Monday, September 26, 2016

Sean-size Hole

Sean was a man full of life and laughter. He was a tender-hearted giver, and made a living serving others as a firefighter/EMT and in the CPR training business he owned. He was a loyal friend; it only takes a glance at his Facebook page to know he made everyone feel like his best friend. (Sean is the kind of guy who made friends with our resort’s activities director in Jamaica, and still kept in touch with him!) Sean was generous and lived sacrificially: he would give anything you asked for simply because you asked. He loved and lived well.


I need to stop this right here. Here’s the truth: I hate writing this in past tense, because my friend Sean died Saturday at age 46. I hate that I’m describing him by what he did instead of what he’s doing or has yet to do. I’ll never again be able to think of him in current terms, because he’s no longer here. His wife and his four sons don’t get to grow old and grow up with him, and they’ll only see his smile in fading photos.

And I’m sorry to complain or sound whiny, but fading photos can never capture the light that lived inside Sean McMullin. Photos are an empty substitute for a man who made us love him and laugh with him. I can’t make sense of his loss, although my mind keeps trying to shape and polish it in hopes of understanding it. It’s not working because it simply doesn’t make sense.

There’s a Sean-size hole in my heart, and the hearts of his wife, sons, and family: his parents, brother and sister. He has a slew of in-laws who adored him, and countless coworkers and friends – friends like me.

I loved Sean. I *still* love him. I wish I had told him that a lot more.

God, please be with the McMullins. Hold them close and comfort them. You keep track of our sorrows and collect our tears because You know they are precious, as the depth of our grief shadows the heights of our love. May we carry Sean’s memory so we can help his sons know who he was and remind them how loved they are. Show us how to love Beth and the boys well, and bear their burdens with them. Give us strength, God. And please take care of our friend now that he is Home with You. Amen.

Monday, September 12, 2016

15 Years and the Morning After

What do you do in the moments after the shock of a trauma have passed?

This morning, I think back to the day after our nation's terrible losses on 9/11. It was fifteen years ago, and that day lives in my memory as a feeling, not simply an event.

Time travel IS possible; all it takes is one photo to deliver me back to the shallow breathing and staggering disbelief of that morning. I still physically react to the photos of the airplanes hitting the Twin Towers, and the aftermath.

My memory is so intense, I feel 9/11 instead of simply recalling it: the crisp newly-autumn feel in the St. Louis air that day. The feeling that I forgot to breathe and needed to gasp in order to catch up with the four heartbeats that just pounded through my chest. The woozy waves of disgust that churned my stomach as I realized human beings willingly did this to other human beings. The tightened shoulders that intangibly grabbed the weight of grief for survivors who started posting photos of missing family and loved ones in New York City - and grief that dog-piled on when I realized two more planes were involved.

My mind raced, too: the topsy-turvy doubts because what I believed to be safe was called into question. The human instincts of fight or flight that took over as I swung between wanting to kick someone's tail and wanting to run to the arms of my family and neighbors so I could again feel the safety of community.

I was afraid. We were afraid.

Mercifully, 9/11 ended and the sun rose on the morning of September 12. As a nation, we weren't capable of comprehension yet. It would be months and, for some, years before we would reach that point. And to be honest, on yesterday's 15th anniversary, there were still pieces missing for me in the puzzle of comprehension.

What did we do between the trauma and the comprehension? How did we face the morning after?

I remember doing the same thing then that I find myself doing today: I watched and listened and felt and held and prayed and learned.

I was hungry for stories that would help me own the grief. And even though the grief was not a burden I wanted to carry, I knew turning from it would mean allowing evil to cozy up close to me.

This is why, fifteen years after the day after, I am still seeking stories. I want to feel the heaviness again, because I want to remember the feelings and not only the moments as detached events. Remembering the loss and the incredible compassion that came after it is how we fight back against the darkness and evil.

Our enemy wants us to forget how we felt fifteen years ago. Our enemy wants us to be numb to the pain; numbing equals a lack of feeling which equals inaction which - to our enemy - is just as good as getting permission to stir the chaos all over again.

NOT on my watch!

So, even fifteen years later, I seek and I feel and I pray and I learn. I hold space for sadness to come sit with me again, and I don't push it away prematurely.

This year, I invited sadness to come sit with my kids for the first time, too. This wasn't like in years past, when I glossed over the details to spare them pain. This year, we watched the videos of what happened on 9/11 and I retold them stories of sacrifice from Flight 93 and New York City and Washington, D.C.

Grief and remembering are intertwined like the arms I wrap around my kids at bedtime. I won't forget the losses of 9/11, and I won't stop spending my September 12s learning and seeking and listening and watching and telling.

If you would like to join me, here are just a few of the stories and tributes I'm watching and sharing with my kids:

  • This music video helps me remember the day's extreme evil and extreme goodness.
  • The Man in the Red Bandana tells the story of Welles Crowther and his heroism in the South tower or the World Trade Center.
  • Todd Beamer was one of the heroes of Flight 93. His oldest son is playing football at his dad's alma mater.

And here's a video of my own, taken last Friday at Art Hill in St. Louis, MO. A group called America's Heartland Remembers placed 6,783 flags with dog tags and photos to commemorate the military members who gave their lives in the war on terror since 9/11. The video shows the wind blowing through the flags and shaking the metal dog tags, each representing a life that ended too soon. The dead still speak, if we stop long enough to hear their echoes. #FlagsOfValor #HonorTheFallen

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

September 7s

September 7th is a day that has the entirety of life embedded in it.

It is the day I celebrate the birth of the most important human being in my life, my husband Dan.

It is also the day I mourn the single most influential person in my life: my mother, who went Home on my husband's birthday.

Ever since 2004, September 7 has been full of conflict in my heart. I celebrate his presence and mourn her absence, which is the truest reality of ALL our lives as we live each day "in between."

On any given day, we ride the spectrum between highs and lows, joy and sorrow, dancing and mourning. I choose to face the September 7s of my life as a reminder of God's fulfilled promise in Isaiah 61:3, when He replaces despair with praise, mourning with joyous blessings, and ashes with crowns of beauty.

Happy Homecoming anniversary to my mom, and happy birthday to my best friend! Thank you both for giving me the best reminder of God's goodness.

God, thank You for the gifts of September 7!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Finding My Voice

Two nights ago, on the way home from youth group at church, Katie and I were the only ones in the car. We played our favorite worship songs and held a private concert for each other.

Katie knows I'm insecure about my singing voice. After one of the songs she said to me, "Mom, you are a really great singer. You don't think you are, but I love when you hit the high notes and sing!"

I wanted to remind her of the times I've been told I howl like a hound or the time when a recording artist stood beside me in church and told me I was *way* out of my range. But I didn't, because my 13-year-old daughter didn't need to hear reinforcement about my shortcomings.

She thinks I am a lovely singer, so it must be true. Right?

The truth is I don't have a spectacular voice, but I am very good at mimicking other singers. I have an ear for subtlety, and can hear the nuances of melody or the beat hidden behind the tempo. The drawback is I am musically uneducated, so I can't explain what I hear in language that someone else or a musician would understand. But I know how to copy someone else's style pretty darn well, thankyouverymuch.

The problem with this is that being a "mimicker" means I silence my own original voice or, worse, regurgitate someone else's voice instead of the voice of my life: the Voice of my Creator.

I don't want to be a mouthpiece for anyone else but Him. I want my words to echo His voice. I want to sing songs that sound like Him. I want to drink so deeply from his well that my breath smells like His refreshment.

It's a constant refinement process, making sure I'm keeping my eyes on my Master and following His lead. Especially when I'm scared of failing or looking like a fool.

Yesterday, I faced a BIG fear of mine. I went public with my website ( and published my first photo devotional.

Yes, these are the same photo devotionals I dreamed of turning into a book when I went to the She Speaks conference in 2015. Only now, the "book" isn't printed on paper you can keep on your nightstand or tuck in your backpack. It lives on the interwebs, and I'm pretty ecstatic with the work my friend Ashley did to make the website a reality.

The website is a huge part of me finding my voice. It's a line drawn in the sand, marking the spot where I stop singing like other people and echo what my Father speaks to me.

If I'm going to mimic anyone, let it be Him!


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