Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Letter From Karen and Joe

The following letter was originally written by Karen on December 17. We held of on posting it for reasons hard to explain (maybe might be too sad for some...). But after reading Sharon's words from Treasures In Darkness remembering her son Mark , Marybeth's Christmas Letter remembering Maria, and the Laurie's Christmas card this remembering their son Christopher - I know we have to post this letter, remembering Joey. This is not the usual "merry" Christmas letter, but it's a Christmas letter from their heart. Here it is:

We ordered Christmas cards with a family picture on them, but they came back from Shutterfly so dark and difficult to see that we had to return them. So this post comes instead. The Christmas card disappointment is a metaphor for our lives these days. Nothing has turned out the way we wanted it to, and we wish we could just send the whole mess back to the manufacturer. Our 2008 is a sad series of shock waves, setbacks and sleepless nights. One disappointment tipped another, till we were left with a heap of loss. And like the Christmas card whose image is bearly discernible, we also have had difficulty seeing in the dark. We have asked "why" a thousand times, and shed ten thousand tears. In our worst moments, it feels as if our hearts and our dreams have been shattered and scattered to the wind. We breathe each day, and do the essentials, and that is all we have in us to do for now.

But in the midst of all this sadness, there has been comfort, and that is what has sustained us. So for the rest of our Christmas letter, we want to tell you about the mercy we have experienced in our darkest hour. For God is near to the broken-hearted, and we have felt that deeply and in so many ways.

Mercy 1: Our son was/is a beautiful person. We were proud of him in life and in death. He loved, he lived and he lead with passion. He touched so many with his goodness. He displayed love, acceptance, generosity, compassion, wisdom, adventure and good humor. His life was a success by every measurement. We have no regrets about our relationship with him, or our investment in him.

Mercy 2: Our son was ready for Heaven. He believed in Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and trusted in God to take care of him no matter what. He died with his daily reading Bible by his side. His faith in Christ provided him the only ticket he needed to get into Heaven. He didn't have to earn his way to Heaven, he just had to believe there was One who had done it for him, which he unashamedly did.

Mercy 3: Heaven is real. We never paid much attention to Heaven before, we just took it for granted as the place old or sick people go when they die. From the moment Joey passed, it became topic one. We had to seek out the scriptures that told us about Heaven or we would never have found any comfort in his passing. Now it is as real to us as Kihei or Virginia Beach. Though we haven't seen it, we think about it every day, and imagine what Joey is experiencing. The veil between Heaven and earth seems thinner now. Bible verses about Heaven have become gold to us, our earthly hope for ultimate reunion. We want to make him proud by the way we walk in faith, hearing him whisper to us, "It's real, it's awesome; don't doubt, just trust God and live for Him!".

Mercy 4: A final goodbye together as a family. The months before Joey passed afforded us more than the usual number of get-togethers with his sisters, who saw him a couple of times on trips to California. We also had a wonderful Christmas with him skiing last year in Idaho. The week before Joey passed, we were all in Hawaii together for his sister JoAnne's graduation. In addition, his best friend and Second Family were also there, as their son graduated too. Joey was so happy to be with us all, and even more tender than usual with us. We had meaningful talks and lots of laughs. We sat on the beach and we surfed. He regaled his nieces and nephews with stories that entertained us all. He treated his mom to High Tea at the Moana Surfrider Hotel! We ate fish tacos and drank beer together! We had a memorable dinner with his best friend at Mama's Fish House! A splendid week. How do you account for such timing except to know that God was preparing the way for us.

Mercy 5: Rachel and her pictures. Rachel is God's gift to our family. The most amazing, talented, insightful, lovely woman you could ever hope to marry your son. Though we never made it to the wedding, she is our daughter-in-love, a special friend to each one of us. Her pictures of our son and his last three years capture the essence of his spirit and are the treasures we live on daily. Rachel's love for Joey and loyalty to us is like Ruth's in the Bible--where you go, I will go, your people will be my people, your God will be my God. There aren't enough words for the depth and beauty of Rachel or the comfort she has given us.

Mercy 6: Our daughters and son-in-laws and grandchildren. Our daughters adore their brother. They aren't jealous of our love for him, they share it and we have been able to weep together over and over again for what we lost when he went to Heaven. Their patience with our paralysis has been most helpful. Our son-in-laws love Joey, too, and have shown amazing strength in a year where they also lost so many of their Navy SEAL teammates. When time stopped, they have kept us moving forward. Our grandchildren continue to give us joy and laughter when we couldn't find it anywhere else. Everyone in our family has endured the loss of Joey with courage and faith. And even though grief is an isolating experience, they have worked hard to keep us united and have really risen to the need.

Mercy 7: Our family and friends to catch us when we fell. There are simply too many wonderful people to mention here by name, but they have been like soft pillows cushioning us when we crashed against the rocks. Just a short list includes: Joey's friends who went to his house and found him, who called us, who provided housing for our family and meals, friends who gathered in our home in Maui and made our travel arrangements, friends who drove and picked us up and met us at the mortuary, our California friends who handled every detail of the memorial services, and our Maui friends who did the same, friends who brought us meals, friends who have continually comforted us with their words, thoughtful gifts, books, stories, pictures and blog posts. We would not be standing had it not been for the people around us who carried and continue to carry us. We needed every single one of you and still do, and thank you from the depths of our hearts.

This is just a portion of the ways that God has taken care of us. We give Him thanks for all His faithfulness. We continue to gather mercies, and believe that God will continue to provide them for us in the years to come. The verse that we hang on to in this new chapter of our lives is this one from Philippians 3:20:

Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Your faithful friends,
Joe and Karen

Changing Traditions

We felt loved by the friends who prepared and served the Christmas Eve buffet in our home before the communion service. In his Christmas Eve message Chuck shared with the congregation the Scriptures from Isaiah that were so comforting to us. By the time we sang “O Holy Night” at the end of the service, we were emotionally spent and drew strength from the hugs and tears of friends.

By Christmas morning we needed private family time. Instead of joining extended family for the traditional noisy celebration at the homes of our parents, we stayed at our house. Phone calls from family members meant so much as we tried to honor Christ and grieve for Mark at the same time.

The Treasure of Holiday Presence

(Jesus said,) “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20)

On Christmas day, I slipped away to spend time alone in our bedroom, reading the Christmas story meditating especially on Mary and the conflicting emotions she must have experienced from the moment the angel told her about the coming Messiah. I wondered, Was she lonely, afraid, confused? What emotions swirled around her soul when she gave birth to Jesus, far from family, disconnected from everything familiar? I felt strangely drawn to her heart and the feelings she may have experienced on the dark, lonely night.

Mary’s song, recorded in Luke 1:46-55, acknowledged her own need of a Savior and her absolute trust that God keeps his promises from generation to generation. I wondered if she sang this song as a sacrifice of praise, choosing to believe the promises of God in the context of u unbelievable circumstance. I followed the thread of her story to the foot of the cross and wept as I married my longing for Mark to her anguish as she watched the brutalization of her beloved son. Did she wonder where God Was? As if to answer my questions, God drew me back to the Scriptures from Isaiah where he repeatedly promised to never leave me alone, to guide me in the darkness, to never forget me, to always be with me. I remembered that Isaiah prophesied the virgin birth of Jesus and proclaimed that he would be called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” The gospel of Matthew places this prophecy in the middle of the Christmas narrative (Matt. 1:23).

And do you know how Matthew ends his gospel? By his resurrection, Jesus has proven himself a victor over death. He’s about to ascend to the right hand of hi Father in heaven, and he promises his disciples- and his followers for generations to come- that he is not really leaving them. Jesus’ last words: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus, through his Spirit, is here. With us. With you. With me. Even now. Especially now, in the season that celebrates his birth.

Treasures of Hope

Scriptural Gems:

“ ’I am the lord’s servant,” Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’“ (Luke 1:38)

“Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)


Note from Liza: The last 4 entries on this blog are excerpts from the book titled "Treasures In Darkness - A Grieving Mother Shares Her Heart" written by Sharon W. Betters. If you missed the other 3 entries, click here and all the 4 posts will come up.

Tomorrow I will be posting the Christmas Letter Karen wrote ...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Safe Place of Comfort

December 23. We’re following the advice of those who have walked this pathway before us, and we’re changing our traditions. When friends realized I did not have the energy or desire to prepare a Christmas Eve buffet, they asked if they could prepare and serve all the food so that we could still gather together on such and important night. I am looking forward to being with the larger group tomorrow evening, but a dinner tonight will be my private gift to my family.

Lord, in answer to my plea to help me experience the joy of Christmas your way, you opened my eyes to treasures I can give to each one of my precious children and husband – the pictures, the story Sean wrote, the birthday letter Mark wrote to Chuck. You are leading me to sue some traditions to create a safe place of comfort and to feely let go of other traditions without fear. Today I wept as I prepared all of Mark’s favorite foods but smiled through tears as I remembered him coming in the back door, stretching his long arms to hang on the entry to the kitchen, and grinning with anticipation of eating hot Syrian bread, dripping with butter. I wished I could see him digging into the stuffed grape leaves one more time. Then I chose to imagine Mark at the banquet table in heaven with you. So, Lord, I’m preparing a special Christmas dinner with all of Mark’s favorite foods, and we’ll think of him enjoying the bounty of your grace while we enjoy the bounty of our Christmas table.

We had read that the anticipation of a holiday, anniversary, or birthday was often worse than the actual event, so one purpose of our family dinner was to create new traditions before Christmas day, hoping to ease in to the pain of Christmas. But my family didn’t know that I had planned a few small surprised for each of them. After dinner chuck asked the kids to join us in the family room in front of our glowing fireplace. I explained that our friend had written a story about our family and that I wanted to share it with them. We laughed and cried together as Sean’s words poignantly and sometimes comically described our family experiencing the second coming of Christ during a future Christmas season.

After the story I gave each of the kids framed pictures of Mark, each one captured a treasured memory with his siblings. I gave Chuck a plaque with the words, “Thanks, Dad, for always being there.” And then I gave him the priceless gift of Mark’s letter that I had found buried in my memories drawer.

Tears streamed down Chuck’s cheeks as he read the framed words:


In all the years that you have been my father there has not been a time when you failed to come through for me. There has not been a time when you failed to encourage me. You have always seen through me and my secretive ways and have not failed to counsel me when I need it most. The words “You’re wrong and I’m right” are the words that I hate to hear the most but I thank you for them. You are a dad that many kids only dream of having, and I look up to you for all the knowledge that God has given you. I am proud to be called the “pastor’s kid,” because I believe it is worth dealing with all of the expectations that many people put on me. I thank God for you and the family he has given me each day. Any question that I ask you, you have never failed to answer it. Any problem that I bring to you, you never failed to help me through it. You have made sure that I am always happy and have never left me disappointed. Having you as my father is one for the best things God has given me. If I could repay you, I would, but I know that that is impossible. However, I can afford to tell you that I love you, and that I care about you very much.


December 24, Well, Lord, here I am. Christmas Eve. Running until I drop. Trying not to think. But I feel this might be the most important Christmas of my life. Mark’s first Christmas in heaven. Our first Christmas without our child.

Note from Liza: The last 3 entries on this blog are excerpts from the book titled "Treasures In Darkness - A Grieving Mother Shares Her Heart" written by Sharon W. Betters. I bought this book for Karen about 2 months ago and somehow I did not get a chance to give it to her. I know now why. I believe God wanted this book to be with me so that I can post these words of encouragement here on the blog for them on Christmastime. Had she gotten this book, I would not have had the words to put on this blog for this season. I believe God wanted to comfort Karen and Joe through this book. If you missed the other 2 entries, click here and all the 3 posts will come up. Aloha.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Decoration-Day Meltdown

Continuation of the book excerpt (part 1 here)

As the world around me laughed and anticipated a joyous Christmas filed with packages and food and family, I wished we could skip from Thanksgiving to the middle of January. I pleaded with God that he direct my steps through this quagmire of sorrow. I listened carefully as Chuck described the first Christmas as a season wrapped in pain, not fancy paper and bows. Blood and death covered that holy season. Eternal life could not come without such anguish.

December 20, 1993. I’m coming apart and I don’t want to. The weekend went remarkably well. I felt almost strange. Mark seemed to be close by. After the wonderful choir cantata, Sean Delaney sheepishly pulled me aside and said, “I don’t want to intrude on your family, but your sister told me to give you this. I’m not sure hwy, but I think it’s a Christmas gift from God for your family.” He handed me a short manuscript, which I tucked into my bag as our family left for a local restaurant. We talked about Mark and laughed teeter tottering between hysteria and calm.

The Christmas story and Chuck’s message overwhelmed me with a new understanding of who you are and what you did at Christmas. I’m trying to focus on the choice Jesus made to be a suffering servant and that what he is asking of us is not more than he himself has done. But the ghost of grief is stalking me every minute, and I am weak in my own strength. I have so much I want to do for my family. I will not let the enemy use Mark’s death to rob us of Christmas. But I don’t know where to begin.

Psalm 86: Give me an undivided heart - where I will not be forever torn between missing Mark and trusting you. Deliver me from the pain of the grave. I have asked you to give me a sign of your goodness, that others will see your glory and come to you. I think Sean’s story is one of those signs.

Christmas was on a Saturday that year. I was almost proud of the emotional control I had – focusing on Christ and the first Christmas – until Wednesday, when it was time to think about decorating the tree. I didn’t think decorating would be a problem. But as I approached the attic, I started to cry. With each box I moved to get tot eh decorations, I cried harder. I found one of the boys’ Star Wars men, and I cried. And then I found the decorations. ON top was Mark’s stocking. When I saw it, I laid my head down on the box and sobbed. Lord, why?

December 22. Chuck told me we don’t need to do this – decorate. But I said, “Yes, we do. I want to recognize Christmas. We dishonor our son if we don’t recognize his Savior’s birth. We have to lean into the pain.” Chuck pulled me down beside him on the sofa and said, “Then just sit here and cry for a while: don’t try to hold it in.” Finally, as he and young Chuck got the tree ready, I sorted through the decorations. I put most of them back. The stocking won’t go even when he found Mark’s picture. This is all surreal. But we’re getting through.

(to be continued)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Spirit of Christmas Present

Below is an excerpt from a book that I bought for Karen. It was written by a mother who was grieving the sudden death of their young adult son, much like the story of Joey. She took some of her journal entries and shared it on the book. The she added some more insights. Details of the book will come later, but for now I wanted Karen and Joe to see this:

The Treasure of Holiday Presence Midnight Principle: The Christmas story itself can give strength through the season.
Journal Insight Sunday, December 19, 1993.

Chuck’s message gives me permission to step back from the glitz of Christmas without guilt. For Some reason it helps me to know that the coming of Messiah was a time of pain and weeping. Jesus did not come as a conquering king but a suffering servant. The shepherds were watching over temple sheep that were set apart for slaughter as sacrifices. God chose for Jesus to be born into the rule of a cruel, brutal man. Herod had killed every member of his family that he suspected of disloyalty. The arrival of the wise men from Iran and Iraq terrified Herod. He was so frightened by their search for the baby who would be king that he ordered every baby boy under the age of two to be killed.Matthew 2:17 -18: “Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’ “This terrible loss was prophesied in Jeremiah 31:15. O God, you knew. You knew. Somehow that comforts me. There are no accidents. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is told that a sword will pierce her soul as a result of the birth and life of this child. O God, what did Christmas really cost?

In the Bleak of Midwinter

Isaiah’s Sustenance

Holidays sharpen grief. Celebrating such a treasured family holiday was on our minds even on that terrible July night when we lost Mark. On our way home form the hospital, Chuck grabbed my hand a barely whispered, “Christmas, how can we ever celebrate Christmas?

I had no answer.

Christmas had always been my favorite time of year. We didn’t buy many toys for our children throughout the year; that was reserved for Christmas. What great fun we always had, planning and preparing, watching for sales, loving the adrenalin of the chase and the victory of finding just the right gift at just the right price. When mark and Daniel had wanted the most popular toy, we had done everything we could to find it. We had perpetuated our childhood family traditions; family and friends always joined us for a Christmas Eve buffet and then attended the church communion service. I always loved the candlelight service, the music, the family feeling, the preaching, the security of old family traditions. Afterwards our immediate family had gathered at our home for the kids to exchange gifts and enjoy the euphoria of Christmas.

On the night of Mark’s death, I concluded I would never experience such joy again.

In my journal I wrote out passages from Isaiah as God’s personal Christmas card to me and to remind me of his instructions. Some of those verses are here; some are in the Scriptural Gems section later in the chapter.

But now, this is what the lord says – he who created you, O Jacob He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you: I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isa. 43:1-2)

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isa. 43:18-19)

“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Isa. 49:23b)

Part 2 coming soon - titled Decoration-Day Meltdown
P.S. Thank you Eydis for typing these for us ...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trading My Sorrows

Holidays are always hard for those who are grieving. The celebration all around simply intensifies the longing of a loved one who are now in heaven. I am sure the Johnsons are experiencing this on this season.

I posted a song for Karen the other day. Today, I have one for Joe. Joe, grab your guitar and sing along with this video. My guess is Joey would be singing this with you - you on earth, he is heaven. Got your guitar? Press the arrow and jam!

One more song HERE - with lyrics and chords.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Ice … I always think of Joey when I’m getting ice at work. Work has this massive, over sized ice machine. I don’t know why we have it. It makes like 600 lbs a day and we don’t even use ice at work… just in our drinks at lunch. I usually get asked to bring a cooler (or 2, 3, 4,…) of ice whenever I go to a pot luck or some sort of event. It’s cheap and it’s good to use the ice – keeps it fresh. I’m a pretty social guy so the request to get ice happen a frequently. To be honest, it’s a pain to get ice. It’s always after hours. Everything is locked up. It’s a pain to haul the coolers – you end up sweating like a pig. I usually try to get somebody to help – you know; many hands make the load light. Most people will begrudgingly come along to help carry the end of a cooler, but it’s hard to get help. People will stand and watch me scoop out the ice. If I happen to miss the cooler with a few cubes, most people (all) will just ignore it. Hey, it’s not their work place, right? Most (all) of the time I just kicked the cubes to the side of the room underneath a table – it’ll evaporate by the time someone comes by, right? Well, not Joey. He would always pick up those cubes and toss them in the sink. Get a paper towel and wipe the floor. He just did it as a matter of fact, not for show or in your face sort of way. Joey’s actions spoke to me about the degree of character that he possessed… that he would pick up after me at my place of work… his care /concern for my reputation. Men like Joey a so very few and far between. I am honored to have had time with him, and blessed by his friendship. I still bring ice to events but I pick up the cubes myself, remembering Joey as I do. Miss you, bro.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Title Can't Tell Stories ...

Click the photo and it'll take you to the article at Autofeinds

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mary Did You Know?

Posting this for Karen.... Mary, the mother of Jesus also felt the pain she is experiencing while grieving ... but ... it did not stop there. Jesus resurrected from the dead, that all of us who believe on Him can have an everlasting life. And because of that, we will one day see Joey again... no more pain, no more sorrows .. in heaven there is everlasting joy!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Walk In The Woods

Virginia is cold now, blustery, leafy, refrigerator cold. We wear layers of warmth around our heads and shoulders, We wear boots and mittens, and walk briskly to generate more warmth. It smells wonderful outdoors--woodsy, crisp and golden. We walk through the trees, the muffled sound of leaves shuffling under our feet. The dogs celebrate and romp and investigate and run. Cranky children begin to smile and laugh. We walk in pairs and we walk in lines. We point out the black water of the creek, the gnarly twisted tree trunk, the ruts and ridges of the landscape. We walk till we are tired and full of fresh air.

Back inside, the fires are dancing and we drink hot chocolate and spicy tea. We watch out the windows as the squirrels hop busily, branch to branch, very intent at their gathering task. The harder they work, the less we do. We sit and listen, we chat and play games. We work on puzzles and dinner recipes. Nothing much. We thank God for the soul quietness that only comes from being outdoors.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Country Roads, Take Me Home ...

Finally wound our way to Virginia Beach and were lovingly met by our grandchildren and Jaime and Rachel. We checked out Jaime's mounds of boxes in her new/old house, and then set our sails for JoAnne's house. At JoAnne's the rest of the family rolled in from various points: Aunt Viv and Uncle Don from CA, Paul and MaryAnn from Maryland. Drew came back from work, Bailey came back from a neighbors, and we had our long-awaited reunion. JoAnne's easily accomodated us, and we also enjoyed sharing Thanksgiving with Drew's manufacturing partner, Johnny and Mia Swann and their two children, Karsten and Solveig. Thanksgiving was delectable, and our sharing was weepy and poignant. We missed Joey's warmth and humor, and faced for the first time that there will be no more holidays with him in this world. We all look forward to our reunion with him in Heaven.

Thanks for making our cross-country road trip with us, and especially thanks for all the love and support we have gotten from you all since May. You have carried us and we would never have survived the parting of our son without you. And to Liza, many thanks again for comforting us thru your blogging talents. It has all meant so much to us.

All our heartfelt love and gratitude on this Thanksgiving,
Joe and Karen

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Time With Wendy, Breakfast at Joseph's ... Part 11 of the Sentimental Journey

We are on the last leg of our journey to Virginia Beach. If all goes as planned by our trusty Magellan GPS, we should be there in less than 3 hours.

Yesterday, we were high in the Smoky Mountains, in God's Cathedral, listening to praise music and worshipping the Creator of all this beauty. We saw deer and wild turkeys and a fox, and even a glimpse of a brown bear up on a mountainside amidst the trees. We went over the Newfound Gap on icy,snowy roads, and entered the North Carolina side of the park.

From there we went down to the quaint town of Asheville, NC where we met up with one of our dearest, longtime friends, Wendy. (Some of you may remember her visiting us in Maui about 12 years ago. She came to our Ohana group.)

We stayed several hours at Wendy's cozy little house, reminiscing and sharing our stories with each other. Wendy had hosted Joey and Rachel in her home in New York two years ago, when they were traveling across the US. We cried together and we sat amazed again at how God has woven our lives together thru the good times and the struggles. What a treasure to have friends who know you thru and thru and love you still.

We ate breakfast in our hotel restaurant, coincidentally called Joseph's Restaurant. Another poignant reminder of the son we love and miss so much.

Seeing his name just reminds us of what an amazing person he was (and is) and that our lives are so much richer for having had him. Even if we had known we would lose his presence at age 28, we still would have chosen the privilege of raising him, and every minute and every dollar we spent on him. What an awesome man he was to all of us who knew and loved him, and someday we will meet again.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Opryland Hotel and a Little Miracle - Sentimental Journey Part 10

The Christmas lights were beautiful at this hotel in Nashville, TN. It's a cool place. The Grand Ole Opry is right next door and country music plays 24 hours a day. We went to lunch before leaving and met Chelie, our good-natured waitress. When Joe asked her how she was doing today, she replied: "I'm good and I'm blessed." Joe was having a rough day, missing Joey a lot, and feeling really discouraged. He asked her how she was blessed, because he needed to hear that. She was a little taken aback, and stammered out a response to the effect that no matter what happens in her life she is blessed.

A few minutes later, she returned to our table with the water and explained herself further. She said she always says the same thing--"I am good and I am blessed" when people ask her how she is, because she feels God takes good care of her thru good and bad, and she wants to honor Him no matter what is going on in her life. She said Joe was the first person who had ever asked her how she was blessed.

She went on to say that she had her problems and that even today she had no home to go to when her work day ended. She was a single mom of five, and had given notice on their place because it was not a safe place to raise her kids. She didn't have enough money for her first and last month's rent in a new place, but she knew she had to get her kids out and was just trusting that God knew and would take care of them. She said miracles happen every day.

Joe told her about losing our son 6 months ago and his deep grief over that. She listened compassionately and then told him she had lost her own mother not long ago and understood the feelings of loss.

She told us about her children, and that she was really proud of them because they live very simply, but never complain about it. They don't even have a car, choosing instead to walk to the market, and hitch a ride to work with friends to save that expense. Her oldest daughter had just finished boot camp with the Air Force. She was very content with her life...all she needed was a home for her kids. She knew God was going to meet that need for them and she didn't know how but she was just going to trust Him for it.

Her peace was contagious, and her faith was encouraging. The more she talked about her faith and trust despite her circumstances, the more encouraged we got. As she walked away, Joe and I looked at each other and instantly knew what we were going to do....and we did exactly what you would do if you were given the opportunity!

Her joy spread to us, and we left with smiles on our faces, having received our own little miracle for the day.

Let's Talk About Graceland - Sentimental Journey Part 9

It's not for everybody! One couple we met while traveling told us not to waste our time. But if you have ever been all shook up, loved someone tender, or rushed in like a fool, then Graceland is for you!!! It is SPECTACULAR. It is the most visited house in America, now exceeding the White House.

It consists of the white-columned colonial home that Elvis bought when he was 22, the 20 acre grounds, the trophy room packed with gold records and gold-studded suits, and the meditation garden where he is buried next to his parents. We loved every minute of it!

What comes out loud and clear is that Elvis loved his mama and daddy, his little girl Lisa Marie, his country and the Lord. He also had more talent and money than he knew what to do with, and too many people living off of his good nature.

The final song on the video playing in the trophy room is a very moving rendition of "All My Trials, Lord, Soon Be Over", then you meander over to the meditation garden where his eternal flame flickers on.
His tomb is surrounded by flowers and gifts, which arrive every single day from fans all over the world. It left us with the sense that his trials are indeed over, that he lives on in a better place, that he's at peace in the presence of the Lord.

It made us wonder if Joey has run into him yet, up there in Heaven.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Back To Reality - Sentimental Journey Part 8

Here's what awaited us after 24 hours of gracious Southern living: a perfectly flat tire. Duct tape won't work on this one!
AAA comes to the rescue! Don't leave home without it! Our schedule is thrown off- I guess we won't be able to spray graffiti expletives on the Bill Clinton Library today!

Check out the light repair---the stick worked perfectly to stabilize
the headlamp! Yankee ingenuity, for sure! Gunther marches on!

Inside the van, all of Joey's things from his house in LA--surfboard, golf clubs, snowboard, and his green chair--- all too precious to part with. They will find a new home in VA.

We love you, Joey.


COMING UP: Graceland!

"I Love The South" - Sentimental Journey Part 7

The Capital Hotel is where we ate our breakfast. Built in 1873, it is
southern hospitality at it's finest. The people all ooze with charm
and grace and courtesy. Almost as good as the spirit of Aloha!

The Peabody Hotel in Arkansas (and the Posh Ducks) - Sentimental Journey Part 6

Whoever told you the south was full of rednecks and hillbillies hasn'tbeen to Little Rock. This hotel is beautiful, and the ducks are the main attraction.

They bring them out of the Duck Palace, every morning at 11am and march them thru the lobby on a red carpet accompanied by John Philip Souza music. The ducks walk up the little stairs and jump into the fountain, where they swim till 5 pm. Then the whole spectacle is reversed and they return to their palace for the night!

Oklahoma City National Memorial - Part 5 of the Sentimental Journey

These pictures are from the Oklahoma City National Memorial. It was built in honor of those who died during the attack on the Murrah Federal Building in 1995. It was a beautiful and moving memorial place, laid out in the exact place where the building once stood. The reflecting pond now stretches out where the road used to be in front of the building. The bronze chair sculptures are for the 168 people who died from the explosion, 19 of whom were innocent children who were in the daycare facility at the time. The fence outside the memorial is covered with stuffed animals and toys and pictures, all placed by visitors to the site. The graffiti on the wall, demanding justice for the victims, was written by a first responder on the day of the terror act. The statue of Jesus weeping is on the corner across the street from the site, placed there by a church, with the inscription, "And Jesus Wept".

The beautiful golden tree surrounded by the rock wall survived the explosion because it's roots were deep. There's a lesson there for all of us.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cheap Gas! Duct Tape - Sentimental Journey Part 4

We Miss You, Joey - The Sentimental Journey Special Post

Today is the 6 month mark since Joey's departure to Heaven. We try not to say, "since Joey died" anymore. Some would say that's a euphemism, a form of denial, and a sugar-coat of the facts, and I guess that's partly true. The word "death" has become a painful word that we don't like to use anymore. It's jarring, and dark and final and hopeless. Painful. We need more than those hard words to get by..

Our progress in dealing with the loss of Joey is determined by one thing---our hope in a place called Heaven. We have found that focussing on God's promises is the ONLY way out. God's words about Heaven, eternal life, our blessed hope---those are the words that heal and strengthen. The past six months have been hard work---a difficult climb out of a deep pit of crushing loss and disappointment. So when we talk about Joey's departure to Heaven, it is a statement of faith on our part...a declaration that there is more than meets the eye in our loss.

Though Joey is no longer here on earth, and that's the hard part, he is still nonetheless very much alive. He is in Paradise. He is experiencing the joy of being in the presence of God, and the pleasures at His right hand. His time in the courts of Heaven have been better than thousands of days anywhere else. He sees God and the saints and the angels and is also watching the spiritual battle on earth, which is far more gripping than the best movie he could ever see at the Cinerama Dome in LA. He is hearing music and making music in a whole new way, creating with some of the finest musicians ever known. He is talking with some of the finest minds in history--poets, writers, thinkers---people he read about and admired while on earth. He is praying for those he loves---his grandpa and his mom and dad, and his sisters and brothers-in-law, and his beloved nieces and nephews, and precious Rachel. We can almost here him cheering us on to keep the

So for the past six months, day by day, layer by layer, we have been adding to our storehouse of promises. We are creating a rich view of Heaven, based on God's word, so that we can bear the absence of our Joey. And God is working hope in us, so that we are comforted that this is a temporary loss. And for now, Joey is enjoying and exploring Heaven, and as we wait for the moment of reunion, he too is waiting for us to arrive.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Get Your Kicks on Route 66 - Part 3 of the "A Sentimental Journey"

Route 66 was the original interstate highway. Stretching between LA and Chicago, it was the only way to get across country before the 60's and the advent of the interstate highway system we use now. Route 66 had a culture all its own with snappy service stations, refreshing soda fountains and teepee-shaped motor hotels springing up all along its 1600 miles. Joe and I both remember it well from our childhoods in southern California.

As we travel along I-40, which stretches from coast-to-coast, we are running parallel with the old Route 66, and it runs for miles right next to the interstate. We've been surprised that many of the towns we are stopping in have a designated "Historic Area" devoted to Route 66 and it's small businesses reminiscent of the 50's. That makes us feel real-l-l-ly old...our history is now "Historic"! The signmakers are obviously too young to know better.

The thing about Route 66 is this--in spite of its promise to give us our kicks, there really ain't much going on. Especially across the Great Plains fo the US. I keep checking the AAA guidebooks for POI's (for the uninitiated, that means points of interest) and have yet to find anything worth stopping for. So we are driving on and on and on....trying to make our 500 miles to Oklahoma City by midnight. Keep your fingers crossed!

On a happy note, Albuquerque is a pretty charming place. We visited the oldest church in Albuquerque (1703) and found it peaceful and soothing.

At the store attached to the convent, we found a beautiful iron cross to go near Joey's memorial tree in JoAnne's backyard. We found crosses for everyone in our family...small reminders of our hope in Heaven.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

BIG BLESSINGS - A Sentimental Journey Part 2

We left Maui last Sunday intending to visit LA area friends and family, then pack up Gunther and leave. Gunther had been in storage at Rocky and Doreen Liuzzi's storage facility in Temecula for the past 6 months, cozy and safe, but not moving! And now we were wondering if he could even make the journey! So in a flash of inspiration, Joe contacted Lloyd and Renee Mize...dear old friends from our CA church who lived near the storage facility. They were immediately responsive...Lloyd had dreamed about Joe the night before! It was a sign! They offered to do whatever we needed.

Joe asked Lloyd if he could get Gunther out of storage, and as an experienced RV afficionado, test-drive Gunther and give us the verdict on his road-worthiness. Lloyd, who has plenty to do running his own life and business, put us first and graciously agreed to do it all. Unfortunately the Mighty Road Warrior failed the test. Six months in mothballs and he had lost his edge. What to do now?

Lloyd came to the rescue. He found Scott of Quality Automotive in Temecula, the finest auto mechanic in Southern California, and told him our story. Scott learned about Joey and Rachel, and Gunther's legendary travels, and our quest to imitate a small portion of that journey in honor of Joey. Scott accepted the challenge, knowing our short time frame to get it done, and went to work. Parts were ordered and Gunther was up on the rack before we could say "Master Card".

Scott had 24 hours to get Gunther rolling, and he pulled it off in style. He got us our smog check so we could register him, and even ran Gunther thru the carwash before we got there to pick him up. Now Gunther hums, he sings, he's purring like a kitten...he is the happiest thing on 4 wheels. Just like a character out of the "Cars" movie, he seems to have a big smile on his face, and enjoying nothing more than rolling down the highway! Thanks and your awesome crew made it happen!

So we owe a lot to the people who have come beside us to support our quest. The Liuzzi's for their endless generosity and use of their storage facility, Lloyd and Renee, who took Gunther out of storage, found Scott, and enlisted his enthusiastic support, and then fed and pampered us out on their beautiful ranch in Anza, while we waited. And Scott, who could have told Lloyd he was too busy to deal with a 21 year old VW van, instead threw all of his skill and his whole heart into the effort and gave us a fine-tuned machine.

Because of their generous efforts, I am writing this from the Grand Canyon where we spent a beautiful day and a half reliving a segment of Joey's journey. We got up for the sunrise this morning and spread some of Joey's ashes into the deep and beautiful canyon. We miss you son and hope you are enjoying our Sentimental Journey, and all of our friends who have made it possible.

Karen and Joe

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

GUNTHER... A Sentimental Journey .. Part 1

We are taking Joey's VW van, affectionately known as Gunther, cross-country to our grandchildren in VA. It's a nifty and nimble vehicle. It's got a stove, a frig, and a table. The roof pops up and it sleeps a family of 4 plus little Aidan. We could have shipped it for cheaper, but we wanted to experience a bit of what Joey experienced the last year of his life-- as he and Rachel drove the northern hemisphere, from Alaska to the Panama Canal, from west coast to east coast and back again. They logged 27,000 miles. We are doing a mere 12% of that, 3000 miles from LA to Virginia Beach (in 8 days). We wanted to share some of his zest for life and his beautiful and spontaneous spirit of adventure. We wanted to have some time to reflect and honor our son as we journey together, listening to music, and talking about the adventure of life, and our new chapter with Joey in Heaven.

This morning, after Joe's impressive all night drive, we are in Kingman Arizona, just over the state line, filling up Gunther's tank and our's, at a gas station with the world's cleanest bathroom (thank you God for road trip mercies!) We slept in the pop-up last night, which was very cool and adventurous for us!!

We woke up with frozen toes, but well-rested. We are now 4 hours away from the Grand Canyon, where we will be spending the next 24 hours. On our next post, we'll tell you about what happened in LA before we started the trip....cuz it was a series of divine appointments and special moments---confirmation that this trip was the right thing for us to do!

Our love to all...keep us in your prayers,
Joe and Karen in the Gunther Machine!