In the timeframe of history, and most surely of eternity, our lives are but a brief instant, a flicker of light in a boundless universe. Yet a divine spark dwells within us — the very essence of the God who transcends and redeems time — and thus our brief passage through life becomes eternally significant, made incalculable in value by Him who sanctifies time and transforms our passing journey into a priceless jewel.

We are, at our outset, but uncut stones, to be shaped and chiseled by Him, through the joys and hardships of life, and by those who on our pilgrimage touch us, guiding and shaping our lives, be it by parents, siblings, friends or foes, church and culture. Each of our lives is a story, and that story is written large by those who inhabit our lives and share our journey.

Today we mourn the death, and celebrate the life, of Joan Shepard. We are gathered in this house of worship as a testimony, not only to her life, but to our sure hope that this life from which she has passed is is not all there is, but rather a grand preparation for a far better, fuller life, where we no longer live by faith but at last by sight, in the presence of God. Our great loss is Joan’s gain — and we who share the hope of all who live and die in Christ know that our mourning is but for a time, as we will join in her joy and share her victory in the presence of God when our time of departure comes.

Yet we who are left behind, grieving our loss, will pause to remember her life as well, and the countless ways in which she touched us and left a great legacy in her wake. Joan was one of the Greatest Generation, born at the beginning of a century of great hardship and strife, who were scarred and hardened by its sufferings and horrors. Yet through that crucible there shone through a character and courage which emblemized a generation and inspired those who inherited the peace and prosperity they purchased for those who followed.

Such character and dignity was on full display in Joan’s life, shaped by her life’s journey. I recall the story of her father’s death — a time much like ours here today — a time of great mourning, as he passed from this life at a young age. He owned a shoe store in Burlington Iowa, their home town, and struggled as so many did through the painful years of the Great Depression. At his funeral, unbeknownst to his friends and family — and to their great surprise and joy — there came forward many who were there to honor him because of his great generosity, having supplied shoes at no cost to struggling farmers. and having paid for scholarships to college for many.

This spirit of generosity was present in full in Joan’s life as well. She was gracious and generous to a fault, giving freely of her time and money to whomsoever was in need. She was deeply involved in service, bringing food and hope to needy families through the FISH ministry up until the final days of her life. Late in life she entered intensive training for ministry in healing prayer, touching profoundly the lives of those deeply wounded by life’s cruelty or enslaved by the harsh darkness of Satan’s hand. She was never a consumer Christian, always deeply involved in life here at St. Mary’s, living her faith with her hands and feet, not merely in pious words and reverent detachment. We will never know, this side of Paradise, how many lives were touched and healed by the extraordinary generosity of her spirit and her faith.

We who were her children and grandchildren know well of this generosity of spirit, the joy of her smile, and the testimony of her faith. How well we remember her smiling face and wonderful sense of humor; how well we remember the warm, inviting graciousness and hospitality of her home, always bedecked with flowers and an abundance of wonderful food; how well we remember how she could engage a total stranger and in minutes put that person at ease as if they had been lifelong friends.

We remember too her zest for life; her feistiness; the adventuresome spirit with which she launched out on overseas travel with friends and family even well into her 80s; her sharp mind; her fierce independence and unwillingness to be a burden on anyone. God forbid you should try to pick up the tab at a restaurant: Joan was set to do battle to grab the check, and would be furious if you, by various forms of trickery, slipped it away from her.

But most of all we are grateful in remembering her deep faith — a faith now rewarded in the presence of the Lord she served faithfully so many years. She stands now before Him, in joy, in the company of her husband George who preceded her, in glory, without pain or sorrow. I suspect even now she is arguing with Jesus about who will pick up the tab — although I suspect it’s an argument she won’t win this time.

We will miss you, Joan, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the blessing you have been to each of us in this life. May God give you peace and eternal rest, and draw you to Himself in His presence and glory. We long for the day when we shall see you again.

A Life Well-Lived

On November 22nd, at 2 pm, at the age of 90, my wife’s mother passed from this life to the next.

She died peacefully, in no pain, with her family at her side, with true dignity.

Hers was an extraordinary life, an extraordinary spirit, an extraordinary faith.

She will be greatly missed.

The Jewel

This letter is a compilation of four, written to my family members in celebration of Christmas and thankfulness for the gift they are to me.

diamondIn the beginning, it was there.

It was there–at the razor’s edge: that infinitesimal instant between nothingness and creation, at the flash of brilliance so fierce no universe could contain it.

It was there–as light and fury and elements yet unformed flew outward at velocities without limit, hurtling from the center towards destinations yet unknown–but to One.

It was there–as suns nascent and immense, coalesced from blue-white clouds, purity of energy become forges of creation, gathering to themselves their anvils of yet-unseen wonders.

It was there–as spheres formed in subservient orbits, obsequious to their newfound masters, ablaze with the raging inferno born of lightspeed journey to destined repose.

It was there–as continents split and drifted, crusted craft navigating their way through molten seas, divining stars yet barely formed.

It was there–deep in the earth–fused by forces immeasurable, fires unthinkable, pressures unbearable, ordering its scattered atoms to hardened lattice and crystalline clarity.

It was there–discarded by ancient fools as curious oddities, worthless beyond some measure of inspection.

It was there–a secret treasure, entombed in base elements, formless in shape yet priceless in potential.

In the beginning, it was there–the treasure of eons, the Jewel of great worth.

The Jeweler caresses his find, scooped from the earth, envisioning in its soiled soul a masterpiece of light and beauty. Each cut is imagined, planned yet predicated by events and energies of ancient millennia. Were this stone sentient, hardened in darkness and molded by forces unimagined, the brutal shearing would be agonal, as faces held dearly fly distant to reveal still-unsung beauty. Each facet–lovingly crafted, precisely chiseled–brings forth some new unspoken glory, some aspect anticipated yet astonishing still in its surprise and wonder.

The rough shape forms slowly, revealing in hewn form only the coarsest image of the Designer’s thoughts. Imperfections appear: some to be sundered, yet others multiplying the beauty and infinite variance of darkness made light. This stone, this jewel–like all others–is unique in synthesis yet designed for one purpose: to radiate the light within, to carry the brilliance of that instant before time existed, when the Voice of Light spoke softly and creation rushed forth.

And you, my most precious of treasures, are that Jewel.

To my wife:

You were there, in the mind of God, long before time and thought existed.

You were there, in the moving of Spirit, as creation spun forth in its wildness and majesty.

You were there, by the gentle hand of God, moved silently by hope and hardship, grace and grief, drawing us softly, inexorably toward oneness of spirit.

You were there, in the beginning, when I, without direction or purpose, found my course steadied and my orbit set.

You were there, through the darkness, with pain your companion, fury your friend, confusion your compass–yet faithfulness your light.

The Jeweler has chosen us two–each common stones of lesser measure–to create in one something greater than two. He has given to me in you a precious jewel, magnificent in its brilliance and beauty, reflecting the luster of His light within. We have by turns sharpened the other’s facets, hewing away rough edges, making angular and sparkling that once muted and smooth. And so we become, by timeless progress, the Jewel the Designer seeks, through fusion of spirit and heart, becoming His prize.

It is with joy unspeakable that I share such union, such life, such wholeness, such love.

It is with hope unshakeable that I share both life and eternity with you.

It is with love beyond measure that I thank Him who has bestowed on me such priceless treasure, this Jewel of great worth.

To my son:

Born in storm of pain and loss, my hand raised high in defiant defeat, you were a flash of light in that darkness of time, a promise of hope, a future of brilliance. I held you in my arms, drawing you close, seeing in your face my future, yet far brighter than I could ever hope. I watched you grow in quiet wonder, hurtling toward your destiny in outer peace and inner passion.

Our journeys grew separate, as I the fool in wisdom sought that which cannot endure, and you by distance and destiny sought light in loneliness. Each heard in our music the song of the spheres, hoping by chords and cadence to find in each other the harmonies of our hearts. Yet our pilgrimage was long, and painful, each through the darkness of coldest space. Could I replay those years, when you were hurt so deeply and I so foolish, I would do so gladly–but ours is not to relive the journey, desirable though that be, but to move in harmony with the present, and grow in grace, and strength, and love, in the places where we now find rest. And so, our orbits are again entwined, as they ever were, drawn by the gravity of service and care.

You, my son, my firstborn, my namesake: you are my pride, my passion, my treasure beyond words. In you is the heart of love, the tenderness of spirit, the quiet depths of eternity and time, the joy, the humor, from which springs the greatest works of Him who designed you. Never could a man be more blessed than to have such a son, and I shall thank Him evermore for such a priceless jewel.

To my oldest daughter:

In gentleness and peace you came into this world, a gift beyond measure to me. Your generous spirit and joyful soul were evident from your earliest days, gifted as you were with tenderness and love for others. Yet deep within that heart, so filled with love for man and beast, was a fire of determination and purpose–sparkling, brilliant even–hurtling you toward destinies unknown yet surely glorious.

I watched you grow with great love–yet in my blindness turned away, to follow that which is ephemeral and without substance, neglecting that of priceless worth. Those years, those wasted years, will remain a loss irretrievable, a casualty incalculable, an emptiness which cannot be filled. Could I travel through time, and undo the past, I would do so at any price–yet the Designer by His grace has bestowed on me the joy of watching you, the child of joy, become a woman of strength, and integrity, and love, and conviction. No greater gift, no finer jewel–nor one less deserved–could be bestowed on a man–fool that I am–in a thousand lifetimes.

To my youngest daughter:

A fire burned brightly at your birth, a singular star in the heavens–passionate, deep, powerful, brilliant. I knew that day as I held you in my arms that God had poured out His blessings on earth, that greatness would surround you and accompany you all your days. Your journey has been often dark and difficult, pierced with pain, yet shining shards of glory have never ceased to burst forth from the forge of your suffering, transcending the darkness with light unparalleled.

You have since your first day been my pride and my precious one, filled with the power of life, a jewel of great brilliance and beauty. You grew and prospered, a bright star always in my heaven, leaping to heights unbounded with grace and elegance. If you could but know your own passion, your gifts, your beauty so deep and glorious, there would be no worlds you could not conquer, no universe beyond your grasp.

Yet I have bound this very power, as foolishly I neglected that which is precious in you for baser, empty baubles of no value. Would that I had power to change such a fate, bending backwards the hands of time to start anew, to be fresh in my awe and admiration of you and all you would become and ever be. Such gifts are not granted to man–but by God’s grace I have been given this gift: that you are still my prize, my jewel, the daughter whom I love and cherish. And from this day forward shall I ever treasure this priceless jewel, this gift of God in you.


The headlights
Slashing, their savage brilliance hacking at the night
Frantically seeking the heart which drives this dark hollow beast.

Where is she?
There. Alone. Walking.
Hair cast in cold mercury vapors, the mockery of light.
Cold. Shivering. Surviving, yet again.

The road, empty.
The heart, empty.
The words, enraged and empty.
The road, unlit, dark as dawn divorced of day.

Questions pour forth
Rushing like blackened pavement beneath worn tires.
Rushing like whitened stripes streaking toward the past.
Anguished. Searching. Unanswerable.

Where is He?
Here. Alone. Talking.
Prayer cast in cold mercury vapors, a mockery of sight.
Frantically I seek the Heart which drives this dark hollow beast.

The Fairness Doctrine

It’s been a hellacious month (a hellacious year, actually — more on that in a minute), with big changes at work (two new employees to train), a major home construction/repair project going on, and a near-fatal case of the avian flu (well, it felt like bird flu… ) from which I am just now barely rebounding.

The past year or so has been phenomenally difficult in many ways — with an aging mother-in-law who has had two falls with resulting long-term disability and a rocky recovery (but who is now doing well); a major family brawl arising out of her care decisions; a contentious dispute at work over a 401(k) discrepancy; two car accidents (my wife and I, no injuries, just the expense and hassle of dealing with body shops and car insurance); a medical lawsuit filed against me; a daughter who’s 8-month marriage ended in divorce despite her heroic efforts to salvage it; the death of the family dog; the loss of two long-term employees (in a three-employee practice) which has — temporarily, I hope — nearly doubled my workload as I train their replacements. And this is the short list.

Oh, and one more thing: our house is falling down. Seriously.
Continue reading “The Fairness Doctrine”

Delivering the Cookies

It is, after a fashion, a legend of the fall.

Not mine, mind you — although one could say my fall was in some ways greater.

My wife’s mother was, though elderly, quite strong and independent — alert, cantankerous, losing a little memory here and there, in nearly constant pain from vertebrae once tall and straight but now arched and foreshortened. It seemed simple enough: bend down to retrieve the dropped utensil, a task done mindlessly a million times before. But this time, different: muscles weakened by nearly nine decades, joints worn thin and crepitant by a century’s steps, she could not maintain balance and fell backwards to the floor.

The call came shortly thereafter, and was not the first: a prior fall six months before had broken no bones but nearly broken her spirit — months of slow recovery, fighting pain and hopelessness, had by some small miracle been conquered, with much relief among us but a lingering fear of an even-worse encore. The curtain call came, to no applause and much apprehension.

The hospital stay was long, and replete with the consequences of falls in the elderly: rapid loss of strength from recumbency; mental confusion from requisite opiates; quiescent health problems charging to the fore to complicate a recovery trivial for the young but disastrous and often deadly in the eighth decade of life. When she was finally discharged to the nursing home, she was hardly recognizable as the same individual who had fallen little more than one week before.

She had sustained no fractures, but there were fractures aplenty developing. The enfeeblement of an elderly parent quickly finds the fault lines in a family, as the stresses of disrupted schedules, new financial strains, and disputes about responsibilities and recovery find old tapes playing and new resentments kindling. The lid blew off at mom’s birthday dinner, when a planned family meeting found my wife and her siblings squaring off, two on two, with one storming out and all looking for lightning rods to discharge their pent-up passions.

Continue reading “Delivering the Cookies”

Santa Sighting

SantaI know you’re all already jaded about Christmas, with the Costco and K-Mart displays showing up in September, the endless bad Christmas TV commercials, and the growing pressure to figure out the perfect present for a gaggle of worthy recipients who already have more stuff than they could possibly use in several lifetimes.

But it’s important to keep the myth and the magic in the celebration — not to mention the profound miracle of grace which this ancient and holy holiday celebrates.

So I am sure you will be excited to know that Santa has been sighted a bit earlier than normal this Christmas. My hunch is he’s been taking productivity and time-management courses this year, and has come to the conclusion — reluctantly, no doubt — that this night-before-Christmas-and all-through-the house stuff, while magical and all, is just not working for him any longer. Last year’s last-minute wildcat reindeer strike nearly wrecked visions of dancing sugarplums for a whole slew of sleep-deprived, sugar-addled munchkins, so Santa’s playin’ it safe this year. If he misses Christmas, the resulting class-action lawsuit would leave the Elves on welfare and the reindeer eating bark again.

Santa, I might add, has also gone high fashion — even the Manalo would approve of his new couture: silks, jewels, natural furs. No more frumpy red suits with bulging buttons and black buckled belts for him — it’s Project Runway, baby!
Continue reading “Santa Sighting”

Light Posting for a While

Virginia V Mosquito Fleet ferry
Virginia V – Mosquito Fleet ferry
I’ve been a bit out of pocket of late, in no small part due to an ongoing family crisis (which I alluded to here) which has consumed a lot of time and even more emotional energy. So I haven’t had the time or mental wherewithal to put many cogent thoughts together for posting. Hopefully this will change in the near future, but in the meantime I’ll repost a few of my earlier essays which some of you may not have read, or may do some shorter posts as time and energy permit. I may also post some photos I’ve got lying around: the above is the Mosquito Fleet ferry Virginia V, which made its maiden voyage in Puget Sound in March 1922, and is the last remaining steam-powered ferry of the Mosquito Fleet, seen above, restored, sailing in the Tacoma Tall Ships Festival in July 2005, where I took the above shot.