Now, that being said, my weekend is something which is worthy of "updating" you. It was "bittersweet", (again, to rehash a recurring theme). Sad, beautiful, joyful, peaceful, eventful, restful, full of love... Simply "full". I was just sharing with a friend that I have learned to "embrace, even enjoy" things like quiet, alone-ness, even sadness. A bunch of happy feelings and laughter and fun stories are no longer prerequisites for a day to be considered a "good day". A "good day" now is simply a "full day". A "good weekend", a "full weekend". And indeed, it was a good weekend.
It started with some good TJ & Daddy time on Friday. I "worked from home", (a concept that is becoming more laughable every time the situation requires me to give it another shot),on Friday morning, because TJ & I had appointments to see our family physician. I was going to get a flu shot (and was hoping to get TJ to agree to one as well), and TJ was due for his 3-year-old "check-up". (I wanted to be present for this, which is why I stayed home that day, because I just needed assurance from a medical professional that I wasn't failing in my primary job to care and provide for my son's general well-being and health... These things were never a concern before. But without Leslie around, I find my confidence on such basic matters is shaken from time-to-time.)
Anyway, TJ was quite needy on Friday morning. Another "high-maintenance" day, it seemed. This bothered me quite a bit, because after our struggles the previous weekend, he had a wonderful week with Ms. Liz and Aunt Dana. And our evenings together were just fine. But here I was, spending a full day with him again, and he was unraveling-- on the brink of another melt-down. I was beginning to think it had more to do with "me" than the fact he's "just a 3-year-old". At about 9am, I gave up any hope of actually being able to get ANY work done. I put down the laptop, stowed the Blackberry, and just sat on the sofa and read some books to him. Turns out the little guy just needed my undivided attention for awhile. We read and cuddled and then put together the newest addition to his Playmobil Airport set. After that, he was fine. He was able to play alone again, entertaining himself. He was back to being the happy, busy, and chirpy little TJ we all know and love.
Around mid-day, we went to our doctor's appointment. I'd previously started to ease him into the idea of getting a shot. I assured him that I had to have one, too, and explained to him "why". "But I'm not SICK!" he tried reasoning with me. I explained that the shots were to keep us from getting sick. He seemed to be okay with the explanation, and I told him that I'd go first, just to show him how to be "brave", and how it doesn't really hurt, and it's over very, very quickly. Before the shots, he had his check-up. He kept eyeing me nervously as they took off his shirt, examined him with the stethescope and what-not, and measured and weighed him. Throughout the exam, he kept telling me, "No, I want YOU to go first! I don't want my shot yet!" He thought they were going to sneak in a needle without giving him the chance to properly prepair himself. His height and weight, much to my pride (or relief), both measured around the 70th percentile. Everything else was normal and healthy-- except for a heart murmur that we already knew was there (the pediatric cardiologist is not concerned-- we'll visit him again when TJ turns 5). Then... it was time for the shots. I sat myself up on the exam table-bed-thing, and pulled my arm out of my shirt. I just watched TJ and smiled as I explained what the nurse was doing... "She's just cleaning off my arm with a cotton ball...." "...She's getting the syringe ready..." ("Syringe" is a word that should not be in a 3-year-old's vocabulary... but it is in TJ's, for obvious reasons...) (Mommy's old IV saline "flush" syringes are his favorite bath toys.) Then, it came time for my injection. I just looked at him and smiled, and said, "See? It doesn't really hurt! It's not that bad! And now, look! It's ALL DONE!" But what I was really thinking in my mind is, "HOLY CRAP! I forgot these things hurt this much! I'm such a horrible father, lying to my son like this!!!" But I'm apparently a good liar, because when it was his turn, he bravely plopped himself back up onto the table and let the nurse do her evil deed to him. He was VERY brave. He started crying a bit after the first shot was done, (oh yeah-- I forgot to mention they were also recommending a roto-virus vaccine for him this year), and I basically had to hold him while the nurse very quickly and deftly administered the second. And as soon as it was over, I held him, and said, "It's all done! I'm so proud of you, Buddy! You are SO BRAVE!!" He stopped crying and asked if he could have his chocolate treat now, which I had promised him as a reward for such bravery.
Then we went to lunch at our favorite restaurant near the doctor's office. He had a blast, because it was Halloween day, and all the servers were dressed up in costumes. He was particularly enthralled with the guy that was sporting a full-body, Disney World-esque, likeness of that starfish guy from Sponge Bob Square Pants. I kept having to "shush" TJ, because whenever he'd see the guy from across the dining room, he'd yell, "HELLO, GUY FROM SPONGE BOB!" and wave. Apparently, he couldn't remember the starfish's name either. However, he DID remember our server's name from the last time we were there, almost a month ago. We had been there with my parents, and our waitress that night was a cute and friendly girl who kept on teasing TJ, trying to get him to give her "five" and what-not. He was playing hard-to-get, or "shy", or whatever, which just made her adore him all the more. (He does a really cute and convincing "shy" act.) Anyway, as we were seated for lunch, I scanned the room and told him I didn't see his friend from the last time we were there. I was having a hard time trying to remember her name. "What was her name...?" I mumbled to myself, in an effort to jar the memory of our last visit free in his own mind. He was a step ahead of me. "You mean Marrie?" he asked rhetorically. The kid is some kind of freaky, with that memory of his. He does names and faces and details WAY better than I do. The other day, he was talking about a baby with whose name I was unfamiliar. (I won't say the baby's name, should I indict myself and my embarrassing forgetfulness, should this particular family check in on this blog from time-to-time.) He proceeded to explain to me who the baby's parents are, and where we know them from. In this case, it was a family from church, whose baby's name I certainly should have remembered, but didn't. (To my own defense, there are a LOT of babies at church these days.) I was both embarrassed at my absent-mindedness, and impressed with his little mind. More impressed than embarrassed, though. ("... more sweet than bitter...")
From the restaurant, we headed to Gram's and Gramps' house (Leslie's parents, about a 2-hour drive southwest) to meet the entire family for our Fall Birthday bash. This group birthday party is an annual celebration/ get-together, and this particular one was to be our first without Leslie. I was so proud of myself for remembering to buy the gifts... and subsequently so frustrated with myself when I arrived at their house empty-handed. I'd left the gifts at home-- unwrapped, in a shopping bag, on top of the fridge. Gifts and birthdays and things like that were Leslie's domain. (I apologize in advance to all the family, friends, and friends' children who have yet to experience my "learning curve" in this regard, come the holidays, birthdays, etc...-- this will take some time and effort, to be sure.)
The weekend in Washington started on Friday evening with trick-or-treating for TJ, and some great worship time for me. I had made plans to lead worship with a small (50-60 people) gathering of people nearby-- a connection through some friends-- that night. So I got TJ all dressed up in his dinosaur costume, (special thanks to the Curletta family for this one!), which he was VERY excited about and proud of, and I sent him off through the neighborhood with Gram, Aunt Margarite, and cousins Tori and Jonathan. And then I headed off to "The Garage" of East Peoria to worship. Wow, what an awesome night! TJ got his candy for his tummy and Daddy got to indulge in his own sampling of "morsels of sweetness from Immanuel" (a term I was introduced to by my dear friend Beau). (There's a story there, but another time, perhaps. I will say that anyone who has experienced worship like that already knows what I'm talking about, though-- like candy for the soul.) It was good just to worship and pray with a group of virtual strangers-- to feel so connected in the Spirit with them. It was as if I knew them all my entire life. I just felt "at home" there, in the presence of our God, worshiping and praying for one another... truly a refreshing experience.
Saturday morning, I had breakfast at a local diner with Dad and Chris (Leslie's dad and brother, that is). It was such a wonderful time. The food was fine, but the conversation was... well... I was just so "blessed", I guess. (I hate that I can't avoid certain "church-speak" terms sometimes... you'll just have to bear with me. There's just no better way to describe it in this case than to say "I was so blessed".) We talked about Leslie-- stories; memories; her present and eternal completion and healing and what it all means to us now, here in this place, "without her". We all shared "how we're doing", and told stories of ways that she's effecting us daily, even though she's gone. We related as to how our perspectives of Heaven have become so much fuller now than they used to be-- even different from what they were as she was dying, and certainly different from what they were before she was sick. Let me go a little deeper, here, because I believe it's such an important thought...
When Leslie was getting sicker-- as we both quietly knew "the end" was drawing nearer-- I used to cling to this more "worldly" view of Heaven. She and I both found solace and comfort in this notion that we were "one flesh", biblically speaking, here on earth... and perhaps this meant that we'd share "one flesh" in Heaven as well. Forever. For eternity. This actually made us HAPPY, even amidst her suffering. I remember holding her and just smiling together at the thought of being whole, healed, in eternal embrace, worshiping our God together with TJ, as a family again, some day. Now, the truth of that image has become a little more "full" and clear. Indeed, Leslie and I-- together with TJ-- will be more united "one day" than we ever were here, in our "marriage". But our connection in Heaven will be different. Less "limited" to each other. Indeed, we will be united with ALL of God's people in that same intense "marriage", with our "Bridegroom". I have hope, still, that we will have the joy of the memory of what we shared on Earth, but when that time comes, I believe now that it will be merely a sweet memory. And the fullness of what we have that day will far exceed-- even eliminate-- any desire to again have what we "lost" when she died. Just as she is more complete now than she ever was with me here in this life, so will I be more complete when I join her there. Similarly, she will not be any more complete then--when I join her-- than she is now. As Jesus said, "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." The really cool thing is, that He went on to say this: "But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."
WOW! and HALLELUJAH! I believe, in consideration of this passage, that God actually "blessed" us with our more limited view of heaven, as Leslie was "dying". It can, indeed, be a blessing that now we only see fragments of the fullness of the mysteries of God and eternity, pain and suffering, Justice and Truth-- as through a broken and foggy mirror. Indeed, someday, we will see clearly, face-to-face. But I can say that this fragmented, limited view of heaven got us through some very emotionally difficult times. He was, in that time, indeed the God of the living-- and our hope of eternity with Him was from the perspective of the life we were sharing at that time. Now that Leslie is there-- and I am not-- my perspective has changed a bit, as I have described above. I will no more be united with her that day, (as I reflected with Dad and Chris Saturday morning over our eggs and coffee), as I will be with you all. And that's okay with me, now. Because the fullness of the joy that we experience together in His presence then will just blow any memory of joy or happiness we have experienced here right out of the water. There will be no comparison. There will be no longing for these broken and incomplete "latter days". One of my favorite bands, Over the Rhine, sings about this beautifully:
What a beautiful piece of heartache this has all turned out to be...
...If the music starts before I get back,
Dance without me-- you dance so gracefully.
I really think I'll be okay.
They've taken a toll, these latter days.
Leslie is okay. She's better than okay. She's complete. Perfect, even. And I'm left here with this "beautiful piece of heartache". All I am left to do is abide here... To dance without her. I shared this with Dad and Chris... that I will again learn to laugh. I will be happy again. Indeed, the joy and peace I've experienced these "latter days" since she left me is deeper and more wonderful than anything I've ever experienced... but I can't say I'm really that "happy" very often. But I'm getting there. And I will be. I'm settling onto the fact that I will probably re-marry someday. I even WANT that. I've tasted this little slice of heaven which we call "marriage"... and I long to taste it again, someday. "Anew". Certainly, it will be different. And certainly it will be good. And this new, more "complete" view of Heaven allows me to explore the thought of "moving on" without a guilty conscience. In fact, no longer do I worry about how my heart will ever be able to "deal with it". In fact, God has already done so much healing in the realm of my own heart and mind, in these regards. Indeed, time will only make things more clear, but I'm already in awe of how He's working in me. I AM concerned, though, for the heart and mind of my future wife, should God have such a person out there for me. I mean, I'd be bringing quite a bit of "baggage" into the relationship. As I said to Dad and Chris, she'd be marrying into TWO sets of in-laws, for petesakes! (the Aschlimans AND the Buchers) I could go on and on, concerning these thoughts-- what about TJ? What about the Leslie that will always be a part of me?, etc...-- but again, another time... And besides, it doesn't do "her" or myself any good to concern myself with such things. If "she" is indeed out there, I know that she is already in the palm of God's hand, and He is preparing her heart for such things.
These are all things that we discussed as a family this weekend. It was so good for all of us. And we laughed, celebrated, had fun, enjoyed one another. We even played some basketball (I sprained my ankle... ouch... a little puffy this morning). We had hot-dogs, sausages, and s'mores over a bonfire. The whole weekend was just a beautiful... FULL... Shoot, the weather was even gorgeous. The hardest part was leaving to come back home on Saturday night. I left TJ with Gram, at her request-- which was a no-brainer, since all his cousins were still there, and I had worship stuff the next day, and a lot of yard work to do. (He'll be back home today when I get back from work, and is having a GREAT time there.) But that meant that I had a 2-hour drive home, in the dark, alone. I was driving away from our family and toward an empty house. It was a drive Leslie and I made 100 times together. And Saturday night, I made it alone. It was a sad drive, to be sure. But as I stated earlier, I've learned to embrace-- even enjoy-- the sadness. I prayed. I remembered. I worshiped. I stared into oblivion. I drove. And on Sunday, I did church, yard work, small group, and even watched my Colts beat their arch-rival, the Patriots, on Sunday Night Football.
It was a full weekend, to be sure.
A good weekend.