parenthood or the bill collector’s harassment. Without a straightforward assessment of the situation, moving forward will be virtually impossible.

Then again, perhaps there is wisdom in selective visioning. I continue to be impacted by the reality that what I focus upon grows. My friend, Karen, told me about how she started every morning during the first year of being divorced thanking God for three things. Many mornings when gratitude was too difficult to muster, she repeated the memorized script; “Thank you, God for my kids, my job and my health.” Though she was devastated, this daily discipline started her off in the right frame of mind.  

I do not think that time heals all wounds but it does allow you to learn how to navigate your new life, unwanted as it may be, and realize if you so choose what you still have left.  Sometimes the greatest view one can have is away from the mirror of personal loss to the open window of gratitude.