Night is falling on Easter Day 2015. It has been an emotionally powerful Holy Week, staring last Sunday as we committed Maureen’s ashes on Palm Sunday. Then, the following day I celebrated my 50th birthday. I spent the day reflecting at the Lake Austin Spa Resort. The last time I was at the Lake Austin Spa was with Maureen, so it was both a refreshing day and a thoughtful one. On Monday, as I enjoyed a facial, lunch, reading by the pool and a massage, I decided that I was no longer going to use the word, bittersweet. For more than half of my life, I was with the love of my life, Maureen. Every day was sweet, and although I would love to continue to enjoy every one of my days with my beautiful bride, there is nothing bitter about love. I am certainly sad that she is no longer with me physically, but I am not bitter. I’m still in love.
As we traversed Holy Week, love, obviously came up frequently, as our feet were washed on Maundy Thursday; as Christ celebrated the last supper with his disciples; love was even on display in His death on the cross; and then today, the power of love washed over all of us as we celebrated His resurrection. You can see the impact of love in all of the wonderful Facebook pictures of friends and family having fun together, loving one another. Whether celebrating Passover or Easter, every one of us is celebrating love, and it shows. It is beautiful, and it is powerful. Love is the ultimate act of religious freedom.
The gospel reading at our Maundy Thursday service was from the gospel of John, and it has really stuck with me. It is from chapter 13. It is verses 34 and 35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” At this point, you may be asking, what in the world does any of this have to do with heaven being pink? Well, for one day, heaven was pink. It was two days after Maureen had passed away last October.
Before continuing, full disclosure is important. Maureen really didn’t like pink. It was the color of breast cancer. For those that have been reading the love of my life for a while, they know Maureen never allowed cancer to define her life. Her dignity during the 11 years that this “Emperor of All Maladies” was present in her body and our lives inspires the kids and I to this day. She exemplified love no matter how hard it got, however, for this one day last fall, pink was the color of love, not of breast cancer. This beautifully epic day will forever be etched in my memory, Kyla’s memory, our family’s memory, and the memory of all who were present for the volleyball game between the girls 5A teams of St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and St. Gabriel’s Catholic School.
I have been waiting to tell this particular story for over 5 months, never knowing when the right day would come to tell it in its entirety. I knew Easter would be the right day, but it wasn’t until Fr. Mike Adams’ sermon this morning at our church at All Saint’s Episcopal Church that I knew exactly why. Fr. Mike started by talking about sacraments. Sacraments are an outward and visible sign of an inward feeling. The powdered donuts we all enjoy on the 21st of each month, the day of Maureen’s passing last October, are a sacrament. The tea I still make Maureen every morning and her lunches on weekdays are sacraments. They are an outward and visible sign of the love I and we all feel for this daughter of God, my beautiful bride of over 24 years.
However, Fr. Mike continued with this statement about sacraments. Sacraments “allow us to say more than we can with just words and by participating in it, we are empowered to bring about in our daily lives what we symbolized in the sacrament. We play the kingdom of God, which is to say we play life.” On Thursday, October 23, the girls 5A volleyball teams played more than a game. If you were in the gym at St. Gabriel’s, you quickly realized that what was evolving out on the court was a sacrament. It was an outward and visible sign of the immense power of love.
To set the scene, it is important to note that both St. Andrew’s and St. Gabriel’s were tied in the standings at this point in the season. It is also important to note that both teams were really good; there were some excellent young ladies on both sides of the net. Thursday night of the game was only 2 days after Maureen’s passing. We were in the midst of preparations for Maureen’s funeral on Saturday; family from around the world were arriving in Austin; friends were rallying to support us; and quite frankly, we were still in shock. Against this backdrop, we arrived for this away game at St. Gabriel’s, about to bear witness to more than just an amazing game. We were about to bear witness to heaven on earth. Everything changed that night. Emotions went from numbness to joy, but not the joy that comes from winning a game, but the joy that comes from the power of love.
The gym was a sea of pink. Each of the girls on Kyla’s team were in pink volleyball shorts, and each had a pink practice shirt on over their game shirts. These girls and their amazing parents in less than a day had come together out of love for Maureen and our family to put these wheels in motion. It was a deeply emotional and moving sight. Like I said, for this night, pink was the color of love, not of breast cancer. As the next few minutes unfolded, it was clear that this was not going to be a home game for St. Gabriel’s. It was instead going to be a home game for love. The varsity girls volleyball team from St. Andrew’s Upper School took the night off from their practice to come and support the middle schoolers, and almost every one of Kyla’s fellow 7th graders and their families were there, too. My heart was full. I know Maureen’s mom and dad were deeply moved (as were her whole family), moved by the love for their little girl, Maureen, and their granddaughter, Kyla.
Even before the game started, this volleyball game, this sacrament “allowed us to say more than we can with just words.” The game itself was as amazing as the outpouring of support. As I said, there was incredible talent on both sides of the net. Each of these ladies is a terrific player. St. Gabe’s is a strong competitor, and they fought each and every point. However, there was something different in each and every get, set, spike and serve on the St. Andrew’s side of the net that night. That night, it was not about volleyball. It was about love. You could see the love as balls were chased one step further; you could see the love as these ladies in pink went up together for a block; you could see the love as the digs went deeper, the sets went higher, the spikes went faster.
Before the game started, I had told Kyla that she didn’t need to win this game to honor her mommy, our Maureen. I told her to tell her teammates not only thank you but to have fun. That said, you could tell something was different that night, for Kyla and for her teammates. The game was a see-saw affair. The first set went to St. Gabe’s 25-22, and the second set went to St. Andrew’s with the same score in reverse, 25-22. This brought the match down to the final game, game three. I could tell my Kyla was inspired, as she leaped higher to get shots, and as she served more forcefully, with the force of love in the beautiful swing of her right arm. However, in this game, as with life itself, it is what we do together that makes all the difference. Every successful point in volleyball usually takes all three hits you are allowed on each side of the net, and on that night, each of Kyla’s teammates made sure that all three hits meant something. And, they will forever mean something. Kyla will be able to tell this story to her children one day, the story of the night that heaven was pink for one day.
For, as game three unfolded, these special teammates on the 5A St. Andrew’s Episcopal School girls volleyball team never jumped higher than they did than when they won the game 15-10. The joy that erupted was amazing. The love that was on display was moving. I think St. Gabe’s realized that no one had lost that night. We had all won, because love had won. Love had won, just like love won today with the resurrection of Christ we celebrate on Easter Day. Everything shifted for our family that night because of the love of these girls. This game said more than we could in words. It was a sacrament. We went from planning a funeral to planning a celebration of life. And that quite frankly is the whole point of Easter. No one loses to death when we are held in the embrace of love and the embrace of Jesus’ resurrection. Heaven was pink for one day.