Thankful for Virginia

It was the evening after Thanksgiving a few years ago. I went for a walk with my mother and brother in our family’s neighborhood. I listened vaguely to the conversation as we went, but didn’t participate much. I was captivated in the sounds and smells of the post-holiday darkness, and lost in the memories it conjured. 

Virginia has always had a particular smell to me, and so has fall, and that night, it was both combined. There was the stink of marsh mud, mingled with wood smoke and the occasional perfume of pine. A few evening insects still sang to us as we went, and I heard the far off exchange between neighborhood dogs and hunting hounds. I spent a great deal of my childhood here, playing “ship” on the hammock with my brothers, searching for easter eggs in the yard, and hunting down the monsters that hid beneath the piled pine-needles under the old trees that witnessed it all.

But it’s not only that little neighborhood where my mother grew up that I spent happy days.  There were bright summer afternoons where I sat, wind-swept and sparkling with river spray at the front of my Grandad’s boat, or behind a fishing pole on the dock, waiting expectantly for that telltale tug on the line.  I loved the historical field trips we made, to Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, and several other landmarks. There were also those weekends at theme parks, Busch Gardens or Water Country, filled with music and laughter, and the smells of sunscreen, chlorine, summer-baked pavement, and waffle cones.  There were a thousand bright colors, in flowers and painted rides, and a thousand families exploring and enjoying the parks along with us.  

Those have always been special memories to me with my family.  Waiting in lines for rides was essentially forced quality time with my brothers, the sort of open conversation time that we didn’t necessarily share otherwise, and certain traditions developed, too.  I always went to the Irish-themed section of the park with my Grandmother to see the step-dancing show.  My mom and grandmother always got vanilla soft-serve with strawberries when we visited the ice-cream parlors.  My Dad always laughed at our ridiculous pictures from the rollercoasters and had a special talent for finding live music (although that’s a talent he has everywhere he goes).  My Grandad liked the music too, but was generally a silent observer of it all.

There’s more I could write about Virginia. In more recent times, she was the home of my first job, the place I lived for a couple of summers with a dear sister and mentor, and the place I met another one of my closest sisters in Christ. In every case it has been a place of growth and blessing.

It’s Thanksgiving again, and my fourth Thanksgiving abroad. In thinking of my friends and family far away, I can’t help but think of Virginia, and thank God for all she represents in my life. God is good to give us places, to be, and remember, and treasure. 

Reconciling the Good and the Hard, Part 2

This is the continuation of Reconciling the Good and the Hard, Part 1. For full context, I recommend giving that a read first.

My husband and I on our wedding day with black lab Prim. I am wearing a fifties style white, cap-sleeve dress with sweetheart neckline and puffy skirt. My husband is in his navy suit. Prim is wearing a burlap vest trimmed with blue ribbon, strings of pearls, and pink flowers.

I know we weren’t the only 2020 couple that got our wedding plans totally derailed by Covid restrictions. Fortunately, our August date fell at a time when we were allowed to have 20 some people in person at the ceremony. We had to let go of our hotel wedding with over a hundred guests, including all of my family and friends from America. I wouldn’t be able to wear my grandmother and mother’s wedding dress, as I had hoped. My mom wouldn’t be there to help me get ready. My brothers would not be groomsmen. My best friends from the States wouldn’t be standing with me. My Dad wouldn’t be walking me down the aisle, and the toasts and dancing I had imagined for our reception wouldn’t happen either.

But praise God we could still get married! I ordered my 27 euro white dress on Amazon. I set to making wedding vests for our flower girl and ring bearer, that is, Prim and my nephew puppy. Several of my sweet friends from church helped me put together decorations and set up the church hall for ceremony and reception. My dear friend’s mother-in-law gathered beautiful arrangements of wild flowers and greenery for the tables and window sills. Our family gifted us the money for our reception meal, and friends offered us white table cloths and silverware to dress up the dinner. 

Here again was the good and the hard. I didn’t forget everyone and everything I was missing that day. My heart ached for the presence of my loved ones far away, and for the traditions we wouldn’t get to take part in because of the lockdowns. All of that is true, and yet also true was the anticipation I felt as I waited, dressed and ready in my friend’s car, with my flowers and Grandmother’s Bible clutched in my arms. Prim was excited too, sweet in her burlap vest covered in pink hyacinths and pearls. I was breathless as my maid of honor helped me into the church and hovered with me at the door of the sanctuary. My stomach lurched at hearing the harp begin to play. It was almost time!

“Are you nervous?” my friend asked in a whisper.

“I’m so excited!” I whispered back, feeling like I might actually choke with the thrill of it all.

It took seconds for my friend and I to walk down the aisle, and then I was beside him, and all there was was joy. His hand found mine, and I held on. We smiled and laughed and sang our way through the ceremony, and walked out into the August sunshine, officially husband and wife.

God seems to have made the human heart with the capacity to enjoy blessing and endure trial at the same time, to live through hard things, and know that they can still be good, or at least, that good still exists because the God of goodness remains. I don’t understand how our wedding day could be as blessed and sweet as it was with all the hard that was attached to it, but by God’s grace it was, and I smile every time I think of the day I became my husband’s bride. 

God makes the same commitment to his church as my love and I made to one another on that August afternoon. 

“I take thee”, Jesus says to his bride, “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…”, though our Lord, in his sovereign kindness need not finish, “until death do us part”. Instead, he can truly say, “And death shall never part us.” because of what Christ did at Calvary.

As my friend pointed out, the Gospel is our greatest example of the good and the simultaneous hard. Jesus, though blameless, lived a life of difficulty, “A man of sorrows acquainted with grief”. Though innocent, he died the death of the worst criminal, and suffered the wrath of his father. And yet, he rose again on the third day, and it is because of all of these things that the Christian can be declared righteous before God. The “Good News” of the Gospel is wrapped up in the most difficult experience a human has ever endured. While there may be times where blessing and trial come in tandem, as it did on our wedding day, it is ultimately this good news that gives us hope even when it seems blessing is altogether absent, so that even then we can say, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

Staying Still for Colin

It’s my little brother’s birthday today.  I cannot believe how old and tall he is!  Isn’t it a funny moment when your cute little brother suddenly becomes your very hansom, tall brother?  Seriously, he’s like a foot taller than me now… maybe more.

Anyway, these are my reflections on memories from 20 years ago when my baby brother was born.  I miss and love you lots, Colin!  Happy birthday!

I’m wearing my favorite dress… well, one of them.  It’s the button up, with the pockets and the wide collar that looks like a slice of watermelon.  I am glad I’m dressed up, because I’m a big sister now.  I’m going to see my little brother.  Being a big sister is an important job, and I want to look the part… especially because I want Mom to let me hold him.  Only big, responsible girls get to hold baby brothers.

Grandmother says that we’re almost there.  I see huge buildings and a parking lot filled with cars.  There’s an apple on the seat next to me… the one my big brother refused to eat.  He doesn’t like apples.  I wonder if my little brother will like apples… he probably won’t be able to eat them until he’s three like me though.

We walk down a long hallway.  It’s white tile and bright lights, and there are windows to our right.  I see babies through the windows, in little boxes.  Is he in there?  I peer through the windows as we pass.  There’s a dark-skinned baby… Is that him?  I see a baby that looks a lot more like me, blonde and white-skinned, but then we’re turning into a room, and there’s my brother.

He’s curled in my Mom’s arms, wrapped in blankets.  All I can see is his little pink face.  Mom smiles at us.  My big brother and I run to her bedside.  Mom takes my hand and lets me touch his head, urging me to “be gentle.’

I am… I can’t imagine being anything else.  My fingers brush over feathery baby fuzz, and I can’t believe he’s real.  He’s just like my baby doll, Elizabeth, only warm, and breathing, and a boy.

I’m jumping up and down and asking if I can hold him.  I can’t help it.  I’ve been waiting for this moment forever!  Mom says if I sit on the bed next to her and stay very still, I can hold him.  I clamber on the bed and sit very still on top of the blankets.  He’s in my arms, warm and heavy and full of sleep.

I’m a big sister, and I can’t stop smiling.