What Names Us?

***The first half was written prior to Willy's memorial***

In the wake of Willy's death, and how it happened, I cannot shake how others will judge him. I'm in the car driving with my girls and I see a man in his 30s on the side of the road not looking his best and see Willy in him.  I am praying for Jesus' eyes to see people more strongly these weeks.

This process is stripping me of preconceived notions and judgement; because, all I can see is Willy and who I knew him to be.  It's what also breaks me; because, honestly, in so many ways he wasn't always present to be the dad I know he was and wanted to become.  

Addiction is a beast.  It's why I can't watch shows like Breaking Bad where the world of meth is even given a platform of how easily it's used to destroy others.  Drugs are from the pit of hell. Everything about them is possessed with destruction, lies and death.  

It takes the best of an individual and turns them into a whole other person.  It denies them the right to take hold of their life and see the true kingdom life Jesus offers.  

And so, I see the addict on the side of the road and see not what maims them; but, their imago dei.  

If I could express to you how wonderful Willy really was, to know him was a gift.  Anyone who met him immediately liked him.  He had this natural ability to make people feel at ease.  He could ease the tension within a room.  It's what made children and animals instinctively flock to him (much unlike the salmon of capistrano).  

He didn't get to know his son Lucas, who looks just like him.  And Annabelle, who also looks like him, won't know her daddy.  This is the part of his short lived story, which often brings me to tears.  I so wished Willy could have held Lucas one last time.  It's the part of death's sting, which leaves it's venom lingering. 

His memorial will be on Saturday, which is almost one month since he died.  It's been said by pastors how the memorial is the crescendo of grief.  Everything rests upon this moment to be able to loosen the ties of surrealism to realism.  It's the moment when the perfect storm occurs and we are no longer wondering if Willy will walk through the door; but, we see the ashes in the box are him to return to the Earth. 

Waves of sadness come over me at random, and often unhelpful times through the day.  Washing dishes the tears roll predictably (I guess I should be exempt from washing dishes--yes?). 

***

It is now October 12th and tears are not my constant friend as they once were.  There is still a tenderness deep in my belly; but, it's like any encounter with such intensity of chaos, blood and tears...you take grip of life-breathing breath and inhale.  You hang pictures on the wall to remember your brother, you read books to your children and rekindle a newness in your marriage; because, I can either choose life or death in life.  

Another day I will write about the memorial.  That was the most profound and tender days I have ever known.  The whole extended was holy ground.  I understand more now what Moses felt like to loosen his sandals to walk before the God Almighty & live to tell it's tale.  

But, for now, I am choosing to see the gift in my brother's death.  I'm choosing to cling to love.  Oh, not my love.  My love fails immensely.  Rather, the love I see in Jesus pounding out all of his blood, sweat & tears into me and how he would endure it over and over again if it meant I would find life.  

I'm choosing to see how his love casts out fear of the unknown.  I'm choosing love to see people in a whole new light.  I'm choosing to cast off words of shame, stories of shame and throw them back into the pit of hell where they belong.  Willy's death has brought out God comforting me in some of the most profound ways I've never known.  This is where I rest these days.  This is what names me.  

My Brother Willy's Memorial Slideshow

Ben and I have returned home from Arizona after spending an extended weekend with my family celebrated Willy's life.  Currently, my heart and mind are still a bit numb from the experience.  This isn't to say the weekend was horrible; because, there were so many good parts.  Being able to see my extended family, and friends I have not seen in well over a decade was sheer gift.  

Yet, it was going to bed Saturday evening hearing Ben say, "Willy would have loved being here." Yes, he would have.  All these people who came especially for him would have done his heart good.  My dearest and nearest and bestest of friend Veronica and husband (also my friend) Alan gladly asked how they could help me with the memorial.  I immediately asked, "Do you think you could do the slideshow?"  They responded with an emphatic "yes."  

I held it together first time watching it until the very end.  Then, I watched it a couple more times before the memorial.  At the memorial we showed it right at the beginning...I blubbered like a baby.  It was knowing this is really it--he's never coming back and his kids will never know him and he will never know them.   Sorry this is so depressing; but, that's how life is sometimes and life cannot always be the glass half full.  

I will leave you with this...I see hope and perfect love continuing to cast out fear amidst the deep grief and pain in my brother's death.   

The Day the Music Died--August 28th & the Day it Began

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The air felt crisp outside, slightly cold like only the onset of fall could bring.  Sun shone down and peace flooded my soul as I stepped out of my house to catch the bus to the university.  Jesus walked with me and I heard him say, "Willy's going to be okay, you don't need to worry about him."

****

My younger brother's high school graduation approached, and my dad and Willy came to that same front steps just three months earlier.  I could see into Willy's soul.  It was so empty and desperately sad.  Seeing as I never used drugs, I had no idea what he was on--simply he was on something, and it was literally ripping the life from him.  My heart broke into a million pieces, just like it would on that horrible Thursday; because, when I peered into my brother's eyes that spring of 2003, I didn't see a junkie.  

I saw my brother.  

The one who I would play soccer with in the front yard to inevitably be crushed by.  The one who would stand in my place if someone dared hurt me.  

He would writhe in pain as he was coming down off the heroin laying in my mom's bed.  I prayed, and sang music to help ease his pain.  I came home to my friend's wedding absolutely ripped to shreds.

****

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In the evening of that crisp fall day my dad called me.  "Kamille, I went to visit Willy at Teen Challenge and he didn't know I was there.  I sat in the back and saw him in the front, full of joy and praising Jesus.  He came to me and said, 'dad, I'm going to stay.  I want to stay.'"

Jesus was right.  He gave me peace, because just days before Willy said he was going to leave Teen Challenge, it wasn't for him.  

God met him in the form of an 82 year old man to sit with him and talk to him.  Willy with his bags packed, and there Jesus stood in the gap.  He met Willy and for the first time in years, Willy turned from himself, away from himself and turned full facing his Maker to accept the kingdom life He had always been offering.  

****

Thursday was like any other morning.  Ben returned late the night before from a business trip, and was heading out the door to work in usual fashion.  I noticed a call on my phone from Caroline with a voicemail.  I almost didn't answer it; but, saw it was super short.  Seventeen seconds.

It's amazing how in seventeen seconds you can tell something is forever going to change your world.  

My dad, except it wasn't to tell me Willy would be alright.  It was an urgency to call back.  Panic. 

Honestly, I thought my brother was arrested as he has struggled on and off with addiction with pharmaceuticals.  I wish it were arrest.

My dad answered, his voice broken, shaking, "Kamille...(pause), Willy's gone."  All I can remember is shouting out, "NO, NO, NO dad, he's not. You can bring him back. He's not dead. Willy's not dead! NO, NO, NO!"

****

Two nights before Willy told my dad, "You don't have to worry, I would NEVER do heroin again."  And it would be Thursday morning when my dad would bust down the door to find his firstborn son crumpled up dead to perform CPR and not respond.  Because, he would turn away from Jesus and believe the lie Satan would whisper, "You can handle one more shot of heroin.  You know it's the best high you've ever experienced.  You need something more to numb the pain." 

****

I sit in the aftermath along with my family.  Willy left a son Lucas Arthur and a daughter Annabelle Virginia.  He left a mother and father who love him.  He left a fiancee Caroline.  He left a sister, me and a brother Andrew.  He left three stinkin' adorable nieces.  He left a brother in law Ben.  He left beloved cousins, aunts, uncles and a whole bunch of people who loved him.  

Here's the thing...we are not named by how we die.  We are named by so much more.  My brother had a problem with addiction and it killed him.  His struggle with drugs is ever more separating from God as is my struggle to numb on Facebook and block out being present with my daughters.  

There's lots I don't know about death and how it works.  

What I do know is that Jesus was there when Willy shot up.  He was there on the cross taking it upon him.  I believe in Jesus' righteous and grace as he watched Willy continue to struggle for the last time say,

"Oh Son, you were made for so much more than this.  Don't you see the kingdom life I offer you? I can't have you live like this wrecking yourself and those around you."

****

Fall is coming again.  I have had those crisp mornings of late like I did in 2003; but, this time, I cannot hear the reassurance of my older brother Willy on the phone saying he's choosing the kingdom life.  I'm not hearing Jesus tell me that Willy is okay this side of heaven.  Rather, I'm seeing him live in full splendor of his Maker, worshipping him with complete abandon, going further up and further in.  He's not afraid anymore.  He's not numbing himself.  He's walking with God.