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My Precious Uncle Larry Joens

Larry Joens, Carol (Joens) Chapman and David Joens on 3/25/17

There are sometimes in life when the pain of loss seems unbearable. This is one of those times. My dear Uncle Larry died on April 11, 2017. The loss of his love, smile, laughter and love of the Cubs will leave a void in my heart forever.

When we love deeply, we grieve deeply. There is no way around it. Grief is the most extreme sense of anguish that a human can endure. And sometimes it feels as if it would be better not to love, so that the hurt never follows. I couldn’t disagree more. The risk of hurt – no, the certainty of hurt – is well outweighed by the gift of love. To experience the joy of God’s love flowing through another is unmatched and definitely outweighs the pain of grief.

I miss my uncle already. My thoughts rapidly switch between heartache and pain to joy and thanksgiving. Uncle Larry was not a perfect man. But, he perfectly tried and was a good and God fearing man. He loved his family, even though we have been known to let him down. He may have been disappointed, but he never stopped loving.

He served his church family and friends with the same love and devotion he showed his family. He loved Jesus and although he didn’t talk much about it. He constantly shared of himself in a way where I know that Jesus would say, “Larry, you are a good and faithful servant.” Larry was love and his memory will always fill me with love.

He always had a smile and a hug. He was one of the best huggers! It was one of those hugs where you felt safety and love. His sense of humor was dry and there was always a twinkle in his eye. I think he got this love of life from the Bremer side of the family. His mom, my Grandma, was always like that. I see that kind of love and humor in Dad and their youngest sibling, Carol, too. It is a Bremer jolliness that leaves us with feelings of warmth and family that I will always remember.

Recently, there was a Facebook thread between Aunt Carol, her cousin (Karen) and myself. I had shared how I remember sitting at Great-grandma Bremer’s dining room table when I was very little. I was on my Dad’s lap and the table was surrounded by men playing cards. I love that memory. I couldn’t have been in school yet, but I remember the laughter and joy of those times. Aunt Carol and her cousin, Karen both shared fondly of similar memories of these family times. It was a family filled with love and laughter. Uncle Larry embodied both. When seeing Uncle Larry, you always felt better than when you arrived. He was delightful and his love spilled out on to everyone.

My most cherished memories of Uncle Larry are pretty wonderful. My earliest memory was when I was very young. I was probably 5 or 6 years old. He was working the summer on a road crew and they happened to be working on the street where my family lived. Mom made some Kool-Aid and helped me set up a lemonade stand in the front yard for the guys working on the road. (It was hot and they were resurfacing the blacktop road.) I was charging a penny a glass and Larry gave me quarters. Every time he had a glass, I got a quarter. I don’t remember anything other than him giving me quarters and laughing at my reaction. It was a wonderful windfall for me and I remember vividly that I thought he was the most wonderful uncle in the world.

I also remember a special time when I was 17 years-old. Larry and Nanette asked that I sing for their wedding. I was so touched and moved that they would ask me to share in their special day. I will never forget the feeling I had. I was humbly honored to be able to share of myself on a day that was so important to them. For a 17 year-old, there isn’t much I had that I could give them. But, I could sing and I was able to give them something that I loved. I am sure neither Larry nor Nanette knew how much that day meant to me. It did and I will cherish the memory forever.

I also have vivid memories of Uncle Larry’s love in action while I was going through my divorce. Larry and Nanette attended St. John Lutheran Church and so did Brad, Steve and I. They attended the early service and we attended the latest service. (There were three services on Sunday.) I remember having just learned that my ex-husband was having an affair and wasn’t willing to give up his girlfriend. It was obviously very difficult for me and I had decided to divorce. To complicate the heartache, my son was the one who told me about the affair. It was difficult for all three of us.

It became even more difficult when a few months before the divorce was final, I found out that a new member of a few months (who attended the one service where I led the liturgy), was the woman with whom my ex was having the affair. She would pass me in the aisle every Sunday while she walked to the front to read the Scriptures and prayers. At first I didn’t know she was the other woman. When I found out that it was her, I was sickened and devastated. How could she start attending the same church, and even worse the same service where I sang?! What would lead a person to do something like this? We had three services and she chose the one I attended.

Every Sunday, I would go to church to sing and leave sobbing and in tears. It was agonizing to pass the other woman in the aisle every week, but I refused to give up my church – she already was taking my husband.

Uncle Larry found out about what was going on and he and Nanette would hang out for a while after their early service. We would meet in the atrium between services and he would visit with Brad and Steve about baseball and the Cubs. Every week, he would wait around and talk to the boys. It was good to see my sons laugh and talk about their first love, baseball with their great-uncle who shared the passion for the Cubs and baseball. It was one of the most selfless gifts of love I’ve ever seen in action.

We never talked about it. But, his presence filled me with God’s strength and I know that if it wasn’t for him, I would have had to leave my church home of 18 years. I got my Sunday hug and the boys got to talk baseball. He quietly filled my sons and I with love and reassurance that would sustain us for another church service with the “other woman”.

That is the way I knew Uncle Larry’s love. It was quiet and yet consistent. He was loyal and faithful to his family. He was a good man in his heart and he tried to live that goodness in his life. He was honest and giving. He was a servant heart and he showed up when he was needed. He was always welcome.

As a side note worthy of mentioning, I need to share about Mom. She suffers with a neurological disorder that mimics dementia, Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. Over the past number of years, she is often joyful discussing the conversations she’s had with her sister, Deloris and her mother. Deloris has been gone for 11 years and Grandma has been gone for close to 25 years.

Mom will occasionally talk about the phone calls she has with Deloris and Grandma. It is never anyone else, just those two. She shares about beautiful conversations recalling good times together. They are always happy and filled with smiles.

When Julie went to tell Mom and Dad the sad news of Larry’s death, Mom interrupted her. She said to Julie something to the effect of, “He can’t be gone. He called last night and said he was doing good. He didn’t sound sick last night. He just called me.” (Mom doesn’t have a phone.) She couldn’t believe he was gone because she had just talked to him when he called her. He sounded happy and healthy. He was doing good!

There is so much about the human brain that we do not understand. There is even more we do not understand about our God. I believe that Larry wanted us to all know he was good – he is doing well – he is healed. Just as Deloris and Grandma check in with us now and then, Larry checked in with Mom, too. I suppose, it is because Mom is the only one sitting still enough to listen since she can’t do anything on her own anymore. But the message is sound – Larry is good! My heart fills with Joy.

The next two days will be difficult for his family and extended family. He was and remains special to us all. We will be celebrating his life, but we will be grieving as we say “until we meet again.” To know that my dear Uncle Larry will be celebrating Easter with our Savior is wonderful to think about. To know that he no longer hurts and is no longer sick is a blessing. To know that there are few who walk this side of Heaven that are filled with the love he had in his heart, is a reminder of the blessing that is Larry Joens. He was and will always be love and loved!

Posted in Grief, Love, Relationships.

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9/11/2001 – The Day I Learned To See The Light

I can’t believe it is 15 years ago when our lives changed in so many ways.  I took so many things for granted.  My safety on an airplane was one of those things.  It was a day that left an imprint on so many, much like when President Kennedy was assassinated.  Although I was a preschooler when President Kennedy was killed, I was a mother of two teenagers on 9/11.  I felt so much older and wiser.  But, I had so much to learn.

I had just gotten my sons off to school and I was sitting down at the table to have my own breakfast and my cherished cup of coffee before going to a meeting later in the morning.  I turned on the Today Show and was stupefied to see one of the Twin Towers with smoke billowing out of its side.  There was confusion as to what was going on and I watched in amazement as the news anchors were speculating and wondering themselves.

Then, it happened.  There was a plane flying into the south tower.  Right before my eyes, I saw the second plane hit.  It was at that moment that I knew things were changing.  Our world was going to be different in ways I couldn’t even imagine.

I have no idea how long I sat there just staring at the events as they unfolded in front of me on t.v.  The Pentagon was hit. The south tower collapsed.  A plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.  Then, the north tower collapsed.  During all of this,  I found myself doing the math in my head – how many thousands of people were in those towers, on the planes, in the Pentagon?  The work day had begun.  How many people were being killed?  What about the buildings surrounding the towers?  How many people were in them?  How many people were dying before my very eyes?!  It was surreal and I felt numb.

Mom called within minutes after the towers collapsed.  My sister was in Boston on a routine business trip.  Mom and Dad couldn’t remember if she was leaving on 9/11 or 9/12 to return to California where she lived.  They were trying to call and they couldn’t get through – all of the circuits were busy.  I went over to my parents’ house and we began watching all the events that followed while sitting on their four season porch.  We continued to try Jodi on her phone.  Praying that she was okay.

It was shortly before noon when we finally heard that Jodi’s flight was scheduled to leave the next day.  She was okay but stuck in Boston because all air travel had been stopped.  I felt a relief like I’ve never experienced before.  She would have to drive back to California, but she was safe.

As the hours and days wore on, I couldn’t stop watching the news.  I am not sure what I was looking for.  However, I had to watch so I could find it.  It was days later, when I realized what it was that I so desperately was trying to find.  I was trying to find the light in all of this darkness.  Then, I saw it.



One little photograph of all of the smoking, heaping rubble and there was the image of the cross. Workers who were cleaning up after the events of the previous days found this sheered metal image symbolizing everything I was looking for over the past few days.  As a Christian I knew that Jesus was there and had been there all of the time.  This picture reminded me that Jesus had already conquered death.  He had already won over evil.  As horrific as the days had been, Jesus was there.

He was with all of those who lost their lives that day.  He was holding all those who were gravely injured as they waited to die.  He lifted up all of the first responders and the brave men and women who fought the good fight in trying to rescue and save so many.  Jesus brought comfort to those who were grieving with the chaplains, priests, ministers and lay leaders who ran to their aid.  Jesus inspired the men and women in health care that spent hours and days fighting to save those that could be saved and comforted them when they could not.  Jesus brought prayers from all corners of the world to show love and concern to all who were suffering.  Jesus was there.  He was everywhere.

When I saw this picture, it was as if my eyes were opened.  I could see Jesus everywhere.  I had been looking for the light.  However, The Light was there all along.  I couldn’t see Him because of my fear and pain.  But, Jesus remained anyway.  He stayed and lifted up all who needed sustenance.  He was there all of the time!

I haven’t been able to read posts or stories about 9/11 on this 15th anniversary.  I haven’t been able to watch the t.v. specials or documentaries.  I know enough of what happened on that day and the following days.  I can’t bring myself to read or watch because the pain in my heart is too great.  The world, our world changed that day.  It was never the same.

Instead, I have been rejoicing.  I have chosen to praise God for His presence that day and every day.  I am thanking Him for the gift of that photo that helped me see through the darkness.  I am worshiping Him with gratitude for teaching me through such horrendous evil how to find Him in the midst of anything that this life brings my way.  I an overwhelmed with adoration for the love He graciously gives to every man, woman and child.

Although 9/11 was a day that changed everything, not everything changed for the bad.  I was changed for the good.  I now can see things and the truth with much more clarity.  I no longer struggle to find Jesus in every situation.  The shock of 9/11 taught me to just look – because He is already there – everywhere – always.

In so many ways I can relate to Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”  God took all that was wrong on 9/11/2001 and highlighted for me all that was right.  His love shined through so many people that day, that the light was brighter than the evil.  His love was everywhere.  Even in a pile of rubble at the bottom of where the World Trade Center towers once stood.  Thank you, Jesus!

Posted in Love, Meditations/Devotions.

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Alone For The Holiday

Happy Independence Day!

I am sitting in my living room watching the news, reading Facebook and drinking my morning cup of joe.  It has been a good weekend!  I shared dinner with my good friend and her husband Friday night.  Saturday was spent cleaning my garage.  Sunday morning was spent worshiping and then finishing up my garage and doing laundry.  Sunday night, I watched The Help. (Fabulous movie if you haven’t seen it. I know I am a little behind the times.) When I climbed into bed last night, I opened the blinds in my bedroom and was able to watch the fireworks at the mall across the street, from the cool, coziness of my bed.  (One of my favorite things about my townhouse.)  Today, I am defrosting my freezer (it’s an old freezer), working on paper work, preparing food for my week’s worth of lunches and maybe I’ll watch another good movie tonight.  (I love movies!)

Notice in my list of holiday weekend activities there is no mention of family picnics, parades, parties, gatherings, my sons, my parents… It is pretty much just Risa (my 13 year old Cavachon) and I hanging out and getting things done around my house in hopes of bringing some semblance of order to my little sanctuary I call home!  For me, this weekend is not about celebrating it is about ordering my world.

I have spent many holidays alone since my divorce 13 years ago.  Some have been hard, others have been harder and I continually challenge myself regarding this phenomenon.  My grandma used to say that a holiday is just another day.  It doesn’t matter when you celebrate or if you celebrate.  It really is about relationships, not the day.  So, I continually remind myself of this wise Grandma fact. Today, July 4, 2016 is just another day.

Grandma’s advice served my family well as I was growing up.  My dad was a firefighter/EMT.  He worked 24 hours on and had 48 hours off.  As a result, we didn’t have Dad around on many holidays.  We had to celebrate on different days and in different ways.  We did this a lot.  I remember the year we ate Thanksgiving dinner at Fire Station #6 with the other firefighters and their families.  It was a big potluck and we celebrated as best we could in such tight quarters with 6 men and their families.  It was great but certainly not the traditional Thanksgiving Dinner that many were celebrating.  Funny, it is one of the few Thanksgivings of which I have pretty clear memories. That is probably because there was nothing ‘traditional’ about it.  (Other than the turkey!)

As I spend this holiday weekend alone it would be easy to sit and feel sorry for myself. (As I re-read the above, I guess I would feel sorry for me! How festive is cleaning the garage?!)  But, I learned a long time ago that we need to live deliberately and with intention.  I am alone this weekend, but because my relationships are important to me I have made future plans to celebrate the relationships that are most special to me.  You see, next weekend I will be traveling back to Cedar Falls to celebrate Mom’s 80th birthday with her and Dad. The next weekend, Brad and Steve will be coming to West Des Moines to celebrate their 31st and 28th birthdays, respectively.  I have two wonderful weekends to celebrate the relationships that are most important to me.  Although I can’t be with them all today, I have intentionally made plans that I am looking forward to this month.  I am actually really excited about the next two weekends. Those plans made with my family have helped fill me up this weekend so that I can get things done around home rather than sitting around feeling sorry for myself.

I am sharing this all with you because I know there are many who find being alone on the holidays to be difficult.  I get it.  I would just challenge you to think ahead and make a plan or two.  If you want to celebrate, make it happen. Host a gathering.  Invite family/friends to meet for dinner.  Don’t wait to be invited, do the inviting.  And, if it doesn’t work to celebrate on the holiday itself, then plan ahead.  Pick a day in the future to gather with those you love. Organize, connect, and figure it out.  If it is important to you, make it happen!

Above all else, don’t get wrapped up in the calendar.  A holiday is just another day. Celebrations are about celebrating relationships with the people who are important to us. Not the day.  Make a new tradition.  Create a new reason for celebration.  Be the master of your festive energy and find something good to do on the actual day so that the joy of taking care of you and your home (or someone else’s) fills an otherwise lonely day.

Happy Independence Day to you all!  I pray your day is filled with all that you need – not what our culture says you need – but what you need!  Make it happen!

Posted in Holidays, Living a Happy Life, Love, Relationships.

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