Arizona

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My grandfather, “Popop”, passed away on March 22.  Last week I was able to travel out to Phoenix for his memorial service. While the reason for my travel was not the happiest, I was still excited to make the trek–I got to travel alone (reading! movies! sleeping!) and spend a whole week with my extended family recounting our memories of Popop and creating new memories together. This was also an important week of travel because it was the first time I had ever left my family (gasp!). Jon stayed in Ireland with the boys, making this his first time alone with both children for more than a couple of hours. While Jon was at work each day some incredibly amazing friends of ours took care of our kids and helped them have so much fun that they cried each day when they had to leave (true story!). It was, in short, a momentous week for all of us.

After a long day of travel, I arrived in Phoenix on Monday night. I had Thai food for dinner at my Uncle Brad’s house and then fell fast asleep for 12 glorious hours. On Tuesday we drove up to my grandma Sandy’s house in Cave Creek (about 45 minutes north of Phoenix) to help clean her house and set up tables for a BBQ we were having that night when all of the family arrived.

The BBQ was great, just a casual evening where we could all hang out, eat, and have fun together. Here I am with my cousins Natalie and Chrissy, my sister Erin (who had just driven over from L.A.), my nephew Noah (he’s getting SO BIG!), and my cousin Chrissy’s new (at least to me) baby Maverick:

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We all sat around tables outside (oh, how I’ve missed the sun!) and ate our nummy BBQ:

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We had family members travel from all over the country for the memorial. We had representatives from Washington, California, Arizona, Texas, Nebraska, and Louisiana all together to celebrate the life of our beloved Popop. I know that he would have loved seeing all of us together and that he would be proud to know what a special family he was a part of.

One of my favorite family moments came early on Wednesday morning when we were all getting ready to leave for Popop’s memorial service.  Shortly before we moved to Ireland I bought a puzzle necklace for me, my mom and my sisters. We each got a piece of the puzzle–something to remember each other by since we all live so far apart now. It’s been nearly a year since we got our puzzle necklaces and we still hadn’t been able to put all of  the pieces together yet. Finally, we were all in the same place at the same time with our necklaces! At about 6 AM my nephew Noah was running around the house shouting, “The puzzle! The puzzle! You have to put together the puzzle!” And, so, we did:

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We actually had two memorial services on Wednesday morning, one at the national cemetery for our family and then another at my grandparents’ church for family and friends. We started the morning at the National Cemetery in Cave Creek where Popop’s ashes will be buried among other veterans. Popop served in the military when he and grandma Sandy were newlyweds. In fact, my mom was even born on the army base in the territory of Alaska (it wasn’t even a state back in those days!). The service at the National Cemetery was short and sweet. Our family gathered together:

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And Grandma Sandy passed out family heirloom hankies for us to dry our eyes on:

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The service was conducted with full military honors including the folding of a flag:

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And a gun salute:

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After the military service at the National Cemetery, we moved on to Sandy and Popop’s church for a larger memorial service. There was a table set up near the entrance with some “Popop Memorabilia”–shirts from his favorite sports teams, M&M’s (a favorite treat), flowers, and photos:

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The service itself was beautiful. The pastor gave a thoughtful eulogy and then family and friends took turns sharing memories of Popop. My mom and dad both shared so I felt brave enough to get up and say a few words myself. I spoke about the love that Popop had for us, how he led our family in love, and how he left that legacy to each of us. Everyone who meets our family always says that they can tell how much we love each other, and it’s true. We love well because we have been loved well. Popop loved us and it showed, and will continue to show.

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After the memorial service we had a grand lunch buffet at the church that was put on by grandma Sandy’s “Lunch Bunch” friends. Then we all went back to Grandma Sandy’s house to spend the rest of the day together (and eat all of the food–oh my, the food! So much food!). Popop was always fond of Mountain Dew (the soda)–which always struck me as funny because I never knew an adult, let alone a grandpa, who loved Mountain Dew so much. When we got back to Sandy’s house we had a toast to Popop–with Mountain Dew, of course!

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Then it was time for family photos. After all, who knows when the next time will be that we’ll get this whole crazy crowd together! Here is the large group photo including all of Popop’s direct relatives: his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, in-laws, nieces and nephews. The group was so big that I barely made it into the photo (you can see half of me in the bottom right hand corner of the photo):

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After spending a whole week with my family I have concluded three things:
1. We are loud
2. We are fun
3. We are awesome

Seriously, I have the best family! It had been a long time since I’d seen most of the extended family (and this was the first time that I’d met a few of the more-distant cousins) but after this week I sure hope I get to see a whole lot more of them. Our family is full of wild west cowboys, cattle ranchers, and Physical Therapists–all kinds of crazy under one roof. I love it.

After the memorials we had a few days to spend time together and enjoy the Arizona sunshine. We went for a family hike in the desert:

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Went swimming at Uncle Brad’s pool:

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Went shopping at COSTCO!!!! (O.K., probably only a person who has been deprived of Costco for a whole year would be this excited about Costco but let me tell you…it was every bit as good as I remember it in my daydreams):

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We even had a fun night out at a bull riding show. I, the city slicker, had a great time watching the show. The real cowboys in my family, however, were not as impressed. At least, I don’t think they were impressed…I kept having to ask my cousin to interpret for me so I could understand their lingo:

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On my last day in Arizona we even had a “Feaster” egg hunt (Feaster being fake-Easter–a holiday we celebrated every year when I was growing up during our spring break in Arizona). Noah had no competition this year so he came out a champ!

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And then, just like that, my week in Arizona was over. Back to the airport, back on the plane, back to Ireland I flew. As we flew into Ireland I reflected on the incredible week I’d just had–the memories, the laughter, the tears, the love, the joy of family.

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Before I knew it I was back home again, snuggling my sweet little boys. Yes, the joy of family, indeed.

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From Tents to Castles: Remembering Popop

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On March 22, 2014 my grandfather, Popop, left this earth to join Jesus in heaven. He was 82 years old–a devoted husband of 60 years, a loving father to my mother, an incredible grandpa to me, and a caring great-grandfather to my children. I already miss you so much, Popop, and I can’t wait for the day we are reunited again in our forever home.

Up until this year I had all four of my grandparents. I am very lucky. Three months ago, a week before Christmas, my Grandpa Chuck passed away. Then, last week, we got word that Popop was quite ill and that the end was likely nearing. He passed away yesterday at his home in Phoenix, Arizona surrounded by family. He was dearly loved and will be greatly missed by all of us.

This whole week I’ve been thinking a lot about Popop–who he was as a man and what he meant to me. We shared lots of amazing moments together throughout my life, and I will always hold those memories dear. Memories of us walking through the deserts of Arizona and the beaches of California and the forests of Washington together. Memories of family gatherings. Memories of Christmases, Halloweens, Thanksgivings, and Feasters (a holiday that we created–perhaps the most wonderful holiday that ever was created). Memories of summers spent with my grandparents at the lighthouse in Brown’s Point. Memories of afternoons spent searching for tadpoles in the creek. Memories of Popop rooting on the Nebraska Corn Huskers and ASU football like it was his mission in life. Memories of him dancing at my wedding. Memories of him drinking Mountain Dew (perhaps the best beverage that ever was created). Memories of how he always knew how to make me laugh. And memories of him gently holding my newborn sons. Memories. Lots of beautiful, wonderful memories.

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As I’ve been thinking about Popop, I’ve also been praying for him. It’s been a week of ceaseless prayer, really. My mom called me a few days ago and shared with me a passage from 2 Corinthians that came up in her devotional this week and it really stuck with me. It reads:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:5

One of my favorite things to do in moments like this is to go for a “prayer run”–just go out in nature by myself, run, pray, and listen. I went on a prayer run on Saturday morning, just a few hours before I got the news that Popop had passed away. As I was running and praying and meditating on this passage from 2 Corinthians, I rounded the corner and saw this: Blackrock Castle.

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A thought came to me. This earth and everything in it is fleeting. The Bible tells us that our body is merely a tent–not a permanent structure, but something that is intended to be set up, disassembled, and moved. But if our tent is destroyed–as Popop’s was this weekend–we are not to lose heart. We are not to be sad over a lost tent, because God has a building for us. His intention when He created us was not that we would spend eternity wandering around like transient nomads in tents, but that at some point we would come home to the unshakable building he is creating for us in heaven. He doesn’t want us living under canvas forever–his plans for us are better than that. No, God is creating a castle for us. Not a tent, a castle. A beautiful home that will last the test of time. So, even though I am mourning the loss of my dear Popop, I can be joyful that his tent–weathered and worn–has been cast aside for a heavenly castle. That eternity will be an extraoridnary place, even more so because of the addition of Popop’s castle.

I miss you, Popop, and I will always love you. From now until eternity.

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In Loving Memory

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Clockwise from top left: Grandpa’s military photo; Grandpa holding me as a baby; Grandpa reading me a story; Grandma and Grandpa holding baby David

Several months ago when we planned our trip back to Washington for Christmas we knew that it would be a special time for us to spend with our family. I had no idea then, however, how perfect God’s timing was going to be.

When I got off the plane on Saturday afternoon after a very full day of travel my mom gave me the unfortunate news that  my grandpa (my dad’s dad) had taken a turn for the worse. He has been ill for quite some time now so the news was not shocking, but the urgency in her voice told me that this was serious. We decided that the very next morning I would drive down to see him one last time.

So, after a fitful few hours of jet-lagged sleep, my mom, sister Jessica, and myself drove 2 hours south to Grandpa’s home in Longview. When we got to the care facility where he has been living for the past few months, my dad, Grandma and Aunt Rose were already there at Grandpa’s bedside.

It was a difficult but wonderful day visiting Grandpa. He was mostly unconscious, but there was a good bit of time that he woke up and was able to make eye contact with us and even whisper a few words. I got to tell him about Ireland and how big his great- grandsons are getting and reminisce about some of my favorite memories with him. I got to hold his hands, pray over him, and tell him that I loved him. I got to give him a hug and a kiss and say goodbye. It was God’s grace to me that I had that rare day with Grandpa, and I will forever be grateful for those last moments we had together.

Then, just two days later, early in the morning of Wednesday, December 18th, Grandpa passed from this world. My dad was with him at that moment, and he said that Grandpa went out the same way he lived his life: courageously and lovingly. He had truly lived every minute of his 90 years to the fullest. The phrase that Grandpa kept repeating on that last day I spent with him was “Wow”. I can only imagine that at this moment Grandpa is sitting at Jesus’ feet whispering that same word: Wow. Forever and ever, Wow. And, while I’m mourning his loss, I know that I am lucky to have had 30 years with my grandpa.

Grandpa was my real-life hero. When Grandpa was a small boy he was put into foster care because of his unsafe home with alcoholic parents. He grew up on a farm in Ohio during the Great Depression and was about as poor as they come.  He should have had a terrible life and left a terrible legacy for our family. But he didn’t. Grandpa rose above his situation because he wanted better for his future family than he ever had for himself. When he was still a teenager he enlisted in the Marine Corps and courageously served our country throughout World War II. He returned from war, fell in love with my grandma, and they married in 1947. They had 3 children and were happily married for 66 years.

Grandpa went on to study education at the University of Washington. The poor farm boy who literally had to share a pair of shoes with his brother so they could take turns going to school earned a Master’s Degree and was a science teacher to hundreds of students throughout his career. He literally built his family a home with his own two hands–the home that my dad was born in and that my grandma still lives in to this day. He cared for his family, loved his wife, and served his community. He was a man who others respected and admired and loved.

Some of my favorite memories of Grandpa are just the time we spent together: holidays, birthdays, graduations, my wedding, the births of my babies. Growing up, we would spend the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house fairly often. In the morning, he’d always ask me how I’d slept. The correct answer was always, “With my eyes closed!”–I guess I get my unique sense of humor from him!

IMG_0015Grandpa was also a dependable pen-pal and we exchanged letters throughout my life. All growing up, Grandpa would send each of us handwritten letters and clippings from the newspaper. I always looked forward to receiving Grandpa’s letters, even if his handwriting was nearly impossible to interpret! I have to credit a lot of who I am–my love for writing, my sense of humor, the fact that I became a teacher–to who Grandpa was and how he helped to shape me.

As we were looking through some old papers this week we came across several of Grandpa’s letters. In one of his letters addressed to me, he wrote about his dreams when he was younger. He wrote, “I wanted to have a loving helpmate and our own home. Also, I wanted a family so I would enjoy watching the kids grow up in a family situation…and YES! My dreams have come true!”.

Yes, Grandpa, your dreams came true. You lived a remarkable life, and you will live on in our hearts and our memories forever. Thank you for who you were, for your influence on our family, for your beautiful legacy.

I love you.