Apples, Jesus, and Everything Else That Really Matters

I was just quickly grabbing some apples from the produce section, having completed most of my shopping already. An older man – probably in his late seventies – decorated with a veteran hat and plain clothing, asked me which kind I preferred. I replied that I supposed I would go for the Braeburn. He asked me to consider the Gala apples. Afterall, they were less than half the price. I smiled, gave him a friendly glance, and told him he had changed my mind – I would try the Gala today. I thought the exchange would end there.

Looking back, I don’t think it even started there. I think he tried to converse with me on the other side of the produce section over a fallen itemized sign, although I cannot be sure because I did not pay enough attention to my audience. I glazed over that quick communication, thinking nothing more of it than someone wondering what had fallen on the floor, making sure I hadn’t lost something from my cart. This time, I noticed his veteran hat, his blue shirt, and his worn jeans. This time, I stopped to peer into his face. This time, he told me his wife died last March.

How does this happen over apples with a stranger?

As he started the next sentence after we had moved on from the apples, I made a mental note to make sure I thanked him for his service. I asked what he did to celebrate Veteran’s Day. He told me which restaurants he’d gone to this week, with whom…and I think that’s when he started crying. I think that’s when he said he lost his wife this year. So, here I am. Apples in one hand, other hand placed on his back, intending to comfort him, as he tearfully tells me about the hardest year of his life.

I gaze into his eyes, solemnly saying I understand loss because I have experienced it, too. He looks at me, a little confused, and asks if I have lost my husband. With my hand still on his back, I explain that no, I have not lost my husband, but babies. He doesn’t hear what I have said, so he asks me to repeat myself. “BABIES,” I say. In between apples and lemons and grapefruit, I loudly say, “I HAVE LOST BABIES” to him and anyone within ear shot in the supermarket. I wonder who might be listening to our conversation, wondering if this is my grandfather or a family friend, but I don’t look around. It doesn’t really matter.

He understands now. He asks my age. I tell him and he looks surprised I could be so old, as anyone 40+ years younger than him probably starts to blend together in a beautiful, youthful way (well, that’s what I will believe, anyway). He says he will pray for my next babies. He says I should consider having more than one because he has five grandchildren and he loves them just like his children. He says he needs my prayers. He says a lot of other things about heaven and people who don’t know Jesus going to hell and asks me where I go to church and I just let him talk. I nod, I don’t disagree with him because I know the specifics don’t matter*. This connection matters. This moment matters where he feels heard and he can cry with someone instead of crying alone at home like he told me he does “constantly.”

Sometimes, when people ask about apples, they really are just waiting to tell their stories. They are waiting to connect. They are waiting to say, “God bless you” and “Pray for me” and many other pepperings of things that don’t matter outside of context but matter because of the intention…the intention of love…the intention of shaking off our loneliness and trading it in for an exhilarating conversation that is wildly inappropriate by normal standards.

But, who wants to be normal anyway?

*Specifically, though, I do want to use this moment to explain where I stand. Anyone who reads this blog probably knows I believe in a higher power. I practice Catholicism (loosely), but I believe strongly in science reigning everything, an absence of hell, and the complete acceptance/belief of all religions (or even philosophies) founded in love. It’s the rituals and rules that get us into trouble. We all know who/what some of us call God. It’s the deepest part of ourselves. And, for this reason, maybe I can’t be called Catholic, and that’s okay, too. I hate labels anyway. So if you don’t believe in Jesus, that doesn’t bother me. Actually, I don’t think Jesus thinks you need to believe in him either.

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International Birthday Cake

Today is the little boy in Haiti’s birthday. The boy who may or may not come to live with us forever (in a year or two) is now one year old.

This is a day for reflection. I have been down this road several times, this road of celebration for the children I hope to love and cherish on this earth, but sometimes never come home. I have always felt that these moments need to be marked, though, because what if it does work out this time? In that case, of course, we will want these memories to share with him.

I made an ugly cake. I didn’t mean for it to be ugly, but it just didn’t work out the way I planned (and welcome to the rest of my life!). The love behind the gesture will just have to be enough. And you know what? I think it is enough. I started to realize this cake, with the swirling blues and splatters of gold balls, kind of looks like a globe if looked at lovingly with a lazy, far away glance (or maybe this is just me…but try to go with it). This cake – with the land masses sprinkled in the wrong places and the not-so-tidy or realistic purple border – seems fitting and even unitive (and what a joke it would be if I showed you the cake decorating ideas I got off of Pinterest for this attempt!).

Cake_high

Yes, this cake is a cake of love. This cake is a cake of connection. With this cake, I am celebrating the life of a boy I’ve never met…and hoping he won’t be too upset if one day he has to make a big trip (across golden land masses that look very different than the ones on my cake) and becomes part of our family. There is perfection in this imperfect sign of longing and invitation. Happy birthday, little guy. We love you already.

And Then There Was Just Sweet Relief…

As I clicked on a draft to write this post, my eye caught my last post titled, “Bittersweet Relief.” A few short days later, I am truly writing about something with nothing “bitter” about it. A dear friend and soul sister of mine just gave birth to a very sweet, very healthy, baby boy.

She has three beautiful kids at home and, now, this little one she will take home in a few days from the hospital. From the outside, we probably look like two very different people considering our geographical location, family structure, and day-to-day activities. What people passing her at a baseball game or at the park may never guess is her family didn’t come so easily. Last January, as I was acknowledging Adam’s due date at home, she was in the hospital, giving birth to a sweet little girl, little Olivia, born many weeks too soon.

When I heard about Olivia, I reached out immediately, trying to see how I might help her tackle this crazy sadness and overwhelming disbelief she undoubtedly was feeling; I wanted her to feel less confused, scared, and alone. We were old summer camp friends and hadn’t talked in over a decade, but that made zero difference. Our paths had lined us up perfectly to take care of each other through some of the darkest, scariest months we had experienced. As the months passed, we were able to connect through sharing our grieving processes, our pregnancy fears, and little details about Adam and Olivia, whom we both agree must be connected now in their own way.

As I struggled through more miscarriages, she had the experience and compassion to understand what that really meant. As she struggled with hope and trust as the weeks of her pregnancy flipped on the calendar, I was there to do the same for her. Although our journeys are somewhat different, they are very much the same, and – today – we get to celebrate the pure light that comes after the darkness.

Today, I am going to celebrate the miracle she has (we have) been given. I feel a great sense of relief and joy. In the not hopeless days I have been experiencing, this is a great chance to pause and – what else – steal a little nectar.

Hurting Hearts

Today, my friends’ hearts are hurting, and mine is hanging low, feeling only a fraction of the pain they are all feeling. Last night, a woman described to me as vibrant and always, always bubbling over with joy, unexpectedly met God. As anguishing as it is to write, so did her 15 week old baby tucked inside her womb. Her husband, also processing his mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis, will now be a single dad to their little daughter.

What was supposed to be one of the happiest times in this couple’s life did a 180 degree turn in a single afternoon. A moment of physical pain gave way to collapse, coma, and finality on this earth within a few hours.

I imagined this husband waking up this morning with the grief and unbelief capsizing his heart and soul in the first moment of light. Then, I realized how silly I am to think he even slept for a moment last night. I imagined him trying to explain to their little daughter that mommy will never pour her a glass of milk again, or tuck her in and read her bedtime stories. I questioned the logistics of navigating everyday life now (whatever that is) aside from the sorrow – going to work, playing at the park, doing laundry, and so on.

I imagine my sweet friend, 37 weeks pregnant, trying to enjoy this miracle time in her life without her bubbly friend. I imagine how she is going to turn this tragedy into compassion and appreciation. My hurting heart goes out to her as she and her husband process their overwhelming grief in the midst of their strongest joy, balancing polarizing emotions in the same breath.

I have never met this woman and, until this afternoon, had never even seen a photo of her. But, along with everyone else touched with these events, I cannot begin to comprehend what this means for her community. Her family will never be able to know how many people will pause, say a healing prayer, and will join them – even for a moment or two – in their sorrow.

Today, I pray for Renee and everyone she has affected with her too-short life. I send out nourishing energy to their souls and – with the knowledge of my own journey through the grieving process – stand tall with them as they begin this long and truly never ending journey of missing their girl. It’s not easy, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but – if you let it be – this grief and her life can be transformative for your spirits. Let her life serve the purpose of enhancing yours – not only with her memories – but with the lessons she gives you now and tomorrow.