When we let the little cracks in our heart show, that’s where the light seeps out.  That’s what I’m telling myself as I write.

Four years ago, I lost a friend.  Gosh, the whole of my community lost her.  She was shiny and beloved.  She died in a senseless shooting.  It was a murder-suicide.  I try and honor her memory in my life in various ways, but mostly, though, by very intentional affirmation of others and a decision to say  (with a wink to heaven) “Bless his/her heart…” before choosing words that might turn out to be less than kind.  I still have a boat load of work to do if I want to ever shine a light as bright as Shannon’s.  Still, “that date” on my calendar in late July makes my stomach churn.

Several days ago, I got another call.  It was mom.  Horrific violence, she reported, resulted in the death of three members of my family.  Two were murdered and a third was responsible.  He took his own life as well.  I heard it, but I didn’t.  I’m still reeling, to be candid.  That call from mom came four years later, on the same day I was remembering how Shannon was taken.  It was “that date” on my calendar.  All the questions you have?  They don’t have answers.  Not really.

In a moment like this, nothing feels the same, and everything seems unimportant in comparison.  Also, things are all numb and fuzzy.

I don’t really want to share more details, because those who are the very closest to this situation are people I love and they are beyond consolation at present.  However, God has placed a few things on my heart and I think it might help to share them.

Keep this in mind.  I am unapologetically a Christian woman.  Actually, to be specific, I am a Roman Catholic.  This fact frames how I think and feel about most things, and it informs how I respond to life in all its complexities.

Perhaps I’ve lost a few of you now, but please try and stay with me?  I understand.  In fact, at a local coffee shop this week I was unpacking sorrow and concern in the lap of a faithful friend.  I am told even my whisper is top volume, so inevitably I am overheard.  An interested passerby was kind enough to pick up the “Catholic” in my words and interjected that he didn’t “mean any harm” but we Catholics are all a joke with corrupt leaders.  I’m going to assume this human hasn’t discovered the Lord at all yet.  If that’s where you are too, I want you to know I respect how you feel, and I will probably pray for you even against your will.  Before I continue, allow me to share my only viable response to this.  I’ve not quite mastered it’s memorization, but I have the sentiment down cold.  In my sorrow that morning at Panera, I regret I wasn’t able to think clearly enough to share it, so I’ve decided to victimize those reading with the wisdom I failed to impart that morning.

“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine—but for unbelievers a proof of it’s divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight”  –Hilaire Belloc

Now, Belloc was born in 1870, but his words are the most relevant I’ve discovered recently, and they contain the truth as I know them.  So, please forgive me as I share some wise words that I think will ring as truth for all who believe in Jesus.  These matter more to me than any failed or sinful leadership ever could.

A holy 90+ year old Monsignor (that’s kind of an honorific in the Catholic Church…he’s a priest) who says daily mass occasionally at my parish told us last week to remember that we are not our own.  A great price was paid for us, and what that means is that we are called to be the salt and the light.  We are called to be the face of foolish courtesy and love for others—even if it defies logic.  His message was so beautifully and simply delivered.  It stuck in my brain—a gift from God.

Now, imagine losing your daughter and your young granddaughter violently.  Ponder also immediately deciding to forgive the responsible party AND to have a funeral for all three—TOGETHER.

It defies all logic.  It’s the ultimate example of foolish courtesy and love for others.  It was grace beyond all imagining.  My jaw is still slack considering the beauty of this choice.

There was absolutely no way to leave that funeral unaffected by scores of 8 year old girls mourning the loss of their teammate, or  without being wrecked by the faces of two sets of mourning parents and grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles.

Also, there was no way for me to leave there without hearing the daily mass homily I had filed previously in my mind that called for ALL OF US to be foolishly courteous and loving.  Always.  I could not even conceive of a more dramatic example of love than what I had just witnessed.

My dear friend Julie sent me this beautiful thought yesterday.  She said, “imagine what would happen if we all think about what is right with people rather than fixating on what is wrong with them.”

WHAT IF? What if we all choose to see the right and love others ridiculously…like the Colliers?  If they can do that, what small injustices can I overcome with love in my own?  I think God expects me to try harder.

For the sake of three souls we’ve lost to this earth, and my own, I’ll be working on that one for some time to come in honor of the Langdon and Collier families.  Only with God’s help will I succeed.

Love everyone.  Always.

+Rest in Peace, Justin, Amanda and Kendall. 

Losing Shannon

My dear friend, Janet (L) and her beautiful sister, Shannon (R).

My dear friend, Janet (L) and her beautiful sister, Shannon (R).

Dear Jesus,
I do trust You, but I don’t get it. I know You love us, but wrapping my head around this is impossible. She is with You now, in arms more loving than I can imagine. Help us to trust in Your plan for all of us. Fill Connor and Danny, Jan, Colleen, Rita and Danny with grace and peace. I ask this in Your most holy name. Amen.

He folded his little body in half, burying his face between his knees. No sound came from him but a puddle was forming on the otherwise dry sidewalk there on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. The grotto said, “Our Lady of Lourdes” but I thought of her that day as Our Lady of Sorrows.
It had been two days since she died, but we were out of town and isolated from the media and friends and I couldn’t figure out how to tell my freckle faced little man. I knew he loved her. She had just taken him to Steak N Shake along with Connor, Anth, Mikey and Ty between baseball games. It’s what baseball moms do. She was the teacher who taught them all how to hold their hands when they received Jesus for the first time. It’s what 2nd grade teachers do in Catholic schools everywhere. But, she did them, as all things, with special panache, filled with a twinkle in her eye.
Dealing with death is a fact of life, it’s true. This is different though. It broke me to think of it, and it crushed my spirit into 1000 pieces having to shatter the innocent childhood of my beautiful boy by telling him.
“What’s going on mom? Why is no one telling me what’s going on?”
“Sweetheart, it’s Mrs. Hall. She died, Zach.”
“What do you mean? I just saw her. She was fine.”
“Zach. She died. I want you to listen to me carefully. Mr. Hall died too.”
“Mom? How? An accident?”
“ Mrs. Hall died when Mr. Hall shot her, and then himself. It was not an accident. It’s one of the most terrible things I can imagine, Z. We can’t be sure why something like this ever happens. You know, sometimes people can’t think straight and they are really sick even though they look okay on the outside. I know you want to understand why….but for now none of us know, and we are all sad. I think we should just focus on what we can do. We can pray.”
“I’m so so sad for Connor and Danny, Mom.”
“I know, Z. Me too. Me too.”
“Spread love wherever you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” –Mother Teresa
She died on July 27. It’s been a month.
I was not her Mom, or her Dad. I was not her sister or her son. I was not her nephew, niece, nor was I her best friend. I saw her frequently, and we were friends. We were “Bring Z over and swim” or “You know I am going to eat all of your sunflower seeds if you keep them there” kind of friends.

A month feels like 5 minutes. I was expecting her to walk into the lunchroom and tease me with her smile when I was at SLDM last week with my apron on saying, “What? No Diet Coke? I bet you brought a Coke for Jan! I keep telling her that I found you first and she stole you from me.”
She taught all three of my children and showed up every day with a smile, despite any personal hardship she might be going through on any given day. I saw her with fair clarity, and “I don’t mean to be mean” but Shannon was not perfect nor did she claim to be. Who among us is? It doesn’t change her legacy an ounce.
What I have learned as I have prayed, watched, listened and reflected in one month is that God called her to live that “Spread love” mantra of Mother Teresa and she did it with style and substance. She was not just smiling; she was giving us all an authentic piece of God when she twinkled those smiling Irish eyes in our direction.
My heart hurts—especially for those two boys. I pray, and then I pray some more. I try and make deals with God, and sometimes I tell Him that His plan sucks canal water.
Today, as the one month anniversary of her death is just hours away, I find myself thinking about what Shannon would have done if a terrible tragedy had happened to me, or you, or any one of the thousands in her path?
I know the answer right away. She would let her light shine every chance she had. She would pray with her class, give excessive numbers of hugs and she would keep on keeping on. She would spread love.
I’m not yet ready to change my prayer. I have it memorized now.

Dear Jesus,
I do trust You, but I don’t get it. I know You love us, but wrapping my head around this is impossible. She is with You now, in arms more loving than I can imagine. Help us to trust in Your plan for all of us. Fill Connor and Danny, Jan, Colleen, Rita and Danny with grace and peace. I ask this in Your most holy name. Amen.

Tomorrow’s challenge: Let your light shine. Let no one come to you without leaving happier.
BRING IT, PEOPLE! Who’s with me?