“Mister T” and the Peaches

School is back in session! Although I don’t have children, I get to reminisce and share in the excitement this year because my new husband is a teacher!

I not only love this teacher ;), but I LOVE teachers and I loved school! Looking back, even the teachers who were “mean” spent their lives making sure I learned to pay attention, to give respect, how to multi-task, and (ugh!) even how to do long division. And, (now I know) they took on this job while making “dittly squat” for an income!

Both inside and outside of the classroom, my teachers delivered lessons that still stick with me to this day.

I remain in touch with several of my junior high & high school teachers who had a profound influence on my life. This story is about one of these men; we will call him “Mister T.”

Colorado Peaches

Colorado Peaches

Colorado peaches are some of the best things on this green earth! A fresh Colorado peach is so juicy, sweet and tender, perfectly ripened by the Rocky Mountain climate and soil—they are out of this world!

My father loved peaches—only Colorado peaches, though. He loved them so much that he bought the tree and planted it in his yard so he could experience one of those beauties at his whim! Plus, as the cancer began to take over his body, his trips to the grocery store lessened.

Sadly, that tree he planted bore not a single peach.

Year after year—nada, nothing, zilch.

My father passed away March 29, 2008 and never ate a single Colorado peach from his tree.

Why?

The question that is never far away

The healing doesn’t come from being explained

Jesus please don’t let this go in vain

You’re all I have All that remains

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

If you’ve lost someone close to you, you know how it goes. Even though you feel your world has stopped; the world, in fact, keeps spinning. Time continues forward; people keep moving on; there is always the “TO DO” list.

As we went about the tasks of cleaning out his closets, settling accounts, paying doctor bills, we nearly missed what was happening with the tree.

Neighbors began calling.

He had one of the old voice message systems that recorded messages on a mini-tape. We heard his voice at every missed call. It was heartbreaking, like he was still here and waiting to return calls. “Just leave a message and I’ll get right back to you…”

At least four neighbors called and several family members who had been to the house; all with very similar messages –

“…Let us know if you need help. Especially with that peach tree…”

WTH?

So my sister and I went out to the yard to investigate.

What we saw stunned us into silence. With tears in our eyes, we looked up and shook our heads in disbelief.

Five years after he planted it and just two months after he passed away, that peach tree’s branches were so filled with peaches that several of the branches hung to the ground! Many had leaned over into each of the neighbors’ yards—No wonder they were calling!

 

Peaches at last!

Peaches at last!

Our silence turned to awe.

There were so many peaches that each of those neighbors and family members picked to their hearts content. We packed several baskets and took them to friends.

Abundance

Abundance

We had some ourselves and baked no fewer than 12 peach pies which we froze and enjoyed over the next two years. Those pies were absolutely heavenly! We’ve held on to one, saving it for a very special occasion…

It’s May 30, 2014 and a beautiful clear Colorado day; the day before I will to marry my “Mr. Right” in Golden, Colorado. He and I go for my favorite run to Two Ponds and then around by my Dad’s old house. As we begin our run, I always pass by one of my favorite junior high school teacher’s house. Every time we do this run I tell my fiancé— “One of these days “Mister T” will be out taking care of his yard. I can’t wait to introduce you!”

We round the corner at the exact time we see his garage door opening and guess who steps out and begins working on his fence?!?

Barely able to contain myself, I nudge my running partner, “Today’s the day.”

I continue to jog right up to my old teacher. It has been years and he has aged; I can see it in his eyes. His eyes shine with recognition and a little confusion.

“Mister T!” I say, “It is Julie…uh..Stoddard…uh.. but soon to be different.” I wink at my fiancé.

“Oh my God it is!” He says and wraps me in a big hug.

“I always remembered the Stoddard girls; that deep voice you girls have, just like your dad!”

We go through the introductions and the reason we are back in town. He is happy in sharing his congratulations and I tell him how much he meant to me as a teacher and mentor. I know he is still making a difference in young lives as he shares some of his latest endeavors. Yet, there is a sadness in him; a weariness.

“How’s your dad doing? He still up around the corner? He still doing well?” He asks.

It’s my turn to feel sad.

“He passed away just over 5 years ago.” I tell him of the death sentence he was given. I also share with him the 13 years of bonus life we had with him and the triumphs of the unconventional treatments. I hold back on sharing how tough those last months were, watching the losing battle, I don’t like to re-visit that pain.

He looks me straight in the eye, I see the sadness in him again, “I’m so sorry, Julie. He was a good man.” He looks over to my fiancé, “Not that you need to hear this right now, with your good news for tomorrow…But, my wife,” he stops and looks back at the door to his house, “Over 40 years we’ve been together…She’s in there…can’t walk; can’t take care of herself; wearing a diaper.” His shoulders sink, “I just got through prostate cancer. The next day she falls. Now she doesn’t even know who I am.”

I choke back the tears in watching my teacher struggling with this. It all just seems to flood out.

His eyes drop, then he looks up, “I used to talk to God all the time. Now I just have questions. Why? I just don’t know anymore.”

This breaks my heart. I remember those feelings; the anger, the questions, the frustration, the helplessness, the weariness, the very same struggle I see in him.

Breathe

Sometimes I feel it’s all that I can do

Pain so deep that I can hardly move

Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You

Lord take hold and pull me through

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

And I did just what this song said. I fixed my eyes on the Lord and laid all my questions and feelings at the foot of the cross. I handed it over to the only One who I knew could bear my questions. I trusted Him to be faithful. But the heartache is still real; cancer is still cancer; Alzheimer’s is still a thief, death still happens. I still have questions.

But I trust I will be given answers some day.

 

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 (The Hope Bible)

OR, like one of my new favorite quotes from Sonny Kapoor who repeatedly says in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “It all works out in the end. And, if it has not yet worked out, then it is not yet the end!”

 

I grab ahold of my teacher’s hand and tell him the truth, “I wish you didn’t have to go through this. I don’t know why. I don’t have any answers.”

I really don’t. I hate this. I wish I had something hopeful to share with him. I am at a loss. I tell him he isn’t alone. I end up sharing how hard it was at the end for us with our father; the deep pain of watching one you love wither away, mentally, physically; the utter weariness and exhaustion of one’s spirit to witness such a thing.

But, I also tell him how I wouldn’t have survived without the prayers of my friends, encouragement from family and others sharing their struggles & stories. I tell him that God hasn’t left him and can handle his questions and to never stop talking to Him. I tell him how I believe God draws very near to us when we are brokenhearted; how I truly felt that. I tell him we will pray for him.

We continue on our run and we do. As we go by my father’s house and the tears come.

We pray for the pain we witnessed in “Mister T.” We prayed for his wife. And then I remember all those peaches.

I begin to wonder. Maybe, this is like those peaches that showed up after my father passed away?

Dad wanted those peaches so bad.

“Mister T” wants answers so bad.

But we may not get those “peaches” in our timing.

It’s the moment when humanity

Is overcome by majesty

When grace is ushered in for good

And all our scars are understood

When mercy takes its rightful place

And all these questions fade away

I fall into your arms open wide

When The hurt and the healer collide

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

 

 

And, just like this “divine collision” Mercy Me so beautifully describes, it is at this very moment, “Mister T”, my dad and I will sit down and savor that last peach pie.

The moment

The moment

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Run 2 Remember

Run 2 Remember

“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” John 16:20

Every so often, God’s grace touches down in our lives at the strangest of times…

This is one of those times.

Marne and Me before R2R

Marne and Me before R2R

It was 0-dark thirty, January 6, 2011 and at 20 degrees it is one of the chilliest mornings of the running season. Me and my running partner drove in the warmth of our car down nearly deserted streets to meet up with our friends at a park in Chandler, AZ to partake in a 5K (3.1 miles) race called The Run 2 Remember.

Because of their smaller distances, 5K’s are usually quite fun and festive, with people dressed in costume and loud music blaring. This particular 5K is run in honor of police officers across Arizona who’ve lost their lives. Military, fire departments and others also join in on this race and run to honor those they’ve lost in service.

It’s an emotion-filled, somber race.

Tense with the chill of the morning and the topic of the event, my thoughts turn to those whom I’ve lost and can never forget; I think of who I run for.

My friend, Marne, with whom I was meeting up with this morning, was grudgingly convinced (by me!) that moving from Colorado to Arizona was a good idea. But, with her deep attachments to family and her intense love of the Rocky Mountains, she was only staying a year; after that I was on my own.

Yet that day in 2011, the7th anniversary of the Run 2 Remember marked our 15th year in the desert.

It also marked another unforgettable day.

Having been in track and cross country, I’ve run so many different races, I’ve lost count. But Marne, a gymnast and a brand new runner, with her husband and three kids to commemorate, was running her very first 5K race.

As they go to get donuts, Marne and I begin affixing our race numbers.

She looks at me with a quivering lip.

“Don’t be nervous. You’ll do great; just run your own pace.” I assure her.

She shakes her head and looks down, “Jules, today is the 7th anniversary of when my dad died.” Her eyes well up as she looks at me, “Can you believe it’s been seven years??”

I flash back to the memories I have of her father; rosy cheeked and always smiling, with his full shock of white hair…I remember the devastation in her voice when she called to tell me of his unexpected death those seven years ago today.

Today, already feeling overcome, I simply don’t have words. I just hug her.

Arm-in-arm, we stand at the starting line. The gun goes off and hundreds of running shoes crunch across frozen desert tundra. We wind around the sidewalks and canals that make up this course. We choke up reading the t-shirts with the photos of loved ones lost in the line of duty. Gasps are heard in the midst of frosty exhales as many are also touched.

We can barely breathe as we watch the U.S. Marines, with frozen hands bravely hoisting heavy American flags, racing along honoring their friends, their family members, their brothers who served and sacrificed.

Running is a great coping method; the forward motion of it, the ease of getting into a rhythm where your mind can wander into forgotten realms. Running forces you to breathe and to push forward when you would much rather stay paralyzed in grief and stuck in a stagnant loss.

With each step, our pace accelerates. Mile by mile, we continue passing countless others lost in their very own races against memory and sorrow.

With each foot-fall advanced and breath inhaled, the light of dawn grows stronger.

Something unexplainable happened as we pushed ourselves on this cold morning. As we changed stride and began sprinting across the last few hundred yards of the race, lost in breath and motion, something else lifted us and pushed us forward…We finished exhausted, frozen and exhilarated.

This day, this anniversary for my friend will be one she will never forget.

With her three kids whopping and hollering and her husband and us tearfully cheering, she accepted her first place medal with such a shocked smile spread across her face. (And for those of us who run 5K’s, we know this is a really, really BIG DEAL!)

First Place!

“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Watching her accept her medal and pose for photos, my mind flashed back to the jovial and grinning image I have of her father. This day, the day her father died, but this new day, also her very first race and a first place finish. As if giving her permission to be something other than sad on this day, delivered straight from heaven was something to make her smile on this anniversary.

This was, indeed, a run to remember.

Again and again and again

Image from crossfitmf.com

Image from crossfitmf.com


I just heard that the first Monday of the first week of the year is touted as “the most depressing day of the year.” The first Monday after all that holiday time off, celebrations and festivities and then**Ka-BLAM!**–Most “New Year Resolutions” are already broken, those Christmas pounds are pushing at your pants and it’s back to “the old grind.”

Depressing.

But–Congratulations to us all! We made it through the most depressing day of the year already.

Maybe.

No lies—I have no doubt that this year will hold a cornucopia of events for us all.

Some good. Some bad.

Life is tough. Divorce, dead end jobs, relentlessly cruel bosses, mean store clerks, jerky drivers, taxes, financial woes, health struggles, and so on and so on…
Yet nothing leaves a bigger void than the loss of a loved one. Whether it be a sudden, unsuspected loss, like the quick tearing off of a bandage, or whether it is a lengthy illness, stretching out a loved one’s pain. Both are equally painful and both resulting in a galaxy-sized hole in your life.

My “energizer bunny” father and my joke-telling, sweet grandfather passed away within a month of each other. And several of my friends have experienced similar losses. One after the other; again and again and again; leaving void upon void that aches like the ghost-like pain of an amputee.

Part of you gone forever.

How do you honor that? How do you honor them?

“Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”—Walt Disney

This quote is from Saving Mr. Banks. The story details how Walt Disney, struggling to keep a 20 year promise to his daughters, fought to get the rights from Pamela Travers to her book “Mary Poppins” so he could turn it into a musical movie. I am glad I saw this movie many years after my losses. For me, this story overflowed with the relationship of father-to-daughter, daughter-to-father and that complex, yet special bond.
“Pamela” didn’t want to give over the rights to “Mr. Disney” because the characters were family to her. And through the movie, we discover they truly are her family.

And Walt Disney’s musical movie wasn’t what she had in mind to honor them.

It would seem, giving up the rights of her story to him meant letting go of what illusions she created to honor her family.

And my illusions are that, even if this “based on the true story” movie didn’t contain all the facts, it did honor those it was about. For me, those two hours in the theater were spent endearing me to “Pamela” and the love she had for her father; of discovering the man behind Walt Disney (his father, Elias) and the tenacity of Walt in his promise to his daughters, as well as remembering my own father and weeping about loss with those who have had this same struggle of how to honor their memory.

Life stops for no one. I mean, how does one grieve in the three days of bereavement leave some jobs allow? Even the “moment of silence” offered up at memorials passes away and is too quickly replaced with the hustle and bustle of this supersonic paced world we must return to.

We need a place to lay things to rest.

“That is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet. If you bring the right earnestness to your homemade ceremony, God will provide the grace. And that is why we need God.”
–Elizabeth Gilbert from “Eat, Pray, Love.”

So, whether it’s for a divorce, a job loss or a freshly opened wound created by a death; and whether it’s in a movie theater, a church, or the tallest tower of an Ashram in India; I pray that you invite God in, and find peace in honoring the losses in your life.
Again and again and again.

Dedicated in Memoriam of Harry Herbert Hyde who left this life on 12-30-13

HOME

Arvada Trains

HOME
“Home is the nicest word there is.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

Dorothy tells us there’s no place like it.

Where do you call home?

You know how you hear something every single day of your life and you end up tuning it out? Even though it continues, you no longer hear it. Until, one day, you leave the place you call “home” and it’s truly gone.
Then you miss it.
But, sometimes it returns…

I am back in Scottsdale, after a fantastic Thanksgiving visit to Arvada, Colorado – my hometown for 25 years.

“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”
― Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye

TOP TEN THINGS I MISS ABOUT BEING HOME:

1) Miles upon miles of railroad tracks criss-crossing through town and the sounds of the trains speeding through at all times of the day and night

2) Family and old friends being only a Starbuck’s distance away
3) My mom’s overflowing generosity and her chicken and noodles
4) Beau Jo’s Mountain Pies and, ACTUAL MOUNTAINS, the glory of the front range
5) Snow softly falling on fallen leaves and the smell of fireplaces burning
6) Layering up and running to Two Ponds, the nation’s smallest urban wildlife refuge
7) Bronco’s fans, after a win
8) Seeing my nephews playing in sports they love and growing a foot taller
9) Old Towne Arvada
10) My dad, my grampy, my grammy and all those who’ve gone before me to a different home

BUT…

THINGS I DON’T MISS ABOUT HOME:

1) Snot actually freezing in my nose
2) Dirty, crusty, chemical coated cars
3) Power windows freezing shut in the drive-thru at Starbucks
4) 15 car pile-up caused after the first snow and the guy with his new 4WD truck
5) Bronco’s fans, after a loss
6) Old town Aurora
7) The five pounds I gain as I eat more of mom’s chicken and noodles and Beau Jo’s mountain pies
8) Watching the melanoma eat away at my dad, seeing the dementia turn my grampy into a different man and visiting grammy in the hospital after the most recent surgery
9) Miles upon miles of railroad tracks criss-crossing through town and the sounds of the trains speeding through at all times of the day and night


“Happiness is home… It is a state of mind. A place of communion and unconditional love. It is where, when you cross its threshold, you finally feel at peace.”
― Dennis Lehane

Wherever you call “home,” may there always be more good things on the list of things you miss.

And may you always have a place of unconditional love and peace.

LUCKY 13

Image

October is Breast Cancer/Cancer Awareness month.
Through FaceBook, Carrie Ann Coomes-Kemp shares her story and we’ve seen her “warrior” against breast cancer. Every day.
Saturday, October 5th we lost a friend, Colleen McEahern, to cancer.
Also on Saturday, October 5th, I gulped down tears (and a Coors light in Colleen’s honor,) as the Avett Brothers played Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away” :

“I know a woman
Became a wife
These are the very words she uses
To describe her life
She said a good day
Ain’t got no rain
She said a bad day’s when I lie in bed
And think of things that might have been”

If you have cancer, or if someone you love has it, every second of every day is Cancer Awareness.


She nearly died TWICE “on my watch” on two different trips to Arizona.

Very frightening for a granddaughter to see in her beloved grandmother.

She enjoyed long talks with the Avon lady, days at the hair salon with Desi, gambling at the penny machines “up on the hill” and anything with family.
She loved gifts, butterflies, shoes, the color purple, scary movies, buttered popcorn, chewy brownies, grandpa, angels, Jesus and, did I mention she loved gifts? 8)
Because we loved her so much, we all competed to give her great and creative gifts.

She gave me the very best gift.

Born October 13,1927, she would say, “Thirteen is my lucky number. It’s the day God placed me in this life.”

Before every NFL team wore pink in support of it, before Susan G. Komen made #savetheboobs a communal rally-cry and before every school had a “pink week” to raise money, my grandmother got her first (of several) cancer diagnoses. Aggressive breast cancer at 41 years of age. There was no 5K run in support. Her co-workers didn’t shave their heads to encourage her. This was before people were aware.

She didn’t drive. She carpooled with a “gentleman” to her government job. After she was diagnosed and began her treatments, (that she rode the bus to!), her carpooling partner explained he had to quit taking her to work because he couldn’t risk catching what she had.
This was before reconstructive surgery was “approved.” They took her breast, lymph nodes and so much tissue (including scraping a rib or two) that they developed a bodysuit for her to make her look “normal.” You could say she was the impetus of the original Wonder Bra!–She survived this treatment (from doctors and from co-workers) and persevered through many more cancer diagnoses and treatments. Eleven major surgeries in twenty years.
I never once heard her complain. Not even when she lost every single strand of her hair (which happened with Desi at the hair salon.) My grandmother fixed her jaw and stood strong while she watched as Desi wept.

Lucky 13?

The letter is green and hand addressed to me in Arizona and bears her characteristic, barely decipherable, chicken-scratch lettering. It is written on paper embossed with butterflies:
“…The rooms were great and I won just enough so that I didn’t have to spend a lot. Eleanor took $650.00 and I had $450.00. We didn’t want to carry that much in our billfolds so we devised a scheme. We hid it all in my fake boob behind and under my fake silicone boob. Eleanor called it our boob safe. I had a nice birthday and your mom cooked a great dinner for us as usual…”

She gained strength through every trial. She was an over-comer and had such humor about life.

I am 22 and we are in a red velvet lounger at a buffet in Las Vegas enjoying some special grandma/granddaughter time. I asked her how she could be so strong.
She said, “Your grandpa and I have seen so many of our friends and family die, we know each day here is a gift.”

Just after we nearly lost her in Arizona, they released her into my care so she could gain strength to return to Denver. She slept in my bed while I slept on the air mattress and brought her soups and cheese and crackers. We played cards and talked about life.
I had to know, “Did you see the light?”
She smiled. She said she knew where she was going. She was at peace. She soon would be with the Lord, but she remained because my mom and uncle weren’t ready.
She passed away shortly after her return to Denver.
She shared her attitude with all who would listen for 74 years before she “slip slided away.”
It was my grandmother’s “gift of gab” that endeared her to so many (and it was what drove us a little crazy.) One time I counted; she told me the same story FIVE times!
I would give all I own to have her back now and to hear one of her stories. But I know, deep in my bones, because of her faith, that where she is–sickness, sorrow and pain no longer pursue her. She is in the Lord’s presence.

What a gift.

An article from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association addresses this very thing, “Heaven is the place of perfect happiness — and one of its greatest joys will be our reunion with those who have gone there before us. God loves us, and He won’t withhold that joy from us!” (from BillyGraham.org)

“Slip slidin’ away
Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away”

The next time someone you love is driving you a “little batty”—remember it’s these little things that make them so endearing; so treasured and so unique when they are gone.

Because of the free gift of grace offered in Jesus Christ, I know that one day I will be able to laugh with my grandma and hear her stories for all eternity.

Pretty darn lucky.

In loving memory of Nancy Sterkel 10/13/27-4/30/01

And in honor of all the Valiant Warriors who have and who are battling cancer.