Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Empty Chairs, Empty Tables...and an Empty Stocking

Happy Christmas Eve! 2019 has been a year filled with highs (the wedding of Will & Michelle comes to mind) and lows. As so often happens in life, it takes a holiday or special occasion to bring life's changes into full view. This Christmas season was already very difficult, doing so many things we used to with Lisa Jewett without her for the first time. But it is also the first Christmas with Will not at home and with Michelle as his wife. Most of you know I have never been someone who feared change. But today, right now, I have to say enough already!

For most of the past 5 years, our Christmas Eve began at Steak'N'Shake eating breakfast with Michelle while she worked. Lisa would join us, and the 5 of us would do our own little gift exchange right there in the restaurant. This year, Will is also working at Olive Garden- a 12 hour day! So missing breakfast is not the only change to our traditions. A normal Jones Christmas Eve would consist of us going to a Candlelight Service at church, followed by a hot dog (with chili and slaw!) dinner and a watching of A Muppet Christmas Carol. Marilyn and I will still go to church, but the hot dogs and Muppets will now wait until tomorrow when Will and Michelle can join us. The empty chairs and empty tables are making what was already difficult feel very, very sad. It is a day when I should be proclaiming JOY TO THE WORLD but I confess to it being a struggle.

And then there is the empty stocking. On Christmas Day 2015 Lisa was in the hospital, and after our family opened our presents that morning I went to see her. I had picked up this cool Snoopy stocking for $1.99 at Walgreen's the night before and lots of junk to fill it up. I just didn't want her to miss Christmas. For the following 3 years, I kept the same stocking and filled it each Christmas, usually giving it to her on Boxing Day. The gifts got better each year, but that didn't really matter to Lisa. She told me after the second time that she couldn't remember the last time anyone had done a stocking for her, and that it was her favorite part of Christmas. So I have the stocking out this year, and for most of the season, seeing it made me smile as my mind flooded with great memories. But today- knowing I have nothing to put in it, knowing it will continue to be empty- it just makes me miss her even more. Add the empty stocking to the empty chairs and empty tables and it is hard to feel merry about much of anything today.

Tomorrow is the day we celebrate the birth of the Christ child. It's the day we remember that HOPE came into the world, and that LOVE came down so we could all understand what love really means.  Tomorrow I will be ok, as the family gathers and we remember the promise of Christmas. But my word for today is empty. I know I am not alone in that feeling, and for any of you who are hurting and feel loss during this season, you have my prayers. May we all find the HOPE that came that first Christmas.

Peace be with you,


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Apple Pie

Today is Lisa Jewett's 55th birthday, and so it will be a hard day for her family and friends, and especially for me. But I want to share a happy story, so I'm going to talk about apple pie! At some point during the time Lisa lived with us following her surgery and during her initial chemo treatments in 2015-2016 she began craving warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream, so Publix and I provided it for her. Quite often! Those cravings went away for a few years, but in early 2019 returned and we often went to The Village Inn after her weekly chemo for apple pie- and a caramel sauce drizzle. She loved her apple pie. But that's not really what I came to talk about today...

Sometime around 2013, a group of us were having dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse. At some point, a birthday was celebrated near us, and the servers did their version of happy birthday, which is more of a chant than a song. It goes, "Fried chicken, country hog, it's your birthday, HOT DOG!"  Lisa had never heard it before and just loved it. A few days later she called, saying she was trying to remember the words and wondering (as always) if I could help. I told her the words, and her end of the phone went silent for a moment. Then she told me that I was wrong because she was certain the chant included the words "apple pie." I repeated the chant (with confidence) only to be told once again that I was incorrect. She spent a great deal of time over the following weeks trying to figure out just where her beloved apple pie fit, but with no luck. When we finally returned to the restaurant she was certain she would be vindicated. As luck would have it an adjacent table was celebrating and the chant was performed. They finished- with no apple pie. But our Lisa was not to be denied. As the servers began to disperse she yelled out, "APPLE PIE!" As so often happened when she and I were together, we broke out in loud laughter and almost no one else understood. From that point on, almost anytime we were anywhere and anyone was singing a birthday song, at the end we would look at each other, grin and say, "APPLE PIE!"

So if you are like me and you are missing Lisa today on her birthday, break out your favorite birthday song for her. And don't forget to finish it off with some apple pie...


Saturday, December 14, 2019

Farewell, Lisa

My friend Lisa Jewett passed away early Saturday morning September 25, 2019- her heroic 4-year struggle with ovarian cancer finally at an end. My friend Lisa. Even as I typed those words the word "friend" seems overwhelmingly and heartbreakingly insufficient. In truth, there is no single word that describes what Lisa and I shared- but I shall attempt to tell you our story.

By August of 2015, Lisa was already a part of our family. She, Marilyn and I had dinner together as often as 3 or 4 times each week. Lisa and Marilyn were Disney buddies, often including our son Will and his girlfriend Michelle. And Lisa and I had become very close. We talked and texted often. We were keepers of each other's secrets. A very special bond developed between us. So when she came to my house one afternoon to tell me she had been diagnosed with cancer and was going to Moffitt Cancer Center to have it confirmed, I was devastated. She sat on my couch and we both cried. She told me her greatest fear was having to go through the fight she faced alone. I promised her then and there she would never be alone. "Always and forever, no matter what." And I spent the last 4 years keeping that promise.

Many people know that I went with her to almost every appointment, every chemo treatment, and every emergency room visit. I stayed nights with her in the hospital after her surgery and on many other occasions. She lived with Marilyn and me for several months as she recovered. I was her nurse, giving her shots and treating her incision. I was her cook as we tried to find foods that tasted good and didn't upset her system. And I was her friend as we watched TV and took walks and tried to guess what the future might hold. After she moved back to her home I was still her lunch buddy, her Uber driver, and her emergency contact. I was at the hospital with her when she had her gallbladder removed in the Spring of 2016.  And right through the end of her life, I was by her side every chance I got. I will be forever grateful to her son Ken and his family for inviting me into their home over her last 6 weeks to continue being part of her care team. Ken was amazing at the end of her life, loving his mom so well.

But our bond became so much more than medical. When she started back to teaching I often delivered lunch to her at school. At Christmas, I filled a stocking for her each year, which she once told me was the sweetest thing I ever did for her. She joined my family for so many special events, from movies to dinners. For the past 3 years, I did most of her grocery shopping for her (not that she required much!), was often sent for emergency school supplies, and kept Amazon in business ordering things she needed...or wanted! One particularly bad week of school I sent her flowers anonymously to her classroom. She immediately called me to thank me, and I questioned what made her think I sent them. Her response- "Who else would do that for me?"- may still be my favorite thing she ever said to me. We watched TV together most every night- from separate homes! We would text as we watched. In the summer of 2018 I was blessed to be able to send she and Marilyn on a dream trip for both of them- a Disney Cruise to the Caribbean! In November of that year I took her to New York City, keeping a very old promise I had made to her in 2005. Lisa, Marilyn, Will, Michelle and I had the trip of a lifetime, including 6 shows and nearly freezing to death at the Macy's Parade. Her friends Chris and Carol Miller also took her on great trips (including an Alaskan Cruise in July of this year with Marilyn going as well), and she got to spend incredible times with her 5 grandkids in Asheville and at Disney. I loved that she always came to me for help planning things for her grandchildren. Over the last 4 years of her life, Lisa LIVED better than most of us.  And it was amazing to be part of her journey.

My family will never be the same without her. We will miss her every time we see a movie or a musical. We will miss her every time we celebrate a birthday. They will miss her every time they go to Disney. And me? When will I not miss her? Every time I see an orange car I will want to yell "Skittle!" Every time I watch anything related to "The Bachelor" I will miss her. Every time I have a story to tell, a sadness to defeat, or a need to talk about Sharknado I will miss her. And every time I see a Joe's Crab Shack my eyes will water. That was our place.  She was a special, courageous, funny, beautiful woman with whom I shared a unique bond. And it hurts to know she is gone.

When I told her goodbye as I left Ken's house on Friday night, I kissed her forehead and said the same things I had the previous 2 nights as she slipped away from us. I told her I loved her, and that it was ok- she could let go now. Her family was there. And then I reminded her one last time that I  was too. "Always and forever. No matter what."

13 weeks have passed since I wrote the above words, and it has not gotten any easier. We celebrated her life in a service just last weekend, but the hole in my heart feels no closure. Her birthday is coming fast, as is Christmas. Hard times for all who loved her, but if I may be allowed to say so, even harder for me. So many memories, so many treasured moments flood my heart. I still say good morning and good night every day, and suppose I always will. No mater what.


Monday, August 6, 2018

Three Years Later...and Cancer Still Sucks

Greetings friends! When I stopped blogging on a daily basis a couple of years ago, I said that I would still post from time to time if I felt I had something important to say. Today is one of those times. 
Lisa, Carl, Marilyn, Michelle, Will & Michelle's brother Alex.
The fam at opening night of Infinity War.

Many of you may recall that in August of 2015 my dear friend Lisa Jewett was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. In the months that followed Lisa had two rounds of chemo with a major surgery sandwiched in between. She had to take a year off from teaching. She lived with us for 4 months while she recovered. Many of you prayed for her and contributed to a GoFundMe account by voting to save my mustache. She continued dealing with side effects from chemo, had her gallbladder removed and slowly recovered. The treatments worked and cancer mostly disappeared from her body. Then it came back with a vengeance almost a year later. Prospects looked bleak until her wonderful oncologist got her into an experimental drug trial. For the past 21 months, the drugs worked wonderfully, despite their somewhat horrible side effects. But Lisa never quit fighting, never quit living her life, and remained full of life and vigor. She went hiking in Utah and NC, took a Disney Cruise with my wife Marilyn in June and continued to spend lots of time with her 5 grandchildren. Her strength has astonished medical professionals who work with cancer patients for a living. 

I know these things because in the past 3 years I have been to all of her monthly oncologist's appointments with her- I think I have missed 2. We talk almost every day. Lisa joins our family for meals on a regular basis. I get to have lunch with her son Scott on occasions as well. She, Marilyn and sometimes Will & Michelle visit Disney together quite often- and she is is currently plotting some way to play the steel drums at their wedding next March. We have attended countless movies and plays together, and in November the 5 of us are going to NYC. The point is, I KNOW these things because Lisa is a huge part of our family and I have walked with her every step of the way. And just when we had settled into the treatment and the side effects and her life was feeling somewhat normal again, we got hit with a bomb this past Wednesday. The cancer is back. And it will mean big changes- again.

Lisa posted the following on her Facebook page so I will let her words give you the details she wants us to know. 

Dear prayer warriors- First of all, I am sorry for the long post. An update with what is going on. First of all I want to say I trust in the Lord and have faith that He will continue to bring me through this trial. So much so that I signed up today to do my very first 5K. I registered for the Disney Princess 5K and anyone who would love to run (walk) with me please do! Ok, so now on to the news I received yesterday. My cancer cell count is back up to 800 and there are new tumors that have grown. So that means the trial I was on is no longer working for me. They officially took me off the trial yesterday. But the good news is there are new trials and therapies being discovered all the time. They have screened me for an immunotherapy trial that I should start in 28 days. Here are the specific prayers I need lifted up.
1. I get in trial
2. I can handle the side effects that come with it.
3. It works!
4. In two years when the trial will be over for me, God has another awesome plan waiting.
My heart and soul tells me God has this and always has and I will continue to be a fighter and trust in Him! My hope is in Him. But right now just finding all this out, I will admit is a little scary. Than
k you all for praying for me. I know prayers work! The fact that I am still alive proves that

I believe in Lisa. I believe that Dr. Shahzad and his team have never led us astray and that trusting them has led to great things thus far. And I KNOW that Lisa is one of the toughest, most courageous people I have ever met. As her friend Jen Robison likes to remind her, no matter the odds, Lisa can always "be the one" who will beat them. This is her third round of the battle with cancer, and I will not bet against her! Her Jones family will be there to support her in her fight. As I have told her since day one, "Always and forever- no matter what!"  I invite all of you to come be a part of Team Lisa. I promise she will inspire you to great things.

And as for cancer? #CANCERSUCKS

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Remembering Rich Mullins

Rich Mullins passed away 20 years ago today. In a world where far too many Christians have aligned themselves with the Pharisees, we need to hear his voice and his music more than ever. The world  needs Ragamuffins. Here's what I want you to remember about him...

In August of 1990, I got to spend a week with singer-songwriter Rich Mullins in NC. We were together at a Quaker youth conference, where strangely enough Rich was the speaker and I led music and worship. That week changed my life (you can read more by clicking here). The last night of the week Rich performed in front of the entire conference, both youth and adults.  We all assumed he would play songs off his newest project, or perhaps his biggest hit, Awesome God.  Instead, he sat at the piano and performed Sing Your Praise To the Lord, a song he had written but that Amy Grant had recorded, and Elijah, a song from one of  his first albums.  As always, Rich sang not to sell tapes, but to praise God.  The next morning, as we said farewell, we prayed together one last time, and then he said he had something for me.  I had told him about our TNT program at Springfield Friends Meeting and how we gave away door prizes, with the best prizes often being tapes or CDs.  He gave me a box of his CDs and tapes, and another box of T-shirts to use as giveaways. This was part of the way he made a living- and he just gave it away.  Another lesson learned in my life.

His influence would be felt in so many ways in my ministry in the days and years that would follow.  My students who had been at North Carolina Yearly Meeting came back fired up and ready to follow Jesus!  From that day forward I taught the 10 Commandments and the Beatitudes at least once a year, and tried to find ways to get the youth really into learning them.  He inspired me to start taking groups of students to work in our local soup kitchen on a regular basis, and later would inspire mission trips.  Soon everyone at Springfield was listening to Rich's music and wearing one of his T-shirts.  The two shirts carried serious messages. One said "Live like you'll die tomorrow.  Die knowing you'll live forever!"  The other simply said "Alrightokuhhuhamen," the title of one of his songs (Another thing Rich taught me- AMEN means YES- not "the end.").  The song was all about saying YES to God.  I made banners to put up in youth room at Springfield and in "The Attic" in Kissimmee with just Alrightokuhhuhamen printed on them.  By Kissimmee, we were singing Awesome God and Sometimes By Step on a regular basis.  His impact on my ministry was tremendous.

So was his influence on my life.  Along with Mike Yaconelli, Rich was one of the two guys I was ever around who just oozed Jesus.  Listen to this quote from one of his final concerts: 

"Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken..."  

He moved out of the music scene in Nashville in 1991 to Wichita, Kansas, where he attended Friends University and received a B.A. in music education.  He and fellow Ragamuffin Mitch McVicker (the Ragamuffins were the band he had formed in 1993) moved to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico in 1995 to live among the Native Americans and teach music.  For Rich, "What Would Jesus Do?" was not a bracelet- it was the driving question of his life.  And because I knew that, his music was a moving force and a comfort in my own spiritual journey.  At times when I struggled with my faith his song Creed reminded me "I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am."  At the lowest points of my life, when I had let down everyone who loved me and everyone who believed in me, his words reminded me that "There's bound to come some trouble to your life, just reach out to Jesus and hold on tight..." As I lost so many of the things that had been important to me, I found myself praying his words daily:  "Hold me, Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf.  You have been King of my glory, won't you be my Prince of Peace?"  So many of his words showed me the light of Jesus in my darkest times.  No matter how bad it seemed, I knew I was still in"the reckless, raging fury that we call the love of God..."  Even his final project, The Jesus Record (see picture at top), promised me that "our Deliverer is coming..."

Rich was killed in a car accident on September 19, 1997.  I cried, but Rich himself had already written about going to be with Jesus in his early classic Elijah"When I leave I want to go out like Elijah, with a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire.  And when I look back on the stars, it'll be like a candlelight in Central Park- and it won't break my heart to say goodbye..."  He left such a legacy in my life.  I am a Ragamuffin, a bum who is only important because of the love of Jesus.  And now, more than ever, I understand that my life belongs to God.  He still has a plan for me, and I will say YES when the time comes.  As the song says "You can argue with your maker but you know that you just can't win...so say it... Alrightokuhhuhamen!"  

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, December 24, 2016

I Am Santa Claus

The following post has become a Christmas season tradition on this blog because it is so full of great memories for me. I hope it brings back a few for many of you as well. Only 1 more sleep 'til Christmas...

Way back in 2010 I put together a little slideshow featuring pictures of kids from the various youth ministries I served over the years and jolly old Saint Nick. Most of these pictures were taken at youth group Christmas parties. Some of the "youth" in these old photos are over 40 now. Many of them have children of there own. Others are still in college. The point is, I can look back at these pictures and remember all of the love and Christmas cheer we would all share this time of year and it is very special to me. For you see in every single picture in this slideshow, I am Santa. It's me under the beard. I always loved doing the Santa thing, and looking back at these memories is great fun.

I chose the song I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday from one of my favorite old school bands, All Star United. This song is full of energy and joy, but it also carries an important message. How much better would this world be if we were the people all year long that we try to be at Christmas? Enjoy the slideshow. And if you happen to be in it, thank you for some unbelievable memories. I would love to hear from you all. Have a very, merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Christmas Pickle

Today is the birthday of one of my heroes, my dear friend Lisa Jewett. In honor of her special day and this special time of year, today's post is an ornament story that concerns a special (although a little strange!) gift she gave my family back in 2005. Here is the legend of The Christmas Pickle!

According to Lisa, the idea of putting pickles on Christmas trees goes back to Germany during one of the World Wars. Soldiers marching through the German countryside would often enter house looking for food and take all that a family might have. One Christmas Eve a family, trying to save some food for themselves, hid some pickles in their tree, where they went unnoticed by the scavengers. As a side note, we do not know if these were individual pickles or the entire jar. In any case, the family had a pickle feast! Over the years that followed it became tradition to hide one pickle in the tree on Christmas Eve as a reminder of that night. The child who could find the pickle on Christmas morning would receive an extra gift and much good luck for the coming year. The Christmas Pickle became a symbol of blessing and prosperity. So when Lisa presented us with our very own pickle ornament, we hung it on our tree. Even though it seemed quite odd. It's there every year, and she has already been over to look for it in 2016- even thought it's not Christmas Eve yet. Will hid it from her but she found it anyway- although this year he made it tough on her! And the tradition continues...

Lisa is a part of our family. We all love her very much and love that we get to spend so much time with her. Tonight our extended family will be celebrating at Kobe's, where despite the fact that she will be the guest on honor my son Will is not going to let her play the big drum! Lisa is one of the best friends anyone could ask for, and she means the world to me. She continues to need to our prayers and out hugs in her ongoing battle; cancer won't quit, but neither will she!!! That odd pickle hanging on our tree is a reminder that we have indeed been blessed by her friendship and her love. Happy Birthday, Lisa! And may Santa bring you a case of pickles this year!