Friday, April 8, 2016

It Must Be The Holy Ghost...

It's a warm, yet breezy Sunday afternoon at the Barnard homestead.  I sit outside on my lovely patio listening to the wind chimes and watching as the breeze blows the leaves on the fig tree.  My hummingbird feeders are empty, so the hummers have abandoned me for the time being.  But they are forgiving; as soon as I fill the feeders they shall be back.

It's been a lovely day so far.   Church first thing, then a stop at a local Filipino market to pick up lunch.  Then we head to our local winery, Orfila, to sit at the picnic tables and have a glass of wine with our Lumpia and Pancit.  Many others had the same idea - the lawn is full of children blowing bubbles and climbing on rocks.  Its a beautiful safe open place for the kids to play while their parents sit in the shade enjoying a day off.

My blogging has been scarce again.  I write all the time, I just don't post it.  What's up with that?  But today, I turned a corner.  Something else is going on and I am tuning my ear to hear.  I am being pushed.  Old Wingers, do you remember the song "Something is Pushing Me".  I hear Eric singing it now - “Something is pushing me, something is pushing me.  I’m too blessed to stay under”.  If you got it, listen to it.  Its on one of the Madabuko recordings.

What has gotten my attention?  Is it Spring is in the air?  Is it the messages my pastor has been preaching that are inspiring me?  Is it because I am in the fourth month of the year and I swore 2016 would be MY year to get on the stick?  Most likely all of the above, and then some.  In my 50 plus years I know that if you don't take a plunge periodically, you will get stuck right where you are.  And who wants to do that?  So I yield to the force to get those feet stuck in the mud unstuck.  Something is pushing me.

Today in church our pastor talked about the Holy Spirit.  Talk of the Holy Spirit scares some people.  Visions of "holy rollers" dance in their head and they close their minds to something that could give them all the things they are looking for.  "It doesn't take all that" they say.  Some folks just want it nice and quiet in their church service - no hooping or hollering.  You can praise God, just don't do it too loud or for too long.  Three points and a prayer and wasn't that lovely.  The thought of going into a buck dance or shouting out a few "say that's" just isn't dignified.  Ha ha, look at me going off on a tangent!  LOL. Well, I won't go into preaching here, but admit that I would rather have a bit of wild fire than no fire at all as they say. 

Anyway, I digress - the Holy Spirit - my pastor - church this morning.  As he was speaking - actually, even before that during praise and worship - I heard "Taste and See". God was inviting us to the table He had spread.  It was a table full of deliciousness, with flavors unlike anything we had tasted before.  In that meal there was joy unspeakable, peace that flows like a river and the confidence to know that you can doing anything.  There was no fast food, no packaged entrees, no TV dinners - it was a table well thought out full of food that would leave your taste buds exploding, full of nutrients of the spirit.  God was reminding me not to "settle" for a snack when I could dine on the best.

I sensed in that moment, many times we have a very limited relationship with God.  We settle for fast food that temporarily satisfies our hunger, but holds very little flavor or nutrition.  We choose to dine on a the devil’s pink goo burger when we could have perfectly prepared prime rib.  We pick food full of additives that only make it "look" real, when the reality is its counterfeit.

And truly, sometimes we just don't know any better.  If you have never tasted the amazing, you think you are doing pretty good when you eat this stuff.  The key is to let yourself get truly hungry.  Don't allow yourself to be satisfied with the "quickie" version - just wait a bit.   There is more.  As our pastor said this morning (and my husband says all the time), when you come to the ocean's edge, don't just stick your toe in the water, jump in!

I have done both.  I have been in such deep praise and worship that you could hear the angels in heaven joining in.   There was one time when my old church was recording a praise and worship cd.  We rented a theatre to do the recording.  It was a two night gig and the first night was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  My friend Marce and I were driving together the second night.  We had both been there the night before and knew how amazing it was.  But tonight, we were running a bit late.  Since it was being recorded, after a certain point they were not letting people in.  As we are driving, we both felt the angst of being late - if we could not get in it would have been like being shut out of heaven!  Thankfully, we got there in time and that night took me to another level.

I have also allowed myself to just be nice and "fit in".  You can tell when folks don't go in for the excited stuff and certainly don't want to hear any tongue talking!  So, you restrain yourself and push down any thought of singing in the spirit or moving your hips or tapping your feet.  And there are times when it is very appropriate to be quiet and sing softly and such.  I know God moves in both.  The key is to know where and how He is moving.

It's hard to teach some of those things.  It really comes from what we used to call "catching the spirit". The water gets stirred and the spirit is there, you just have to jump in the pool.  But so many times we are just content to sit where we are, wanting someone to spoon feed the amazing to us.  Then we get mad when it doesn't happen.

God is always there - we just have to reach out and be a part of it. I am preaching to myself here - I am looking to be a part of what is happening NOW, not 10 years ago, or even 2 years ago.  I don't care what some man's "study" says we should be doing, I want to hear what God wants us to be doing. Man's ways are not God's ways. How many failures will it take for us to realize this?  It is the Spirit of God that draws us, not some program or statistic.

What am I saying?  Don't settle.  Trust.  Reach out.  Stay hungry.  Go deeper.  Ask God for more.  Believe that you can do anything.  Know that God loves you beyond your wildest imagination and has amazing things for you.  Stop being satisfied with the counterfeit and take the plunge to taste the genuine.  You won't be sorry.   Ask God for more and when He brings it, don't act like you don't know what's going on.  Dive in.  Immerse yourself.

I'll wrap it up with a piece I wrote several years ago, "Never Settle".
Never Settle

Increase my capacity, deepen my tenacity

Repair my brokenness, make alive and resurrect

Make me sure of my calling, keep me from falling

Walking with God, not with man

Make me Uncommon, an unusual Woman

Getting the “Rest”, all that remains

Make my world one that God defines, daring to color outside the lines

Resist the temptation to make nice

Refusing the words “I’ve been fighting too long”, content that wrestling makes me strong

I will not settle in or down

Who I am because God said so, letting nothing interrupt the flow

Anointed by Him, not the world

Resurrection power, I shall not cower

All that I need lives in Him

My victory is sure, just have to endure

No weapon formed against me shall prosper

As this knowledge flows in, I know I begin

To cut off the devil’s supply

My foot on his neck, his plans a wreck

“Totaled” by the Hand of God

His oxygen gone, I’m now brains and brawn

Captain of the ship, master of my domain

He made his choice; I make mine – to cling to the living vine

Never feeling sorry for the devil

© Sue Barnard

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I'm Baaaaaaccckkkkkk!

Good morning Monday!  

It's the middle of November, and that means just a few more weeks until we begin a new year.  I am feeling creative.  Plus it happens to be my birthday month, so I am feeling particularly inspired.  As each year passes I realize that the time ahead is most likely less than the time behind and I once again put my mind to getting things accomplished that are on my heart.  

Another inspiration came from my dear friend and former Pastor, Daniel.  He and his wife Connie were here last week for a visit.  As we sat around the table after enjoying a meal and solving the problems of the world on our terms, he says something that struck me: “People just need to get off their ass.”  And it is true; so many things could be solved and accomplished if we would do just that.  So, my saying for 2016 is “Get Off Your Ass”.  FYI to my fellow staffers at RVC- this will replace my 2015 mantra of “Grow a Pair”.   And let me be clear, I am saying these words first and foremost to myself.  It's the reason I am writing today.  

The past couple years I’ve been very distracted from writing by the mundane, yet necessary things of life.  There is shopping to do, meals to plan, church responsibilities and of course those chores - I could write OR I could put one more load of wash going, or clean out that cupboard, empty the dishwasher, etc.  By then its time to think of dinner.  I do this to myself, for sure.  These chores of life have never been my favorite thing, so its best that I don’t get too far behind on them.  Oh and lets not forget the very important FB posts and the multitude of emails that arrive. But this coming year I will find the balance and realize that there is some wisdom in the Nike saying of “Just Do It”.

As I mentioned, its almost the end of the year 2015.  Those of you who know me, know that seasons are a big thing for me.  Not just the four seasons of the year, but seasons in life as well - people coming into your life, going out of your life, changing jobs, the start/end of a new year, moves, new things - they are all a part of what I look at as “seasons”.  They are times in our life, sometimes short, sometimes long, but one thing that is sure is that there will be change associated with these seasons.  So it being my birthday month and close to the end of the year, I have started my annual look back at what has happened this year and where it has taken me.  Have I accomplished what I set out to do?  What new adventures will the new year bring?  Questions, questions.

2015 was supposed to bring more writing for me - more blog posts, more poetry and hopefully attending lots of spoken word events.  Welllllll, as I look at the date on my last blog entry as 2014, that is something I missed the mark on!  Not many spoken word events either - however I did do some pieces at my husband’s 50th birthday celebration we had back home in Indiana in May.  My BFFs Pam Blair (
phenomenal poet and singer) and Janet Norris (phenomenal singer), along with the finest piano player on this earth Jua Coates and guitarist extraordinaire Bob Funkhouser, performed as well and it was like a fantastic open mic.  I was so happy to be back in the saddle again with my creative crew I was giddy inside.  FYI:  Bill won’t actually turn 50 till next month, so it was really a “pre” birthday celebration.  Also, I got a few opportunities to share some poetry with my church family during services and at our home group.  My pastor even commissioned a piece to go along with something he was preaching on.  Hmmm...better than I thought.

I do continue to write though, just not as much as I had planned.  No regrets here - when I set goals for a year, they are just that, a goal.  If I miss the mark, well I will just try again.  And so I shall for 2016.

There is more to tell, but I am going to make this one short.  2015 has been a great year - actually, all the years of my life have been great as I look back, because they have all brought me to where I am now.  Some years were more of a struggle than others and 2015 did have some struggles.  But, I got through and am living to tell of it.

Its good to be back my friends.  Stay tuned for the next chapter.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Happy Birthday to me - not my "birth" birthday, but my "re-birth" birthday.  What I like to call my "Jesus Birthday".  Its been 40 years!

40 years ago today - June 9, 1974 - I sat in between my then mother in law Marge and her sister Jo at a Vic Coburn Crusade held at the Morris Civic Auditorium in South Bend, Indiana.  I was 15 years old and it was my one year wedding anniversary.

Now, how I got to this crusade on my wedding anniversary, I don't quite remember.  Maybe this guy was only in town for that one day and my mother in law talked me into it.  Maybe I really wanted to go and somebody had to take care of our baby Shay, so her dad volunteered.  Not really sure what went down, but there I was listening to this guy as he strutted up and down the stage preaching on Jesus.

Let me give a bit of background here:  Got pregnant at 14, the baby's father Dave was 16.  We ran away - you remember, the Wilderness Story - dubbed so because we camped out in a forest.  Our families had been so worried about us (we were gone almost a month) that when we returned they were so happy to see us that at first, we got very little flack.  But pretty soon, the pressure to make decisions and plans was getting heavy.

Dave's mom, who was a Christian, took us to see her pastor.  His only purpose in speaking to us was to get us saved.  We sat in the back bedroom of his trailer and after listening to his pitch, prayed with him just so we could get the hell out of there.  Now, we both believed in God, we just weren't quite sold on what this guy was talking about. 

My mom, took us to my brother Greg's pastor - Greg was the only spiritual one in my family at the time, having committed at a young age to Jesus.  We met with Reverend DeBolt at Dave's mom's home.  His only purpose was to get us out of our sinful situation - which was living together at Dave's mom's house.  His suggestion almost sent me into a nervous breakdown; he wanted us to live apart and "try" this love we claimed we had for each other.  Imagine a 14 year old girl pregnant 41 years ago - not too many of us around.  You were not even allowed to be in regular school in those days,
there was a special program at the YWCA. They wanted to keep you from the embarrassment of facing your fellow students in your pregnant state, but I also suspect it was to prevent you tarnishing the other young girls in school. So, I was already feeling a bit isolated. None of my friends had gone through this and I felt pretty alone.  My family was supportive, but I still felt like a black sheep.  My baby's father was the only thing I could count on and who understood and this preacher was trying to take him away from me.

Well, my meltdown backed him off a bit and we continued to live together in a home we rented from my parents.  Every few days my mom would come over and ask me what we were planning to do.  When I told her I did not know, she would remind me that my dad could come over at any time and kick Dave out and would be well within his rights to do so.  They really wanted us to make the decision to get married. This was about the end of April in 1973.

These were tough conversations with Dave and I was the only one having them with him.  I was already in "motherhood" mode and the instinct to protect and nurture my unborn child were rooted.  It made sense to me to get married - we had already decided we were keeping the baby and I was ready to settle down.  The year or so before I got pregnant I had gone from a straight A student to a steady D student.  I was sniffing glue, smoking weed and Marlbouros.  Social time with my girlfriends included playing the telephone "hotline" - you called special numbers that gave you a busy signal, but you could hear other people talking.  People on the hotline shouted out their numbers and then you called them.  Most of the people were guys looking for action.  Man, have I got a few stories about that!  Skipping school had become a regular thing. life was kind of going down the toilet.  The moment I realized I was pregnant, all that changed.  There was a purpose and meaning for me.  I was carrying a life inside and I had to take care of it.  Even though I wasn't thrilled with being pressured to get married, I wasn't opposed to it.

My pink dress

I believe Dave felt some of those things as well, but it was harder for him to have that pressure to "do" something.  So, he resisted agreeing to marriage a bit longer than I did, but eventually said yes and seemed pretty happy about it.  So, June 9, 1973 my dad walked me down the aisle in my neon pink wedding dress (that my mom made) singing to me "Here comes the bride, short fat and wide".  It is a memory I cherish to this day as there was no malice in it for him, only love and trying to bring a smile to his very nervous 14 year old baby girl's face.

Baby Shay

Fast forward to June 9, 1974.  Our baby Shay was born in September, so she was almost 9 months old.  Dave was working in a horrible fiberglass factory and I was a stay at home mom.  We were still in the little house my parents owned - a 2 bedroom pre-fab with paper thin walls.  But it was home - we had made it so.  It had been a rough first year though.  All I knew how to cook were hamburgers, hotdogs and Mac & Cheese.  Housework?  I had no idea.  It was hard to make the transition from boyfriend and girlfriend to husband and wife.  It was important for Dave to still feel he had some control over his life and he took to hanging out with his drinking buddies on occasion.  During those times he treated me more like the girlfriend than the wife and that was hard - I did not take to it very well.  Looking back, I am not mad about it.  But at the time it was devastating.

My life up to then was fertile ground for rejection mixed with great anger.  Being sexually abused by a neighbor when I was around 6 and growing up watching my older sister get the shit beat out of her by her insane husband made me a mix of broken emotions.  The rejection and shame that formed from the abuse left me with an un-fillable need to be loved and the beatings and abuse I watched my sister go through gave me a chip on my shoulder towards men.  I decided very early in my life after witnessing an exchange between my sister and her husband that NO man would ever be allowed to treat me that way.  

Me at 13

Simply stated - I was a mess!  How on earth could this 17 year old guy - who had his own childhood issues - ever know what it was that his new wife needed?

So, that was my condition on that night in June, 1974 sitting in this auditorium next to my mother in law.  Because we had "prayed the prayer" with her pastor, she thought I was already committed.  And I was to a point - BUT - listening to his message that night, which included some pretty thick fire and brimstone, I was moved.  When the altar call came I sensed Jesus calling me, but I was also very aware that the people I was with already thought I was "saved".  Oh, it was hard at that time.  Looking back on it, I think "what was I afraid of?"

The pulling of the Holy Spirit was greater than my fears.  I needed to make a public confession of my belief in Christ and so I fought through what I guess was embarrassment and went forward.  A very nice local pastor prayed for me and that was it!  I went home, told my husband - who at the time was a bit skeptical - and I have never turned away or regretted my commitment to Christ. 

40 years.  Wow, the stories, the history, the struggles and the triumphs.  What has that 15 year olds life turned into? Even though this piece is lengthy, its the Readers Digest version of Susan Jo Crabill Greenawalt Barnard.  That night I opened my heart to a love I had never known before - a love so great it has pushed me on to move past hurt and into renewal.  The naysayers had us pegged for failure - but not God.  If you would have asked me then where I would be 40 years later I don't think I could have ever imagined where life would take me.   For a girl who started out with very little knowledge of cooking, I became an award winning baker and have cooked many a meal for many folk, including in my own restaurant. I have been involved in several churches and have been ordained.  I have done lots of public speaking (Thank you Daniel Rice) from behind a pulpit and teaching classes.  I am a writer and poet and perform my work at Spoken Word events.  I have formed friendships and relationships that have enriched my life beyond measure.  So many things that I treasure and chiefest among them has been raising my 3 kids; Shay, Job and Anna - they are my heart and my legacy.

I have told many stories about my life already through this blog and my poetry and I know there is more to come.  I will say that if I had not made my decision to stand up that day 40 years ago I am pretty sure I would never have made it this far.  God took what had the potential to be a disastrous situation and made it into an opportunity for glory.  My walk with God has never quite fit into the established model and that has presented some struggles, but the wrestling has only made me stronger.  My goal is to make my world one that God defines - sometimes that means coloring outside the lines.  Not everybody gets that, but as long as God is pleased, then its all good.

The marriage to Dave did not survive, but we tried hard for 25 years to make it work.  We had some very good times with lots of laughter.  But, growing into two very different people took its toll.  We finally realized that we were bringing no glory to God in our fighting and would soon end up hating each other and truly, where is the glory in that?  But in that time we raised 3 wonderful children and now have 3 wonderful grandchildren.  

Through much patience of some spiritual mentors and professional counseling, the wounds from sexual abuse have been healed.  My anger towards men has been balanced with the presence of Godly men in my life.  And those painful situations have made me who I am - a compassionate, loyal, fearless woman with passion.  I will fight for you, pray for you, believe for you and try my best to see it through.  Because of the brokenness of my heart, I have an understanding of your pain.  Because of the healing I have experienced, I have faith for yours.  As a result of keeping secrets as a kid, I have gone the opposite way as an adult and don't mind sharing my story.  If you hook up with me for any length of time you will find out that I don't play games and if you are interested in getting some real stuff done, I am your girl.  To talk about the things I have overcome and accomplished does not say I am so great, but says that God is.  Jesus is in my heart and every good thing I have ever done is because of Him - if I can't share that, then why am I here?
Wedding Day

God brought that perfect man into my life and I married him in 1999.  He needed no coaxing or pressure - he pursued me because he knew what a wonderful catch I would be!  And I said yes because I saw what a wonderful catch he was!  Two people who had been wounded by life, yet overcame it to believe in love again.  We continue to nurture and protect that love with a fierceness because we know what its like to lose it.  Next month we will celebrate 15 years of marriage.

My life in Christ is an amazing journey that has so much more road to cover.  I am thankful for where it has taken me in the past and looking forward to where it will take me in the future.  Because if God is for me, who can be against me?  And I know that I know that I know - He IS for me.  His love gave me the anchor I was searching for, the safe port in the stormy sea and He has been my compass keeping me on the right path.
My sweetie pie and me!

One final thought:  My former mother in law that I spoke of, Marge Greenawalt passed last week.  I will never forget that she was the one who brought me to the place where I found my salvation.  Thank you Marge - till we meet again on the other side. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Story of Shay...

One of my fav pics of Shay
  Shay DaSu Greenawalt Nothstine.  Today she turns 40 and I wanted to celebrate her in one of my favorite ways - telling stories.  Stories of my Shay are in another post, This Mother's Day so I will try not to repeat too much.

Shay is my number one - the first born child.  I have said often that God knew what He was doing making her the first, as she was pretty much a breeze her first few years.  Had she been more difficult, I may not have ventured a second and third time into motherhood :)

I was just a kid when Shay was born - 14 years old.  That's a long story - we call it "The Wilderness Story”, because it starts out with her dad and I running away to live in a tent for almost a month in a southern Indiana forest.  The story of her beginnings is amazing and still humbles and inspires me all these years later.

The odds were stacked against us.  But as I have learned, betting on the long shot is what gives you the greatest return.  Looking at us today, you may not see the evidence of the rough beginnings - or do you?  Certainly the evidence of the miraculous, the beyond our belief and great redemption is there - it has made us who we are.

To recall her rough beginnings 40 years ago may seem silly to some - why don’t you just celebrate?  But it is vital to me.  Because who she is today, who she will be tomorrow, stems from the awesome story of her beginnings.  Beginnings that defied the odds, the naysayers and a million obstacles.  It is a part of the celebration.

The truth is, I may have birthed Shay, but she gave me life.  Her life started at a time when I had lost my way, my sense and thought very little of myself.  The choices I was making were leading me from bad to worse.  But from the moment I knew she was a part of me, that all changed.  The new life that had been created became my focus.  Protecting, nurturing and providing were now all that mattered.

I can remember laying in bed the week or so before she was born.  We had a bassinet set up in our bedroom and as I looked over at the bassinet this thought came:  “Next week there could be a live baby in there".  It excited and frightened me all at the same time.  Her creation gave me inspiration to be a good mother, but I had no idea if I could pull it off.

Shay came into the world spinning - literally.  In the delivery room the doctor thought her birth would require a few more pushes on my part and almost did not catch her as she rotated with my last push and shot out like a spinning football.   She came out dancing.

Just born

Black hair, large brown eyes, a flat little nose - I memorized her face because I had heard of babies being switched after they were born and I did not want that to happen to me.  In those days (1973) mom's hands were tied down - yes, yes they were - and so I could not hold her or count her fingers and toes until I was out of the delivery room.

What to name this little 7 pound bundle?  I knew “Shay” was going to be her first name from early in my pregnancy.  I had seen it spelled differently and decided to spell it Shay.  Her middle name?  Well, her Aunt Patty helped us with that - it is a combo of her parents - Dave and Sue.  We thought we were cool.

Is it Shay or a Cupie Doll?
The name Shay, while made up on my part because I liked the way it sounded, became evidence years later on just how involved God was in every part of her beginning.  When Shay was about 9 years old, my niece Cathy was using my concordance to look up words and she found the word “shay”.  It is a Hebrew word meaning gifts.  The inference is not a gift from God, but a gift TO God.  Something I thought I had made up had been around thousands of years.

In the beginning, we had people telling us we were doomed to fail.  Shay's dad was only 17, so not much more experience in adulthood there.  But we had gotten ourselves into the adult world quickly and we embraced it.  With my dad’s help, Dave got a job - a terrible job in a factory making fiberglass sousaphones.  But, it was a job.  He worked there many years, hating every second of it, but it supported us.

Shay and her daddy
So, that's the short background. Shay was the first born of 3 children.  There are so many stories to tell, but I will pick a few that I believe describe her well. 

It seems Shay was born loving God and loving people.  She always had a heart for the down trodden and neglected.

When she was about 7, we saved enough money to go visit Dave's brother Larry in California.  He lived in the Bay Area and we went to San Francisco for a day.  I remember thinking how large the city was and so full of things and people.  One thing I had never seen before was there - homeless people.  At least, we assumed they were homeless.  People gathered in spots all through the city, leaned up against buildings, fountains, walls.  Little bags of "things" next to them.

One lady in particular caught Shay's eye.  A woman with no shoes and green feet.  It was awful - they were swollen and discolored and I am not sure if she could even walk on them.  She was sitting leaned up against a fountain I think.  We got a few feet past her and Shay started to cry.  "Whats the matter?" I ask.  Shay responds “That lady doesn't have any shoes.  We have to buy her shoes."  She was heart broken.  Knowing that any money we would give her would probably not go for shoes, I tried to make some excuse.  But Shay would not be silenced and played the Jesus card - "Jesus would give her shoes."  Oh my.  Now, we had committed to the Lord not long after we got married and raised the kids to believe in God.  This is the dream right?  Your children bearing the fruit of Christ.  So here is the scene - six of us (Dave, Shay, Job, Larry (Dave's brother) and Marge (their mom) standing in the middle of the sidewalk in San Francisco, hundreds of people bustling by.  Shay is crying, her heart broken for the woman with green feet.

What to do?  Even if giving her money was a good idea, I had little money.  We bought our tickets to California by scrimping and saving for a year and using our Kroger receipts to get some deal on plane tickets.  I said to Shay, "Lets pray for her".  She thought that was a good idea.  So, we stood in the middle of the sidewalk praying for the woman with green feet.  It was enough and we moved on.  Shay would regularly bring home kids from the neighborhood and school that were rejected, beat up or treated poorly at home.  Her heart was huge.

Fast forward to teenage years and she decides to go on a mission trip (one of many).  Jamaica I believe it was. Not the tourist part of Jamaica, but the part where real locals live.  She came back full of fire and very aware of the excesses we Americans enjoy.  When her brother Job complained about mowing the lawn (with a gas powered mower), she lit into him about how kids in Jamaica cut grass with sickles and blades by hand!

High School graduation
After high school she joined "Teen Mania", a group that travels the U.S. and other countries preaching the gospel.  She was gone for a year.  At that time, they were based in Tulsa, OK. We rented a van and packed up her stuff and took two days to drive there.  This was my first child "leaving the nest".  I was a mess.  Oklahoma was so far away from South Bend, Indiana!  I was so depressed after leaving her there we drove straight home and I cried most of the way.

In July of that year, Teen Mania organized several mission trips and they needed parent volunteers to help in Miami, the hub for many of the out of country trips.  I volunteered and flew to Miami, in July.  I will never do that again!  There is no air to breathe in Miami in July.  The humidity stagnates everything.  We ran from the doorway of the hotel to a taxi!  Anyway...

It was just a couple days, but I got to see Shay and her room mate Angie.  They were going to drive from Florida back to Oklahoma with their Teen Mania crew.  (They traveled the country in vans and "box trucks", illegally sleeping in the back.  I don't think I knew this at the time...but I digress)  So, I am leaving for the airport to return to South Bend and I want to say one more good bye to Shay.  It was an odd feeling that I had that day; I did not just want to say good bye, I HAD to say good bye.  I had this sense that it might be the last time I would see her.  I was almost in a panic because I could not find her amongst the throngs of teenagers in the hotel.  I looked in several places but no Shay.  My ride to the airport was about to leave and I saw her friend and room mate Angie.  I grabbed her, hugged her and tearfully told her to tell Shay I said good bye and that I loved her.  I left thinking she probably thought I was nuts, but I needed a connection to Shay.

Shay and Angie
On the plane ride home I had an uneasy feeling.  I could not shake the sense I may never see Shay again. So, of course I did the only thing I could do - I prayed.  I prayed for protection, I rebuked the devil, I pleaded the blood.  I was compelled to pray.

I got a call from Shay early in the morning after I got home.  Their caravan had been in an accident.  She had been asleep in the back of one of the trucks when they went off the road and from what I remember, into a ditch.  Everyone and everything went flying.  Suitcases and supplies tumbled and covered her.  She was trapped inside, in the dark.  Thank God, they unburied her from the truck and she was unharmed.  She told me another kid's mom was also taken to prayer for them that night.

If you know Shay, you know she loves to dance.  She started young taking lessons - she was still in diapers.  I took dance lessons throughout my childhood and loved it, so wanted her to experience that as well.  She is incredibly gifted and to see her dance is to be taken to another world.  She and her sister Anna danced their hearts out at our church for years and brought something that can tend to be very boring (worship dance) to another level.  Shay’s passion for dance and gift of choreography transformed us from earth to heaven.

Dance recital
Dancing with her cousin Vaughn
Shay is a mover - not just physically, but emotionally and mentally.  About 20 years ago, my niece was pregnant and planned to move in with us.  The house we lived in was in the hood, not in the best shape and did not have room for 2 extra people.  I had just gotten a job as General Manager of a new restaurant, so financially we were doing better.  We decided to move, but really had not begun looking at houses.  Shay’s dad and I were at a stalemate as to how much we would spend, so with no budget we could agree on, we did nothing.  Well, this did not sit well with Shay at all and so she started looking.  

She told us about an open house that was happening.  The house was way out of our price range, but she said “Lets just look!”  So we did.  We did not end up buying that house, but it broke the stalemate we had and got us moving.  Not long after, we found the house of my dreams and purchased it.

Shay is someone who is never satisfied.  I don’t mean that in a negative way - it is one of her greatest strengths.  Because she does not want to become stagnant, or settle or become lukewarm.  There are those who have failed to recognize this as an asset and can become irritated at her “pushing”.  It is such a great loss for them.  What many don’t understand is that when you start from behind, you get ahead by building momentum. Momentum requires strength and force.  Staying ahead requires endurance.  Shay possesses those qualities.  I say if you have Shay in your life pushing you, you are blessed indeed.  Chances are you will not get lazy and will see things change for the better.

Shay is a fighter yet full of compassion.  She demands much, but gives more.  She is beautiful not only outside, but inside.  She steps in where others run, she sees possibilities instead of failures.  And even though her hurts run deep, her heart remains open to love.

There are so many accomplishments to list when I think of Shay - her missions trips, career, mothering to both Ashton and Kristin, dance, design - these things are so much a part of her.  Of course when I think of her, I think of her most as my daughter.  And she is a fine daughter indeed.  We have our fights, but we make up.  She is one of my favorite people to spend time with and we share many common interests.  

Chicken and Waffles in Times Square

Tender moment at church

At this point I struggle with what more to say because there is so much more!  It is hard to condense all that is in my heart to this one blog post.  Because Shay’s birth was so life changing, I look at my world as “before Shay” and “after Shay”.  Her birth was the beginning of a grand journey that has been a great adventure and still has lots of road left to travel!  She is a precious soul that I am so very proud to call my own.

My Shay.  I am forever grateful you are in my life.  You mean more to me than these words can express.  There is so much more ahead of you.  Embrace it, don’t fear and be who God made you to be.  Your times are in His hands and His love for you will never fail.

I love you Shay baby.  Thanks for being mine.


This is my Shay - laughing - seeming to say "I am 40 and I don't care!"

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This...

“I have some bad news for you Sue.”

That's how the phone conversation started when my dear friend Janet called to tell me her husband Dave, also my dear friend, had died.

I was so shocked by her news I totally forgot I was speaking to his widow and focused only on me, the friend - questioning her, making sure this was not some sad joke, wanting to know details of what happened.  It took me a couple minutes to realize my error and come back to her and begin to offer comfort and help.  It still hurts deeply when I recall it.  And quite honestly, I have talked to God on many occasions regarding Dave’s passing, as it was very difficult to make sense of and accept.  But, God is God and I am not.

Dave Norris left this earth on April 9, 2011.  He and Janet were moving their daughter into a friend’s house in Indianapolis.  While there, he noticed the lawn needed to be mowed and decided to mow it.  That was so like Dave - he had a servants heart and never walked away from hard work.  He suffered a heart attack while mowing and could not be revived.  In an instant he was gone - only 60 years old.

We had just celebrated his 60th birthday in February.  We went for a walk in Pokagon State Park (in northeastern Indiana) and then to dinner.  Yes, it was February - but we were outside.  Its where he loved to be.

Dave's 60th
I have wanted to write a piece about Dave ever since his passing, but have held back.   Because to write about Dave would be to talk about my pain, my missing him, the impact he had on my life.  Realizing the pain Janet was going through as his widow it seemed best to put mine on the back burner as it cannot compare to what she has gone through.  But, its time.

Dave was a man of many talents and abilities.  He had several careers.  He had many accomplishments.  To list just a few:  Singing, writing, hiking, caring for the environment, loving husband, father and grandfather.  He was a city planner and Res Ranger.  He worked tirelessly in developing, maintaining and supporting the Mishawaka Res. The list could go on and on.

I met Dave through the church I was attending.  Gosh, its gotta be close to 20 years.  I have known Janet for over 25.

From what I remember, Dave started serving in the church pretty early on.  He eventually worked his way to becoming head usher and also head Elder.  This is worth noting, because if you know anything about the church I was attending, you know that ushering was not just handing out bulletins and passing a plate.  We were a group of hoopin’ and hollerin’ Pentecostals that were serious in our singing, dancing and praising the Lord.  Services were rarely quiet and sedate and ushers were kept busy handing out tissues, moving chairs to allow for more dancing and many other things.  Our Pastor was liable to do anything during a service and ushers had to be alert to what he needed.  Not going to preach today and just pray for people?  Ushers needed to keep order and direct people to the prayer line.  Because people were liable to fall out in the spirit while being prayed for, ushers had to be there to catch them.  Someone getting their praise on and their dancing getting a bit too crazy?  Ushers were dispatched to make sure no one got hurt.  It took special discerning to give people space to express their praise, but also know when someone was just trying to be crazy.  Uh oh, the oil vial is empty and it is needed to anoint someone - shame.  Those ushers got a look from the pastor that would have melted most of us.

There is so much more I could say about the role of an usher (my husband eventually took Dave’s place as head usher). Just trust me that they had to be special people.  They worked hard.  Sunday was NEVER a rest day if you served in our church.

Dave led by great examples of being on time, being respectful, working hard and meeting the needs of those he served.  So, from the get go, Dave was giving of himself.

Eventually, he and Janet started dating.  He was older than her and very different from other men she had dated.  First off, he was white and she was black.  He was pretty quiet and Janet was not.  Janet had two young kids and he never had any.  But it worked.  Long story on their courtship - they dated for years.  Dave struggled with depression and alcohol - but overcame them - I believe very much due to his great love for Janet.  He wanted to be the best man he could be and did not want to live without her.

He treated her with respect.  He opened doors, paid for meals, bought flowers, loved her children.  Encouraged her.   Believed in and supported her.  Treated her the way she should be treated.  It was amazing to watch their story develop.

One of the greatest memories I have is being privy to the day he asked her to marry him.  He decided to do it at church, during a service and he needed help pulling it off.  He asked me to be a part of it.  What an honor.  He knew I had fierce love for Janet and I would do anything I could to help make it go off without a hitch.  I can’t remember all I was in charge of, but I do remember having to make sure a bouquet of flowers got to him at the right time.

Janet was sitting in the front row.  He had arranged for a pause in the service and he walked up to her, got down on his knee, in front of the church and declared his deep love for her and asked for her hand.  Many of us knew the journey it took to get to this place and very few could contain their emotion.  Here was a man not afraid of showing the world just how much he loved Janet.  Oh, he set a high standard for the ladies in the church that day.  I for one never forgot it.

Together, they just took off.  Janet is a singer and her song got better.   Dave was a dreamer and started implementing those dreams.  Dave convinced an inner city girl to live out on a nature preserve and take trips to East Glacier, Montana.  They grew in their roles in the church and both became elders.

The Family
When I started dating Bill, we gathered our friends together to let them know that our relationship had gone from “just friends” to what we called “other than”.  Those gathered who had been my long time friends were a bit hard on Bill, wanting to make sure he was not just taking me for a ride or something like that ☺  I can see it now:  Marce, Pam and Jolene sitting at my dining room table, all of them leaning in as they spoke to Bill, reminding him of the hurts I had from the past, reminding him that if anyone dared to hurt me like that again there would be consequences.  There were strong words, there were fists pounding the table for emphasis. There were those who stuck up for Bill, but the ones that just were not sure yet of his intentions were pretty loud.  And there was Dave, who sat at the head of the table and for sure identified with Bill (since some of Janet’s friends - me included - grilled him a bit when they started dating) and he brought some balance to the table, insuring that no one got injured that day.  I recall that it was the first time I really saw him “elding”, taking on the role long before he got the title.

Bill took it all like the man of God he truly is, willing to endure some scrutiny to win the woman who would eventually become his bride.

In fact, when Bill asked me to marry him, he followed Dave’s example and did so at church, in front of many of our church friends and Pastor.  We were rehearsing for a play, where I had the role of the Virgin Mary, (funny huh) and I was called to the front of the church by the play’s director and there Bill got down on bended knee, recited a poem he wrote for the occasion and asked me to marry him.

We loved getting together with Dave and Janet and had them in our home often.  Dave was grand to cook for as he loved a good meal.  I don’t think I have ever cooked for someone who enjoyed it as much as Dave.  His signature expression “It doesn’t get any better than this” was most often heard by me in the presence of food.

A Huckleberry Delight in East Glacier
The other place I heard that expression was in the outdoors.  He loved nature and we were fortunate to go to Glacier Park with he and Janet.  He had been there over 18 times and was phenomenal in his knowledge of the place.  You name a trail and he will tell you how long it is, the elevation and the time it would take to get there and back.  And he always had a story about it.

He planned our trip out almost by the hour, especially the train ride.  He had taken the 36 hour train ride for all his Glacier visits and knew the scenery we would pass and at what time.  We had dinner at the second seating in the dining car so we could see the sunset.  We sat in the observation car at a certain time because we would be passing the sunflower fields.  Miles of bright yellow sunflowers, waving at us in the wind as we passed. Oh, it was a sight to see and well worth planning for.

As we were hiking through the trails, Bill and Janet would often go faster and get ahead.  Dave always walked beside me and never let me walk alone.  I would tell him he could go ahead, I would keep them in my sight (one of the hiking rules he taught us was to never lose sight of your group) because I thought for sure he was going slower for me.  But he said “No Sue, I always hike at a slower pace” and I believed him.  He took the time to enjoy the journey, smell the fresh air and notice the smallest details.  On a particularly difficult trail that had a lot of uphill climbing I stopped as we stood before yet another climb.  As I caught my breath I asked him if our destination, “Hidden Lake” was worth it.  Because at that point, I was ready to just find a rock to sit on and let them go ahead.  With great sincerity in his voice, he said it was.  I trusted him, so I pushed on.  We got to the higher ground and were greeted by mountain goats and the beautiful view into the valley where Hidden Lake was.  A small, beautiful lake surrounded by trees and mountains.  It took my breath away, not from exhaustion, but from the beauty.  I had never seen anything like it and treasure the memory.

Hidden Lake

East Glacier with Dave and Janet - not Hidden Lake, but another beautiful one

Walking the trails with Dave meant you got to see things that your inexperienced eyes would have surely missed.  Flowers, animals, streams that were hidden.  Dave knew they were there and it helped to keep you going.  Sitting on rocks near crystal clear waters of streams tucked away in a place it seemed only Dave knew about.  Dipping your hot, tired feet into the cool stream was like a piece of heaven.  The sound of the water lulling you, pulling you into its spell of wonder and contentment.  It was hard to get up sometimes and move on.

One day we were walking the trail past a small body of water and Dave stopped us and pointed - there was a moose almost completely covered in water, but he had seen just a part of him sticking out.  As we watched in silence, this huge moose lifted its head and body out of the water.  For a girl who’s picture of a moose was “Bullwinkle”, this large creature was unbelievable and beautiful.  Of course we just watched from our place on the trail, as clearly the moose could have run us over without batting an eye.  Priceless.  Dave was a wealth of knowledge and it was fueled by his love of this place.

East Glacier
East Glacier
East Glacier
We have trails that wrap around foothills near our house in Escondido.  Not quite the massiveness of Glacier National Park, but beautiful still and I would have loved to share them with Dave and whenever we walk them I think of him.  Bill reminded me that when we walk them, Dave is there with us.  I believe that.

Dave was pretty quiet in his manner until he laughed.  Wow.  His laugh was loud and boisterous - almost sinister - I loved it.  But when you saw his smile as he laughed you knew there was no darkness in it, just joy.

None of us are perfect and Dave was no exception.  He was human and struggled as we all do.   He tended to “brood” about things at times and it was hard to get through when he felt that way.

One of those situations was when some things were changing at our church.  It was a transition in pastors, in leadership and direction.  To explain it all would take away the focus from my intent, which is Dave, so I will be brief in my description.  I mention it because it happened in the last years of his life and I believe it to be very significant.

This part of my story is the one I struggle with the most.  Because it affected me so deeply, I know my view is biased.  Honestly, there are some things that still anger me about what happened. I have had several re-writes on this part, and hopefully I have curbed the anger enough to allow the heart of the matter to come through.

I had been a part of the church for 20 years, Dave not far behind.  It was a crazy time of deception, lies and coverup.  Certain leaders felt they were accountable to no one and many were unwilling to confront them.  Those that chose to were labeled as traitors.  Now, some of our core beliefs were transparency and shared leadership, so when the deception came to the surface, it was a huge blow to the church.  Scripture was cast aside as were the teachings that came from our pulpit over the years - all of a sudden, certain people did not have to follow the teachings of Christ.

Dave was head elder, so these things impacted him in many ways.  I know there were many hurts during this time for Dave and he took it hard.  Lots of people behaving badly and treating the people who loved them badly.  He took a sabbatical from church.  It was a dark time for us.  We went to Dave and Janet for direction.  They opened their heart and home to us - something we needed desperately.  I talk about it in more detail further on. After a time, he ended up leaving the church and a few months later Bill and I did as well. 

Dave moved on, but many of the hurts and misunderstandings remained hanging out there unresolved.  Stubbornness and pride I guess kept people from doing what should have been done. Thankfully, I know he came to much peace about it all in the last year or so of his life.  But to me, it remains grievous that he died so soon after all this.  My point in sharing this?  You never know when your time is up my friends.  If there are hurts, try hard to correct them.  If there is offense, make a move towards reconciling.  You may think you have all the time in the world to make amends, but the reality is - we don’t.

Around this time I found out that Dave was a gifted writer.  I hosted a couple open mics in the lodge at “The Res” in Mishawaka, IN, the nature preserve that he and Janet were caretakers of.  Woops, let me get it right - Rangers.  (Ranger Dave and Ranger Janet beautified this place and took care of it with great love)  Dave read some of his work at one of these open mics and amazed us once again with his depth and beautiful words.
Dave's open mic performance

The last time I saw Dave was on his 60th birthday in February 2011.  We walked through Pokagon State Park and then went to dinner.  Janet and I walked and talked about where do we go next, what is God saying to us.  Dave and Bill walked not far behind talking about what men talk about.

We went for dinner at a favorite place of theirs not far from the park.  We had a great time and Dave seemed very much at peace. He talked to us about some ideas he had for the future and was designing a backpack for hikers that he wanted to market.  We were surrounded by great food, laughter and dear friends.  It just does not get any better than that.

60th Birthday dinner

I shared this at his funeral: 

There Is No Better Man

When we speak of Dave Norris, I must say: Where is there a better man?  Can you tell me?

There is my wonderful husband who stands above the rest in my eyes – but I am biased.

No, outside of my husband, of all the men I have ever met that walk the earth, there are few that could hold a candle to my friend Dave.

Dave set the standard for men when he courted his bride Janet. When he proposed to her, he did so in front of his church, on bended knee for all to witness.  He wooed his bride the way Christ woos me, with persistence and passion. I knew from that moment I would settle for nothing less than that kind of fearless love and devotion – he set the bar high.

And the wooing never ceased as whenever Janet would walk into the room, a grin from ear to ear would be on Dave’s face.   And if she was singing - if you were wise, you never tried to speak to him as all his attention was turned towards her, admiring the woman who was his queen.   And don’t let him catch YOU talking – you ran the risk of seeing the OTHER side of Dave as he gave you a look that made you know, you don’t want to mess with him.

Janet and Dave unlocked the treasures in each other that seemed to be held captive while they were apart.  Their joining brought to light all that God put inside them.

Dave was an elder, father, servant and friend.  He has been all those things to me at one time or another and I am a better person for it.

I have so many stories of Dave; From their wedding, trekking through Glacier Park, years of going to church together, and the many meals we shared – and I can’t even get started talking about the love we shared of coffee…its hard to choose just one. 

I share one that changed my life and encompasses who Dave is.  A couple years ago my heart was broken in ways I never imagined possible.  At the time, Dave and Janet were elders at our church, as well as our friends.  We sought Janet and Dave out for direction and wisdom.  They welcomed us into their home, and as I sat before them, broken, hurt and confused, Dave said, “Let’s talk about things not as elder and congregant, but as friends, because that’s what we are”.  He had no idea how badly we needed to hear those words.  There was no “posturing” in Dave, no invisible rules to follow because he held a title.  He never chided us for questioning, but understood our pain and offered comfort, support and prayer.  Dave saw our need and tended to it.  His tender heart, which had also been broken by the circumstances, helped mine to stay tender and not get bitter.  Even in his pain, he pointed the way toward Christ.  For that, I am forever grateful.

There is no better man.

April 2011

These writings offer just a glimpse of this man’s story.  Dave Norris was a complex man with wonderful gifts and they live on in us.  He was real.  He was fun.  He was caring. He was a great man.  He was my friend and I loved him.  He is in my heart still and I miss him.  I thank God he was in my life and I carry a part of him always.

Till we meet again Dave; till we meet again...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Start Me Up...

Start : To begin or set out, as on a journey or activity.

We are always starting over, starting again, restarting, jump starting.  As long as it includes the word "start" I am good.  Of course, ending can be a good word too, as in the end of the road, end of an ordeal or “The End”.  We want to avoid "It ended badly".

Starting means there is movement; something happening, possibilities, things to look for ahead.  Of course, we can start and never move past that point.  Projects we have started, jobs we started, relationships started, education started - but somehow we never followed through.

So along with the word start, I like completion.
Completion:  Conclusion, fulfillment - having every necessary part or element; entire.

We start something and we see it through.  Completion can be different than "finished" as we can “Be finished with that" and it may mean we started but never completed something.

Life is a series of starts, stalls, stops, finishes and hopefully completions.  Starting and completing one thing always leads to another as we should never be quite "done".  To live we must continue on to the next thing, expanding our mind, our views, our love and lives.  Life is about movement, expansion, cycles, seasons.

I have heard several sermons that included the words "Before God started the world, He finished it", meaning He had it all planned before He put it in motion - made escapes for all our mishaps, solutions for all our problems. No "new" thing we humans think up had not been already perceived by God and He made sure to have a solution for it.  

I ponder that periodically.  Now, I don't happen to think that it means we have no choice in our lives or that all is "preplanned", therefore making no difference in how we live as it will all end up the same.  No I think that what it means is that God has created a place for us to make choices, mistakes, walk paths, explore possibilities and have a great time doing it.  Life is a grand journey and there is no "one" road that will take us to our life's purpose.  I happen to believe if your road includes a heart felt seeking of God, then you are on the right one. God will take care of the rest.

The road you take may be too steep for me and the road I am on may not have enough scenery for you.  Thats one of the cool things about God, we are all created uniquely and the possibilities are endless and anything but boring.  I don't think the people who believe we all have to do it the same way have read much of the bible, as it is filled with people finding their path and purpose in God many different ways. Jesus was the best example of not doing things the accepted way and His path is the one I choose to follow.

One of the great lessons I have learned in life is a quote from a sermon heard many years ago: "All that I know is not all there is to know".  A lesson learned more recently is my own quote:  "All that you know is not all there is to know".  Its the combination of many you's and me's that make it complete. There we are, back to the concept of "completion".

Some things take a lifetime to complete, other things can be done in shorter time spans. Your completion of a task may not have the same end result as my completion of that same task.  The only sure thing is that the completion of one always leads us to another and our challenge is to recognize where we should focus our energies.  We just have to start somewhere.

Sue Barnard
August 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012


I untangled a wind chime that hangs in my yard.  Seems a silly thing to write about, but it spoke to me.

This wind chime is made up of delicate flat circles, formed from shells.  They hang from strings of fishing line.  There are several strings that hold the shells, making a beautiful tinkling sound as they blow in the breeze.  I bought it on a visit to San Diego, one of my favorite places ever, so when I hear it, it brings sweet memories of ocean breezes and sunshine.

I’ve had it in the house all winter.  It had gotten tangled together after a storm last year and I hung it on a hook in our family room until I had a chance to put it right.  Since warm weather is here, I decided to take it back outside, but did not take the time to untangle the strings.

It still made noise, but it was more of a clanging together, not the peaceful, soothing sound it usually makes.  The tangled strings did not allow the shells to move freely, so the sound was harsher and only moved if a strong breeze came by.

One morning as I sat outside and sipped my coffee, I took note of the tangled wind chime and the irritating noise it made, and I missed the comforting sound of the past.  So, I got up and went to where it hung on my Magnolia tree branch. The strings looked hopelessly tangled and clumped together, impossible to set free again. I determined I would figure out the mess of these strings.

I picked a “clump” of tangled shells and pulled a bit and it only seemed to make it worse, so I lightened my grip and watched how they fell and could see the path the twisting took.  There were 3 or 4 of the lines twisted together and as I carefully held them, and took the weight off the string, I began untwisting them and one string at a time they came lose and fell free.  As I freed one clump, I went to the next, once again, taking the weight off the string, finding the start of the tangle and working my way up to the top of the string.  Finally, all the strings were free and the shells hung unencumbered, each one able to move on its own to the breeze. Once again, the sound was one of beauty and harmony, not a clacking noise. The chimes were able to fulfill their intended purpose.

As I sat back and enjoyed the familiar sound of my treasure, I thought of me.  How I can get to be a tangled mess and there seems to be no way to make sense of me.  I am functioning, but not really how I want to – I am weighted down by life and worries and stuff.   I am as a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians because I may be speaking, but it is without love.   You know I’m here, but you’d rather I wasn’t for the awful noise I am making.   

Thankfully, those that love me take the time to gently pick me up and see where I am stuck.  Helping me to carry the weight of life, they patiently untangle and help me to be free once again allowing my true sound to come through.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Day To Remember...

March 28, 2012.  Today would have been my oldest sister Carol’s 70th birthday.  Hard to believe she has been gone almost 5 years.

She died way too young at age 65 in April of 2007.  Carol had respiratory  problems as a result of smoking for many years. Sickness got to her that year and she could not recover.  She left behind a story and its important to remember.

Carol had been living next door to us with my mom for several years when she died.  This came about after her husband died and she had to get rid of her house.  The plan was for her to help care for my mom (who was also ill with respiratory problems - damn cigarettes).  It was beneficial for both of them.  Mom could still live somewhat independently because she would have help and Carol needed a place to live.  But soon it was clear that Carol needed almost as much care as my mom.

Thinking of Carol brings so many memories to my mind, many of them painful and sad. Carol was married twice and neither husband treated her well.  She and her wife-beating first husband were a big part of my childhood.  No child should see or be exposed to the things I was witness to.  Seeing Carol’s abuse and chaos shaped and formed much of my world back then and the imprint is still with me to this day.  Even as a kid I knew that what they called “marriage” was whacked.  One year I gave Carol a sympathy card to commemorate her wedding anniversary instead of celebratory card.  I got in a bit of trouble with my mom for that one.  I may have only been 11 years old but I was sure that their relationship was nothing to celebrate.

Her second marriage was no better in my mind.  Her second husband beat her as well and abused her children.  During those years I was busy raising my own family and did not see Carol as often.  But we only lived a couple blocks away from each other and there were many a night she and her girls walked over to my house after Carol suffered a beating.  She and her girls would stay for a few days, he’d call and apologize.  They would talk on the phone for hours.  God how I wanted her to walk away from this marriage as well, but she never did.  She ended up taking care of him till the day he died.

I had the privilege of being Carol’s caretaker till she died.  I was not the “Florence Nightingale” type, I was more the “Nurse Ratched” style.  Of course, my heart was not made of stone as Nurse Ratched’s was.  While on the outside it appeared easy for me to bark out reminders to do her exercises, eat right and not throw her money away, on the inside I was mush.  My heart broke for her over and over again because I knew the wounds of her life.  Caring for her put me smack dab in the middle of her complicated life and personality.  Carol was a very complex individual and dealing with her complexities could stretch you till you were ready to snap.  There was many a day I wanted to throw in the towel with her because she seemed determined to continue on a destructive path. 

But God.  He gave me patience, compassion and determination in dealing with Carol.  Did she know of the many, many tears I cried after some of our conversations?  Not just tears of frustration, but tears of sorrow.  Even though I could get pretty angry at Carol, I was still very aware that while I may have witnessed the abuse, she was the one it happened to.  She bore the mental and physical scars and God made sure He reminded me often.

I was also very aware that Carol had to live with the knowledge that some of the choices she made were selfish. Because of that, others were hurt.  She allowed her children to be in harms way and that is something that I don’t think she ever truly got over. 

We talked many times about these things and as I said, my role was to stay strong and urge her to look ahead.  Be the best she can be now. All my pushing and prodding was to keep her moving and alive.  If I had anything to say about it, her latter years were going to be more stable and safer than her earlier life.

Carol’s life impacted me forever.  She was my big sister and I loved her.   On this day that would have been her 70th birthday I remember her with that love and share the eulogy I wrote for her funeral.

Carolyn Hartz Eulogy  April 2007

A funeral is a time to speak well of the departed, to remember the good times, the stories, the memories. But for me, funerals are more than just remembering someone’s past.  Since it puts in the forefront a life that has ended, it is also a time to look at the life I am living and asking the question “am I living it well?”

But first, we focus on Carolyn.  Even though I grew up calling her Carol, she loved being called Carolyn.  I have to say that I am sure Carol is in heaven now.  She knew God and loved Him I believe.  So, we rejoice that her suffering has ended as her eternity has begun.  She has left behind all that was dark in this world to embrace the love and acceptance of our heavenly Father.

Carol’s life was not an easy one, as it rarely is for any of us.  But hers was especially difficult and wrought with much heartache and struggle.  Some of the struggles were the result of the choices she made, but much of it was at the hands of others who mistreated her.  Finances were never plentiful and at times her relationships with family and children were full of friction.  But, Carol was a survivor.  And if put in the same circumstances she went through, many of us here would have given up long ago or been committed to an asylum.  But Carol kept going, getting up each day to face a world that could be very cruel.  And she did it with a smile.

Carol was my oldest sister, so she has always been a part of my life.  There were different seasons of relationship between us.  Sometimes I was just the “kid sister”, other times a friend and peer.  But mostly my purpose in her life was prodder, defender and sometimes rescuer. Early on in my life with Carol, because of the knowledge I had of her life and what went on in it, God put fierceness for her in me.  My Pastor describes it as “booger love” – you just can’t shake it off even if you wanted to.   And believe me, especially in her latter years, I am sure there were times Carol wanted to “shake” me off of her.

Because of her close proximity to my house as a kid, we started sharing things early.  She lived just two doors down from me, and she was the “cool” big sister who let us get away with way too much.  My life with Carol was one of sharing many firsts: first cup of coffee, first cigarette, first real serious thoughts about God.  Carol was raised in the Catholic Church and as a child I attended church with her.  I was mesmerized with many of the rituals she practiced, dipping of the finger in the holy water, kneeling at the pew, the mysterious act of communion.  Much of my early introduction to church and God was through Carol.

Some of you may not know it, but Carol was a bowler in her younger years.  As a child, I remember standing at the bathroom door, looking up at her with wonder as she would transform herself from “at home” Carol to “going out” Carol, while getting ready on her bowling night.  She would stand in front of the bathroom mirror, wearing her bowling shirt, applying makeup and teasing her hair into a “poofy” hill.  There were several steps in this transformation and each one done in a particular order each time.  I knew she was done when she would pick up the big, metal can of hairspray.  With a long, lit cigarette hanging from her freshly painted lips, eyes squinting from the rising smoke, she would apply large quantities of hairspray to keep it all in place.  I was fascinated, and stood close to watch, having no clue of the dangers of mixing aerosols and fire together.

It was one of many “rituals” Carol practiced.  Things having to be done in a particular way at a particular time and to deviate from that could bring much protest on her part.  It was one of the curiosities of Carol; regimented order in a life that at many times was composed of chaos.

Carol liked to have things around her, lots of things, close at hand.  Crochet projects, crafts, suduko books; STUFF.  For the last few years, Carol has lived with my mom in a house next door to mine, so I was in their home often.  Surely one of the things we had issue with between us was her insistence on having her whole existence within arms length – and Carol had a LOT in her existence.   But what I perceived as clutter were things that were important to her, and for some reason she always had to have them close; perhaps to keep them safe, to know they were there and would not be cast aside.  So, I imagine her now, in her heaven with unlimited access to yarn, unopened mail, Avon and puzzle books.

One thing I admired about Carol was that she never tried to hide the fact that she needed people.  She was very social and not afraid to approach someone she didn’t know to greet them and perhaps take the opportunity to “grill” them a bit.  She loved to know about you – it truly interested her and she had a memory like a steel trap and could recall information most people would have overlooked.  And if you discussed something with her and there were facts she did not know, you could be pretty sure in your next conversation Carol would be prepared and have the missing information at hand.

I must confess to you Carol’s assertiveness in her social dealings was not something I always appreciated.  About 8 years ago (1999), I had just begun to date my husband Bill and was bringing him to a family event for the first time.  Being scrutinized by someone’s family can be nerve wracking, and Carol’s aggressiveness could be a little daunting before you got to know her. I knew this guy was quite a catch and did not want to scare him away before we were solid!  So, certain family members were put on “Carol watch”, and were to be ready to intervene and divert Carol’s attention if Bill started to look scared by her “assertiveness”.  As it turns out, I had nothing to fear.  Bill held his own with Carol and they sparred many times on many different subjects.  He loved her and spent weeks renovating the home she shared with my mom.  He never balked at caring for her and welcomed her into our lives.

Carol, while small in frame, was strong in spirit and will.  People could be fooled by her petite looks, thinking that she was timid.  But anyone who had cause to deal with Carol could tell you that she had very strong opinions on a multitude of issues and had no problem telling you that.

As I said before, my role in Carol’s life was not that of a typical sister.  Nice was not my portion with Carol.  Kindness, caring, loyalty, protection, encouragement and of course deep love; but not always nice.  Her loving heart and her need to be loved resulted in not always using the best judgment in making choices for her life.   For some reason, God saw fit to allow me to see into Carol’s heart, to understand her, even if I did not always agree with her.  He gave me the strength to not care if I was not liked by other people (including Carol at times) in going to great lengths to keep her active and helping her make wise decisions.   Tough love it was at times, and I have no doubt she knew that even though it was tough, it was love nonetheless.

But God balanced my wrath with others who came along side with amazing grace and I want to say thank you to some people that I know made an impact on Carol’s life.  I am sure there are many more that I don’t know about, but these are the ones on my heart.

My sister Patty was actually a combination of both fierceness and grace for Carol.  Because this is a funeral, and a eulogy, some stories of Carol’s life are best told over a cup of coffee, or perhaps a stiff drink, so I won’t give all the details of the story, but just enough for you to get the point.  When we were kids, there was an incident at Carol’s house.  A madman broke into Carol’s home and, while I had run and hid in a closet with her young daughters Cathy and Mary, my sister Patty, a young teenager, stood holding only a broom as a weapon between Carol and this intruder.  I will never forget the image as I peered out of the closet I was cowering in, seeing Patty’s 5 foot frame facing this 6 ft plus man.  I could see the fierce look in her eyes and knew if he had taken a step closer, Patty would have defended Carol to the death.  But 40 years later, this same woman came as an angel helping Carol face yet another giant in her life, when Carol had to move out of the house she had lived in for over 20 years.  As it has been mentioned, Carol had lots of stuff.   She was moving into an apartment and had to downsize drastically.  I was losing patience in the sorting process because Carol was reluctant to get rid of most things for one reason or another, and I was ready to just throw everything out!  But then suddenly, Patty the angel appeared and as I, along with my daughter Shay and sister Jackie, worked at throwing things out in one room, Patty graciously listened to Carol’s stories about each possession and who gave it to her, the story behind it and what it meant to her, as they decided whether to keep it or give it away.  Because it was important to Carol, it was important to you Patty, and that is true love.

Then there is my Mom:  A mother always, caring for her child, always wanting the best for her.  At all times generous with your children, you gave above and beyond with Carol.  At an age when most parents are only thinking of their own retirement and Florida condos, you made sure the last years of Carol’s life were not a struggle and put her needs above your own.  That is the unselfish love of motherhood – that is the love of God.

Catherine:  Taking care of her in the most intimate way possible, bathing her, looking out for her, alerting me with health concerns.  You guys fought over housekeeping, but you know she loved it.  Your spunkiness gave her a reason to get up every morning.

Her Church.  Carol loved this church and it’s people.  It was a lifeline to her and gave her strength and community.

Many of my memories of Carol have the picture of a cigarette hanging from her mouth.  In the end, this would come back to haunt her and slowly, but surely steal something we take for granted everyday - the ability to breathe.  I have been asked not to preach on the evils of smoking; so I will not say all that I would like to on this subject; but I will say this:  I hear many excuses of why people can’t quit - stress in their life, I have been smoking so long, on and on, and having been a smoker at one time myself, sympathize.  But I must point out that Carol, after over 30 years of smoking and at one of the most stressful times in her life, while facing cancer, chose to quit.  Even though others around her chose to keep smoking, which as any smoker will tell you is one of the hardest roadblocks in quitting, she still managed to rid herself of cigarettes.

Carol’s life had purpose and meaning.  While not always the dream life I am sure she had hoped for, she still kept hoping, kept going in the best way she could.  She left behind many memories and shared much of herself with so many.  Without her in my life, I would not be who I am – and I LIKE who I am, and am a better person for having known her.  I have witnessed abounding grace to a depth I did not know was possible, I have learned that loving someone is not always easy and does not always include the word “nice”.  I have seen the power of God at work over and over in places that seemed hopeless; I have learned patience and compassion far beyond what was possible in my own flesh.

So, in closing, I go back to the beginning of my eulogy and ask, “am I living my life well?”  Have I fulfilled the purpose God put me on this earth to fulfill?  Am I at peace with myself and those around me?  What lives have I touched? Tomorrow is not promised to us and if this was my last day on earth, would I be able to say, “I’m ready to go”.  If I left this earth realm today, would I be pleased with what I have left behind?  Is God pleased with what I left behind?

As I ask these things, I not only think of myself, but I think of her children.  My mantra to your mom in regards to you was always this:  The best thing you can do for your kids is to get healthy and stay healthy.  Not just in body, but in mind and soul.  Be an example to them of a life lived well.  Put behind the past and live today; today be the best mom you can be.  The best thing you can do for your children is to be an example.  The example your mom left you is that she fought; she did not always triumph in the ways we would think a victory should look, but she did fight.  So, cry your tears of grief, but let them cleanse and refresh you - tears without purpose are just waterworks.  The best way to honor your mom is to live well, to live a life that is full of loving and giving.  That will bring a smile to her face.