The Love of My Life | Have We Left Our Mark?

IMG_4174I am on a flight to Chicago, having just returned to Austin yesterday from a week at the beach along the shores of the Gulf in Ft. Morgan, Alabama. As my son and I drove west, my daughters, their grandparents, and their cousins headed east, to South Carolina, to the home of Maureen’s mom and dad in Callawassie, near Hilton Head. Our time at this beach started 12 years ago to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Henry and Ann Diercxsens. Being at Ft. Morgan is a beautiful tradition, and this week was another one of those firsts that my son, Taylor, wrote about a few months ago on Maureen’s birthday at the end of April.

This was the first time that all of us were together at the beach, without Maureen, the first time we were together as her family since last October 25, 2014 at her celebration of life. As I wrote before heading to the beach, July 14 was the 25th anniversary of my marriage to Maureen. July 6 was the 52nd anniversary for her mom and dad. As the week unfolded, it is clear why so much love washes over this whole family. Henry and Ann, Bon Papa and Bonne Maman are two truly amazing individuals and an unbelievable couple. They are like two big kids, and they are so in love with each other. Bon Papa shared that love at the dinner table on Sunday night, after we all enjoyed our first day at the beach, all 16 of us, all around the same table. As Bonne Maman would say, for as wonderful as the house we rent is, perhaps it is this big table around which we all can sit that makes this house our home away from home.

IMG_2129At this table, Bon Papa gave a prayer, a small speech, not unlike the one he shared at the reception for Maureen and my wedding 25 years ago. He eloquently and beautifully acknowledged what we were all thinking, what we were all feeling. We obviously all shed a tear around the table, but in that moment, as I sat across from Bon Papa, from Henry, tears flowing from my face, tears flowing from his, I felt a connection I never fully understand until that moment. We both loved his little girl, his Maureen, more than any words can describe. (With daughters of my own now, I understand what it means to love your little girl, Bon Papa.) For 25 years, he showered his love over his little girl, his Maureen, as only a father can. On July 14, 1990, he walked his little girl, my bride, up the aisle at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, to hand his daughter’s hand to mine in marriage. I was honored by the chance to carry his torch, to love his little girl for the next 25, to join my love with his.

Heading into this week at the beach, I thought I was going to be writing about Maureen and my honeymoon to Denmark and Norway, that immediately followed our wedding in Evanston, Illinois. However, as I’ve discovered frequently with my writing, what I plan and what I actually write are not always the same thing. Although I think it is because I stay open to the events around me, it is more likely simply Maureen and God making things so completely obvious that my fingers can do on the keyboard what they are both telling me in my heart. This was one of those weeks. Bon Papa opened the week at the table with his words, and on Tuesday, July 21, the 9th powdered donut day since Maureen’s passing, I followed suit. We both laughed that neither one of us is afraid to talk!

IMG_4130However, powdered donut day was not celebrated at the big ol’ table in the house. It was instead celebrated on the beach, under the big tent, city hall as we call it. It has to be a big tent, because there is so much love underneath it. For you see, this tent doesn’t just house the Diercxsens but the Deakins. This beach tradition, this love, isn’t just 12 years old. It is decades old. The Deakins and the Diercxsens are neighbors from Ridgewood, New Jersey. Their girls and the Diercxsens’ girls have been friends for as long as they have known life. Susie Deakin was not only in Maureen’s wedding but is the godmother of our youngest daughter. Barb Deakin, Suzanne and Dominique are not just friends but sisters. The Deakins and Diercxsens went to the Jersey Shore for years, just like we go to Ft. Morgan, Alabama now. Although the Deakins started joining us in Ft. Morgan just a few years ago, it feels like they have been part of the tradition since the beginning. In a sense, they have, because it is the love these two families share that make the beach so much fun.

The full symbolism of this moment didn’t strike me until I reached this part of the story, today, as I type. It is this. Love is just too big to ever be trapped at one table, in one house, in one family. Love is huge, and as I said under the tent, there is always more than enough love to go around. The last time we had all shared a powdered donut was in Austin, after Maureen’s “celebration of life.” As I wrote in The Love of My Life | From Twelve Donuts to One, there was only one powdered donut at the shop that day, but we all shared that one donut together, in communion, because we all shared in the same love for Maureen. Last Tuesday, at the beach, we all had our own donut as I reflected on the love under that tent. I told each of the kids to look around the tent, to look at their own parents, to look at their grandparent(s), to look at their aunts and uncles, because in those faces they can see the power of love. If they looked closely, they could see almost 200 years of marriage represented under that tent. To know their lineage, to know where they come from, is to know that love. That is the legacy of Henry and Ann. That is the legacy of Jane Deakin. Just like the sand on the beach, there is always more than enough love to go around.

Later that evening, Taylor, Kyla and I walked down the beach to the waves below Windsong, the home in which we stay. With us, we carried a portion of Maureen’s ashes. We reflected on the day; we reflected on our love for each other; we reflected on our love for Maureen; and we reflected on our walk from a year earlier. Then, we bowed our kids and said the Lord’s prayer together and sprinkled ashes into the waves. Actually, it was Kyla who sprinkled them that evening, and the wind carried them on to my feet. To be honest, at the moment, I was a bit irritated. But only for a moment, because I quickly realized this was Maureen being blatantly obvious, so I wouldn’t miss it. She was reminding me of our priest and his homily at her service in October. He told us to Love Where Your Feet Are. My sister-in-law, Suzanne, wrote beautifully about this at her own blog, Suzanne Jumps, in a post of the same name. I just read it again now; it is awesome! As the ashes landed on my feet, I suddenly knew. Actually, to be more accurate, I understood. Love where my feet are.

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Before driving away from the beach yesterday morning, I took one last walk down the beach, listening to some tunes, thinking about love, thinking about Maureen. My eyes were first drawn to the sand by the sight of two footprints, one small and one large. I realized as I looked at them that a small child was walking with someone older, sharing a moment, sharing their love. I don’t know who they were, but that was the point. Love is everywhere. The steps closest to me were still fresh, but the ones further away, were already being smoothed by the action of the waves. That sight immediately tugged at me, and I knelt down to capture a picture of this… a picture of where feet had been. As I opened my iPhone camera, I then saw my shadow next to these footsteps and felt all the pieces coming together. Just like our shadows, where our feet are, matters. Just because the waves wash away the footprints in the sand does not mean you haven’t walked along the shores of life. Even though the imprints of Maureen’s footsteps may smooth as time passes, her love won’t. She has left her mark on more hearts than we may ever know. Because just like the powdered donuts under the tent, there is always more than enough love to go around, just like the sand.

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p.s. No post on footprints would be complete without my favorite poem…

One night I had a dream… I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord, and Across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; One belonged to me, and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of my life flashed before us, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that many times along the path of my life, There was only one set of footprints.

I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life. This really bothered me, and I questioned the Lord about it. “Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, You would walk with me all the way; But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, There is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why in times when I needed you the most, you should leave me.

The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child. I love you, and I would never, never leave you during your times of trial and suffering. When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.

I Have Been Provoked | Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

I have been provoked because I’ve watched cancer in the faces of too many people in too many waiting rooms at too many oncologists at too many cancer centers.” – Gary L. Thompson, 1/7/2015, I Have Been Provoked | Part One

Scan259_2As I shared in my post this morning, The Love of My Life | Timelessness and Love, today, July 14, is the 25th anniversary of Maureen and my marriage. It is a deeply emotional day, because today is the “birthday of us.” A week from today will be our 10th powdered donut day, the 9th since Maureen’s passing on October 21. When you read Timelessness and Love, you will see why it is the 10th, because powdered donut day actually started at the altar where Maureen and I were married, with our kids beside us as we re-blessed our act from 25 years earlier. It didn’t start under the cross at Seton Hospital on 7 North. Another journey started that day… Maureen’s journey to be back with her Father in her heaven, with her God. Each day that passes, I come to understand even more the pure act of love that Maureen graced our family with the morning she passed. Cancer did not win that morning; love did, not just her love, but love itself.

IMG_1454As the title to this installment of I Have Been Provoked makes clear, there is a decided Dr. Seuss theme to this third visit to the idea of being provoked. Once I get past a Part 2, I’ve realized that I am writing about an enduring theme, rather than just sequential parts to the same idea. Dr. Seuss is a rather special theme for I Have Been Provoked, not just because his books are ones we read to our kids when they were younger, but because one such book formed the heart of the Seussical performed 2 years ago at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, when Kyla, our middle daughter, was in 6th grade. I still remember vividly Sharon Wilson, our lower school head, reading parts of the book from the stage. It was her last performance, because Sharon retired later that school year after over 30 years of service.

These words from Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” scream out at me from the page, as I think about being provoked:

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.

The Waiting Place….

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Of course, the challenge of the waiting room at the oncologist or a cancer hospital is that folks are not waiting around for a train to go, or a bus to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow. No, they are waiting for something more powerful. They are waiting around for the ultimate “Yes or No.” They are waiting to hear the oncologist pronounce that yes, you will live, or no, you will not. I still remember being on my knees on the Monday before Maureen passed, looking up into my sweetie’s eyes, with her oxygen, in the waiting room at Texas Oncology South before we drove quickly to Seton Hospital. I think she already knew what I did not yet know. She was about to leave the waiting room. Maureen and her God knew that:

Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands Are Playing.

Oh, The Places You'll Go!However, here’s the deal with being provoked, Maureen did not leave the waiting room on October 21, 2014, she left it the day of her diagnosis 11 years earlier. Some of the places she went, included years of playing doubles tennis with her swing sisters, an incredible family reunion in Belgium over the holidays several years ago, with almost 100 aunts, uncles, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews. As an architect, there are hospitals and schools, as well as the plans for the expansion of our own home, that she created after she left her waiting room. And, there is the imprint of her love that has been left not just on my heart, but our kids’ hearts, her family’s hearts and so many, many more. We were blessed by a great oncologist, however, no oncologist can tell us whether we will live or die. For that matter, we can’t wait for anyone to tell us this. We must decide for ourselves.

Is this easy? HELL NO! I know I am writing in the 2nd person, as a different kind of cancer survivor. As I wrote in Survivorship is Not a Phase | Part 2, I do not write in the 1st person. These cancer cells, these terrorists, were not in my body. They were in someone else’s. To even think that I can understand the emotions or heart of a survivor would be so presumptuous as to be beyond rude. To anyone reading this that has fought cancer or any other life-threatening disease, you have my love and my respect. You are amazing, truly amazing and God bless you. As I think about the many tweet chats and other survivor communities in which I have the privilege of listening, and occasionally speaking, there are amazing people out there. Just thinking about #bcsm or #gyncsm or the lovelies of Beyond the Pink Moon as examples, I am stunned.

As I leave my waiting room, it is each of you that I think about. Each of you is an unbelievable gift, a true blessing in this world, and just like Maureen, cancer has not, can not and will not change that about you. We are never promised tomorrow. None of us. But, we do have today, and there are places we can all go today. Just imagine the incredible power of the over 30 million cancer survivors that can be unleashed today. Imagine the incredible power of adding just one person in each of these circles of love to those places we can all go… it doesn’t take a lot of counting to realize that not long and all of a sudden we are at 250 million people with places to go, and I suspect there may be just a few more. We can changes things, but as Dr. Seuss reminds us:

You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you stop.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dextrous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

oh-the-places-you-ll-go-dr-seuss-screenshot-5Today, for me, is about two things: love and what love can unleash. I’ve realized that the past several months, since Maureen’s passing, have been my own kind of waiting place. I have too much love in my heart to stay there any longer. Will I succeed? I don’t know. Can we all succeed? Dr. Seuss has the answer to that question:

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

As my anniversary day continues, I know Maureen would not just want me to talk about the last 25 years. She would want to me to talk about the future. She would want me to talk about powdered donuts. She would want me to talk about love, and she would want me to talk about the places we’ll go. I can think of no better words by which to close than those on the last page of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”

il_570xN.416832410_1fs8So…
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O”Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So… get on your way!

We’re on our way sweetie… it is time for Boom Bands… and for unleashing the power of love.

The Love of My Life | Timelessness & Love

I am going to tell her stories. I am going to tell our stories. I am going to tell the story of love.” These are my words from the video on the website I brought live on Valentine’s Day this past spring. Although I am writing this story on Sunday morning, July 12, I am only posting it today, July 14, because, today, today is the 25th anniversary of my marriage to Maureen.

Maureen & Sisters | Wedding Day

Maureen & Her Sisters | Wedding Day

As Peter Gabriel sings in his cover of David Bowie’s Heroes, “I can remember. I can remember standing.” I, too, can remember standing, standing at the altar of God at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois. July 14, 1990. It had been a flurry of pre-wedding activity, from bachelor and bachelorette parties to a rehearsal dinner at Carmen’s Pizza on Friday night and my being dunked in Lake Michigan by my “buddies” and my dad. I knew I was going in the drink no matter what, so my goal was simply to be sure everyone else got wet with me! They did. In Maureen’s case, while getting doughnuts on Saturday morning for her family and friends that were dressing her in white, she locked her keys in the car, with it running (yes, the doughnut thing started early). Fortunately, the police are never far from donuts either, so she quickly waved one down to get back on her way.

For all of this activity, on the afternoon of Saturday, July 14, 1990, an unusually cool day in Chicago, time stood still. As the music played from the organ, I looked down the aisle between the pews to the back door of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, and time stood still. My heart stood still. At the back of that church was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. There wasn’t just a bride dressed in white. It was my bride, and I knew the brightness was not just a reflection of her magnificent white wedding dress. It was the light of love. It was God’s illumination of a sacrament, the sacrament of marriage.

Wedding DaySacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 857)

Marriage is one of seven sacraments in the tradition of the Episcopal Church. As the Book of Common Prayer said on page 422 of the service, “Christian marriage is a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God.” In other words, marriage is not something someone else does, it is something that love does. It is a covenant, a promise, just like the covenant of God with humanity revealed to us in every rainbow. The power that comes from marriage is not from the marriage but from the love that it represents. I have written before of the words from 1 Corinthians that are read during the marriage service:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

As I think back to that glorious Saturday, time not only stood still, but distance evaporated. There certainly were a lot of pews between the altar and Maureen and her dad as they entered the church, however, I already felt as if she were standing right next to me there at the altar. A few moments later she was, and now we were one in the light, in the presence of God. We exchanged vows of this love and exchanged rings. I still wear Maureen’s wedding ring and engagement ring on my pinky finger, next to my own wedding ring, because as the last line of the blessing of a marriage makes clear, “Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.” Because of Christ’s resurrection, Maureen and I have still not been separated, because cancer only meant the death of my bride’s body, not her soul nor our love.

There is one little thing that is interesting. I’ve been flipping back and forth through the pages of the sacrament of marriage in the Book of Common Prayer. I’ve even used our more modern online tools and search mechanisms, and I can’t find it. It is not there. You know the part where the priest says you may now kiss the bride! I guess this is not part of the sacrament, however, it was one of the funnier parts of that day at the altar of St. Matthew’s, because for those that know Maureen and I, they know I am not quite as tall as she was. I married up, literally and figuratively. As my best man continually reminds me, when the priest uttered these words, I had to stand on my toes to get high enough to kiss my bride, to have our lips tell each other what our hearts already knew!

10628423_10152401088048660_4692459359682603101_nAs the kids and I celebrate their mom and my anniversary on Tuesday, we will also be celebrating the timelessness of love. Because it is only in this earthly dimension that love has a time dimension. As I wrote in the last installment of the Powdered Donut Manifesto, time stood still when I proposed to Maureen. Time stood still at the altar 25 years ago, and time stood still on September 21, 2014, when Taylor, Kyla and Katelyn stood with Maureen and I at the same altar that Sunday morning during our trip back to Chicago, the month before Maureen’s passing. We all stood at the same altar as Maureen and I my marriage and had our wedding re-blessed. These words were said by Maureen, me and the kids:

We thank you, most gracious God, for consecrating our marriage in Christ’s Name and presence. Lead us further in companionship with each other and with you. Give us grace to live together in love and fidelity, with care for one another. Strengthen us all our days, and bring us to that holy table, where, with those we love, we will feast for ever in our heavenly home; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

However, the most important part of the blessing of our marriage had already happened. Amongst the seven sacraments of the Episcopal Church, baptism and the Eucharist are held out as special spiritual markers in our journey of faith. It wasn’t just our three kids, Taylor, Kyla, and Katelyn that were standing with us. Three sacraments of God, blessed by baptism, were standing with us, at the same altar. Life had come full circle, just like the donuts Maureen bought the morning of our marriage. And, as my son, Taylor, recently recognized, we were standing at the altar on the 21st of September. Powdered donut day didn’t start on October 21, the day of Maureen’s passing; it started a month earlier, when the five of us stood together in the light of our love and the love of God for us. Love and timelessness. Happy anniversary sweetie. I miss you, and I will always love you.

In recognition of the beauty of this day, a post titled, “I Have Been Provoked | Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” will be uploaded this afternoon. Maureen would want us to both remember and to look forward on this day.

The Powdered Donut Manifesto | With a Touch of Cinnamon

Statue_of_Liberty_approachThinking about a future without cancer.” Those are the words I wrote as I finished part one of this powdered donut manifesto. It is interesting to look back on those words from the end of May, because so much has happened in June. What is more incredible about this past June is that the last 30 days simply never would have been possible without a simple question and an even more profound answer at the foot of the Statue of Liberty 26 years ago.

26 years ago I proposed to the love of my life, Maureen. I wrote in detail of our journey of love and of our journey to Liberty Island and my proposal over the 4th of July weekend in 1989 in this post, Our Story | The Next Positive (The Proposal). I still glow thinking about Maureen’s answer. Never have I been so happy to hear the simple word, yes. As I look back on the date of that post, I wrote it October 7, exactly 2 weeks before Maureen passed from this world to the next. Time stood still the morning Maureen passed, just like time stood still 26 years ago. In both cases, I had no idea what was coming next. However, in both moments time stood still. Time stood still because love is timeless. That is a really powerful thought to let stew around for a while. Love and timelessness. I talked about this idea with a cherished family friend, Kelly, this morning on Mustang Island, south of Corpus Christi. It is where I am as I write the third installment of the Powdered Donut Manifesto, this time with a touch of cinnamon.

cinnamonspoon-a9200891a016192b3ad67e9198cf63717c0d8bce-s6-c30Kelly blessed me this morning by telling me the story of the passing of her Aunt Susan, her mom’s sister. As she shared the story of her aunt’s last breath, I felt the timelessness of love envelop us. I was taken back to the morning of Maureen’s passing. I had woken up after her last breath, but I had felt her soul while I slept, just like Kelly felt her Aunt Susan’s soul lift all in the room up that morning as she passed. Love and timelessness. It seems fitting that this sharing of stories and this part of the manifesto would happen at Cinnamon Shores. I just looked up its definition, “Cinnamon was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and even for a god.” This place on Mustang Island is indeed fit for monarchs. As I said to Kelly, I have to go sit by the pool here at Cinnamon Shores and write the words in my heart before I head back to Austin. When the words strike and my heart moves, I have learned not to stand in the way. It is time to sit and let things pour out.

Unfortunately, love is not the only connection between the two stories Kelly and I shared this morning. Breast cancer also connects the two stories. It makes me think once again about a future without cancer. However, is it really just about a future without cancer? Or, perhaps, is it about a future with more love? Is cancer really the heart of the story? For those that have read my writing for a while, you know that I very consciously chose to make my writing last summer and fall about our story and not cancer’s. As things got more complicated last year with Maureen’s fight with cancer, I simply was not going to write about the doctor visits, the diagnoses, the drugs, the pain, the loss of the use of her right arm. I was going to write about love. That love continues, and it is at the heart of the next installment in the manifesto.

I had the privilege of speaking as one of about 20-30 speakers around the globe for Rebel Jam 2015 a week ago Friday, hosted by Corporate Rebels United, amongst others. It was online, starting in Europe, moving through the US, and ending in Asia. I spoke about the idea of “Rebel or Transform?” (This link will take you to a Cisco Webex recording. After an intro and a bit of a technical glitch, I get rolling about 1:40 into the stream.) In my mind, to rebel is to assume the way things are and rebel against them. To transform is to assume the way things can be and then work towards them. In the fight with cancer, we continue to rebel against the disease. We assume the disease the way it is and then rebel, fight, and try to win. However, we have already won the battle that actually matters, love. We can transform the battle with cancer by starting with love and working towards it. Love is timeless. Cancer has already lost this fight.

26 years ago, the love of my life, Maureen, said yes to my proposal of marriage. For the past month, the timelessness of that moment has unfolded for each of my children. Taylor, Kyla and Katelyn each have had time to themselves at sleep away camps, trips with family and cousins, or in the case of Taylor, his junior experience to Italy along with 18 classmates from St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. With two out of the three away at any one moment, I have had the chance at some one on one time with each of my kids, each of these amazing gifts, gifts fit for a monarch. I have had cinnamon time. Their love and my love for them make me feel like a king. Would I like for each of them to walk the shores of the beach one more time with their mom? You bet I would. However, as I look into their smiles, into their sparkle, I realize she already is.

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