|February 23rd - Matt’s Birthday
When I woke up this morning I received an email with the following verse: “You are my lamp, O Lord; the
Lord turns my darkness into light.” (2 Samuel 22:29) That's exactly what he does! Today would have been
Matt’s birthday. The "experts" on grief are right--in some ways it gets harder and in other ways it gets
easier. The morning was rough as I was bombarded with memories from the first 24 hours after hearing
that he was gone and I experienced a renewed awareness of the huge hole that Matt had left. In fact, I wept
much more today than I did a year ago. I still see his face and his huge smile, I still feel his powerful hug
and I still remember the last thing I ever heard him say, “I love you too Dad.” Yeah, there is still a hole.
At the same time I choose to thank God for the many good, pleasant, positive and happy memories that are
actually becoming more powerful than the painful ones. One of my favorite memories of Matty is when he
was about two and he took off his diapers and decided to try to climb over a short chain-link fence at our
rental home in Lincoln. When I visualize his bare butt going towards the top of the fence I can't help but
smile. That plus the reality of knowing where he is and that he is healthy and whole and still flashing his
huge signature smile made it a day of grace and gratitude.
THANKS to those of you who remembered that anniversary and called or emailed me or the boys to let us
know you were praying for us. I'm always surprised, amazed and blessed by the people who remember
these anniversaries--you are a “Barnabus” to me and God is using you to teach me how I can be a better
friend to others.
February 27 – March 1 San Simeon/Hearst’s Castle with Andrew
Many families have “special” places they have gone to for vacations, places that are loaded with many rich
family memories. One of those places for the Oliver family has been Hearst Castle on the central
California coast. Shortly after the Hearst family sold the castle to the State of California my mom and dad
would take me and Marsha there several times a year. We would stay in the little village of San Simeon,
eat at small mom-and-pop restaurants in what was then the small town of Cambria, walk on the beaches
and just enjoy the culture of the castle and the beauty of the ocean. We even celebrated Christmas there a
couple of times.
As I was already out in Southern California for some ministry I was able to carve out a few extra days.
Since Andrew had never been to Hearst Castle one of my great desires was to share this gold mine of
beauty and family memories with him so on February 27th we headed up the coast and spent several
nights at the Cavalier Inn which is where my family always stayed and where Carrie and I and the older
boys (Nathan and Matt) had stayed when they were young.
We went on three different tours of the castle, enjoyed the thousands of years of history that is there.
Andrew had his first taste of escargot. We walked on the beach, looked for smooth rocks, hunted for some
“sea glass” for Amy and had many adventures. We saw hundreds of elephant seals who come there from
across the globe once a year to mate. We drove up the coast and for the first time Andrew saw the beauty
of Highway 1 and the beautiful coast. It was a delightful and memorable father-son trip.
March 21st - Florida Visit
For several years CRE has been awarded a grant to provide a weekend enrichment experience for
seriously dating, engaged and married couples at selected Christian colleges and universities. I was
fortunate to get to teach the one at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Not only did I have a delightful time with
the faculty and students from PBA but I was able to spend a short time with Nathan, Amy and precious little
Alivia. Actually, the kids had just moved into their new home and I was blessed to be their first guest to stay
in the guest bedroom. On Saturday afternoon Nathan and I went fishing in the little waterway the runs
behind their home and caught 5 bass—not bad. They have both worked so hard painting and cleaning and
making this house a home. Alivia has grown so much since they lived in Arkansas with me. I’m thankful
that I had those early months with her and at the same time I’d love to have more time with her as she is
able to do and say and interact so much more now than she was then. It’s a huge blessing to see your
kids walking with the Lord and doing well. It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that. If you’d like to see
more of their life go to www.nathanandamyoliver.blogspot.com.
April 12th Easter
As I had my quiet time this morning I was thinking that Carrie, Matt and Marsha are celebrating Easter
together in heaven for the first time and this is my dear sister Marsha's very first heavenly Easter
celebration. She and Carrie always enjoyed celebrating Easter and Christmas and now she is enjoying the
real deal. Thinking about my dear ones who have gone before me on this day isn't a sad thing for me but
something of true joy--certainly for them and for me as I have the blessed hope of someday celebrating
with them. Until then, I choose to count my blessings and make the most of today with gratitude to God for
His goodness, grace and mercy especially in what we celebrate this weekend.
April 21st - Carrie's 50th Birthday
Today would have been Carrie’s 50th birthday. When I turned 40 and then again when I turned 50 Carrie
had two outrageous surprise parties for me so about seven years ago I started to plan and to save money
for Carries’ 50th party and a surprise trip to Italy. Today was a challenging day for me—more challenging
than I had anticipated. While it was bittersweet by God’s grace it was much more sweet than bitter and for
that I’m thankful. Reflecting both on huge losses and on God’s boundless mercy, grace and loving-
kindness really helps to put things in perspective.
It’s interesting how special days like this can trigger so many memories. I didn’t feel quite the same way a
year ago. As I talked with Nathan and Andrew, Carrie’s folks and several of her close friends I was
reminded of many sweet, positive, warm, encouraging, humorous and very precious memories. Precious
memories that are reminders of God’s goodness, grace and mercy. Precious memories that cause me to
Precious memories that don’t merely keep me stuck remembering the past but that encourage me in the
present and future that God has for me and my family and for my future relationships. Real love, genuine
love, Christ-like love is transformational. When you love, have been loved and are loved . . . you are forever
changed. My capacity to love both in the here and now and in the future has been massively increased by
the love I gave and the love I was given by Carrie.
Precious memories can either become an anchor that keeps one stuck in the muck of what was or
become the refreshing wind in one’s sails that keeps one moving ahead to discover whatever God has
around the corner.
I’ve written and spoken before about Sovereign Joy (you can download a copy of the message on our CRE
website—www.liferelationships.com) and how we as Christians are in a unique place to experience and
express sorrow and joy—both at the same time. Today I’m aware of some sadness and sorrow, have
shed a few tears AND at the same time am very aware of how rich and blessed I really am.
For the past few months I’ve placed some quotes in a little file that I created to look at when this special day
(Carrie’s 50th birthday) came and one of them was so special I thought I share it with you. It’s from the
devotional book, A Year With Dietrich Bonhoeffer and is the reading for February 13.
Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love,
and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through.
That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as
long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us.
It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; God does not fill it, but on the contrary,
God keeps it empty and so helps us keep alive our former communion with each other, even
at the cost of pain . . . .
The dearer and richer our memories, the more difficult the separation.
But gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.
The beauties of the past are borne, not as a thorn in the flesh, but as a precious gift in
We must take care not to wallow in our memories or to hand ourselves over to them just as
we do not gaze all the time at a valuable present, but only at special times, and apart from
these keep it simply as a hidden treasure that is ours for certain.
In this way the past gives us lasting joy and strength.
From Letters and Papers from Prison 100-101
April 24 - Margaret Reed Visit
I happened to be in Phoenix for a conference and was able to fly in early and make a surprise visit to a very
precious lady. Margaret Reed has been a part of the Oliver family since before I was born and was my
mom’s closet friend. She lived down the street from us when I was in kindergarten and when on the “rare”
occasions I was sent home from school with a note pinned to my shirt because I had got in trouble she
would call my mom to let her know that little Gary was on the way home. Those of you who have read
Carrie’s journal will recognize Margaret as the friend that Carrie spent several months with when she
received some special treatments in Phoenix that I believe God used to help extend Carrie’s life. Margaret
is a godly woman, a prayer warrior and is always a source of strength, encouragement, wisdom and
perspective. The hour I was able to spend with her reenergized me in ways she’ll never know. I hope I can
be a “Margaret Reed” kind of friend to others.
May 5th - Matt’s Homegoing Anniversary
Wow, it’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since I last hugged Matt, heard his voice and saw his
face. But it HAS been two years. Sometimes it seems like 10 years and some days it seems like 10 days.
Grief and loss are funny that way. They can do strange things to one’s perception of time. Given the depth
of the emotions I experienced on February 23rd I decided I wouldn’t let myself be blindsided once again. In
the morning I received emails and phone calls from some special friends and that really helped me start
the day knowing that while I was physically alone there were friends who were here with me in spirit. As I
sat down and wrote a list of all of the things about Matty that I was thankful for I had a special awareness of
God’s presence in the room with me and was once again aware of an enormous ache in my chest and at
the same time a huge smile on my face. I’m continuing to learn that with God’s help we can to a great
degree determine what grief does TO us and what it does FOR us—and that can be a huge difference.
May 21-25 - Alivia Oliver’s First Birthday
I picked up Nathan late Wednesday night at the Tulsa airport and on Thursday morning we loaded some of
my late sister Marsha’s furniture into a rental truck and had a delightful father-son two day road trip to
Florida. When I arrived at Nathan and Amy’s home it looked much different from my first visit. Nathan had
repainted the exterior, all of the boxes were unpacked and the house was now a home. On the 21st was
Alivia’s first birthday and with Amy’s extended family there we enjoyed a wonderful celebration of this bright,
wide-eyed spunky little gal. She is walking slowly but is very determined. She is talking a lot and there are
some words that are understandable. She loves to play with her toys with other people and it seems like
she smiles all of the time—honest. Amy and Nathan are a great mom and dad and are blessed to live in a
place close to a loving family. It was a joy for me to see Alivia playing with her cousins and to see the
support that Nathan and Amy have there. I’m so blessed that I’m able to see her more than once a year.
May 28th - Marsha’s Birthday
Today is the first May 28th in my entire life that I haven’t had a sister and a special birthday to celebrate.
Marsha had a way of making everyone else’s birthday so very special and it was fun to plan things for her.
It seems like there isn’t a week that goes by when someone doesn’t mention how much they miss Marsha,
how much she meant to them and how much her smile, kindness and thoughtfulness enriched their life.
That’s especially true for those of us who were family or close friends.
There are at least a couple of times a week when I wish I could call Marsha and tell her what I’m seeing. I
wanted to call her from Florida several times. I miss her laugh, her smile, her bright eyes, her always
cherry greeting and I miss being able to remember with her, talking about Mom and Dad, our childhood,
our uncles and aunts and special memories and our years of helping each other grow up. I especially
miss all of those conversations . . . AND I rejoice that I know where she is at and who she is with! I tend to
cry more on these anniversary days and I tend to rejoice more. The Christian faith is great in that way since
we can do both and one doesn’t contradict the other.
Dying, death, funerals and dealing with the loss of loved ones are in ways a surreal experience and it can
feel like you are in a kind of haze. I remember when my Mom died it was like I was watching myself go
through my Mom's funeral while I was doing her funeral. I knew it was real but it had this inexplicable
strangeness about it. At the same time, sometimes during times of major loss we can be more receptive
to seeing certain things more clearly or from a different perspective. Whenever I feel a pang of pain or an
ache for a loved one that I know I’ll never see again on this side of glory I’ve learned to stop, look and listen
for the presence and voice of the Holy Spirit. I’m learning to use those memories from the past to re-
energize me to serve others in the present. I remind myself that I am part of the living legacy or memorial of
Matt, Carrie and Marsha and that I can still make a difference in the lives of those around me. As you go
through each day be sure to seize every opportunity to pray with and for someone. If God wakes you up
early in the morning spend some time listening for his voice in the Psalms. Keep a little notebook handy to
jot down ideas and thoughts. Look for every opportunity you have to celebrate God’s goodness, grace,
mercy and faithfulness and remember that He is a promise-maker and a promise-keeper.
Praise & Thanks
|May 31, 2009