Saturday, May 26, 2012

Last Day of School

The stillness of the room
echoed that summer vacation had arrived.
The goodbyes had been said,
but I had one left.

So I crossed the empty quiet,
to a little desk.

It too was cleaned out
but a top a vase of flowers remained.

How could I leave--
the year--the room?

I couldn't hug her, so instead
I sat down in her chair
and laid my head on her empty desk.

The ache, the emptiness of everything
filled me and pushed the tears out.

My right arm held the vase
as if in holding that, I could
hold her beauty a little longer.

This room had been where I grew
to know and love her.
For almost two year
I had been her teacher.

And when her desk stood empty--
that room was the hardest place
for me to be.

But now,
I didn't want to leave.

The room wouldn't be hers anymore
after this year.
And her desk and chair
would become someone else's.

This was the last day
of this year--
of these memories.

So I sat there, head on her desk
Unable to say good-bye.

I'd been forced to say good-bye already
and I didn't want to be forced again.

Yet here I was.
The end of the year was
pressing me out.

I did not want to
lose a student,
the bear the grief,
to be strong for my suffering students.

But I had.
And God had whispered love
at each step.

And so with love
He sent Matthew to place
wooden blocks -- I love u--
on now flowerless desk,
and help me to my feet and
walk with me,
not out of my grief, but in my grief.

I find that I will be forced to say
good-bye at moments I don't expect
as memories and grief do not
wait for certain times.

But today,
leaving her desk
is tearing my heart to pieces
and I hate to close the door
behind me.

Flowers Marissa picked me for me.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Mailed Love

Every Friday in my room the K-4th graders join and we do something called Card Ministry.  We write cards with Bible verses pasted in them to someone I, or they, have heard about that would need some encouragement or prayers.  The students look forward to it and especially love hearing back from those we have written to.  I have a bulletin board to pin up the cards and emails that others have sent to us to thank us.

But since April 10th the roles seem to have been reversed.  We got cards.  We were the ones needing love, prayers, comfort, and encouragement.  Some cards were addressed to Marissa's family, so I passed those along.  Some were addressed to me or Matthew specifically and others were general cards to the whole class.  As we got the cards I put then in Marissa's phonic bin and place them beside her desk.

The students were so excited to have cards from other people, just like they had sent out card every Friday to other people.  I told the students that we would keep the cards in the classroom until the end of the year and then they would each get to take some home.  

 I told them that whenever they felt sad they could go over and pick a card out and read it.  Then they would know that there were people who cared about them, were praying for them, and loved them.

It was sweet to watch them read the cards.  One or two students would pick a card up, read it, and if there was something special they liked they would go and share it with another student.  Each card was read and many were read multiple times.  

Thank you to everyone who sent cards to the students.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Memorial Trip to the Zoo

I was walking around my classroom, a week or so after Marissa died.  Sadness hovered over me and yet I was trying to think of, find something, that would bring the students joy.  My Aunt Karen had asked to be able to do something for the students.  

I walked over to our prayer wall.  The students had only put up one prayer request and I glanced over them, scanning for Marissa's handwriting.  I saw it.

And so was finalized a vague idea in my mind of taking the students to the zoo.  We would go, to remember her, and to fulfill a prayer request.  

When I told my class about Marissa's prayer request and my Aunt Karen paying for the students to go, they cheered.  We moved her card from Prayer Requests to Answers to Prayer.  In the picture it's the fourth one down.

The day of the trip arrived bright and beautiful.  Before we left one of the students prayed that we would have a good time even though Marissa couldn't be with us.  I cannot remember the exact words but they were perfect.  

We are to rejoice in the joy she lived in Jesus.

This trip was another reminder how God uses us to be an answer to prayer for someone else.  

I was talking to my brother before the trip and he said that when Jesus wakes Marissa up, she will get to go to the "zoo".  Heaven will be the best zoo ever.

So as Marissa sleeps in Jesus we went to the zoo to remember her, to laugh as she would have, and enjoy all that God has created.  One day we will be reunited, and together, explore the uncaged zoo of heaven.

Seeing the animals and yet being unable to get closer reminds me of the Bible verse from 1 Corinthians 13:12, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

We could not get to the animals, our vision was dark, but one day we will be able to know them and touch them without fear.  

And so it is with heaven, with Jesus, with Marissa...Tai Tai, Aunt Teresa, Grandpa, Olivia, Kelly, Valerie...and all those we have lost.  

Our view of eternity is dark, but soon--oh God let it be soon--we will know it face to face.  And the reality will be as certain as we know we are there together, and it is no longer just a dream.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


To be content in any and every situation is to rely on Him who gives me strength.

And He is strength and the Giver of peace that transcends all understanding.

“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:13

But Paul had something to add after verse thirteen, “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.”

Even though we can be content in every situation, there is such a burden lifted to have others share in our troubles.  

Grief tends to make people feel alone, very alone.  I have needed every email, card, hug, look, visits, and other acts of thoughtfulness that has been given.  

God is sustaining me by His Word and the beautiful glimpses of His tender mercy and love, but He is also using others to be His messengers of that love and tenderness--and comfort.

Thank you for...

Letting me come over and sew a quilt for hours and talk.

Students who prayed for my Granddaddy as he grieves over the quilt before I mailed it.

A random card put in my purse at church.

Letting me call just to say, “Today was really hard.”  And cry.

Comments on blogs and facebook posts.  

Schools and people sending letters and cards to my students.  Hearing my students excited about the cards given them.

Fresh flowers for Marissa’s desk.

Facebook and emails covered in love and prayers.

Memorial zoo trip funded for the students.

Fun animal presentations on a day I couldn't teach.

Memories captured in photographs and given to me.

Texts of love and prayers throughout the days.

Marissa Mice for the students.

 Visiting and letting me talk if I need to or just being there.

Coloring books and goodies for my students to remind them they are not alone.

Trusting me with your ten beautiful/silly children.

Patience with me.

Including me in the process of deep grief.

Picking out a dress.

Bible verses and prayers on index cards for me to hold and read over and over.

And I will say with Paul, "I can do all things through Him who gives me strength...Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles."

It has meant the world to me.

Lions and Locusts

I love reading.  I love books.  And I love when my students love reading and love books.  This year I’ve also learned to come out of my comfort zone by reading aloud.  I had read Reading Magic by Mem Fox about how reading aloud can change children’s lives and I thought I would try it out.  I have never read-aloud well.  I feel self-conscious when I do and I stumble over my words.  But I thought I would give it a try and I found that I love that as well.  I can hide behind the book and become the characters and move out of my own personality.


One of the first books I tried out my new reading aloud personality on was Library Lion.  It’s the perfect read-aloud book.  Soft voices, loud roars, attitude in the voices, sadness, strict and lenient voices.  And plus, it’s about a lion in a library.  

The students loved it when I ROARED loudly and giggled.  We enjoyed the whole book together.  It was very memorable.  And I had eleven students.  

YesterdayI had time to do some read-aloud and my helper of the week picked out three books.  The last one was Library Lion.  Some of the students even mentioned how we already had read it and I said, “I know but I love it so much I’m going to read it again.”

I was almost to the last page when I felt overwhelmed by loss....loss...loss.  Marissa wasn’t there to hear it.  I would never read to her again.  I wouldn’t hear her giggly laugh or  have her focus intently with her beautiful gaze.

After I was done with the story the students got their lunches and I texted my mom.  
“I was reading Library Lion to the kids and I remembered the last time I read it to them Marissa was here... =(  And I don’t get to read to her anymore.”

During the afternoon recess I got this text back:
“In heaven Jesus will make up for the time the locusts took.  You will tell her stories again.”

I had to bow my head and let the tears pool behind my eyes.  I had to hold it together, recess was nearing an end and I had to teach, but my heart cried and cried.  

In the book of Joel the locusts are what destroys Israel and in Joel 2:25 God says, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.”  What was destroyed will be repaid.  

What is lost will be given.

My Mama understood and said it to me perfectly.

“In heaven Jesus will make up for the time the locusts took.  You will tell her stories again.”

(c) T. J. Vanderlaan

Friday, May 4, 2012

Not Even Death

This morning I was reading verses on God’s presence..  One of the verses was Romans 8:38-39.  When I turned to it, I knew I was familiar with it and started to rush through reading it.  But all of a sudden it had new meaning.

”For I am convinced that neither death nor life...”

I have felt surrounded by death in the past few weeks.  Not only my own personal loss but the loss of those I know and love, and even strangers.  

Death feels so permanent and final even though I know and believe in the sweet assurance of the resurrection when Jesus comes back.  Death also feels so lonely.  Yes, I feel lonely but for the person who has died.  They are in the cold, dark earth without anyone.  And even though I know they are not aware, I just don’t like it.  

Today is Tai Tai’s funeral and tomorrow they will bury her next to her husband, a man I have never met, but will meet when Jesus returns. Two leaders of my spiritual heritage.  I cannot be there and I haven’t seen her in years but somehow knowing that they will put her in the ground tears me up.  

“...will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I stopped, as if suddenly I’d seen a flicker of light in a dark room.  What?  How had I never ever seen this?

Death does not, is not able, to separate us from the love of God.

I guess I’d always assumed that this somehow meant that His love would raise us from the dead.  And yes, yes--that is true, but today I saw more.  

We are never separated from God’s love.  Not even in death.  So even in death Marissa is not separated from His love and neither is Tai Tai.  They are not alone.  Somehow God’s love is with Marissa and Tai Tai.  As if it wraps warm and light around them as they await His voice to call them forth from the grave.  

I don’t know what this comforts me so much.  It’s just to know that somehow, someway God’s love with with them and with us.  Warming us, comforting us...

It’s still hard and my heart feels too heavy to lift when I think about Tai Tai or Marissa in the ground I now have a verse to turn back to.

Nothing can separate us from God’s love--even now.

Hawaii 2009 (c) T.J.Vanderlaan